My Heart Pines

Fourteen months ago I wrote Ode to Pinus Strobus, showing my respect for the mighty pines that inhabit our woods. Curiously, it was a rainy day then. And today dawned the same, though even more curiously, today we turned the calendar to December 1, yet the temperature rose to 57˚, like a summer day as we approach winter in western Maine.

Needing a fresh-air break mid-day, I ventured into our woodlot, where part of a fertile fern clinging to a dead tree branch about five feet above the ground garnered my attention. How did it end up on the tree, I wondered. Given that I’d been picking up branches from last night’s gale-force winds, I suspected it had somehow been torn from the rest of the frond and blew onto the branch. Maybe.

Below it, perched in a more stable manner, was a half eaten pine cone and this time my interpretation was much clearer for frequently I’ve been scolded by a Red Squirrel on this trail. He must have been dining on a branch above, out of danger’s way, and for some reason I don’t know, let the cone slip from his front paws where it fell and landed between a branch stub and piece of bark that was partly dislodged from the tree.

A glimpse at the base and I was 98% certain my story was correct for a large midden or refuse pile of cone scales and cobs removed by Red in order to consume two tiny seeds located inside each scale decorated the forest floor.

Because I circled the tree to further examine the midden, and because it was raining, I shouldn’t have been surprised by my next find, but the froth that forms on pines as the result of a chemical interaction when rain drops pick up oils and air in the bark furrows bubbles through that oily film and the end result is pine soap never ceases to amaze me. Plus I love the rainbow colors.

With great patience, I watched the drops drip onto the froth and realized that if I counted to twelve I might get to see a drop just before it let go.

And could almost capture its journey.

As if that wasn’t enough to make my day, I was stepping away from the tree when I discovered a hickory nut on the edge of the midden. One of the manners in which a Red Squirrel opens a hickory nut is to split it in half. Notice the grooves along the edge created by the squirrel’s incisors.

By this time, I was hungry and maybe a wee bit damp, and ready to follow the path home, but . . . a sudden look at the tree’s bark, and I spied life.

The life of a slug is interesting and not to be rushed. No longer was I.

For almost an hour I watched four slugs as they moved at their own slow pace into and out of the furrows of the pine. These terrestrial gastropods (gastro=stomach; pod=foot) create a layer of mucus that they secrete so that the “foot” under almost the entire length of their bodies can move rather smoothly.

Their heads include two sets of tentacles that they can retract (and grow back should they lose one). The upper tentacles are light sensitive and have eyespots at the tip of the stalks. They also use these to smell.

The lower tentacles are for feeling and tasting.

And then there’s the mouth, that funky-looking line to the left of the tentacles in this photo. The radula is a tongue-like organ covered with thousands of raspy tooth-like protrusions–the better to scrape or brush particles from the surface of a tree or plant.

Here’s another cool fact about snails; they are hermaphrodites, meaning each one has both male and female sex organs.

As my snails headed in each and every direction, I at last pulled away, though I did stop to examine other trees on my way home, but found nothing else to look at. 😉 Or at least, nothing else to report.

An hour or more later, I slipped out the door again, curious to check on the action upon that one pine. The fern had blown to the ground. The cone was still lodged between the branch stub and bark. The rain had slowed and froth diminished, though remnants of it remained. The hickory nut had disappeared. And I could only find one slug who was making its way to the safety of its underground habitat.

But . . . because I went back, I spotted an Assassin Bug.

For those who love to wander and wonder, I hope you’ll be still and have an experience similar to what this tree offered me today.

My heart pines . . . naturally.

People versus Nature: who wins?

Artifacts. In the woods. A sign.

A sign of the past and the present. A sign of people. A sign of nature.

The people story may have ended 72 years ago in this space . . .

but the nature story continues with many interesting twists and turns along the way.

The people may have tried to defy nature . . .

but nature has a way, whether we like what emerges from it or not.

And figuring out the procession of the nature story, as much as some of it may not please us, is still intriguing.

People and nature.

People versus nature.

Who wins? In the end, nature reclaims her own as the lichens demonstrate on this quarried granite.

Stymied by Nature

To the vernal pool I wandered on this overcast, drizzly, rainy day.

I thought for sure I’d later expound upon the deciduous trees that surround it and their leaf colors for such was the carpet at my feet as it reflected the sky above, despite the lack of water in the pool.

But . . . it was the conifer trees that shouted quietly for my attention, their offerings much more subtle than their broad-leafed cousins. First, there was a firefly that made me wonder how he could move so quickly and gingerly in an upside down manner.

Take half a minute and watch his progress.

From the pine sapling I moved over to a hemlock on the far side of the pool. Something dark dangling below its branches begged to be inspected.

It was (is) about two inches long and felt almost leafy when I touched it. Protruding from it were several spikes that weren’t really sharp.

I looked at it from as many angles as I could. And found it curious that it appeared to be performing a split at its upside down base (meaning the top portion in the photo).

Some serious webbing held it in place and what appeared to be sap decorated it.

What could it be? I wondered if we’d ever been introduced before and like so many I’d forgotten its name. Perhaps a moth cocoon inside a spider web? Or a gall that dropped from a tree and got caught in the web? Or a spider egg sac? I looked for a spider and found one. Do you see it in the lower left-hand corner? Rather tiny compared to the alien object. Was the object an alien? Something from outer space? I suppose I could have split it open to see what it contained, but I decided to look around for others like it. And found absolutely none. Knowing that, I could hardly destroy it and so it’s still dangling from the hemlock and I’ll visit from time to time to see if the mystery solves itself. (Please don’t tell me if you know because that will ruin the fun of making a discovery.)

Oh, I did have one other thought, that it might be related to a hemlock cone gone awry, but when I stopped to look at cones on another tree, that theory didn’t make sense. It was there, however, that I spotted a flying insect that wasn’t flying. It, too, was a dangler.

Though my identification wasn’t definite, I suspected it was a member of the flower fly family. Curious enough, just moments before spotting the fly, I’d noticed a couple of blueberry flowers blooming. These are strange times, indeed.

A few more steps and I began to notice one I am familiar with: the tube created by a Pine-Tube moth. The larva ties needles together with silk as a form of protection in which to pupate. The tubes then get lined with more silk and are usually half as long as the needles because the larva eat the ends off. Though the larva may eat their way through several tubes over the course of a winter, I suspected this one was currently active because one needle stuck loosely out of the end. Inside, someone must have been dining.

And then . . . and then . . . I spied a small inch-worm type caterpillar. A Pine-Tube Moth larva?

Again, I wasn’t sure, but it seemed to display the right behavior.

I didn’t have all the answers today, but I know right where I met my acquaintances and hope that the next time we meet I’ll recognize them and perhaps will greet them by name. Chances are, though, that when I head out the back door to look for them, something else will shout quietly for attention and I’ll meet new things in the forest that will also leave me stymied by nature.

Nature’s Denouement

Due to today’s inclement weather, I postponed a Tracking expedition and thought it might be a good day to become a couch potato. But still, my feet itched to get outside as the raindrops fell.

And then a text message arrived: “Potential loon trapped in the ice; rescue happening on Lower Bay.” I was in my truck and on my way before I even knew the exact location.

As I drove, rain changed to big slushy balls that struck the windshield with noisy inkblot-shaped splats. I pulled into a parking area to check on the intended meet-up point and learned I was a bit early, so I went for a walk. All around me, the forest was alive with sounds–of wet snow striking marcescent leaves, and birds chirping as they flew from branch to branch. I’d hoped to meet an old friend, Argee, but he was nowhere in sight.

By the time I did join the rescue group, they were already loading an aluminum boat into the lake.

The Lower Bay of Kezar Lake had sealed over this past weekend and was coated with an inch or more of ice.

Thus the need for the rescue mission. An immature loon got caught by the sudden freeze. Thankfully for it, Susan Clout, a local resident, noticed its situation and put out a call for help.

Responders included Heinrich and Linda Wurm, Paul Buckley, Steve Lewis, and Jim Buck.

Donning life jackets, their only gear: paddles, a net and a box. It all seemed so simple. Paddle out, coo to the bird as it might talk to another, and either make open water for it to fly (loons need at least a quarter mile for take off, this one had a circle that maybe measured twenty feet–it was difficult to tell from the shore) or capture and release it on an open section of the lake. As one of the text messages stated about the plan: Evolving.

The task of breaking the ice was daunting and though it looked like they were crossing the Potomac, all they really wanted to do was maneuver part way across the bay.

Because it made sense for the person in the bow to stand and break ice as the sternman paddled, stability became an issue and within minutes the boat returned to shore and a third passenger climbed aboard.

Though you can see the circle of open water and it may appear close by, it was all a matter of perspective and they had a long path to create.

Meanwhile, back on shore, those of us who remained behind and felt like we might need to rescue the rescuers, were entertained by Susan as she sang the most delightful lines of a song she’d been writing about the loon’s dilemma.

Back on the water, or rather, ice, progress was slow.

And still the loon swam, occasionally calling out. We interrupted its voice to mean, “I see you. Keep coming my way.”

On board the SS Icebreaker, oarsmen shifted positions because it was tiring to chop continuously.

We kept assuming they were making headway given their position.

And they were. But they still had a long way to go. After 75 minutes, with probably two more hours separating them from the loon, and a cold rain falling, they decided to turn around and hope that higher temps and maybe a breeze in coming days will do the trick. All are hopeful.

I was invited to the scene because my friends’ thought it would make a good story. In the end, my story is nothing compared to the one Nature is writing. She, apparently, has Her own plans for the denouement. We can’t wait to read how She resolves this matter.

Update: November 21, 2019

And here is the rest of the story as Heinrich interpreted it for us: “The loon we were aiming our mission toward took off this morning! Just as the Game Warden showed up the loon started flapping its wings and headed east toward the Narrows. Amazing!

created by dji camera

Unfortunately these remnants were left near the other open space
where a loon had been sighted before.

I later learned that two Bald Eagles were spotted near the loons.

Nature’s Denouement: Find a balance.

Detecting the Nature of Wilson Wing

Before heading onto the trail beside Sucker Brook at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve on Horseshoe Pond Road in Lovell, today, a friend and I walked down the road to the pond where we hunted for dragonflies and frogs.

1-Horseshoe Pond

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky on this first day of fall and a crisp day it was, bringing smiles to our faces and adding sweatshirts to our attire.

3-green frog

Though we saw a few darner dragonflies and even a meadowhawk, it was the green frogs that we spent the most time trying to spy for they blended in well with their grassy surroundings at the water’s edge.

2-bobber

A bit further out, and unfortunately beyond our reach, we spotted a bobber and fishing line. While it offered a picture filled with color and curves, the reality wasn’t so pleasant.

4-Common Loon

Nearby, this loon and a youngster swam and fishing line left behind is bad news for them as they could get tangled in it. Please, please, please, if you are near the Horseshoe Pond boat launch, and have the means to retrieve the bobber, do so. And if you are anywhere else in this world, do the same–for the sake of all birds everywhere.

7-Sucker Brook

At last, we pulled ourselves away from the pond and followed the brook that flows from it–Sucker Brook.

5-Jack in the Pulpit

Right away, we were in awe of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit plants with fruits still intact. Jack is actually a curious plant and sometimes channels its feminine side. While the plant starts life as a male, if the soil is poor, it turns female, flowers and bears seed. It could turn male again. In the case of what we saw today, meet Jill.

6-thin maze polypore

As our journey continued, we noted fungi everywhere. Some had rotted and added to the earthy smell of the woods. Others displayed their unique structures, colors, and lines, including the Thin-mazed Polypore.

11a-earth tongue

We also found at least one Black Earth Tongue, its common name reflecting its tongue-like appearance as it stuck up from the ground.

11-Dead Man's Finger

And in keeping with human body parts, we noticed a singular Dead Man’s Finger. But . . . its presentation offered questions we couldn’t answer. It was our understanding that on Xylaria longipes the young fruiting bodies would be covered with a whitish or gray powder in the spring. The powder isn’t really a powder, but rather the asexual spores of the species. So, did we find a confused youngster? Or was it an oldster parasitized by a mold?

10-Choclolate Tube slime

Speaking of molds, we stumbled upon a log featuring a feathery appearance reminiscent of antennae on a moth or butterfly. Well, maybe a collection of antennae. A huge collection.

10a-chocolate tube slime

Turns out it was Chocolate Tube Slime, a new discovery for me. In his book, Fascinating Fungi of New England, author Lawrence Millman describes it as “dozens of erect, brown tubes mounted on thin, seemingly polished black stems.” Bingo.

9-green frogin sucker Brook

Also appearing a bit chocolate in color was another green frog. And being the first full day of autumn, I began to realize that my time spent admiring amphibians and dragonflies will soon draw to an end. But . . . on the horizon . . . tracks and scat 😉

8-Conocephalum salebrosum

Because we were beside the brook, and we’d seen this species before, we searched each and every rock and weren’t disappointed. Conocephalum salebrosum showed off its snakeskin-like leaves.

8b-cono

The conspicuous grooves of the thalli on this liverwort defined the surface and gave it that snakeskin appearance.

12-Moose Pond Bog

Continuing on, we finally reached the platform and climbed up to look out toward Moose Pond Bog. Of course, we hoped to see a moose. No such luck. We did spy one dog named Bella and her owner, Meg Dyer, the Lovell Rec Director, out for a Sunday walk in the woods. But they were on the trail below us and not in the bog. One of these days . . . maybe we’ll see a moose. When we least expect it, that is.

12-winterberry fruits buried

Back on the trail ourselves, our next great find–winterberries in a recently dug hole about four inches deep. Who done it? We poked the hole with a stick and determined that it didn’t go any deeper or have any turns, such as a chipmunk might make. Nor did it have a clean dooryard, which they prefer. Turkey? Perhaps. Squirrel?

13-winterberries among midden

We think we answered the question for on top of a tall hemlock stump that has long served as a red squirrel diner, some red winterberries appeared among the pine scales left behind.

14-liverwort?

Almost back to the road, we crossed the final bridge and then backtracked. We knew our destination was up the streambed it crossed over and were thankful that it held not much water. That meant we could climb up and take a closer look at the large boulders in the middle. And it was there that we made a new discovery.

14a-Peltigera aphthosa

You see, in the past we’ve not been able to get too close to the boulders and from a bit of a distance we were sure we had looked at more snakeskin liverwort. But our ability to get up close and personal today made us question our previous assumption. Suddenly, the gray-green leafy structure took on a more lichen-like appearance. Though its color wasn’t the same, it very much reminded me of rock tripe.

14c-Peltigera aphthosa

We studied its lobes and structure, including the tiny warts and questioned ourselves as we continued to examine it. I kept thinking it was an umbilicate based on the way it adhered to the rock substrate.

14b-Peltigera aphthosa

A little research and I think I’ve identified it correctly, but know some will alert me if I’ve assumed too much–Peltigera aphthosa, aka Freckled Pelt Lichen, also called Spotted Dog Lichen. The bright green center indicated it was wet. From borealforest.org, I learned that the little warts contain tiny colonies of cyanobacteria, which supply the lichen with nitrogen.

15-Racomitrium aciculare?

And right beside the lichen, we found a moss that also reminded us of a liverwort for it resembled Bazzania. But . . . if I identified this correctly, it’s Racomitrium aciculare. Some know it as Yellow-fringe Moss.

15a-Racomitrium

In his book, Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts, Ralph Pope described it as “common on wet rocks along streams and under waterfalls.” In watery seasons for this particular stream, that would be its exact location–under a waterfall.

16-dry stream bed

Today, the stream bed leading down to Moose Pond Bog and Sucker Brook was just about dry. But . . . because of that we were able to take a closer look.

In fact, it took us almost four hours to follow the mile or so trail, but it was all about taking a closer look through our 10X lenses and cameras, slowing down our brains,  and channeling our inner Nancy Drew as we paid attention to clues and tried to decipher the scene around us–all the while detecting the nature of Wilson Wing.

 

A Slice of Life in the Rookery

We only had an hour and we had a task to accomplish as citizen scientists for Maine IF&W’s Heron Observation Network. Our mission, which we chose to accept, was to count the number of nests, the number occupied, the number not occupied, the number with residents, the number of immature, the number of mature, the number of . . . you get the picture.

h1b-rookery

In the past, this was the largest inland rookery in the state and supported 40+ active nests, but over the last few years the numbers had dwindled and today we found only nine. Of those nine, three were inactive. Where have all the birds gone, we wondered.

h1-wood duck

As we started to focus on the scene before us, one member of our team spotted a wood duck surveying the beaver pond from a limb on one of the many old snags.

h2a-heron chick

And then we looked upward. Counting isn’t always easy–in fact, it’s never easy. One immature–check. More than one? Well, we could see a lump representing another bird. Was it one lump or two? Over and over again, we counted.

h3-standing still

And then there was this nest that was hidden from our sight at first, only because it seemed to blend in with the pine tree behind it. Again we wondered–why was this adult standing on it? Was this a sentry watching over all of the nests why the other parents were off fishing? Usually, though, experience told us that sentrys stood on higher branches–the better to watch for predators.

h29-sentry

Like this.

h2-otter

Suddenly we heard a commotion in the water and noticed action near the beaver lodge. What was it?

h4-incoming

And then the sound of the youngsters crying frantically made us look upward again, where we spied an incoming adult.

h5-landing

The kids exclaimed their excitement because a meal had certainly arrived.

h6-begging for food

We could almost see their smiles as they anticipated the goodness they were about to receive.

h7-what? No food?

But . . . no food was regurgitated despite the kids’ squawks.

h9-meanwhile-mouths have closed

Finally, they quieted down and looked rather disgusted.

h10-preening

And Momma preened.

h11-wood duck family

Back in the pond, a family of Wood Ducks swam among the flowering Watershield.

h12-movement above

And up again, we noticed slight movement in the nest.

h13-a chick with downy feathers

Could it be?

h14-red winged

Before we answered the last question, a Red-winged Blackbird paused . . .

h15-singing

sang . . .

h16-did you hear me?

and looked around as if to say, “Did you hear me?” We did.

h17-another incoming

More squawks from above and we saw another adult fly in.

h18-what did you bring?

It seemed Dad had joined Mom and the family was complete.

h19-I'm off

But only for a second, as Mom took off.

h20-snacks?

“Where’d Mom go?” and “What’s to eat?” was all Dad heard.

h21--watching from nearby

She didn’t go far, but like all mommas, she needed a few minutes of time to herself.

h21-baby chick revealed

Meanwhile, back by the pine, that little bit of fluff moved some more.

h22-stretching my wings

And someone else needed to stretch his wings.

h24-otter again

It was like watching a tennis match, for our eyes moved back and forth, up and down–especially when we heard movement in the water again and saw the same something undulating through the water.

h26-water snake

We weren’t the only ones watching all the action from a hidden location–a water snake on a hummock across the way did the same.

h28-don't you have any food?

Skyward, the family unit came together again. And still no food. The kids were getting impatient.

h30-have a stick

And then one parent left briefly and returned–with a stick for the kids to add to the nest, perhaps heron-speak for clean the house first and then you’ll get a snack.

h31-what's he thinking?

“We did it,” they tried to tell her, but Mom had her eyes on something else.

h27-beaver again

Her focus wasn’t on the beavers that swam back and forth below. Oh, and if you think this is the hump that had been making the water boil, you are mistaken.

h32-there he goes again

“Mom, bring back lots of fish . . . pleeeeease,” the kids cried as she took off again. “We’ll even eat frog legs.”

h33-picking twigs

But she had her eyes on other things–sticks from one of the abandoned nests.

h34-got one

She pulled one out.

h36-did you see what he just did?

And the kids looked away and one complained to Dad about all the housework they were expected to do and they still hadn’t received their allowance.

h25-checking us out

Unfortunately, it was time for us to head to work, but our undulating friend returned.

h37-otter

Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Water Snakes, Beavers . . . and a River Otter! A slice of life in the rookery.

 

 

Celebrating Place–Naturally

Once the snow melts it will be more difficult for me to wander and wonder in the woods I explore all winter given its spring/summer water level and logging slash. And so I make the most of these days–trying to notice as much as I can before I can notice no more (or at least until next winter).

l-bushwhack 1

Though I’d promised myself I’d not go again in an effort to not disturb the deer, promises are meant to be broken. And from that came a lesson–the deer are sticking to the snowmobile trail and field edges where tender bark of young red maples and hemlocks, plus swelling buds meet their needs for the moment. So, it was OK that I broke my promise, for the deeper I tramped, the fewer tracks I encountered.

l-spring tails1

Today’s warmer temps in the low 40˚s found the springtails hopping about on any and all surfaces.

l-pileated hole

As is my habit, I checked on a pileated woodpecker hole when I saw bark and wood scattered atop the snow. Deep was this excavation in search of nourishment.

l-pileated scat-seeds and ant

And chock full was the scat below, which contained insect body parts and seeds of the dreaded bittersweet. Beside the scat, a springtail sought to placate its own food needs which among other things includes plant material and animal remains.

l-red maple bull's eye

Turning to another tree, I landed on a perfect bull’s eye! The target fungus that affects many red maples makes for an easy ID.

l-crustose, liverwort and moss

Lichens have also been a focus of late. What I like about this one, the circular green with the black disks of a crustose lichen (possibly bark disk lichen), was its location beside a liverwort (the beaded brown Frullania eboracensis) and a moss that I didn’t key out. Tree bark has its own structure and texture, but so often others also call it home.

l-shield lichens on rock

Rocks also serve as a substrate and this one featured a couple of leafy foliose shield lichens, their colors enhanced by yesterday’s inch of snow.

l-hair lichen and beard lichen

And dangling from a branch, two forms of fruticose (branching or fruit-like structure–) lichens. The dark is a hair lichen, while the green a beard–seems about right with the hair above the beard.

l-lichen garden

On another maple I spied a garden–you’ve got to liken it. (Corny joke that always manages to enter a lichen conversation.)

l-frullania 1

I’ve often paused beside Frullania eboracensis, a liverwort with no common name, but today several trees shared displays of mats called Frullania asagrayana, so named for a botanist and natural history professor at Harvard University from 1842-1873–Asa Gray.

l-frullania asagrayana 1

Its shiny, overlapping chain of red-brown leaves reminded me of caterpillars crawling along the maple bark.

l-spirea:steeplebush

Casting my eye elsewhere, steeplebush in its winter form offered an artistic presentation.

l-bracken fern1

And as the snow melts, last year’s bracken fern made an appearance.

l-speckled 3

One last shrub made me stop. Minus any catkins or “cones” for which it is known, I had to think for a moment about the speckled alder. But those speckles or lenticels through which gas exchange occurs, and the buds and leaf scars were give aways.

l-speckled buds and leaf scar

The two bud scales meet at their edges and look like miniature footballs. But it’s the bundle scars where leaves were formerly attached that make me laugh. That vascular system looks like a face–two round eyes, a funny shaped nose and a round mouth, as if it’s exclaiming, “Ohhh” or “Wow.”

l-Pleasant Mtn in background

At last I reached my turn-around point. I could see Pleasant Mountain in the distance and knew where I was in the world. This is my place and I love every opportunity to celebrate it–naturally.

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.

r-forest-climb

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

r-white-oak-green-leaves

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.

r-white-oak-red-color

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

r-white-oak-bark

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

r-red-oak-on-bm1

from the ski trail ridges of red oak.

r-hophornbeam-bark

Hop Hornbeam also grows abundantly in this forest.

r-approaching-forest-summit-yellow

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.

r-basswood-2

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.

r-basswood-leaf

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.

r-raymond-summit-view-1

At last, we reached the vantage point.

r-skyward

Above us, a mix of colors and species.

r-oak-leaves

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

r-crescent-view-3-1

And beyond us, the view of Crescent Lake

r-crescent-rattle-1-1

and Rattlesnake Mountain.

r-ladybird-1-1

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

r-green-trail-tag

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.

r-dry-leaf-sound

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.

r-bear-claw

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.

r-garter-snake

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

r-snake-tongue

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

r-lunch-rock

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!)

r-trail-ribbon-art

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.'”

r-red-leaves

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.

 

 

 

In Constant Flux

Ever so slowly, the world around us changes.

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Sometimes it’s as obvious as the leaves that fall.

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And other times, it’s a bit more subtle, evidenced by the bees that have slowed their frantic pace as they make final collections.

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Mid morning, I headed down the cow path in search of other signs of change.

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As I walked along, I began to realize the interdependence of all. Under the northern red oaks–many  chopped off twigs.

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The angled cut and empty cap indicated the work of porcupines seeking acorns.

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I found maple leaves pausing on hemlocks,

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pine needles decorating spruce trees,

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and occasional puddles offering a rosy glow. Eventually, all of these leaves and needles will break down and give back.

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I found life on a rock, where lichens began the story that was added to by mosses. The creation of soil was enhanced by a yearly supply of fallen leaves and needles gathered there. And then a seed germinated, possibly the result of an earlier squirrel feast.

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I found orange peel and many other fungi aiding the process of decomposition so that all the fallen wood and leaves will eventually become part of the earthen floor.

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I found a healthy stand of trees and ferns competing for sunlight in an area that had been heavily logged about ten years ago.

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I found evidence of those who spend their lives eating and sleeping in this place.

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I found seeds attached

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and those on the fly–heading off in search of a new home.

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I found the last flowers of fall

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exploding with ribbony blooms.

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After bushwhacking for a few hours, I found the snowmobile trail, where man and nature have long co-existed.

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At last I found my way across the field rather than through our woodlot, thankful for the opportunity to take in the colors of the season one more time.

At the end of the day, I’m once again in awe as I think about how we, and all that we share this Earth with, are dependent upon each other and the abiotic forces that surround us.

And with that comes the realization that the scene is in constant flux and so am I.

 

 

 

Book of September: Forest Trees of Maine

The other day a friend and I made plans for an upcoming hike. Before saying goodbye, she said, “Don’t forget to bring your tree book.”

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Really? I have at least thirty books dedicated to the topic of trees. But . . . I knew exactly which one she meant: Forest Trees of Maine. I LOVE this book–or rather, booklet. You’ll notice the tattered version on the left and newer on the right. Yup, it gets lots of use and often finds its way into my pack. When I was thinking about which book to feature this month, it jumped to the forefront. I actually had to check to see if I’d used it before and was surprised that I hadn’t.

Produced by the Maine Forest Service, the centennial issue published in 2008 was the 14th edition and it’s been reprinted two times since then.

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In previous years, the book was presented in a different format. Two editions sit on my bookshelf, and I need to share with you two things that didn’t find their way into the most recent copy.

From 1981: Foreword–“It is a pleasure to present the eleventh edition of Forest Trees of Maine. 

Many changes have occurred in Maine’s forest since 1908, the year the booklet first appeared. Nonetheless, the publication continues to be both popular and useful and thousands have been distributed. Many worn and dog-eared copies have been carried for years by woodsmen, naturalists and other students of Maine’s Great Out-Of-Doors.

We wish the booklet could be made available in much greater quantity, however, budgetary considerations prevent us from doing so. I urge you to use your copy of Forest Trees of Maine with care. If you do, it will give years of service in both field and office.”

Kenneth G. Stratton, Director.

From 1995: One of two poems included. I chose this one because it was one my mother often recited.

Trees

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

~Joyce Kilmer

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The most recent edition of Forest Trees of Maine provides a snapshot of the booklets history and information about the changes in the Maine landscape. For instance, in 1908, 75% of the land was forested, whereas in 2008, 89% was such. The state’s population during that one hundred year period had grown by 580,457. With that, the amount of harvested wood had also grown. And here’s an intriguing tidbit–the cost of the Bangor Daily News was $6/year in 1908 and $180/year in 2008.

Two keys are presented, one for summer when leaves are on the trees and the second for winter, when the important features to note are bark and buds.

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t-glossary (1)

Terms for leaf shapes, margins and structure, twig structure, plus needle types and flower types are illustrated and various terms defined.

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There’s even information on how a tree works because they do–for our well-being and for the benefit of wildlife.

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And then the descriptive pages begin. Each layout includes photographs, sketches and lots of information, both historical as in the King’s Arrow Pine, and identifiable as in bark, leaves, cones, wood, etc.

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1981

t-pines yellow book (1)

1995

Though some of the information is the same, it’s fun to note the differences from the two earlier publications.

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At the beginning of each family, major descriptions are noted in an easy to follow format.

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And like the conifers, the broadleaves are portrayed.

Tomorrow, when my friend and I venture off, I’d better remember to pack this booklet. She’s peeked my curiosity about what she wants to ID because I’ve climbed the mountain before and perhaps I missed something. She already has a good eye for trees so I can’t wait to discover what learning she has in mind for us.

This Book of September is for you, Ann Johnson. And it’s available at Bridgton Books or from the forest service: http://www.maineforestservice.gov or forestinfo@maine.gov.

Forest Trees of Maine, Centennial Edition, 2008, published by The Maine Forest Service

 

Sundae School

I went on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon and visited a land trust property I’ve never stepped foot on before. My intention was to scope it out for possible use with a future Maine Master Naturalist class. My realization from the get-go was a happy heart. I can’t wait to return and take others along so we can make discoveries together.

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I’ve only been on one other Western Maine Foothills Land Trust property, so had no idea what to expect. The small parking area for Shepard’s Farm Preserve is at 121 Crockett Ridge Road in Norway. (Norway, Maine, that is.) This is one of seven preserves owned by the trust. I should have known I’d enjoy myself immensely just by the name. Though we spell Shephard with an “h,” it’s a family name for us. Who knows–maybe there’s a connection.

n-trail sign

On the back of the brochure I grabbed at the kiosk, I read the following: “Originally owned by Benjamin Witt, the high undulating pasture of Shepard’s Farm Family Preserve was transferred to Joshua Crockett in 1799, Charles Freeman in 1853, John Shepard in 1910, and to Bill Detert in 1984.” Mr. Detert and his family donated the property in memory of his wife, Jan, to the WMFLT in 2010.

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My lessons began immediately. What to my wondering eye should appear, but a bee pollinating an Indian pipe. And in the middle of the afternoon. Huh? I’ve always heard that they are pollinated by moths or flies at night. Of course, upon further research, I learned that bees and skipper butterflies have been known to pay a visit to the translucent flowers. Add that to the memory bank.

n-Indian pipe

As I continued along the trail I found the upturned mature flower and again wondered–who stopped by for a sip of sap? Lessons should evoke further questions and a desire to learn more.

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The trail offered other familiar flowers, like hawkweed,

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pearly everlasting, goldenrods and asters, Queen Anne’s lace, boneset and jewelweed.

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And then I come upon a wildflower I don’t recall meeting before. The lesson included a look at the leaves, their arrangement on the stem, and the flowerhead.

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The answer to the quiz–lavender-flowered Sharp-winged Monkeyflower. Monkeys in the woods! You never know. Sometimes I think that red squirrels sound like monkeys when they chit at me, but in this case, it’s the fact that the flower looks something like a monkey’s face.

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Further on,  I spotted a favorite that I don’t see as often as I’d like. What I didn’t realize is that thistles are in the aster family. Always learning. Its presence here is referenced by trail conditions, which change periodically from mixed hardwoods to softwoods to open places. Thistles prefer those open places–fields and waste places. Hardly waste in my opinion. Rather, early succession to a woodland.

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A bee worked its magic on the flowerhead so I moved in for a closer look.

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As with any flower, it was a pollen frenzy.

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Seconds later–maturity! Well, maybe not quite that fast.

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But the seeds had developed their downy parachutes and the breeze was a’blowing.

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They knew it was time to leave the roost and find a new classroom.

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Another lesson worth more time was a look at the natural communities along the trail. Bikers and hikers share this space, but what I found fascinating was the constant change.

n-trail hay

The original trail for the Shepard’s Family Farm Preserve was located on a 19-acre parcel. Recently, the Witt Swamp Extension was added, which almost circles around a 250+ acre piece. Hay covers some of the new trail right now–giving it that farm-like feel and smell.

n-trail 1

I’m not certain of the mileage, but believe that I covered at least 4-5 miles in my out and back venture over undulating land and through a variety of neighborhoods. The trail conditions–pure bliss. No rocks or roots to trip over. Instead, I could look around for the next lesson.

n-cedar bark

One of the things I love about hiking in Norway is that I get to be in the presence of cedar trees–Northern white cedar.

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I’m fascinated by its scale-like leaves.

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So are the deer, who feed on the leaves during the winter months.

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I found only deer tracks, and noted that all stream beds were dry, though the moss gave a moist look to the landscape. We’re experiencing a drought this summer.

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Due to that lack of rain, some red maples already have turned and colorful leaves are beginning to float to the ground.

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Deer aren’t the only mammals that inhabit this place. From the trail, I noticed hemlock trees with bases that looked like perfect gnome homes. And then I spotted this one that invited a closer look.

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A pile of porcupine scat–the pig-pen of the woods. Even Charlie Brown would note a distinct odor.

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And in true “Where’s Waldo” tradition, a young American toad crossed my path. The camo lesson–blend in for safety’s sake.

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Being former farmland, stonewalls wind their way through the preserve. And my childhood fascination with turtles was resurrected. Do you see it?

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How about now? Hint: the head is quartz.

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And this one? They’re everywhere. It makes me wonder if it was a style of the times.

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I crossed through a gap in the stonewall and noted two smaller stones topped by a large flat one. A reason why? The questions piled up. I need to ask the teacher.

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And then there were the stone piles. Why so many smaller stones around a boulder? What I love about this spot is that a hemlock took advantage of the boulder and grew on top of it.

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And another favorite find–a stone structure.

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Created with rather flat field stones.

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It’s near a stonewall, so I surmised it was a shed of some sort rather than a root cellar for a home. I could be wrong, but am thrilled by the opportunity to see it.

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One of the coolest features of this property is that it’s home to sculptures created in the 1970s by Bernard Langlois, including this bird in flight. The sculptures were made possible recently by the generosity of his widow, Helen Langlois, Colby College and the Kohler Foundation.

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Mrs. Noah is my favorite. She has stories to tell and I have lessons to learn.

It’s Sunday and by the time I finished hiking I was hot. I’d intended to check out a few more preserves, but the thought of a creamsicle smoothie at a local ice cream shop had my focus–until I pulled in and saw this posted: “Cash and local checks only.” No cash. And though our checks would be local, I didn’t have any with me either. Lesson learned.

I drove home and made my own sundae.

Our I Dos

Twenty-six years ago we both said, “I do.” And those two little words have stuck with us ever since.

t-road

The road has had a few bumps and turns, but relatively speaking, it’s been an easy path to follow.

t spider web

Sometimes the web we’ve woven has torn, but we’ve learned to mend it when necessary.

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We’ve filled the nest and watched our sons disperse, and welcomed them home again.

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We’ve found fulfillment  . . .

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and tried to share it with others.

t-wings

We’ve each grown wings and let the other fly.

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We’ve cherished the beginning of our journey and give thanks for all the uphill moments.

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At the end of the day, we don’t know what the future holds, but we appreciate the past.

Happy Anniversary to my guy. If I had to do it all over again, I’d still say, “I do.” And I know you would too.

Searching for the Source of Sweetness

I wore down a path between gardens today as I traipsed from one to the next and back again. But if air space is anything like lawn space, then those who visit the garden via flight have created their own well-worn passageways as they also search.

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My mission was to see the hummingbird again. But, this little guy, no longer than a half inch, stood atop a false dragonhead yet to bloom and waited to be noticed.

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He even took the time to scrub his face as I watched.

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Continuing my wander, I stopped by the daylilies and made a discovery. We’ve lived in this house for more than two decades and I never realized until today that we have some double daylilies. The previous owners had green thumbs and we’ve benefited from the fruits of their labor. But how had I missed this before? I know we have double daffodils, but loved my new find. Especially as this past weekend, my friend Beth invited us to her hundred acre wood and her mom showed us their daylily gardens. Beth’s mom, Mary, talked about hybridizing the lilies and so she’ll know best about this.

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When I revisited the flowers later in the day, the sun shone brilliantly on them, enhancing their orangeness. Correct me if I’m wrong, but what I think has happened is that the petal formed along the stamen and imbedded the anther, thus it looks like a petal with grains of pollen. Crazy cool. And beautiful. And yummy.

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That wasn’t the only shade of orange worth wondering about. And it was no mistake the this fritillary butterfly chose the beebalm on which to land.

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Check out its mouth. A butterfly feeds through a coiled mouth part called a proboscis. When not in use, the proboscis recoils and is tucked into position against the butterfly’s head.

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Since the proboscis is narrow and straw-like, it allows the fritillary to extract sweet nectar from tubular-shaped flowers. Suck away, dear fritillary.

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The fritillary wasn’t the only beebalm visitor with a coiled proboscis.

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I actually heard it before I looked up and saw this moth. It sounded like a hummingbird and flapped its wings as fast or nearly as fast as a hummingbird and shared the name hummingbird. This is a hummingbird moth.

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Notice how the proboscis begins to unfurl as it approaches the flower.

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While it hovers, it probes.

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Searching deep for the source of sweetness, where others can’t reach.

Wondering About Nature’s Complexity

As I sat on the porch of our camp this morning, three wafts of smoke blew up from the ground along a pathway to the water. And my heart swelled. Earlier, I’d been out between raindrops taking some photos and my eye was drawn to that very spot. My photos didn’t come out so well, but I believe what I was looking at were bird’s nest fungi. They were cup-like in shape and some were filled with minute eggs, while others were covered in an orangey blanket.

I suspect it was the latter that caught my attention from the porch. It had started to rain and this fungus depends on rain for dispersal of its egg-like capsules that contain the spores. The hydraulic pressure of a raindrop falling into the nest causes the capsule to spring forth, emitting spores in a puff. I could have sat there all day waiting for it to happen again, but . . .

1 hawkweed

there were other things to look at and wonder about. The bird’s nests weren’t the only ones ready to send forth new life. While the hawkweed seeds embraced the raindrops, they waited for a breeze to send their young into the greater world.

2Oleander aphids on milkweed

And then I returned home, where I found some other cool things. It all depends upon your point of view, I suppose, but check out these Oleander mites on the underside of a milkweed leaf. They are so named because they also like Oleander.

4ant milking aphids

Those weren’t the only aphids wandering about. The little gray dots on this leaf are actually another form. So here’s the scoop on ants and aphids. While aphids suck the sugar-rich fluids from their host plants, the ant strokes (milks) the aphids with its antenna to get them to secrete waste (honeydew), which has a high sugar content. And we all know that ants love sugar. Honey-dew just took on a whole new image.

3cranefly

Tucked under the lady ferns, I found a cranefly. I’m always searching for orange in support of our young neighbor who was recently diagnosed with leukemia. When I started posting a photo a day in his honor, I didn’t realize how important it would become to me–making me think about all that he and his family are enduring on a daily basis. He is in remission, but still undergoing treatment and will need a bone marrow transplant. This cranefly almost became today’s post, but a daylily dragon won out for Team Kyan.

5mystery

So dear reader, I enjoy teaching you, but now need you to teach me. I found this under another leaf on a shrub. And I often see the same thing stuck to our house. It reminds me of a caddisfly case. What is it?

 

7daylily

No mystery here. But still, the complexity . . .

8mallow

enhanced by raindrops.

c9omplex world

Nature is complex, but oh so worth a wander. And certainly worth a wonder.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Wallowing in Wonder

We knew what flowers we’d show off and had a general idea of what birds we’d see when we headed down the trail from the Flat Hill parking lot at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve in Lovell early this morning. But from the get-go this turned into one very special hike that filled us all with the wonder of life.

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Maybe it was because we headed off on a silent march, the better to take in the cacophony of bird songs. With Linda and Heinrich in the lead, our intention was to make a bee-line to the viewing platform. Linda encouraged everyone to note the flowers along the way–with a promise to stop and celebrate them on the return trip. We’d decided during a pre-hike that we wouldn’t follow the loop trail around Perky’s Path. We wanted this to be a different experience.

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The view from the bench was beautiful, but the birding there was only so-so, much to our dismay.

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On to the bridge we moseyed. Our one disappointment, we didn’t hear the American bittern that had entertained us with its toilet plunger call during the pre-hike.

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But that didn’t stop us from raising our binoculars frequently–for red-winged blackbirds, Canada geese, blue jays, several species of woodpeckers, sparrows, warblers, wood ducks, chickadees, a wood thrush and more. We heard the ovenbird and vireos, but never caught sight of them.

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While Heinrich was our birding guide, Linda used the area just beyond the bridge to begin our examination of flowers.

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It was while we were moving in for a closer look at the rosy twisted-stalk, that someone spied what became the center of our attention for the next hour.

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A dragonfly had just split open its exoskeleton and emerged from the nymph stage. Of course, we were standing by a beaver pond, and so it seemed only appropriate that it would use the top of a sapling cut by a beaver.

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By pumping air into its body, the adult slowly grew larger.

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As it inflated the wings with blood pressure, they began to extend.

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The veinous wings remained folded over its back as we continued to watch.

p-ph early coralroot orchid 2

We were in that one spot for a long time, but when Linda inquired if anyone wanted to start back, all were silent. We did, however, take our eyes off the dragonfly for brief moments. And because of it, we got to know a small area rather well. A few of our discoveries included  the yellow-green, early coral-root orchid, which has no leaves,

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star flowers with their seven petals, seven stamens and sometimes seven leaves, though the latter wasn’t consistent,

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and yellow clintonia, aka bluebead lily.

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We also saw hot chili pepper on the leaf litter and . . .

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in the water. Springtails galore. Yes, aka snow fleas, but obviously we can see them even when there isn’t snow on the ground.

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As we explored, we continued to keep a watchful eye on our friend. In fact, he became “our” dragonfly. An hour later, the melodic song of a Baltimore oriole pulled us away and we finally started back along the path.

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We paused frequently to admire the flowers and leaves, but then another flyer slowed us down and became “our” mourning cloak as it settled on a fallen tree and then fluttered amongst us. Happy were we to have shared such moments of awe.

p-ph pack on Amos

Though our walk had lasted longer than intended, I wasn’t ready to head home, so once everyone left, I turned back and climbed Amos Mountain using the Saddle Trail. It was hot and buggy, but I went for a reason and wasn’t disappointed.

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Among the grasses and violets,

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the wild strawberries grow. But that’s not all.

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It was the spurred red and yellow flowers of wild columbine that I wanted to see.

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Their heads drooped dramatically.

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Numerous yellow stamens projected downward and surrounded the green pistils with their long, thin styles, creating the look of an ornate lantern dangling from a post–thus its other common name, little lantern. I really don’t care what it’s called. Spending time in its presence was all that mattered.

The same was true for our dragonfly experience. We wallowed in wonder today and let nature reveal its glory.

Three Times A Charm

One might think that following the same loop through the woods in slow motion three times in one day would be boring. One would be wrong. My friend Joan and I can certainly attest this fact.

Round One: 9 am, Wildflower and Bird Walk with Lakes Environmental Association co-led by birder/naturalist Mary Jewett of LEA and the ever delightful botanist Ursula Duve.

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In abundance here, the hobblebush bouquet–a snowy-white flower that is actually an inflorescence, or lacy cluster of tiny fertile flowers surrounded by a halo of showy, yet sterile bracts. Yeah, so I’ve showed you this before. And I’ll probably show it again. Each presentation is a wee bit different.

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And then we spied something that I’ve suddenly seen almost every day this week.

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The cotyledon or seed leaf of an American beech. Prior to Monday, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this and yet, since then I’ve continued to discover them almost every day. Worth a wonder.

h-beech coty 3ph

Think about it. The journey from seed to tree can be a dangerous one as the root is sent down through the leaf litter in search of moisture. Since the root system is shallow, lack of moisture can mean its demise. When conditions are right, a new seedling with a rather strange, yet beautiful appearance surfaces. The seed leaves of the beech, aka cotyledons, are leathery and wavy-margined. They contain stored food and will photosynthesize until the true leaves develop, providing a head start for the tree. I realize now that I’ve seen them all my life in other forms, including maple trees, oak trees and vegetables. But . . . the beech cotyledon captures my sense of wonder right now, especially as it reminds me of a luna moth, which I have yet to see this year.

h-green frog 2

Crossing the first boardwalk through the red maple swamp, a large male green frog tried to hide below us. Notice the large circular formation behind his eye. That’s the tympanum, his visible external ear. A male’s tympanum is much larger than his eye.

h-rhodora ph1

Other red maple swamp displays included the showy flowers of rhodora and their woody capsules.

h-rhodora1

Ralph Waldo Emerson knew the charm of this spring splendor:

The Rhodora

On being asked, whence is the flower.
In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals fallen in the pool
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for Being;
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask; I never knew;
But in my simple ignorance suppose
The self-same power that brought me there, brought you.

h-LEA group

To avoid getting our feet too wet, we spread out as we walked on the boardwalk through the quaking bog.

h-five morning

Morning light highlighted the layers from the pond and sphagnum pond up to Five Fields Farm and Bear Trap above.

h-trill 1

And because it was ever present, I couldn’t resist pausing to admire the painted trillium once again (don’t tell my guy).

h-dwarf ginseng1ph

One plant that I will always associate with this place and Ursula, who first introduced me to it years ago, is the dwarf ginseng. I love its global spray of flowers and compound leaves. But maybe what I love most is its beauty in diminutive form–just like Ursula.

Round Two: Noon, Lunch and a walk with my dear friend Joan.

h-bigtooth aspen

After returning to our vehicles following the morning walk, Joan and I grabbed our lunches. And I paused in the parking lot to enjoy the silvery fuzziness of big tooth aspen leaves. The quaking aspen in our yard leafed out a couple of weeks ago, but big tooth aspen leaves are just emerging. Like others, they begin life with a hairy approach–perhaps as a protective coating while they get a start on life?

h-muddy riverlunch

We ate lunch beside Muddy River where the spring colors were reflected in the water.

h-blueberries 1ph

And then we heard something jump in the water, so we moved silently like foxes as we tried to position ourselves and gain a better view. In the back of our minds, or perhaps the front, we wanted to see a turtle, beaver or especially an otter. Not to be. But we did see highbush blueberries in flower.

h-bee 1

And the bees that pollinate them.

h-pitcher 5ph

In their out-of-this universe form, we knelt down to honor the pitcher plant blossoms that grow along a couple of boardwalks.

h-red maple samaras

We were wowed by the color of the red maple samaras,

h-red winged

prominent shoulder patch of the red-winged blackbird,

h-cranberries

and cranberries floating on the quaking bog.

h-lone larch

And then our eyes were drawn to the green–of the lone larch or tamarack tree

h-green 9ph

and the green frogs.

h-green 8ph

I spent some time getting to know one better.

h-green 3

She even climbed out to accommodate me–I’m sure that’s why she climbed up onto the boardwalk.

h-green 6

Or maybe she knew he was nearby. What a handsome prince.

Round Three: 2:30pm, Joan and I (co-coordinators of the Maine Master Naturalist Bridgton 2016 class) were joined by another MMNP grad, Pam Davis Green, who will lead our June field trip to explore natural communities at Holt Pond.

h-striped maple flower

h-spriped flowers 2

Cascading down from the striped maple leaves, we saw their flowers, which had alluded us on our first two passages.

h-speckled 2

The cottony white masses of wooly alder aphids decorated many of the speckled alders in the preserve. In a symbiotic relationship, ants stroke the aphid with their antennae, while  the aphid releases a drop of honeydew, much like a cow being milked. It’s actually rather creepy.

h-duck

Two Canada Geese squawked from another part of the pond, but Mrs. Mallard stood silently by.

h-tree pants

Our final sight brought a smile to our faces–someone put his or her pants on upside down!

We hope that charms your fancy. Joan and I were certainly charmed by our three loops around and those we got to share the trail with today.

We also want to thank Ursula, Mary and Pam for their sharings. And we send good vibes and lots of prayers to my neighbor, Ky, and Pam’s brother-in-law.       

 

 

On the Edge

I’ve been blessed with amazing opportunities. From writing and editing projects to nature education, I get to meet and learn from a variety of people. Yesterday, I spent two hours with a couple who live off-the-grid on a farm in Stow and rent greenhouse and farm stand space in Lovell. Though we’d met only briefly at an owl presentation this winter, I immediately felt like I was among old friends. My task today was to turn our interview into an article.

Writing is a process that I embrace. I work best when the house is quiet. Then it’s pen or pencil to paper, letting the story flow from head and heart to hand.

Once the rough draft is completed and I’ve typed it, I’ll read it aloud and make some changes. But then I need to step away. And that’s what I did this afternoon.

Mt Wash

I didn’t go far. I felt the need to wander along the edge of the power/tree line, where the snow is melting.

blueberry twig

 The color red pulled me in for a closer look. Seems funny that blueberry twigs are red, but then again, I’ve never seen a blue twig . . . and never hope to see one.

teaberry

Still reddish maroon Teaberry or Wintergreen leaves. On summer walks, it’s refreshing to pick a leaf and breath in the wintergreen scent. Though the leaf shouldn’t be swallowed, some like to chew it for the flavor. Or make tea from it.

red maple

I can’t resist the Red Maples. In less than a month they should be flowering.

sketch

After walking along, sinking frequently in the still knee deep snow, I finally settled down. The sun was warm on my back. Every so often a gentle breeze made the hemlock boughs sway daintily above my head as dried leaves rattled on a nearby beech.

Hemlock leaves or needles are each attached to the twig by a hairy stem called a petiole. The needles on a Balsam Fir attach directly to the twig. I love the subtle differences between the two.

I love taking the time to sit and pay attention. To be. On the edge.

Island Hopping

island 1

Off on a care-free holiday in . . . Lovell, Maine. What sets it apart is the variety of islands. And, I suppose, the ferry service between each.

island 2

A naturalist friend and I set off on our grand adventure at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge this morning. This is a 598-acre refuge owned and cared for by the Greater Lovell Land Trust. We hopped, more like sloshed on snowshoes, from one island to another as we discovered the highlights of each.

mushroom 1

Red-belted Polypore Fomitopsis pinicola

Like on any island hopping experience, we were quite taken with the breathtaking diversity of vibrant colors and textures. This is a red-belted polypore (if I’m right), Fomitopsis pinicola. I have another friend who is determined that I will learn my fungi, so I hope he’ll read this and correct me as I go along. He knows only the Latin names. I’m lucky if I can remember a common name. (Don’t tell Mr. Cretella, my high school Latin teacher.)

turkey tail

Turkey Tails (Trametes versicolor) were hanging out, doing their thing on some dead wood.

witches butter

More than once we were greeted by Witch’s Butter (Tremella mesenteric). I love butter, so this must be the good witch. (My PB&J sandwiches always include slabs of butter)

birch polypore

No island tour is complete without seashells. In this case, I think this is a Birch Polypore (Piptoporus betulinus) growing on the Yellow Birch. I’m thrown off by that wavy rim. Whatever it is, it’s beautiful.

British Soldier

We didn’t just hang out with a bunch of fungi. British soldiers (Cladonia cristatella) were standing around, proudly inviting us to take a look at their red caps.

Kidney lichen

Yes, we took a liken to some other lichens as well. I believe this is Pimpled Kidney Lichen (Nephroma resupinatum).

lungwort

Being in the islands, we are on the cusp of the rainy season and the Lungwort (Lobaria pulmonary), was saturated and bright green. We had hoped we’d see it on this tour, and it didn’t lettuce down.

Mealy Pixie cup lichen

Are you still with me? There were so many more sights to see, including the Green Pyxie Cups, aka Mealy Pyxie Cups (Cladonia chlorophaea).

spore capsule, hair cap moss

I should have paid better attention, but this hair-cap moss is either Polytrichum commune, (Common hair-cap) or P. ohioense. I’m thinking the former, which has a spore capsule that is no more than 1.5 X as long as wide, while the latter’s capsule is more than 1.5X as long as wide.

antler piece?

No matter where we looked, either on the islands or on the sea of snow between each, we found evidence that the deer had visited before us. Tracks, scat and beds everywhere. And then we found this. A bone fragment that had been nibbled on. Maybe a piece of an antler?

deer hair 1

And this–deer hair.

deer hair 2

And this. Lots of deer hair beside the plug of hair above. What happened here? We didn’t have a guide to ask, but the story unfolded before our eyes. A deer sat down to spend the night under the hemlock tree. Its body heat turned the snow to ice. And when it stood up the next morning, the hair stuck to the ice. Anyway, that’s our story and we’re sticking with it.

porcy scat

If you’ve stuck with me through these wonder-filled wanders, then you know that I may include a photo of scat. In this case, an island native made itself known by the debris on top of the island and snow–porcupine.

porky den

A few minutes later we came upon its den. Porcupines are the pig pens of the natural world. Despite that, we were excited to find this.

island 3

No need, however,  to stick around there. We bounded (hardly) off to another island, glad that we were able to stop at so many destinations in a single day. And the best part is that when we visit again, we’ll find other treasured spots to explore.

Thanks for stopping by to wander and wonder.

P.S. And take a look at my friend’s site–her photos are amazing and the map of our walk shows just how nature distracted we are.

My Native Land

stonewall

As winter draws to a close, I head out to capture its fleeting moments. The snow is here today, and will be tomorrow, but it’s changing in texture and amount. And all that has been covered and protected is slowly emerging.

vernal pool

It won’t be long before the vernal pool teems with life. Already, deer and skunks have stopped by.

bobcat

I ventured deeper into the woods behind us, into my smiling place, without snowshoes. That meant I had to follow my old tracks, which deer and a coyote had also used. And then I saw signs of commotion on the snow and some tracks that crossed my trail. Drats–without snowshoes, I couldn’t follow it. Will I ever learn? I certainly wouldn’t make a good Boy Scout! “Be, be, be prepared, the motto of the Boy Scouts.”

Anyway, bobcat tracks always make my heart jump with joy. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s their wildness. Or beauty. The fact that they are solitary, elusive and oh, so clever. Coyotes are cool too, in their own way, but they are loud and gregarious.

old beech

As I walked back, I paused by this old beech. Mr. Cretella, my high school Spanish and Latin teacher, popped into my head. No, not because he’s old now, if he’s still living. It actually had nothing to do with the tree and everything to do with the tree. In my yearbook, Mr. C. wrote, “Never lose your desire to learn.” Those words have reverberated with me over the years. I don’t remember what anyone else wrote, but his sentiment struck a cord. Pretty amazing, given that when I took Latin I my senior year, I was forever substituting Spanish words if I didn’t know the answer on a quiz or test.

Back to the old beech tree. I guess it was the realization that this tree is in the process of breaking down and giving back and I never would have understood this before I took the Maine Master Naturalist class. Tomorrow I’m going to attend an MMNP advanced seminar and learn about bone biology. Huh? Me? Don’t worry–I won’t be able to astound you with my knowledge after a three hour class. But it’s that desire to learn that Mr. Cretella encouraged all those years ago. Thank you, Mr. C., wherever you are.

beech life

One more thing about the old beech. It still has signs of life as evidenced by the twigs with buds.

red maple

Finally, I settled down at the edge by the cow path and did some sketching because I don’t want to miss the grand moments in the lives of these trees.

red maple 1

Red Maple, Acer rubrum

red oak

red oak1

Northern Red Oak, Quercus rubra (oops, I forgot the “s” in the sketch)

beech

beech 1

American beech, Fagus grandifolia

Winter will draw to an end in an hour and 30 minutes (6:45pm). To celebrate spring, I’ve started reading a new/old/used book: Springtime in Britain by Edwin Way Teale. On page 2 (so I haven’t read much yet, but it isn’t spring yet), he writes, “Three centuries ago, an old English writer admonished the prospective traveler: ‘Know most of the rooms of thy native land before thou goest over the threshold thereof.'”

I’m still learning those rooms of my native land. I’m thankful for the opportunity and glad that you joined me on today’s wonder-filled wander.

P.S. Lake Living magazine is now being distributed throughout the Lakes Region of Maine. I’ll let you know when the Web site has been updated.

Milling About

snow waves

Today’s tramp found us heading north on Moose Pond again. The pond is covered in snowmobile tracks and snow swirls like these.

coyote print

Though we sink into the snow, this coyote had no problem moving along.

snowshoes

Snowshoes were a must for both of us. Our intended destination was Rueben Bennett’s saw mill–or at least the remnants of it. I’d been there about a year and a half ago with the current land owner and another friend, and wanted to show my guy. A couple of men who lived in the Old City neighborhood I wrote about yesterday, may have worked at the mill.

beaver lodge

We were almost to the outlet of the brook when we saw that this beaver lodge is active. Notice the breathing hole at the top. We moved away quickly so as not to add any more stress to them.

 cat tails

It looks like the fluffy seeds of these cattails are still emerging. It won’t be long before the Red-winged Blackbirds are perching on them.

stream

Following the stream, we kept looking for the rocks left from the mill site.

liverwort

Along the way, I spotted this lungwort or lung lichen. It’s one of my favorites because when it’s dry like this, it’s light in color and very brittle. But after a rain storm, it turns bright green and is quite pliable. And it’s got that lettuce leafy look to it. Some describe it as a lung tissue appearance. I’ll stick with the lettuce, thank you very much. Lungwort is an indicator species for a rich, healthy ecosystem. Always a good find.

chaga

I’m not a mushroom expert, but I do know that this is Chaga. Another good find.  Unlike most other  hard, woody fungi, Chaga is coveted for its nutritional and medicinal benefits. If you want to know where this one is, you’ll have to follow our breadcrumb trail. I recently learned that the Siberians call it the “Gift from God” and the “Mushroom of Immortality.” To the Japanese, it is “The Diamond of the Forest,” and for the Chinese, “The King of Plants.” A mighty good find. It’s still there.

red maple swamp

We looked high and low for the mill site. At last we came to this Red Maple swamp and decided that perhaps it was Duck Pond, and we’d gone too far.

old City up the hill

Old City is located right up the hill. I was almost certain we were in the right place, but our search turned up nothing.

examining the erratic

We examined this rock to see if it was a glacial erratic or had been moved here for some reason. I vote for glacial erratic.

slush

After three hours of tramping about, we started for home. The wind was cool at our backs, but someone took of his snowshoes and you can see that it’s getting a bit slushy on the pond.

heading home

What’s that line about walk beside me and be my friend. I know it looks like I’m always following, but that’s not the case all the time. I do like to pause frequently and take photos to remember and ponder at a later time.

It turns out that we were milling about in the wrong area. I should have looked at my friend’s Web site prior to today’s adventure. She almost always has her GPS handy and had posted the exact location. I knew it didn’t feel quite right, but I was so certain it was closer to Old City than it actually is.

Oh well. A destination for another time.

Thanks for joining me for today’s wonder-filled discoveries.