Saturday found My Guy and me doing some trail work in the rain along a local path that we’ve helped maintain for probably close to twenty years. On Sunday we went on one of the buggiest hikes we’ve endured in a while. But there was a prize to be had. And today. Ah today. What a gorgeous day. And few bugs. There was a reason for that.
We were in a wetland where the dragonflies were emerging. So this is a member of the Baskettail family. I’m just getting my dragonfly eyes back on and need to refresh my memory.
Looking at it from a different angle, my brain wants to call it a Spiny Baskettail rather than Common for it seemed dark behind its head and the dark basal marks on the wings seemed to match up, but . . . if you think otherwise, I’m open to clarification.
We also spotted Belted Whiteface Skimmers seeking meals, and there were damselflies on the hunt as well. If these Mosquito/Black Fly/Deer Fly-eating predators haven’t reached your backyard yet, know that help is due to arrive any day.
Not all the sights we saw were predatory and so we delighted that a few new butterflies of the season were in our midst, including this Mustard White, with its striking venation a feature of the spring brood. The coloring has to do with developing in the chrysalis during shorter spring days versus the pure white or mustard-color which occur in summer broods.
Also fluttering about were a few Canadian Tiger Swallowtails, adding bright dashes of color in a woodland growing ever so green.
While the butterflies help with pollination, this humongous Bumblebee was hosting a pollen party for one and if you look closely, you may see the yellow specks flying in the air and all over its face.
It was no surprise to see the pollen sacs on its hind legs filled to overflowing.
There was so much to take in everywhere we looked and we were glad we’d driven an hour and a half to spend time in this special place where one of My Guy’s favorite flowers grows. Though not in bloom yet, they are preparing and we can’t rush the season. I know some have blossomed closer to home, but think our location a bit further north meant things are delayed by a week or so.
Equally as fun to find was evidence of last year’s flower in the form of a football-shaped seed capsule–and we can only hope that some of those seeds will find the right conditions and show off their showy blossoms. Of course, those seeds might remain dormant until conditions are just right, so it could be years before we can enjoy them. We’re willing to wait.
Today’s journey found us enjoying the mountains and wetlands in Whitefield, New Hampshire, where there was still some snow on distant peaks. Look below the clouds and you’ll see what I mean.
So many stars we enjoyed and really have only honored a few here.
But the real star among us we spent some time with yesterday . . . until the insects drove us home, literally!
This Black Chipmunk and its forebears have been rather reliable residents on a certain trail and though I don’t spot one every year, it’s always a treat to meet it again. This was the prize.
As we watched, the chipmunk behaved as one would expect, dining upon seeds it had cached, then running along a log, jumping down to the ground, and disappearing into a hole beside a tree. I have to wonder how many more it may be feeding with its stuffed cheeks. And having observed 315 15-second game camera videos of a Red Squirrel a couple of years ago, and watching this particular chipmunk, as well as those who live around our house, I know that it repeated its routine from hole to food source and back to hole from sun-up to sun-down.
Melanistic mammals have an increased amount of the dark pigment melanin in their hair, and though they are considered rare, I know of at least three local areas where Black Chipmunks have been spotted for years.
There may be stars in the sky as this beautiful day gives way to night, but indeed there are many more stars at our feet if we take the time to notice.
I’ve been wanting to take My Guy to a certain place in North Chatham, New Hampshire, for the last few years and today was the day that the stars lined up.
Though it appeared we were the second and third humans to head out on the trails this morning, for at the start we spotted only one set of snowshoe tracks, it was obvious that so many others had followed or crossed before us–such as this vole, who tunneled through the fresh inch or two of snow that fell yesterday and then changed its gait.
And then I spotted a sign that always brings me to my knees–fox prints and a dash of urine, probably that of a male in search of a date. Confirmation that it was a fox, and a red one at that, came in the form of the urine’s scent–rather skunk-like. I asked My Guy if he wanted to take a sniff, but he passed on the opportunity.
A wee bit farther and we came upon a smattering of activity, where two foxes had left their dancing cards and I think at least announced their intentions for each other as a date.
These classified ads could be that of the male stating his desire, while the vixen left her own marks of estrus blood as she perhaps investigated his intentions and decided to say yes. The scat? It came from one of them. Another advertisement of health and age and vitality.
While I suspected a meal was not on their minds as she’s only ready to mate for about a week or less, by the amount of snowshoe hare tracks we spotted, we knew that there was plenty of food available. Other offerings on the pantry shelf included ruffed grouse and red squirrel.
Most of the trails at this place are well-groomed by the owners, but we also tried one or two that weren’t.
For the first time in the four or five years that I’ve traveled this way, I finally found the Old Sap House. The owners still tap trees, but obviously this is not where they boil the sap to make maple syrup.
So . . . this was my first journey on the network of trails with My Guy as I mentioned. And I had no idea that it is possible to circle Moose Alley in under an hour. In the past, when I’ve gone with a couple of friends, it has taken us hours and hours because we stop to look at every little thing. And go off trail to follow tracks. And make all kinds of discoveries. But today was different, and that was fine.
I’d also never been on the Sugarbush Trail, which brought us back to the Route 113 and an intersection with Snowmobile Corridor 19. It was here that we heard Chickadees and Red Crossbills singing and I finally located one of the latter in a maple tree.
Crossbills are finches with specialized bills that let them break into unopened cones. Can you see how the top of the bill cross over the bottom?
My intention was that we would eat lunch at one of the benches along the trail system, but we’d hiked most of the system before I knew it and so we sat on the back of my truck and ate. And then we headed back out on Corridor 19, a super highway through Evans Notch.
Only about a quarter mile from the farm boundary, we spotted moose tracks showing two had passed this way recently. We knew they’d been seen on the farm and hoped we might get to spy them, but just seeing their tracks and knowing they were still in the area was enough.
Can you imagine sinking two feet down with each step? Well, actually I can, because I’ve post-holed through snow many a time, but moose and deer must do this daily. For them, it’s routine.
Our reason for continuing on the snowmobile trail was that we had a destination we wanted to reach, that we hadn’t even thought about before reaching the intersection of Corridor 19 just prior to lunch. Eventually, we had to break trail again, and this time it was all uphill, and rather steep at that.
But our real plan was to climb to the Millard Chandler Feldspar Mine (aka North Star Mine) in Evans Notch.
Millard Chandler was a descendent of one of the founding families of Chatham. Originally, mica was mined from the pegmatites but prior to World War II, Whitehall Company, Inc, focused on feldspar.
From the top of the cavern, where life on a rock was evident as the trees continued to grow up there, the water flowed and froze and formed stalactites of sorts. Icicle sorts.
StalacTites grow down from the ceiling of the cavern–think T for Top.
StalaGmites, on the other hand, grow up from the floor–Think G for ground.
In this case, they looked like little fingers reaching up.
This was definitely a Mondate with a view, including Evans Notch from the mine . . .
Norwegian Fjord horses Kristoff and Marta at the farm . . .
and a window that caught my fancy at the sap house.
Our many, many thanks to Becky and Jim for sharing Notch View Farm with all of us. And thank you to Jim for chatting with us twice today. I’m still chuckling about the story of the women from Lovell who visit several times a year and spend hours upon hours on the trail. And then one of them writes long prose and includes pictures of every little thing spotted along the way. Yes, that would be Pam, and Pam, and me! Once, Becky even came looking for us on the snowmobile because we’d been out there for so many hours.
Today, with My Guy, it was a different adventure, but still a fun one and we appreciate that both of you work so hard to share your land with the rest of us.
A mountain on The Kanc (Kancamagus Highway, aka Route 112 that stretches from Conway to Lincoln, New Hampshire) has been calling our names for some time. We’ve hiked neighboring Hedgehog Mountain on several occasions, but never Potash–until today, that is.
Well, actually, that’s not true. We last hiked Hedgehog in early fall and after finishing thought we’d attempt Potash since the trail leads from the same parking lot. That is, until we met Downes Brook, which is about 35 feet wide and my brain-over-matter would not allow me to make the crossing. Another couple had arrived at the brook moments before us, and while both our guys ventured across the rocks, she and I thought it best not to go forth. And so it was today, knowing how much rain we’ve had recently, that we decided to follow the recommendation in the AMC guide and instead park near a gated logging road about a half mile beyond the trailhead lot. After hiking up the logging road, the intersection with the hiking trail isn’t marked and is very subtle, but we were grateful for people who had gone before and left their marks on the snow. Suddenly, we were in the woods and as we paused to look through the trees, the colors afforded us reminded us of spring. As they should, for today felt like a spring day. Actually, too many days have felt like such lately, so when it does freeze every few days, our bodies go into shock.
That spring feeling was evidenced by the lack of snow on the trail and lack of ice on the rocks. What should have been . . . wasn’t.
Even the streams along the way flowed with vigor and no ice had formed. Oh, it probably had, but then melted.
The trail starts out rather tame, but soon becomes rocky with lots of intersecting roots seeking to trip hikers.
Until I looked at the map, I thought we’d reached the summit in good time, only to realize it was a false summit, as so often happens. And we were only at the halfway point.
This would have been a great place to eat lunch, if we hadn’t already done so before leaving the truck. We had visions of Orange KitKats dancing in our heads, but promised ourselves a summit treat and so we had to continue–but first, we waved to Hedgehog Mountain in the foreground.
This photo doesn’t do it justice, for the last section of trail to the summit gets quite steep following a series of already steep switchbacks, and then one has to scramble over granite slabs.
We met the wind at the summit and the swirls in the snow showed that’s always the case. It was time to celebrate with a KitKat or two. Oops. We searched through the backpack and came up empty. Somehow we’d left them in the truck.
One quick look at the Sandwich Wilderness and then it was time to head down so we could reach the truck before darkness set in.
The descent was slow going, but that worked for me. Picking the right spot to place a foot always takes time.
Because I was spending so much time looking down and hugging trees as well as kissing some rocks, I spotted Cladonia squamosa, or Dragon Horn lichen.
Squamosa means covered in scales, which is apropos. And the brown tips are the reproductive parts or apothecia.
I also found some ice I’d missed on the way up. While it made me happy, I still am dismayed by the current conditions.
Here’s another curious thing. We spotted numerous Red Squirrel caches and middens, mostly of spruce cones. And then I spied this Ruffed Grouse scat, indicating the bird had roosted in this spot not too long ago. But other than hearing a few nuthatches, wild critter sign was non-existent. I can walk into the woods behind our home and find much more than this–why is that?
I pondered that thought as we once again turned onto the logging road, and hoped that a mammal would surprise us as we walked, out, but because I was expecting such, it didn’t happen.
Ah well, it was okay. In the end, My Guy and I were delighted we’d enjoyed this First Day Substitute Mondate. First Day Substitute? Whoever heard of that? But I guess that’s what the Monday following a holiday is called.
Oh, and we did gobble up the KitKats when we reached the truck. They tasted extra special.
I didn’t realize sixth months had passed since I’d last shared a Mondate adventure until I went back and checked. Never fear, my guy and I have continued to hike or paddle almost every Monday, but most of the trails I’ve written about before and really, I didn’t feel like I had a story to tell on each of them. But . . . put them all together and tada. So hang in here with me. I won’t write much, but do have a bunch of photos to share and hope you enjoy the journey.
Sometimes it was the root way to heaven that we’ve followed upon an ascent.
Other times a brook crossing that added a little tension to the adventure.
And in the mix there were a few granite scrambles to conquer.
We stepped out onto ledges,
rediscovered the rocky coast of Maine,
walked beside water racing around boulders,
stepped from the trail out onto the summit of a ski area,
paused beside a teepee that has withstood man and nature,
strolled across an airstrip,
followed more ledges,
took in the view from a spot where a fire tower once stood,
spotted the ridgeline of our hometown mountain on the cloudy horizon,
danced with hang clouds,
looked back at a summit we’d conquered a half hour before,
considered taking a chilly bath,
and always found lunch rock with a view.
Our journeys found us hiking in to mountain ponds,
and paddling upon a pond by a mountain.
During fleeting moments we enjoyed fall foliage.
On each hike/paddle we saw so much including this Northern Pygmy Dragonfly,
a Field Sparrow,
a Silver-spotted Skimmer Butterfly,
and a spider wrapping a dragonfly feast,
And did I mention Lady’s Slippers?
Over the course of three hikes in one week, we counted 963 of these beautiful orchids.
And then there was the Blinded Sphinx Moth,
a Giant Leopard Moth,
and a Green Lacewing pretending to be a leaf.
Our hearts ticked a little faster with the spot of bear claw marks upon a bog bridge.
And occasionally we were honored to spend some time with one of nature’s great engineers.
There was work to be done as the Beaver’s dam also serves as part of the path to a summit and people kept ruining it for the rodent.
Often, we’d spy a stick that suddenly slithered because it wasn’t really a stick at all but a Garter Snake.
One day we even had the pleasure to go on a Puffin Watch and spotted over a hundred of these colorful seabirds.
Today, we actually spotted a Doe who posed for about five minutes before giving us a huff and dashing off.
And a post from me wouldn’t be complete without a photo of scat–this being classic Red Fox–tapered at the ends, twisted, and located upon a rock in the middle of a trail.
We had the pleasure of hiking with our youngest (though we missed his girl),
and relaxing after another hike with our oldest and his gal, plus their pup.
My guy posed as a lobster,
and a picker of blueberries beside the water’s edge,
and across a mountain ridge.
Recently, I was talking with a friend about wondermyway.com and how it serves as a diary of our adventures as well as all the cool stuff I learn about almost daily in the world out the door.
And she replied, “Your blog is a love story.”
She’s right for it is a love story on so many levels like this one. He’ll forever be a Maine Black Bear and if you are looking for me, I’ll forever be following him into the next adventure wherever our Mondates lead us.
Where to begin? Perhaps at the beginning? Or better yet, half way through. And so that’s where today’s story starts.
My Guy and I had some errands to run, but then it was time to have fun. To that end, we chose the Weeks Brook Trail up the backside (or maybe it’s the front side depending on your perspective) of Mount Kearsarge North in New Hampshire. We last climbed Kearsarge in November, which I recorded in What’s To Come Mondate, via the Kearsarge Trail that starts on Hurricane Mountain Road. We knew we didn’t have time to go to the summit today, but Shingle Pond, halfway up the trail offered a fine lunch log date and turn-around point.
Along the way we had many to honor and so we did, beginning with a colony of Clintonia showing off bright yellow blossoms.
Each cheery bloom offered an explosion of sunshine radiating from its flaring bell shape and six long stamens with yellow tips and a long style.
Sharing the trail were Pink Lady’s Slippers offering a variation of hues sharing a color scheme.
Since My Guy loves to count slippers, an activity that forever surprises me, he noted only eight in bloom today, but this one was extra special because it featured not only today’s blossom, but also last year’s fruit in the shape of a capsule that once contained thousands of tiny seeds.
And then there was Wild Sarsapirilla with its whorl of three compound leaves at the tip of a long stem.
The globe-shaped flowers that grow upon a stem of their own below the umbrella teemed with pollinators of all shapes and sizes.
My joyous heart kept growing larger and larger with each wonder-filled find enhanced in a few cases by being the first of the species I’ve spotted this year. Indian Cucumber Root topped that list with several in flower. To some, the flowers are inconspicuous as they nod below the plant’s second tier, but to me they are among nature’s most amazing constructions as the petal-like segments turn backward and the stamens stand out in reddish purple offering a contrast to the yellow pistils.
By the time we reached the Swamp Beacon Fungi, my heart was full, but like any sweet treats, there’s always room for more. These little yellow mushrooms love a wet seep and there were a few along today’s trail. I was reminded of my first encounter with this species in 2015 when I posted Slugs, Bears and Caterpillar Clubs, Oh My! (RIP PV. I’ll miss you forever)
At last we reached the pond and immediately my focus changed from flowers to other structures all belonging to the Odonata family, this one in particular being the left-behind exuviae of a Skimmer Dragonfly. I found it at eye level–my eyes that is and not My Guy’s.
I really wanted to introduce him to a dragonfly eclosing and the best I could find today was one that had already split out of its aquatic form and was still pumping hemolymph (bug blood) from its wings back into its expanding body. “Isn’t that cool?” I asked. His response somehow turned a basketball move he expected to see on tonight’s Celtics game into a cooler situation. Hmmm. I’ll win him over yet.
Despite that, I did win another one over. It was an immature Skimmer Dragonfly who had recently emerged for a wee bit cloudy were its wings still.
I knew it to species as a Whiteface for such was the color of . . . its face.
Whether it was a Belted Whiteface Skimmer or a Crimson Whiteface Skimmer, the jury is still out and based upon wing venation. My gut leans toward the former, but I’m open to learning so if you think otherwise, please explain.
That said, it was the first dragonfly that easily climbed upon my offered hand this year and I rejoiced that the Dragonfly Whisperer had joined today’s Mondate. Even My Guy was impressed.
We do LOVE winter, my guy and I, but really, we appreciate all of our seasons and can’t imagine living in a place where we can’t experience each in its own right and the change from one to the next.
And so today, with the temp in the low 20˚s and wind chill making it feel even colder, we donned our micro-spikes and headed up a snowmobile trail to begin our search for the current season.
Icicles that we were sure had formed overnight, since the weekend temps had been much warmer, formed along a stream that flowed toward Slippery Brook, for our trail of choice was in the White Mountain National Forest.
In other seasons, one can either drive to our destination, or go via snowmobile, but for the time being the gates to Forest Road 17 in Chatham, New Hampshire are closed to vehicular traffic. That was fine with us.
At about 2.5 miles, we took a slight detour to take in the sounds and views of Slippery Brook.
It was there on a crossbeam of the bridge where my guy was about to sit that I noticed British Soldier, a common lichen with bright red caps that remain so year-round, but have been hidden from view by snow all winter. It was like meeting a cheery old friend for the first time . . . this sighting.
Along the road also grew many a Hobblebush, another old friend, their naked leaf and flower buds swelling in anticipation of what is to come.
And then we spotted these prints, made by the largest mammal around and though we saw more in other places, this set of four made us wonder if the moose had come in for a landing and then flown off again.
At last we reached the trailhead, and as we approached the pond we noted an immediate dip in temperature, plus an increase in wind. Thankfully, we’d expected such and had dressed for the occasion. That said, it’s hard to search for spring when your cheeks sting with the wind.
A rocky and rooty trail that circles the pond, though fairly flat, requires hikers’ attention at all times of the year and today was no exception. That said, the trail itself offered a snippet of spring.
We reached Mountain Pond at last and by the outlet found some open water, but other than a few chickadees and nuthatches, there were no birds or other forms of wildlife to spy upon as we’d hoped.
Even so, our focus was rewarded in other forms, such as other buds growing larger, like upon this Speckled Alder. And notice that lateral leaf scar–a happy face indeed.
The longer male and shorter female catkins, which are the flowers of the alder, swayed in the breeze, waiting for a future date when they could do just that . . . date.
A few actually seemed ready to mate, though not with each other. While the pendulous male flowers open and extend when their pollen is ready to be dispersed, just above them the tiny, maroon female flowers “bloom” at the same time on the same shrub. In this case position counts and so with the female flowers above the males, self-pollination is discouraged and cross-pollination occurs instead thanks to wind.
Also beside the pond’s shore, the woody structures of last year’s Rhodora flowers, but also its buds enlarging by the day, with promises of exquisite displays making us suddenly want the time to push the clock ahead.
The same was true for the Sheep Laurel, that plump pinkish bud ready to burst open when the time is just right.
As we headed back toward the Forest Road at last, we began to notice exposed trails of Red Squirrels that led from one spruce cone cache to another. Those feisty ones were quiet today, but we suspected they are happy to have more food offerings on the horizon.
Nine miles later as we once again passed by the stream with the icicles and noticed that more had formed, we realized we’d found spring on this Mondate . . . she’s just taking her time and we should follow her example and be patient as this next season unfolds.
Seven years ago today I gave birth–rather a record at my age. It was February 21, 2015, when I welcomed wondermyway into the world. It’s been quite an adventure that we’ve shared together and one of my favorite things to do each year to celebrate is to take a look back.
As I reviewed this past year, the reality hit home. I’ve written less than half the number of posts of any other year. That all boils down to one thing. Time. There’s never enough. Oh, I’ve taken the photos, and had the adventures, but I haven’t made the time to write about all of them. Sometimes, they sit off to the side in my brain and I think I’ll use some of them together in a cumulative post, and there they sit.
That all said, I’ve had more views and visitors this past year than any other. Views = 24,955; Visitors = 16,994. Followers = 701. And over the course of wondermyway’s lifespan, the blog has received 121,765 hits.
An enormous heart-felt thanks to all who have joined me for any or all of these journeys. I get excited to share with you and love hearing from you.
In case you are wondering, my guy and I did have a Mondate this afternoon–along Bemis River and then up to Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire.
It was here at the falls that we celebrated wondermyway.com with a couple of those Bavarian Haus chocolates we purchased last Monday.
And now for a look at a few excerpts from posts I made during the past year, beginning with March 2021. To read or re-read the entire post, click on the link below each photo.
It took me by surprise, this change of seasons. Somehow I was fooled into thinking winter would hold its grasp for a wee bit longer because I don’t like to let it go.
Even Winter Dark Fireflies, who don’t carry lanterns like their summer cousins, and aren’t even flies as their name suggests (they are beetles), knew what was happening before I did for in their adult form they’d been tucked under bark in recent months, but in a flash are now visible on many a tree trunk as they prepare to mate in a few weeks.
But . . . this spring will be different.
How so? And what invitation still stands? Click on the link under the beetle’s photo to find the answers.
For the past two weeks at Greater Lovell Land Trust we’ve had the good fortune to conduct a wildlife survey in the waters that surround the newly acquired Charles Pond Reserve in Stow, Maine.
MDIFW maintains a comprehensive database on the distribution of Maine’s amphibians and reptiles, as well as terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates and the data we’ve collected will add to the bigger picture. What we discovered was just as important as what we didn’t find.
The survey began with a day of setting and baiting fifteen traps in the pond and associated rivers. What’s not to love about spending time in this beautiful locale, where on several occasions lenticular clouds that looked like spaceships about to descend greeted us.
Our favorite bird sighting was this bald eagle, who found a silver maple snag at the outlet of Cold River into Charles Pond. I was a wee bit nervous as that was Change The Trap Bait Day, and I had a bag of stinky old sardine cans in my lap as I paddled a kayak.
He was intent, however, on something else and barely gave us a glance.
This story of the survey would not be complete, however, without the absolute best sighting that occurred on the last day. Our mammal observations on almost every trip included a muskrat, plus occasional squirrels, and once a beaver. From our game camera set up at various locations, and from tracks and scat, we also know that coyotes, raccoons, otters, a bobcat and a black bear share this space.
But . . . you’ll have to click on the link under the Bald Eagle photo to figure out what our best sighting was.
Warning: Some may find parts of this post disturbing. But it is, after all, about the circle of life.
A climbing thermometer in March signaled one thing amidst many others: the time had arrived to check the vernal pool.
Completely covered with ice at the start of my explorations, I noted puddling on top and knew it was only a matter of days.
Not wanting to rush the season, though truly I did, I rejoiced when the edges melted because life within would soon be revealed.
And then one day, as if by magic, the ice had completely gone out as we say ‘round these parts. It was early this year–in late March rather than April. That same night I heard the wruck, wrucks of Wood Frogs, always the first to enter the pool.
The next day he had attracted his she, grasping her in amplexus as is his species’ manner.
Ah, but how does the story end? Click on the link under the photo to find out.
I walked into a cemetery, that place of last rites and rest, looking for life. It should have been a short visit, for finding life in such a location hardly seems possible, but . . . for two hours yesterday I stalked the gravestones and today I returned to the same spot where I once again roamed, and then continued up the road to another that surprised me even more.
Upon the granite wall that surrounded the Hutchins plot, two small, but actually rather large in the insect world, nymphs crawled and paused, crawled and paused. And my heart sang as it does when I realize I’m in the right place at the right time.
Click on the link under the photo to see the story of the Cicadas unfold.
Out of curiosity, and because it’s something I do periodically, I’ve spent the last four days stalking our gardens. Mind you, I do not have a green thumb and just about any volunteer is welcome to bloom, especially if it will attract pollinators.
There were millions of other insects, well, maybe not millions, but hundreds at least, flying and sipping and buzzing and hovering and crawling and even canoodling, the latter being mainly Ambush Bugs with the darker and smaller male atop the female.
But why the title, “Not Just An Insect”? Ahhh, you know what you’ll need to do to find the answer.
Every Mondate is different, which goes without saying, and the adventure always begins with a question, “What are we going to do today?”
The answer is frequently this, “I don’t know, you pick.”
The instantaneous reply, “I asked first. You need to figure it out.”
We did figure it out. Over and over again. This collection happens to include places that make us happy and many of our family members and just looking back puts a smile on my face. Oh, and the selfie–taken at the same place where we went today–only in September 2021.
Before today’s deluge began, I slipped into Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, Maine, to fill the innermost recesses of my lungs with November air, and at the same time my brain with memories of so many people who have traveled these trails with me from Ned Allen, former executive director of Bridgton Historical Society, to Loon Echo’s Jon Evans, and Lakes Environmental Association’s Alanna Yanelli and Mary Jewett, and friends and friends and friends, including the late JoAnne Diller, Sue Black, and Jinny Mae. But today’s journey also included memories of one I took two years ago with Becky Cook, who shared her remembrances of growing up along South High Street and romping through these trails as they were part of her backyard. If anyone ever had a sense of this place, it is Becky.
This post is full of information of an historic and natural nature. Go ahead, click on the link above to learn more.
The temperature dipped overnight and wind picked up out of the WNW but given the destination we had chosen, we knew if we dressed appropriately we’d be fine because we’d be in the woods most of the time, unlike last week’s walk where we were completely exposed to the elements on Popham Beach. That said, it was cold today.
But what could good hair possibly have to do with this Mondate? You’ll have to read it to find out.
Dear Readers, This post may not be for the faint of heart, but it’s something those of us who track find incredibly exciting as we try to interpret the gory story. Yes, you read that correctly. Blood and guts are to follow. You are now forewarned, and if you decide not to read on, I totally understand.
So how is this stuffed beaver connected to a gory story?
Our date began at the Bavarian Chocolate House in North Conway, New Hampshire, because we’d decided the other day to shop for a gift together and in our minds nothing defines love more than chocolate. It was a great surprise to find a friend of ours, who works in the local branch of the shop, behind the counter in New Hampshire and so we didn’t even have to say “dark chocolate” for each choice we made. And she introduced us to the chocolatier. Then she proceeded to fill the largest box for us. It will last a few days.
That done, we drove on to Big Pines Natural Area in Tamworth, New Hampshire, which I’d just learned about recently. After eating sandwiches at the trailhead, and topping those off with . . . chocolate, we donned our micro-spikes to begin our venture into this old growth forest of white pines.
About one-tenth of a mile in, a bridge spans Swift River and on the other side, there’s a loop trail through the forest and along the river, plus a spur to the summit of Great Hill. Unfortunately, half the loop is closed until spring 2022 because of major erosion, so it was an out-and-back tour for us.
Hiking up, we soon found ourselves among the behemoths that are probably about 200 years old and about 150 feet tall. They are giants worthy of our admiration and so we did. And we hugged a few. Well, I told my guy we were just measuring it to see how many of our wing spans it took to encircle the tree. But really, it was a hug. For this one, 3 arm lengths plus one extra elbow to finger tip.
The bark of an extremely mature Eastern White Pine, aka Pinus strobus, (or perhaps it’s really the other way around), forms elongated plates that would make an interesting fabric pattern for a dress or skirt if I were so inclined to design and wear such.
In the furrows between the plates, layers upon layers of dead bark gather, each having served its purpose of protecting the tree from brisk winter days like today, and hot and humid days of summer before being replaced by the next. In a certain way, those layers reminded me of an oyster shell standing upright.
Had the tree that we stood before been about 50 to 100 years younger, the plates would have been covered with horizontal lines that are spaced so evenly they could almost be notebook paper. And perhaps that is their purpose–for they have noted so much during their lifetime and it’s all written down, we only need to decipher the story.
On this mighty tree, however, the lines had all but disappeared and in some places scales of bark had been shed.
Eventually, we moved on to another tree that was about 3 times our arm span plus half the distance from my elbow to the tips of my fingers in circumference.
We felt rather tiny as we looked skyward, and then we hiked along a spur to Great Hill and its fire tower.
I thought I’d taken a photo of the fire tower at the summit, but maybe my frozen fingers weren’t working in that moment and ran back into my mittens while missing the shot. We climbed up into the cab, where the Tamworth Conservation Commission has posted signs on all four sides of the surrounding mountains.
Mount Chocorua’s unique and craggy profile brought back memories of a summer hike up the Champney Trail to the summit, and my Nervous Nellie reaction.
Through another window frame we spied our hometown mountain’s long ridge line. A few mountains always help us to gain our bearings, this being Pleasant Mountain, but Mount Washington, Mount Kearsarge North, and Chocorua also give us a sense of where we are in the world–at least in our little speck of the world.
On the way back down, we paused again at the pine of our initial admiration. My, what legs it has. And so many.
We snuggled into it, in hopes of showing off its immense size, but realized the photo didn’t do it justice.
At last we crossed over Swift River again, followed the “easy” trail, which wasn’t so easy since we were the first to travel it in the deep snow, and we wore micro-spikes rather than snowshoes, but anyway, we soon finished up and treated ourselves to a . . . chocolate.
Driving home, I had an inspired moment. Neither of us had ever visited the Madison Boulder. In fact, we weren’t really sure where in Madison, New Hampshire, it was located, but decided we were up for the adventure. And . . . we found it.
We had no idea what to expect–certainly not a rock the size of a two-story house.
This glacial erratic was dropped during the most recent ice advance that began about 2.6 million years ago and ended 12,000 years ago.
Again, we posed in hopes of showing off the size of this boulder, but we knew it wasn’t the right perspective.
And so I hugged the boulder. Exactly how many hugs would it take for us to encircle it?
Well, consider this, which we learned from signs at the kiosk: In addition to the snow, “we weren’t able to see the entire thing because its base is buried up to ten feet deep in the soil upon which it rests. With this in mind, the Madison Boulder measures 23 feet in height, 37 feet from front to back, and 85 feet from left to right.” My guy did the math and said it would take 45 lengths of our arm spans to embrace it.
Do you want to know about weight? According to the kiosk sign: “Because a cubic foot of Conway Granite weighs approximately 164.86 lbs., we can calculate the approximate weight of this irregularly shaped object. Current estimates (I like that they state “current” because new information always emerges as we learn more) put its weight at 5,963 tons.”
“It’s believed that the Madison Boulder was probably plucked from Whitten Ledge, less than 2 miles to the northwest, which is made of Conway Granite. The ice transported the boulder, smoothing its edges, and left it on a different type of rock, called Concord Granite. A glacial boulder sitting on bedrock of a different type is known as a glacial erratic.”
Can you see my guy as he came around the bend of the boulder? It dwarfed him as it should because it’s the largest known glacial erratic in North America and a National Natural Landmark.
We were both dwarfed by the immensity of the trees and the boulder and certainly LOVE is something that will always make us feel smaller in the bigger context of the world. But a root entwined within the roots of a toppled Big Pine sent a message from the universe that no heart is perfect and yet all are precisely that.
The biggest box of chocolates. Big Pines. The largest known glacial erratic in North America.
From our heart to yours–Happy Oversized Valentine Mondate!
Ah rain. We need rain. I love rain. Our weary land that was so parched in June is suddenly refreshed by rain. And our plans are changed by rain, but that’s okay because it provides opportunities for us to consider other trails than those intended.
And so it was that we headed onto a local community forest this morning between rain drops.
The trail, terrain, plants, and weather gave us the sense of wandering in Scotland. Or perhaps that was wishful thinking.
As we explored, our hopes lifted as hang clouds decorated the backdrop behind erratic boulders.
And birds like this handsome Field Sparrow sang and gathered food, presumably for nestlings.
In the mix, Catbirds meowed.
But what mattered most to me were the insects and I expected so many, but was disappointed by so few. I did spy this Band Net-Winged Beetle on a Spirea, its bright coloration shouting a footnote of its offensive taste to predators.
Similar in Halloween costume color choices was the Small Milkweed Beetle, its main plant source a week or two past, but note the heart on its back–a sign of forever love. Interestingly, Small Milkweed Beetles help gardeners enjoy the milkweed plant and the butterflies that are attracted to them without having to worry that milkweed may overtake the garden.
To keep the party going, a Blue and Red Checkered Beetle happened onto the scene. Checkered Beetles occur where there’s a large supply of nectar and pollen.
Of course, with all this goodness, there has to be at least one in hiding–in this case a Goldenrod Crab Spider on a Bristly Sarsaparilla.
We spied him as we walked out with a sandwich from Eaton Village Store on our minds, and then again as we hiked in for a second time and then finally out again.
Upon our return, though it had poured as we ate, the rain abated and Ossipee Lake made itself visible.
It was on that second visit that I finally noted a honeybee working frantically to fill its honey pots.
So did small skippers such as this Dun Skipper upon the early blossom of Joe Pye Weed, his proboscis probing the not yet opened flowers.
With the rain abating, the Pye Weed soon became a plant of choice. Among its guests was a Great Spangled Fritillary all decked out in stripes, dots, and commas.
Because the flower hadn’t fully opened, the Fritillary’s proboscis curled in true butterfly behavior.
Suddenly, or so it seemed as the temp slightly rose, pollinators came out of hiding, including a Silver Spotted Skipper, its spot shouting its name.
Toward the end of our adventure, my heart rejoiced with the spot of a Green Lacewing, one of the subtle offerings in the wooded landscape.
It was just such a landscape that appealed to us today and we tossed all other trail choices into the pot for future expeditions. If you know my guy, you know what is to come.
Little fruit morsels became the object of his attention.
You and I know them as Low-bush Blueberries.
He knows them as the source of his Blueberry Greed.
All in all, he filled a couple of bags (and I helped! a little bit, that is). I have to say that I was amazed by the sight of all the little blue fruits for so few seemed the pollinators of the day. What I’ve shared with you was it. Literally. In number.
Yesterday my friend Joe Scott, an avid birder, shared this information with me from a New Hampshire Bird Listserve:
“The absence of insects obviously impacts insectivorous bird species. In Knight Hill Nature Park in New London, [NH] for the last two weeks, there have been 27 fully blooming butterfly weed plants, hundreds of common milkweed plants and two pollinator apartment blocks, but no insects! Oh, on any given day, perhaps one or two butterflies and half a dozen bumble bees. Ten years ago, at this time of year, these plants would be covered with butterflies, bees and other insects, as many as 20 species of butterflies and 10 species of bees.”
Today’s Mondate Blues represents those who don’t like the rain, or my guy and his blueberry greed, or the lack of pollinators or my color of choice. I’m just happy that we got out there and found so many sources of goodness on this wet day.
As we drove to North Conway, New Hampshire for an errand today, we had no idea where we might hike. And then in the midst of said errand, my guy suggested Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch. It had been a while since our last visit so we decided it was a great idea.
It’s funny how the trail seems flat in my mind’s eye, but it’s hardly that as roots and rocks or boulders keep all eyes looking down while we climbed up. While it’s long been this way, the impact of hikers seeking solace during the past fifteen months means it’s been trodden even more than in the past.
The hike to the falls is rather generic and I soon decided I wouldn’t need to write about it until . . . we reached the Devlin’s staircase. And then it dawned on me that summer began late last night and we were in the right place, only having missed the celebration by half a day. My only hope was that we might glimpse our friend who had built them.
When we arrived at the falls, I could see that he had indeed turned on the shower and others were standing below taking advantage of the cool water on such a hot day. Do you see the heart created by leaves and trees at the top of the waterfall? That was another sign.
When in Rome–and so yes, we did the same.
After hanging out there for a bit, we hiked down and decided to detour via the trail to Bemis Falls, where even more roots slowed us down a bit, but the water spilling into the tiered basins made the trip well worth the effort. Notice how rather than a shower, the basins offered a place to bathe. It was another sign and again we knew Devlin was responsible.
Farther down the trail, we walked into Colesium Falls and again sat for bit while White Admiral butterlies fluttered around us.
One even paused long enough for us to admire its handsome features. We suspected their presence in this particular area was to serve as decoys.
For without realizing it until we returned to the Bemis Trail, we’d entered Falda’s home range. My heart be still. It was all coming together as planned.
The icing on the cake was a single Pink Lady’s Slipper, which we’re convinced Devlin had planted for Falda.
So . . . who are these two: Devlin and Falda? Why a giant and a fairy, of course. And perhaps you’ve read my fairy tale before, but even if you did, I’d love for you to read it again. And share it. And if you haven’t then, sit back and enjoy. And one more and, if anyone cares to illustrate it for fun, give it a whirl, but please share your works with me and maybe when I post this again in a year or two (It seems I’m on an every-two-years plan for sharing this story) I’ll include your works, with attribution, of course.
Once upon a Midsummer’s Eve, on Sabattus Mountain, a group of fairies gathered in a circle for a night of magic and merriment. All wore crowns of wood sorrel and ferns about their heads. Their sparkly skirts matched the color of their hair, purple and green and yellow and orange and blue. Together they danced and sang this tune:
We whirl and twirl and dance around, Our feet, they barely touch the ground. We wish and wish and wish tonight, For a Midsummer’s Eve that is fun and bright.
Aisling stopped suddenly and stared at the delicate pink lady’s slipper they circled around.
“What is it, Aisling?” asked Carys. “Why did you pause?”
“I had a vision,” Aisling said. Her wings fluttered as fast as a hummingbird’s, which they always did whenever she had a vision.
“Tell us,” insisted Imma.
“It’s about Falda,” said Aisling.
“Oh, will my wings work again?” pleaded Falda, for her wings were folded and though she could dance and jump, she could no longer fly.
“No, Falda. It’s not that, but something even better, I think. And there’s a nice ogre too,” explained Aisling.
“Tsk. Tsk. A nice ogre. Whoever heard of such a thing?” demanded Biddie. “The only ogre we ever knew was a devil. Remember his sign in Crawford Notch: ‘Devl Hom.’ That ogre was so mean, he couldn’t even spell.”
The fairies continued dancing and forgot about Aisling’s vision for a few hours. When the merriment was over, Falda and Biddie, the older fairies, returned to their homes beneath the thick foliage and moss-covered tree stumps. Imma, Carys and Aisling used pine needles to sweep the area so no hikers would discover them.
“Tell us more about your vision, Aisling,” said Carys. “Who is the ogre? And what does he have to do with Falda?”
“I don’t know for sure,” said Aisling.
“Biddie always says that there was a giant who lived near our old home in Crawford Notch. He was cursed and not to be trusted,” said Imma.
“Let’s go back there and check him out,” suggested Carys.
“Yes, let’s,” said Aisling. “Remember, we can always avoid contact with him by reciting the backward chant: Ogres bad big with contact eye avoid always.”
“OK,” agreed Imma. “Let’s go.”
In a twinkle and a flitter, the three fairies left their home in Lovell, Maine, and reached Crawford Notch. The rising moon glowed on the giant’s staircase made of carefully placed tree trunks.
Aisling was the first to smell something awful. “What stinks?” she asked.
“I think it’s him,” said Imma, pointing to where the giant stood building a two-hundred-foot high granite wall. “Biddie said his smell is why we left.”
“Shhh,” whispered Carys from her hiding place high up in a beech tree. “Listen to him.” This is what they heard: “Humph. I sure hope I can find water to flow over this fall. Then I can finally take a shower. And who knows, maybe Sweet Falda will hear that I’m clean and she’ll finally return.”
The three fairies held their noses and giggled.
“That’s your vision, Aisling,” squealed Imma.
“Humph. What was that sound?” the giant demanded. In the gruffest voice he could muster, he said, “Who goes there?”
Imma quickly waved her magic wand and a breeze moved the leaves. The giant could no longer hear them. He returned to his work of stacking granite boulders on top of one another.
“We’ve got to figure out how to get Falda and the giant together,” said Carys.
“Don’t you think he’s a mean, old ogre?” asked Imma.
“Not at all,” said Carys.
“Me either,” said Aisling.
“OK then. I have a plan, but I’ll need to ask my cousin to help,” Imma said.
In a twinkle and a flitter, the fairies returned to Sabattus Mountain and their village under the moss-covered tree stumps in the old pine grove.
“Falda, Biddie, wake up,” they called.
“What is it?” Falda asked as she walked out of her wee house, rubbing sleep from her eyes.
“We just came from Crawford Notch and we saw the most amazing thing,” said Carys.
“Tsk. Tsk. There’s nothing amazing left in Crawford Notch,” said Biddie.
“Oh, but you are wrong, Biddie. We saw a giant staircase, a giant waterfall . . . well, almost waterfall, and a certain giant himself,” said Imma.
“Almost waterfall?” asked Falda.
“Yes, it just needs water,” said Imma.
“Tsk. Tsk. Did you say ‘a certain giant’?” asked Biddie.
Carys fluttered up and down. “Yes, Aisling’s vision is coming true. We saw a certain giant building the almost waterfall and . . .” She was so overcome with excitement that she choked up and cried happy tears.
Aisling continued, “ . . . and he mentioned you, Falda.”
Falda’s cheeks turned as pink as the lady’s slippers that bloomed around them.
“Tsk. Tsk. You talked to that devil? Didn’t I always teach you that he is a cursed ogre and not to be trusted? Did you use the backward chant?” demanded Biddie.
“Oh, Biddie, don’t worry. We didn’t talk to him,” Imma said. The she whispered, “Yet.”
“No, we didn’t talk to him. We just listened to him,” said Aisling.
“I never even knew his name,” said Falda. She twisted her wee hands together. “He used to leave me beautiful gifts though, like a pinecone wreath and an oak picture frame.”
Biddie said, “Tsk. Tsk. He’s the devil, I tell you. And he stinks.”
“Yes, he did have a certain odor,” said Falda. “That was one reason we moved to Maine.”
“Maybe he smelled bad because he was always busy building something and couldn’t take a shower,” suggested Carys.
“Tsk. Tsk. He’s the devil and we’ll not return to Crawford Notch. It’s obvious that he put a curse on Falda and her wings got caught on a branch when we landed here. Now they are folded and she cannot fly,” insisted Biddie. “Enough of this nonsense. Go back to bed all of you.”
Aisling, Imma and Carys returned to their homes . . . momentarily. A few minutes later, when they were sure they could hear Biddie snoring, they met under an oak leaf behind Aisling’s house.
“I’ll ask Cousin Arethusa to provide a spring so water will flow over the boulders,” said Imma.
“Oh goody,” Carys said as she clapped her hands.
“Shhh,” Aisling whispered. “Quiet or they’ll hear us. We must act quickly before the sun rises on a new day.”
Silently, the three fairies formed a circle. Imma held her magic wand high and swung it in a sweeping arch above their heads. Fairy dust sprinkled upon them. Out of the dust, Cousin Arethusa appeared. In a whisper, Imma explained the need for a spring in Crawford Notch to which Arethusa agreed as long as the waterfall would be named for her.
“Thank you, Cousin Arethusa. Now we must go,” said Imma.
In a twinkle and a flitter, the three fairies returned to the Notch. They found the giant placing the last granite boulder on top of the wall.
He blinked when they landed on it. “Humph,” he growled, again using his gruffest voice, which wasn’t really gruff at all. “Who might you be?”
Immediately the three fairies covered their noses and gasped for air.
“Oh my. Do I smell that bad?” the giant asked. His cheeks turned red as the wintergreen berries that grew on the forest floor.
“Yes,” Carys squeaked.
“But if you turn around three times . . .” gasped Aisling.
“ . . . And say ‘water, water, everywhere’ five times fast,” added Carys.
“ . . . Water will flow over the falls and you can finally shower,” finished Imma.
“Really?” asked the giant.
“Try it,” said Carys.
“And hurry,” added Aisling.
“Do it for Falda,” finished Imma.
“Fal . . . da? You know Sweet Falda?” asked the giant.
“Yes, but hurry . . . you need to shower,” said Imma.
“Oh, yes.” So the giant turned around three times, said, “Water, water, everywhere,” five times and water flowed over the falls.
“Look, Arethusa Falls,” exclaimed Imma.
“I can’t believe it. I’m not very good at being mean and scary, but I can make wonderful things with my hands. Only I did wonder how I’d make this shower work,” said the giant.
“Well, you must thank Arethusa for that. And by the way, Biddie thinks you ARE mean and scary,” said Imma.
“Biddie. As I recall, she’s just an old biddie,” said the giant.
The fairies giggled.
“Why are you laughing?” he asked.
“Because that is exactly what Falda always says about Biddie,” explained Aisling.
“Oh, Sweet Falda. I must shower now so I can see her again.”
The fairies told him that Sabattus Mountain was only a few giant steps east of Arethusa Falls. Then in a twinkle and a flitter they returned to their village.
A few winks later, the Earth rumbled. All five fairies quickly gathered at Falda’s house.
“What was that?” they wondered together.
“Sounds like thunder,” said Falda. “A storm must be approaching.”
“But I thought I saw the sun rising as I rushed over here,” said Carys.
Suddenly, the sky darkened. The fairies fluttered closer together. Falda lit a candle. Then they heard a tapping sound near the entrance. She peeked out, but saw no one. Curious, the fairies cautiously walked outside. Standing atop the mountain was a certain giant.
“Oh,” said Falda and her face brightened with a smile.
“Tsk. Tsk. If it isn’t the devil himself. And he’s flattened the trees,” exclaimed Biddie.
“The devil? Why on Earth do you say that, Biddie? And sorry about the trees. I tried my best to tiptoe,” said the giant.
“Tsk. Tsk. That’s what your sign said, ‘Devl Hom,’” said Biddie.
“Oh, that sign. It broke in an ice storm. I just never got around to fixing it. I was too busy building other things. My name is Devlin. That sign should read, ‘Devlin’s Home,’” said the giant.
“Tsk. Tsk . . . you stink too,” stammered Biddie.
“Not anymore. Now I can shower whenever I want. You must come see all the changes in the Notch.” Devlin leaned down, picked Falda up and placed her in the palm of his oversized hand. “What happened to your wings, Sweet Falda?”
“Nothing really. Just a wee accident,” she said.
So Devlin carried Falda over to Crawford Notch for a visit. In a twinkle and a flitter, Carys, Imma and Aisling followed behind him. Biddie tagged along, tsk-tsking all the way.
And they all lived happily ever after. All but Biddie were happy, of course.
Arethusa Falls and Sabattus Mountain Hikes
Guess what! You can hike to both locations mentioned in The Giant’s Shower. First, climb the giant’s staircase to Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. Be sure to pack a snack or lunch to enjoy beside the falls. Who knows, you might even see Devlin working nearby. If he smells, remind him to take a shower.
The trailhead to Arethusa Falls is located on Route 302 at the southern end of Crawford Notch in the White Mountains. The hike is easy, but it does take about 45-60 minutes to reach the over 200-foot high falls. Several trail options are available so be sure to check local guides, such as the Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain Guide and bring a map.
And only a few giant steps east of the falls is Sabattus Mountain in Lovell, Maine. If you are traveling via car rather than giant steps, Sabattus Mountain is about an hour and a half from Arethusa Falls. Follow Route 302 East to Route 5 North in Fryeburg, Maine. Stay on Route 5 through the villages of Lovell and Center Lovell. Just after the Center Lovell Inn, turn right onto Sabattus Road. Drive about 1 1/2 miles, then turn right onto Sabattus Trail Road.
The trailhead and parking area are a half mile up the road and clearly marked. The round-trip hike takes about 1 hour and is fairly easy, with one moderate spot. From the top, you will see Kezar Lake and Pleasant Mountain to the south. The White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire are to the west.
Hike up the right-hand trail. You’ll reach the top in about 45 minutes. Take time to enjoy the view left behind when the giant flattened trees with his footsteps. Some trees still stand tall, because he was only tiptoeing. Continue along the ridge until the trail turns left to descend.
In an old pine grove along this trail, you might suddenly feel the presence of fairies. Their homes are among the moss-covered tree stumps. They enjoy visiting Crawford Notch, but Sabattus is now their forever home. Pause a bit and let the magic of this place overtake you.
Do be sure not to add to or take away from the fairies’ homes. These are natural homes and you shouldn’t disturb them.
Happy hiking! And say hello to Carys, Imma, Aisling, Falda and Biddie for me.
Meanings of names used in the story: Aisling–vision, dream Carys–love Imma–water bearer Falda–folded wings Biddie–strength Arethusa (Ara-Thuse-A)–spring Devlin–brave, one of fierce valor Pink lady’s slipper–moccasin flower, large, showy orchid found in the woods of Maine and New Hampshire
How to make your own fairy dust: Combine dried flower petals, leaves and birdseed in a small bowl. Crush together. Sprinkle outdoors wherever magic is needed.
Fairy houses: Best if made from natural materials, e.g. bark, sticks, leaves, pinecones, rocks, grass, moss, berries, wood chips and flowers. Fairies particularly like the thick foliage of moss and old tree stumps. Remember, they hope that humans won’t discover them, so be cautious and don’t upset nature.
For his birthday in the fall, as you may recall, I gave my guy a baker’s dozen list of geocaches to locate in the wilds of Maine and New Hampshire. Prior to this past weekend, he’d located twelve with one left–burning a bit of a hole in his pocket because we thought we’d get there on Thanksgiving, but rain changed that plan. And then winter happened and we knew the journey would require more time because gates on the Forest Road would be closed and we’d have to trek a longer distance. With the dawn of spring, however, he thought we should take our chances. Oh, we’d still have a ways to hike, but thankfully it’s light later and so we had that on our side.
That was Saturday. But . . . that journey wasn’t enough, and so despite high winds on Monday, I created a mini-list for him and off we went in search of five more geocaches.
Our Saturday adventure found us practicing our balance beam skills, for if we fell off, which we did from time to time, we’d sink into snow that was at least knee deep.
That said, not only were we gymnasts, but we also had to pull some ballet leaps out of the daypack; sometimes the stream crossings like this one, were obvious, but other times we had to guess where the softest spot might be and try to jump to the other side without crashing through the snow bridge. Success wasn’t always on our side.
On a different trail, we outbested the conditions by walking in the stream that was actually a woods road, having chosen different footwear.
And yet again, there was a narrow balance beam to climb across. Thank goodness we had such great training in junior high and knew how to stay on top, otherwise we would have gotten soaked. Haha! I don’t know about him, but I’m pretty sure I failed the gymnastics unit all those years ago.
At one point in our journey, we spotted a gate ahead and thought for sure it would be our turn-around spot, but upon reaching it we found this kind note, which inspired us to pick up downed branches along the private drive since the owners were kind enough to let us venture forth.
And beyond said destination (read: geocache), we continued on to a summit we’d never reached before.
We also spent a few moments on the property of the Parsonsfield Seminary, founded by the Free Will Baptists as a seminary, aka high school in 1832. The eight-acre campus includes four buildings and once served as part of the Underground Railroad. Though the buildings are no longer used for education per se, special events are hosted by the Friends of Par-Sem, and it’s available for private functions.
Over the course of the two days, we crossed the state line between Maine and New Hampshire multiple times, both via truck and foot. Our favorite crossings came in the form of stumbling upon standing split granite stones in the woods.
Maine must have been the poor cousin for we could almost not see the M.
The marker on top, however, clearly established who owned what portion of the land.
and a sign in Taylor City, where Earl Taylor served as mayor until his death at the age of 95 in 2018. Earl was a graduate of Par-Sem it seems. He ran the general store and was quite active in town affairs–on both sides of the border.
Mind you, hiking and history weren’t the entire focus of our time together. Nature also was on display like the underside of lungwort showing off its ridges and lobes that reminded someone long ago of lung tissue. In reality, Lobariapulmonaria is an indicator of a rich, healthy ecosystem.
There was also a bear nest high up in a beech tree–where last summer a black bear sat for a bit, pulled the branches inward till some of them broke, and dined on the beech nuts.
Multiple times we spotted moose tracks in deep snow . . .
One of the creme de la creme sightings for me, was the first Beaked Hazelnut flower of the year. Gusty wind prevented a better photo, but still, it was worth capturing the moment.
And upon the ground, an old bee structure, each papery cell precise and reflective of all that surrounded it.
others medium in size . . .
and a couple on the larger side.
Water always seemed to be part of the scene. We hiked for at least a mile beside a racing brook.
And stood for a few minutes enjoying the sun at Mountain Pond.
There was a wetland that we explored from all sides (actually, there was more than one wetland that we explored and got to know rather personally–from the soles of our feet), full of future life and opportunity.
Spanning it all, we hiked thirteen miles through snow, ice, mud, and water, and found five of six geocaches, including completing the birthday baker’s dozen list.
The fact that we didn’t find one is driving my guy a bit buggy and we actually returned to the location, but to no avail. He’s bound and determined, so I have a feeling we’ll look in that spot again. But overall, we felt successful and appreciated that our quest led us to a mountain lake we’ve enjoyed in other seasons, but not this one, and new vistas/locations where nature provided moments of wonder.
This two-destination day found a friend and me pausing for birds (frequently) before driving north. I should mention that she was enjoying watching the Sandhill Cranes in a cornfield before I arrived and scared them off. Such is my nature.
But our real plan was to climb to the Millard Chandler Feldspar Mine (aka North Star Mine) in Evans Notch.
Millard Chandler was a descendent of one of the founding families of Chatham, New Hampshire, where the mine is located. Originally, mica was mined from the pegmatites but prior to World War II, Whitehall Company, Inc, focused on feldspar.
Today, its man-carved chambers were enhanced by icy sculptures.
A view toward the top revealed that life on the rock somehow continued despite the cavern below.
And from there, the water flowed and froze and formed . . .
stalactites of sorts. Icicle sorts.
Fluid in nature, it was ever changing and we could hear the action of the water within providing a sustenance to its structure.
As we stood there, we honored how every little seepage created a massive outpouring.
And marveled at the displays that began as simple lines and developed into enormous works of art.
After admiring the possibilities within, we looked outward toward Blueberry and Speckled Mountains before descending.
It was upon the return to Route 113 that we spied examples of Black Knot Fungus that gave rise to a discussion about our last adventure to the area a month ago when we’d discovered an aphid poop-eating fungus. How did they differ? We’d have to return to the original discovery to figure that out and so to Notch View Farm we journeyed next.
After circling the Loop Trail and noting tons of apple-filled coyote scat plus coyote, bobcat, red fox, and turkey tracks, we followed the Moose Loop aptly named for the moose that journeyed that way frequently, but also featured coyote and fox tracks. At Moose Bog, we again met the aphid poop-eating fungus and so the comparison began. Black Knot encircles the twig, while the Poop-eating fungus doesn’t. And Black Knot features a beady construction, while the Poop-Eaters are much lacier in looks, rather like the wooly aphids who offer their poop for consumption. The Black is much firmer, and Poop-Eater much more crumbly when touched. Either is interesting and . . . both offer opportunities to wonder.
Despite all the tracks and scat we found along the trails, I was a bit amazed that we saw few insects. And then, moments later, not an insect, but an orbweaver spider crossed our path–quickly at first . . . until it posed.
After it scurried again, we watched as it tried to hide in the snow–and played peek-a-boo with us.
At last we approached the sugarbush, where Sugar Maples were tapped and sap flowed . . .
Droplets formed . . .
And perched . . .
then fell. Mind you, a close-up it may seem, but we kept our social distance as is the new norm.
And spent time watching Norwegian Fjord Kristoff blankety, blank, blank paw for food under the snow.
At last we headed south, but had each barely driven down the road a few hundred yards when a couple of birds called our attention. Turns out they were White-winged Crossbills and thanks to local birder Joe Scott’s response when I asked if they are uncommon in our area, “Some years we get them, some we don’t, depending on food sources up north in the boreal forest and food sources down here. This is about as far south as they come.” Joe added that while other birds are arriving, our sighting was a good one because these crossbills are leaving.
Many thanks to friend Pam Marshall for joining me today for a journey to the mine and farm where one drip at a time bookmarked our day. And for providing perspective.
Our journey began with a couple of detours this morning as a friend and I made our way to a particular trailhead in New Hampshire.
First there were the birds along the old course of the Saco River to listen to and welcome home including Red-winged Blackbirds and Canada Geese.
Then there were some friends in New Hampshire to surprise with a quick visit.
Finally, however, we parked on the side of the road knowing that because we couldn’t drive to the trailhead, we’d have to walk along the snowmobile trail all the way in. That was fine with us for as the sign instructed, we took it slow. (And saw only two snowmobiles during the entire journey even though it was a super highway of sorts–apparently that particular season is also slowing down.)
There were artist’s conk fungi to admire for the white pore surface that invites those who sketch to do so.
After that find, we followed raccoon prints until they literally disappeared into midair. Well, maybe up a tree.
In the brook beyond, we found spring whispering her sweet songs as she enticed us with reflections of a season to come.
And then it was more artist’s conks that garnered our attention for their juxtaposition within a hemlock’s hollow center.
They numbered many on the trunk’s outside as well and presented themselves as stepping stones . . . perhaps for a squirrel.
And at least one small rodent had dined, probably on more than one occasion.
We took advantage of the feast as well as we focused our cameras on every possible angle.
Further along, we spent time following bobcat and moose tracks, but each time eventually finding our way back to the trail, where a fungus of another kind begged our attention.
By its youthful presentation, the common name doesn’t always make sense.
But its mature structure certainly does: Red-Belted for the upper surface.
And Polypore for the lower, so named for the many pores on the underside.
Bobcat and moose tracks soon led us to another site where bark had been scaled off a hemlock by either a woodpecker or nuthatch. Their search was for insect larvae. My search was for scat, but I found none and hoped they were more successful.
The cool thing about this if I’m interpreting it correctly, is that I could see lines where the bird’s beak had worked hard to remove each bark scale.
Behind the tree, those moose tracks I spoke of again captured our focus.
And we noted where it had browsed upon the buds of a maple. It appeared that the large mammal’s spit had frozen after it used its lower incisors to rip the buds off the tip of a twig and even left a “flag,” but really, it was probably a bit of sap. Still, I love the thought of the animal’s spit left behind.
Three hours later, and more than four miles for so wandering was our manner, we reached the trailhead we sought.
Because we’d gone slow as the sign early on had encouraged us, we tried to beeline to reach a certain pond before the sun set. Thankfully, as we approached the pond at last, another sign again encouraged us to go forth slowly. And so we did.
And we were rewarded–with a bluebird sky and view of Mount Shaw and the pond. For a few moments we stood still and took in the scene and wondered. And wanted to cross, but knew conditions might not be as pristine as they looked. It would be a long way out with wet feet.
Beside us was the dam and outlet.
It formed the headwaters for a brook bearing the pond’s name, which flows beside our friends’ home.
As we hiked back down the trail, we again beelined, but occasionally gave ourselves permission to pause. Sometimes it was to enjoy the little things such as Hobblebush flower and leaf buds readying for a future display.
Other times it was to listen: to the birds; but also to the million wild animals we swore we heard, and sometimes even sniffed, but never actually spied. They were there. We were certain of that.
As long shadows cast across our path, we made our way back, and then deviated a bit from our journey in, heading out to the paved road in a more direct line than we’d started. Pam suggested we might see other things.
She was correct. Back on the pavement, we had to walk a wee bit up South Chatham Road to my truck for we’d gone in via Week’s Brook Trail and then crossed over to Peaked Hill Road via the snowmobile trail and totally missed this sign.
Chat-HAM as it’s pronounced for H-A-M spells ham, is the site of Province Brook and Pond, and the Province Brook Trail. It’s also a mighty proud town–with a population of 300.
The sign made us smile and we gave great thanks for taking the time to read it and for the opportunity to travel over nine miles in this wee province of New Hampshire.
The message arrived in the form of a text: “Meet me at North Fryeburg Fire Station at 10:30. I’ll drive.”
And so we did. Upon our meeting we realized we’d each left some gear home, but between us, much like we share a brain, we shared resources that would benefit us along the trail. The back of the Subaru packed with snowshoes and hiking packs, up the road we rode, one of us driving while the other two anticipated the near future.
Beside two Norwegian Fjord horses named Marta and Kristoff blankety, blank, blank, (cuze one of their owners couldn’t remember his full name), our driver did park.
Before us, a groomed trail presented itself–leading to infinity and beyond or so it seemed.
And within a mailbox, tucked into plastic sleeves, maps and track charts were available.
Rather than take either, we took photos of the map; and knew that we had a set of David Brown’s Trackards for our trail finds.
We were still by the road and farmhouse, when we noticed sap buckets tied to Sugar Maples and realized that the season had begun.
One of our good fortunes, and we had many as the day progressed, was to stumble upon Jim, the owner of the property who explained to us that the sap had only just started to flow and he had 200 trees tapped. Sap season can be fickle, but we hope the good fortune his land shared with us could be returned many times over in the form of gallons of syrupy sweetness.
Up the trail we finally tramped, stopping frequently to take in as many treasures as possible as we tried to gain a better understanding of the world that surrounded us.
One item that drew our attention was the thick twig and dome-shaped bud of an ash. Its corky leaf scar below the buds was filled with a smiley face of dots we knew as bundle scars–where sugar and water had flowed between last year’s leaf and twig/trunk.
By the shape of the leaf scar, its bud dipping into the cup and creating the form of a C, we knew its name: White Ash. Had it been a Green Ash, the bud would have sat directly atop the leaf scar, which would have looked like a D turned on its side.
I keep trying to come up with a mnemonic to remember these two species and may have just discovered such: C = cup = white cup of coffee; D = hmmmm? So much for that thought. Stick with C and if it doesn’t look like that, chances are it’s a D.
We paused beside many buds, examining them all for their idiosyncrasies, but equally prevalent on the trail were the tracks left behind by so many critters. Deer, snowshoe hare, birds of varying sizes, chipmunk, red squirrel, and the list went on. Red fox were part of the forest mix. And coyote as well. We so wanted bobcat and several times tried to convince ourselves that such was the case, but indeed, our further study made us realize it was no more than a wish.
We also wanted porcupine tracks and bear claw trees to make themselves known. We searched and searched for all three: bobcat, porcupine, and bear claw marks, but found none.
What we did discover, however, was the namesake of the trail upon which we tramped. My, what deep impressions it had left.
Perhaps the creator was Sasquatch?
No indeed. Where it had traveled upon the trail we followed before it traversed cross country, it left discernible prints that gave another sense of its size and we talked about the fact that its stomach would have been at our eye level.
By the crescent-shaped halves and dew claw marks, we knew that somewhere in the forest beyond moved a moose. Actually, by the number of tracks we saw on the trail, we thought that at least two had traveled this way.
And directly above we could see that it had dined, for the tags on the Red Maples where buds had once been bespoke its breakfast source.
At last we came to Moose Bog and briefly let our minds slip into seasons to come and offerings yet to be, but quickly pulled ourselves back into the moment and reveled in the fact that beside the sign was a sign left behind by the one for whom the bog was named.
The impressions were so deep that we decided to measure them.
Fifteen inches. We had barely sunk in an inch or two on our snowshoes, so the moose’s prints lead us to realize the immensity of its weight.
While in the same area, an abnormal growth on Speckle Alder gave us pause. At first glance, we recalled the fluffy colonies of Woolly Alder Aphids and wondered if what we saw was somehow related. A bit of white appeared in the structure, but it didn’t quite match anything we’d seen previously or our understanding.
About twenty feet down the trail, we found it again, this time on an American Beech twig. The curious thing, it only grew on one side.
Upon closer examination, we realized it looked a bit like elongated coffee grounds, and within our hands, its brittle structure quickly splintered into tiny specks.
It wasn’t until I contacted Maine Master Naturalist Anthony Underwood several hours later that we realized we were on the right track. Anthony is my go-to entomologist and I bug him (pun intended) frequently for identification or explanation. He never fails to reveal some amazing fact.
Today’s find: The Beech Aphid Poop Eater! What? Yup. A poop-eating fungus. We were thrilled to discover that we were on the right track thinking it was related to aphids, and we knew that ants like to farm them so they’ll secret honeydew, but . . . a poop eater. The natural world just got more otherworldly for us and our wonder will never cease.
Trees continued to attract our attention, but upon the trail were a slew of tracks, the prints of coyote and fox especially decorating the way. And then, and then some coyote scat and pee, the former so full of hair and a selection of the latter at another spot that sent us all staggering from the strong scent.
A bit further on we found an older coyote scat that contained large bone chips. Do you see one in the upper left-hand corner of the specimen?
We also found fox scat filled with hair and seeds, for like coyotes, omnivores are they.
And then, some small, cylindrical shapes within a print.
X marked the spot where the latter scatter crossed its own path.
And then it flew off. Who dat scat? A Ruffed Grouse.
At least five hours after we began our tramp, the farm house finally came into view. And so did Becky, one of the owners. She was actually looking for us for so long had we wandered.
We’d taken a photo of the trail map, as I said earlier, before we set off, but never again did we look at it. No wonder Becky was worried about us. The trail we followed was only eight tenths in length, but because we’d stopped every three steps or so to look at the next best thing, it had taken us five plus hours to complete the loop.
We chuckled again for after meeting up with Becky and reassuring her that we were fine and happy and well (super well and thankful for such was the day and all that her land had offered us), we wondered if she and Jim had made a bet on how long it would take us to travel the last few hundred feet to the road.
There were still things to note, including sap seeping into buckets.
Red maple buds growing more bulbous with age also garnered our focus.
As for our mystery tour: we were treated to the Moose Loop at Notch View Farm on Route 113 in Evans Notch. That would be in North Chatham, New Hampshire.
As we were greeted, our journey ended, with a smile from Kristoff and grins across our faces for the finds we’d discovered, understandings we’d made, and time spent together exploring.
Many, many thanks to Jim and Becky Knowles for sharing their land with all of us, and for Pam K for discovering this treasure and providing the mystery tour. Well done.
PS. Our last few hundred yards took about 25 minutes–who placed the correct bet on our time–Jim or Becky?
This past weekend’s January thaw was a doozy. First the temperature reached 61˚ on Saturday and then 56˚ on Sunday with a downpour in the mix and most of our 12+-inch snowpack disappeared.
And so after my guy and I finished some errands in North Conway, New Hampshire, we decided to walk along the Saco River to check on the conditions.
Our starting point was at the Smith-Eastman Landing on Meeting House Road. A look at the old bridge stanchions brought childhood and teenage memories of the covered bridge that once stood there back to my guy.
According to an article in the September 23, 2015 issue of the Conway Daily Sun:
“The bridge between Redstone and Center Conway — the Smith-Eastman Bridge — was built in 1845-46. It was the longest, historically. Animosity developed among townfolk over where it should be located. Many wanted the Chataque site in Conway, as it would allow them to get to Dover more easily. Those living eastward toward Center Conway wanted it there in order to get to Portland.
Judge Joel Eastman, with his farm located at the latter site, won out. His neighbor was John Smith, who delivered the stage line to Portland. Tolls would be necessary. In December 1844, articles were drawn up between the two men, and they were ultimately reimbursed by the town. Many called this bridge the Joel Eastman; others the Smith-Eastman.
This bridge was repaired in the 1930s by members of the Broughton family. Sadly, arsonists — partying youths — destroyed the 130-year-old structure in July 1975. A plaque was erected at the site a year later as part of local observances of the nation’s bicentennial.“
To the south, though not currently in use, the train trestle bespoke a time of prosperous productivity based upon action at the Redstone Quarry
Our journey began at the south side of the Smith-Eastman Park and after crossing a small footbridge, we followed the trail beside the river. Notice the snow deficit. But . . . there was ice as today’s temp was in the more seasonal low 20s, though it felt more like the teens, perhaps because we’d been spoiled over the weekend. Anyway, I wore my micro-spikes; my guy shoved his into a pocket. At least he had them with him. We climbed a mountain a month and a half ago, and he intentionally left them behind. Let’s suffice it to say he regretted that decision on more than one occasion when his feet left the Earth.
As we walked along today, our Beech tree vision found us looking for bear claw marks. We never did see any, but an elbow did manifest before our eyes. So . . . what’s its story? Someone marked the trail by bending the tree? Another tree landed atop it in its younger days and caused it to reform? Your thoughts?
Continuing on, we came to a stump where you know who decided to sit and don those micro-spikes. He was behind me as I took this photo and acknowledged the fact that he’d made the right choice.
As you can see, it’s a well traveled trail that offers recreational opportunities for both man and his best furry friend.
Despite the fact that this is a well-frequented doggie walk, we also found evidence that wild mammals are familiar with the territory as evidenced in deer prints and fresh beaver works.
We looked for a lodge, but found none. Perhaps theirs was a bankside lodge located in a place we couldn’t reach.
And where humans were warned not to fish, another mammal whose name shall be forever muted by the conditions, went across an ice covered swamp to get to the other side.
Side trails frequently departed the main drag and led to the water. This was the only one with such an artistic sign and we gave thanks to the Cato Trust for the creation–of sign and trail.
We checked out their beach. It wasn’t exactly a beach day, but . . . when in Rome.
Not long after that a strange structure greets all those who travel this way. It’s a shed with mini solar panels above and cables and other forms of technology, all bedecked with a dark moss I couldn’t identify. As a gauge station for the USGS Maine Water Science Center and provides data National Water Quality Monitoring Council.
From the beach below it, we looked back toward Route 302 as the day darkened and a fine sleety mist greeted the only exposed part of our bodies, our cheeks. I probably should have had us pose for a selfie for we both would have added a rosy color to the landscape.
Because of the melting and rain, the water level was high, but not at its highest. Still, we wondered if there was any ice left.
Eventually, we began to find it offering a contrast to lichen covered rocks.
And thick sheets sitting upon the shore like beached whales.
We found frozen ground, ripple marks created by the water’s motion, and thin layers recreating the work of line artists.
Then there was a stream that flowed innoculously below our feet until it met the riverbank and added various sculptures to those who ventured near.
We enjoyed the view offered from either side of a downed tree, but chose not to climb down and taken in the scene from below. I know we missed something, but it was rather steep and as great as our micro-spikes were in giving us a feeling of security, we didn’t feel like going swimming.
In the end, and after a couple of hours and three or four miles our journey did come to an end because it was sleeting by the time we finished, it was the configuration of rocks and ice, ice and rocks, and all the lines and textures they offered that intrigued us most on this Mondate.
Though I first posted this in 2016, I keep returning to it. Thought you might want to as well. Peace and joy be with you.
Snow quietly drifted earthward as baking scents wafted through the house and, Christmas lights sparkled from the living room. The spirit of the season has settled upon me at last. And today I was reminded of a time when our youngest asked, “Mom, are you Santa?”
He’d held onto the belief for far longer than any of his classmates. And for that reason, I too, couldn’t let go. And so that day as we drove along I reminded him that though the shopping mall Santas were not real, we’d had several encounters that made believers out of all of us.
The first occurred over thirty years ago when I taught English in Franklin, New Hampshire. Across the hall from my classroom was a special education class. And fourteen-year-old Mikey, a student in that class, LOVED Santa.
Each year the bread deliveryman dressed in the famous red costume when he made his final delivery before Christmas break. To Mikey’s delight, he always stopped by his classroom. That particular year, a raging snowstorm developed. The bread man called the cafeteria to say that he would not be able to make the delivery. School was going to be dismissed after lunch, but we were all disappointed for Mikey’s sake.
And then . . . as the lunch period drew to a close, Santa walked through the door and directly toward Mikey, who hooted with joy as he embraced the jolly old elf. As swiftly as he entered, Santa left. I have no doubt that that was Santa.
And about nineteen years ago, as the boys sat at the kitchen counter eating breakfast on Christmas Eve morning, we spotted a man walking on the power lines across the field from our house. We all wondered who it was, but quickly dismissed the thought as he disappeared from our view, until . . . a few minutes later he reappeared. The second time, he stopped and looked in our direction. I grabbed the binoculars we kept on the counter for wildlife viewings. The man was short and plump. He wore a bright red jacket, had white hair and a short, white beard. The boys each took a turn with the binoculars. The man stood and stared in our direction for a couple of minutes, and then he continued walking in the direction from which he’d originally come. We never saw him again. I have no doubt that that was Santa.
Another incident occurred about seventeen years ago, when on Christmas Eve, our phone rang. The unrecognizable elderly male voice asked for our oldest son. When I inquired who was calling, he replied, “Santa.” He spoke briefly with both boys and mentioned things that they had done during the year. I chatted with him again before saying goodbye. We were all wide-eyed with amazement. I have no doubt that that was Santa.
Once I reminded our youngest of those stories, he dropped the subject for the time being. I knew he’d ask again and I also knew that none of us wanted to give up the magic of anticipation for those special moments we know as Christmas morning, when the world is suddenly transformed.
I also knew it was time he heard another story–that of Saint Nicholas, the Secret Giver of Gifts. It goes something like this . . .
The nobleman looked to Heaven and cried, “Alas. Yesterday I was rich. Overnight I have lost my fortune. Now my three daughters cannot be married for I have no dowry to give. Nor can I support them.”
For during the Fourth Century, custom required the father of the bride to provide the groom with a dowry of money, land or any valuable possession. With no dowry to offer, the nobleman broke off his daughters’ engagements.
“Do not worry, Father. We will find a way,” comforted his oldest daughter.
Then it happened. The next day, the eldest daughter discovered a bag of gold on the windowsill. She peered outside to see who had left the bag, but the street was vacant.
Looking toward Heaven, her father gave thanks. The gold served as her dowry and the eldest daughter married.
A day later, another bag of gold mysteriously appeared on the sill. The second daughter married.
Several days later, the father stepped around the corner of his house and spied a neighbor standing by an open window. In shocked silence, he watched the other man toss a familiar bag into the house. It landed in a stocking that the third daughter had hung by the chimney to dry.
The neighbor turned from the window and jumped when he saw the father.
“Thank you. I cannot thank you enough. I had no idea that the gold was from you,” said the father.
“Please, let this be our secret,” begged the neighbor. “Do not tell anyone where the bags came from.”
The generous neighbor was said to be Bishop Nicholas, a young churchman of Myra in the Asia Minor, or what we call Turkey. Surrounded by wealth in his youth, Bishop Nicholas had matured into a faithful servant of God. He had dedicated his life to helping the poor and spreading Christianity. News of his good deeds circulated in spite of his attempt to be secretive. People named the bishop, “The Secret Giver of Gifts.”
Following Bishop Nicholas’ death, he was made a saint because of his holiness, generosity and acts of kindness. Over the centuries, stockings were hung by chimneys on the Eve of December 6, the date he is known to have died, in hopes that they would be filled by “The Secret Giver of Gifts.”
According to legend, Saint Nicholas traveled between Heaven and Earth in a wagon pulled by a white steed on the Eve of December 6. On their doorsteps, children placed gifts of hay and carrots for the steed. Saint Nicholas, in return, left candy and cookies for all the good boys and girls.
In Holland, Saint Nicholas, called Sinterklaas by the Dutch, was so popular for his actions, that the people adopted him as their patron saint or spiritual guardian.
Years later, in 1613, Dutch people sailed to the New World where they settled New Amsterdam, or today’s New York City. They brought the celebration of their beloved patron with them to America.
To the ears of English colonists living in America, Sinterklaas must have sounded like Santa Claus. Over time, he delivered more than the traditional cookies and candy for stockings. All presents placed under a tree were believed to be brought by him.
Santa Claus’ busy schedule required he travel the world in a short amount of time. Consequently, as recorded in Clement Moore’s poem, “The Night Before Christmas,” a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer replaced the wagon and steed.
Since Saint Nicholas was known for his devout Christianity, the celebration of his death was eventually combined with the anniversary of Christ’s birth. December 24th or Christmas Eve, began to represent the Saint’s visit to Earth.
Traditionally, gifts are exchanged to honor the Christ Child as the three Wise Men had honored Him in Bethlehem with frankincense, gold and myrrh.
One thing, however, has not changed. The gifts delivered by Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, or whomever your tradition dictates, have always and will continue to symbolize the love people bear for one another.
Though they are now young adults, my continued hope for my sons is that they will realize the magic of Christmas comes from the heart and that we all have a wee bit of Santa in us. Yes, Patrick, Santa is real.
May you continue to embrace the mystery and discover wonder wherever you look. And may you find joy in being the Secret Giver of Gifts.
Today’s adventure found us exploring another “new-to-us” trail system, this one located beside the Swift River in Albany, New Hampshire.
The Albany Town Forest is protected with a conservation easement by Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. It seemed apropos that we should choose such a trail for today marked the last day with the land trust for their Outreach and Office Manager, Trisha Beringer. Trish is moving on to new horizons, for which I commend her, but at the same time, I’ll miss bouncing collaborative ideas off of her, searching for anacondas as we paddle local rivers, and giggling till we almost wet our pants as we try to strap kayaks onto our vehicles. (Wait, what? An anaconda? In Maine or New Hampshire? Well, when you’re out in the wilds with Trish, you never know what to expect. We did once encounter three otters.)
The route my guy and I chose for the day was posted at the kiosk located on the Kancamagus Highway, aka the Kanc. Our plan: follow the outermost trails in a counterclockwise pattern–just cuze we felt like going against the grain.
But first, there were other things to appreciate including a tiny beetle on the wood of the kiosk. It looked like a shield bug, but was ladybug in size and had an interesting blue coloration. If you look to the insect’s right, you may note more of the blue hue. I suspect this curious insect somehow met a bit of chalk or paint.
A few more feet and we found apples decorating the forest floor. Though some had nibble marks, these appeared untouched. Perhaps the critters kept them in cold storage with thoughts that on Thursday they’ll make a delightful addition to a turkey dinner.
A small bird nest also decorated the forest floor, though we suspected it had fallen from the limbs above.
It seemed ornaments were everywhere and we found this Polyphemus Moth Cocoon dangling from a shrub’s branch. This is a member of the giant silk moth family who draw their collective name from the fine silk they use to spin their cocoons. The cocoons serve as protection for the pupal stage in their life cycle. I don’t know about you, but every little thing in nature astonishes me. How do all Polyphemus moths know to spin this shape?
Maybe the wise old chipmunk knows for he seems to be the keeper of the forest this year. And there are plenty of acorns on the ground to add to his pantry.
Through the forest we walked, enjoying the grade of the trail and feel of the place.
And then the community changed and we found ourselves moving beside bent over coneflowers, gum-drop shaped in their winter form. And do you see the baseline for a spider’s web?
Next door was a goldenrod bunch gall created by a midge. Looking like a mass of tiny leaves, it’s also known as a rosette gall for the shape at the top of the stem. In both cases, it’s amazing that insects can change a plant’s growth pattern so dramatically.
As the natural community changed, so did the material world and suddenly we heard the buzz and saw a jet zoom by.
We were fooled momentarily for it circled round and round, came in low for an almost landing as we approached and then took off again. We’d stumbled upon the site of the Mount Washington Valley Radio Control Club.
Airplanes and helicopters weren’t the only ones waiting to lift off into flight. Part of the field was filled milkweed pods, their parachute-equipped seeds waiting for the control tower to give the signal so they could fly.
And where there are milkweed pods, there are also milkweed flowers in their winter form, for such did the structures look with petals of five or six creating the display.
The Davis Farm trail passed by the milkweeds and cut through the fields and I had visions not only of my guy in front of me, but of summer visitors. I’m thinking butterflies, dragonflies, pollinators, oh my.
For now, the fields are dormant, save for a few lone pumpkins adding to the autumn landscape.
And the Moat Mountains providing the backdrop.
By the far edge of the field, hardly cuddly thistles added more texture to the scene.
Staghorn Sumac’s offering was its raspberry color.
At the edge of the field we reached the Swift River and train trestle that crosses it as memories of rides on the Valley Train of the Conway Scenic Railroad when our “boys” were young flashed through our shared memory.
Meeting the river meant that our journey along the Davis Farm Trail had morphed into a western path beside the river and we welcomed its voice as it moved slowly at first over the river rocks.
We did discover one patch of berries that had we not known better, we would have rejoiced over the color for it reminded us of the “white” pumpkins that decorate the season. But . . . we knew better and stayed on the trail in order to avoid Poison Ivy. Yes, it is native. But equally yes, it is a nuisance. Especially if you are allergic.
The trail was shaded beside the river and therefore more snow/ice cover had resulted from a slushy weather event yesterday, but that didn’t stop my guy. You see, I had introduced him to Geocaching.com and my guy loves a challenge.
He found the first and read off the trail names of previous discoverers.
I’ll give you a hint other than the one on the site: look for the Grape Fern. 😉
A wee bit further we came upon a couple of granite blocks and wondered where they’d come from and how they’d ended up in this spot.
Following the compass, we eventually made our second geocache find–this one to my credit. It was enough–my guy is hooked and I see geocaching adventures in our future.
If you can’t locate the second site, ask this chipmunk. We saw no squirrels as has been our experience this year (but do expect a payload amount of squirrels next year in response to this year’s acorn and beech nut mast), but the chipmunks dart across trails and roads on frantic missions as they prepare for the coming season.
My guy wasn’t on his own frantic mission for a change and paused beside this burl to point it out to me. That being said, I did chuckle as he moved on while I paused to admire it. Those folds. And curves. Inlets and outlets. It was like arms, long arms, that circled around and over. All because the tree’s growth hormones were disrupted when its metabolism was hijacked by some other organism, be it a virus, fungus, or bacterium.
Our time beside Swift River began to draw to a close as the sun started to set behind the mountains.
We were almost done with the hike when we noticed deer tracks–indicting they’d travelled to and fro with the river as a main point of their destination.
An individual deer print is heart shaped and such described our journey on several levels–as I continued to appreciate Trisha of Upper Saco Valley Land Trust, and also my guy who has put up with me for over three decades.
On this November day, I gave thanks . . . for this day, for these two people, and for all who have traveled this journey with me.
Forever we’ve passed through the Redstone section of Conway, New Hampshire, and knew that Rattlesnake Mountain behind the village had once been a quarry, but we had not explored it. Today, we changed that.
Crossing over the Maine Central Railroad tracks, the first vantage point took our eyes to the snow-covered summit of Mount Washington.
In the opposite direction, we focused on the route to Maine, where quarried stone would have traveled on its way to locations beyond. According to redstonequarrynh.org, “Redstone granite was used in many buildings in Portland, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. and as far away as Denver, CO and Havana, Cuba. The Hatch Memorial Shell, in Boston, is of Conway green. Grant’s Tomb in New York, the National Archives building in Washington, and the George Washington Memorial Masonic Temple in Alexandria, V.A. were built mostly of Conway pink granite.“
As you gaze upon the map, you may notice three quarry sites in the upper left-hand section: green quarry, red quarry, old red quarry. In the height of operation, more than 300 men were employed.
Today’s journey found us hiking to one, then another, and the third, then back again.
Thank goodness for a landmark we frequently returned to for it gave us our bearings each time we encountered it.
We didn’t have to walk far to encounter another landmark, a polished green granite pilaster about twenty feet long. How often do you see one of these when you walk in the woods?
Artifacts exist here, there, and everywhere from the quarry that was in operation from the 1870s to 1948.
Slowly the forest and its inhabitants are staking their claim on the territory.
We poked about and tried to understand how the wheels turned, but would have appreciated an interpretive guide. Or at least a few interpretive signs to tell the story.
Man and nature intersected everywhere and it was while noticing the cables and guy wires that were strung throughout that we spied artist conk fungi in a prolific display.
And nearby, the woody capsules atop Pipsissewa representing a current memory of a past moment, e.g. the flowering form.
Our next great discovery, the lathe. The Redstone Granite site states: “Lathes were used to rough-turn and polish granite columns (some as long as 22 feet). The building is one of the best preserved because of its function. Most of the roof was open, allowing large granite columns to be lowered and removed by a derrick from above.“
We peeked within at other portions of the machine.
Turns out, it was built by the Betts Machine Company, a manufacturer of heavy machinery such as this site needed.
The faceplate of the lathe was used for the final polishing process. But more importantly, a birch tree grows in Brooklyn. Or rather, in the building that housed the lathe.
We left the structures behind and headed uphill, curious about what the actual quarries looked like.
At the red quarry, a pile of slash littered the mountainside–those stones that hadn’t split in the right orientation to make them profitable.
Among the remains we could see short and deep drill marks and thought of the work of the men who worked the granite. Their days began at 7am. If you take a look at the map, you’ll see a note that some walked home for lunch each day. Apparently, those were the men who worked in the yard and stone sheds, and lived in the boarding house. Everyone else brought their own lunch. Though their shifts were eight hours, like many jobs, overtime was necessary to complete the work. Did they get paid extra? Probably not.
From the red quarry we made our way to the green quarry, filled with ice-coated water. For me, this was the most intriguing site.
Above, water had frozen in time, much as the history of this place.
To the far side, corrugated marks were etched into the stone.
Beside the pond, some of the slash included a variety of drill sizes.
From the green quarry, we retraced our steps back to the mossy ski boot, and eventually moved to the east where we suddenly came upon a beaked hazelnut. It’s a rare occasion to find such a casing still intact, so coveted are they by the mammals that inhabit this land.
Following the trail and a wee bit of bushwhacking led us to the old red quarry, which we assumed to be the first site. Once again, there was so much slash left behind that it was difficult to appreciate what had been processed.
And then we returned to the ski boot one more time and decided to check out a trail we’d seen previously that seemed to pass by the green quarry. Suddenly, we discovered a granite pathway. What should one do when the road is so paved? Follow it.
Much to our delight, it led us back to the green quarry and gave us a different perspective.
In the midst of the water stood the remains of a derrick. Guy wires, wooden booms and masts from these devices decorated the woods throughout.
Many structures in collapse also stood as landmarks of a former use of this land.
Surprises greeted us every step of the way. Some were easy to understand as this lantern; others required more interpretation.
In the end, we realized that there’s so much more to learn about this place, but we loved the opportunity to shine a wee bit of light on the Redstone Granite Quarries.
Our intention had been to explore the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson, New Hampshire, during the summer months, but intentions are just that. An aim or a plan. In our case it was an aim that was a bit off plan.
Today, however, dawned, as each day does, and we honored the plan we’d made last night by packing a lunch and getting out the door by 9:30.
An hour and a half later, we’d driven across Route 302 through Crawford Notch, recalling sites we’d enjoyed from the Conway Scenic Train less than a week ago, and on to Jefferson where we found Airport Road, aka Hazen. At the kiosk, we developed a bit of a trail plan and then ventured forth.
The area is supported by several organizations as noted on a website: “Pondicherry is a Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, and it is owned and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in partnership with New Hampshire Audubon and the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game. A local Friends group also plays a role in the management of the refuge, and the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails has specific jurisdiction for the rail-trails.”
For a mile and a half, we followed the rail trail to its vantage point. Well, not quite all the way, but to the Waumbek Station, where three rail lines once converged.
We thought we’d step out onto the Tudor Richards Viewing Platform, then continue on the rail trail. But, a woman ahead of us had stepped onto the platform to practice Tai Chi and so we let her be and walked for a bit on the Presidential Recreation Trail, a 20-mile link to Gorham, New Hampshire.
Along the way, much of the scenery looked more like November than October, given the fact that we were further north than our hometown. But, a few goldenrods still bloomed. And upon some of their stems, the Goldenrod Ball Gallmaker had made itself a home.
Though we’d planned to eat lunch upon the observation deck, we were delightfully surprised to locate a small bench overlooking Cherry Mountain and so down we sat. PB& Strawberry and Peach, we each enjoyed a half of the others intended sandwich.
Eventually, we returned to the observation deck and enjoyed the fruits of Witherod and High Bush Cranberry that outlined the boardwalk leading to Cherry Pond.
The Pliny Range offered a backdrop on this day filled with sun and clouds.
In the distance, Bufflehead Ducks swam.
Returning to the junction, we continued northeast where rail trail joined rail and one could imagine the clackety clack of trains passing by.
A bit further on, we turned left toward Little Cherry Pond, where the natural community began to seriously embrace all sorts of coniferous trees.
At our feet, the trail cover was a bit more golden and much shorter than our native White Pines.
Looking toward the sky, Tamaracks sang their cheery autumn song as their needles turned golden before dropping. I’m forever intrigued by this deciduous conifer. And thrown into the mix of the cathedral ceiling: spruces of colors I need to spend more time with for throughout the refuge grew white, red, and black spruce. My task down the road: get to know each one individually so that I recognize them in new settings.
While I can tell you that there are five needles in a White Pine bundle, three in a Pitch Pine, two longer ones in a Red Pine, and two shorter needles in a Jack Pine, the needles of the Tamarack are produced in clusters of ten to twenty.
They are attached to the twigs in tight spirals around short spur branches. giving the tree a feathery look.
Upon a downed conifer, a jelly fungus offered its own version of a flower.
At last we reached Little Cherry Pond, where more Buffleheads swam.
And then we noticed another swimmer who made us smile. Yes, that’s a beaver. We couldn’t see his destination for it was around a corner and signs warned us not to venture further in order to protect the area.
Backtracking a bit, all the while admiring the plants including Rhodora, Creeping Snowberry, Trailing Arbutus, Pitcher Plants, and so many more (I need to return in the spring), we found our way back to the Mooseway Trail. (Note: “You Are Here” was taken on the way in, but I wanted to give perspective. Look for the Mooseway Trail toward Mud Pond.)
Not long onto the Mooseway Trail, I was thrilled to discover Lungwort growing up a tree trunk. Its ridges and lobes create a leafy lettuce or lung tissue appearance (thus its common name).
Because lungwort’s main photobiont is a green alga, it is also a type of cyanolichen, thus meaning it contains nitrogen-fixing bacteria. When lungworts fall following a storm, they decompose into the forest floor, contributing their nitrogen reserve to the soil.
The Mooseway Trail seemed easy to follow at first, but soon it became more of a bushwhack and we wondered when the last human had ventured forth. We found all of three blue blazes indicating the way.
But after the third, we had a choice to make. Head north or south. We chose south. And within a short distance the trail completely disappeared. Thanks to GPS and occasional glimpses of Cherry Mountain, we persevered. And startled a snowshoe hare that startled us. I couldn’t capture it in a photo for so quick was its hop, but suffice it to say that the hare’s coloration was gray/white, given the next season that had already visited some of the surrounding mountains.
Maybe it only took a half hour, but it sure felt like hours before we finally found the rail again. I actually considered kissing it, but my guy convinced me otherwise.
There was so much more of the refuge to explore, but we followed the trail back, giving thanks to the shape of the mountain that helped give us perspective on our location as we’d bushwhacked.
And a backward look upon the pond brought to light the snow that had fallen upon the Presidentials, previously hidden in the clouds.
As for that darn Mooseway Trail that led us astray . . . it did have much to offer including this Bobcat scat. We also found a specimen of coyote.
And not only Moose scat, but also some prints. We were rather excited by that.
And then the crème de la crème: bear scat filled with berries. Yes, we’d scanned the trees for claw marks, but if they were there, they were difficult to distinguish (cuze, um, we were moving at my guy’s speed). Despite that, this display made us both happier than happy.
I had no idea when I chose most of the places for our Bear to Beer Possibilities, what the trail’s tales might be, but really, our success rate was quite high.
And we topped off our success by sipping some suds at an old fav in Glen, New Hampshire. For him: Moat Mountain’s Matilda’s Red Rage. For me: Tuckerman’s Pale Ale.
His birthday present several weeks ago was a Cat’s Meow replica of the North Conway Scenic Railroad (from my collection) and a note: October 21, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm. Be there!!
This morning I drove him there. No, I wasn’t the engineer of the train, but rather the conductor of his entertainment schedule.
Our chosen car, the Dorthea Mae, was built in the mid-1950s for transcontinental service in the United States and turned out to be the perfect choice for this adventure. We’ve ridden the Conway Scenic train before–several times when our sons were young and we took the one hour ride from North Conway to Conway, New Hampshire, and once for an anniversary celebration as we enjoyed dinner on the Bartlett Route. But for all the times we’ve driven along Route 302 through Crawford Notch and looked at the scary trestles hugging the mountains, we always said we’d love to take the longer ride. Well today, that became a reality.
Group by group, riders were welcomed to climb on and find their assigned seats. Ours was located opposite a delightful and chatty couple from Iowa, MaryPat and Ron.
For us, part of the fun was recognizing familiar spots along the rail, including a rail crossing on Route 302 by a historic barn.
Through the village of Bartlett we travelled along rails originally laid down in the 1870s for what was once the Maine Central Railroad’s famed Mountain Division Trail.
The church to the left is the Union Congregational Church on Albany Avenue, and to the right the Odd Fellows Hall, a historic fraternal society.
Early on we crossed trestles over several rivers where shadows, angles, curves, and foliage delighted our eyes.
As we headed toward Crawford Notch, again it was the same, only different, with ever the click-clack of motion providing a new vista that captured our awe.
History presented itself over and over again, with old rail ties and power poles dotting the landscape–obscured for a wee bit longer by the golden hues of the forest.
Knowing that today was the only date available when I’d booked the trip, and in fact, that we got the last two seats on the Dorothea Mae, we wondered how much color we might see given that we were traveling north. It was past peak, but still . . . one Red Maple stood out amongst the yellowy-orange-bronzes of the landscape.
There was also some white to view–not only the few clouds, but the summit of Mount Washington with a recent coating of snow and rime ice.
The ridgeline of Mount Webster, forming the eastern side of the U-shaped glacial valley which forms Crawford Notch, stood crisp and clear as we headed north.
The mountain was named for Daniel Webster, a statesman and orator born in Salisbury, New Hampshire, which is present day Franklin where I began my former teaching career in 1980.
From our seat on the train, looking south, Mount Webster was on the left, Route 302 between, and Mount Willey on the right forming the western side of the U.
By Mount Willard, we heard the story of the section house that stood here in the 1900s.
Our narrator, Denise, spoke of the Mt Willard Section House built in 1887 for section foreman James E. Mitchell, his family, and crew who maintained Section 139 of the railroad. Loring Evans became foreman of Section 139 in 1903. He was killed ten years later in a railroading accident at Crawford’s yard, but his wife, Hattie, raised their four children and despite all odds ran the Section House until 1942. It was Hattie’s job to house and feed the men who worked on the shortest yet most treacherous stretch of the rail.
A memorial garden still honors her work.
Below Mount Jackson, across the way, two waterfalls graced the scene. Typically, we’ve viewed them one at a time, but from the train, both Flume and Silver Cascades were visible as water raced down the mountain’s face.
This being Silver, but both looked like traces of chalk from our position.
Two hours after our journey began, we arrived at Crawford’s Depot.
Disembarking, and with an hour to ourselves, my guy and I ate a picnic lunch that included chicken salad sandwiches enhanced with home-made cranberry-orange relish, and then we crossed the road to walk the .4-mile trail around Saco Lake, the origin of Saco River.
Beside it a few Dandelions flowered. And my guy questioned me. “You’re taking a photo of a Dandelion?” Yup. Never Call it just a Dandelion is the title of a most delightful and informative book. And sooo true. Notice how each ray is notched with five teeth representing a petal and forms a single floret. Completely open as this one was, the bloom was a composite of numerous florets. And can you see the stigmas? Curled and split in two? “Yes, I am taking a picture of a Dandelion because it deserves to be honored. And not pulled from the lawn. Just sayin’. ”
Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba var. latifolia) also posed, its fruit’s five-parted capsules each containing two to four small seeds. It was the color that made me smile on this fall day.
Upon a small bridge where Elephant Head Brook flows into Saco Lake, most people paused and then turned for so wet was the trail. But you know who kept going. Despite wearing sneakers rather than our hiking boots, we found our way and soon moved beyond the wet trail.
We laughed when we discovered a wooden boardwalk in a drier section.
Others had also ventured here and called it home, although based on the lack of new wood, we suspected the beavers had left the lodge. Perhaps they’d moved across the street to the AMC’s Highland Center.
Upon granite that defined the outer side of sections of the trail, Rock Tripe lichens grew, some turning green as they photosynthesized when I poured water upon them.
Always one of my favorite views is the discovery of Toadskin Lichen beside the Rock Tripe, both umbilicate forms.
Back to Route 302, asters showed their displays of seeds awaiting dispersal and those older empty nesters forecasting their winter form in a flower-like composition all their own.
Just prior to 2:00pm, we reboarded the train for the journey south.
For the return trip, we’d switched seats with those who sat on the western side of the train for the journey north and so got to spy the Willey foundation. Local lore has it that in 1793, Samuel Willey took his wife, five children and two hired men to live in a small, remote house in the mountains. That year, he and the hired men built a house.
As our narrator said, “In June of 1826, a heavy rain terrified the Willey family when it caused a landslide across the Saco River. Sam decided to build a stone shelter above the house where he thought the family could find safety in case of another landslide. On August 28, 1826, a violent rainstorm caused a mudslide. The Willeys and hired men took refuge in the shelter. The landslide killed all nine of them, but the house they’d fled stood still.” Apparently, a ledge above the house spared it from destruction.
We loved the historical aspects of the trip, as well as the scenery, short hike, and good company.
At the end of the day, we were all smiles for this All Aboard Mondate.
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