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.
Friends Pam and Bob Katz, whom I haven’t known forever but feel like it’s been at least a lifetime, invited me to join them to circle Mountain Pond outside Jackson, New Hampshire today. The trailhead is located off Town Hall Road that follows Slippery Brook.
At the sign we turned in to the parking area and began our journey on foot.
Only a few steps in, we were stopped in our tracks by the wooly growths upon the Speckled Alders. The soft, fluffy fibers could have been cotton plants. But then they moved. In a creepy sort of way.
As we looked more closely we began to see that some were winged in form, a sight new to our eyes and understanding. Meet the Wooly Alder Aphids.
Much more to our liking were the tracks we found in mud, including Bobcat and . . .
a small Moose. The Bobcat had crossed perpendicular to the trail as one might expect for its preferred corridor is about forty feet wide and doesn’t necessarily follow a man-made path. The Moose wasn’t so particular and we followed its prints for a while before it disappeared into the wildness of this place.
While we loved seeing the mammal tracks, it was the insects and flowers that really pulled us in, including a Flower Longhorned Beetle.
And the ever delightful and dainty Wood Sorrel that makes me think of the Candy Strippers who worked as hospital aides in the books of my youth.
If the Candy Strippers needed slippers, they’d come to the right shop for there were moccasins available nearby in the form of white Lady’s Slippers surprising us since they still looked a wee bit fresh.
At last we began to catch glimpses of the pond for which the trail had been named. But really, a Loon sounding a distress call pulled us toward the water’s edge. We only saw one in an aggressive mode, it’s body extended across the surface as it moved forward, but still heard the wild call of the other and assumed they were protecting a nest.
Our wildlife sightings continued as we continued and took turns spotting the wonders of the path, including a Garter Snake slithering away from us.
Once we were close to the water, our dragonfly sightings increased significantly, as did the bug detail and insect bites decreased giving us reason to celebrate these winged warriors, such as the Chalk-fronted Corporals that made a point of being our guides as they often paused in front of us and then flew a few feet ahead at our slightest movement.
The fact that I can occasionally sneak up on one and capture a close-up photo is always amazing.
Our next source of wonder, a lodge built by beavers beside the bank. It was one that didn’t appear to be currently in use, but had been mudded last fall.
Eventually we found a second lodge with a huge hole on the back side of it. The hole wasn’t necessarily a vent, but it did provide us a glimpse into the inner workings of the pond-side inn. This one hadn’t been mudded and so we suspected it had been abandoned, maybe due to the presence of parasites. Perhaps in the near future it will again host guests.
It was near the lodge that we began to spy Bullfrogs, their Ga-dunk voices every once in a while rising in a chorus.
Notice the tympanic membrane or eardrum located behind the eye–it was bigger than his viewfinder, thus indicating his gender.
Not too far away a few ladies-in-waiting hung out on a log.
And in the water, two year old tadpoles, their bodies extra chunky, swam.
And morphed. Can you see the hind legs that had formed?
At last we pulled away from the water and continued on our way, when the Fly Honeysuckle gave us pause with its flowers of orange and yellow.
We weren’t the only ones in awe of it, for we spent some time watching this Canada Tiger Swallowtail flutter in a rather drunken way from one blossom to the next.
Because the flowers had been pollinated, some had already turned to their shiny red fruit form.
The butterflies were numerous and all the way around the pond we saw White Admirals either in flight or on the ground puddling, the latter a way of seeking nutrients from the damp soil.
An Atlantis Fritillary also graced us with its presence.
Another flyer insisted upon being noticed and I handed Pam a field guide to determine its name. A second or two later she announced it was a Powdered Dancer Damselfly, based on the coloration of its eyes, thorax, and abdomen.
My favorite flyer of the day, however, was the Crimson-ringed Whiteface Dragonfly with its thorax so red and abdomen a combination of green-black.
Even when we paused to gaze upon the lake and mountains in the distance, the Crimsons flew.
And landed–showing off their white faces for which they were named.
One couple even chose Pam’s arm and bracelet upon which to land and canoodle, appearing oblivious to our gawking eyes and awe-filled conversation.
I travelled around Mountain Pond today with “old” friends Pam and Bob and recognized others I’ve met numerous times before like the Bobcat, Moose, Garter Snake, and Wood Sorrel, but new relationships were also formed and I hope I’ll soon move from being a Crimson-ringed Whiteface’s acquaintance to a life-time friend.
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.
Today’s adventure meant a bit of a drive to Center Harbor, New Hampshire, but it was a journey down memory lane for me as I recalled my time spent teaching and living in the Lakes Region of NH. My guy endured the stories, many of which I’m sure he’s heard before, so I suspect he was grateful when we finally arrived at our destination.
We’d never been to the Fogg Hill Conservation Area before, but prior to Christmas when I was creating the Bear to Beer Possibilities gift, I found Bear Pond on the property and thought it had potential. Besides, we love to explore new areas . . . then there’s always that challenge of looking for a bear sign.
The sign was easy to find for it’s nailed to a tree at the trail head, but it wasn’t quite what we had in mind. It did, however, give us hope. Perhaps we would find a tree with signature bear claw marks left behind.
Our choice of footwear was questionable from the get go as we passed between two canoes onto the trail blazed with yellow. We chose hiking boots and for me, spikes. He tossed his spikes into the pocket of his sweatshirt. Rather than keep you in suspense, I’ll jump ahead and tell you it was the right choice. We walked on bare ground, ice, and snow sometimes a foot deep, but it was constantly changing. And he never did wear his spikes. I, on the other hand, was glad to don them.
Sometimes our path also included stream crossings.
Not long into our journey, we followed the blue blazes to Bear Pond. Our hopes of finding what we were looking for there were soon dashed. But . . .
we saw beaver works of past years that now supported a variety of other growth.
A lodge stood tall in the wetland, but by its grayed sticks we knew it hadn’t been used recently. Maybe rather than Bear Pond it should have been named Beaver Pond, but then again, maybe not.
Back on the yellow trail, we continued on, but paused again beside another beaver pond. You’ll have to squint to see the lodge, but it’s there, beside a boulder that mimics its shape. As we stood there, my brain fast-forwarded to summer and I could imagine not only the vegetation in full bloom, but also the insects and especially the dragonflies providing a display.
Back to reality–I did spy a Mallard on the far side of the pond.
Onward and upward we climbed, our eyes scanning the trees for any bear sign. Sometimes the bark of the Beech was all blocky as a result of beech scale disease.
Others were as smooth as could be and we both thought, “If I were a bear in the woods, this would be my tree.” But none had claimed it.
We were almost fooled when we looked up at one of the old trees–until we realized we were looking at sapwells created by Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. And I realized I hadn’t associated them with American Beech previously. A lesson learned from the bark I thought I knew so well.
Mind you, we weren’t always looking up because we did have to choose the next spot to place each foot much of the time and we were often surprised when what appeared to be firm wasn’t. But because we were looking down so much, we saw several scats left behind by the locals including Coyote and Bobcat. The above is Coyote scat–filled with hair and chunks of bone.
We also spotted another Winter Firefly–this one cross a boulder in the trail.
And a treat to top them all–Striped Maple breaking bud! Suddenly spring feels rushed and I want to slow it all down and savor every sweet moment. 😉
Just beyond the Striped Maple, we chuckled when we found the first cairn. Maybe its structure was a homage to the summit ahead.
At the summit a split glacial erratic was as interesting as the view, covered as it was with two umbilicate lichens, Rock Tripe and Toadstool.
I asked my guy to stand beside it for perspective, but he chose instead to go behind and peek at me through the division.
And on the way down, he found the perfect frame for his peace sign.
As for bear sign, we found one tree with some potential, but wondered if instead it was scratch marks created by near branches.
At last we left the conservation area a wee bit disappointed but promised ourselves we’ll return. Perhaps we didn’t find more than the bear sign at the very start due to the fact that we really spent a lot of time looking at our feet. And never went far off trail.
We also want to check out the orange trail to the Kettle Bog, which we passed by today. A few years ago, Dr. Rick Van de Poll completed an ecological survey of the area and discovered rare plants on the land. Having spent a couple of days working with Rick at a Lakes Environmental Association site in Bridgton, Maine, I can’t wait to figure out what he discovered on the Fogg Hill property.
Today’s adventure was topped off with a late lunch at Canoe overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee in Center Harbor. For me an Allagash White and a burger. For my guy: Jack’s Abby Lager and a reuben.
Bear to beer possibilities: Fogg Hill, Center Harbor, NH.
My guy opened his Christmas Bear to Beer box and considered the possibilities. The winner was . . .
Middle to Peaked Mountains in North Conway, New Hampshire.
The day had dawned warm after the recent deep freeze and so we had to consider how to dress and what to use for footwear.
Given that our route would take us uphill as we ascended via the Middle Mountain Trail to Middle Mountain, retrace our steps to the connector before summiting Peaked Mountain and then follow the Peaked Mountain Trail down, we knew we needed to dress in layers, but not quite so many and not quite so heavy.
We also weren’t sure of our footwear until we arrived at the parking area and saw the well-packed trail. Our choice–micro-spikes over snowshoes. We only hoped that when we reached the intersection of the Middle Mountain Trail and the Connector Trail, we wouldn’t regret our decision. But time would tell.
In the meantime, after we climbed over the snowbanks to get to the trailhead, we had to conquer the gate. We’ve climbed Peaked in the past, as well as walked the Pudding Pond Trail, both part of the Green Hills Preserve, so we knew that typically one walks around the gate. Today, we merely stepped over it–which tells you something about the snow depth.
At .2 miles, the trail comes to a T. The right hand route leads to Pudding Pond, while the left requires a brook crossing before continuing on to the mountain trails.
A bit further along, we came to one set of several that denote the trail system. In terms of following it via the signs, trail blazes, and well worn path, it was easy. Given the soft snow conditions and contour, we’d rank it a moderate hike.
It was one that got the hearts pumping, which is always a good thing. And when one of us needed a rest, we pretended that we just wanted to admire the sound and sight of the gurgling brook.
We passed through a few natural communities, including hemlock groves, and mixed forest. But our focus was really on any beech trees and by the leaves that littered the path, we knew there were plenty.
We scanned the bark every time we spied a beech, and saw not a nail scrape anywhere. But . . . sad to say we did notice tarry spots which oozed out of the cracks in the bark caused by cankers a tree develops as a defensive attempt to ward off beech scale insects and the nectria pathogens that follow their entry points.
The community changed again as we approached the summit of Middle Mountain, where red pines dominated the scenery. And in the warm sun, the snow became softer.
Two miles and some sweat equity later, we’d shed some clothes and reached the top.
From there, my guy went in search of lunch rock and I eventually followed.
It was actually more of lunch ledge and we set up camp, using the jackets we weren’t wearing as our seating area.
The view beyond our feet included Conway Lake in the distance. Lunch consisted of chicken salad sandwiches made with our own cranberry orange relish offering a taste of day in the fen picking berries, a Lindt peppermint dark chocolate ball, and an orange, topped off with frequent sips of water.
While we sat there, I did what I do. There were no beech trees to look at and so I focused in on the bonsai red pine in front of us. Its form, unlike its relatives who stood tall behind us, was the result of growing on the edge of the ledge where it took the brunt of the weather.
I took the liberty of turning a photo of a lower branch 90 degrees because I could see the face of the tree spirit reaching out as it formed a heart. It is February after all.
But enough of that. We were on a mission to find a bear paw tree. When I chose this trail, I had no idea if we’d see one. Yes, we’d climbed Peaked in the past, but never had we noticed any trees with such marks left behind.
So, down we slid, I mean climbed, off Middle Mountain until we reached the connector and could see Peaked’s summit in the background.
We weren’t too far along when our constant scanning paid off! Bingo. A bear paw tree. Some people bag peaks. We bag bear paw trees.
Our mission accomplished, though we continued to look, we journeyed on to the second summit.
From there, we had more of a view of North Conway below, the Moats forming the immediate backdrop, and Mount Chocorua behind.
In front of us, we looked across to Middle Mountain from whence we’d just come.
And behind, Cranmore Mountain Ski Area and Kearsarge North in the background.
With my telephoto lens I could pull in the fire tower atop Kearsarge. It’s among our favorite hiking destinations.
We didn’t stay atop Peaked as long as we had on Middle because the wind was picking up. On our journey down, the mountain views included Washington.
We continued to look for bear trees but found no others. That being said, there were plenty of beech trees on the Peaked Mountain Trail, but the sun was in our eyes for much of the journey, and we had to pay attention to where we placed our feet because traveling was a bit slippery given the soft snow. Maybe there were others after all, and we just didn’t notice.
We completed the 5.5 mile hike about four hours after beginning, ran a few errands, and finally found our way to the finish of today’s bear to beer possibility at the Sea Dog Brewing Company. Black bears like to sip too!
Visiting a site in winter that is so popular in the summer we actually avoid it unless hiking past offers an entirely different appreciation.
And so between errands in North Conway, New Hampshire, this afternoon, my guy and I donned our micro-spikes to traverse the hard-packed snowy ice trail into Diana’s Bath in neighboring Bartlett.
Upon reaching Lucy Brook, the history of the area was briefly documented on an interpretive panel that provided information about George Lucy who built a sawmill in the 1860s powered by an undershot wheel on the brook and a home not far from its banks.
About 1890, when tourists began making regular visits to the brook, Mr. Lucy added a boarding house and barn, but business never took off the way he’d intended.
By the 1920s the water wheel was replaced by a turbine fed from a penstock pipe, the remnants of which remained for us to gain a better understanding of the passage of power.
Above the turbine we could see another piece of the penstock pipe burrowed within the ledge upstream.
Before climbing up to it, I walked below the turbine site while my guy stood over and thought about the Lucy family’s history, which in a professional way is connected to his own for the sawmill idea was eventually abandoned as the Lucys realized they could use a portable mill to harvest wood and later descendants owned a lumber yard and then one of them opened a hardware store and he and my guy periodically touch base to share ideas or stock and both could be known as Mr. Hardware.
Upon the interpretive panel, we appreciated a photograph of the sawmill for it aided our comprehension of the view before us.
To our best understanding, the cement located above the penstock was part of the mill and dam created by Chester Lucy in the 1930s. Today, water swirled through and flowed over.
Below, the natural formation of rocks obscured was reflected in the shape of icy indentations.
Above, water hugged rocks in mid-cascade and created designs and colors that changed with each moment frozen in time.
We finally moved upward where more baths were plentiful but on this frigid day the thought of a dip was quickly suppressed by reality.
Still, we were intrigued by the power of it all as water gushed between curtains of ice.
As for the name, Diana’s Bath, I’ve heard several renditions including this from Robert and Mary Julyan’s Place Names of the White Mountains (a great bathroom read):
“These curious circular stone cavities on Lucy Brook originally were known as the Home of the Water Fairies; tradition says evil water sprites inhabited the ledges, tormenting the Sokokis Indians until a mountain god answered the Indians’ prayers and swept the sprites away in a flood. But sometime before 1859 a Miss Hubbard of Boston, a guest at the old Mount Washington House in North Conway, rechristened them Diana’s Baths, presumably to evoke images of the Roman nature goddess. The pools are also called Lucy’s Baths.”
In the midst of wondering, I noticed a rare sight that added to the mystique of this place. Do you see four circular discs in the water? All spun at the same rate despite their varied sizes.
They were ice discs spinning counterclockwise much to my delight. This rare phenomenon was caused by the cold, dense air formed within the eddy at the base of the fall.
After that sight, we continued to climb until the brook leveled out. And then we pause before the spirit of one made from the same crystals that flowed beyond; one who wore a smile indicating he knew the ways and whys and wonders of the brook even if we didn’t.
As it turned out, he wasn’t the only one.
The woods were full of those who listened like old sages,
and smiled with a secret knowledge tucked within their grins.
Through it all, we felt the love of the universe as we tried to interpret the romance of the stones–icy though they were. And on this first Mondate of 2019, we were grateful for our “dip” into Diana’s Bath. It’s so much better in the winter than summer, especially on a weekday, for there are far fewer people about. But the sprites and fairies. They are there. Some you might even find among the rocks and boulders; I know. I saw a few. And others, might be upon the tree trunks. Or in the midst of the water.
If you decide to Romance the Stones, do know that unless you have a White Mountain National Forest Pass, you will need to pay the $3 fee to park. For some reason, the sprites don’t take care of that. Hmmm . . . one would think.
I can’t believe we are still in the race, but we are. And so last night the clue arrived as mysteriously as ever and a wee bit vague: Drive west and then south, following Routes 16, 125, and 111. Find your way to Stonehenge.
While we were certain that Route 111 in New Hampshire was not going to put us on a flight to England’s Stonehenge, we decided to follow the directions and see where we ended up.
We did note that Team Speedy was ahead of us as we drove south on Route 16, but in Ossipee they turned right onto Route 25. Oops, wrong number, but we weren’t going to tell them that.
Two and a half hours later and BINGO! We’d found our destination.
America’s Stonehenge in Salem, New Hampshire. Who knew? I’d lived in New Hampshire for ten years prior to moving to Maine in 1986 and never heard of this place. But . . . apparently the time had come.
We entered and watched a brief introductory film. First named “Mystery Hill Caves,” the name was changed to America’s Stonehenge in 1982 because researchers believed that better reflected their understanding of the site.
Was it built by a Native American culture or a migrant European population? Who knows? But what we did learn is that carbon dating has helped age some of its features at over 4,000 years old, making it possibly the oldest man-made construction of chambers, walls and ceremonial meeting places in the United States.
The site has been under continuous research and there are a variety of theories about its origin. Our main challenge was to observe and learn.
But first, one of us had to determine the time of day. My guy rose to the occasion and placed the pole in the center of the sundial.
“2:11 pm,” he said. Pretty darn close for it was actually 2:09, but we were told to proceed.
The first part of the journey included a Three Sisters Garden of corn, pole beans, and pumpkins. There’s a replica of a dugout canoe and a wigwam for such were found on the property, plus some pottery and other artifacts.
And then we worked our way up the hill and into the maze of chambers. Some referenced astrological events; others were the works of Jonathan Pattee who built a wooden structure upon some of the chambers, but it burned in 1855 and his son later sold off some of the artifacts; and William B. Goodwin, the first researcher to own the property.
Fortunately for us, many items worth noting were labeled. Number 8 was an Upper Well, also known as the Well of Crystals because excavations in 1963 proved that quartz crystals were found in a vertical fault twenty-two feet below. Such crystals may have been worshipped or used for tools by ancient cultures.
By the well was the Pattee area, and so I ventured down and stood before a chamber that may have served as either his family’s root cellar or at least storage space.
Nearby was a collapsed chamber. The roof slab that now stands upright is estimated to weigh 6.5 tons. And here’s the cool stuff–tree roots near the back wall of the chamber were carbon dated to the late 1690s, indicating the walls were built prior to Mr. Pattee’s residency. Further research indicated the following: “In 1969, charcoal that had sifted into the walls was found below these roots at two to four inches above bedrock and dated to 1400 BC. In 1971, a third and even older date of 2000 BC was obtained.” There’s more, but that’s enough to be mind boggling. BC?
The astrological importance of the site was noted throughout and we found the True South Pointing Wall.
Directly opposite of it was the entrance to a south facing chamber. For me, the curious thing about this chamber was that it was damaged in a 1982 earthquake–and I quickly recalled that quake as I remembered feeling its tremors.
Then there was The Pulpit. It’s believed that quarrymen used this spot as a staging area to load stones onto wagons in the 1800s, thus giving the property another chunk of historical value. It’s also thought that Mr. Goodwin had the upper part of the structure reconstructed by his crew for he believed that the site was built by Irish Culdee Monks.
I have to say that my guy and I weren’t beyond that interpretation for some of the chambers reminded us of Newgrange, a Neolithic passage tomb alleged to be older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids. Constructed during the Stone Age, about 5,200 years ago, Newgrange is a large circular mound in Ireland that covers 300 feet in diameter and stands 36 feet high. A stone passageway leads to three small chambers. Some describe it as an ancient temple, a place of astrological, spiritual and ceremonial importance. Hmmm . . .
Another interesting chamber from our point of view was the V Hut, so named for its shape. This one reminded us of the Mystery Structure in Lovell, Maine, for part of it forms a similar sort of V shape.
Throughout the journey, our focus was brought back to orientation of chamber openings. So the curious thing about this particular one and the one opposite of it–they had an east-west orientation. All other openings faced south.
The outer wall of the East-West Chamber offered a different look than any we’d previously seen. Using photographs from the Goodwin era, the outer walls were restored in the late 1970s.
They led to a wonder-filled pathway. Do note the white paint–that was used throughout to feature key points. Though I thought it ghastly, it did serve its purpose and the drawing you see on the bedrock was part of a very important drainage system. Curiously, the area was well drained, but when we later walked surrounding trails we had to work around water obstacles–why can’t we figure out today how to make the water move in an effective fashion?
The pathway we were traveling led to the Oracle Chamber. And then there was more white paint. But, take notice. The U-shape above was painted around drill marks probably made by those 1800s quarrymen as they broke off slabs.
But it’s the Vs that were of even more interest.
The V wedges were similar to those found at ancient sites in Europe we were told. Before the invention of the steel drill in the early 1800s, stone masons apparently made these V wedges.
Now all oracles need a sundeck and lo and behold, such existed. As we admired it, a few orbs did the same and we had to wonder about the ghosts living among the rocks. They certainly had stories to tell.
The Oracle Chamber was known to be the most important area with a variety of features including an upper drain, secret bed, speaking tube, roof opening (see the sunlight coming through at the end of the chamber?), seat, closet, and deer carving. It was actually rather dark and we could locate some of the features, but never saw the deer carving, which would have been a treat.
Before we’d entered the Oracle Chamber, we’d viewed one of several tables within the complex.
But it wasn’t until we were standing above it that it made more sense. The Sacrificial Table was a 4.5 ton slab with a grooved channel. Its a point of controversy for the site, but some believe that because of its size it was used for sacrifices. The oracle had a speaking tube in his chamber located directly beneath it that adds to the assumption.
If only mosses and lichens could talk, the tales they could tell. But then we wouldn’t have mysteries to consider.
Speaking of such, one of our challenges was to identify a fern that grew among the rocks. It had several key features, including the fact that all of its fronds grew from a central point in a circle and it was still quite green–as in evergreen. A quick look at its spore arrangement on the underside and the answer was clear–marginal evergreen wood fern.
We also had to name three colors represented by the oak leaves on the grounds: Black, red, and . . .
And then it was time to climb the Astronomical Viewing Platform. I was initially put off by the sight of the modern structure and thought perhaps it was a children’s playground tossed into the mix. But . . . thankfully I was wrong. Constructed in 1975, from the platform you can view the major astronomical alignment stones, including true north for summer and winter solstice. Trees were cleared in 1967 along the various important date sights and are still maintained. When the structure was first constructed, there were probably no trees atop the bedrock. This afternoon, as we looked out, our view included the November 1st sunset.
We followed the trail toward the November 1 Sunset Stone.
And were equally excited to note the Winter Solstice Sunset Monolith. This was the first monolith that researchers suspected to be a solar alignment. On December 21, 1970, the shortest day of the year, it was photographed. Because the Earth’s tilt has changed, it’s a bit off these days, but would have marked the southern most set of the sun almost 4,000 years ago. Wow!
Before we left, we had another challenge: to find something that reminded us of the maze we’d just journeyed through–and in many ways the pine tree’s route system seemed to provide a map.
We also needed to pay homage to the alpacas who now call this place home and in their own way bring us back in time. The earliest evidence of man at America’s Stonehenge was 7,400 years ago as proven by evidence from a fire pit, and alpacas were domesticated about 5,000 years ago–in South America.
That being said, our final challenge was to find a more up-to-date representation and a message etched onto a rock seemed to fill the bill.
Back into the museum we journeyed and imagined ourselves into a contour model of the property with yellow lines representing the various astrologically important dates and sight lines. We’d also learned that a line can be drawn directly from America’s Stonehenge to England’s Stonehenge along the Solstice.
When our time was done, we were more than wowed. And had a lot to absorb about our learnings.
But, we were in a race and as quick as we’d wanted to be, we feared we were too slow.
Team Speedy, however, apparently went way off course when they turned onto Route 25. They were the last to cross the mat and have been eliminated. (Quietly we were heard to mutter: YES!)
Team Purple won this leg as she has done several times even though she’s solo. And still sporting her sandals despite the colder temps.
We actually placed second today and were thrilled. We’re still in the race!
Only two more episodes to go. It’s down to Team Purple, Team Cape Cod, Team Livermore and us. Who will be the final three? Stay tuned for The Amazing Race–Our Style: episode eleven.
I had no idea what to expect of today’s tramp with two friends as I didn’t even know prior to this afternoon that the trail we would walk even existed. And so I pulled in to the parking area at the end of Meetinghouse Road in Conway, New Hampshire, sure that we’d only be able to walk down to the Saco River about a hundred feet away and that would be the extent of our adventure.
But . . . much to my pleasant surprise I was wrong and in the northeastern corner of the parking lot we crossed a bridge into the unexpected setting.
For the entire journey, we walked above and beside the Saco River. And our minds were awed by the frames through which we viewed the flowing water and boulders.
Occasionally, our view was clear and colorful, the colors now more pastel than a week ago.
Even as the colors have begun to wane and leaves fall, we looked up from our spot below the under and upper stories and sighed.
For much of the time, we were wowed by the Witch Hazel’s flowers–for so thick were they on many a twig.
In fact, if one didn’t pause to notice, you might think that each flower featured a bunch of ribbons, but really, four was the count over and over again.
And some were much more crinkly than others. One of my other favorites about this shot is the scar left behind by a recently dropped leaf. Do you see the dark smile at the base of the woody yet hairy flower petiole? And the dots within that represented the bundles where water and nutrients passed between leaf and woody structure?
And then one among us who is known for her eagle eyes spied a Spotted Wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata, a name that has always made us wonder for its dark green leathery leaves seem far more stripped than spotted. It’s one of those plants with a bunch of common names and so we should try another one on: spotted wintergreen; striped prince’s pine; striped wintergreen; striped pipsissewa; spotted pipissewa; and pipissewa. But perhaps the fact that it’s striped and referred to as spotted helps me to remember its name each time we meet. A sign of how my brain works.
While we know it to be rare and endangered in Maine, it grew abundantly under the pines on the slight slope beside the river in New Hampshire, and we rejoiced.
Its newer capsules were green, but a few of last year’s woody structures also graced the forest floor. Reseeding helps the plant propagate, but it also spreads through its rhizomes.
Everywhere we looked there was a different sight to focus our lenses and we took photo upon photo of the variations in color of some like Mapleleaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), a shrub with three-lobed maple-like leaves and small white flowers in the spring that form blue fruits in the early fall and had been consumed, only their stems left to tell the story.
Red Maple (Acer rubrum) leaning over the river offered their own hues that bespoke autumn.
And tucked into a fungi bowl, we found the yellow form of Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum).
Onward we continued with the river to our left, outlined with maples and evergreens, and backdropped by the Moat Mountains.
And to our right, a small pond where trees in the foreground helped create a stained glass effect filled with autumn’s display.
And once again, in the pond’s quiet waters reflections filled our souls.
A wee bit further, we trespassed onto private land, and decided to make that our turn-around point as we got our bearings via GPS.
Backtracking was as enjoyable as our forward motion. We had been on a trail called the Conway Rec Path, part of the Mount Washington Valley Rec Path, intended for walking, running, biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, bird watching, wildflower viewing , tree study, plus river and mountain views. Kennett High School athletes ran past us and we encountered couples out for exercise. None took their time as we did, but that’s our way and occasionally we ventured off trail because something caught our eye.
Meanwhile, the river continued to flow, as it has for almost ever, and the water continued to carve patterns yet to be seen, but we enjoyed those that reflected its action.
Back at the parking lot, we were wowed by a Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum), its girth suggesting an age older than a century.
As had been the case all along the way, we experienced another wow moment when we realized how developed were the flower and leaf buds already. We know they form in the summer, but . . . they looked ready to pop!
As we stood and admired, a flock of Juncos and White-throated Sparrows flew from one spot to the next as they sought seeds on the ground. Occasionally, the sparrows paused for a moment.
And then moved on again.
At last it was time for us to move on as well and head for home, my friends’ to their mountainside abode in New Hampshire and me to my humble house on the other side of the Moose Pond Causeway. But as I always do when making the crossing, I looked up.
And was honored by a sighting that pulled me out of my truck. The immature Bald Eagle I’d watched and listened to all summer graced me with another opportunity to view it.
One scene after another, it was a delightful autumn afternoon. Thanks P&B, for the sharing a new trail with me and providing many moments to pause and focus.
Our day began with a journey to Green Thumb Farms in western Maine because we were curious about their native blueberry sod. We had hoped to see some, but that wasn’t to be and instead we were given a contact number for a sales rep. Our hope is to purchase a couple of pallets worth and use it as one more filter system at our camp in our continuing efforts to protect water quality. We recently learned that we qualified for a LakeSmart Award, but don’t want that to stop us from finding other ways to create a more lake-friendly property. Stay tuned on the sod because once we figure that out, it will be a story worth telling.
From Green Thumb Farms we zigged and zagged along the back roads until we reached Eaton, New Hampshire. Lunch awaited at the Eaton Village Store on Route 153. Inside, one wall is covered with mailboxes and the post office. Grocery and gifty items are displayed in an aisle or two. And then there’s the lunch counter and a few tables for the eatery. A most pleasant eatery. The menu is simple, food fresh, and all served with a smile and conversation.
Oh, and one more thing. They are eternal optimists! Or procrastinators like me. Heck, eventually there will be falling snow to watch for again.
After lunch, we zigged and zagged again, winding our way up a road we once remember sliding down–in the winter on our bellies with our eight and ten year old sons in tow. Our destination today was much easier, though I did put the truck into four-wheel-drive to reach the trailhead parking lot for Foss Mountain. I’d told my guy about the blueberries and views and neither of us gave a thought to today’s weather for in the newspaper the forecast predicted it to be “rather” cloudy, “rather” being a rather unscientific term. It turned out to be more than “rather.” And raindrops fell, but still we went.
We examined the sign and my guy was thrilled with the possibilities.
Some fields, however, were closed to public picking for a private operation leased those from the town.
Off to the side, we spied their sorting machines. Note the blueberry color of the equipment.
And the abundance of blueberries.
After testing a sample to make sure they were acceptable for human consumption, my guy stuck his hands in his pockets to avoid further temptation.
Upward we journeyed, following the path of this property that is owned by the Town of Eaton. Along the way, a large patch of Joe Pye Weed shouted for attention, its petals disarrayed much like my own hair on this misty of days.
The habitat changed and still we climbed–anticipation in every step my guy took at full speed.
At the next natural community boundary, where conifers gave way to saplings and undergrowth, my guy rejoiced. At last we’d reached the promised land.
And immediately he stepped off the trail to find those tiny blue morsels that bring him such delight.
While he picked, I headed toward the summit, where a blanket of fog enveloped the view. It didn’t matter, for our focus zeroed in on what was before us rather than being swept up with the beyond.
From my place at the top, I could see him below–a mere speck intent on filling his bags to the brim.
I began to look around and felt an aura that made me feel as if I was in Ireland rather than New Hampshire. The fog. The green. The gray. The world disappeared.
And the world before me opened up.
Like yellow caterpillars that are all the rage right now, Common Goldspeck Lichen inched across the granite face.
Beside it, Granite-speck Rim Lichen stood out like tiles in a mosaic work of art.
Meanwhile, the fog danced across the ridgeline, twirling and whirling in a ghostly quiet manner, its transparent gowns touching the ground ever so tenderly before lifting into the next move.
And my guy found a new location and picked some more.
My attention turned to the Steeplebush, a spirea that grew abundantly at the summit, its flowers of pink offering a tiny splash of color to brighten any day.
The American Copper Butterfly and a bumblebee also found the Steeplebush much to their liking.
And I, I couldn’t pull my eyes away from admiring this tiny butterfly and its beautiful markings.
From every angle that it posed while seeking nectar, I stood in awe–those striped antennae, giant black eyes, copper-silver color, and hairy scaled wings.
And then there was another, which I thought was a bird when I first heard it scamper out of the bushes.
But Chippie soon made himself known and I discovered that he, too, sought those little morsels so blue. Competition for my guy.
Ever so slowly, the fog lifted a bit and even the sun tried to poke through for a moment or two. Still, my guy picked–somewhere. I couldn’t always see him, but trusted he was in the great beyond.
Much closer to me, three Cedar Waxwings circled the summit over and over again in a counter-clockwise pattern. Thankfully, they also paused, eyeing the potential for their own berry picking sights from the saplings on which they perched.
I fell in love . . . with their range of colors: cinnamon, black, gray, brown, red, yellow, and white. And the bad-hair day tufts, for like the Joe Pye Weed, the Cedar Waxwings and I also shared a resemblance.
At last my guy finished up, though not before standing on a yonder piece of granite, looking west and calling for me. “I’m up here, behind you,” I shouted softly into an almost silent world, where the only sounds came from cicadas and crickets and occasionally the Cedar Waxwings.
As we made our way down, he stopped again for about a half hour to pick some more in a spot he’d noted on the way up. And I looked around, discovering other blueberry lovers among us–Yellow-necked Moth Caterpillars were slowly stripping some bushes of their greenery.
At last we passed by the forbidden fields, where my guy later confessed he felt like we were in Eden.
Ryan Bushnell of Burnt Meadow Blueberries was at work, raking and sorting the sweet morsels of blue.
It was his business to make sure each pint would be filled by day’s end.
We wanted to chat with him more about the operation, but he was intent upon working and so after the initial greeting and a few more words, we knew it was time to move on. Mr. Bushnell’s buckets would be filled over and over again. (And I suspected that upon seeing this operation, my guy, should he ever decide to retire from his hardware business, may just ask to work in the field–the blueberry field.)
Our buckets were full as well–for my guy, it was bags of blueberries to freeze for future consumption. For me, it was all that I saw as I poked about the summit, thankful that I wasn’t distracted by the 360˚ view. We did indeed fill our buckets on this Mondate.
We didn’t know what we were going to do when the day dawned in all shades of gray. With the forecast suggesting thunderstorms in almost any hour, we decided it wouldn’t be a day for boating or hiking.
Finally, after chores, errands, and lunch, we drove a wee bit west and then south to Lake Winnipesaukee, my old stomping grounds of almost forty years ago. On the way, we passed through variations of the same theme: gray skies, gentle raindrops, flash downpours. But when we arrived, though the raindrops still fell, blue sky and a slew of clouds offered a beautiful mottled reflection upon the water’s surface.
We’d decided to explore Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, a town with a year-round population not much bigger than our own. Like all resort towns in New England, however, it swells in size during the summer months. The same is true here in Maine. And on rainy days, the downtown is always full.
Despite all the tourists, the locals do like to hang out at their favorite spots.
And check on all the action.
Some prefer to preen.
Can’t you just feel the goodness of this action–grooming those feathers to keep them in the best condition?
With so many feathers to cope, whether to moisturize with oil to keep them flexible and strong, to align for waterproofing and insulation–especially against the heat of the summer sun, to arrange aerodynamically for future flights, or to remove parasites and body lice that may carry diseases, it’s all part of a day’s work on the waterfront.
Even those in the water, both mallards and American black ducks, were not immune to the action of the hour.
In order to reach every feather and nibble or stroke it from base to tip to get it aligned just so, ducks become contortionists as they assume odd positions.
And after, they shake, shake, shake, their feathers falling into place as if according to a greater plan.
As the rain subsided and sun shone forth, we did a bit of nibbling ourselves, on ice cream cones. It turned out nibbling on ice cream and any other human food was not allowed for the ducks per signage, but that didn’t keep them from sampling the flora of a nearby park.
One forager in particular, came away with an arrangement that reminded me of the Easter bonnets we used to wear when we were kids. I could almost hear the Irving Berlin song, Easter Parade:
In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it, You’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade. I’ll be all in clover and when they look you over, I’ll be the proudest fellow in the Easter parade. On the avenue, Fifth Avenue, the photographers will snap us, And you’ll find that you’re in the rotogravure. Oh, I could write a sonnet about your Easter bonnet, And of the girl I’m taking to the Easter parade.
We left that parade route and made our way through town, pausing as one might expect at the local family-owned hardware store. Of course, my guy felt right at home and spent some time chatting with the owner as they compared products and store layout.
I admired the view of the birdhouses on a sill.
Back on the road, we noticed one beautiful garden after another in front of each shop and some bore signs worth sharing: May Peace Prevail On Earth. Indeed.
Eventually, the sky opened again and sent forth its refreshing goodness. We’ve been in need of rain as we’ve been experiencing a moderate drought and so celebrated the nourishment it brought to the earth and us as well.
Then, with a mad dash, we ran back to the truck, noting the rain drops juxtaposed against the blue sky.
It was certainly a Mondate made for ducks, especially those who liked to wear their bonnets made from foraged salad on their bills.