All Aboard Mondate

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.

Willey Brook Bridge is Crawford Notch, New Hampshire https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-a2cf-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99 Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundation

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.

Bear to Beer: Middle and Peaked Mountains

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

Middle to Peaked Mountains in North Conway, New Hampshire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romancing the Stone Mondate

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.

Through Younger Eyes

Zigzagging through the woods, my young friends find wonder in every moment. They embrace their discoveries–often with exclamations and excitement. Following the blazed trail is not in their blood, for they know that some of the coolest finds are off trail, where the fungi aren’t trampled and mammal signs not obliterated.

w-striped ledge

And so it was that this past week, I had the honor of spending lots of time exploring with them. First, on Tuesday, our Greater Lovell Land Trust docent tramp found us atop the “striped ledge” beside Keewaydin Lake in Stoneham, Maine. One of our docents, Mary, had obtained landowner permission for this grand adventure. From the Maine Geological Survey: “The dikes cutting the granite trend generally from southwest to northeast. They most likely intruded the host rock during the Jurassic period, when continental rifting caused extensive fracturing of New England’s bedrock (McHone 1992). Basaltic magma intruded these cracks, and cooled and solidified to form dikes such as those seen in Striped Ledge. Close examination of the ledge shows a complex intrusion history at this locality Some of the dikes have layering parallel to their walls, which may have resulted from several pulses of magma into the fractures and/or chilling of the dike margins in contact with cooler host rock . . . the dikes locally cross one another, with the older dikes being offset where they are torn apart by the younger ones.” How cool is that?

w-smiling for rosy quartz

Darn cool, especially when rose quartz was among the great finds.

w-rock hounds

And in that instant, a few rock hounds were initiated.

w-turning two twigs into a fish

When not looking at rocks, a couple of broken twigs on the ledge became a fish in one moment, and hotdog tongs in another–ever versatile were they.

w-eyeing a flower in rock tripe

But it wasn’t the ledge alone that drew their attention. When we stopped to admire rock tripe growing atop a boulder, it was the eye of the youth that discovered the green “flower” at the center.

w-Sucker Brook 2

And then the next morning, which dawned even colder than the previous, I joined the same family for a pre-hike at the GLLT’s Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve as we prepared for a public hike. The trail meanders beside Sucker Brook, and we, too, meandered.

w-dipping into the cold for a Pooh stick

Pooh sticks were launched periodically and sometimes had to be dislodged.

w-wondering about foam

There were bubbles to watch in the brook and the foam formed to hypothesize about.

w-stump art

Nature’s artistic designs were viewed with awe.

w-pointing to hobblebush

The intention was to find a few of their favorite things. They found a few hundred and  . . .

w-seesaw

had lots of fun along the way.

w-exploring the stream

All the way along, the water, moss-covered rocks and sticks became part of their playground. But really, they also noted a variety of fungi, including their favorite green stain, which was in fruit,  a tree that had brought distress this summer for it housed honeybees and they learned that the hard way, great sliding spots from which to practice being river otters, the sunlight glittering on Moose Pond Bog and Indian pipes in their capsule form. There were sapsucker holes, pileated woodpecker activity, birch polypores, and even a surprise. They couldn’t wait for the public hike to show off their discoveries.

l-measuring diameter 4

That same afternoon, District Forester Shane Duigan, joined our GLLT after-school program at New Suncook School in Lovell. The Trailblazers, as the group is known, first introduced Shane to their trees. And then he showed us some of the tools stored in his vest, such as the tape measure used to determine diameter.

w-learning how to age a tree

As the kids made guesses about a tree’s age, Shane demonstrated how foresters use an increment borer to extract a small core from a tree.

l-counting rings on tree core

They crowded in to watch him count its rings. The predicted age: 100. The actual age: 50. The fun: 100%.

w-Horseshoe Pond

And then this morning dawned, colder than our previous outings and the wind created white caps on Horseshoe Pond below the kiosk for the Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve. It was time for our public walk to enjoy the wonders of Wilson Wing.

w-ice 1

One of the biggest surprises were the icicles that had formed on Sucker Brook since our last visit on Wednesday morning.

w-carrot-shaped icycle

And because they are kids, they couldn’t resist gathering such to admire up close. This one looked like a carrot, and actually appeared so as it reflected the blaze orange–our color of the season.

w-ice 2

The kids realized that the icicles formed upon all types of vegetation and created their own interesting shapes worth celebrating.

w-ice 3

One even looked like a flag blowing in the breeze when turned upright, and this guy showed it to his mom in honor of her service in the Army and the fact that today is Veterans Day. Turned on its side, it became a maze game and he really wanted to place a small ball in it and watch the ball move through. And as much as he wanted to take it home, it has to live on in his mind’s eye and this photograph.

w-wondering about the car

They showed us so many things of nature, and even the unnatural, though they imagined all the critters for which the old blue car might create a fine home–squirrels, weasels, porucpines, foxes, and coyotes were on their list. And then they turned into otters themselves and slide back down the hill over and over again.

w-polypody 1

They wanted to share some other great finds, including a few squirrel dining tables and a rock with bad hair day, but the crowd had gotten ahead of them. Despite that, they looked at the “bad hair day” fern, aka polypody, and realized that it had curled in since Wednesday’s visit. And then they figured out that the fern curls when it gets cold. Who knew you could use a fern to determine the temperature?

w1-artist conks

Though they didn’t get to share all of their finds this morning, they did make some new discoveries as they wandered off trail, like the artists conks that grew in abundance.

w1-dead man's fingers

And deadman fingers fungi that reminded one of them of scat standing upright. I’ve a feeling that description will stay with me each time I look at it going forward.

w-bear hair 1

In what seemed like no time, for we traveled the trail much faster than intended, we were back on Horseshoe Pond Road and one among us was particularly excited about a certain display upon pole 13. She ran ahead to be able to show all the participants as they passed by.

w-bear hair on pole 13

It was bear hair and scratch marks that she shared with enthusiasm. And the knowledge that we are not alone in these woods.

And just after that one of her brothers realized our walk was almost over and he was disappointed for so much fun had he had being a junior docent.

w-Sarah signing my book

A few hours later, my guy and I ventured to The Met Coffee House and Gallery in North Conway to meet up with another who encourages children and their adults to explore the outdoors. It was our great joy to join my dear friend, Sarah Frankel, for the first book signing event as she celebrated the publishing of Half Acre.

w-posing by an uprooted tree

And now it’s the end of the day and the end of the week, and I’m a better person because of the time I’ve spent with young friends as they’ve moved quickly at times and then stopped to wonder. They taught me the joy of looking with open minds.

If you don’t have kids to learn with and from, may you find time to channel your inner child and look at the world through younger eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plan B Mondate

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

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

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

r1-trail sign

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

r30-dam

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

r31-no name brook

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

r3-giant erratic

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

r4-sending puffball spores airborne

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

r5-spores wafting forth

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

r6-climbers trail sign

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

r7-hobblebush color deepening

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

r8-mount kearsarge 1

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

r9-Whitehorse ledge

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

r10-upslope clouds

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

r14-Mt Wash and Kearsarge

And ever so slowly snaking their way over Mount Washington.

r15-lunch rock

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

r16-me and my guy

But ready to pose once we’d eaten.

r17-mountain ash fruits

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

r18-starting down from Black Cap

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

r19-down 2

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

r20-yellow birch

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

r21-hemlocks and pines

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

r21-upslope clouds advancing

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

r22-upslope wrapping around Washington

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

r22-flowers in bloom

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

r25-squared rocks

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

r28-artist conk

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

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

 

Puddin’ Up With Me Mondate

As the flakes slowly drifted downward this morning, we learned we had to make some alternate plans for the day.

Morning flakes

snow 5

Then again, they weren’t really alternate. They were meant to be and we just didn’t know that at the time. We had planned to head to Freeport because one of my snowshoes needs a new binding. Instead, circumstances led us to North Conway where we had some time on our hands and knew how to spend it. Not shopping, of course.

trail sign

We’ve hiked in the Green Hills Preserve often and have always intended to complete the two mile loop by Pudding Pond, but it somehow never happened . . . until today. We had just the right amount of time to check it out.

And though we used a zip tie to fix my binding (pays to be married to a hardware store–oops, I mean guy), the trail conditions were such that we didn’t need them. Plenty of people had traveled this way over the past few days.

Pudding Pond brook

After passing through a mixed forest of hardwoods and softwoods, we came to Kearsarge Brook that flows out of Pudding Pond.

older beaver work

Beside the brook, the beavers have been active–though not always successful as this aspen is hung up on some other trees.

winterberry

We found a dam, where winterberry provides contrast.

ice, flow

And ice over flow adds drama.

beaver new

A bit further on, we discovered that working like a beaver can pay off.

Pudding Pond

And then we arrived at the pond. I’d previously thought that the trail circled the pond, but that’s not the case. Perhaps before the North South Road was constructed, it did.

leatherleaf 2

I slowed my guy down because the bronze leaves of leatherleaf captured my attention. Leatherleaf is a member of the heath family, like blueberries, cranberries and laurels. Sheep laurel or lambkill grew nearby.

leatherleaf 1

Also known as Cassandra, the elliptical leaves are either entire or finely-toothed and alternate in arrangement on the stem.

leatherleaf 4

Even though it isn’t green throughout the winter months, it is considered an evergreen shrub because it retains most of its leaves. Think conservation–it doesn’t have to grow so many new leaves come spring.

leatherleaf scalesleatherleaf scales 2

Its common name, leatherleaf, comes from the leathery feel of the leaf. And check out that underside covered in rusty scales. The stem is also covered with scales. Buds along the stem await a spring bloom.

leatherleaf pods 1 leatherleaf pods

The plant reproduces by seeds stored in capsules and vegetatively by rhizomes. Seeing such a field of it made me realize that Pudding Pond is acidic. Though I couldn’t see it below the snow, I’ve a feeling sphagnum moss grows abundantly here.

community layers

One last look as I admired the layers of life in this boreal forest.

Pudding Trail

Finally I followed my guy along the rest of the trail. I did remind him that it’s his fault I stop for such long periods of time. He didn’t have to buy me a new lens. He grinned. He’s used to puddin’ up with me.

Going With The Flow Mondate

Our first Mondate of 2016 had us swerving this way and that and never quite reaching the summit. Such is the way of life–and our best choice is to go with the flow.

We drove to Hurricane Mountain Road in North Conway to begin our trek up the obscure Red Tail Trail. Well, it’s not really obscure. Mountain bikers know it well. And at least a half mile of the trail is part of the Cranmore Conservation Easement held by the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. I’m going to lead a hike for them in a couple of weeks, so I dragged my guy along for a reconnaissance mission.

And we got lost. Fake lost once again. This time, the wrong trail–the Kettle Ridge trail, which isn’t signed. That was my first clue. The second was that we were immediately climbing and I couldn’t hear water. I’ve only explored part of the Red Tail Trail once before with Jesse from Upper Saco Valley LT so I knew it followed the brook beside Hurricane Mtn Road from the start. After about fifteen minutes of climbing and not feeling like it was right, we retraced our steps and I found the trail sign I’d been looking for–hidden behind some trees. Lesson to those who follow me–you never know if I’m leading you astray 😉

trail sign

land trust sign

Two signs actually within a matter of minutes and we were golden. brook 1

For about a half mile the trail follows a nameless brook. It must have a name, but I can’t find it anywhere so I’m calling it Red Tail Brook. I was looking for interesting things to share with people and as usual, nature didn’t let me down.

brook 2

brook 5 ice

4 legged ice

Water created icy legs as it cascaded over the rocks.

boulder 1

Speaking of rocks, I can’t begin to imagine the moment that this boulder landed beside the brook. It must have created quite a roar and thud. If a boulder rolls in the woods and no one is around to hear it . . .

 boulder 3

My guy begrudgingly posed beside it.

boulder 2

And Red Tail Brook flowed behind.

polypody 1

Atop the boulder, polypody ferns let us know that the temperature was in the teens. Fortunately, we were out of the wind as we were on the backside of Mount Cranmore.

boulder life

Life on a rock! Life rocks. And this rock is full of life.

boulder birch seed

One itty bitty piece of life clung precariously with hopes of taking hold on a permanent basis. I’m not sure this boulder is the right choice, but a yellow birch scale clings tentatively.

Yellow birches need moist conditions to germinate and grow. Moss-covered conifer logs and stumps, along with rocks offer the best chance for survival.

hemlock cone hemlock scale and seed

We were in Eastern hemlock territory so hemlock cones, seeds and scales were also abundant.

red squirrel midden 1

As were red squirrel middens.

 turkey prints

turkey print

It may be a single track bicycle trail, but it’s not a single turkey trail. Their oversize prints covered the lower part of the range.

deer prints 2 deer prints

From top to bottom, deer prints crisscrossed the trail.

sshare tracks

We also saw plenty of snowshoe hare tracks. Though my guy claims he saw an actual hare, I can at least say that I knew by the signs left behind that they’d been active.

sshare cut snowshoe hare scat

Prints below a 45% cut on a shrub and plenty of milk duds–aka snowshoe hare scat–were evident everywhere we turned.

btaspen bark bigtooth aspen leaf

My bark addiction is not to be denied. A wee bit of light brown between furrows makes me think I’m looking at Northern red oak, until I recognize the flattened ridges and gnarly furrows and realize I’m starring at a big tooth aspen tree. Of course, its leaves with those well-cut teeth and flattened stems serve as a banner.

 false tinder conk, Phellinus ignarius

artist's conk 2

False tinder conks and artist conks decorate the trees.

s-turns

After lunch (PB&J, some yummy chocolate raspberry bars my sister made and hot cocoa), we left the brook behind and began to ascend the mountain via a number of switchbacks. My guy, of course, was always ahead as he appears here–disappearing into the trees.

paper birch, white birch and cherry

The community kept changing–sometimes we were in a recently logged area where paper birch, gray birch and cherry trees dominated the landscape.

red pine and white pine

Other times it was a mix of evergreens, including white and red pine, hemlocks, firs and spruce trees.
Mount Washington ValleyMount Wash & Kearsarge

And then the S-turns got serious–one curve after another. The higher we climbed, the more we realized that there were a lot of false summits before us, but a glorious view behind us.

Mounts Wash & Kearsarge 2

Mount Washington and Kearsarge North provided a brilliant display.

Mount Washington ObservatoryKearsarge firetower

With my telephoto lens, I pulled in the  Mount Washington Observatory and fire tower atop Kearsarge.
MVW

The Mount Washington Valley spread out below us. We felt like we were so close to the connecting trail between Mount Cranmore and Black Cap Mountain, but the sun lowered and we’d left our headlamps behind. Every time we thought surely the next turn would be the summit, we were wrong. So . . . rather than worrying about reaching that destination, we decided to turn around and head back down the trail. At first, we bushwhacked together and then it became a game. We took turns as one of us bushwhacked while the other followed the trail, curious to see where we would meet. Competition took over, and we were soon running to beat the other to our meeting spot–wherever that may be. Somehow, what took us a while to climb up turned into only an hour’s journey down.

last shortcut

I, of course, got off track a couple of times and had to yell to my guy to figure out his location. He had the last chuckle when I chose a wet spot for my final shortcut-turned-longcut.

brook at end

At last we reached the trailhead, tired but exhilerated. On this Mondate we went with the flow and loved the opportunity to learn and play together along the way.