The Big and the Small of the Hundred Acre Wood

As my friends know, I’m not one to say no to an invite to explore their land. And so this afternoon’s adventure found me spending time with Beth on the 100 plus-acre property she, her husband and parents call home in Oxford County.

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Their sense of place begins with a field of wildflowers yet to come, the entry to their wood lot and a view of Ragged Jack Mountain. My sense of excitement to explore their place was heightened by this jumping off point.

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Trails loop throughout the property and the family has taken the time to name and label all of them.

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We wandered along and suddenly Beth noted that we’d reached their champion pine. I looked at a small spruce before us and wondered what all the fuss was about. Then she pointed to my left.

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One massive Eastern white pine gallantly towered over us. At some point in its early life the terminal leader was injured–perhaps by a weevil or weather. But . . . this tree carried on and continues to do so. I felt like we were standing below a giant in the woods.

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It’s characterized by layers upon layers of bark.

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And it’s wider than any tree I’ve ever seen. Here are the stats on this champion: According to Beth, it towers 108 feet tall, is 256 inches in circumference (21.3 feet) and has a crown of 15.75.

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Yup. It’s big. Or rather, BIG!

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We weaved our way along the trails and Beth shared favorite spots with me as she told tales of her experiences with this land and water.

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Mara, Beth’s springer spaniel, shared her own tail. She was happiest when mud and water provided opportunities to play. We had to wonder other times when she cowered behind us or tried to hide between Beth’s legs. What did she sense that we weren’t aware of? We did hear a few critters, including baby grouse that Mara visited, and saw the tracks of moose and deer, plus coyote and fox scat, and maybe even bobcat scat, but our only official mammal sightings were red squirrels.

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Among Beth’s sharings was this spot she refers to as the Accidental Pond. Accident or not–it’s enchanted.

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Here and there throughout the woods, she pointed out glacial erratics. This one we particularly wondered about. What came first? The rock split on its own or the hemlock caused the split?

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Those were the big things, but we were equally wowed by all the small stuff we saw along the way, like this bracken fern just beginning to unfurl.

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Several times we wandered in the land of the cinnamon fern, where the separate fertile fronds sport the cinnamon color for which they are named. It won’t be long before those fertile fronds bow down to the earth and the large, arching sterile fronds are all that will remain.

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And then something else caught our attention–a green caterpillar on the fertile frond.

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We weren’t sure who it was, but we saw it on several stalks. Always something to wonder about.

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Royal fern also offered a display, especially beside the brook. Look closely and you might find the fertile frond “crown” on this one. It’s a rather “Where’s Waldo” presentation, but it’s there.

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We found some gilled mushrooms we also couldn’t identify, but appreciated their existence.

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The lady’s were in bloom.

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Take a look at those hairs.

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And it’s spider web season so we paused and admired the work of an orb weaver who built a spiral wheel-shaped web.

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Also among our sightings, a well-built high-rise structure woven among the remains of winter weeds.

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Camouflage is everything. Just ask the American toad.

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We found the wood frog easier to spot.

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But I had my eye on the blue-eyed grass.

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These are the shy ones. They only keep their eyes open if the sun is shining. On a cloudy day it’s almost impossible to recognize them.  And they love damp open woods, slopes and stream banks so it’s no wonder we found them today.

The big and the small . . . Beth’s property has it all. And this was only a sampling from her hundred acre wood. Winnie the Pooh and his friends–they too, would love this place.

 

 

 

Celebrating the Vernal Equinox

We fell asleep to winter and awoke early this morning–eager to celebrate the vernal equinox.

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It was dark and cold (15˚) with a brisk breeze when we joined others for a 6am hike up Bald Pate sponsored by Loon Echo Land Trust.

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While we waited at the summit and tried to stay warm, we were treated to hot cocoa and amaretto cake. YUM!

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And then . . .

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the sun shone upon this first day of spring.

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After church, I made a quick visit to the vernal pool where ice is still the name of the game.

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And after lunch, we headed off on another adventure. At first we followed an old road, which was tricky business.

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Though at least six foundations are located along this road where young men carved out a living prior to the Civil War, we allowed ourselves time only to stop at one. We were on a mission.

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We turned north at the power line and trudged up and down hills in search of a brook.

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That direction didn’t feel quite right, so we followed our noses and turned into the woods.

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And then we stumbled upon a property line that was posted. We love the fact that in Maine one can walk upon any property that isn’t posted. This one was recently marked and so we respected the landowner’s wishes.

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That is, until we got to a point where we decided to trespass after all. Our journey took us past meandering streams,

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stepping across others,

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slogging through boggy areas,

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and tripping among the understory.

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We saw where a deer had rubbed its antlers,

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another enjoyed fine dining, and

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a third said goodbye as it returned from whence it came.

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We found common polypody fern (Polypodium vulgare) indicating that the temperature was higher than it had been earlier in the morning.

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This was our view of polypody when the temperature was much lower on Bald Pate.

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We passed a porcupine den.

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And then we came upon downed hemlock branches and

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fresh scat.

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I looked up.

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He looked down.

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Finally, we found ourselves walking along a game trail beside a brook–feeling like we might just be on the right track.

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Where the brook widened into a pond, we knew we were in the right place.

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Just below the pond, my guy stood in the middle of the brook, excited about our find. We’d attempted to locate this spot a year ago and missed it by a long shot.

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According to the 1858 map of Oxford County, we were at the sight of R. Bennett’s sawmill. I’d first visited two years ago with my friends, Sue and Janet. It’s actually located on Sue’s land. We’d come in from her home on my first visit, but today we came via Old City.

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A year ago, my guy and I snowshoed in search of this sight but never found it so we were gleeful about today’s success.

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Our intention had been to search for the mill until 3:30. We found it just after 4pm. And rather than try to follow the stream back, we decided to bushwhack in a more westerly direction. On a hill above the mill we found a foundation made of drilled stones that are neatly hidden by moss and ferns and assume it was part of the mill.

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Our bushwhack continued until we finally emerged by a rock pile beside Old City Road. Its circular formation had me thinking water well.

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Will we ever find it again? That’s always a question, but now we know to walk along the road until we reach the last double-wide wall and then turn at the well.

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I liked the ghost-like effect of my guy walking back on the road–reminiscent of the men who once lived here and worked these woods. I followed my guy out and both of us occasionally felt the suction of mud. Occasionally one foot was drawn into the earth as if it intended to stay behind. We finally returned to our truck at 6pm (so much for our intention to be home by 4:30), our celebration of the vernal equinox complete.