Babe in the Woods

This morning dawned bright and brisk and offered a brilliant background for a journey through the almost Peabody-Fitch Woods that Loon Echo Land Trust hopes to add to their holdings. The 252 acres of the proposed project surrounds Bridgton Historical Society‘s Narramissic Farm.

Jon Evans, Loon Echo’s Stewardship Manager and board member of the historical society had asked me to join the walk that would highlight the Peabody-Fitch Homestead built in 1797 and introduce Loon Echo’s new executive director Matt Markot. In the morning light, we circled the house as Jon shared some of the farm’s story.

On the northern side of the house, we paused to enjoy the view, including Pleasant Mountain just beyond the trees to the left of the field. The land trust also owns and protects over 2,000 acres of the mountain that defines this area of western Maine.

Measuring the effect of the cold on the hike’s participants, Jon chose his stop points, where he shared his keen knowledge of the farm and the lands that surround it. For me, it’s always a joy to tramp with him because his connection to the land is personal, and this particular piece even more than most for Jon’s family long ago farmed an adjacent acreage and he grew up traipsing through the very woods we snowshoed today. (And this photo includes Margaret Lindsay Sanborn, mother of Matt Markot, LELT’s new ED who stands to his mom’s right.)

As we circled behind the barn I shared with Jon a bit of knowledge that adds to the lore of what’s always been known as the Temperance Barn, supposedly constructed during prohibition without the usual swigs of rum for all who helped in the building process. Following a blog post I wrote in December 2018 about this very property, a granddaughter of Margaret Monroe who gifted the property to the historical society in 1987 wrote the following message: Hi – I am glad you enjoy my grandmother’s property. A heads up that there is no written documentation from the period re: the barn actually being built without alcohol. My grandmother was prone to making up history. I want to give respect to hardy native Mainers: Monroes were largely summer people. My grandmother also said sherry wasn’t alcoholic and would drink a big glass of it every night before dinner, Lark cigarette in her other hand. Happy Holidays! Rebecca Monroe

It turns out that wasn’t the only story that had more to offer than I’d originally thought to be true. As we were about to pass through a stonewall behind the barn, my eyes cued in on debris below some trees. Certainly it was the work of woodpeckers and I stepped onto the wall in search of scat. Nada.

Looking up at the pin cherry tree, I found not pileated works, but the incisors of another that gave a clue.

And below, pigeon-toed tracks. Between the incisor marks and tracks I knew the creator, but it didn’t make sense to me, for though I find hemlock twigs below such a tree when a porcupine has clipped them, I couldn’t recall ever seeing bark chips below a porky tree. In my brain, the rodent ate the bark as it sought the cambium layer within. I dismissed it as a lesson to be considered and we moved on.

Jon led us along a colonial road from the historical society’s property to a stonewall that delineated the Peabody-Fitch Woods. We turned onto a trail I’d never traveled before and made our way along another farm road. Periodically, Jon, Matt, and I bounced off of each other as we shared our knowledge about the trees and forest succession that had occurred since the farm was last a working land. We also spied a few mammal tracks, including those of a bobcat.

At last, we circled around and found our way back toward the border between the P-F Woods and farm.

Close to the Temperance Barn again, porcupine tracks crisscrossed to the stonewall where we’d seen their activity at the start of our journey.

Near the parking lot and Blacksmith Shop, more porcupine works made themselves evident–by their tracks and the debarked trees.

Incredibly debarked trees. I’m always amazed by the fact that porcupines, given their size, can find support on trees and limbs that seem so flimsy. I’ve been told that they’re known to have many broken bones and it makes sense given the precarious choices they make to seek winter nutrients.

Once again, there was bark debris. In the past I’ve always said that beavers leave wood chips, but porcupines eat the bark and cambium layer.

The evidence was obvious given the prints and comma-shaped scat. But the bark debris proved me wrong today.

And I loved that. When Jon first introduced me as a Maine Master Naturalist, he asked how long I’ve been such. “Six years,” I said. And though I’ve spent my sixty years wandering and wondering in the woods and along the coast of southern and northern New England, it was the Master Naturalist class that taught me how to take a closer look.

Do you see the green of the cambium layer? And those incisor marks–how they are at opposing angles? Those I recognized.

But . . . the porcupines taught me something new today.

Six years–I’m still a babe in the woods.

Merry Christmas from Narramissic

With Christmas rapidly approaching I decided to visit Narramissic, the Peabody-Fitch Farm gifted to the Bridgton Historical Society in 1987 by Mrs. Margaret Monroe of Providence, Rhode Island.

I had the honor of knowing Mrs. Monroe’s daughter, Peg Norman, who essentially grew up in the house having spent all of her summers there. Her mother purchased the house in 1938 after the death of her father. In Peg’s words as recorded in an essay entitled “Narramissic – Hard to Find” that she wrote when the deed was transferred from her mother’s estate to the historical society, she said, “[Mother] was searching for a refuge, a place to heal.” 

Peg continued, “Inside the house I remember only clothes hung everywhere and an unmade bed in the upstairs sitting room. My mother saw beyond. She saw the fans over the doorways, 

the granite hearthed fireplaces, Nancy Fitch’s name engraved in the wavey glass window pane, the sweeping arch of the carriage house entrance . . .

and the mountains, purple massifs unfolding out of the sky. She felt the history and eternity and peace.”

Peg went on to mention that her family spent “many Christmas holidays and ski weekends up there throughout the years — just the way the Peabodys and Fitches had (the original owners of the farm), heated by the kitchen stove and blazing fireplaces — and an old Franklin stove my mother finally allowed to be set in the living room fireplace ‘just for winter.'” 

Peg’s mention of the outbuildings included the barn, “the huge barn with the biggest horse I had ever seen munching contentedly in the front stall.”

Still standing, though its had some help recently to that end, the barn was erected by the Fitches and has come to be known as the Temperance Barn; historical records claim it to be so named “because it was raised without the traditional barrel of rum.”

I chose to explore on this delightfully warm day(45˚ feels like summer given the recent temps), but also to gain a better understanding of the collaboration between the historical society and Loon Echo Land Trust as they raise funds to purchase the 252-acre Peabody-Fitch Woods from the Norman family and place it under conservation easement while adding to a contiguous forest with other protected properties both adjacent and nearby. As I crossed the field, I kept turning back–to admire the farm and the mountains, including the ridge-line of our beloved Pleasant Mountain. Between Loon Echo and The Nature Conservancy, almost 3,000 acres of the mountain is protected and LELT maintains the 10 miles of trails that we frequent. 

It occurred to me that I didn’t realize the blue trail that crossed the field and continued into the woods, as designed by Adam Jones for his Eagle Scout Project in 1999, wasn’t part of the historical society’s property. 

And yet, it’s just as important for many species depend on it. Should the property be developed, the historical and natural features might diminish.

Should it be developed, I won’t be able to return in the future to figure out why the squirrel condominium featured a muddy carpet between doorways. 

Should it be developed, I’d miss out on ice formations along the trail such as this miniature pony — saddle and rider included. 

Should it be developed, new understandings would bypass me, such as the fact that white oaks do indeed grow in Bridgton. Well, at least in South Bridgton. This one was speckled with spring tails on this warm day. 

Should it be developed, the pileated woodpeckers will have fewer trees upon which to excavate. 

And selfishly, I’ll have fewer opportunities to search for their scat — filled with insect body parts. 

Should it be developed, there will be fewer toadskin lichens to admire. Thanks to the melting snow, many of the examples I found today were bright green, making the black-beaded apothecia where its spores are produced stand out in contrast. Toadskin lichen may be indestructible, but should the property be developed I wondered about the lichen’s immortality. 

Should the property be developed, where would the snowshoe hare scat? 

And the same for the ruffed grouse? 

Should it be developed, what would happen to K.F. and T.B.? 

Should the property be developed, would I see sights such as this and come to another new understanding?

I was actually searching for bear claw marks that alluded me (and I know they are there for I’ve seen them before) and instead saw this red bloom decorating some beech bark. It was quite pretty and festive given the season. 

At first look, I thought it was the apothecia of a crustose lichen, but do you see the tiny white spots mingled occasionally among it? Those white dots are the minute beech scale insect. The holes the tiny insect makes in the bark create a perfect entry point for nectria pathogen to make its way into the tree. The pathogen, a type of fungus, kills some areas of the tree at the point of entry. In reaction, the tree develops a canker as a defensive attempt to ward off the invader, but by doing so the canker blocks the vascular tissue of the infected beech by stopping nutrient flow in that one area.

And those red spots, as pretty as they appear, are actually tarry spots which ooze out of the cracks in the bark caused by the canker. Essentially, it appeared the tree was bleeding. 

Should the property be developed, what would become of the quarry and bear trap? 

This is the spot from which the foundations for the buildings were split so long ago.

Should the property be developed, would the plug and feather holes left behind as reminders of an earlier time disappear from the landscape?

The land already has been developed around Bear Trap, which is located at the end of the trail. We used to be able to hike or drive there; now one can only hike and you kinda, sorta need to know where it is.

How did the bear trap come to be? According to an August 17, 1963 article in the Bridgton News, “Enoch Perley, early settler of South Bridgton, built his first house in 1777 and brought his bride to their new home in 1778. [I believe this was at Five Fields Farm.]

As Enoch acquired livestock, he was much troubled by depredations from bears. He built a bear trap on the hill back of his first home . . .

Tradition says that four bears were caught in this trap–not enough! So Mr. Perley later had an iron bear trap made which took care of eight bears. Without a doubt, many were disposed of by him personally. A story is told that in an unarmed encounter with a bear and two cubs beside a wood road at dusk, Mr. Perley allegedly strangled the mother bear with his garters . . .”

The article continues, “The bear trap is built of stone. A large stone door is suspended and as the bear takes the bait, he trips the lever and is caught in the stone enclosure.”

In a December 1954 issue of the Bridgton News, a brief article states: “The old stone bear trap on the mountain in South Bridgton known as ‘Fitch’s Hill,’ unused for more than one hundred years, has been reactivated by Dr. Fred G. Noble and Gerald Palmer and put in readiness to capture a bear.” As the story goes, they never did succeed.

Should the Peabody-Fitch Woods be developed, all of this will be lost.

My hope is that the Bridgton Historical Society and Loon Echo Land Trust will experience a Merry Christmas as they finish out their fund-raising drive to purchase the land.

I think I walked beyond the boundary they are considering, but Bear Trap is one of my favorite historical sites. And with today’s walk I came to the realization of how important it is to protect the land around the farm.

Before I finish, I have one final historical piece of writing to share. In his memoirs, “Ninety Years of Living,” Edwin Peabody Fitch (1840-1931) who grew up in the farmhouse wrote, “Holidays were not much in evidence in those days. Christmas was so far in the shade, we didn’t think much about it. In fact, we felt that it was just a Catholic holiday and not be be observed by us. We went to school on that day and the only notice we took of it was to shout “Merry Christmas!” to the classmates. 

Merry Christmas from and to Narramissic! 

A Blue Bird Kind of Good Friday

When Jinnie Mae picked me up this morning, our destination was the Narrow Gauge Trail. But somewhere between here and there, she pulled a U-turn and drove to Narramissic Farm owned by the Bridgton Historical Society.

It had been just over a year since I last visited and I wanted to show her the shagbark hickory buds. And maybe even the bear trap.

n-Pleasant Mtn to Narramissic1

We crossed the field behind the house and started off on the path to the quarry and bear trap, but snow and water in the woods resulted in another U-turn. We’d been talking so much, we’d hardly noticed our surroundings, but the view stopped us in our tracks.

n-Pleasant Mountain

To the left, the long ridge line of Pleasant Mountain, where the ski trails of Shawnee Peak Ski Area made themselves known.

n-Narramissic

And in front of us, the Temperance Barn and Peabody-Fitch homestead, built in 1797. We had the place to ourselves and reveled in the quiet of the day–when we weren’t talking, that is.

n-shop and flagpole

Heading to the road for our tree bud search, we passed by the blacksmith shop where horseshoes were probably made in the day.

n-temperance barn

And at the Temperance Barn, so named “because it was raised without the traditional barrel of rum,” I can never resist admiring the structure even though it’s in great need of repair.

n-ash tags

And then we were stumped by a flowering tree. It sure looked like an ash as Jinnie Mae suggested, but what were those lacy tips? What came to my mind first were the tags on red oaks that I didn’t understand a few years ago until a friend helped me realize that they were leaf stems left behind when the wind finally claimed the dried leaves. Was this the same?

n-double-wide stonewall

Climbing onto the double-wide wall, I took a closer look.

n-white ash danglers 1

Turns out Jinnie Mae was right. But my question still remains. Were these the stems of the ash samaras or compound leaves?* For some reason I’ve never before seen them left behind. Ah, there are so many things to discover in this world.

n-black walnut 3

We continued down the road, noting budding pussy willows and flowering red maples. And then I spied the bulbous buds I wanted to show her. Only, it turns out that we hadn’t reached the hickory trees yet.

b-black walnut leaf scar 2

The monkey face leaf scar should have been a clue. But my brain was stuck in hickory mode and I completely forgot that black walnut leaves leave such a formation. At home, I pulled out Forest Trees of Maine and then seesawed between black walnut and butternut (aka white walnut). Both feature leaf scars shaped like a monkey’s face. But the top of the leaf scar serves as the give away–this one did not have thick fuzzy eyebrows like a butternut, so I’m going out on a limb and declaring this a black walnut.

n-shagbark bud hairy 1

A bit further down the road we spotted more bulbous buds. These were definitely the ones I was looking for–shagbark hickory. In the moment and because the two trees weren’t close together, we thought they were all one in the same. But hindsight being 20/20 as it is, the photographs tell the story.

n-shagbark bud 6

The subtle colors and fuzziness wowed us and we both took numerous photos.

n-shagbark leaf scar1

Then there were the leaf scars–definitely more heart-shaped than the previous trees.  And lacking that smiling face. We smiled for them.

n-Long Lake below

It wasn’t enough to find the small saplings beside the road and so we crossed another field in search of the mother tree.

n-grasshopper 1

Along the way, Jinnie Mae spotted a wee grasshopper–the first of the season for us.

n-shagbark bark from distance

And then her newly trained shagbark hickory eyes keyed in on the momma.

n-shagbark bark 3

If you go, it’s located behind the barn.

n-shagbark bark 5

And shouts its name in presentation.

n-shagbark bark 4

Looking upward, we could see the bulbous buds on the twig tips contrasted against the bright blue sky.

n-bluebird

Happiness is a blue bird kind of day–sweetened by time spent exploring with Jinnie Mae, making discoveries and watching bluebirds move between the field and the trees. Indeed it was a Good Friday.

Now we need to return and find the mother black walnut.

*Thanks for Maine Master Naturalist Pam Davis for IDing the ash strand as the rachis of the compound leaf. She reminded me that I have seen these on the ground in the fall. But–to be still dangling from the tree was new to my eyes and mind.

 

To Bear Trap and Back

A change of plans today meant I had time for a trek to Narramissic Farm and the historic bear trap in South Bridgton before the rain began.

N-view from road

From Ingalls Road, where I decided to park, I took in the view of the front fields and house.

N-Narramissic Road

Narramissic Road is passable, but I wanted to slow down and soak it all in.

N-pussy willow 1

From pussy willows to

N-staghorn

fuzzy staghorn sumac, I was thankful I’d taken time for the noticing.

N-house & attached barn

The Bridgton Historical Society acquired the 20-acre property in 1987 when it was bequeathed by Mrs. Margaret Monroe.

N-house

Turning the clock back to 1797, William Peabody, one of Bridgton’s first settlers, built the main part of the house.

Peabody sold the farm to his daughter Mary and her husband, George Fitch, in 1830 and they did some updating while adding an ell.

N-barn front

The Fitches had a barn erected that has come to be known as the Temperance Barn; historical records claim it to be so named “because it was raised without the traditional barrel of rum.”

N- barn face

Both the barn and the house are in need of repair, but I couldn’t help but wonder about what mighty fine structures they were in their day. While today, a visit to the farm feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere, during its heyday it was located in the center of somewhere–at the junction of two roads that have since been abandoned.

When Mrs. Monroe purchased the property in 1938, she named it Narramissic, apparently an Abenaki word for “hard to find” because it reflected her long search for just the right piece of real estate.

N-blacksmith shop

A blacksmith shop is located between the house and Temperance Barn, and beside the trail I chose to follow through another field and off into the woods.

N-garden wall 1a

Massive stone walls indicate the fields had been plowed.

N-rock uplifting

Even today, “stone potatoes” continue to “rise” from the ground, making them one of the farmer’s best crops.

N-pearly 2

My destination was two-fold: the quarry and bear trap. But along the trail, I stopped to smell the roses. Or at least admire the beauty of pearly everlasting in its winter form.

N-gray birch litter

Several trees had snapped in the season’s wind, including a gray birch that scattered scales and seeds as it crashed to the ground.

N-gray fruit seeds

But . . . because the top of the tree was no longer in the wind zone, a surprising number of catkins continued to dangle–all the better for me to see. Notice the shiny seeds attached to the scales.

N-gray birch generations

The tree speaks of generations past and into the future.

N-jelly 2

Further along, I found a wavy and rubbery jelly ear (Auricularia auricla) beside a gray birch seed.

N-sign 2

Finally, I reached my turn-off.

N-quarry 1

N-feather 2

This is the spot from which the foundations for the buildings were quarried so long ago, using the plug and feather technique that was common in that time.

N-common toadskin 2

Life of a different sort has overtaken some of the stones–common toadskin lichen covers their faces.

N-common toadskin 3

In its dry form, it looks perhaps like the surface of a foreign planet, but this is another lichen that turns green when wet–allowing the “toad” to become visible.

N-bishop's face in ice

Speaking of becoming visible, I noticed the bishop’s face topped with a mitre as water dripped off the rocks and froze. My thoughts turned to my sister–she doesn’t always see what I see, but maybe this one will work for her.

N-young beech

Heading back out to the main trail, I startled a snowshoe hare and of course, didn’t have my camera ready. As I turned toward the bear trap, I continued in the land of the beech trees. Most are too young to produce fruit, but I looked for larger trees and, of course, checked for claw marks.

N-beech slashes

The best I found were slashes–probably caused by another tree rubbing against this one.

N-initials

Oh, and some initials carved by one very precise bear.

N-No parking

I was almost there when I encountered a “No Parking” sign. A new “No Parking” sign. On a trail in the middle of nowhere that used to be somewhere. The pileated woodpeckers obviously ignored it. Me too.

N-BT1

At last, Bear Trap! According to an August 17, 1963 article in the Bridgton News, “Enoch Perley, early settler of South Bridgton, built his first house in 1777 and brought his bride to their new home in 1778. [I believe this was at Five Fields Farm.]

As Enoch acquired livestock, he was much troubled by depredations from bears. He built a bear trap on the hill back of his first home . . .

Tradition says that four bears were caught in this trap–not enough! So Mr. Perley later had an iron bear trap made which took care of eight bears. Without a doubt, many were disposed of by him personally. A story is told that in an unarmed encounter with a bear and two cubs beside a wood road at dusk, Mr. Perley allegedly strangled the mother bear with his garters . . .”

N-bear trap 1

The article continues, “The bear trap is built of stone. A large stone door is suspended and as the bear takes the bait, he trips the lever and is caught in the stone enclosure.”

N-BT inside

I looked inside and found no one in residence. In a December 1954 issue of the Bridgton News, a brief article states: “The old stone bear trap on the mountain in South Bridgton known as ‘Fitch’s Hill,’ unused for more than one hundred years, has been reactivated by Dr. Fred G. Noble and Gerald Palmer and put in readiness to capture a bear.” As the story goes, they never did succeed.

N-BT back view

A side view.

N-BT*back side

And a rear view. A few years ago there was talk of moving this monument because land ownership had changed. I hope it stays put because its authenticity would be lost in a move.

N-pine scale?

Just below the trap, I noticed a white hue decorating only one of a bunch of young pine trees. I can’t say I’ve ever seen this before or venture a guess about its origin. I’m waiting to hear back for our district forester–maybe he has some insight.

N-heading back 1

As I headed back down the trail and the barn came into view, I spied a single red pine thrown into the mix of forest species that have taken over this land.

N-red pine

Ever on my bear claw quest, I checked the bark of this tree. Though beech provides an easy display of such marks, it’s not the only species of choice. Among others, single red pines that appear to be anomalies have been known to receive a visit.

N-hare

There was sudden movement as I approached the pine and then what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a second snowshoe hare! It paused long enough for me to snap a photo. Do you see it? Also known as the varying hare, its fur is still white.

Behind the tree, I found where it had been dining and defecating.

N-Pleasant Mtn ridge

N-farm view from back

As I crossed the upper field, the ridge line of Pleasant Mountain and ski trails at Shawnee Peak made themselves known to the west. And beyond the farmhouse, the White Mountains.

And then,

N-shagbark hickory

and then . . .  an oversized bud captured my attention as I walked back down the road.

 

Shagbark hickory isn’t a common species around here. But, Jon Evans of Loon Echo Land Trust had recently told me some mature trees were found on a property in South Bridgton that is under conservation easement. (We actually may visit them tomorrow). The bulbous, hairy bud scales and large leaf scar made even the young trees easy to identify. Curiously, according to Forest Trees of Maine, the wood “was formerly used in the manufacture of agricultural implements, axe and tool handles, carriages and wagons, especially the spokes and rims of the wheels.” That fits right in with the neighborhood I’d been visiting.

N-mud season

One final view–yup, it’s mud season in western Maine. But still worth a trek to bear trap and back. Thankfully, the rain held off until my drive home.