Artful Eclipse Mondate

Because they are so gracious, when I recently begged Faith and Ben Hall for an opportunity to follow them on a trail through the Perley Mills Community Forest, they not only invited us to walk, but planned out an intinerary, pre-hiked the trail, made chicken noodle soup for lunch and took us for a boat ride. All of this before the great solar eclipse of 2017.

h-perley pond beaver dam?

After taking a tour of their neighborhood, Faith dropped Ben, my guy, and me off to begin our first bushwhack beside Perley Pond. In a few minutes, we came upon an earthen structure and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was an old beaver dam.

h-perley pond

We were at the base of the pond and perhaps just as those who dammed it up for their mill sites, the beavers had their own intentions. Of course, I could be totally off and it could have been manmade, but such was the formation and growth above, that I’m sticking with my original thought.

h-sawdust pile

Moments later, we emerged into a clearing and grabbed handfuls of fine saw dust, letting it sift through our fingers as it slowly drifted back to the ground. Occasionally, on our tramps through the woods, we’ve encountered such mounds and have been amazed that they still exist with little vegetation.

h-mill site approach

The mound bespoke the reason for the mill up ahead. (Notice the stream beside–we crossed over it, two of us more successfully than the third, but fortunately for him, I didn’t take a photo. He preserved the rest of the hike with soaking wet pants, socks and boots, but never complained, such is my guy. Oops–don’t tell him I told.)

h1-mill site, looking down

Climbing up, we looked down. According to the “History of Perley Mills” by Arthur Rankin on the Denmark Historical Society’s website, the part of town known as Perley Mills was “1st settled by a family named Cliffords in the early 1800s. They built a road by Little Pond to connect with the stage road from Denmark to Ingalls Road and Cole Road in South Bridgton and to Biddeford. The Cole Family had apple trees. Mr. Cole was a fiddler and he used to play for the dances in Denmark and Sebago. Mr. Wallis Berry purchased the Cole farm. About 1807, Mr. Berry and Mr. Perley built a dam at the outlet of Pickerel Pond. They built a saw mill to saw staves and shingles. They made barrels. They employed many men.”

We weren’t sure exactly what we were looking at below, but pieces of the former structure remained intact in what looked like a sluiceway.

h-mill drill holes

The stone had been split using the feather and wedge technique.

h1-mill site looking back

As we looked back, I was once again reminded of the work that went in to creating the foundations of yore.

h-cranberries 2

Our bushwhack included a few other fun finds, such as a small patch growing in an unexpected place.

h-cranberries

The little green balls actually threw me off when we first looked at them.

h-cranberrries 3

But it was my guy and his well-trained naturalist eye that knew they were cranberries.

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We also spied a clump of Virginia meadow-beauty with its delicate petals and prominent stamen. It’s also known as Handsome Harry, but I think Harriet would be more fitting.

h-survey mark

When we reached the Narrow Gauge Trail, Ben showed us the elevation maker that neither of us recalled seeing previously.

h-pickerel pond

We stood beside the pond for a few minutes, looking for frogs.

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h-sharp-shined front

And realized we weren’t the only ones on the hunt.

h-gall of the earth

As our journey continued down the old rail bed, we all wondered about the work that went into building it. Years ago, we used to find railroad spikes, but the trail has been improved recently and that seems hardly possible any more. Instead, we found gall of the earth in flower,

h-raccoon prints

raccoon prints showing their opposite diagonal manner,

h-Faith's arrow

and either one large turkey print or a message in the sand. We knew it was the latter for Faith had preceded us and as we passed her she mentioned she’d left a note.

h-off the Narrow Gauge

It wasn’t long after Faith’s message, that Ben veered off the rail trail and took us up an old logging road.

h-following Ben

We followed him through thick and thin, the thickest being where the goldenrods bloomed and bees buzzed in former log landings.

h-approaching the stone cemetery

Along the way, he spoke of a stone cemetery. We both conjured up images of an old cemetery reflecting an earlier time. But . . . he meant a large pile of rocks that had been dumped by a previous owner who had logged the area.

h-walking the Narrow Gauge

Eventually, we met up with Faith again, then she drove to our next meeting point, while the three of us walked the Narrow Gauge in a direction my guy and I had never traveled.

h-beaver dam:infinity pool

It was there that we saw beaver works we were certain of, including a dam that created an infinity pool above.

h-swamp beside Narrow Gauge

Beside a swamp, we kept searching for moose, but never spied one.

h-thistles, Faith

At last our journey by foot came to an end . . . almost. Faith had a surprise waiting for us. And so she drove us back up their road and just past their house pulled off to the side on land owned by their oldest son. We’ve explored that property with them previously, but today she wanted to show me one of my favorite plants, which also happens to be hers.

h-thistles in all forms

Thistle . . . in all of its forms, it deserves reverence.

h-thistle 2

And so we revered.

h-Hayes True Value bucket

Back at their camp, our time together wasn’t over for we broke bread. And then they offered a quick boat ride. On the way to the dock, we knew we were in the right place, such did the signage on one bucket indicate.

h-Faith and Ben

Out onto the pond we went, thankful for a few more minutes with Ben and Faith. We cherish any time spent in their company before they head south again. And today, we were also excited to explore our local area and visit places we’ve never been to before. Thank you both for everything, from the hike to thistles to lunch and the boat ride and all the conversation in between.

h-squirrel and eclipse

Before we departed, we had one more stop to make–at Ben’s sand table, where he recreates the natural world with found rocks.

Today’s creation–a red squirrel devouring the seeds of a white pine cone as the moon covered the sun–an artful eclipse on this Mondate.

 

Perley Pond Preserve Presents

I love to learn and today’s presence offered such as I explored Loon Echo Land Trust’s Perley Pond/Northwest River Preserve in Sebago. I’ll be leading a hike there this Saturday, so if you are so inclined, I hope you’ll come along. But if you can’t, then please read on. (Note: Jon Evans, Stewardship Manager for LELT will be with me on Saturday, and he’ll have so much more to offer about the lay of the land, which was acquired by the trust in 2014. Today marked my first visit to this property.)

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There are three entry points along Folly Road and I began my reconnaissance mission at the first, where I didn’t get far due to a stream not quite frozen, but still found plenty to examine.

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Evening Primrose stood at alert in the field just off the road. Tall in stature, its distinctive seed pods peeled back in four parts and small seeds looked like fresh ground pepper on the snow.

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Black-eyed Susans also decorated this space, some leaning over to share their offerings. The hairy bracts and gumdrop shape made these easy to spot.

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One of my favorite finds in the first section of the property–the hairy twig, catkin, leaf and bud of a Beaked Hazelnut. Just last week I saw the same, well, minus the catkins, in Lovell. And knowing that certain leaves are marcescent, e.g. remain attached to the stem throughout some or most of the winter like oak, witch hazel and especially beech, I was thrown off by this other type. It had me thinking birch and well it should have because Beaked Hazelnut is a member of the birch family. But #1, though a hairy twig like Yellow and Paper Birch, the leaf base wasn’t right for either, and #2, I didn’t recall ever seeing these leaves still dangling in later fall/early winter. The trees taught me a lesson today–the most perfect of gifts–a few Beaked Hazelnut leaves continued to dangle, though most were turning quite dark in hue and I suspected will fall soon, and, I found Gray Birch leaves also clinging. Just when I thought I knew everything, nature proved there’s more to learn. So the gift was a reminder to pay more attention.

p-log-landing

I left that section and walked down the road to a spot where a chain prevents vehicles from entering the old log landing. It certainly didn’t stop the deer who had danced in the night.

p-sweet-fern

As I moved through the landing, I paused to admire another dancer as witnessed in the fluid movement of Sweet-fern.

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Like the Beaked Hazelnut, its catkins were wrapped gifts that spoke to the future.

p-willow-gall

Also in this space, a few willows with their own little packages.

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The willow pine cone gall was created in the summer by a gall gnat midge. The larva stage secreted a substance on the stem that caused the willow to go into overdrive–resulting in a multi-layered chamber composed of hardened material that would have been leaves, but alas, the stem growth was arrested. Inside that hairy structure resides the wintering larva, nice and snug for the winter. It will metamorphose into a gnat when warm weather arrives.

p-fir-christmas-tree

As I walked along I noticed Christmas tree patterns among the firs.

p-fir Christmas Tree1.jpg

It was a simple case of an upside-down look. Once flipped, in my brain anyway, the seasonal symbol was obvious.

p-ornaments-big-tooth-on-fir

And the ornaments dangled–in the form of Big-toothed Aspen leaves and White Pine needles,

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Northern Camouflage Lichen,

p-ornament-pileated

and shredded bark created by . . .

p-ornament-pileated-works

a Pileated Woodpecker in search of food.

p-ruffed-grouse

I felt my good fortune to find a spot where a ruffed grouse had tunneled.

p-big-tooth-burl

And then I was stopped by a burl. Like a gall, this was created by insects.

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The tree of choice featured lower gnarly bark that resembled a Northern Red Oak.

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But a peek toward its crown revealed a birch–the two-fer one gift: Big-toothed Aspen.

p-big-tooth-leaves

Its leaves, oh my, another  temporarily “marcescent” variety–showing off the big teeth for which it received its common name.

p-white-oak-leaves

Speaking of leaves, there were numerous renditions of White Oak–another dancer that seemed to freeze in motion.

p-red-pine-heart

Here and there among the offerings, Red Pine. This particular one showed my love for it where a branch had broken off. Do you see the wee heart?

p-red-pine-geometry

While mature Red Pines feature bark that reminds me of a jigsaw puzzle, I found some younger trees, their structure speaking to geometry.

p-piscataqua-sign

Continuing on along the logging road, I wondered if perhaps I’d gone astray. Suddenly, I found myself in Piscataqua County–miles and miles from home. I knew I was in unknown territory, but was I really that far from home? More than my usual fake lost?  Or someone’s sense of humor?

p-owl-1

Maybe so. Certainly I was in the land of owl feet.

p-coyote

And a tuckered coyote?

p-bushwhack

It was at this point that I headed off trail, made easy by underbrush.

p-deer-tracks

Deer tracks led me to another wonder-filled gift.

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The wetland and Northwest River, one of the namesakes for this place.

p-pitch-pine-bark1

It was here that another lesson presented itself–the layered bark made me realize I was viewing Pitch Pine growing beside the bog. My understanding was that these grew on ledges or rocky outcrops. But here was one with wet feet. And so I later consulted Bogs and Fens by Ronald B. Davis (I highly encourage you to add this title to your Christmas wish list) and discovered that not only does it grow in dry woodlands, but also “in swamps and at the edges of fens and bogs.” (Additional note: Pitch Pine Bogs are listed as S2:  “Imperiled in Maine because of rarity (6-20 occurrences or few remaining individuals or acres) or because of other factors making it vulnerable to further decline”; thus another reason to give thanks to LELT for preserving this place)

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p-pitch-pine-needles

Pitch Pine needles present themselves in bundles of three–perfect for this time of year–ahhhh, the Trinity.

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Rhodora

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and Leatherleaf added to the winter ornamentation.

p-ice-break-through

In my attempts for “the perfect photo,” I broke through the ice several times. I’d been post-holing through about seven or eight inches of snow all afternoon sans snowshoes because it was quite easy to move about in the fluffy stuff, but when I reached the edge of the water, the snow had insulated the thin ice cover and . . .  crash, crackle, crunch, I sunk in to the top of my Boggs and even a wee bit over.

p-trail-back

On my way back down the logging road, I realized how my own tracks were much more varied than that of the deer who’d passed before me.

p-land-trust-boundary

And then I came to a boundary sign. Opps. Guess I went beyond the land trust’s property, though thankfully no signs deterred me from trespassing.

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And a wee bit further down Folly Road, I stopped at Perley Pond, part of the namesake for this property–and part of the reason for my presence for the presents presented.