Celebrating Place–Naturally

Once the snow melts it will be more difficult for me to wander and wonder in the woods I explore all winter given its spring/summer water level and logging slash. And so I make the most of these days–trying to notice as much as I can before I can notice no more (or at least until next winter).

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Though I’d promised myself I’d not go again in an effort to not disturb the deer, promises are meant to be broken. And from that came a lesson–the deer are sticking to the snowmobile trail and field edges where tender bark of young red maples and hemlocks, plus swelling buds meet their needs for the moment. So, it was OK that I broke my promise, for the deeper I tramped, the fewer tracks I encountered.

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Today’s warmer temps in the low 40˚s found the springtails hopping about on any and all surfaces.

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As is my habit, I checked on a pileated woodpecker hole when I saw bark and wood scattered atop the snow. Deep was this excavation in search of nourishment.

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And chock full was the scat below, which contained insect body parts and seeds of the dreaded bittersweet. Beside the scat, a springtail sought to placate its own food needs which among other things includes plant material and animal remains.

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Turning to another tree, I landed on a perfect bull’s eye! The target fungus that affects many red maples makes for an easy ID.

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Lichens have also been a focus of late. What I like about this one, the circular green with the black disks of a crustose lichen (possibly bark disk lichen), was its location beside a liverwort (the beaded brown Frullania eboracensis) and a moss that I didn’t key out. Tree bark has its own structure and texture, but so often others also call it home.

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Rocks also serve as a substrate and this one featured a couple of leafy foliose shield lichens, their colors enhanced by yesterday’s inch of snow.

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And dangling from a branch, two forms of fruticose (branching or fruit-like structure–) lichens. The dark is a hair lichen, while the green a beard–seems about right with the hair above the beard.

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On another maple I spied a garden–you’ve got to liken it. (Corny joke that always manages to enter a lichen conversation.)

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I’ve often paused beside Frullania eboracensis, a liverwort with no common name, but today several trees shared displays of mats called Frullania asagrayana, so named for a botanist and natural history professor at Harvard University from 1842-1873–Asa Gray.

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Its shiny, overlapping chain of red-brown leaves reminded me of caterpillars crawling along the maple bark.

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Casting my eye elsewhere, steeplebush in its winter form offered an artistic presentation.

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And as the snow melts, last year’s bracken fern made an appearance.

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One last shrub made me stop. Minus any catkins or “cones” for which it is known, I had to think for a moment about the speckled alder. But those speckles or lenticels through which gas exchange occurs, and the buds and leaf scars were give aways.

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The two bud scales meet at their edges and look like miniature footballs. But it’s the bundle scars where leaves were formerly attached that make me laugh. That vascular system looks like a face–two round eyes, a funny shaped nose and a round mouth, as if it’s exclaiming, “Ohhh” or “Wow.”

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At last I reached my turn-around point. I could see Pleasant Mountain in the distance and knew where I was in the world. This is my place and I love every opportunity to celebrate it–naturally.

Knowing Our Place

It doesn’t matter how many times I explore the same space, I’m always amazed at the opportunity to learn something new. And so it happened at the Holt Pond Preserve this very morning. It’s one of my favorite hangouts in western Maine on any day, but today–it added some new notches to the layers of appreciation and understanding.

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Because  Grist Mill Road that bisects part of the preserve serves as part of the snowmobile trail in the winter, parking occurs on the sharp curve that marks the end of Perley Road and beginning of Chaplin Mill Road. (You have to know you are moving from one road to the next because there are no road signs.) A couple of parking spots have been plowed and its from those that this first sight was viewed. I was a bit confused when I saw alder catkins and cones, with pussy willows growing among them. On the same shrub? Shouldn’t be. And it wasn’t. Rather, a closer look cleared the confusion when I realized that the two shrubs favor the ditch at the edge of Emerald Field.

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I was with Alanna Doughty, Education Director for Lakes Environmental Association and our intention was to focus on tracks. But . . . we suffer from Nature Distraction Disorder, thank goodness, and so our NDD forced us to notice all things, including the beauty that is Tingley Brook.

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And the way the snow and morning sun enhanced the color of mosses decorating old maple trees.

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The mosses weren’t the only shade of green in the neighborhood. A young ash tree angled across the path and its D-shaped leaf scar helped us identify it as a green ash.

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As we moved along, we spied a new beaver dam and began to notice their works in the vicinity.

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We know what trees they chose for construction.

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And we wondered why they didn’t finish the job on this beech tree. Will they return? Only time will tell.

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Though we periodically saw downed hemlock twigs, some appeared to be wind drops. But, these drew us in for closer inspection.

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Through a hand lens, we spied the works of a different mammal–in this case, red squirrel. Ends of twigs were cut and dropped and then their buds nipped. But that wasn’t all we noticed. We were wowed by the petioles and how those little stems attached the needles to the twigs. And the tiny warts on the twigs. And . . . and . . . and. Who knew there was so much to admire about a hemlock twig?

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We continued on, turning from the brook to Muddy River, where  a larger and older beaver dam easily identified itself given the snow cover.

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We followed some indiscernible tracks of a perfect walker and then lost them by the time we reached the canoes–also hiding under the white blanket.

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At the canoes we could have turned and found our way out, but ever curious, we continued on toward the red maple swamp. And then we decided to take a different course. Rather than follow the boardwalk, our usual pathway, we took advantage of the current conditions and decided to walk through the swamp toward the Muddy River. Earlier, we’d noted that a snowmobile had passed along the river and though we’d questioned the choice of its driver, we felt a compelling drive to take in the view from a different vantage point.

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With that in mind, and all caution thrown to the wind, we crossed the Muddy River to take a closer look at the beaver lodge we normally admire from a nearby boardwalk.

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We took it in from all sides, noting the fresh saplings added during fall reconstruction, as well as the mud. It was a warm day–and we wondered if we might have seen steam rising had the temperature been colder.

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It was from here that we looked back across the river to the hemlock hummock and boardwalk area where we normally stand. There was a certain satisfaction in being on the other side for a change.

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When we made our way back to the red maple swamp, a little tree drew our attention. Small in stature, yet big in personality is the tamarack or Eastern larch. It’s our only deciduous conifer and somehow we’d missed its existence in the swamp all these years, perhaps because we don’t often actually walk through the swamp. While larches have needles, they typically turn yellow and then drop, leaving behind a winter form that yields horizontal branches with nubs.

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We noted that though the fruits reminded us of hemlock cones, on the larch they stand upright in contrast to those that dangle on their cousin’s branches.

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Once we realized we were looking at larches, we started to see them everywhere. Finally, we pulled ourselves back to the river’s edge and continued our journey to Holt Pond.

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Again, we found tracks that had been bleached out by the warm sun of the last few days, but we surmised a member of the weasel family had bounded along, crossing the outlet of Holt Pond.

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We crossed the quaking bog, home to spaghnum moss, pitcher plants, sundews, cranberries, and so much more. But our attraction was overwhelmingly to today’s tree of choice–more larches.

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While we appreciated the young ones, we were completely in awe of the grandparents, who had grown long beards and supported a variety of barnacles in the form of lichens.

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Foliose and fruticose, they added texture and color to the presentation.

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Some describe the branches as wart-like, but we saw roses.

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And a composition of structure and age and growth that spoke to an art form.

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All warranted further examination.

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And then we realized there was also another sign of the tree’s history–barbed wired wrapped around and growing through the trunk. Stonewalls in one section of the preserve speak to a former farmer’s need to keep livestock from entering the swamp. But the barbed wire was a distance from the walls and quite far out in the swamp and so we wondered who had placed it there and why.

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At last it was time to turn back. And as we moved closer to shore and the speckled alders, a bird’s nest made itself known. Grasses, cattails and leaves were woven into the structure that was securely attached to the shrub’s branches.

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Before following the river back to the woodland trail, where we realized some tracks we’d followed earlier were those of a bobcat, we looked at the layers from the swamp to shrubs to deciduous trees to conifers to blue sky and clouds–and the colors mixed within.

And we knew that we’d shared an appreciation for the time –getting to know each other and our place better.

 

 

 

 

In Constant Flux

Ever so slowly, the world around us changes.

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Sometimes it’s as obvious as the leaves that fall.

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And other times, it’s a bit more subtle, evidenced by the bees that have slowed their frantic pace as they make final collections.

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Mid morning, I headed down the cow path in search of other signs of change.

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As I walked along, I began to realize the interdependence of all. Under the northern red oaks–many  chopped off twigs.

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The angled cut and empty cap indicated the work of porcupines seeking acorns.

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I found maple leaves pausing on hemlocks,

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pine needles decorating spruce trees,

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and occasional puddles offering a rosy glow. Eventually, all of these leaves and needles will break down and give back.

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I found life on a rock, where lichens began the story that was added to by mosses. The creation of soil was enhanced by a yearly supply of fallen leaves and needles gathered there. And then a seed germinated, possibly the result of an earlier squirrel feast.

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I found orange peel and many other fungi aiding the process of decomposition so that all the fallen wood and leaves will eventually become part of the earthen floor.

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I found a healthy stand of trees and ferns competing for sunlight in an area that had been heavily logged about ten years ago.

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I found evidence of those who spend their lives eating and sleeping in this place.

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I found seeds attached

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and those on the fly–heading off in search of a new home.

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I found the last flowers of fall

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exploding with ribbony blooms.

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After bushwhacking for a few hours, I found the snowmobile trail, where man and nature have long co-existed.

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At last I found my way across the field rather than through our woodlot, thankful for the opportunity to take in the colors of the season one more time.

At the end of the day, I’m once again in awe as I think about how we, and all that we share this Earth with, are dependent upon each other and the abiotic forces that surround us.

And with that comes the realization that the scene is in constant flux and so am I.