Perennial Mondate

It’s an old fav, Bald Pate Mountain Preserve in South Bridgton. And we love to visit it in any season. That being said, winter will “end” in a few weeks and this morning we realized we needed to head on over.

Our plan was to follow the Moose Trail for its entire length, then continue on the South Face Loop to the summit, start down the Bob Chase Trail, veer off to Foster Pond Lookout and then make our way back by rejoining Bob Chase.

One might expect to see a moose along the first trail, and we hoped to have such luck, but it was not to be. Instead, do you see the ski tracks? Portions of the preserve are groomed for cross-country skiers as part of the system at the adjacent Five Fields Farm.

What else did we spy? Some wicked cool finds in my book of wonder. For instance, you may think that this broken off piece of a twig is merely dangling from its counterpart, but . . . it is solidly stuck in place by a fungus known commonly as glue crust. It glues together twigs and branches that touch each other.

And sometimes twigs meet the bark on the trunk of a tree and hang in what you might think of as an unnatural stance.

The fungus is the dark bumpy structure that the second twig is stuck to, much like a magical act performed by nature. Really though, this fungus doesn’t let the twig fall to the ground where it would be decomposed by other fungi. Pretty tricky–making a claim all for its own benefit.

Continuing on, we scanned every beech tree in hopes of finding bear claw trees. We did find a beech worth honoring for we loved how it rested an elbow on the boulder below and with two arms formed a frame of the scene beyond.

Ever so slowly we climbed upward, our pace not my guy’s usual because of the bear paw challenge. When one is looking, however, one discovers so many other things upon which to focus like this rather common birch polypore in a rather uncommon shape, almost like a Christmas bell jingling in the breeze.

And then there was a display of snipped hemlock twigs scattered across the snow-covered forest floor.

We looked up and saw not a silhouetted form, but by the debris, which include diagonal cuts on the twigs, comma-shaped scat (some a bit more rounded than others), and even the soft, curly belly hairs of the creator, we knew a porcupine had dined overnight.

We looked a wee bit, but found not its den. By its tracks, however, we could tell that it had made more than one visit to this fine feasting spot.

Had we climbed the Bob Chase Trail we would have reached the summit in twenty minutes, but our choice to circle about before hiking up meant we spent two hours approaching the top where the bonsai trees of the North grow–in the form of pitch pines.

The true summit is a wee bit higher and so we continued on and then turned back to take in the view of Peabody Pond below.

It was there that while looking for insect cocoons I came across the gouty oak gall caused by teeny wasps no bigger than fruit flies. The structure was woody as it’s a couple of years old. And almost creepy in its display, like a head with many eyes looking every which way.

We did take the hint and looked every which way ourselves, the next point of view beyond Hancock Pond and beyond.

And then we moved on, until that is, we reached the wall of tripe, which always invites me to stop.

Water had also stopped in the form of several frozen falls.

And again, more of nature’s magic for the icicles facilitated photosynthesis by the algal partner of the lichen’s symbiosis. It’s a thing worth liken.

Nearby, a relative also begged a notice. Do you see the black flat-headed disks upon the surface? Those are the fruiting bodies or apothecium where this lichen’s spores are produced. The common name for this umbilicate structure: toadskin.

Just above the tripe and toadskin offerings, Pleasant Mountain came into view. Hidden behind a cloudy veil was Mount Washington, which typically sits in the saddle of the Pleasant Mountain ridgeline.

As we wound down and around, polypody ferns spoke about the weather–some were curled as it was cooler in their location upon a boulder in a hemlock grove, but others were flattened bespeaking the rising temperature.

Our last focal point before heading back to the parking lot was the lookout to Foster Pond. Where once stood a tall cairn, there are now two shorter ones marking the point of view and turn-around.

It was there that we discovered another gouty oak gall, its size at least that of a golf ball; a rather holey, warty golf ball.

This preserve is forever a fav in any season, which on this Mondate offered a flash ahead (think the opposite of flashback, rather like a preview) of what is to come. We love winter. And we especially love snow. But . . . we also love all the other seasons and the perennial plants on the southern side of the mountain where the snow has melted a bit, showed off their evergreen shades and hints of future events. Wintergreen and Trailing Arubuts, the later with the long buds atop a hairy stem.

Lighting The Way

It felt like months had passed since our paths had crossed, but finally the stars aligned as they say, and my friend Marita and I found time for a hike this afternoon. Our chosen destination: Mount Tom in Fryeburg, Maine.

Within the foundation at the start of the trail the snow outlined the stones. In other seasons, these structures blend in with the landscape but on this day they were highlighted and we could almost imagine the stories of yore.

Lines intersected and wood interrupted, much as we’ve raised our children both together and independently.

Higher up, again the snow showed off the details in a way that might normally blend in and remain invisible. It all seemed so symmetrical and then in the debris below–a much more random design reflecting the course our paths have taken.

At the edge of the ledges we noted edges. Rounded and straight, interwoven as our families have been with variation along the way.

As we followed the path made by others we caught up on each other’s lives and shared a few memories of the past for ours is a journey that began long before we actually knew each other since we are from the same hometown.

Occasionally, the trail offered shades other than snow white and gray granite; a glimpse into the future was featured by the evergreen leaves of Trailing Arbutus, aka Mayflower. What will our future hold? A continued friendship we know.

We know not what the future holds, but revel in the possibilities as indicated by fresh Pileated Woodpecker holes.

And when scat happens, we’ll be there–to examine it, decipher it, and help each other through it, or at least listen and offer comments of reassurance and consideration.

Two and a half miles later we reached the summit where the contrast of sky and landscape pleased our eyes and gave us our bearings.

And a view of Little Mountain to the far left and the long ridge of Pleasant Mountain pointed to the hometown we have shared for over thirty years, almost twice the time of the place where we grew up but still have some ties.

Our stay at the top wasn’t long for we wanted to descend before daylight gave way to night.

At last we returned to the foundation where our journey had begun and again admired the stones and their placement.

Lighting the way had been the glory of the January light, but really there was more: friendship, understanding, similarities, differences, and hearts that may sometimes turn sideways, but always love.

Mondate Shared with Tom and Ron

Midmorning found us driving down a lane in Stoneham, Maine, made extra narrow by high snowbanks. At the second entrance to the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Five Kezars Reserve we were delighted to discover the driveway had been plowed just enough to allow a vehicle or two to park. And so we did.

Our initial plan had been to wear micro-spikes and carry snowshoes, but as we’d passed by the first entrance, we noted that no one had climbed the Mountain Trail, and the road leading back to it had been well sanded, so we left the spikes behind.

Walking back up the road was easy, but then . . . we had to conquer what was probably the most difficult part of the entire journey–the snowbank between the road and the trail.

Thankfully in northern New England, those who drive plow trucks know to knock the snow back a day or so after a storm, thus leaving room for the next storm. (In this case, there’s one on the horizon for tomorrow night with another 8-12 inches predicted). The result is a shelf that makes the snowbank easier to climb up and over.

We did just that with the utmost grace in our steps.

Once on the other side, where the sign gave an indication of depth, we donned our outer footwear.

And walked up to the kiosk where we stood eye to eye with the roof rather than the map.

We did study if for a moment as my guy had not been on the new spur trail overlooking all five of the Five Kezars.

The trails are incredibly well blazed and blow down wasn’t much given the winds of winter, but . . . we did note one small beech that had fallen off trail and taken the signs with it.

A little further up we found another sign encouraging us to climb even higher–as in skyward. Perhaps it knew something we didn’t know.

For the first half of the trail, we mainly focused on our feet, making sure that the cleats on our snowshoes dug into the slippery surface.

Once the trail leveled off, we started looking around. And being winter with no leaves to distract one’s view, the snow-topped boulders stood out like tiny homes in the woods.

About halfway up the Mountain Trail, where it turns left and joins an old jeep road to the summit, a new path was carved last summer–Tom’s Path so named for the late Tom Henderson, who had long served as the land trust’s executive director.

My guy had walked about on the ledges there with me on previous excursions, but this was his first time actually following the new trail and so he studied the “You Are Here” spot on the map.

Along the way, I wanted to pause just before the trail turned left for I had a suspicion about the area below the rock. My suspicion proved correct; a porcupine had created a den under the ledge.

That was further verified by the downed hemlock twigs.

A bit further up the trail we found even more evidence of porcupine activity for many of the trees showed off the tooth scrape marks left behind as the critter sought the cambium layer below the bark.

Recently I saw bark under a porcupine tree that confused me for I’ve always thought of them as eating the bark completely and leaving no mess–unlike a beaver. But today’s findings indicated that all had been consumed.

Behind all of the porcupine artwork trees stood another much larger that will probably be naked by spring.

The debris was the typical–nipped twigs cut at an angle . . .

and plenty of healthy looking scat. 😉

The bark on the big old hemlock, however, had flaked off revealing its cinnamon color beneath for the porcupine had created a regular climbing route.

From below, I looked up in hopes of seeing the rodent, but realized all the evidence had to be enough. I did wonder–Tom always said he wanted to return as an otter, but just maybe he’s a porcupine right now. He was a forester, after all, and loved anything tree related.

A few minutes beyond the porcupine area we found our way to the termination of the spur and took in the view of four of the Five Kezars below: Little Mud, Mud, Middle and Back.

Being winter, a few more steps to the left revealed the fifth of the Five: Jewett.

Retracing our steps, we returned to the Mountain Trail and followed it to the summit where lunch rock had been graciously cleared . . . just for us.

There was no wind and the sun felt delightful–so we sat for a bit taking in the view of the ponds below and Pleasant Mountain with Shawnee Peak Ski Area in the distance.

When we finally decided to move on, we first stepped out to the north so we could get a glimpse of Mount Washington in the backdrop.

And then we pulled it in with a telephoto lens.

Following the orange connector trail down, we began to notice more mammal activity. We’d left the porcupines behind, but the snowshoe hare always seem to dine in one particular location.

And scat 😉

We also noticed bobcat tracks like these, muted though they were, crossing over the trail, while we followed coyote tracks down the trail.

And twice we encountered engravings in the snow that at first glimpse we thought were wing marks, but changed our story to one of the predators playing with a prey as it dangled from the mouth. Hmmm.

Continuing down, we constantly looked up–at beech trees for we knew many revealed bear claw marks. Sometimes we had to look extra closely because the cankers on the tree hid the possibilities.

Though this wasn’t part of the Christmas present to my guy in the form of Bear to Beer Possibilities, it could have been a contender.

Our eyes scanned many a tree and we know we missed a bunch today, but we’ll save those for another day. I did think about returning and creating waypoints to mark each one on GPS, but then we wouldn’t have the fun of looking.

And because we were doing such, we found a new one today. Chances are the next time we look, it will be new to us all over again–if you know what I mean.

One other tree also drew my attention. Well, really, they all did. But yesterday I was explaining this very pattern to some folks on a guided walk, and wish I’d had such an example: target fungus on red maple. Indeed!

Eventually we reached the bridge crossing at Ron’s Loop, so named for Ron Gestwicki who was the first president of the Five Kezars Watershed Association and driving force behind creating this reserve that we could enjoy upon occasion, but the mammals know best.

While my guy sashayed straight across the bridge, I chose to go forth in a sideways pattern. In the middle, I remembered once slipping down under the rail, but thankfully today I reached the other side without incident.

The mammal activity continued along the half of the loop that we traveled. Other travelers included the coyote that left its mark on a high spot in the middle of the trail and several more crossings by the bobcat.

I was hoping for an otter slide because sometimes we are so blessed, but instead we found a few tracks of fisher passing through, their five tear-drop shaped toes on display.

Though we’d spent several hours on the trail, it seemed we reached the final bridge crossing in no time and my guy performed a chivalrous act of stomping down the snow to make for an easy crossing.

The water below offered a hint of every season as it flowed forth: summer’s blue sky, autumn’s dried leaves, winter’s clear ice, and spring’s fresh greens.

As we passed by the kiosk for Ron’s Loop on the way back to my truck, we gave thanks to the two men for which the trails were named: Tom Henderson and Ron Gestwicki. We were grateful for their leadership and the opportunity to continue to share the trail with them, especially on our Monday Date or Mondate.

A Berry Pleasant Mountain Hike

Thirty-two years ago I moved to Maine (the only place I’ve ever lived where the number of years counts as bragging rights) and Pleasant Mountain quickly figured into my life. The first day I drove past it on Route 302, I was killing time before a job interview and one look at Moose Pond with the mountain looming over it and I knew I very much wanted to live here. A couple of days later, I received the phone call I’d been waiting for and principal Larry Thompson said it was only a matter of formality that my name go before the school board. By the next week, I was packing up in New Hampshire and making my way further north. I’d found a place to live that meant I’d pass by the mountain on my way to and from school each day. And then that October I attended a Halloween party with friends at the ski lodge of what was then called Pleasant Mountain Ski Resort. I was an olive and I met this guy dressed as a duck hunter. Turns out he’d never been duck hunting, but had a great duck puppet and he could turn its head with the stick within. He certainly turned my head!

Thus began the journey with my guy. Our first hike together–up the Southwest Trail of Pleasant Mountain. That first winter, he taught me to downhill ski, well sorta. My way of turning that first time included falling as I neared the edge of the trail, shifting my body once I was down on the snow, begging for the components of a steak dinner, rising and skiing across at a diagonal to the opposite side only to repeat my performance. Dinner was great that night! And well deserved.

Time flashed forward four years, and at noon on August 4, 1990, we were married; our reception in the Treehouse Lounge at the Ski Resort. In all the years since we first met and then were married and beyond, we’ve skied (though I have managed to avoid that concept more recently) together and with our sons before their abilities outgrew mine, snowshoed and hiked and grown only fonder of the place we call home. Our intention yesterday was to climb the mountain in celebration of our 28th anniversary, but the weather gods outpouring of moisture was not in our favor.

Today, however, dawned differently and so mid-morning we made our way with a plan to hike up the Bald Peak Trail, across the ridge to the summit, and down the Ledges Trail. We’d left the truck at the Ledges, ever mindful that the last thing we want to do after climbing down the mountain is to walk 1.5 miles to reach our vehicle.

1-heading up

As I’ve done over and over again in the past 32 years, I followed my guy–over rocks and roots and bald granite faces.

2-Pinesap

Once in a while I announced the need for a stop because my Nature Distraction Disorder ticked into action. In this case, it was Pine-sap, or Monotropa hypopitysMono meaning once and tropa turned; hypopitys for its habitat under a pine or fir. Also called Dutchmen’s Pipe, this is a parasitic plant that obtains all its nutrients by stealing them from the roots of a host tree. It doesn’t enter the host directly, but through a fungal intermediary. And like Indian Pipe, it has no green tissues. It differs from I.P. in two ways, its yellow color as compared to white, and two to eleven flowers versus a single flower. In my book of life, both Pine-sap and Indian Pipe are great finds.

3-Moose Pond below

I didn’t let my NDD get the better of me too often on the way up. It was extremely humid and so we did stop frequently, but also kept a pace that worked for both of us and soon emerged onto the ridge where a look back through the red and white pines revealed a peek of the causeway that crosses Moose Pond.

5-hidden camp

Employing the telephoto lens, I spied our camp hidden among the trees, only the dock and our little boat showing. It’s amazing how obvious all the neighboring camps seemed when viewed from up high.

7-ridge line trail

After the climb up, the ridge always seems a cinch as the pathway wanders through blueberries, pines and oaks.

6-lunch rock

At last we found lunch rock, a place to pause in the shade and enjoy our PB&J sandwiches. We’d packed cookies for dessert, but decided to save those for later. My guy, however, had accidentally unpacked my work backpack and discovered a few pieces of a dark chocolate KitKat–my stash when I’m tired at the end of the day and need a pick-me-up before driving home. It looks like the purchase of another KitKat is in my near future for we topped off the sandwiches with a sweet treat.

8-picking blueberries

After lunch, my guy’s eyes focused in on one thing only. That is after he moved away from his original spot behind the rock we’d sat upon for our repose. Unwittingly, he’d stirred up a yellow jacket nest and managed to walk calmly away, only one bee stinging his leg.

14-blueberries

While his attention was on the gold at his feet–in the form of low-bush blueberries, I turned my lens in a variety of directions. Oh, I helped pick. A. Wee. Bit.

9-Lake Darner Dragongly

But there were other things to see as well and this dragonfly was a new one for me. A few highlights of this beauty: Do you notice the black cross line in the middle of the face. And on the thoracic side stripe, do you see the deep notch?

10-Lake Darner Dragonfly

Both of those characteristics helped in ID: Meet a Lake Darner. Even the male claspers at the tip of the abdomen are key, for they’re paddle-shaped and thicker toward the end. Though he didn’t pause often, Lake Darners are known to perch vertically on tree trunks. I was in awe.

11-grasshopper

All the while we were on the ridge, the Lake Darners flew about, their strong wing beats reminiscent of hummingbirds, so close did they come to our ears that we could hear the whir. And then there was another sound that filled the summer air with a saw-like buzziness–snapping and crackling as they flew. I couldn’t capture their flight for so quick and erratic it was, but by rubbing pegs on the inner surface of their hind femurs against the edges of their forewings, the grasshoppers performed what’s known in the sound world as crepitation. Crepitation–can’t you almost hear the snap as you pronounce the word?

12-coyote scat

It wasn’t just insects that caught my eye, for I found a fine specimen of coyote scat worth noting for it was full of hair and bones. It was a sign bespeaking age, health, availability, and boundaries.

12A

Turns out, it wasn’t the only sign in the area and whenever we hike the trails on Pleasant Mountain these days, we give thanks to Loon Echo Land Trust for preserving so much of it. According to the land trust’s website: “Currently, Loon Echo owns 2,064 mountain acres and protects an additional 24 acres through conservation easements.”

13-picking some more

Our time on the ridge passed not in nano seconds, for my guy was intent on his foraging efforts. I prefer to pick cranberries, maybe because they are bigger and bring quicker satisfaction as one tries to fill a container. But, he leaves no leaf unturned. And enjoys the rewards on yogurt or the possible muffin if his wife is so kind, until late in the winter.

15-middle basin of Moose Pond

As we slowly moved above the middle basin of Moose Pond, I found other berries growing there.

14-lingonberries

Among them, lingonberries were beginning to ripen. They grow low to the ground, below the blueberries, and resemble little cranberries. In fact, some call them mountain cranberries. Like blueberries, they like acidic, well-drained soil. For all the leaves, however, there were few fruits and I had to wonder if the birds were enjoying a feast.

16-huckleberries

Huckleberries also grow there, though not quite as abundantly as along our shorefront on Moose Pond. They’re seedier than blueberries, though the local squirrels don’t seem to mind. Both red and gray harvest them constantly as they move throughout the vegetated buffer in front of camp.

17-summit fire tower

It took some convincing, but finally my guy realized that we needed to move on and so we gradually made our way to the summit, where the once useful fire tower still stands as a monument to an era gone by.

18-summit view in the haze

Our pause wasn’t too long for so strong was the sun. And hazy the view, Kearsarge showed its pointed profile to the left, but Mount Washington remained in hiding today.

19-ledges view of Moose Pond's southern basin

The journey down was rather quick. Perhaps because we were so tired, it felt like we just rolled down. But we did stop to admire the view of the southern bay of Moose Pond in Denmark. Our intention was also to eat the cookies we’d packed once we reached this point. Through both bags we hunted to no avail. I remembered packing the cookies under our sandwiches. And then moving the sandwiches to the second pack, but leaving the cookies. Did we accidentally take them out after all? Were they on the kitchen counter? In the truck? The final answer was no on all fronts. We think we must have taken them out at lunch rock and they never made it back into the pack. I had moved the backpacks with great calmness once we discovered the yellow jacket nest. Just maybe the yellow jackets are dining on some lemon cookies. Perhaps it was our unintended peace offering.

20-hiking down following this guy

After a five plus hour tour, filled with blueberries and sweat, I followed my guy down. We’ve spent the greater part of our lives following in each other’s footsteps and it’s a journey we continue to cherish, especially on our favorite hometown mountain.

Here’s to many more Berry Pleasant Mountain Hikes with my guy.

 

 

 

Taking Flight

Morning had broken . . .

h1-morning has broken

and Pleasant Mountain’s reflection marked a new day.

h2-variable dancers conducting variable dance

New life was also in the making as the Variable Dancer Damselflies practiced the fine art of canoodling. I’d never noticed an oviposition aggregation before, but it made sense if it minimized the threats a couple receives from unattached males. Plus, if the spot was good enough for one pair to lay their eggs, then it must be fine for another. And so I learned something new today.

h3-slaty skimmer

Perhaps it also cut down on predation, though I couldn’t stay long enough to note if the Slaty Skimmer that hung out above turned either pair into breakfast. If so, I hope they at least had a chance to leave their deposits.

h4-Hemlock covered bridge

That was my morning view, but I changed it up a bit this afternoon and darted across the Hemlock Covered Bridge that spans the Old Course of the Saco River in Fryeburg. Built in 1857 of Paddleford truss construction with supporting laminated wooden arches, the bridge is a quaint and charming reminder of days gone by.

h5-bridge

Though reinforced in 1988 so you can drive across, it’s even more fun to glide while admiring the work of our forefathers and . . .

h8-water low

peer out a window at the river from Maine’s oldest remaining covered bridge.

h6-LOVE

The handiwork of more recent travelers . . .

h7-love lasts forever

was also clearly visible.

h9-river jewelwing-female, white dots in sync

Down by the Old Course, I spotted a female River Jewelwing, the white dots on its four wings showing off in the day’s light. Just prior, a few sprinkles had fallen and one teeny droplet rolled down her thorax. A few even teenier ones clung to her legs.

h10-Hemlock Covered Bridge

With one more look back to reflect upon the bridge, I was then ready to set sail again.

h11-Mt. Kearsarge

Heading toward Frog Alley, the view across the fields included Mount Kearsarge amid the summer haze that had developed.

h18-Mount Tom

Mount Tom was more clearly visible for it was so much closer.

h12-Dianthus armeria, Deptford pink

But what I really stopped to look at where those things closer to the ground, like the brilliant pink Dianthus with their petals all spotted and toothed at the tips.

h14-bindweed

Offering a lighter hue of pink, a bindweed twined its way through the roadside wildflowers.

h13-honeybee on milkweed

Also with shades of pink and the yellow complexion of those flowers already pollinated, milkweed was in full bloom and the ants and some flies were making the rounds, but I only saw one honeybee taking advantage of the sweet nectar. It reminded me that the same was true on the milkweed growing in my garden where, at most, I’ve seen four honeybees rather than the usual swarms.

h17-sulphur cinquefoil

And then there was the subtle yellow of the Sulphur Cinquefoil showing off its cheery face despite a few tear drops. Actually, it may have cried for only a few drops had fallen from the sky and we really do need a soaking rain.

h16-clouded sulphur butterfly

As if taking a cue from the cinquefoil, Clouded Sulphur butterflies flitted and danced along the road.

h16- clouded sulphurs puddling

And then I realized that they kept gathering in groups. It’s a form I’d read about but never observed before–puddling. This was a male habit and apparently their intention was to suck nutrients from the wet ground. I guess even a few raindrops served the purpose.

h15-dragonhunter

Before I moved on again, my heart was still as more yellow entered the scene in the form of a striped thorax and I realized I was watching a Dragonhunter Dragonfly. Though it wasn’t so easy to see the tip of tail once it landed, as it flew about in my vicinity it kept its abdomen curved down–a habit of these big guys.

h29-Fryeburg Bog

The Fryeburg Bog was my next landing and though I didn’t head out to the water that was more like an over-sized puddle, I found plenty to focus on.

h19-buttonbush

For starters, the Buttonbush had begun to bloom and I loved its otherworldly presentation.

h21-frosted whiteface

It was there that I saw the smallest of dragons, in the form of the Frosted Whiteface.

h22-frosted whiteface

At most, he was about 1.5 inches long–quite probably the smallest of the species that I know.

h20-ruby meadowhawk

It was there that I also spotted my first Ruby Meadowhawk of this year.

h23-ruby meadowhawks canoodling

And then there were two! And in the future, obviously, there will be more.

h23--late afternoon snack

And finally, it was there that I noticed a Song Sparrow had nabbed a butterfly snack–all part of the circle of life.

h30-Smarts Hill

My final stop on today’s journey was at Popple Hill Brook along Smarts Hill Road in Sweden.

h25-variable dancer

And like the Variable Dancers I’d seen this morning, I found many more beside the brook. Not only was the male’s purple coloring stunning, but notice those silvery legs.

h26-variable dancers canoodling

Of course, where there is more than one dragonfly or damselfly, there is love.

h27-variable dancers canoodling

As my tour began, it ended–with the Variables dancing to their heart song.

h28

And with that, I flew back to camp, where the mountain’s reflection was conducting its own dance routine as the sun began to slip toward the horizon.

h31-rainbow

And a few more raindrops produced a rainbow in the eastern sky.

Thanks for taking flight with me on this wonder-filled wander and soaring above some of the areas that are so unique and yet we tend to overlook them.

 

 

 

 

Connecting the Dots

We thought we were so smart. A friend had drawn a map in the snow last week to show me the location of an alternate trailhead for Peary Mountain in Brownfield, Maine, and spoke of a round-trip hike that would include Frost Mountain. A quick look at a map in our worn and torn Delorme Gazeteer and we knew exactly where we were going–until we didn’t. We soon discovered that the gate and sign I’d been told about didn’t exist and the road turned 90˚ to the left and eventually became impassable and so we turned around and paused again at the sharp turn and wondered some more and drove back out to the main road and continued on to another road and looked for other possible trailheads that appeared on the road map and turned around again and returned to that sharp turn and parked the truck and slipped on our micro-spikes.

p1-Peary Mtn Road sign

It was worth a try we decided. The name was right though it looked less like a road and more like a snowmobile trail. No matter, we figured we’d give it a whirl and if nothing else, at least we’d enjoy exploring.

p2-wetland below mountains

Almost immediately, we spied two mountains above a wetland and wondered if those were the two summits we sought. We’d never looked at Peary from what we considered the back side before, since all of our previous experiences had been from Farnsworth Road off of Routes 5/113.

p3-trail

The road was quite icy and it had been more than a few days since any snowmobiles had passed by.

p5-trail sign

Eventually we came to a snowmobile sign, looked around for a map that I thought my friend had mentioned, and decided to begin with a journey up the Peary Mountain Trail.

p7-trailing arbutus and wintergreen

Conditions were such where previous logging had left the southwestern side open to the sun’s powerful rays and so in places the snow had melted and wildflowers such as trailing arbutus and winterberry basked in the warmth.

p8-Peary Mtn basement

We continued on up, hopeful that we were on the right path, when a familiar foundation confirmed our location. It’s directly across from this foundation that the Peary Mountain trail makes a 90˚ turn–in the past the turn had always been to the left, but yesterday’s turn was to the right. That is, after we noted that my guy should probably encourage the homeowners to purchase a sump pump, so full was their cellar.

p9-trail sign

If you do approach from Peary Mountain Road, you’ll only see a tad of the back of this sign. And if you come from Farnsworth Road, again, it’s not very obvious. But, for both, the turn is located at the height of land . . . and directly across from the foundation.

p10-Peary view 1

The hike to the bald summit isn’t difficult and offers the best of views on any day, but especially in the fall when the tapestry of color stretches forever–or at least to the White Mountains in the distance.

p11-Mount Washington

Yesterday, the view of Mount Washington was obscured by clouds, but we could see that even there the snow was receding.

p13-Mountain view

We stood for a bit, taking in the scene to the west.

p14-Mountain views

And to the north.

p15-across the ridge

And then we followed the ridge, certain that at the end we’d slip onto another trail we’ve never traveled before and begin to make the loop to Frost Mountain.

p16-Pleasant Mtn, Brownfield Bog

Just before slipping onto that other trail, we had one more view to partake–Brownfield Bog and the Saco River were backdropped by Pleasant Mountain.

Well, we followed that other trail for a while, but realized that rather than going toward Frost Mountain, we were moving further and further away from it. And so . . . we backtracked and rose once again to the summit of Peary and retraced our steps down.

p17-another foundation

We were disappointed, except that we knew we would return. And as often happens when following the same trail, we made new discoveries, including an L-shaped foundation.

p19-well

And then I spied a circular sunken formation subtly outlined with rocks and trusted it was a well.

p19-third foundation

Bingo. For behind it was another foundation, the largest we saw.

p20-day 2-red pines

And so late this morning we returned. But first, we looked for maps in our hiking books and online and found only those created by the local snowmobile club. We had a copy that dated to 2011 and decide to bring it along. We also copied a portion of the map from the Delorme Gazeteer–just in case.

Upon our return, we remembered to pause at the beginning of the trail and take note of the red pine cathedral. Brownfield is a town that knew the fury of the wildfires of October 1947. Most homes and public buildings were mere piles of ash the day after the fire. Many stately places including the summer home and laboratory of Dr. Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of television, had burned. Churches, schools, the post office, Grange, library and town hall all went up in smoke–only twenty houses survived. In the end, 85% of the town was destroyed.

Red pines were planted in reaction and today they stand tall in honor of that event of just over seventy years ago.

p21-water flowed

Our plan today was to follow the same route to the turn off for Frost Mountain. And so we did. This time the snow and ice were softer and mud a constant as snow melted and streams formed.

p21-ruffed grouse scat

One of the things we noted yesterday was a lack of mammal prints. But today made up for that and we found plenty of deer tracks in mud and snow. And then, a pile of bird scat–left behind by a ruffed grouse who had probably plowed into the snow when it was a couple of feet thick and spent the night, leaving behind its signature.

p22-kill site

We also found a kill site with no tracks leading to or fro and so we thought a bird had eaten another bird. The circle of life continued in the Maine woods.

p23-fisher prints

A bit further up the trail we spied weasel prints–left behind by a fisher, the meanest of mean. Notice the teardrop shaped toes and diagonal positioning.

p22-sweet fern

We were distracted (or at least I was) by sculptures a many, including those created by sweet-fern.

p24-another foundation

My guy was also distracted and spied an opening in the woods.

p25-fourth foundation

It was another L-shaped cellar. And nearby were what would have been some outbuildings and possibly even a mill. Along most of today’s trail we encountered one stone wall after another, some single and others double.

I don’t know how to decipher stone that’s known fire, but hope one of these days to be able to make that interpretation. In the meantime we wondered–why had these homes been abandoned. Did they burn? I did later note that homesteads in the area belonged to the Johnsons, Grays and other families in the 1880s.

p28-confusing signs

Though we continued on, we really had no idea where we were going and hoped that we had made the right decision with the intention of reaching the summit of Frost Mountain. But, even if we didn’t, we were delighted with our finds. And confused by the signs.

p29-Pleasant Mtn behind us

And then, we started to climb. I turned around as we moved upward and noted our beloved Pleasant Mountain behind us.

p29-summit at lasst

And finally–success. We’d reached the summit of Frost Mountain.

p30-looking toward Peary

About 300 feet below, we had a view from the ledge, but it wasn’t nearly as spectacular as that on Peary Mountain, which my guy looked toward. It was hardly visible from where we stood.

p32-Burnt Meadow Mountain

From the summit, we followed a loop around, pausing to take in the view of Burnt Meadow Mountain.

p33-Brownfield below

And the town of Brownfield below. As the historical society likes to proclaim, “Brownfield’s still here.” Indeed.

p34--my heart bleeds blue pine sap for you

We’d planned to climb Frost and then make our way to Peary, but changed our minds. We’d already climbed Peary yesterday and after finding our way today had a better understanding of the trail system. We also knew that had we made the loop, we’d have walked on Farnsworth Road for over a half mile and then climbed up and down Peary on trails we already knew. Instead, we let our hearts bleed pine blue sap with happiness.

p27-bear prints

Our happiness overflowed when we spied the final set of prints.

p26-bear prints

A black bear. How cool is that? Our second sighting of black bear prints this winter.

We’d connected the dots–even if not literally–and gained a better understanding of the neighborhood and all who live(d) there.

The Amazing Race–Our Style

I’m sure when we said our wedding vows back in 1990, there was something in there about only riding a snowmobile once. And I did that once two years or so ago–mostly because I knew it would please my guy. Certain memories remain from that experience: I felt like a bobblehead inside the helmet; I lacked control as I sat behind him and couldn’t see; when I did peek around, I was sure my head was going to strike a tree so narrow was the trail; and I didn’t like the speed. Oh yeah, and at a road crossing, I do believe I jumped off and walked to the other side. With all of that in mind, I’m not sure what I was thinking when I created a Valentine’s gift for him–our very own Amazing Race. My rationale was that we enjoy the show, but know that while there are certain stunts one or both of us could handle with ease, there are others that would certainly cause us to be last to the mat–and lose. So, why not create an Amazing Race that we have a 99.9% chance of winning. If we lose, we’re in big trouble. All that being said, our race includes twelve events, one for each month. And this month’s activity meant a snowmobile ride for two. Oy vey. I created this so I could only blame me.

a1-selfie

We awoke to five inches of snow this morning and knew that today was the day. After an early lunch, I tried to delay the inevitable. The dishes needed to be washed. And dried (I never dry the dishes). Toilet cleaned. I even thought about vacuuming, but my guy stopped me. And presented me with a black helmet. It was much too big and kept shifting around. He gave me a second helmet to try on. I felt claustrophobic and couldn’t take it off fast enough. “We have another,” he said as he headed to the barn. Darn. And the third one fit just right. Double darn.

a3-the chariott of choice

Our mode of transportation was ready and waiting. No long lines of others vying for a seat. No being put off until a later time. Our race had begun.

a2-double selfies

We hopped aboard and headed off down the trail. At first it was sort of okay and I almost relaxed, until that is, we took a sharp corner and I clenched my hand rails while leaning away. Sometimes, I felt like I was a kid again in the back of the school bus and jumping up and down as we went over the bumps on Valley Road in my hometown.

I was glad my guy couldn’t hear me unless I leaned close and spoke up–I kept my own running commentary for the first twenty minutes, which occasionally included an expletive not worth repeating.

a4-tunnel vision

At last we reached the Narrow Gauge trail, where my guy picked up the speed, but given it’s a fairly flat old railbed, I chose not to complain. And as good as his word, he stopped whenever I asked. One of my favorite spots along the trail is what we refer to as the tunnel, for in that section only, the walls are high on both sides and hemlock trees tower over.

a6-icicle

One of the things about riding on the machine is that you don’t get to really see anything. He loves it because it takes him places he wouldn’t ordinarily go. Yeah, there’s that. But . . . I prefer a slo-mo approach. And so today, we melded our ways–full speed ahead (although he thinks he took it slow) and complete stops every once in a while to take a look at things like sap forming an icicle,

a7-hemlock and rocks

hemlock roots and rocks intertwined,

a8-elephant

and an elephant.

a9-looking back

At last I walked back to him and we continued on our way. We were only going to go the length of the Narrow Gauge, but I was surviving and my guy smiling.

a9-Hancock Pond

Our next destination–Hancock Pond in Denmark.

a11-Hancock Pond

I asked him to stop by this camp intentionally, for I wanted to show its owners, Faith and Ben, the midwinter view–and lack of snow mainly because of its orientation to the sun.

a13-rock tripe

Despite the fact that most of last night’s snow had already melted, rock tripe along their shoreline had turned green–photosynthesis in action.

a14-Bear Trap

As we walked back to the chariot, we noted the houses on top of Bear Trap. My guy suggested that we turn around and head in that direction next. From the start, I suspected our plan of an out and back trip wouldn’t occur for he loves to return via a different route, while I don’t mind following the same path back because I usually see something I missed previously. But . . . I agreed with him.

a15-Perley Pond

We did have to travel a wee bit back on the Narrow Gauge to reach the turn toward Narramissic, located just below Bear Trap. Since we were passing by for a second time, I asked to stop at Perley Pond for a quick look.

a16-edges melting

Around the edges, the melt down was beginning.

a19-Peabody-Fitch House

And then onward and upward we rode to Narramissic, the Peabody-Fitch Homestead erected in 1797 by William Peabody, one of Bridgton’s first settlers. Today, the property is owned and managed by the Bridgton Historical Society.

a18a-Pleasant Mountain

Our main mountain wasn’t part of today’s journey, but the view of the ridgeline was spectacular from the farm’s field.

a20-map between Holt and Otter Ponds

From there, we passed by the spur to the bear trap, and continued on toward Holt Pond. For a while, I felt lost in a daze as we flew through woods in varying degrees of succession due to logging events over the years. I tried to look for bear trees for I knew there should be some, but didn’t spy any. And hardly recognized our place when we suddenly arrived at the emerald field near Holt Pond.

a21-Stone House

I also completely missed the quarry from which the Stonehouse was built. The house had an interesting history. In the early 1800s, John Mead built a primitive house in South Bridgton. Like the big bad wolf of fairy tales, wind huffed and puffed and blew the house down. Mr Mead was quoted as saying, “I can and will build a house that will stand the winds and weather.” And so he did–using the plug and feather method to cut the stone from the nearby quarry and transporting it a half mile via a stone boat or sledge. The stone treasure rose from the hillside, where Mead had situated it out of the wind. The field was certainly windy and we didn’t pause for long.

a22-Otter Pond

Our next stop was to a place I’d never visited before and I was impressed by its size–Otter Pond. Today, I felt like we were the otters as we slid across the snow-covered ice.

a23-wetland at Otter Pond

At the far edge, I found a spot I hope to return to for it looked like an interesting wetland.

a24-cattail

For today, the cattails, their seeds blowing in the breeze, were enough to whet my appetite.

a25-Hayes Hardware

And then in a few more zigs and zags, we found ourselves in familiar territory as we passed by my guy’s store.

a26-mat--home sweet home

Two more road crossings and a few more bends in the trail–and finally the mat welcomed us home after a successful finish to the first leg of The Amazing Race–our style.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday’s Point of View

After church we had exactly five hours to pack our lunches, drive to the trailhead and complete our trek. After all, the New England Patriot’s were scheduled to play the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship game at 3pm and we intended to be in the audience–from the comfort of our couch, of course.

p1-pleasant mountain sign

By 10:30, we’d pulled into the Ledges Trail parking lot on Mountain Road in Denmark (Denmark, Maine, that is) and began the one and a half mile walk back down the road. Our intended route along the trails of Pleasant Mountain in Loon Echo’s preserve was to climb up the Bald Peak Trail to the fire tower at the summit and then follow the Ledges Trail down. We love hiking a circular route, and like to get the road walk out of the way first.

p2-mountain stream

We had no idea what trail conditions would be like, but decided on micro-spikes, which proved to be the best choice. Beside the trail, the mountain stream was layered thick with icy sculptures.

p3-brook ice

Everywhere we looked, the water had frozen into a variety of formations.

p4-Needle's Eye

Less than a half mile up, we came to the sign for Needle’s Eye.

“Do you want to go in?” I asked my guy.

“It’s up to you,” he replied for he knows my love/hate relationship with the spur path to the geological feature.

“Let’s try,” I said.

p5-Needle's Eye

Somehow, we made it to the chasm in only a few minutes. And then we stood in awe, rejoicing that we’d made the effort for we were well rewarded.

p6-ice of the needle

At the back of the eye, the waterfall stood still for a moment. Eventually, we made our way back to the main trail, and I’m proud to say I only exclaimed once when a tree that I grabbed wiggled. I thought of my friend, Marita, and her patience with me last spring when my brain didn’t want me to venture forth along the spur.

p8-ice layers

Upward we continued, chuckling as we always do at the sign for Sue’s Way that also indicated we would reach the intersection of the North Ridge Trail in three tenths of a mile. Somehow, that three tenths always feels like three miles. Is it really only three tenths of a mile, we wondered.

p7-Sabattus Island on Moose Pond

We were rewarded again, however, when we did pass by the intersection and continued on to the summit of Big Bald Peak. It’s always a spot to stop and look back at Moose Pond below where we could see our camp and Sabatis Island.

p8a-lunch rock looking north

It was just beyond that stop that we found lunch rock. Our view to the northwest was a bit obscured by the pines, but they helped block the breeze, so we didn’t mind.

p8-fire tower in distance

And to the southwest, the ridgeline we intended to walk. We could even see the fire warden’s tower at the main summit.

p9-crossing the ridge

After lunch, across the ridge we trekked, enjoying the sights along the way.

p10-Sebago Lake's open water

In the distance, we could see Sebago Lake and noted its open water which evoked a conversation about global warming. Many thought this would be the year it finally froze over again, but . . . not to be.

p11-racing through blueberry patch

Because trail conditions on the ridge were favorable, we moved quickly–practically running through the blueberry fields that will call my guy’s name come July.

p12-the tower

In what seemed like no time, we turned left onto the Fire Warden’s Trail and then made our way up to the iconic tower that was built in 1920. My hope is that it will still stand stalwart in 2020 and celebrate its one hundredth birthday.

p13-summit view toward Washington

Sometimes the summit view includes Mount Washington, but today the summits of the Presidentials were hidden in clouds.

p14-red pine scale

One scene that didn’t make us happy was that of the red pines. About five years ago I noted their decline and communicated with a forester who was studying red pine scale. Since then, most of the trees have been infested by the tiny insect and died.

p14-Southwest Ridge and sky

A much prettier picture we saw as we began our descent down the Ledges Trail, where the sky displayed a rainbow of colors above the Southwest summit of the mountain.

p15-Moose Pond from the ledges

As we made our way down, we paused as we always do along the ledges for which the trail was named. The south basin of Moose Pond dominated the vantage point.

p16-smiley face and heart

Along the entire route, we only met a few other hiking parties, but one apparently enjoyed the journey as much as we did and left smiles for our hearts.

p17-Needle's Eye

We arrived home with ten minutes to spare until kickoff.

Before the game began, we both agreed that our favorite point of view for this Sunday  was Needle’s Eye.

And now, the Patriot’s just defeated Jacksonville. That may mean two other scenes compete for today’s fav–when #24 Gilmore blocked Jacksonville’s final pass or Bill Belichick showed emotion before the game officially ended.

 

 

 

 

Finding Our Way at Back Pond Reserve Mondate

One of my favorite winter hikes upon property owned by the Greater Lovell Land Trust is at Back Pond Reserve in Stoneham. And so this morning I convinced my guy that it was the perfect trail for us to explore.

b1-the mountain trailhead

We parked on the Five Kezar Ponds Road near the trailhead for Ron’s Loop and then walked back to The Mountain Trail to begin our ascent. The reserve is a 259-acre property, with all but ten acres located on the north side of the road. The other ten south of the road will remain forever wild. Those latter ten acres were purchased in 1980 by twelve families who owned properties on Back Pond. Eighteen years later, they deeded the land to the GLLT. And then the Five Kezar Ponds Watershed Association generously helped the GLLT acquire the 249-acre piece through two purchases made in 2006 and 2010.

b2-poles at kiosk

At The Mountain Trail kiosk, plenty of information is available, including trail maps and walking sticks. The latter brought a smile to my face for it spoke to the continued generosity of those who know and love this land best.

b3-oak and beech leaves

Given the recent rain that drained our snow pack significantly and was then followed by another blast of arctic air, the trail was well packed. We could tell that a few others had traveled this way either with snowshoes or without–such were the impressions left behind. And within some of those impressions, beech and oak leaves gathered–speaking to the forest we were passing through.

b5-big toothed aspen

Not to be left out was the occasional big-toothed aspen leaf.

b6-beech leaf and husk

But really, it was the beech that we saw most often.

b6a-beech husks litter

And scattered everywhere–beech husks empty of seeds indicating it had been a mast crop year for this species. How viable the seeds were will remain to be seen.

b11-beech sap

In old wounds on several of the beech trees, amber sap had flowed and reminded me that not all sap comes from maples.

b9-trail conditions varied

Where the sun had reached the trail, conditions varied.

b7-microspikes

As the lay of the land began to get steeper, my guy decided to don his micro-spikes. One of the thoughtful efforts found periodically along the way–benches provided in the name of Ron Gestwicki who had longed served as president of the Five Kezars Watershed Association. A perfect place to rest, take in the surrounding beauty, or slip on micro-spikes.

b8-microspikes

I wore mine from the get-go and have found them the easier way to travel the past two days. It’s kind of like adding chains to the tires of a plow truck. With the spikes digging in, though I had a pole attached to our backpack I didn’t need to use it.

b10-trail makrers

The Mountain Trail is blazed with blue dots and someone used ingenuity to attach a fallen sign to a twig.

b12-turn onto old jeep road

It didn’t take long to reach the old jeep road that led to the summit. We made the left hand turn, but had a mind to go off trail for a bit.

b13-bear tree

Our first turn was to the left for we knew that bear trees stood tall there–at least for now because some looked like they were in rough shape given the beech scale disease that affected them.

b14-sidetracked to right

And then we headed off to the right, bushwhacking our way to a bit of a ledge where we hoped to find signs of a bobcat. I’m forever hopeful, but once again we came up empty handed. Previously, we had seen tracks and scat crossing the trail in numerous places, so we probably weren’t too far off with our speculation.

b15-ledge view

What we did find, a first view of the ponds below . . .

b16-trailing arbutus

and a certain sign of spring recently exposed in the form of trailing arbutus.

b17-back on trail

Finally, we headed back to the main trail and continued to climb toward the summit.

b18-porky prints

Though in general, tracking conditions weren’t great, we did find one expected customer–porcupine. It seems any time we travel this trail we find porcupine evidence.

b20-5 Kezars 1

At last, we reached lunch rock, where the view stretched from a few of the ponds across to Shawnee Peak Ski Area at Pleasant Mountain.

b22-Kearsarge and beyond

The Presidentials came into sight.

b23-Mount Washington in mix

And, of course, Mount Washington, which also displayed less of a snowpack.

b25-orange trail

From the summit, rather than hike back down the same trail, we turned to the backside and followed the orange connecting trail.

b26-swampy area

It’s fun for the community switches from hemlocks, pines and spruces to a small boggy area that offered a challenging crossing and finally back to beech and oak.

b27-beech sap again

And among those beech trees, another that had fallen and leaked sap from its butt end, plus . . .

b28-bear trees

more bear trees.

b29-brook crossing

On the downslope, we heard water running and wondered what our first brook crossing would be like. In the past, we either used a rickety old bridge, or tried not to use it.

b31-old bridge

Today, my guy went across first, and found pieces of the old bridge buried in snow. We knew we were better off without it.

b30-ice and water

I, of course, needed to stop and admire the flowing water and ice.

b32-more ice

Again and again.

b33-orange lichen

Much to our surprise, we found one more cool feature of this trail–the rare orange paintitous (is that a word?) crustose lichen. 🙂

b35-turning onto Ron's Loop

Not far from the rare find, we turned left and then right as we crossed the bridge and found ourselves on Ron’s Loop.

b36-brook and wetland

Below the bridge, the wetland bespoke more of the melt down efforts. In the past, we’ve found plenty of otter prints and slides in this area. But today, it was difficult to distinguish anything.

b37-ruffed grouse scat

We did, however, find a pile of ruffed grouse scat!

b39-H is for Hemlock

And proof that H is for Hemlock. (And Hayes)

b40-new bridge

Finally, we reached the second bridge that took us back across the brook. The bridge was built this past summer by the GLLT interns and Back Pond Reserve stewards. We truly appreciated it for many a times during the winter, the crossing had been to wide and we’d gotten wet.

b41-which way should we go?

After completing the loop, we once again gave thanks for all those who had preserved the land and created the trails so that the mammals that call this place home and folks like us could journey there.

With ease we thoroughly enjoyed this Mondate as we found our way at Back Pond Reserve.

 

 

 

 

Sherpas for the Loons

I can’t remember what year I began volunteering to haul food to the top of Pleasant Mountain for Loon Echo Land Trust’s Trek. I do, however, remember this–it was chilly that first time. I also remember some of the folks I hiked up to our location at the summit with–including JoAnne Diller, Carol Sudduth and Sara Stockwell. And then, at some point  in the future my position was switched to the summit of Southwest Ridge and I’ve been there every since–along with my pal in crime, Marita.

l1-me 4 (1)

And so it was that this morning she and I packed as much as we could into our backpacks and extra bags as we started up the trail at 7.

l2-into the fog

The fog had been so thick as I’d driven across the Moose Pond Causeway of Route 302, that I couldn’t even see the mountain. As we started up the trail, the morning light added a ghostly effect.

l3-web 1

At viewpoints along the way, the mountains beyond remained invisible, but . . . we could see the work of others.

l4-web 2

Webs decorated branches like Christmas ornaments decorate trees.

l7a-following the loons

Despite the fog, we easily followed the hiking loon up the trail,

l7-breaking into the sunlight

and eventually broke through into the sun.

l8-looking westward

As we continued to climb, we looked back, but our view was limited . . .

l9-islands among the sea of clouds

to mountaintops that looked like islands poking above a sea of clouds.

l9a-teepee and islands in background

Finally, we reached our destination–just below the teepee at the summit of Southwest Ridge.

l10-rest area 1

It was there that we set up our rest area with an assortment of goodies.

l12-Maine to China

Some were quite local, like the salsa from Windham, Maine, apples from Five Fields Farm in Bridgton, hot pepper jelly from Massachusetts and coffee mug filled with Dreamlands coffee by Magnolia Coffee of North Carolina, which benefits Five Kezars Watershed Association in North Waterford. (Judy Lynne–I believe you know the origin of my coffee thermos. I’m still using it every day.)

l13-me 1

While the temperature had cooled off a bit at the end of August, this mid-September day was hot and muggy–especially if one was hiking. But, we were ready to greet our guests  with a smile and plenty of food. Our hope was that they’d gobble it all up.

l14-Marita

Of course, being on the Southwest Ridge, one must look the part.

l15-young hikers

Slowly our guests trickled up–full of smiles despite the heat.

l18-family time

Our hikers for the six mile trek included families and friends, and even one dog.

l16-mountain islands 1

Ever so slowly, the sun began to break through the sea of clouds.

l17-mountain islands disappearing

Suddenly, as if in a poof, the mountains and lakes came into view.

l20-view from main summit, Kezar Pond, Mt Wash in clouds

After several hours, the Sweep came through and it was time for us to pack up and move on. And so we did–hiking across to the main summit, where the western views showed that Mount Washington was still in hiding.

l22-Jon

It was at the summit that we met up with Loon Echo’s stewardship manager, Jon Evans, whose work we greatly appreciate.

l23-Paul

His partner in crime was Loon Echo’s biologist, Paul Miller. Today, Paul taught us a new word: crepitation–the snapping or crackling sounds some grasshoppers make with their wings as they fly.

l24-Moose Pond 1

After chatting with them for a few minutes, we continued on across the ridge line, going backwards or so it felt for often we hike in the opposite direction. Just before reaching the point that the Bald Peak trail takes a sharp right hand turn downward, we paused among the pines to take in the view of Moose Pond and the causeway below.

l25-Marita in split rock

Rather than turn down at the Bald Peak junction, we continued on. At the North Ridge, we passed through one of our favorite parts (though like I said to Marita–every part along this mountain is my favorite), passing through the narrow split in the granite.

l26-Shawnee Peak summit 1

Finally, we reached the summit of Shawnee Peak Ski Area where we paused at the last rest stop to enjoy some watermelon slices.

l26-slowly descending

And then it was time to descend along the ski trails, first via the Main and then the Pine, traversing as we went to take the pressure off our knees.

l27-painted lady 1

It was there that the goldenrod grew and we admired the Painted Ladies seeking nourishment.

l28-painted lady 2

Though they look similar to the regal monarchs, we noted their characteristics–the painted ladies having forewings that are mostly orange, highlighted with black and spotted white. Their undersides really tell the story for they feature shades of brown, tan and white, with prominent veins, and row of blackish-blue spots along the margin.

l29-framing camp

Eventually, we left the flower zone as we continued down on grass. The lower we descended, the more our camp came obscurely into view. It’s framed in this photo, but unless you know it, you may not see it.

l30-water snake 1

At the ski area, we helped ourselves to a free Allagash and lunch, then sat on the lawn to chat with friends who’d either volunteered their time or biked 100 miles (Go Alanna!).

We had one other visitor–a young water snake that seemed to have lost its way from the pond.

By the time we left in the late afternoon, we were tired, sweaty and stinky, but happy for the honor of serving as sherpas to haul food and set up the rest area in this annual event that helps protect the lands around us and those who live here–whether they be loons, painted ladies or water snakes.

Congratulations Loon Echo Land Trust on another successful Trek.

 

Homecoming Mondate

After months of waiting and an arduous drive, we arrived at our camp on Moose Pond late yesterday afternoon. It’s that anticipation following months away and the five mile road trip that always make the final turn into the driveway so sweet.

m-night sky 2

We unpacked and put everything away, ordered a pizza because our Sunday night tradition of making our own takes a hiatus for a couple of months, and then settled on the porch as dark clouds gathered, their hues enhanced by the water’s reflection. And then we spotted a friend from across the pond jumping into his boat and pulling away from his dock. He raced south and we thought perhaps he hadn’t seen the lightning that was visible to us. Suddenly the wind increased dramatically and then the rain came. We moved indoors and checked windows and looked to our south and assumed Brian’s boat was fast enough to get beyond the storm. When the rain began to teem, we realized he hadn’t outrun it for two boats came flying back into the North Basin, his being one. We knew he was soaked and probably had a story to tell. Such is life on the pond, where our focus switches from world news to the news of our immediate world.

m-loon off the dock

And so we awoke this morning to the announcer of said news–a pair of common loons calling. We answered as we headed outdoors.

m-robber fly 1

Of course, being back meant we had chores to complete, but most of them were outside. I finished mine first and so I began taking inventory–greeting old friends I hadn’t seen in a while. The first was a robber fly posed by the porch door.

m-robber fly side view

Its compound eyes aren’t as large as those of a dragonfly, but still . . . they are large enough and allow this mighty predator to spot and catch prey more than a foot away in a split second. I wanted to see it, but wasn’t privy. Instead, I admired his body features.

m-flesh fly

Then I headed to the pond. My first find beside the water was a flesh fly–and I wondered what dead insects his bright red eyes may have feasted upon.

m-familiar bluet 2

More to my liking was the sight of a male familiar bluet damselfly. I can’t see enough of these and I think it has something to do with the color blue–especially when it contrasts against a dark green leaf.

m-chalk-fronted corporal 1

As I stood there, a perennial favorite appeared. It seems the chalk-fronted corporal dragonfly and I like the same habitats for wherever I go, at least a half dozen are also there. Perhaps that means that wherever I go, I’m always at home.

m-lancet 1

And then another dragonfly caught my eye and I recognized it as another familiar friend,  a lancet clubtail. But what surprised me was that a damselfly, possibly a familiar bluet, was exploring the underside of the same leaf.

m-lancet 2

That is . . . until I looked again.

m-lancet 3

And noticed the bend in the damselfly’s abdomen.

m-lancet 5

And watched the dragonfly move the damsel body with one wing attached and another dropped.

m-lancet 7

Ever so slowly . . .

m-lancet 8

the damselfly . . .

m-lancet 9

disappeared . . .

m-lancet 10

until only a bit of its abdomen,

m-lancet 11

a leg part and the wing were left. Wow. I felt privileged to have observed such a meal. Of course, I was sad for the damselfly, but also thankful for the energy it passed on to the dragonfly.

m-loon in Sweden, Maine 1

At last, my guy’s chores were completed. We pulled out the kayaks and paddled north to Sweden. Sweden, Maine, that is. And in the shallows of the northern-most end of the pond (Moose Pond is actually nine-plus miles long), we again met the loons.

m-eastern kingbird

A trillion damselflies and dragonflies darted about, some in mating position. And the kingbirds hovered above the water before making quick dips to retrieve insects.

m-rose pogonia driftwood garden 1

We floated around and noted that the water was deep enough for us to get almost to the very tip of the pond. At the same time, the old stump islands delighted us with their gardens.

m-rose pogonia 1

And within some of those islands another delight–rose pogonia in bloom.

m-looking south 2

At last it was time to leave our favorite section of the pond where all kinds of life thrived, knowing that we’ll return time and time again.

m-red winged blackbird

As we moved along, a red-winged blackbird began to turn circles above us–squawking as he showed off his shoulder patches in glaring scarlet form. He landed on a cattail and we paddled on, assuming there was a nest nearby. We also spotted Mrs. Red-Winged, who chose to go grocery shopping at that time. Even though we were headed away, the Mr. came after us one more time, so close that we could almost touch him. He was definitely a good dad–protecting the nest and/or young.

m-painted turtle 1

Continuing south, a painted turtle surprised us by staying atop a rock until we passed by, as if he wanted to welcome us back (or so we believed–after all, this is our story).

m-camp 1

A couple of hours later and we returned to camp sweet camp, to this place that has marked many occasions in our journey together since we first started dating in 1986.

Camp will always represent a homecoming to us, made especially sweet when we can share a Mondate here as we rediscover the world that surrounds it.

 

 

 

Slog Through The Bog

She said she’d call a half hour before heading to the bog so I should probably sleep in my hiking clothes and boots. And she was right! I was just about to take a bagel out of the toaster oven when the phone rang. “We’re going to the bog at 9:00. Can you join us?” Thirty-five minutes later I pulled into her driveway, excited because it was a chance to explore Brownfield Bog with about-to-become Maine Master Naturalist Kathy McGreavy and her daughter, Dr. Bridie McGreavy.

b-bog from road

From there we drove to Bog Road and parked at the beginning since conditions were dicey, but also because it gave us a chance to walk and listen–almost immediately we heard a barred owl. And then the warblers greeted us.

b-sky and water

Brownfield Bog, aka Major Gregory Sanborn WMA, encompasses 6,000 acres of wetland. And on any given day, the sky tells its story above and below. Of course, we thought we were going to get poured upon when we first met, but the mist soon evaporated and sun warmed us enough that we shed a few layers.

b-common yellow throat 2

The initial stretch of our journey found us moving at a fast pace, but once we reached the second gate,

b-Bridie McGreavy

our inclination was to slow down.

b-Kathy

To stop, look and listen.

b-common yellow throat 1

The chestnut streaks on the yellow warbler matched the emerging red maple leaves.

b-oriole 2

And I can never spend enough time with a Baltimore oriole, forever wowed by its color.

b-oriole singing

And its voice.

b-catbird

Birds flitted about and flew overhead, but occasionally one, such as this catbird, paused and posed.

b-willows and birches

Most of the songbirds were feeding and perhaps nesting in the land of the willows, birch and maples.

b-willow pine cone gall caused by midge

Others also sought homes here, like the gall gnat midge that overwintered in a pinecone-like structure created with leaves by the reaction to a chemical released by the larva. I’m forever amazed about how nature works.

b-song sparrow

Eventually, we followed the song sparrows as they led us down the cobbled road.

b-road 1

The current was strong in places . . .

b-deep water

and water deep.

b-scenery1

But the views . . .

b-Pleasant Mtn and Bog

worth every step.

b-maple samara

Sometimes, our focus was upon the ground, where we spotted a few small red maple samaras.

b-coyote scat

And scat–including this double offering of coyote deposits.

b-coyote scat toenail

And among it–a toe nail first spied by Bridie. I chuckled to myself when we got down to look at this, for Bridie first introduced me to the finer qualities of scat when she worked at Lakes Environmental Association. She also taught me to track mammals. And . . . the crème de la crème–to sniff fox pee. Ah, the delights we have shared–they are many and having an opportunity to walk with her today brought them all flooding back.

b-ribbon snake

We decided to put our blinders on so we could continue without any pauses, but then Bridie’s eagle eyes zeroed in on movement. Her mom and I saw the movement as well, but we had to really focus in order to find the creator among the dried vegetation.

b-ribbon 2

And we did–a ribbon snake, who happens to be a great reason for preserving this property because its a species of special concern in Maine.

b-Pleasant Mtn

At times, Pleasant Mountain was the featured backdrop.

b-Canada geese

And Canada geese swam in the foreground.

b-beaver mound

Everywhere, beaver works were obvious and scent mounds growing in size.

b-oak 1 (1)

After a couple of hours, we reached our turn-around point at the old oak tree.

b-beaver lodge

As we looked across, one of the beaver lodges stood above the water level.

b-bog 3

But Kathy and Bridie both reminded me that another was still submerged due to this spring’s high water level.

b-cuckoo nest remnants

Finally, we did our best to bee-line back. But Kathy showed me one more great find that had been pointed out to her by Mary Jewett last year–the straggly stick structure of a cuckoo’s nest. Certainly worth a wonder. (The other wonder–when we first arrived at the bog this morning, Mary was just leaving.)

b-spoon jar 2

Our entire morning had been worth a wonder and then another occurred when we returned to Kathy’s house. While I said goodbye to Bridie, who is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Communication in the Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of Maine, her mom slipped into the house. When Kathy returned, she handed me this spoon pot filled with daffodils from her garden. She’s a potter and owner of Saco River Pottery. Though I love to give her fine art as presents, I only own one other piece. This one now stands proudly on our kitchen counter, holding the utensils as it was intended. It will forever remind me of the McGreavys and the day I first saw a dragonfly emerge from its exoskeleton–at the bog with Bridie; and the day I spent with Kathy as I interviewed her for a magazine article about creating pottery–and she let me try my hand at the wheel; and so many other memories of time spent with these ladies, but especially today–for the opportunity to slog through the bog with the two of them.

 

A Good Mourning Mondate

A good mourning? Indeed it was. Yesterday we celebrated Easter and the resurrection. Today we celebrated an opportunity to climb our favorite mountain.

p-Mountain stream

And so we parked the truck at Loon Echo Land Trust’s Ledges Trail parking lot on Mountain Road in Denmark and then walked 1.5 miles back to the trailhead we chose to make our ascension up Pleasant Mountain. Along the way, mountain streams quickly moved the meltwater downward toward Moose Pond, where it will mingle with the lake water and eventually find its way to another stream and then the Saco River and finally out to sea. And whether via future raindrops or snowflakes or even fog, traces of the same water molecules may again find their way down these streams.

p-bald peak trail

At last we reached the trail head for the Bald Peak Trail, where less than a week ago Marita and I had to climb over a tall snowbank to reach the path.

p-ice chunk

As we climbed and paused to admire the water flowing beside us, I noted differences between last week and today, including the shrinking of an ice chunk tucked under a rock. Ever so slowly, it joined the forces of downward motion, as if letting go was meant to happen with care.

p-Needles Eye

And then at the spur, my guy and I turned left to Needles Eye. Some ice and snow still covered parts of the path, but it was much easier to negotiate than last week. And he did. I followed him, but didn’t need to step into the chasm since I’d just been there. (wink) Instead, I climbed below to try to capture the world above.

p-returning from Needles Eye

And then I rejoined my guy and wished I’d taken a photo of this section last week for today’s conditions didn’t reflect the same treacherous stretch Marita and I worked our way across.

p-snow on trail

We continued up the trail, where snow and ice were more prevalent. Though we had micro-spikes in our pack, we managed to avoid wearing them. And only once did I completely sink in–just below Big Bald Peak. I actually went up to my thigh, so deep was the snow. And cold. But I was hot, so it felt refreshing.

p-pileated scat

But before we reached the sharp left turn on Big Bald Peak, we noticed tons of chips at the base of a hemlock tree. Such a discovery invited a closer look–and I spied the largest pileated woodpecker scat I’d ever seen. Later on, when we were almost at the Fire Warden’s Trail, we saw two hikers on their way down and I quickly realized one was my dear friend Joan–another lover of scat and all things mammalian. Of course I told her what to look for as she and her hiking friend headed down the Balk Peak Trail. And I just received an e-mail from her: “Deb and I saw it! It was huge! She was so excited to see all the little ant bodies!” Indeed.

p-Mt Wash from top of Bald Peak Trail

The wind blew fiercely when we reached Big Bald, where white and red pines framed a view of another big bald–Mount Washington in the distance.

p-view from lunch rock 2 (1)

Not far along the trail, we found lunch rock in a section that offered some protection from the gusty wind. It was the perfect place to enjoy our PB&Js followed by Cadbury Digestives (thanks sis).

p-view from lunch rock

Through the trees, we could again see the mighty mountain to our west.

p-blueberries 1

And at our feet–blueberry buds galore. My guy began to see blue where no blue yet exists–the promise was enough.

p-along ridge line

Walking along the ridge line was like a walk in the park. At times, where the sun didn’t hit the northwest sides of ravines, we found more snow, but more often than not, the trail was neither icy nor muddy.

p-wood frogs

It was in one of the ravines, however, that we heard a song of spring–the wruck of the wood frogs singing from a vernal pool located below. A first for us this year and we were happy to be in the presence of such a sound.

p-fire tower 1

It seemed like in no time, we approached the main summit where the iconic fire tower still stands tall.

p-summit 6 (1)

We took in the view toward Brownfield and beyond.

p-summit toward Washington

And again looked toward Mount Washington.

p-Mt Wash1

Even upon the mighty one, we could see the snow has melted gradually. But our stay wasn’t any longer than a few minutes for the wind was hat-stealing strong and I had to chase mine.

p-hiking down ledges

And so down Ledges Trail we descended in order to complete our loop. Here we rarely saw signs of snow or ice.

p-ledge view 1

The southern basin of Moose Pond stretched before us, most of its surface still covered with the grainy gray ice of spring. Any day now, ice out will be declared, late as it is.

p-tent caterpillars

It was on the ledges that I noticed tent caterpillars already at work.

p-red maple 1

Thankfully, there were more pleasant sights to note, including the first flowers of red maples.

p-striped maple buds

And along the trail below the ledges, plenty of striped maples showed off their swelling buds.

p-acorn

Last summer, the oaks produced a mast crop and those not consumed by the squirrels and turkeys have reached germination. This one made a good choice about a place to lay down its roots–hope burst forth.

p-beaked hazelnut 2

As we neared the end of the trail, I began to notice the beaked hazelnuts and savored  their tiny blooms of magenta ribbons. And we could hear spring peepers. So many good sights and sounds along our journey.

p-mourning cloak 1

On each trail we hiked today, we were also blessed with butterfly sightings. It’s always a joy to see these beauties, who actually overwinter as adults in tree cavities, behind loose bark, or anywhere they can survive out of the wind and without being consumed by predators. They survive by cryopreservation–the process of freezing biological material at extreme temperatures. In Britain, their common name is Camberwell Beauty. In North America, we know them as Mourning Cloaks–so named for their coloration that resembled the traditional cloak one used to wear when in mourning.

I think I may have to stick with Camberwell Beauty for a name, given those velvety brown wings accented by the line of black with azure dots and accordian yellow edge. What’s to mourn about it?

So we didn’t. Instead, we enjoyed a good morning Mondate–and afternoon.

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.

 

A Wiser Soul

It all began when I stepped out the back door just before six o’clock this morning. From the treeline I heard a barred owl call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” I could have returned to bed then, happy for the opportunity to hear such a wise one.

n-Northern Flicker

Not long after that, as I passed by a window in the butler’s pantry (no, we don’t have a butler, just an old farmhouse), a splash of red on the ground drew my focus–a Northern flicker had stopped by to feed. Notice the subtle curve of its bill? The better to dig up ants and beetles, as is the custom of this ground-feeding woodpecker.

n-water coursing 2

An hour or so later, I met my friend, Marita, for a hike up the Bald Peak trail at Pleasant Mountain. Our destination–not the summit as we had a time constraint–but rather, Needles Eye.

n-beside the brook

Our climb included frequent stops at vantage points to take in the sound and beauty of the place.

n-water art 2

The flow of the living water and its ever changing presentation mesmerized us much as leaping flames do.

n-water art

It spiraled over the rocks like a sculpture in fluid motion.

n-ice hiding

And while so much poured forth and wound its way down the mountain stream,

n-ice at Needles Eye

some remained frozen in time.

n-crossing toward Needles Eye

At the sign pointing toward Needles Eye, we crossed a stream and then worked our way across the short spur to the narrow formation of rocks that water threads through.

I should qualify that. Marita sauntered across the ice and snow, seeking the wee bit of dirt and leaves at the edge of the trail. It’s a steep edge and even on a summer day, I pick my way carefully over rocks and tree roots. Today, my brain suggested I call it good and sit still. But, she’s a good friend, and realizing my trepidation (I’d forewarned her), she spoke to me calmly about each foot placement, and even turned back to demonstrate exactly what I should do, waited patiently as my brain shouted, “Don’t do it!” and my heart said, “I think you can, I think you can,” and offered a hand when necessary.

n-marita 3 (1)

Together, we did it. This photo is Marita’s as I didn’t want to change my camera lens once we stood in the chasm and watched the water fall.

n-inside the needle

On a summer day, it’s a delightfully damp place to rest before continuing up the mountain. Sometimes, there’s only a hint of a stream. Today, it was equally enchanting–perhaps we should have bowed in respect of the beauty and power before us. And just maybe we did.

n-climbing down 2

Returning on the spur, Marita again came to my aid. And then we hiked a bit further up until time forced us to head down again.

n-morning light

The descent seemed easier as the snow had softened a bit in the two hours we’d spent enjoying each other’s company and filling our senses with the sights and sounds surrounding us.

n-vp visit

Back at home, I was pulled out the door again and made my way to the vernal pool. Ever so gradually, the ice is melting.

n-crack across vp

And across the center, a crack divided it in two from east to west, while a line between the sunshine and shade completed the quadrants from north to south.

n-snowfleas 2

Piles of pepper, aka springtails, floated on melted water atop the ice.

n-snowfleas

Others clustered on the open water at the pool’s edge. Other than that, I could see no action. Every day, however, will bring something new so I know I’ll check back frequently.

n-our house:field

Leaving the pool behind, I headed toward the area where I’d heard the barred owl several hours earlier–and I called. It didn’t respond. But, I reminded myself that this morning’s greeting was enough.

n-crocuses1

Returning home again, I couldn’t resist the crocuses that I first noticed yesterday. In the past few days, the snow has receded quickly and with today’s light, these spring beauties finally opened.

n-first daffy--a double

And then, in the garden beside the house, I found one more surprise–a double daffodil blossoming under some leaves. In this season of watching with wonder, my heart was full.

n-Marita

This day will stick with me for its offerings and I’ll be forever grateful to Marita . . .

n-marita 4 (1)

for without her help, I wouldn’t have had the gumption to stand in the Needles Eye. She is a kind and funny and wise(r) soul. And I am blessed by our friendship.

P.S. Two minutes after posting this blog, a woodchuck ran across the deck–headed toward the barn, of course.

 

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).

l-bushwhack 1

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.

l-spring tails1

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

l-pileated hole

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.

l-pileated scat-seeds and ant

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.

l-red maple bull's eye

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.

l-crustose, liverwort and moss

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.

l-shield lichens on rock

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.

l-hair lichen and beard lichen

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.

l-lichen garden

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

l-frullania 1

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.

l-frullania asagrayana 1

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

l-spirea:steeplebush

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

l-bracken fern1

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

l-speckled 3

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.

l-speckled buds and leaf scar

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.”

l-Pleasant Mtn in background

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.

Beware the Ides of March

As I write, snow flurries float earthward landing atop the almost two feet of snow we received yesterday. Perhaps I should have heeded the soothsayer who warned Julius Caesar to “Beware the ides of March,” in Act 1, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s play about the Roman politician. 

But I didn’t. I stepped out the door this morning and took my friend, Judy Lynne, with me for today is her birthday, thus making March 15 a day of celebration rather than one to be dreaded.  

As for “ides,” that word refers to the day in the middle of the month. Every month has a day that divides it in half, therefore, every month has an ides. But still, in the play it sounds so ominous–and is eventually.

And as for Judy, she missed the blizzard (and all our winter weather) because she teaches in China. And she is not at all like the Roman soldiers. Rather, Judy embraces every person and critter around the world and sheds love wherever she goes. 

p-porky

Since she can’t be in western Maine to enjoy the results of a late season storm, she’ll have to travel vicariously–beginning with the porcupine who didn’t let a little snow stop him from plowing through. Those of us who know Judy travel in a similar manner as she shows us parts  of the world we may never actually visit. 

p-Mount Wash

The view of Mount Washington will help her get her bearings. It is this and Pleasant Mountain and our orientation to them on the horizon that help us recognize our place in the world.

p-snowshoe hare

I didn’t expect to see many tracks this morning, but was pleasantly surprised. Besides the porcupine, I saw deer, mouse, red and gray squirrel, chipmunk and these. I can’t give you lobsters for your birthday, Judy, but I can give you the lobster-like prints of snowshoe hare. 

p-AMC bridge

I often don’t know where I’m headed when I walk out the door, and today was no different. This journey took me into Pondicherry Park where I stopped by the AMC bridge and thought about Judy’s ability to cross bridges with people of other cultures, no matter how deep the snow may be.

p-AMC bench

Today, however, if she wanted to pause after making such a crossing, she’d need a shovel, such was the depth on the bench by the bridge.

p-willet brook from bench site

Together, we headed down the trail to the viewpoint beside Willet Brook. Judy is an artist and I had visions of her recreating this scene of winter snow and spring ice. This picture of transitions reminded me of the changes in her life as she interviews for jobs in other countries.

p-Willet 2

The change will be difficult as she leaves behind friendships formed in the last five years, but I trust in reflection she’ll know she’s making the right choice.

p-false tinderconk

As I snowshoed, I found a few things I knew, but didn’t necessarily understand. Bumps in the road you might say, Jude, or at least on the spore surface of a false tinderconk.

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Because she loves design and has an insatiable curiosity, I knew she’d enjoy taking a look at the shield lichens, both hammered and common green.

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And that would have brought her to notice something else on the bark. She’d have laughed as I stuck my chin against the tree to get a closer look at the silky-hair cocoon embedded on the lichen. Perhaps a tussock moth?

p- Hooded Merganzer

As I wound my way back, I checked Willet Brook again–and spied a hooded merganser swimming away, its crest described as a hammerhead. Hammershield, hammerhead. Methinks Judy will nail down a new job soon.

p-beech bud breaking

And then there was the beech bud already breaking–I’ve seen this happen in previous years; a few scales bursting open before their time.  For Judy, it would have turned into a science lesson for her Chinese high school students. And perhaps a drawing lesson for art class.

p-deer, maple leaves on ground

Throughout the park, I didn’t roam alone for deer tracks were obvious everywhere and I saw three of the creators. But it was the leaves atop the snow that made me pause and I’m sure Judy would have done the same.

p-maple leaves

Occasionally I spot a single withered maple leaf on a tree, but this tree was covered and it made no sense. Maples aren’t typically marcescent–they don’t retain their leaves like beech and oak. It wasn’t until I stepped back and looked at the tree that I finally understood; this was a branch that had fallen when the tree was still in leaf and the deer browsed the tips of some branches, though I trust they didn’t find much nutrition for they moved on. I laughed again and heard Judy roar with me.

p-deer crossing stream:watercress

At the stream below the spring, I noticed the deer had walked right through the water to get to the other side.

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I couldn’t tell for sure, but trust they sampled some wild watercress that grows freely there. And I thought of the foods Judy has sampled during her time in China and other travels.

p-deer crossing bridge

Not all of the deer chose to walk through the water. Some actually crossed the bridge. It struck me that they learned to use it to get to the other side. Judy has learned so much about herself and the world as she’s crossed bridges I’ll never set foot on.

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The best bridge of all awaited, its roof supporting the weight of the snow. This bridge was built by many to honor a community member, whose wife just happened to be the reason Judy and I met 25 years ago. Wow–it’s been that long since we practiced breathing techniques in Lamaze class .

p-snow on Dunning bridge

One of the cool things this morning because I was the first one there, the peaks and valleys left behind by the storm. If she’d been here, Judy would have taken the very same photo.

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I went to the bridge to see the other ducks that frequent this location. The sight of the snow-topped rocks and vegetation made me think of frosting and guess who also teaches a cooking class–yup, Judy.

p-ducks 4, black:mallard hybrid?

Within the mix, what I think are two black ducks. I’m still learning my birds, but it did look like one may be a hybrid–a cross between a black duck and a mallard. Of course, I could be wrong on all accounts. No matter–what does matter is that they all get along and that’s what is important to Judy. She’s also a great believer in random acts of kindness and has performed so many good deeds for others.

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I was almost home when I saw some color in the gray birches–more color than the berries being eaten.

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A flock of robins dined on the “junk” food of the bird world–bittersweet berries.

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After one drank some snow, it showed off its rufous-colored breast, reminiscent of Judy’s red hair.

This one posed atop the snow-covered branch seemed a mighty fine representation of our move from one season to the next. (Or might it be one country to the next, Jude?)

In the end, today’s journey reminded me once again to Be Aware–the eyes of March. And be thankful.

I am thankful for my friend, Judy Lynne, born on the Ides of March, but not actually reading this until the day after her birthday. I’ll be forever in awe of her.

The Bears of Mount Tire’m

Mary Holland posted in her Naturally Curious blog that black bears are emerging now and it’s time to bring in the bird feeders. Maybe so, but today surely didn’t feel like a good day to give up a cozy spot and head out in search of food that doesn’t exist because the snow is crusted and two feet deep.

Winds were out of the northwest at about 18 miles per hour. The temperature was 8˚ that felt like -10˚ or lower. But sunshine. We had plenty of sunshine. So maybe the bears are waking from their long winter’s nap.

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Post lunch, my guy and I decided to don micro-spikes because of the snow conditions and ascend the trail to the summit of Mount Tire’m in Waterford. Only a few seconds after starting up the trail, we spied downed hemlock branches and knew one of the critters that frequents these woods.

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As I looked on the stonewall beside the trail, I could see that the porcupine had left its own trail while it came and went. We wondered where it might be, but when I turned and looked back down to the road, I saw that the trail continued that way and have a feeling that Porky lives under one of the nearby barns, much the same as our local Porky lives under our barn.

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Our hike to the summit was brisk because it was so cold. Every once in a while, my guy paused, including beside this newly excavated pileated woodpecker hole. If I were the local chickadees, I’d choose this one tonight and gather all my friends and relatives within since it was deeper than many.

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There were the fire tenders nearby–birch bark and false tinder conks–so keeping the home fire lit should help keep them warm.

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Over halfway to the summit, there’s a brief opening to Keoka Lake and Streaked Mountain in the offing. We could see a wee bit of open water below, and know that despite this weekend’s weather, change is in the air.

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It seemed like we reached the summit in a matter of minutes, so cold was it. But, we were out of the way of the wind and the southerly exposure meant less snow.

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We looked to the left, with Keoka Lake below. And behind the single pine, Bear and Hawk Mountains.

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To our right and through the pines, we could see the snow covered ski trails at Shawnee Peak Ski Area on Pleasant Mountain.

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Straight below, Waterford City, Bear Pond and Long Lake beyond.

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This hike is never complete without a visit to the rock castle hidden in a hemlock stand behind the summit. It was a favorite for our sons when they were youngsters and we still like to pay homage.

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Life on a rock has long been exemplified here, with crustose lichens topped by mosses that grow among the cracks, where pine needles and seeds gather.

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The result– dirt so birch trees may grow out of the side of the boulders.

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When one visits the castle, it’s important to check out the caves because you never know . . . t-me-2-1

who might emerge.

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We decided to bushwhack on our way down. Turns out, Ms. Holland was right. We met a bear in the woods today.

 

Progressive Lunch Mondate

Today’s hike found us climbing one of our favorite mountains in western Maine. We love the fact that we can ascend along various trails and change it up if we want with up and back routes, circular routes and ridge-line routes.

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Since we chose the Southwest Ridge Trail, we drove to the parking area on Denmark Road. Ours was the only vehicle, but trail conditions and a single Stabilicers™ ice cleat indicated many others had traveled this way recently. As for those ice cleats, my guy informed me he’s sold tons this winter and he has STABILicers™ Powder Straps for sale as well, so they don’t end up as trail sign decorations.

p-deer-skipper-and-doe

The beginning of the trail was mostly covered in frozen snow. Immediately we wondered who had used the trail more–humans or deer? The imprints of the latter spoke of timing. The smaller skipper on the left, must have moved this way after a recent warm day and the adult, which I suspected was a doe, earlier when temperatures were colder and the snow firmer. With temps a bit lower than yesterday, we found it rather firm for our purposes.

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At least seven different deer runs crossed the trail between the parking area and first ledge.

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Being on the southwestern side of the mountain, the snow level was significantly less than elsewhere and one run was completely open to the leaf litter, making it easier for food foraging.

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Conditions kept changing for us as well. A friend from Florida had been asking about signs of spring, and this trail certainly hinted at a change of seasons.

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In fact, we experienced a bit of every season, from snow and ice to leaves, mud and water.

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About an hour into our climb, we found two rocks meant for a pause. And so we did.

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Lunch Course Number One: Pineland Farms Creamery’s Salsa Jack cheese on crackers.

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Our break gave us time to take in the view toward the White Mountains where we’d hiked yesterday. Though our visibility was rather good for a cloudy day, it was obvious that those mountains were again in the mist.

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A bit further on, the bright orange-red fruit clusters of staghorn sumac brightened our day. As vibrant as they are, most of the pompom fruits remained, waiting for songbirds, turkeys and grouse. Apparently, they are not a preferred food source and will often remain until late winter. Though I’ve never tried it, the crushed fruit can be used to make a lemonade-like tea. And the tannin-rich bark was used to tan hides.

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The “staghorn” part of the common name derived from the fact that the stem is covered in reddish-brown hairs and features a manner of growth that somewhat resembles the velvet-covered horns (antlers) of a stag (male deer).

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We solved the problems of the world as we continued up, all the while looking down to choose the right foot placement so we were both surprised when we realized we’d already reached the teepee at the summit of the trail.

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Lunch Course Number Two: Black Bean Soup.

The recipe was shared with me eons ago by my friend Carissa. When our sons were young, they loved to help me make it. And I was thrilled when our oldest asked for the recipe last week. I thought you might appreciate it.

Black Bean Soup

1 lb plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise

1 large onion, halved and cut into wedges

1 lb carrots, peeled and quartered

3 lg garlic cloves, chopped

1 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp dried oregano

4 C vegetable broth

3 1/4 C cooked black beans or two 15oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained

Combine first six ingredients and roast at 350˚ for one hour, stirring occasionally. Set carrots aside. Purée other roasted veggies. Pour some broth into roasting pan and scrape up bits. Hold aside one cup beans. Purée other beans, using some broth if necessary. Chop carrots. Heat everything together. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a dollop of plain yogurt.

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We enjoyed the view and talked about the Hike and Bike Trek that Loon Echo Land Trust hosts each year. This is the spot that my friend, Marita, and I spend the day at as we perform our hostess duties for the six-mile hikers.

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Before we began our descent, we took one last look at the teepee, created years ago by the late George Sudduth, director/owner of Wyonegonic Camps, the oldest camp for girls in America.

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Back down we went, carefully picking our way. We were actually surprised at how quickly we finished, the climb down not nearly as treacherous as at least one of us had anticipated.

We’re expecting a Nor’easter overnight into tomorrow and hope it’s an all snow event (despite the prediction for freezing rain and sleet after the snow) because we aren’t ready to give up winter yet.

Lunch Course Number Three: Two Dark Chocolate McVitie’s Digestives when we reached the truck. A perfect ending to a Progressive Lunch Mondate on Pleasant Mountain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final(ly) Mondate

With lunch packed, donning new hiking boots for him and longjohns for me, my guy and I climbed the Ledges Trail up Pleasant Mountain today.

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Our destination: the main summit.

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The bright blue trail blazes shone brilliantly in the winter landscape, some decorated by those who’d passed this way before us.

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We gave thanks to them and snowshoers, who’d packed the trail down, which meant we could get away with micro-spikes. It felt more like a walk in the park. We love it when conditions are such and watching our every step on slippery leaves or rocks is not a worry.

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All along, deer tracks criss-crossed over the “human” route, creating their own trails from shelter to food.

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A porcupine had done the same, its trough at least six inches deep.

p-brook

Though no water flowed through the streams that the trail crosses, snow created the effect of fluid motion and offered a promise for the future.

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As I looked down, the papery fruit of a hop hornbeam reminded me to look up.

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And right there, the tree showed off its shaggy bark. With that came a recollection of the first time I’d met said tree–it may have been this very one for it was on this trail many years ago.

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I knew I’d spent too much time looking about when in his smart aleck way, my guy pointed to a rock. “Tall rock,” he said. “What’s growing on it?” I asked. “Snow,” he responded.

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But still, he was the one to notice the beech contortionist.

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And another that demonstrated the circle of life.

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And then there was Beech Man–his mouth agape with laughter . . . and just maybe wonder.

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We paused briefly at the Ledges overlook and then continued up, our eyes focused more on the sky than anything else at that point.

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My least favorite section of trail, where the rock face sometimes makes me pause and contemplate my next step, provided for an easy ascent given the conditions.

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It seemed like no time had passed when we reached the top and we felt like we’d missed parts of the trail, everything being different with the new season.

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We had the summit to ourselves. My guy immediately found lunch rock–and the view.

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I pulled out our sandwiches and surprised him with two beverages–one having found its way into the fridge this past week that spoke to our Colorado connection. We toasted our opportunity to be on top of the world.

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All around us, serene hues of blue and icy gray contrasted with pastels and reflected winter’s enchantment.

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We didn’t stay on top too long as the wind started to pick up. Just below the summit, I spotted another moment of wonder.

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As we continued to climb down, our eyes were again drawn to the sky. “It’s the middle of the day and yet it looks like a sunrise or sunset,” said my guy.

Indeed. The perfect ending to our Mondate. Finally a Mondate. A final Mondate–for 2016, that is.