Happy 7th Birthday to you, wondermyway!

Seven years ago today I gave birth–rather a record at my age. It was February 21, 2015, when I welcomed wondermyway into the world. It’s been quite an adventure that we’ve shared together and one of my favorite things to do each year to celebrate is to take a look back.

As I reviewed this past year, the reality hit home. I’ve written less than half the number of posts of any other year. That all boils down to one thing. Time. There’s never enough. Oh, I’ve taken the photos, and had the adventures, but I haven’t made the time to write about all of them. Sometimes, they sit off to the side in my brain and I think I’ll use some of them together in a cumulative post, and there they sit.

That all said, I’ve had more views and visitors this past year than any other. Views = 24,955; Visitors = 16,994. Followers = 701. And over the course of wondermyway’s lifespan, the blog has received 121,765 hits.

An enormous heart-felt thanks to all who have joined me for any or all of these journeys. I get excited to share with you and love hearing from you.

In case you are wondering, my guy and I did have a Mondate this afternoon–along Bemis River and then up to Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire.

It was here at the falls that we celebrated wondermyway.com with a couple of those Bavarian Haus chocolates we purchased last Monday.

And now for a look at a few excerpts from posts I made during the past year, beginning with March 2021. To read or re-read the entire post, click on the link below each photo.

The Invitation Stands

It took me by surprise, this change of seasons. Somehow I was fooled into thinking winter would hold its grasp for a wee bit longer because I don’t like to let it go.

Even Winter Dark Fireflies, who don’t carry lanterns like their summer cousins, and aren’t even flies as their name suggests (they are beetles), knew what was happening before I did for in their adult form they’d been tucked under bark in recent months, but in a flash are now visible on many a tree trunk as they prepare to mate in a few weeks.

But . . . this spring will be different.

How so? And what invitation still stands? Click on the link under the beetle’s photo to find the answers.

Whispers Along The Trail

“The way to be heard isn’t to shout,” said the Reverend Dr. Sam Wells of St. Martins in the Fields, London. “It’s to whisper.” But who are the whisperers?

Listen for the slightest murmur of Trailing Arbutus’s delicate blossoms beneath its leathery leaves.

Hear also the soft words of a rattlesnake-plantain explaining that its striking veins may suggest “checkered,” but it actually goes by “downy” in common speak.

You’ll have to click on the link under the photo of the Trailing Arbutus flowers to hear what other species had to say.

Surveying the Wildlife of Charles Pond

For the past two weeks at Greater Lovell Land Trust we’ve had the good fortune to conduct a wildlife survey in the waters that surround the newly acquired Charles Pond Reserve in Stow, Maine.

MDIFW maintains a comprehensive database on the distribution of Maine’s amphibians and reptiles, as well as terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates and the data we’ve collected will add to the bigger picture. What we discovered was just as important as what we didn’t find.

The survey began with a day of setting and baiting fifteen traps in the pond and associated rivers. What’s not to love about spending time in this beautiful locale, where on several occasions lenticular clouds that looked like spaceships about to descend greeted us.

Our favorite bird sighting was this bald eagle, who found a silver maple snag at the outlet of Cold River into Charles Pond. I was a wee bit nervous as that was Change The Trap Bait Day, and I had a bag of stinky old sardine cans in my lap as I paddled a kayak.

He was intent, however, on something else and barely gave us a glance.

This story of the survey would not be complete, however, without the absolute best sighting that occurred on the last day. Our mammal observations on almost every trip included a muskrat, plus occasional squirrels, and once a beaver. From our game camera set up at various locations, and from tracks and scat, we also know that coyotes, raccoons, otters, a bobcat and a black bear share this space.

But . . . you’ll have to click on the link under the Bald Eagle photo to figure out what our best sighting was.

The Saga of a Vernal Pool

Warning: Some may find parts of this post disturbing. But it is, after all,  about the circle of life. 

A climbing thermometer in March signaled one thing amidst many others: the time had arrived to check the vernal pool. 

Completely covered with ice at the start of my explorations, I noted puddling on top and knew it was only a matter of days. 

Not wanting to rush the season, though truly I did, I rejoiced when the edges melted because life within would soon be revealed.

And then one day, as if by magic, the ice had completely gone out as we say ‘round these parts. It was early this year–in late March rather than April. That same night I heard the wruck, wrucks of Wood Frogs, always the first to enter the pool. 

The next day he had attracted his she, grasping her in amplexus as is his species’ manner. 

Ah, but how does the story end? Click on the link under the photo to find out.

Consumed by Cicadas

I walked into a cemetery, that place of last rites and rest, looking for life. It should have been a short visit, for finding life in such a location hardly seems possible, but . . . for two hours yesterday I stalked the gravestones and today I returned to the same spot where I once again roamed, and then continued up the road to another that surprised me even more.

Upon the granite wall that surrounded the Hutchins plot, two small, but actually rather large in the insect world, nymphs crawled and paused, crawled and paused. And my heart sang as it does when I realize I’m in the right place at the right time.

Click on the link under the photo to see the story of the Cicadas unfold.

Not Just An Insect

Out of curiosity, and because it’s something I do periodically, I’ve spent the last four days stalking our gardens. Mind you, I do not have a green thumb and just about any volunteer is welcome to bloom, especially if it will attract pollinators.

There were millions of other insects, well, maybe not millions, but hundreds at least, flying and sipping and buzzing and hovering and crawling and even canoodling, the latter being mainly Ambush Bugs with the darker and smaller male atop the female.

But why the title, “Not Just An Insect”? Ahhh, you know what you’ll need to do to find the answer.

A Collection of Mondates

Every Mondate is different, which goes without saying, and the adventure always begins with a question, “What are we going to do today?”

The answer is frequently this, “I don’t know, you pick.”

The instantaneous reply, “I asked first. You need to figure it out.”

We did figure it out. Over and over again. This collection happens to include places that make us happy and many of our family members and just looking back puts a smile on my face. Oh, and the selfie–taken at the same place where we went today–only in September 2021.

Beautiful Maine

A vacation loomed in front of us. Where to go? What to do?

Click on the link, Beautiful Maine, to see what surprises awaited us as we got to know our state a wee bit better.

Pondering the Past at Pondicherry Park

Before today’s deluge began, I slipped into Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, Maine, to fill the innermost recesses of my lungs with November air, and at the same time my brain with memories of so many people who have traveled these trails with me from Ned Allen, former executive director of Bridgton Historical Society, to Loon Echo’s Jon Evans, and Lakes Environmental Association’s Alanna Yanelli and Mary Jewett, and friends and friends and friends, including the late JoAnne Diller, Sue Black, and Jinny Mae. But today’s journey also included memories of one I took two years ago with Becky Cook, who shared her remembrances of growing up along South High Street and romping through these trails as they were part of her backyard. If anyone ever had a sense of this place, it is Becky.

This post is full of information of an historic and natural nature. Go ahead, click on the link above to learn more.

Following the Circle of Life

Upon an aimless journey into our neck of the woods a pattern soon emerged, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Sometimes, it’s best that way. To be present is the key.

Click on the link to find out more about the pattern.

Good Hair Mondate

The temperature dipped overnight and wind picked up out of the WNW but given the destination we had chosen, we knew if we dressed appropriately we’d be fine because we’d be in the woods most of the time, unlike last week’s walk where we were completely exposed to the elements on Popham Beach. That said, it was cold today.

But what could good hair possibly have to do with this Mondate? You’ll have to read it to find out.

The Duck’s Tale

Dear Readers, This post may not be for the faint of heart, but it’s something those of us who track find incredibly exciting as we try to interpret the gory story. Yes, you read that correctly. Blood and guts are to follow. You are now forewarned, and if you decide not to read on, I totally understand.

So how is this stuffed beaver connected to a gory story?

Starring wondermyway, episode 3 on LRTV

Finally, settle into a comfy chair and click on the following link to listen to fourteen minutes of wondermyway: wondermywayIII.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I hope you’ll continue to wonder along with me as I wander through the woods.

Smiling Our Way Through Winter Storm Kenan

Since Kenan hadn’t yet delivered the amount of snow we were hoping for in western Maine, and shoveling seemed like a task best saved for tomorrow, we had time on our hands today. So, what should an antsy couple do, but strap on snowshoes and head out the door. Well, actually, head out the door, and then strap on the snowshoes.

Into Pondicherry Park did we venture, where even the covered bridge couldn’t provide a safe harbor from the flakes that flew sideways on the northwesterly wind.

With that in mind, we began to make a game of noticing how the flakes stuck to the trees, like these filling ridges.

Some were positioned like stacked layers of cotton balls.

Others held on despite the curvature of the trunk.

And still more formed half-hole coverings that turned woodpecker excavations into my third grade recorder (which I still have).

And then we looked for art forms such as this tangle highlighted in white.

And the boardwalk that was almost completely disguised as it snaked through the wetland.

Because we were outdoors we looked for tracks as well, but found only these prints who announced their creators.

And I practiced my snowshoe tightrope crossing–surprising myself with my prowess.

I think you’ll agree that our rosy cheeks tell the story of the stinging snow flakes–so propelled as they were by the biting wind.

At last we returned to the peace of our home and gave thanks for the warmth inside.

And then we received a couple of photos of our oldest son, who found his own way to survive much more snow in Boston.

He’s a Maine boy through and through.

It did our hearts good to know that like us, he was smiling his way through Winter Storm Kenan.

I hope you are as well. It’s almost 8pm here, and the wind speed has increased, and I know many are not as fortunate as we are to find fun in this storm. Wishing you all safety and warmth.

Christmas Bird Count 2021 and the Porcupine Morph

December 28, 2021, 7:13am

Good morning!

As many of you probably know, we are having some light snow at the moment. It looks like the snow will end soon and it is supposed to be a beautiful day today. I encourage you to assess the conditions at your house, and communicate with your co-counters (if you have them) about your comfort level going out. You can start later in the day if you need to.

Mary

Such was the message that Mary Jewett sent out for those of us covering Maine Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count in the Sweden Circle. Referring to Sweden, Maine, that is.

My assignment: Walk the trails in Bridgton’s Pondicherry Park and Lake Environmental Association’s Highland Research Forest, both highlighted in red, and count birds of whatever species presented on this winter day.

And so . . . into the park I went–from the backside because it’s the easiest way for me to access the park from our back door.

Looking about, I thought about Maine Audubon’s Forestry For Maine Birds assessment and how this spot checked off many of the needs noted:

  • Gap in the overstory
  • Trees over 30 feet tall
  • Trees 6 – 30 feet tall
  • Water
  • Some age variety
  • Snags over 6 feet tall
  • Large downed wood

I couldn’t speak for smaller downed wood or leaf litter or saplings, but still, this space is a bird’s paradise and in the spring the amount of song and color and flight bespeaks the wealth this community offers. It’s a wee bit quieter in winter. Or a whole lot quieter.

But quiet can be interrupted and by its chirps I knew a Northern Cardinal was in the neighborhood. His red coat provided such a contrast to the morning’s snowy coating. Notice how he’s all puffed up? That’s because birds can trap their body heat between feathers to stay warm in the winter.

I searched and searched for his Mrs. but never did spy her.

There was a different Mrs. to admire, however. And she stood out from the many as I counted about 43 Mallards all together, and it seemed they were divided almost evenly by gender, but most dabbled along Stevens Brook. I found this Mrs. on Willet Brook, where she was accompanied by her Mr.

Handsome as he was, she followed he in an act of synchronized swimming, for it seemed that with each swivel he took in the water, she did the same.

I walked the trail in slo-mo, listening and watching and hoping for the rare sighting. Other than the Mallards, and Black-capped Chickadees, and Red-Breasted Nuthatches, all was rather quiet.

After a few hours walking through the park and other than the aforementioned, plus a few Bluejays and American Crows, I headed north to Highland Research Forest (HRF) where I was sure a wetland would offer something special.

But first, I decided to treat myself to a visit to a set of trees at HRF known to host a porcupine. Porcupine sightings were hot topics of conversation at our home over the holiday weekend as the one who lives under our barn made its nightly appearance and even attacked a Christmas kissing ball hanging in a Quaking Aspen ten feet from the kitchen door.

In the scene before me at HRF, by the sight of the American Hemlock on the left, I knew porky had done much dining and I could see disturbance on the ground so I scanned the trees in hopes of spying him. I can use the masculine pronoun because it’s the males who occasionally tend to hang out in trees during the day.

A nipped twig dangling in a Striped Maple sapling smack dab in front of my face further attested to the porky’s occupancy of the area.

And under the tree–a display of tracks and scat all not completely covered by the snow that fell earlier in the day.

Porky had posted signs of its presence everywhere, including upon this American Beech. Can you read it?

In his usual hieroglyphics he left this message: I was here.

My heart sang when I saw the pattern of his tooth marks as the lower incisors scraped away at the bark to reach the cambium layer. If you look closely, you’ll begin to see a pattern of five or six scrapes at a time forming almost a triangular pattern. The end of each patch of scrapes is where the upper incisors held firm against the tree and the lower ones met them.

Because I once stood under these trees expounding about how porcupines are known to fall off branches to a group of people who from their location about fifteen feet away told me to be careful because there was one sitting above, I’ve learned to scan first before stepping under.

And to my utmost delight, I spied . . . not a porcupine, but a bird. A bird with a long striped tail.

Brain cramp. Which hawk could it be? Coopers? Goshawk? Rough-legged?

But wait. It’s feet weren’t talon-like as a hawk’s would be.

Feeling confident the porcupine wasn’t in the tree, I walked under and around for a better look and confirmed the identification. On Christmas Bird Counts in the past, I’ve always had brief glimpses of Ruffed Grouses as they explode from their snow roosts in such a manner that it causes my heart to quicken for a second. But here was one sitting in a tree!

Though I could have spent a couple of hours with the grouse, I had a task to complete and so eventually I ventured down to the wetland where nothing spectacular made itself known.

And on to Highland Lake. By then it was early afternoon, and again, it was more of the same to tally on the checklist.

A couple of hours later, I returned to Pondicherry Park, thinking I might make another discovery–and I did. By the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge, a female Hairy Woodpecker must have sourced some Carpenter Ants because she vehemently excavated the tree.

Another great spot in this photo–do you see the robust Red Maple buds? Sometimes I think we forget that buds form in the summer and overwinter under waxy or hairy scales, depending upon their species.

It was in the park that I did finally spy a rare bird, and I couldn’t wait to report it to Mary. At first I wasn’t sure of the exact species, but once I looked up, I found it’s name almost immediately.

Snowy Pondicherry Loop Yellow Woodybird, complete with a sign and arrow showing others where to spot this special species not found anywhere else in the world.

With that, my day was done and it was time to complete the forms before turning them in to Mary. But . . . I must confess that back at Highland Research Forest, I did sneak back in to look for the Ruffed Grouse before I left there and an hour and a half later it was still in the tree, though starting to move about and coo a bit.

The snow is only about five or six inches deep, not enough for it to dive into and so I suspect the tree served as its winter roosting spot until conditions below improve. I have to say that this experience brought back memories of my time spent with ArGee in Lovell, a Ruffed Grouse a few friends and I met occasionally in 2018.

As the sun began to set upon Sweden Circle’s Christmas Bird Count 2021, I gave thanks for the opportunity to participate, and especially the great discovery of a porcupine that morphed into a bird!

Dedication: For my dear friend Faith on her birthday, especially since she once scanned photos of the very same trees at HRF in another blog I’d posted that included a porcupine, and struggled to see its form until I supplied close-ups. Happy Birthday, Faith!

Pondering the Past at Pondicherry Park

Before today’s deluge began, I slipped into Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, Maine, to fill the innermost recesses of my lungs with November air, and at the same time my brain with memories of so many people who have traveled these trails with me from Ned Allen, former executive director of Bridgton Historical Society, to Loon Echo’s Jon Evans, and Lakes Environmental Association’s Alanna Yanelli and Mary Jewett, and friends and friends and friends, including the late JoAnne Diller, Sue Black, and Jinny Mae. But today’s journey also included memories of one I took two years ago with Becky Cook, who shared her remembrances of growing up along South High Street and romping through these trails as they were part of her backyard. If anyone ever had a sense of this place, it is Becky.

My journey began at the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge, the main entryway into the park if you approach from the town parking lot on Depot Street behind Reny’s Department Store.

Bob Dunning, who died suddenly in November 2007, was a builder, an artist, and among other things, a teacher–sharing his craft with students young and old. To honor Bob, who treasured traditional building techniques, his friends and fellow craftspeople designed and built this bridge in a true barn-raising fashion. To learn more about the bridge, check out this previous wondermyway post: Barking Up A Bridge.

The bridge spans Stevens Brook, the source of power when Bridgton was first founded and for many years thereafter.

But today’s tale is about the the land beyond the bridge.

And the three properties I tried to circle on this 1871 map.

They are the same properties circled above to give a sense of place. Well, I may be off a wee bit in my drawing techniques, but it provides an idea of the land that was first owned by Thomas Cleaves, Dr. Nathaniel Pease, and Osborn Foster.

According to the 1870 census, Mr. Cleaves had 20 acres of improved land. His farm was worth $2,500 and equipment $75. For animals, he had 2 horses, 3 cows, 2 oxen, and 1 swine. His crops included wheat, corn and oats.

Dr. Pease had 20 acres of improved land and 50 acres of unimproved land. The value of his farm was $2,000, while his equipment was worth $75. Likewise he had 2 horses, but only 1 cow, plus 2 oxen, and 1 swine. Corn and oats were his crops.

Mr, Foster owned 40 acres of improved land, and his farm’s value was also $2,000, with the equipment at the going rate of $75. He had 1 horse, 2 oxen, and 1 swine. He also produced corn and oats. (One might note that there was a corn canning shop on the eastern side of Stevens Brook)

As time went on, Henry Moxcey acquired the Cleaves house. His occupation was farming and traveling according to the 1930 census. He lived in the house valued at $10,000 with his wife, Hattie, and daughter Hazel.

Next door, Charles Kneeland had taken ownership of the Pease property in 1881. In 1919, it became the property of his daughter Florence, wife of Alfred Keene. They lived there with their young children, Adria and Maurice. I couldn’t read the value of their home on the census, but Alfred owned a radio set. The 1930 census reflected the emerging values of early twentieth-century America, in particular the growing influence of consumerism and mass culture, thus it included a question about radio sets.

I’m not sure of the exact year, but Osborn Foster’s house was sold to Edward Carman. Charles Hermann Cook then purchased the home valued at $5,000. Herman was overseer in the finishing room at Pondicherry Mill (wondermyway: Milling About Stevens Brook). He lived with his wife Lula, son Enoch, and Edith Foster, who was their housekeeper (she was 43 and widowed).

Looking a the open field in the park, the houses/field to the west are the subject of the journey. While the homes remain private, the land that became the park was purchased in a collaborative fashion by Loon Echo Land Trust and Lakes Environmental Association through the generosity of many donors, as well as grant monies. After placing it under conservation easement with LELT, constructing entry points and trails, it was gifted to the town of Bridgton in 2012. The park consists of 66 acres of quiet woodland and 3,200 feet of stream shore in the heart of downtown Bridgton, making it one special place.

If you’ve stayed with me, this is the point where Becky’s story will enhance the tale. She is the daughter of the late Enoch and Hazel Cook, and granddaughter of C. Hermann Cook. My guy had the privilege, like so many others, of being taught by Mrs. Cook and still loves to talk about her. She passed away a few years ago, or maybe it was a few years before that, but he last visited her on her 102nd birthday and listened as she shared stories of her classroom and students as if she had only stepped out of school yesterday.

One of the first stops Becky and I made two years ago was at Kneeland Spring, pictured above. The water bubbles through the sandy bottom and so the spring never freezes. Even in July, Becky said, she remembered the water being ice cold. Notice the moss-covered split granite–I didn’t take a photo of it today, but just above there are several rock samples that may have been the source as they feature drill holes a farmer would have created to split the stone. Pin and feathering was a technique that required a person to drill holes along the grain of the stone, fill each hole with two semi-cylindrical pieces of iron, and drive a steel wedge between them.

To Becky, standing by the spring and looking west (uphill toward South High Street) brought back memories of running through fields as a kid. Below the spring she recalled there being woods and a boggy area.

She told me that Mr. Kneeland had livery stables beside his house for his horses and cows. The Keenes, who inherited the land, didn’t have any horses or cows. But Bob Dineen, who lived across South High Street, used the pastures for his work horses and cows. “You could ride them,” said Becky. “And I wasn’t particular. I could ride a cow just as easily as a horse.”

For many years I thought it was local lore that Hannaford Brothers purchased water from the spring, but Ned Allen shared this document with me. Apparently, this was coveted water.

Throughout the park one might spot numbered Roosters. By using either the Bridgton Historical Society’s free app, or picking up a brochure at the kiosk, you can key in on descriptions of historic locations in the park. I’d spent a few years feeling that the info for #4 wasn’t accurate, but Becky set me right.

You see, according to the description, #4 states this: Barway, This gap was left in the stonewall to provide an opening to pass through. A log would be placed across the gap so it could be closed up again and continue to keep the livestock contained.

In my brain, the stones had been moved to create the gap so the park trail could pass through it.

According to Becky, this was the wall that formed the boundary between the Keene/Kneeland property and the Cook property. She remembered a much smaller gap, but still there was one.

Off trail there used to be an old rail on the ground that referenced the Narrow Gauge Train that ran beside what is now the park. After the train stopped running in 1941, either Becky’s father or grandfather or both took advantage of the old rails and used them when necessary, such as for the ties of bridges, this one having been located along what was a rough road from the Cooks’ home on South High Street down to their camp on Willet Brook, which meets Stevens Brook in the park.

Before going to the site of the camp, I traveled along a spur trail, which I often do because I love the reflection it offers . . .

in any season.

When I traveled the trails with Becky, I was so grateful because she opened my mind to some of what had come before, including the family camp, this photo from the Bridgton Historical Society’s collection.

In its day, it was a single family camp at 1360 Willet Brook Shore owned by C. Hermann Cook and his family. Becky recalled it having a couple of bedrooms on the western side, which you see here, a kitchen, and a long living room spanning the front. French doors opened from the living room onto the porch. And she remembered evenings when her parents would wind up the Victrola and people danced out one door, across the porch, and back into the living room through another porch.

All that’s left of the camp, sadly, is the chimney and a foundation wall. In 1968, some kids began to make a habit of partying in the camp. According to Becky, they figured if they created a fire in the fireplace someone might spot the smoke rising from the chimney. Instead, they created a campfire in the middle of the living room floor. Several time, apparently, this happened. Their frivolity ended, however, when they accidentally burned the camp to the ground on what became the final party.

Becky was sad to lose this beautiful place. She did recall with humor, however, the adventures she and her brother, Tim, shared as it was their responsibility to clean snow off the roof. With Tim at the helm, and Becky holding on for dear life, they’d zoom through the fields and woods on a snowmobile to reach the camp.

Standing with my back to the chimney, I tried to imagine another scene Becky painted for me: this once was a cove filled with water. Her grandfather Hermann kept a boat here and often fished.

It began to make sense because at that time the mills were in use and they would have dammed the water in various locations in order to have power to run turbines.

Looking west from the chimeny, one gets a sense of the camp road. Though it looks rather level now, roots were often an issue. Becky told me that the vehicles of yore were high-wheeled and high-bottomed so it wasn’t really a bother.

Continuing up the “road,” a visit to the park doesn’t feel complete with stopping by to say hello to the Yellow Birch growing on a pine nurse stump where life is richer than we can imagine. It turned out that Becky was also a frequent stopper at this statue. Some tree species, especially those with small seeds, cannot germinate on leaf litter and need high-porosity seedbeds. Yellow Birch is such a species that requires mineral soil or deadwood to germinate. Hemlock is the same.

A bit farther along, the stonewalls begin to state their presence. They are powerful reminders that land that is now forested was once cleared and cultivated. Somer are single walls, such as this, built with large stones, where the land below is much lower than the land above, suggesting that the “short” side was plowed regularly and much more frequently than the tall side. Plowing tends to push soil against a wall. I don’t know when these walls were constructed, but some intense wall building occurred between 1775 and 1850. The majority of New England walls were dry built, meaning the stones were kept in place by skillful arrangement and balance.

A short distance above is a different type of wall. It’s a double-wide wall with larger stones on the outside and smaller filling in between. These were indicative of a garden wall. They weren’t high so as to keep livestock in or out. Instead, they became the place to toss all the stones that pushed to the field’s surface with the annual freezing and thawing. The smaller stones would likely have been the spring “crop” over the course of many years that were removed from the field by women and children. Remember, these farmers were growing their own grains. From Becky I learned that her grandfather had a commercial strawberry field. Usually such fields were between 2 – 4 acres, thus being the optimal size for moving stones from the center to the edges.

What grows best here now is the invasive Norway Maple. It’s not native to Maine and is aggressive in nature. This type of maple was planted along roadsides as a shade tree after the demise of elm trees. The leaf is similar to a Sugar Maple, but much more rectangular (boxier) in shape. And . . . while the Sugar Maples have lost their leaves by now, the Norway Maples hold on to them for a much longer time period.

Because it had started raining in earnest and I could barely see through my glasses, I knew it was time to draw today’s journey to a close. But, there was one last place to pause–in a pasture with a small opening in the boundary. The Kneeland/Keene homestead can be seen through the opening. If I turned around, which I didn’t, I knew that I could follow another old “road” down to Kneeland Spring. And to my left as I looked up at the house, would have been the Cooks’ property (eventually they moved across the street), and to my right the Cram/Cleaves/Moxcey property now owned by the Russos, which actually serves as a farm today, albeit on a much smaller scale. (All have passed through one or two or more hands of ownership.)

One final note (or maybe two): It has been said that Pondicherry was the name of Bridgton before Moody Bridges surveyed the land for the proprietors. The source of the name has been questioned–was it so called for a union territory in India or for the cherry trees that grew by the ponds?

Perhaps there’s another choice to ponder–was it named by indigenous people before people of European descent thought the land was theirs to occupy and own? That’s another story that needs to be researched.

As for today, I’m so glad the rain didn’t keep me home and I once again made time to ponder the past in Pondicherry Park.

Cached In My Heart

I knew it was going to be a great day when snowflakes began to fall. And when asked the day before how I intended to spend yesterday, I said I’d probably read, bake, and knit. But . . . those plans were postponed for a few hours because that white stuff was falling and I heard it calling my name.

Thankfully, it was only my name that it called and for the first time since March, I stepped back into Pondicherry Park, a place that I love, but have intentionally avoided because so many others have discovered it as a tonic to the worries of the pandemic and I wanted to give them space, knowing I could find plenty of other places to explore with the same quest in mind. But . . . it was snowing, and I suspected that others might be home reading and baking and, well, maybe even knitting, and I would have the place to myself.

Soon, however, I discovered that I wasn’t really alone for even though the snow wasn’t piling up, tiny tracks on boardwalks indicated others were scampering about.

A few minutes into the hike, bright green moss invited me off trail to examine the base of pine where a hole beneath the tree . . .

and a cone still intact made me wonder: If this was the home of a little scamperer, what might it be eating other than this cone?

And then I twisted right–in more ways than one. And spread out along a downed pine and all around the base of another–a huge cache/midden: the cache being a collection of cones gathered and stored; and the midden being the refuse pile of scales and cobs left behind after the seeds were consumed.

I’ve been looking for one of these for a few weeks as the air temperature has dropped and wondered when the little guys would get their acts together and gather a supply to see them through winter.

One among them had, indeed, been busy, not only gathering, but dining, and with today being Thanksgiving, you might think this critter had the longest dining room table because it intended to invite everyone over for a meal.

But, its a feisty diner, and each meal is consumed quickly, with some chits and chats warning others to stay away–social distancing naturally.

Peeking under the dinner table, I discovered some cones tucked away in the pantry . . .

others in the fridge, with the door left open, thus exposing them to the elements . . .

and a few in cold storage.

On the other side of the pine table, holes in the midden showed the downstairs and upstairs doorways: all leading to Rome–or rather, the cache that must have been huge based on the size of the midden left behind. I did feel concern that so much had been consumed and there might not be enough for winter survival.

No need to worry. On the backside of the tree, three were tucked into furrows–making me think of a $20 bill stored away in a wallet, just in case.

My journey through the park eventually continued and meant a few pauses at favorite haunts, including one where the reflection nourishes my little friends . . . and me.

Occasionally more boardwalks curve through the landscape offering their own reflection–of this past year, which has taught us all that when there are curves in the road, we should follow and embrace them.

And if a hemlock grows beside a pine, it’s okay to cache your pinecone supply atop the former’s roots. You don’t always have do what the rest of us expect you to do.

Especially if you are the creator of the caches–a feisty Red Squirrel, ever ready to give chase to your siblings and chitter at any intruders such as me.

Of course, if you are a Gray Squirrel, you’ll take a different approach to winter preparations and store one acorn at a time and hope you remember where you left each one.

Three hours later, I finally found my way home, grateful that the stars had aligned, it had snowed, and I had the trails to myself. And then I began to bake, but never got around to reading or knitting or even writing this post for the phone kept ringing and there were envelopes and gifts to open, messages and emails galore to read, and cake to consume, and though we can’t be with our family or friends today, I gave thanks that on my birthday the squirrels let me share their world for a wee bit and I was showered with so much love–that I’ve cached in my heart.

Thrice the Blessings

My mother always said that things happen in threes. It’s a sentiment that has stuck with me and sometimes even haunted me. But when it is good, it is very, very good. And today was one of those days.

Though it was after noon by the time I stepped into Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, the bird song was on high pitch. The American Redstart’s sweet, yet explosive notes came amidst bursts of acrobatic energy as he flew quickly from one branch to the next and then back again a second later over Stevens Brook.

Twenty feet away, the delightful phrases of the Gray Catbird’s tunes filled the air, but it was his raspy mews that gave away his identity. And suddenly, there he was atop a tangle of shrubs and vines as is his habit. I suspected the nest he shares with his lady was located below.

“Wichety, wichety, wichety,” was the give-away song for the Common Yellowthroat, although I do have to say he was much easier to hear than to see.

While the redstart donned the colors of Halloween, the catbird appeared to be a cat in a bird costume, and the yellowthroat was equally disguised with a black mask.

For a few minutes, I stepped off the bridge and followed the Stevens Brook trail where I was met by a delightful surprise. I spied the mottled leaves before the flowers and my heart sang its own tunes with recognition of the species that I didn’t know grew there.

But the Trout Lily flowers were beautiful with a hint of bronze accenting their yellow petals. Do you see the formation? What may look like six petals is actually a configuration known as tepals for it’s difficult to differentiate between the three inner petals and their surrounding three sepals, which had previously enclosed the flower. Ahhh, language.

And within the center core, the pistil (she’s a pistol of a woman) surrounded by six stamen (Stay men), their anthers rusty red with pollen.

Also sometimes agreeing with the division of three were three tiny Goldthread flowers looking all fresh and perky. And their leaves of three parts that remind me of Cilantro.

And then another that knows the number being repeated time and time again: Jack-in-the-Pulpit or Arisaema triphyllum. The “pulpit” from which “Jack” (technically, the “spadix”) preaches stood between two long-stalked, three-parted leaves.

Further along the trail, I watched a female Hairy Woodpecker foraging for insects on stumps and logs.

A male I assumed was her guy did the same.

And then, though the colors don’t really show it in this photo, I heard another bird sing and by his white hanky in the pocket (a dash of white on his wings, right Molly?) I think I’ve identified him correctly: Black-throated Blue Warbler.

I was grateful not only for the two that I knew, but also the third that I’m just learning.

Other flowers showed off their structures, like those of the Norway Maple. OK, so the tree is invasive and grows prolifically in the park because it was originally planted as part of the streetscape above, but the fragrant yellow-green flowers blew delicately in the breeze. (As will their seeds soon, and thus the invasion).

Another that grows much less abundantly, but always makes me smile is the Striped Maple, an understory tree. And it too had flowers to share so there is hope for more of this species.

Flowering in a different way was the Woodland Horsetail, an equisetum. Its flower was in the form of a cone at the tip. Once its spores have been shed, the cone will collapse.

Insects also were part of the scene and tis the season of Mayflies, this one a subimago as indicated by the color of its wings. Cloudy wings indicated it was a teenager that had not gone through its final morph.

And then, a Great Black Wasp–its translucent blue wings giving it away in the duff. I tried to get closer, but it took off.

Such was the case also with a Mourning Cloak butterfly, which would have given me three insects to share. Do remember that insects have three pairs of legs–there’s that number again.

At last, several hours after I’d begun, it was time for me to leave Stevens and Willow Brooks behind.

But not until I had a chance to enjoy the beauty of Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum), which was my initial reason for the journey. Trillium: Latin for tri, refers to the flower parts occurring in threes; llium: Latin for liliaceous, refers to the funnel-shaped flower; and undulatum: Latin reference for wavy, referring to the petals’ wavy margins.

Mom was right. Good things do happen in threes. Along my journey I also had the blessing of chatting with three wonderful women, Becky, Sheila, and Lori.

Thrice the blessings worth a wonder indeed.

Neither Snow, Nor Freezing Rain, Nor Sleet . . .

Church was cancelled this morning and it seemed like the perfect day to stay inside, read the newspaper, complete the crossword puzzle, and keep an eye on the bird feeders.

And so I did. Among my feathered friends was a Tufted Titmouse that seemed to stand back and consider the offerings,

a Junco that chose the thistle,

and an Eastern Starling who made quick work of the suet. For those who aren’t fans of the Starling, this was the first of the season and actually four flew in today. I have to say I’m rather taken by their coloration.

Of course, not one to go unnoticed, a red squirrel came out of its tunnel below one of the feeders and looked about as if to say either, “Hey lady, where’d you hide the peanuts?” or “Hey lady, when are you going to come out and play?” I preferred to think it was the latter and so I headed out the door.

Because of the weather, I chose a baseball hat for headgear so the visor would keep the snow off my glasses. And then I did what I always do when wearing a baseball cap–I forgot to look up and bumped into the pergola. Boink.

But, the pain was momentary and so I continued on. Soon I realized I wasn’t the only one who had responded to the call to head outdoors. Quite often mammals leave behind sign that tells me who has passed by and I wasn’t disappointed for today I found signatures . . . of Eddie, Annie, Emma, and Veronica.

I wondered if I might find their creators. Was Eddie the mink that had slid and bounded just moments before and left fresh prints?

I followed his tracks in hopes of catching a glimpse and knew he’d passed under a fallen tree and traveled along a brook.

He’d also paused briefly beside an opening, but it appeared that rather than enter the water to forage as he could have done, he continued on. And so did I, meeting his tracks quite often, but never spying the mink that he was.

Any other tracks I spied were diluted by the precipitation, and so I turned my attention to the mushrooms that had donned their winter caps. From the false tinkerconk to . . .

the tinkerconk,

hemlock varnish shelf,

and red-belted polypore, all appeared to have shopped at the same hat boutique.

Traveling through these woods on such a day with not a soul about made me ever mindful of the transition taking place as snow gave way to freezing rain and then sleet.

But it didn’t bother the female mallard that flew in and landed right below me.

Nor did it bother me. In fact, I loved it. I know the advent of frost heaves and potholes along our roadways are signs that spring is around the corner and even today’s weather was an indicator, but I don’t want winter to end just yet.

Neither snow, nor freezing rain, nor sleet . . . can keep the squirrel or me from digging our way out of our tunnels.

Childhood Magic

Why did the Greater Lovell Land Trust co-host (or rather tri-host) a hike through Pondicherry Park in Bridgton this morning? Because it’s hunting season, and it didn’t make sense to invite the public on a property that isn’t posted. (Not that we don’t still tramp on GLLT properties in November, mind you, but not on a public walk necessarily.)

And when I asked Jon Evans of Loon Echo Land Trust and Alanna Doughty of Lakes Environmental Association to join me in leading the tramp, they both quickly and graciously agreed to do so. I couldn’t wait because not only would it be a chance to share the special place with GLLT members, but also to bounce off of Jon and Alanna as we shared our knowledge of the natural and historical aspects of the park.

1-Bob Dunning Bridge

But . . . this morning dawned rainy and snowy. Still, we didn’t cancel. And though we knew that not everyone who had planned to join us could because there was more snow in the Lovell area and no power, we were pleasantly surprised to have a small contingent of participants that represented all three of our groups. And really, I love leading smaller groups because it’s so much easier for everyone to participate.

2-Jon giving the bridge history

Our group, consisting of Pam, Jon, Bill, Connie and JoAnne, plus Alanna and me, stood for a bit on the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge, the gateway into the park from behind Reny’s Department Store on Depot Street. As Jon explained, on September 11, 2010, the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge was constructed in true barn-raising fashion.

3-Stevens Brook

The bridge spans Stevens Brook, the source of power when Bridgton was first founded and for many years thereafter.

4-Bob Dunning Bridge

One of the unique things about the bridge is that each tie beam comes from a different tree species, with the bark left on. As I walk across the bridge, my eyes are always drawn to the beams.

Until I took the Maine Master Naturalist class, I recognized only a few species by their bark. But my eyes were opened to the fact that each species has its own presentation, which is true for everything in the natural world. I wanted to know all of them so I set out to teach myself, beginning with the species on the bridge. These became the focus of my capstone project for the class and from that I created a Barking Up A Bridge brochure that is available at the kiosk.

5-sugar and Norway maple leaves

Into the park we finally went, stopping periodically along the way to notice and learn, including the similarities and differences between a sugar maple leaf on the left and Norway maple leaf on the right. Both have the same number of lobes (5) and look so similar, but . . .  the Norway maple leaf, an invasive planted along the main streets as a shade tree after the loss of Elms, is much boxier and more rectangular in shape. Plus, as Jon pointed out, the stem seeps a milky substance, which is a quick way to identify it.

6-pine soap

Our finds included many as we moved along at our usual slow pace, but one thing kept showing its form on pine after pine. Froth. It’s not unusual and occurs following a rain event such as we’d had all night and morning. So what causes the tree to froth? During a heavy rain, water running down the trunk of a white pine picks up the tree’s oils on the way. Air in the bark furrows bubbles through the oily film and produces the froth.

7-pine soap

Conditions were just right for it to occur so we spied frequent examples.

8-tussock moth cocoon

And because we were looking so closely at the bark, we noticed other things like tussock moth cocoons. We also found tube caterpillar moth cocoons created with pine needles and even pulled one apart to take a closer look. And the tiny sawfly cocoons on various twigs.

10-Willet Brook

Eventually, we found our way beside Willet Brook, which flows into Stevens.

11a-JoAnne photographing script lichen

And again, our eyes were drawn to tree bark and crustose lichen in particular. JoAnne snapped a photo of a script lichen that decorated a red oak.

13-crossing onto LEA property

Our intention was to turn away from the brook and cross the boardwalk that leads onto the Lakes Environmental Association’s adjacent property. Before doing so, however, we began to channel our inner child and rolled some logs.

12-baby red-backed salamander

And we weren’t disappointed for we found young and mature red-backed salamanders as hoped. If you roll a log, always pull it toward you so any critters that want to escape can do so in the opposite direction; and always put the log back into place quickly (well, after a couple of photographs, that is.)

14-Maine Lake Science Center Lab

At LEA’s Maine Lake Science Center, Alanna gave us a quick tour of the premises,

15-MLSC Lab

including the lab where various water quality tests are conducted.

16-Connie on the low-impact challenge course

Back outside, we headed up to LEA’s Pinehaven Trail and tried our talent as birds on a wire along the newly installed  low-impact challenge course.

17-Pam and Bill manuevering the wire walk

We all succeeded as Nuthatches for none of us fell off. If we’d done it with one hand, we  would have been Barred Owls and if we hadn’t used any hands, we would have been Cooper’s Hawks. But we were happy to be Nuthatches. There are four sets of challenges, each with a variety of activities to complete. Challenge your inner child.

18-watching balsam sticks

Crossing back into Pondicherry Park, we said we’d bee-line back to the bridge, but several times we just had to stop . . . especially when we found Balsam Fir blisters inviting us to poke them with twigs and drop the resin-tipped sticks into calm water.

19-balsam rainbow

We watched with fascination as the essential oil propelled the twig and created a rainbow, again satisfying that child within.

22-crossing back over the bridge

At last, a half hour after our intended finish time of 12:30pm, we found our way back to our starting point, all delighted to have spent time exploring and playing on a rather raw morning.

Thank you again to Jon and Alanna for sharing your knowledge and sense of wonder. And thank you to Pam, Bill, Connie, and JoAnne for coming out to play with us.

23-Chili and Beer

Later in the day, my guy and I drove to Lovell for yet another special event at the VFW Hall: LOVELL’S 1st ANNUAL BOWLS & BREWS fundraiser for the Sunshine Backpack Food Program.

It was a chili cook-off and beer tasting event featuring locally crafted chili and locally crafted beer from Bear Bones and Saco River Breweries. Plus, National Distributors in Portland donated Harpoon and New Belgium beers.

24-Paula and Diane

Diane Caracciolo nailed it and won first place from the judges and as the people’s choice. Her take away was a coveted apron, actually two, designed by local students who benefit from the Sunshine Backpack Food Program. As Paula Hughes, one of the event’s organizers explained, the packs are sent home on Fridays and filled with nutritious, non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food to ensure the kids get enough food on weekends.

At the end of the day, it seemed an interesting juxtaposition to have spent the morning channeling our inner child and the afternoon thinking about children who are so hungry that they can’t enjoy such childhood magic.

If you’d wish to contribute, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with Paula.

Mondate Challenge

It was a mere drizzle when we stepped outside and walked to Pondicherry Park, but eventually we needed to pull up the hoods of our raincoats. Our journey was rather quick as we followed first the Snowshoe Hare trail, and then the Pasture Trail, which led us to the Stonewall Loop, where two thirds of the way around, we diverted.

1-crossing onto LEA property

Our main intention had been to cross over the stonewall that marks the park’s boundary and explore the Pinehaven Trail owned by Lakes Environmental Association. It is on this land that the Maine Lake Science Center is located, but there are other cool features as well.

2-You Are Here

As the first sign informed us, we had arrived. And you can see by the moisture that it was raining in earnest.

3-park rules

Funding for the Pinehaven Trail signs and low-element course was provided by LEA Board Member Roy Lambert and his wife Mary Maxwell, summer residents of Bridgton who have made a huge impact on protecting the lakes and ponds we all love. Roy has brought the LakeSmart Program to LEA and Mary has spearheaded LEA’s invasive plant patrols.

Despite the fact that the sign warned us the course is “dangerous when wet,” we decided to test it out. After all, we were accompanied by a leaf as indicated.

4-Birds on a Wire

Broken into four wonderful sets, each offering a variety of activities, we began by becoming birds on a wire.

5-my own nuthatch pose

Though I would have liked to say that I was a Barred Owl or Cooper’s Hawk, being a Nuthatch wasn’t so bad.

6-my guy nuthatch

My guy . . .

7-walking the tightrope

was also a Nuthatch.

8-next set of challenges

Set Two meant getting more practice in the art of walking on a balance beam. It looked so easy, but with each one, the level of difficulty increased a bit as our confidence did the same . . . for the most part.

10-balance beam series

And at first, our eyes saw only a few anomalies in the woods, but once we focused we realized each leg of the course was more involved than first anticipated.

11-swinging beam

The second set found us not only keeping our balance on the beams that zigzagged through the grove, but also on a swinging beam.

12-stepping up

And then we had to step up and up and up.

14-around the white pine

One of my favorite parts was circling the tree like a rock wall climber might do.

15-tree hugger!

In the process, I got to hug the pine, not that I ever need an excuse.

13-bench

My other favorite part of Set Two was the bench. There were other benches along the trail, but I found this one to be the most aesthetically appealing. Even if you don’t want to try out the course, you can walk the trail and sit a bit. You might just see a deer–we did. And in the past I’ve seen other animals including a red fox.

16-Alanna's signs

As we walked on, not sure if there were more sets, we spied the first interpretive sign created by LEA’s Education Director, Alanna Doughty, and featuring her explanations and drawings. I LOVE them. And want to decorate my house with them. I didn’t tell my guy that. The other thing I loved about all the signage–it was mounted on rough-edged boards, adding to the natural look. Do I know the creator of those boards? A local box company perhaps?

17-third set

Much to our delight, not much further on we came to Set Three.

18-Enchanted Forest

The forest really was enchanted and we found ourselves using all four modes of operation in order to get from one piece of wood to the next.

19-tree cookie steps

There were lots of tree cookies to step on and more balance beams to conquer.

20-hopping along

Sometimes we hopped like toads, who don’t leap as far as frogs with their longer hind legs.

21-a balancing act

Other times we had to channel our inner Cooper’s Hawk as there was no place to put our hands.

22-waiting for the wires to stop swaying

And in doing so, my guy figured out that pausing to wait for the wire to stop swaying made for an easier crossing. He succeeded. (I need to sneak back and practice this one some more as my knees were a tad too shaky.) We suspected that kids run across without giving it a thought. And so our excuse–it was raining.

23-yeegads--getting higher

Though it looked intimidating at first, moving across the log was fun, but I wasn’t so sure about the beam that turned out to be the highest one yet. It felt like crossing a brook and so after he finished I asked my guy to come back and give me a supporting hand. He laughed and asked if I expected him to stand in the imaginary water. Yes! Chivalry at its best. Once I started across while grasping his hand, I felt rather confident and soon let go. At the other side, I rejoiced in my success. And thanked him, of course.

24-clean water

Onward still, we encountered another one of Alanna’s signs, simple yet informative. And still, we were accompanied by a leaf. And no, we didn’t place the leaves on the signs.

This sign struck me as extremely important, not that the others weren’t. But . . . clean water is what the Lakes Environmental Association is all about.

26-Paul Bunyan's Playground

At last we reached the final set, or first if you approach from Willet Road. Again, a leaf 😉

As for how good would we be as lumberjacks? Well, my guy would pass. I’d almost get there, but I have to work on my log rolling skills.

26a-variety of swings

What I liked about the final set was not only the focus on various types of trees, but also that the same theme was executed in a variety of ways and so we crossed another swinging step bridge.

27-I got this!

Sometimes, the choice to be a Nuthatch or Barred Owl didn’t exist and we had to become Cooper’s Hawks as we had nothing to grab onto while moving forward.

28-now you don't see him

There were opportunities to be apes as well and then disappear around the back sides of rather large pine trees, their girth indicative of the fact that the land had once been agricultural and the trees grew in abundant sunshine after it was no longer farmed. So, do you see my guy?

30-now you do

Now you do! Circling around that tree was as fun as the first and it had ash tree foot and hand holds.

31-Me Tarzan

He Tarzan! And notice how the piece he was about to step onto was set on a log. Yup, it was a foot seesaw. There were several and we really liked them.

32-rope climbing, log rolling

The last set included climbing a rope to the upper deck and then descending the ladder to another and on to a balance beam and then the log rolling. He did it all. I saved the wet log for another visit.

33-Mast sign

Just beyond the final set was Alanna’s last sign and a hot topic this year since last year’s mast crop of white pine cones, acorns, maple samaras, and beech nuts have meant a banner year for squirrels and mice. Remember, those little rodents don’t have as much food this year and they’ll become food for the predators and nature will try to balance itself once again. Oh, and not only are Alanna’s drawings beautiful but her humor and voice come through in the interpretive signs.

34-across the boardwalk and back into the park

As for us, we had finished our balancing act, crossed the science center’s driveway, followed the second portion of the Pinehaven Trail and wound our way down to the board walk that passes back into Pondicherry Park. From there, we found our way home.

What a blast. I think we were both a bit let down that we’d finished the course.

Thank you LEA, Alanna, Roy and Mary, for providing us with a delightful Mondate Challenge . . . even in the rain.  My guy and I highly recommend the Pinehaven Trail.

The Ayes Have It

I knew I was blessed when I spied a Northern Flicker in the backyard early this morning. This is the one woodpecker that doesn’t behave like a typical family member for it forages on the ground rather than a tree trunk.

e1-northern flicker

From the kitchen window, I watched this guy for a while as he looked for food. I knew it was a male because of the so called black mustache on either side of its bill. But . . . it was the bird’s eyes I was most curious about . . .and their placement on the side of its head.

e2-flicker feeding

Like mammals, birds with eyes on the side are born to hide . . . from predators. His field of vision, therefore, was wide and the ants on the ground were the ones who needed to scurry and hide.

e4-tachinid fly

After dining for a while, the flicker flew off and I stepped out the door–in search of other  sets of eyes to behold–like the red ones of a tachinid fly,

e8-long-legged fly

and metallic green on a long-legged fly. Like the flicker, flies also have a wide field of vision due to the fact that they have compound eyes. Each eye consists of thousands of individual visual receptors, or ommatidia, (singular ommatidium) (om·ma·tid·i·um, äməˈtidēəm.) Each hexagonal-shaped ommatidium (think honeycomb) is a functioning eye in itself. With thousands of eyes on the world, it’s no wonder flies and other insects see us coming–especially when we have a flyswatter in hand.

e7-green and brown stink bug

I kept looking and among the elderberry shrub leaves I found a strikingly beautiful green and brown stink bug, or shield bug, if you’re looking for a more pleasant name. Like all insects, it featured those compound eyes, but I was struck by how tiny they were. Apparently, it was enough to see movement and kept trying to hide from me.

e8-stink bug eyes

Despite its efforts, I could zero in on it even after walking away and returning.

e9a-song sparrow

Eventually I moved my focus to Pondicherry Park, where a variety of eyes greeted me, including those of a Song Sparrow.

e7a

What did he seek? Insects and other invertebrates, such as weevils, leaf beetles, ground beetles, caterpillars, dragonflies, grasshoppers, midges, craneflies, spiders, snails, and earthworms.

e11-slug eyes

What about a slug? I suspected the sparrow would enjoy such and today was a decent slug-like kind of day. But, how does a slug see?

A slug has two pairs of retractable tentacles on its head. The upper, optic tentacles, feature light-sensitive eyespots on the ends. And just like a deer can move each ear independent of the other, slugs can do the same with each eye-stalk. Another cool fact: an eye stalk can be re-grown if something attacks it.

e11a-spider eyes

Further along, I found a wolf spider hanging out on last year’s fertile frond of a sensitive fern. Did you know that spiders have eight legs AND eight eyes? Two of them are large and prominent–the better to see you with.

e11-ebony jewelwing

As I continued to look for the sparrow’s prey, I discovered an ebony jewelwing that I determined had just emerged for it posed as I took numerous photographs. Usually, they flit about like woodland fairies. Unlike its larger dragonfly cousins who have eyes in front in order to hunt, the damsels’ are on the sides. Though zoom-and-swoop attacks may not be possible for the damselfly, it can see all-round–including above and behind– giving it control of its airspace.

e12-barred owl

My wander continued and then I heard a sound and saw some action in a tree about thirty feet off trail. And just like that, in what felt like a miracle of miracles, I realized I was in the presence of the wise one.

With his eyes in front, a Barred Owl is born to hunt. For several minutes we starred at each other and I was honored by his presence. Of course, I hoped he might cook for me tonight, but he let me down. Possibly he had others more in need of supper than I was at the time.

In the end my vote was aye in favor of all the peepers I’d met along the way, both in the yard and the forested park, for I knew that the eyes had it.

 

 

 

Hunkered Down

Three nor’easters in two weeks. Such is March in New England. The latest delivered over twenty inches of snow beginning yesterday morning. And still the flakes fall.

p-chickadee

But staying inside all day would be much too confining and so I stretched my legs for a few hours before giving my arms another workout with driveway cleanup duty. It was much more fun to explore and listen to the chickadees sing.

p-snow on trees

There are a few places in our woods that I find myself stopping to snap a photo each time a snowstorm graces our area. The stand of pines with their trunks snow coated was one such spot yet again. And tomorrow the scene will transform back to bare trunks and so it was one I was happy to behold in the moment.

p-snow on limbs

As was the older pine that grows beside a stonewall along the cowpath and perhaps served as the mother and grandmother of all the pines in my forest–bedecked in piles of flakes, her arms reached out as if to embrace all of her offspring.

p-snow on insulators

With the snow so deep, I felt like a plow as I powered through under the insulated insulators.

p-snow on park sign

Finally, I reached one of the entryways to Pondicherry Park and while I love being the first of the day to leave my mark, I’d secretly hoped someone had trudged before me. But . . . a few steps at a time meant taking frequent breaks to rest and look around.

p-snow on tree trunk

Again, it was the snow’s manner of hugging tree trunks that drew my awe.

p-snow on tree trunk 2

Sometimes it reminded me of giant caterpillars climbing into the canopy.

p-snow on roots

Even the roots of a downed tree took on an artistic rendition.

p1-snow on bittersweet

And that most invasive of species in these woods, bittersweet, offered curves worth appreciating–ever so briefly, of course.

p-snow on fences

Snow blanketed fences of stone and wood.

p-snow on bridge

Enhanced the bridge.

p-snow on bench

And buried a bench.

p-Stevens Brook

Beside Stevens Brook, it looked as if winter still had a grasp though we’re about to somersault into spring.

p-snow on trees reflected

And the reflection in Willet Brook turned maples into birches.

p-kneeland spring

At Kneeland Spring, water rushed forth in life-giving form and the sound was one we’ll soon hear everywhere as streams and brooks overflow.

p-mallards 1

I went not to see just the snow in its many variations, but also the wildlife. I found that like me, the squirrels and deer had tunneled through leaving behind troughs. And the ducks–they didn’t seem at all daunted by the mounds of white stuff surrounding them.

p-mallards 2

In fact, one female took time to preen.

p-mourning dove

I found mourning doves standing watch.

p-Robin

And heard robins singing.

p-snow spider

And because I spent a fair amount of time looking down, I began to notice life by my feet, such as the snow spider–an indicator that the thermometer was on the rise. It lives in the leaf litter, but when the temp is about 30˚ or so, it’s not unusual to see one or more. Today, I saw several. And wished I had my macro lens in my pocket, but had decided to travel light.

p-winter stonefly

Winter stoneflies were also on the move. They have an amazing ability to avoid freezing due to the anti-freeze in their systems.

p-winter dark firefly 2

I also found a winter dark firefly. While the species is bioluminescent, I’m not sure if this one was too old or not to still produce light.

p1-snow on me

At last the time had come for me to head home for not only was the snow still falling, but so was the sky–or so it felt each time a clump hit my head as it fell from the trees.

p-final photo

We’ve got snow! In fact, we’ve got snows! And in reference to a question an acquaintance from Colorado had asked yesterday–“Are you hunkered down?” My answer was, “No, Jan, I’m not. Nor is the world around me. In fact, except for the shoveling, I relish these storms as winter holds on for just a wee bit longer.”

 

 

Hardly Monochrome

My world always takes on a different look following a storm and today was no different. Yesterday we were graced with a foot of fluffy snow. And so it was with joy that I strapped on my snowshoes.

p1-window art

As I passed by the barn, I noted fresh porcupine tracks, but it was a window on the attached shed that drew my awe. I’ve seen the frost resemble ferns, flowers and trees before, but today’s display reminded me of moss.

p2-stonewall

Marshmallows seemed to have capped the stonewall along the cow path.

p3-hairy woodpecker

Into Pondicherry Park I headed and immediately was greeted by the sound of a hairy woodpecker chiseling away.

p4-bridge

The park receives a lot of visitors each year, but on this day I was tickled to be the first to make tracks.

p6-vehicle

My goal was to join others at Lakes Environmental Association’s Maine Lake Science Center for a tramp along the Pinehaven Trail, but we decided to go off trail at times to see what we might see.

p7-Anne and Alanna

I had the extreme pleasure of exploring with these two fine women, Alanna, LEA’s education director, and Anne, chair of LEA’s environmental education advisory committee. So we wondered about this vehicle. Its age. How and why it ended up where it was. We had no answers, but the squirrels and mice didn’t seem to mind its presence for their tracks led in and out. We did note some tangled fencing added to the mix.

p8-fencing

But it made sense because we were on land formerly used for farming and Alanna pointed out a section of fencing that a tree had embraced behind us.

p9-steering wheel and radio

We were busy chatting, but had we paused, perhaps we would have heard tunes pouring forth from the radio. Then again . . . maybe not.

p10-boardwalk

I spent an hour with them and then departed via the boardwalk below the science center building. It’s one of my favorite places.

p12-polypody fern

And no venture forth is complete without stopping to admire the polypody fern that dangles from a boulder, curled up as it was because of the cool temps.

p13-mossman surrenders

A wee bit further I almost passed by Moss Monster for he was hiding under his winter blanket and all that showed forth was a small balsam held tightly in his hand. I wished him sweet dreams until we meet again.

p13-tinderconk

Just as I moved from the boardwalk back into Pondicherry Park, I spied several tinder conks upon a yellow birch, their lines reminding me of oyster shells and a yearning I’ve had recently to spend some time at the ocean surfaced again. I love the woods, but do need that salt air fix every once in a while.

p14-Owl?

Slowly, I made my way beside Willet Brook and then Stevens Brook–looking about to see what I might see. And then I stopped. Could it be? Nope. As much as I wanted to spy an owl, all I found was a burl topped with snow upon a white pine trunk. It sure looked like a bird sitting on a branch. Wishful thinking.

p14-male mallards

I did find other birds, though, in the form of mallards.

p15-male:female mallards

There were plenty of them and I could have watched all day as they treaded water and occasionally nipped each other or gave chase.

p16-male mallard on snow

One handsome guy moved onto a snow bank and appeared to smile over his companions for a few minutes–king of the hill.

p17--duck prints

And then they all moved off, but left behind their prints–just for me 😉

p18-Stevens Brook

My lunch break miraculously turned into a three hour tour that I chose to illustrate in black and white, with shades of gray in between. It was a lovely day enhanced by all that snow. And hardly monochromatic.

Winter Reflections

My world is always transformed during a snowstorm and even the day after. So it was that yesterday about four inches of the fluffy white stuff drifted down and created a wonderland effect.

a1-snowflackes on Queen Anne's Lace

Even this morning, the individual snowflakes were still visible in their crystalized form (and I kicked myself for not packing my macro lens.)

a2-coyote and red fox tracks

I began the day with a slow journey from home to Pondicherry Park, with the intention of meeting a hiking group. Along the way, I realized that others had trekked before me. Two red foxes and a coyote had crossed paths, forming an X that mimicked the X pattern in their individual footprints. (The bigger prints from upper left to lower right being the coyote; and the smaller prints from lower left to upper right being the two foxes.)

a3-red fox with chevron

In almost direct registration, a hind foot of the fox landed on snow previously packed down by the front foot, so what you see are the two prints. The top print was a bit fuzzy in formation for so much is the hair on the fox’s foot. Despite that, toe nails, toes and the chevron pad at the back, plus the X formation between toes and pad seemed obvious.

a4-Stevens Brook

As I made my way through the park, the morning light on Stevens Brook drew me off trail to the frozen edge. And ice along the bank indicated the change in water levels since the heavy rain of a few days ago.

a5-Bob Dunning Bridge

At last I reached the gateway to town, which is also the gateway to the park–the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge. I have a great fondness for this bridge on many levels, including memories of Bob who passed away suddenly at least ten years ago, the barn-raising community effort to build it, and the fact that each beam represents a different tree, bark included. You can learn more about it by reading my previous blog post: Barking Up A Bridge.

a6-snow on bridge

And each time I walk across it, it seems to offer up something different. This morning, it was how the snow coated the railing. I think the artistic side of Bob would have approved.

a7-AMC group at bridge

On the other side, I met up with a group of seven women. Led by AMC volunteer JoAnne Diller, our intention was to tramp through the park following all the outer loops, including a link on the Lake Environmental Association‘s Pinehaven Trail at the Maine Lake Science Center. Along the way we visited with each other, enjoyed the beauty that surrounded us, and got some exercise.

a10-Stevens Brook

And then we returned to the bridge and parted ways. I choose to follow the inner trails home, pausing first to enjoy the color of Stevens Brook from the bridge’s center.

a8-mallards

And no winter visit to the park is complete without taking time to watch the ducks–and listen as well.

a8a-mallards

They gather by the dozens, some to rest while others seemed to be in constant motion.

a12-ice skirt

Before following the trails leading west and toward home, I returned to the scenic overlook where ice skirted a tree–again indicating that the water was recently much higher.

a13-eddy

In the same spot I watched water swirl in a small eddy and am amazed that I’m not still standing there–mesmerized as I was by the action.

a14-yellow birch sculpture

But my stomach was growling and so I continued on–stopping to admire another of nature’s wonders–a yellow birch that germinated atop an old pine stump and today stands as a sculpture of one member of the community supporting another despite their differences. Hmmmm.

a15-bench awaiting visitors

The trail I followed home was less traveled than the others and the snow a bit deeper because it hadn’t been packed down. When the park was first created by Lakes Environmental Association and  Loon Echo Land Trust, the AMC did some trail work and part of their offering was this bench. Though it hasn’t recently supported a weary traveler or one who just wants to set for a time, I trusted that day will soon come again.

a16-AMC bridge

I crossed the bridge near the bench, which was also built by the AMC crew. And from there, I headed home to lunch, but not without offering a smile of gratitude to JoAnne for continuing to volunteer to lead walks for the AMC and giving us all an excuse to enjoy the company of each other in this beautiful place.

a17-Saco Old Course

Later in the day I found myself in Lovell for a quick errand and the light was such that I felt the need to spend a little time beside the Old Course of the Saco River just down the road in North Fryeburg.

a18-Saco Old Course

The scene is never the same, nor is the light. What may have seemed monochromatic was hardly that.

a19-church

As the sun began to set, the water still harbored reflective moments.

a20-setting sun

And it transformed some reflections from crisp representations into impressionistic paintings.

a11-ice chimes again

At the end of the day, however, my favorite reflection of all was one spied along Willet Brook in Pondicherry Park by Eleanor, a member of our morning AMC trek.

a9-ice chimes

Winter chimes. Winter reflections.

 

 

 

May(be) a Mondate

We headed out the backdoor, into our woodlot, down the cowpath, along the snowmobile trail, veered left behind the church, walked down a driveway, crossed the road and snuck into Pondicherry Park.

p-NOrway maple and samaras

Or so we thought, but as we stood below this Norway maple with its widely-divergent two-winged samaras, a familiar voice hailed us. Our friend, Dick Bennett, appeared out of nowhere (well, really from somewhere–for like us, he lives nearby and uses these trails frequently to get to town) and so we chatted briefly. He was on a mission and we were headed in a different direction along the multi-layered loop system.

p-crossing the field

Within minutes we followed the path out of the woods and across the field–prepared as we were for rain. Our plan was to retreat when it started to pour.

Once we entered the woods again, we heard a barred owl call from the distance with its infamous “Who cooks for you?” “Our oldest son and his girlfriend,” was our response for they had surprised us this weekend with a visit and prepared last night’s meal.

p-foxhole debris

For the most part we stuck to the trail system, but then we stepped over the wall onto the Lake Environmental Association’s Maine Lake Science Center property because I wanted to show my guy this pile of dirt and stones.

p-fox hole

On a recent bushwhack with a few others, we’d discovered this fox hole and I immediately recalled all the fox tracks and seeing a red fox this past winter not far from this location.

p-boardwalk1

After poking about for a few minutes, we made our way back to the LEA trail and eventually landed at the boardwalk that weaves through a wetland. From there, it was back through the woods to the park trails. I know my guy wanted to move quickly, such were the bugs, but I wanted to take everything in and so he patiently waited from time to time.

p-Canada mayflower

After all, there were visions in white exploding with glory in the form of Canada mayflowers,

p-foamflowers

foam-flowers,

p-wild sarsapirilla

and wild sarsaparilla.

p-gaywings

We also feasted our eyes on visions offering the purplish hue of gaywings, aka fringed polygala.

p-fern stream

And then there were the ferns.

p-cinnamon fern fertile frond

The fertile stalks of cinnamon ferns shouted their name,

p-royal fern

while the royal ferns were much more subtle–

p-royal fern fertile fronds

their fertile crowns practically blending into the sterile fronds.

p-chipmunk

At the chimney by the amphitheater, a chipmunk paused to ponder our intentions and then quickly disappeared.

p-Stevens Brook

We followed the river trail to the Bob Dunning Bridge and noted all the shades of green beside Stevens Brook.

p-boxelder samaras

And then there were other sights to see, like the boxelder and its samaras. Its common name refers to the resemblance of its leaves to elder trees and the use of the soft wood for box making. Its also our only maple with compound leaves. And the samaras differ greatly from the Norway maple we stood under at the beginning of our walk–for the boxelder’s winged seeds more closely resemble upside down Vs or peace signs.

p-catbird 1

As is often the case when stopping by the bridge, the catbirds who nest in the undergrowth paused beside the brook during their foraging expeditions.

p-caterpillars on maple leaf

Nearby, we saw some food meant for them–a colony of Eastern tent caterpillars consuming maple leaves right down to the veins. It seemed like it was time for some units of energy to be passed along the food web.

Besides the wildlife, our only human encounters included a relative crossing the bridge on his way home from work and our friend Dick, whom we’d seen at the start.

For various reasons, May has been devoid of dates and so today’s adventure, though not long, served as our only Mondate celebration for the month–no maybes about it. And it never did rain.

 

 

 

“The Actual World”

In this morning’s newspaper I read an article about the loss of natural sound because we have created so much people noise. It took me back to a time about forty years ago when I think I first actually paid attention by sitting alone in the woods and listening–hearing the soft rustle of grass blades, chirp of the crickets, buzz of mosquitoes and vroom of a truck in the distance. I can still envision that spot on a hillside where I closed my eyes to the sun and tried to zone in only on sound–to let go of the rest of the world and focus on that one sense.

And so I took that thought with me this morning when I joined others to bird at the Bob Dunning Bridge, one of the entrances to Bridgton’s Pondicherry Park.

p-yellow-rumped warbler

Truth be known, I also went birding at the bridge early yesterday morning when the sun shone brilliantly and a yellow-rumped warbler posed for an instant.

p-bridge 1

Today dawned raw and overcast. And at first, the birds weren’t all that song-filled or even evident.

p-baltimore 6

But then we heard one on high and our natural high kicked in. A Baltimore oriole whistled its melodious tune and we swooned.

p-phoebe right

We watched an Eastern phoebe flick its tail as it looked to the right . . .

p-phoebe left

and then to the left. Because of the morning’s chill, the bugs upon which it feeds seemed non-existent to start.

p-phoebee flying

But, perhaps it knew otherwise.

p-song swallow 2

What we knew was that the temp climbed a wee bit and bird song increased, including that of the ever sweet song sparrow. Yes, we could hear the sounds of this sleepy, western Maine town since we were only a block from Main Street, but the songbirds shared their voices and for us–we focused on those delightful tunes as we tried to figure out who we could hear but not see.

p-catbird 1

One such resident arrived this past week, like many other snowbirds (people residents who winter south of Maine– or is it south of New England?). We recognized the catbird first by its cat-like mewing and then we spotted two along the stonewall and in the brushy shrubs.

p-catbird flying

Like all birds, however, they didn’t sit still. We did note, though, that they spent most of their time on the other side of the bridge in an area where they frequently nest.

p-song sparrow 1

And speaking of nesting, the song sparrow moved from its perch to the ground where it joined others as they scratched about and filled their beaks with potential materials to add to their new home.

p-song sparrow 3

I love that from above, it blended in with its surroundings. A good thing when you are but a wee bird.

p-feathers

That being said, not all went undiscovered and we noted that some joules were passed from one bird to another–energy flowing through the cycle.

p-baltimore upside down

Eventually, one of our favorites of the day moved closer and we watched it for some time as it worked upside down and then . . .

p-baltimore 3

right side up. Again, we wondered if the oriole was working at the dried leaves and also seeking nesting material.

p-yellow warbler

And finally, a song a few of us heard when we first arrived showed its face–“Sweet, sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet,” evolved into a yellow warbler, or two or three.

p-Norway maple flowers 2

Because we were there and looking, other members of the world showed their faces, such as the flowers of Norway maples and . . .

p-box elder flowers

box elders.

p-elm leaves

We noted the emerging American elm leaves, already highlighting their sandpaper texture and asymmetrical base.

p-butternut

And then we got stumped momentarily by the butternut (aka white walnut ), but it’s the eyebrows above the monkey face leaf scar that spoke to its name. Less than a month ago, Jinny Mae and I discovered its cousin, black walnut at Narramissic. Both are not all that common in the woods, but both grow in places where human impact is more evident. That being said, human impact is evident the world ’round.

p-plaque

Eventually, all good things must come to an end and it was time for those gathered to move along into our days. But . . . we’d had the joy of spending a couple of early morning hours, whether in the sun or not, coming into contact with sight and sound and texture. We’d met the actual world and we loved making its acquaintance.

p-Mary 1

Thanks be to Mary Jewett of Lakes Environmental Association for offering these community birding events. And for her patience with us amateurs as she teaches us the finer points of identification.

 

 

 

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.

p-hammered, green shield and cocoon

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.

p-cocoon 2

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.

p-watercress 1

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.

p-dunning bridge 1

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.

p-ducks 1

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.

p-robins 2

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

p-robin 3

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

p-robin 1

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.

Book of August: BARK

IMG_2913

Book of August

It was my journey through the Maine Master Naturalist class several years ago that lead me to this book of the month: BARK–A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech.

The book actual evolved from Wojtech’s work, under the tutelage of Tom Wessels, toward a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology at Antioch University New England.

Between the covers you’ll find information about bark structure, types of bark and bark ecology. There is a key for those who are so inclined.

And then the biggest chunk of the book is devoted to photographs and descriptions for each type of tree that grows in our New England and eastern New York State forests. These include the common and Latin names, family, habitat, range maps, leaf and branch pattern, leaf shape and notes.

For me, there are two take away items from this book. First, I learned to categorize bark based on its pattern from smooth to ridges and furrows, vertical strips, curly and peeling to others covered in scales and plates. He breaks bark type into seven varieties that I now find easy to identify.

Second, I came to realize something that I may have known but never gave much thought to–except for  American beech bark, which remains smooth all its life (unless it’s been infected by the beech scale insect), bark differs from young to mature to old for any particular species. Oy vey!

Though this book is useful in the winter, now is the time to start looking. To develop your bark eyes. The leaves are on and will help with ID, thus you can try the key and you’ll know if you’ve reached the correct conclusion or not.

Go ahead. Purchase a copy and give it a whirl. I must warn you, it becomes addictive and can be rather dangerous when you are driving down the road at 50mph. As Wojtech wrote in the preface, “If you want to experience a forest, mingle among its trees. If you want to know the trees, learn their bark.”

While you are at it, I encourage you to visit the small western Maine town of Bridgton, where the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge leads into Pondicherry Park. Each of the sixteen bridge beams is constructed from a different tree and the bark is still on them. Test yourself and then grab one of my brochures at the kiosk to see if you got it right. If there are no brochures, let me know and I’ll fill the bin.

And while you are there, stop by the independent bookstore, Bridgton Books, to purchase a copy of BARK.

BARK: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech, University Press of New England, 2011.

Every Day is a Gift

It’s Earth Day and yet, I wanted to hibernate. That didn’t go so well. First, I looked out the living room window this morning and noticed a skunk staggering as it walked in circles–like a dog chasing its tail–only the skunk kept falling to the ground and then getting up and continuing in the same fashion. So I called the game warden. A neighbor did the same and a short time later an animal control officer put the skunk out of its rabid misery.

a-blues1

And then I was supposed to co-lead a hike in Pondicherry Park, but still in hibernate-mode, I managed to get out of it. My excuse–work load. Which was true, but staying focused wasn’t happening. So, I headed out the back door and decided to change my point of view. The high bush blueberry leaf buds began to do the trick as they offered their gift of quiet beauty.

a-red map2

a-red maple 1

Nearby, red maples practically screamed for attention. Male flowers have long, extended stamens that are coated in dusty yellow-green pollen. The females have a well developed ovary with two long stigmas but the stamens are reduced in size and non-functional. Just seeing them lifted my mood.

a-ta1

As I made my way to the vernal pool, I stopped to smell the trailing arbutus, aka Mayflower. But sniff as I did while squatting on all fours, I couldn’t smell the soft scent people rave about. And I have a good sniffer. For me, the gift of this wildflower is all in the joy it brings as one of our first to bloom.

a-tad 4

My next stop, was of course, the vernal pool that I frequent on a regular basis. While something has been disturbing some of the egg masses, others continue to develop.

a-tadpole 1

Each little tadpole swims about in its jelly-covered egg, offering a gift of hope.

a-sally3

Salamander eggs also are enjoying the warmth of being encased in jelly–especially where the sun shines upon them. It’s most helpful for development when the egg masses can float to the top of the pond and take advantage of the sun’s heat.

a-sally 1

For now, each little pod within the orb reminds me of coffee beans.

a-water st2

While standing silently beside the pool, I began to notice other forms of life, including the water striders. Do you see the two mating? These wonders of the natural world appear to skate on water, but really its the water-repellant hairs on their hind and middle legs that allow them to glide nimbly across the surface. They offer a gift of amazement.

a-mosquito1

Their favorite food happens to be abundant in this pool–mosquito larvae. I have to say it’s a food offering, but also a gift to all of us–we should celebrate the water striders as much as we do the dragonflies.

a-tom 2

I left the pool and realized I was among the turkeys. Tom was ready to offer his gift to his harem. Such a handsome dude.

a-grady 4

And with that, I realized that I was ready to join the world again so I drove to the trailhead for Bald Pate to join Loon Echo Land Trust for an Earth Day hike. The leader of the gang was this precocious tyke. At three years old, I kept insisting he’s 33. He kept telling me he’s only three. It can’t be. Though this was his first mountain to climb, I suspect there are many more in his future. He offered just the right tonic today and I fell in love.

a-view

As we climbed, we paused to look west and admire the view. Though the sun wasn’t truly shining, the day was getting brighter, literally and figuratively.

a-pitch cone

At the summit, we took time to examine the pitch pine cones with their prickly scales. Sometimes beauty has an edge.

a-grady and carrie mean pose

Before we descended, our little hiking buddy posed with his mom, the outgoing executive director of Loon Echo. Carrie will be missed and we wish her and her family well as they prepare for their move to Wisconsin in a couple of months. Her dedication to land conservation is to be admired. And that mean-looking grin–oh my.

a-adam 1

Also to be admired and the reason our local community and those beyond have been dealing with extreme shock these past couple of days–Adam Perron, who’s life was snuffed out two days ago in a tragic accident. Adam was the milfoil dude and a naturalist/educator at Lakes Environmental Association in Bridgton, where I serve on the board (and chair the ed cmt). He was also a student in the Maine Master Naturalist Program (Falmouth 2014) when I served in my first year as a mentor, so we spent many hours carpooling to classes and field trips and solving all kinds of environmental problems–in our opinions at least.

a-adam2

He was most at home in places like Holt Pond, where he loved to share his knowledge with others. R.I.P. Adam. I’m grateful for the gift of time spent in your presence. It strikes us all that your candle was snuffed out way too early, but as a friend reminded me today, we never know when it is our turn. Here’s to you, Beth and Abby.

And to everyone else, hug the ones you love and don’t forget to wonder. Every day is a gift.

 

 

 

Snow Be It

The action at the bird feeders was crazy busy this morning–as if a snow storm might be on the horizon.

goldfinch 2

goldfinches, mid air squawk

Some goldfinches managed to dine together in peace, while others displayed a midair squawk over perch choice.

male hairy woodpecker

The hairy woodpecker often had the suet to himself, until, that is, the nuthatches, titmice and chickadees flew in.

female cardinal

And somehow the female cardinal managed to pose upon a perch across from a chickadee. She never looks quite comfortable up high.

male cardinal

cardinal and squirrel

Her guy always checks out the local scene before foraging for seeds on the ground. He’s not the only forager in the neighborhood.

ice rink 2

And beyond the feeders, the ice rink is open. Of course, if you want to use it  you need to bring your own shovel. My days of being the human zamboni ended a few years ago.

raccoon prints

I’d intended to join friends in Falmouth for a tramp today, but with the impending storm, I decided to stick closer to home. And so this afternoon found me exploring familiar grounds, wondering what I might see. What could possibly be different?

Ah, the intrepid raccoon had passed this way. I love the pattern it leaves behind, with each set of prints on the opposite diagonal.

vernal pool 1

And then there’s the vernal pool. Nothing new about that, but at the same time, it’s ever changing.

Queen Anne's Lace 1

The fact that dainty Queen Anne’s Lace is filled with spiky seeds seems almost an oxymoron. A beautiful one.

The snow was just starting to fall when I happened upon the QAL. And so I continued on, crossing the road and disappearing into a familiar place–Pondicherry Park.

ice form 2ice form 3ice formation 1ice rays

With every step, I needed to be mindful of where I placed my foot to avoid slipping. Though I’m weary of ice, I never tire of the formations it manifests.

ash 1 Ash 2ash seeds 3

I’m going out on a limb here, but believe based on the structure of the single winged samara that these are green ash seeds that litter the ground. As the wing surrounding the seed tapers toward the tip, it is straight versus the slight curve seen in a white ash. In addition, the white ash samara is wider than a green ash.

ash leaves 1

And then there is the ash leaf mystery. Leaves still on trees? Ash leaflets are not marcescent so why have these leaves withered and stayed attached to the twigs? Ah, but when some trail management was conducted this past summer, the cut branches that crowded the path were tossed aside. The leaves died then and there, thus not being “cut” off by the tree and falling in a normal manner.

 witch hazel color contrast

contrast beech leaves

Of course, the marcescent leaves of witch hazel and American beech against the blue of Willet Brook provided a display worthy of attention as the snow began to collect.

witch's butter on red pine

Witch hazel isn’t the only witch in the park. Witch’s butter decorates a red pine trunk.

jelly ear fungi

Likewise, witch’s butter isn’t the only fungi. Jelly ears decorate a fallen oak branch.

snag sap

There’s always plenty to wonder about. In this case, a very, very dead snag–leaking sap. How can that be so?

Willet Brook

The ice lining the banks of Willet Brook crinkled and crackled with the flow of the water, adding an eerie sound to the landscape.

mallards

Meanwhile, in Stevens Brook, several pairs of mallards quacked constantly, announcing their presence.

Stevens Brook

The snow increased as I crossed the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge and

dam

walked past the Stevens Brook dam.

still Christmas 1

At home, it’s still Christmas. Snow be it.

Book of December: Fascinating Fungi of New England by Lawrence Millman

Fungi

Book of December

I never thought that I would develop a fondness for fungi, but alas, I have. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t know them well, but am in the continual process of developing a deeper appreciation for the fruiting bodies I see and the mycelia that probes beneath the surface forever in search of nutrients.

For a beginner like me, Fascinating Fungi of New England by Lawrence Millman is the perfect guide. First of all, it measures 8 x 6 x .25 inches and slips easily into my pack. But what I like even more about this book is that Millman talks about mushrooms in a manner that a layperson like myself can understand. Combined with the artwork of Rick Kollath, whose visual cues aid in my learning, Millman compresses key points in this little book that has become one of my go-to sources in the field.

I think what I admire most is Millman’s voice. I’ve never met the man, but feel as if he’s standing beside me chatting about any particular species and telling the story. My friend and mentor, Kevin Harding, strongly advises that we should spend less time naming and more time sharing the stories of what we see in the woods. And that’s precisely what Millman does, with a splash of humor added to the mix.

To illustrate, in a sidebar about Birch Polypores, he writes the following: “Multi-faceted Fungus — 5,300-year old Tyrolean Ice Man Ötzi, discovered in 1991, had two polypores — the Birch Polypore and the Tinder Polypore among his possessions. He probably made a decoction of the former to rid himself of intestinal worms. Early New Englanders used the Birch Polypore as a razor strop; until recently, entomologists used it for mounting insect specimens; and the present-day Cree of northern Quebec (like Ötzi) make a medicinal tea from it. The Cree don’t like the polypore’s bitter flavor (due to a compound called Betlinic Acid), so they assume their alimentary parasites also won’t like the flavor and will thus vacate the premises upon coming into contact with it.

And I love this: “Non-Gilled on Other — In this catch-all category, the species are not only parasitic, but most of them would also seem to be emulating Hollywood mad scientists in the way they transform the ‘Other:’ the Hypomyces turns a Russula or Lactarius into an entirely different species called a Lobster; an Entoloma causes a Honey Mushroom to lose its characteristic cap-and-stem shape; Rhizopus stolonifer turns a bowl of strawberries into an inedible, gooey mess; and a Cordyceps eats away at its truffle host until that host completely falls to pieces. You would think a movie producer would approach one or more of these species with a contract, wouldn’t you? Well, it hasn’t happened yet . . .”

The book is divided in an easy-to-use manner. So easy, in fact, that recently an 8-year-old friend began using my copy within minutes to identify species we found on a walk through Pondicherry Park. Sections include Gilled on Ground; Gilled on Wood; Gilled on Other; Non-Gilled on Ground; Non-Gilled on Wood; Non-Gilled on Other; Slime Molds. There are sidebars and measurements, spore prints, details about habitat and season, plus a glossary and other resources for those who want to take the next step in fungi ID.

For me, for now, this is enough.

Fascinating Fungi of New England by Lawrence Millman, foreword by Gary Lincoff, illustrated by Rick Kollath, published 2011, Kollath+Stensaas Publishing.