I was early–a rare occasion as usually I’m the one who arrives at least ten minutes after the agreed upon time. It wasn’t always that way, but has become a bad habit. That said, it was a creature of habit that I went in search of because I had some time to spare.
And much to my delight a sign hanging from a tree announced what I’d hoped. Can you read it? The hemlock sprig dangling from the birch stating that So-and-So was in residence?
Suddenly I realized there were a million items shouting the obvious, scattered as they were upon the snow and rocks like neon signs on a city street: “So-and-So Slept Here;” “So-and-So’s Diner;” and “So-and-So’s Rest Rooms.”
Hemlock twigs with angled nips and singular scats spoke to So-and-So’s presence. Was So-and-So present? I could only hope so.
As I looked about, I noticed the signs dropped by one or two others, including one of whom I totally expected to surprise me as it has on several occasions in the recent past. While I didn’t startle the bird, I knew by its offering left on the rock that it continued to frequent the locale–do you see the “golden” cylinder among the brown scat? That would be a notice from the local grouse.
And then I stepped under the hemlock because there was more bird sign on the tree created by a Pileated Woodpecker and I hoped to find its scat. No such luck among the wood chips, but plenty more fresh pellets stating that the occupant was possibly in situ.
All the telltale signs were there. About one inch long. Comma shaped. Groove down the inside. Fresh. Did I say fresh?
From every angle the evidence was clear. I shouldn’t be standing below because just possibly that certain So-and-So might be resting above. And said being has been known to fall out of trees as I’ve told others while standing in this same spot on previous occasions. Did I say this is a creature of habit?
Whenever I visit I look up. But it’s not until winter that my sight is graced with that of such another. Can you see it? The anomaly in the canopy?
How about now? Do you see the dark blob sitting up there?
Porcupines are indeed creatures of habit and every winter I know certain places to locate a few locals, including this big guy. A guy? Yes, because it’s the males who tend to rest in trees during the day.
He was up there enjoying the cambium layer of the bark as witnessed by the goldeny color of the branch by his feet. All those downed twigs–apparently they were in his way so he nipped them off and dropped them to the ground in order to get to the nutrients he sought for his winter diet.
Check out his eye. We were both sharp observers as we eyed each other from a distance.
My mission was two-fold. Hike up a small mountain and capture a one minute video to post on a work website next week, and retrieve a game camera so we can download the photos and then place in a different location.
And so it was that on this brisk morning, snow-capped Mount Washington greeted me. If you zoom in, you might see the buildings at the summit.
Because I was at a different summit that I frequent, I knew I had to check on the activity of the local residents and wasn’t disappointed. First, I followed their trails, where leaves are well packed. Those led to trees, but no downed nip twigs as one might expect. That could only mean one thing–there are still plenty of acorns on the ground for them to eat. Because I was searching, however, I was thrilled to discover one sign that the season is changing. I knew that by the five layers I was wearing, but the stripped bark and cambium layer of a birch indicated the same. A porcupine’s diet varies with the offerings and part of their winter dining includes just this. Notice, too, the pattern of the incisor marks. Such a design thrills me no matter how often I encounter it.
One of the porky trails led into a crevice below where I stood. It was there that I caught the first glimpse of icicles and knew I had to climb down. My route wasn’t the same as the porcupine’s for I’m not quite as nimble on rocks and slippery leaves.
But, with grace, I descended and made the surprise discovery of Mount Rushmore East. At least, that’s how the rock faces looked to my eyes.
But seriously, I wanted to spy the icicles from below and they became the inspiration for next week’s GLLT Moment.
That wasn’t all I wanted to spy and I wasn’t disappointed for the trail of scat indicated one potential den site.
And more scat led to another. I suspect those aren’t the only two, but I wanted to keep moving, such was the temp.
That said, right beside the second porcupine den, I found a small hole in the ground capped in hoar frost and suspected that someone was inside. It seemed a bit larger than a chipmunk hole. Maybe a squirrel? Or a weasel? Or even, the porcupine’s den vent?
While those choices rolled around in my brain, I climbed up the ledges and made my way down the trail until it intersected with another. Eventually, water once again stopped me as it often does.
Only two weeks ago the temperatures in western Maine were in the 60˚s and 70˚s, but the past few days have been chilly and already dancing elephant legs are forming over sticks that dangle above moving streams.
Even the froth created by the friction of the stream’s movement had frozen in place.
I stopped a few more times, but finally reached the spot that was my second intention of the day. While exploring in this area a couple of week’s ago with several Greater Lovell Land Trust docents, we noticed beaver trees. The work looked rather recent and so we set up a game cam in hopes of getting a view of the perpetrator.
Today’s visit, however, showed no fresh work on this tree.
And a skim of ice indicated no one had recently walked out of the water. I snagged the camera and dropped it at the office so the photos can be downloaded. I hope they reveal more than a few test pics of us homo sapiens.
It was while heading back to my truck that this splash of color caught my attention. Notice the Striped Maple leaf on the mushroom–they are like a matched set. I’ve been torn in my identification between an Artist’s Conk and a Red-belted Polypore, whose belt is not always red.
But more important than identification was presentation. And the knowledge that the middle mushroom grew when the tree was still standing, while the others fruited after the tree had fallen, for mushrooms must always orient toward the ground, the better to spread one’s spores, of course.
My final sighting of the day, that still has me smiling, occurred in the middle of the adventure, but I wanted to save it for last. Do you see what I saw?
How about now?
Surely now you can.
Who cooks for me? I wish this Barred Owl would, for I must now prepare dinner. But that’s okay because I’ll take him with into the kitchen in spirit and give thanks that I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with him . . . all in a day’s work.
Having a tendency to be a bit prickly in certain situations, I can relate to one who exudes this characteristic.
And today was even more special because I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes in the presence of the immature form of my prickly friend whose “English name, ‘porcupine,’ comes from the Latin for quill and pig (porcus = pig and spina = quill). The scientific name, Erethizon dorsatum translates loosely as ‘creature with an aroused back.'” (Thanks PM)
Yes, it was a young porcupine that I met upon a gravel driveway. And the pleasure was all mine. For a moment, however, I did wonder about its daytime foraging habit. Was there something wrong with this critter, e.g. rabies, for he and his parents are generally nocturnal? But, as I watched, I was reassured that it was just out enjoying a mid-afternoon snack.
And in watching, I actually got to see the motion that I know so well through its parents’ winter footprints left in the snow. Notice how the feet on the right side are both in motion and the left side supports the rodent’s weight for a quick second, before it all switches to the opposite side? All with the toes turned in, of course. And nails extended out front. You know who else waddles in such a manner? A bear. And minus the quills, who does the porcupine remind you of?
Periodically, as he crossed the drive, he stopped and stood on two feet. I wanted to think he was checking me out as I checked him out, but really, a porcupine’s eyesight is rather poor. Instead, as he develops so do his two best senses: sound and smell. Did he perhaps sniff me?
I don’t think so. What he was really intent upon were the acorns that had fallen from a Northern Red Oak that towered above.
Lately, it seems, no matter where I am in the woods, I realize that the sky is falling as acorns land with kerplunks. And porcupines, after all, are herbivores, feasting as they do on all that our forests and fields have to offer in the spring and summer, and then bark and twigs and the underpinnings of our barns in the winter.
Every once in a while, this little guy turned his back on me. Had he been an adult, I would have seen the action as a defensive mode for they are known to spin around so that their tails face the predator during a confrontation. If attacked, an adult will use the tail to strike its assailant. And those quills—they detach easily and with their barbed ends become embedded in the skin of the attacker. But . . . it’s a misconception to think that a porcupine can eject or throw its quills.
This babe was born in the spring, somewhere between April and June. I’m assuming (never assume—if you know what I mean) he was an early babe and is now independent since he appeared to be moving about with no parents watching anxiously. He won’t reach sexually maturity until next September. Until then, he’ll enjoy life on his own.
Our time together, wasn’t long as I said, but I was grateful for a few moments to celebrate the porcup-ette, as a young one is known. Here’s to you, little prickly pig.
Serendipity: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
And so it was that upon arrival home from a short hike with my guy this morning, we discovered a package addressed to me in the mailbox. When I saw the town in Florida I knew exactly from whence it had come, but still didn’t know what was inside.
Well, much to my delightful surprise it was a children’s book.
I’m in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor with illustrations by Peter Parnall.
Upon opening to the inside cover, several pieces of paper fell out. The first was a letter from Ben and Faith Hall; though actually it was written by Ben. Here’s an excerpt: “One of my favorite children’s books is Everybody Needs a Rock. It was written by Byrd Baylor and illustrated by Peter Parnall. When Byrd Baylor’s name appeared on the cover of the book I saw, I purchased it for fifty cents.“
Ben and Faith, you see, are part of a group of twelve retired residents in their Florida town who tutor second graders struggling with reading comprehension. Given that, they are always on the lookout for appropriate books to share with their students.
Ben continued in his note to me, “After reading the book, I left it by Faith’s chair without saying anything. Obviously, I wanted to see if her reaction was similar to mine. It was. The story reminds us of your blog with its information and imagination. Thank you for sharing your gift with us. Keep going!
My ulterior motive in sending you the book is that hopefully you will write a children’s book. In no way should you take time away from your blog, but with your depth of spirit it would be worthwhile.
The illustrations in the book are fascinating and remind me of your skill with photography.”
Well, Ben and Faith, thank you so much for this gift. And for your love and support for what I enjoy doing. As for the children’s book, ideas fly through my brain all the time, but . . . I’d have to self-publish and it isn’t going to happen.
As for I’m in Charge of Celebrations, I totally get it. My guy wasn’t in the house when I sat down to read it and it’s a book that needs to be read aloud. And so I did. When he walked around the corner into the living room, he thought I was talking to someone on the phone.
For those of you not familiar with the title, Baylor begins the story with an explanation of how she’s never lonely as she explores the desert.
I feel the same way and on January 11, 2019, I actually wrote, “People often ask me this question: Aren’t you afraid of hiking alone. My response is that I’m more afraid to walk down Main Street than through the woods, the reason being that it’s a rare occasion I encounter a mammal. Oh, I do move cautiously when I’m alone, but there’s something uniquely special about a solo experience.”
As Baylor goes on to say, part of the reason she’s not lonely is this: “I’m the one in charge of celebrations.” Indeed. Each celebration marks the day she made an incredible discovery.
And so, I took a look back at some of my blog posts, and it’s all your fault Ben and Faith that this is a long one. But you inspired me to review some exciting discoveries I made just in the past year. With that, I attempted to follow Baylor’s style.
Friends, while reveling in the colors of dragons and damsels, their canoodling resulting in even more predators of my favorite kind, I met Prince Charming, a Gray Tree Frog who offered not one rare glimpse, but two. And so it is that May 30th is Gray Tree Frog Day.
For over thirty years I've stalked this land and July 14th marked the first time I noticed the carnivorous plant growing beside the lake. Droplets glistened at the tips of the hair-like tendrils of each leaf filled to the brink as they were with insect parts. On this day I celebrated Round-leaved Sundews.
A celebratory parade took place on September 22. The route followed the old course of a local river. Along the way, trees stood in formation, showing off colorful new coats. Upon some floats, seeds rustled as they prepared to rain down like candy tossed to the gathered crowd. My favorite musicians sported their traditional parade attire and awed those watching from the bandstand. With an "ooEEK, ooEEK," and a "jeweep" they flew down the route. Before it was over a lone lily danced on the water and offered one last reflection. And then summer marched into autumn.
With wonder in my eyes and on my mind I spent November in the presence of a Ruffed Grouse. The curious thing: the bird followed me, staying a few feet away as I tramped on. I stopped. Frequently. So did the bird. And we began to chat. I spoke quietly to him (I'm making a gender assumption) and he murmured back sweet nothings. Together we shared the space, mindful of each other. As he warmed up below a hemlock, I stood nearby, and watched, occasionally offering a quiet comment, which he considered with apparent nonchalance. Sometimes the critters with whom we share this natural world do things that make no sense, but then again, sometimes we do the same. Henceforth, November will always be Ruffed Grouse month for me.
At 6am a flock of crows outside the bedroom window encouraged me to crawl out of bed. Three black birds in the Quaking Aspen squawked from their perch as they stared at the ground. I peeked but saw nothing below. That is, until I looked out the kitchen door and tracks drew my attention. It took a moment for my sleepy brain to click into gear, but when it did I began to wonder why the critter had come to the back door and sashayed about on the deck. Typically, her journey takes her from under the barn to the hemlock stand. Today, as the flakes fell, and the birds scolded, she sat on the snowpile, occasionally retreated to her den, grunted, re-emerged, and then disappeared for the day. I went out again at dusk in hopes of seeing the prickly lady dig her way out but our time schedules were not synchronized. I don't know why she behaved strangely this morning, but I do know this: when the crows caw--listen. And look. And wonder.
April 8th will be the day I celebrate the Barred Owl for he finally flew in and landed. As I watched he looked about at the offering of treats. Cupcakes and cookies were for sale to the left in the form of Juncos and Chickadees. And then he turned his focus right, where drinks were on tap as the snowflakes fell. He even checked out the items below his feet, hoping upon hope to find a morsel of a vole to his liking. Eventually, he changed his orientation to take a better look at the entire spread of food. But still, he couldn't make up his mind and so he looked some more, swiveling his neck. In the end, he never did choose. Instead, off he flew without munching any of the specialty items. But I finally got to see my owl.
Ah, Ben and Faith, there are moments when one miraculously arrives in the right place at the right time, such as when a dragonfly emerges from its exuvia and slowly pumps blood into its body and you get to be a witness.
It strikes me as serendipity that this book should arrive today. You see, all month I’ve been debating what book to feature and time was of the essence as May approached. And then today, your lovely note, a copy of I’m in Charge of Celebrations, and the Christmas homily you wrote, Ben.
You are both the salt of the earth and I am honored to be your friend. Thank you for your kindness. (I’m only now realizing that we’ve shared a few celebrations that we’ll never forget including the fawn at Holt Pond and your smiling Bob the Bass.
Once again, the April Book of the Month: I’m in Charge of Celebrations.
I’m in Charge of Celebrations, by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1986.
To my guy and our sons, March Madness means only one thing: NCAA basketball.
To folks at the grocery store it seems to mean something else: a disdain for snow.
To me, while there was a time when I admit thinking that March was indeed the longest month, despite the fact that others like January, May, July, and August also have thirty-one days, I’ve changed my tune over the years. Perhaps it was a move north so many moons ago as I sought a land where more snow blanketed the earth that helped me transition. What I do know is that it’s a month of constant change as we move from winter to spring and while I never want to see the snow melt, I equally enjoy all the hints of what is to come that slowly join the display.
That display began on the first day of March when the frigid morning temperature created a mosaic of color and form on the window behind our bed. Feathery fern fronds and dragonfly wings danced across the glass as the morning light added subtle hues to the frosty collage.
Outdoors, the female Cardinal showed off her brilliant colors in the late afternoon sun.
Even in snowstorms, the male Pileated’s excavation work never ceased.
I did, however, spy a chickadee upon a lilac who looked at the snow as if to say, “Enough is enough.”
And a Junco who seemed to admire either its reflection or the prospect of plenty of thistle seeds.
Over the course of the month, we welcomed various nocturnal visitors including this member of the marsupial family.
Other nighttime visitors were masked bandits, indeed.
One nocturnal visitor surprised me one day by napping in a hemlock tree.
But, as the month progressed, I discovered we had not one, but two, porcupines living under the barn who made the transition from hemlock to seeds as their seasonal diet changed.
Even if we didn’t see them at night, we knew by the scat they left behind that they had emerged to dine.
And every day–the red and gray squirrels made their own quick work of the bird seed.
Of course, the birds also enjoyed such offerings.
Even if their feathers were astray as they began to molt despite, or because of, the weather conditions.
Some cracked me up with their stances at the suet feeder like this Red-breasted Nuthatch who appeared to casually step up to the bar and place his order.
March also brought the turkeys back, though I don’t know why they’d ignored us for the previous two months.
The Toms’ featherless heads of blue and pink and red raised bumps, called caruncles, changed colors with their moods.
That wasn’t the only thing about them to notice and I began to pay attention to their feet for like Ruffed Grouse, they seemed to have “snowshoes” and “treeshoes” that helped them stay atop snow and stable in their treetop roosts.
As the month advanced, others like this House Finch, returned to the north country and brightened my days.
And though he’s not singing yet, the Song Sparrow also made a come back and invited others of his species to join him.
The bird seed became an important supply for all forms of life and the deer cleared their own path from the hemlock grove to the feeders.
And then one day, spring dawned!
Still we had snow, but that didn’t stop the woodchuck from crossing the deck during a storm.
I chuckled when I watched him head to the familiar corner of the barn, that same corner that the porcupines emerge from and retreat to each night and morning. Oh, and the raccoons and opossum also know it. I’m just waiting for the skunks–I’ve smelled them, but have yet to see one.
Some days I spent near water where I was delighted to find exoskeletons such as this upon the snow.
The exoskeleton had belonged to the larval stage of a winter stonefly such as this one that crossed the snow as they do.
Other insects didn’t fare so well in the weather and behind plexiglass they remained in frozen form.
Within the last few days, as the month winds down, I’ve noted areas beside trees with southerly orientations where the snow has melted and the wintergreens grow.
And though I’ve seen Robins all winter, their flock numbers have increased significantly this past week.
But still we have plenty of snow as this Tom Turkey well knew this afternoon while he marched forward with a spirit of hope in each step.
I hope you can find some spring in your steps as this month gives way to the next and enjoy the wonder of it all. For me, March Madness is really March Gladness.
We drove to O’Lovell in western Maine late this morning with the plan to search for bear trees in an area where I’ve seen them in the past.
All along the main road to the Greater Lovell Land Trust property, Irish flags decorated random telephone poles and even a tree. The latter was our favorite for the person who hoisted it had to climb up the steep snowbank in order to show off the colors of the Emerald Isle.
Braving a thousand bumps, or so it felt as we negotiated potholes, frost heaves, and culvert depressions, we at last arrived at the end of a dirt (read: muddy) road and prepared for a hike up the oxymoron called Flat Hill.
While yesterday’s trek meant slogging through the wet snow, today’s brisker temperature allowed us to stay on top of the wintery surface, though we were thankful for our snowshoes.
Upward we climbed until we reached the coppiced red oaks and knew to turn right, walk off trail and begin our search among the beeches in the forest. You see, I knew there were trees to be found for I’ve seen them before, and I knew the turning point tree, but . . . the last time I looked, I couldn’t locate the trees with the bear claw marks. That, however, is a challenge my guy heartily accepts and so we split up and each set off to check all the trees in the forest. Well . . . almost all.
As is to be expected, my guy covered much more territory at a faster rate than I did and I wasn’t surprised to hear the distant call, “I got one!”
Indeed, he did. And a beauty was it. Can’t you just see the bear shimmying its way up and down the tree–several times over.
In my brain, a bear hug was the real deal from one of the original tree huggers. And I gave thanks for being accused of doing the same.
All the way to the top we could envision the quest for those tiny beech nuts that offered nutrition. Hmmm . . . isn’t it curious to note that the core of nutrition is “nut”? Or is it curious?
From the big tree, we moved up the mountain until we reached its sort of flat top where the view to the west is always a treat. And then we began to look about, for usually there is porcupine sign in the immediate vicinity to enjoy–that is . . . until I offered a porcupine prowl there two weeks ago and all we found were fisher tracks.
Today, however, was different and we found some fresh evidence that the porcupine is still in the area. We knew it by the teeth impressions left behind.
Further evidence was seen in some diagonally clipped twigs, scat, and even a strand of hair! Yes, porcupines have hairy bodies–including their quills. But on their bellies and faces they have a silkier variety–do you see it?
While I looked about the summit for more evidence, my guy stalked about below. Can you see him in the middle of the photo?
Eventually I wandered down to join him, pausing halfway to note some porky tracks leading upward . . . and downward, of course.
Below the ledges we hunted for his den, but found only tracks moving along the edges.
Though we never found the critter that we assume could easily look like a miniature bear if one were to remove all its quills, we enjoyed exploring the territory that is part of his home.
The delightful part of paying attention is the noticing. There were the organ pipes attached to the ledges, their music enhanced by drips onto rock tripe, ferns and mosses.
And an icicle of amber that stood at least two feet long.
Eventually we made our way back up and then down, again bushwhacking to look for more bear trees. We found a couple, but it was the works of others that also garnered our attention, such as this one that decided to split, but then came back together as if it was making up for time spent apart.
We found another tree with a burl that could easily have been mistaken for bear cubs spending time in a nurse tree. Typically, however, mama bear would choose a white pine for it would provide cover for her young ones as she went off to search for food for her brood.
Embedded in the snow was a squirrel drey and we mentally noted its location so we can go back another day after its no longer frozen in place and try to dissect it in hopes of better understanding such a structure.
And we spied a stonefly exoskeleton–an offering of total delight for despite its minute size, its discovery was right up there with the bear hug.
At last we left O’Lovell, with its Irish flags flying in the breeze, and found our way to O’Harrison, where we joined our friends, the O’Wisers for a beer and dinner.
The evening was topped off with Irish music performed by our favorite local acoustic folk band, Bold Riley.
From bear to beer, everyone was Irish today as we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. Well, almost everyone–I did wear some orange and donned my Macmillen plaid flannel shirt. O’Macmillen! O’Hayes! O’Bear!
A few weeks ago I’d contacted my friend Parker Veitch of White Mountain Mushrooms, LLC, to make sure he was willing to co-lead a couple of fungi walks this summer and in his response he included this paragraph: “I have a book for you. Should I leave it at the office? The first 20 or so pages are a little slow, but I think you will really like it.”
Like it? I LOVE it. And I haven’t even finished reading it. So you must be curious by now. As I was when I saw it sitting on the table at the Greater Lovell Land Trust office. You see, I was sure the book would be about fungi because Parker is always trying to help me learn about the principal decomposers of the world. Ah, but one should never assume.
May I present to you the Book of March: Entering the Mind of the Tracker by Tamarack Song.
This book is like no other tracking book that I’ve read. As I wrote back to Parker, “Thank you so much for sharing the book with me. I’m in the midst of reading Eager by Ben Goldfarb, The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf, which is about Alexander von Humboldt, and a book of essays by E.B. White (thanks Judy and Bob for gifting me that gem), but right now I’m most captivated by the teaching of Tamarack Song and I am going to have to ask Bridgton Books to order a copy for me. I want to be him and have the understandings and slow down and ask the questions he asks. And teach others to do the same.
At first I couldn’t put the book down. But now I’ve changed my tune a bit because I want to savor it. Typically, when I read a book such as this I underline key phrases, write notes in the margin and turn page corners up. But, because I’m only borrowing this copy I’m not doing that. (Did I have you nervous for a minute there, Parker?) And that’s making me soak it all in and savor each chapter more fully than I might.
You see, Tamarack, according to the back cover blurb, “has spent his life studying the world’s aboriginal peoples, apprenticing to Elders, and learning traditional hunter-gatherer survival skills. He has spent years alone in the woods as well as living with a pack of Wolves. In 1987, he founded the Teaching Drum Outdoor School in the wilderness of northern Wisconsin, where he runs the yearlong Wilderness Guide Program.”
In each of the sixteen chapters, Tamarack plays the role of guide, but not by telling. Rather, he takes the reader along on an exploration with one of his students, and encourages all of us to question what we see. In other words, to never assume, which is what I did when Parker first mentioned the book and what I often do when I’m tracking.
Instead, he wants us to notice and think about why the animal might be behaving in a particular manner, even if we know what it is by its tracks and its sign. What’s the rest of the story?
In fact, why did Opossum suddenly appear toward the tail end of the snowstorm on Sunday night?
And why is he in western Maine? How has he survived this winter with its frigid temps (mind you, it’s finally starting to warm up a tad). Where has he been since I last saw his prints in the snow a few months ago? What brought him to our yard again? Does he live under the barn with the rest of the neighborhood?
And what about last night’s visitor, Raccoon. Where has he been all winter? What brought him out? I have to say I wasn’t surprised to see him as once the temps do begin to rise the slightest bit, he appears. I also know that the bird seed attracted him, though he surprised me by not stealing the suet.
Tamarack encourages us to become the animal, especially if we don’t see it, but do see the signs it left behind. Had there been snow on the deck, I imagine I would have recognized the raccoons prints, but I would have wondered about other lines that probably would have appeared. Having the chance to watch Raccoon as I did, I now know that those lines would have been his nose and tongue as he tried to vacuum the seeds.
But then there was Raccoon’s coloration. Why the mask? Why the striped tail? I have so much to think about and learn.
And then late today, I headed out the door through which I’d taken those photos the previous two nights, and noted the Hemlock tree that Porcupine had denuded this winter. It used to be one of my favorites in the yard. But today it occurred to me that though we pay taxes on this property and try to “maintain” it, it really isn’t ours. It never has been. It belongs to the animals and the trees, and yes, even the fungi. Maybe especially the fungi.
One thing I have noticed is that all of Porcupine’s activity has aided Deer who also stops by daily.
As I continued over the stone wall, noting the six or seven other Hemlocks Porcupine has visited, a shape high up in one tree caught my attention.
I moved under Hemlock for a better look. Well, not all the way under, for I sometimes know better than to stand below such an exhibit.
As I looked with the aid of a telephoto lens, I noticed that Porcupine had apparently dined briefly and then fell asleep. Hmmm. I know some people who do that.
But the sight of Porcupine got me thinking–was this friend who lived under the barn a he and not a she after all?
And how did he/she sleep as the breeze swayed that not so thick Hemlock bough upon which Porcupine was balanced?
I did gain a better appreciation for the various types of hair that cover Porcupine’s body.
But still, so many questions, some that haven’t even formed in my mind yet.
I give thanks to Tamarack and his stories within Entering the Mind of the Tracker for that. Now I must practice the art of slowing down and paying more attention.
And I give special thanks to Parker for the offering of this book. In many ways, he emulates Tamarack Song, for both are hunter-gatherers and Parker understands the ecological systems in a way I will never know. At less than half my age, he has already slowed down and learned to pay attention.
To be attuned to the hidden nature–that is my wish. To that end, I shall purchase a copy of this book. And hope you will consider it as well.
Book of March: Entering the Mind of the Tracker: Native Practices for Developing Intuitive Consciousness and Discovering Hidden Nature.
Entering the Mind of the Tracker: Native Practices for Developing Intuitive Consciousness and Discovering Hidden Nature, by Tamarack Song, Bear & Company, a division of Inner Traditions International, 2013.
At 6am, a flock of crows outside our bedroom window drew me out of bed. There were three birds in the quaking aspen by our back deck, and all were squawking as they stared at the ground.
I peeked about, but saw nothing. That is, until I went down to the kitchen and looked out the door.
That’s when this set of tracks drew my attention. It took a moment for my sleepy brain to click into gear, but when it did I began to wonder why the critter had come to the back door and sashayed about on the deck. Typically, her journey takes her from under the barn to the hemlock stand in our woodlot, where she visits several a night before returning to her den. I say she for two reasons. “She” includes “he” so I can’t possibly be wrong and it’s my understanding that the males of this particular species are more likely to spend the day outside than the female. She returns home every morning and I never see her. Until . . .
This morning for when I stepped into the summer kitchen that serves as my office, there she was in the corner, near her entryway to her under-barn den. And numerous other sets of her tracks decorated the snowbank.
The birds continued to scold, but not quite as vehemently as they had ten minutes earlier. And the snow continued to fall. Why hadn’t she headed down under?
The thing about porcupines is that they are rather lackadaisical, so maybe she didn’t care about the birds?
My interest in her was far greater I’m sure than she cared and so I stood and watched every move. And noted that in her dance she’d also crossed over the potting table that’s almost hidden by the snow. Why so much movement for such a slow-moving critter? Was it because of the birds? And why did they care about her presence?
Eventually, she did what I expected and disappeared under the corner between the barn and shed.
And so I headed out the door, where I discovered even more tracks. It’s not like its mating season, for porcupines mate in the fall. So why all this movement, including a visit to the grill. Was she pacing?
Peering toward the barn, I couldn’t see her, but I did hear some mini-grunts coming from the corner.
And then she emerged and I headed back in to give her space. Check out those quills. Did you know that they are a form of hair. In fact, from Mary Holland’s Naturally Curious Day-by-Day, I learned that a porcupine has five forms of modified hair–each with its own purpose: dark, woody underfur serves as insulation, which is important as she journeys outside her den every single night no matter the weather or temperature; long guard hairs sensitive to touch that help her maneuver; stout whiskers also sensitive to touch; short, soft bristles on her tail’s underside provide stability when she grips bark; and then there are the roughly 30,000, yes 30,0000, quills that cover all but her face, ears, and part of her belly.
It’s those 30,000 quills that provide me with the most awe. So here’s another “did you know” fact: Within one square inch on her back, she has 100 quills. I got to thinking about that recently and cut out a square inch (well, sorta as it’s not exactly straight) of material that I glued to the top of a Ball jar.
And then I filled it with 100 toothpicks left over from a Valentine’s Chocolate Fest the PTA put on when our sons were in elementary school.
One hundred quills/square inch. Talk about prickly! Of course, she looses some especially when she squeezes into tight places, like under the barn. And others detach easily when touched (no, porcupines do not shoot quills).
There’s also her coloration to consider. Like a skunk, the black and white of the quills should be a STOP sign to her predators, who are colorblind as well as nocturnal. BEWARE is subtly written in that black line up the middle of her tail that is bordered in white.
After we’d spent almost an hour together, sometimes with window glass and a screen between us, my porcupine finally disappeared under the barn. And so I stepped into her space for a closer look. Notice the mud and scat in her track. She is the pigpen of the woods who scats and urinates at her den entrance, which perhaps helps provide further insulation.
Scat Happens! 75 – 200 times per day does she eliminate and depending on what’s she’s feeding on determines its structure. Of late, it’s the bark and twigs of hemlocks that constitute the fibrous structure. I’ve heard them described as macaroni or cashews. I prefer to think of her scats as commas, perhaps indicating a brief pause in her routine.
As strict herbivores, porcupines have strong, flat molars that are good for grinding plant material. This is the skull of a beaver, but it provides a good example for a porcupine’s check teeth are similar.
Also from the beaver skull are these prominent incisors. The difference is that a porcupine’s incisors are a bit thinner. For both, the front surface is enamel, while the back is a softer dentine. Their incisors are rootless and grow continually–up to twelve inches per year. Gnawing, therefore is rather important to wear down those chisels.
She’s managed to maintain normal dental wear by working on this hemlock in the corner of our yard and others in our woodlot.
As the day progressed, I wandered around looking for her tracks and those of any others. Strangely enough, she didn’t visit the hemlock last night, but rather checked on the sugar maple in our front yard–perhaps a sign that the season is changing and she’s ready to feast on some sweet buds for a while.
She also circled the barn in a random style. Was she seeking other entryways that are now well hidden below the snow? What was she thinking? Was she thinking? Or acting by instinct? I didn’t see any predator tracks to speak of, but perhaps there was an aerial predator she strived to avoid?
I don’t know. What I do know is that because I climbed up the snow mound, I discovered that she’s been sharping her teeth on the barn clapboards. And where the corner between the shed and barn has long had a cut-out presumably created by her and probably her ancestors, it appeared today that she’d munched a wee bit more and come spring’s meltdown, we’ll be surprised by the damage. My guy reminded me that she and her family members have been dining below the barn for more than the 26 years that we’ve lived here and the structure’s integrity has long been compromised.
As the snow slid off the barn roof, the hole began to disappear.
Until finally, it was only a memory.
I went out again at dusk in hopes of seeing the grand lady dig her way out, but her time schedule was not the same as mine. In the morning, however, I’ll check on her trail as I do every day. I can’t wait to see where she went–will she give me any more clues as to her strange behavior this morning? Was it a reaction to the crows? I don’t know.
But this I do know: when the crows caw–listen. And look. And wonder.
While the ground hog won’t see his shadow in Maine tomorrow because he’s a true hibernator, his rodent cousin the porcupine may have to serve as a stand in. And ’round these parts, there are plenty of stand ins available.
A couple of friends and I searched for one today. We had barely begun tramping when we recognized its telltale sign of discolored snow.
Truth be told, we knew the porcupine lived there, but weren’t sure how this past week’s snow storm had affected it. And so we journeyed closer to take a better look. The hole is actually an old bank burrow that had once belonged to a beaver. Porcupines are known to take advantage of such if it’s high and dry.
One of the things that always grabs my attention is the action of the animal as evidenced by its means of entry and departure. Standing there, I could envision it emerging from the hole, using its long claws to get a grip, turning to the left and then swaying to the right. The waddling motion of its hair and quill covered body adds a dimension to the story for if you look carefully you’ll see the wavy impression left behind.
Because its a frequent traveler from den to preferred trees, the entire body, that weighs anywhere from seven to forty pounds, can form quite a trough. Typically the trough is up to nine inches wide in the snow. Within those we saw today, recently cast prints showed the bumpy bottom surface of the foot pad and the five nail marks that extended across the front.
The mammal’s identification was further enhanced by other evidence–quills. The hollow structures were tipped with black barbs. Paul Rezendes, in his book Tracking and the Art of Seeing, states that “the porcupine’s scientific name [Erethizon dorsatum] can be loosely translated as ‘the animal with the irritating back.'” Indeed, many domesticate dogs and their owners would agree with that description.
Because we were on our hands and knees looking, we also noticed soft, wavy hair on the snow. A porcupine’s body is covered with at least 30,000 quills on its back, shoulders and the upper surface of its tail, but it’s not only those large stiff hairs that complete the animal’s coat. Their fur also includes fine hair found on the face, belly, and insides of its legs. In deep snow it’s easy to find the delicate hairs within the trough. Oh, and do you see the little yellow birch seed that looks like a teeny, tiny, brown insect?
We followed one of several troughs that led from the hole and kept looking up into the hemlocks in search of the critter. We never saw it, but we did see some recently nipped branches dangling from above.
Our search led us to a second hole that we’ve watched transform over the last couple of months. And again, we could see the action of the animal as portrayed in its journey.
We wondered about the tunnel from the wider opening in the woods to the smaller opening at the brook bank. Though both had seen recent action, we didn’t see any major amount of scat, which was a surprise. Then again, we didn’t climb in and search further. Perhaps it had moved toward the center of the tunnel during the storm.
Another sign of porcupine’s activity was the dribble of urine that marked the trail. That made me realize that I often refer to them as the pigpens of the woods for they scat and urinate with abandon, but . . . all mammals pee, some with more purpose than others.
We followed the porcupine’s pathways for a bit and noted that they led to the nearby hemlocks and beyond.
But as often happens, we were distracted and stepped back out onto the brook where we followed deer tracks for a while.
Eventually, our curiosity about the porcupine gave us a reason to get out of the wind and we headed back into the woods, where we soon discovered another one of its trails. Curiously, the porky had ventured out toward the frozen, snow-covered brook, but turned and retraced its steps. Why?
Perhaps it smelled a coyote in the area. A porcupine has poor eyesight, but an excellent sense of smell. And coyotes will go after a porcupine, but they prefers other food sources. Fishers are the porcupines least favorite predator. A fisher will grab the porcupine by the nose. Once it dies, the fisher will flip it and expose the stomach. Remember that the stomach is covered with that soft wavy hair–and therefore unprotected.
The coyote didn’t appear to go near the porcupine. Our porcupine study, however, led us to what was probably a bear bait barrel. With no bears to worry about at this time of year, the barrel had been repurposed as evidenced by the tracks that led into and out of it.
And the pile of comma-shaped scat within. Was this where our porcupine weathered out the latest storm? It certainly got me thinking about those two holes to the beaver burrow and how the porcupine must have had to plow the snow out with its body. The barrel was a much better choice. And with the scat as an insulator, what a great place to wait out a winter storm.
Not far away, but perhaps with more luxurious digs, either a mate, or relative had apparently set up home under a barn.
While the porcupine by the brook traveled between an underground tunnel and a barrel buried in the snow, the one up the road preferred the high road. Wouldn’t you like to be there to witness its journey? I know I would.
Porcupine: down low, up high–worth a wandering wonder.
Jon Evans, Loon Echo’s Stewardship Manager and board member of the historical society had asked me to join the walk that would highlight the Peabody-Fitch Homestead built in 1797 and introduce Loon Echo’s new executive director Matt Markot. In the morning light, we circled the house as Jon shared some of the farm’s story.
On the northern side of the house, we paused to enjoy the view, including Pleasant Mountain just beyond the trees to the left of the field. The land trust also owns and protects over 2,000 acres of the mountain that defines this area of western Maine.
Measuring the effect of the cold on the hike’s participants, Jon chose his stop points, where he shared his keen knowledge of the farm and the lands that surround it. For me, it’s always a joy to tramp with him because his connection to the land is personal, and this particular piece even more than most for Jon’s family long ago farmed an adjacent acreage and he grew up traipsing through the very woods we snowshoed today. (And this photo includes Margaret Lindsay Sanborn, mother of Matt Markot, LELT’s new ED who stands to his mom’s right.)
As we circled behind the barn I shared with Jon a bit of knowledge that adds to the lore of what’s always been known as the Temperance Barn, supposedly constructed during prohibition without the usual swigs of rum for all who helped in the building process. Following a blog post I wrote in December 2018 about this very property, a granddaughter of Margaret Monroe who gifted the property to the historical society in 1987 wrote the following message: Hi – I am glad you enjoy my grandmother’s property. A heads up that there is no written documentation from the period re: the barn actually being built without alcohol. My grandmother was prone to making up history. I want to give respect to hardy native Mainers: Monroes were largely summer people. My grandmother also said sherry wasn’t alcoholic and would drink a big glass of it every night before dinner, Lark cigarette in her other hand. Happy Holidays! Rebecca Monroe
It turns out that wasn’t the only story that had more to offer than I’d originally thought to be true. As we were about to pass through a stonewall behind the barn, my eyes cued in on debris below some trees. Certainly it was the work of woodpeckers and I stepped onto the wall in search of scat. Nada.
Looking up at the pin cherry tree, I found not pileated works, but the incisors of another that gave a clue.
And below, pigeon-toed tracks. Between the incisor marks and tracks I knew the creator, but it didn’t make sense to me, for though I find hemlock twigs below such a tree when a porcupine has clipped them, I couldn’t recall ever seeing bark chips below a porky tree. In my brain, the rodent ate the bark as it sought the cambium layer within. I dismissed it as a lesson to be considered and we moved on.
Jon led us along a colonial road from the historical society’s property to a stonewall that delineated the Peabody-Fitch Woods. We turned onto a trail I’d never traveled before and made our way along another farm road. Periodically, Jon, Matt, and I bounced off of each other as we shared our knowledge about the trees and forest succession that had occurred since the farm was last a working land. We also spied a few mammal tracks, including those of a bobcat.
At last, we circled around and found our way back toward the border between the P-F Woods and farm.
Close to the Temperance Barn again, porcupine tracks crisscrossed to the stonewall where we’d seen their activity at the start of our journey.
Near the parking lot and Blacksmith Shop, more porcupine works made themselves evident–by their tracks and the debarked trees.
Incredibly debarked trees. I’m always amazed by the fact that porcupines, given their size, can find support on trees and limbs that seem so flimsy. I’ve been told that they’re known to have many broken bones and it makes sense given the precarious choices they make to seek winter nutrients.
Once again, there was bark debris. In the past I’ve always said that beavers leave wood chips, but porcupines eat the bark and cambium layer.
The evidence was obvious given the prints and comma-shaped scat. But the bark debris proved me wrong today.
And I loved that. When Jon first introduced me as a Maine Master Naturalist, he asked how long I’ve been such. “Six years,” I said. And though I’ve spent my sixty years wandering and wondering in the woods and along the coast of southern and northern New England, it was the Master Naturalist class that taught me how to take a closer look.
Do you see the green of the cambium layer? And those incisor marks–how they are at opposing angles? Those I recognized.
But . . . the porcupines taught me something new today.
It all began with a photo sent to me by a friend two days ago. “Any ideas? 8 inches wide. 20 yards from a bog,” he wrote.
I asked him about tracks in the area, but other than deer, he saw none. He did, however, see two track makers–a fisher and a weasel.
And so, I contacted a few other friends and invited them to join me on a quest to figure out what the hole was all about.
We met at the designated location, determined it would probably be in our best interest to wear snowshoes rather than Micro-spikes, and set off to search for the hole and clues.
But first, something else stumped us. Oh, wait. I wasn’t stumped. I knew it was sumac and a bird must have been munching on the seeds. But . . . I didn’t remember sumac having such long hairs and there certainly were strands associated with the droppings.
The color, however, made it incredibly obvious. Sumac indeed.
Until . . .
it wasn’t! Corn on the cob? On ice? And then we remembered that there was a cornfield located directly across the road. So . . . that made sense. But, how did it get to the other side? We’d noticed plenty of turkey tracks. Would turkeys carry cobs of corn? Not the ones that visit my backyard on a daily (sometimes twice daily) mission to eat as much bird seed I’ve tossed on the ground as possible. They scratch about and eat whatever is available on the spot rather than carrying it–as far as the four of us knew anyway.
Did the deer bring it across? Again, we’ve always seen them dine on site. And . . . we noticed that the cobs, and even occasional husks, were left within their prints, so the corn arrived after the deer.
As we continued to look around, we began to see kernels in small piles everywhere.
And with that, we suddenly spied something else that looked oddly familiar.
The hole! Notice its spiral shape. Discernible tracks? No. Dirt? Yes. Hoar frost? Yes. Hmmmm . . .
We looked around for signs. “So and So lives here” would have made it too obvious. But, we found hoar frost on an adjacent hole, which raised a few questions: 1. Were the holes connected? 2. Was a critter breathing within? 3. Or, because we were near the bog, was there warmer water below that was creating the frost?
Then we found something none of us had ever seen before. A smattering of sawdust on the snow located about five feet from the hole. Scat? Upset stomach? Two of us got down with a loupe to take a closer look and came to no conclusions.
As we continued to look around, we noticed that though there wasn’t a discernible track, it did seem that activity led to two hemlock trees.
And there were snipped off twigs cut at an angle below the trees, plus some comma-shaped scat.
With that in mind, we returned to the hole in question.
Bingo! There was a sign that clearly read “So and So lives here.” A quill! When I first looked at the photo the other day I’d suggested porcupine or fox. Porcupine it was.
Within the hole which we could tell was deeper to the left, we spotted more quills.
Mystery solved–almost, for we didn’t know about that smattering of sawdust. Porcupine scat consists of sawdust because their winter diet includes tree bark and needles. Did the animal have a bellyache?
Our excitement at finding the hole wasn’t diminished by the unsolved portion of the story. And still, we continued to find corn cobs as we moved closer to the water in hopes of finding tracks.
Indeed, there were some and we tried to figure out the pattern to determine what mammal had crossed the ice.
But before taking a closer look, there was ice on the bog’s edge to admire and we each found artistic displays to our individual liking.
Back to the tracks on the ice.
At first, with porcupine on my mind, I thought I recognized the pigeon-toed behavior.
But my companions couldn’t see it. And then I realized that I was seeing a different pattern instead. Opposite diagonals became important in the overall look of two feet together.
Studying that one pattern of a waddling animal, we soon realized another had crossed over it–in a leap and a bound. Do you see the intersection of the two in the middle of the photograph?
And, there were a couple of corn cobs on the ice.
It was all too enticing, and so we got up the gumption, threw risk to the wind, and stepped out. One of us, stepped onto all fours as she slid across, the better to distribute her weight. It also gave her a better view of the tracks.
Another came forth with caution, though she admitted she’d hoped we’d go for it.
Her husband was the smart one and he stood on shore–looking at tracks in the snow created by one of the critters we were examining on the ice. And ever ready to call for help should we need it.
Back to the pattern–do you see three sets of two feet? In the lower set the diagonal is higher on the left and lower on the right. It switches with the middle set of prints. And goes back to the same with the upper set.
Where debris had frozen into the impressions you can almost see the toes. The smaller, almost rounder right hand print is a front foot and the longer left hand print is the opposite back foot. That’s how it goes with a waddler such as this.
We’d actually seen clear prints near where we’d parked and so we knew this mammal had been in the area–those baby hand-like prints belonged to a raccoon. Raccoon tracks and corn on the cob. Hmmmm. We were beginning to make some connections.
With that figured out, we moved on to the next set of tracks and determined they belonged to a snowshoe hare–the larger front prints actually representing its back feet as they had landed after the front feet bounded forward.
As we studied the hare track, we noticed lots of movement had previously been made by another critter and I’m going to go out on a limb to say based on its size and behavior that it was related to the next mystery we encountered.
First, there was a hole around a couple of tree stumps and it was the layers of ice that drew our admiration.
Right near it, however, was another frozen over hole and we could see some tracks that were difficult to read.
But the ice was glorious and there was another small tree stump in the center.
We weren’t sure who had made the holes until we spied another and some prints in the snow.
The five tear-drop shaped toes provided a huge hint.
And a bigger hint–a hole nearby.
As usual, it commanded a closer look.
And what did we find? Fish scales. With that signature, and the prints and even the pattern of the older tracks near the snowshoe hare activity, we knew a river otter had recently eaten.
Eventually, we made our way back to the road, crossed over and checked the cornfield for we still weren’t sure who had brought the cobs to the bog. It made sense that the raccoon may have, but all of them?
We found plenty of deer tracks, many of which were again filled with either kernels or nearly complete cobs.
But it was the one stuck up in a broken red maple limb and the chitting nearby, plus scat below, and the actual sighting of a particular mammal that we think gave us the answer as to why so many piles of kernels–red squirrels.
With that, it was time for us to take our leave. First, we gave great thanks, however, to Parker for sending me the photo of the hole. When I’d shown it to another friend, he asked why the spiral. I think that was the lowest point and the porcupine climbed out and then made its typical swath around until it reached the higher ground each time it exited and entered.
The question none of us could answer–what about that sawdust smattering?
Ah well, we saved that for another day and left thankful for the opportunity to solve most of the holey mysteries.
Two weeks ago the Greater Lovell Land Trust hosted a decorating party for the Fairs, Farms and Fun 4-H Group of Sweden along the trail to the summit of Flat Hill. It was the perfect tie-in to our planned hike to do the same during a guided walk scheduled for this morning.
The homeschooled kids in the club had created ornaments with pinecones, peanut butter, and bird seed, plus garlands of cranberries and popcorn.
Their efforts were for the first annual Maine Christmas Tree Hunt, a scavenger hunt intended for families to visit trails on several western Maine land trust properties.
The plan was to decorate one tree along the trail, but they had made so many ornaments that five or six trees actually were transformed into works of Christmas treats for the birds and mammals that call this place home.
And so this morning we set off to check on the trees the kids had decorated and add a few of our own. We wondered what the ornaments might look like after two weeks. Some pinecones were nearly nude of the bird seed that once coated them. And if you look closely at the bottom left of this one, you’ll see a splash of gray–a chickadee moved quickly as it snatched seeds.
We also discovered that the popcorn was a big hit and most had been consumed, but the tart cranberries remained.
There’s still more out there and we added a few fresh ornaments today, so I highly encourage you to pull on your boots (and it looks like you might need snowshoes as it’s snowing while I write) and head to the trail at the end of Heald Pond Road in Lovell.
While you’re there, take a look around. There’s so much more to see, including skeletons of beech leaves,
bear claw trees,
and polypody, some still dotted with sori.
If your experience is anything like ours was, you’ll probably spy Mount Washington standing pure white between the branches of the red maple tree at the summit.
And if you look closely, you may even see the buildings at the top of the greatest mountain in the Northeast.
That’s not all that came into view. We occasionally are treated to the sight of the resident porcupine who lives in the area. And today–voilà.
On our way partially down the back side of the summit cliff, we spied evidence of his work.
And while we were looking, a crevasse drew our attention.
The beauty of ice never ceases to draw out long “Ahhhhhhs.”
The granite boulders wore the ice like necklaces–reminiscent of quills.
And we got a tiny bit closer to our prickly friend.
The gifts are plentiful this Christmas season on Flat Hill. Take a hike and enjoy the wonders.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah from the Greater Lovell Land Trust and me.
A sheet of ice greeted me in the parking lot at the GLLT’s Flat Hill trailhead this morning, not to be unexpected given the recent rain and fluctuation in temperature. From -8˚on Monday to +50˚ midweek and this morning back to 0˚, we’ve been riding a thermometer rollercoaster. Consequently, I chose micro-spikes over snowshoes and made sure I packed my hiking pole and hand warmers.
Even the pumpkin had an ice covering? What? I know not where this came from or what the “5” means, but it sits upon the basswood stump beside the lot and greets all who pass by.
Despite the rain and warmer temps for a couple of days, the snowpack is still over a foot deep and quite dense.
In fact, it’s so dense, that a previous snowshoer who probably had hiked this way last weekend, barely broke through, and I was able to stay on top, except for an occasional post hole. Well, maybe more than occasional given that I frequently went off the main trail to check things out.
Upon the trail, the leaves of marcescent trees gathered in the snowshoe indentations.
Even a few that aren’t marcescent made their presence known, like this sugar maple. A friend ask me recently about the pronunciation of that word that I love to say because of how it makes my mouth work: ˌmärˈses(ə)nt. He wanted the first “c” to be hard, but indeed it isn’t.
A birch polypore growing at an abnormal angle made me wonder what had happened. I’m still wondering.
And then I spotted a different color on the snow beneath a beech tree. This was when I realized that rather than my hiking boots I should have worn snow boots. A few post holes and the snow slipped in under the boot tongues.
But . . . it was worth it. Up high–the elongated hole created by a pileated woodpecker.
And down low–its scat. My day was made and I could have gone home, but . . . didn’t.
As I continued hiking, I noticed tracks that crossed the trail in several places. They weren’t quite discernible, but I had a feeling they’d been made by a fisher. And then, further along, I noticed these, which though not perfect, were easier to determine. Their pigeon-toed, sashaying behavior indicated porcupine, a resident of this place (and prey of the fisher).
And at the summit, deer tracks.
I love the name Flat Hill–an oxymoron it seems, though once you climb up, you realize that the top is almost flat. And from here the Baldfaces and Mount Washington enhance the view. I looked around for the typical porcupine works and perhaps the critter itself who sometimes can be seen in the treetops, but was disappointed to see neither. Despite the hand warmers, my fingers were frozen–probably because I kept taking my mittens off to take photos. I’d intended to eat lunch at the top, but it wasn’t to be.
Common polypody ferns that grow on the summit rock curled inward as if to confirm my chill.
And as I turned to descend, the blueness of pine sap seeping from a woodpecker hole also spoke to the day–the lower the temp, the bluer it appears.
It was that sap that pulled my attention to another sight I’d missed on the way up. White pine branches were scattered below a couple of trees and tracks were almost visible all around.
I looked up, but my friend was nowhere to be seen. And so I looked down to admire his work–angled cuts and nibbled needles. I can honestly say I’ve never paid attention to the needle works before.
Amongst his offerings tree bark also decorated the forest floor for he discarded the bark to get at the cambium layer beneath. The one thing I didn’t find was scat. And believe me, I searched.
Though most of his work was on older trees, younger ones had also been visited. I was just to the left of the trail summit and in the past I’ve searched the ledge below for a den. Today, I didn’t do so, but his path led in that direction. Perhaps he saved his scat to serve as insulation back at the homestead. I don’t know, can porcupines choose when and where to leave such offerings? Usually it seems that they don’t have such control.
I left the porcupine findings behind and headed back down to Perky’s Path, a favorite place because of the wetland it passes through.
No humans had been this way in a while, but a critter recently paid a visit.
My brain went into overdrive. Could it be? Well, it had been warm for two days, so it could . . . be a raccoon. When I’m alone, I’m 100% correct, but today I kept questioning myself. The prints were the right size and the pattern and habitat worked. But if you think otherwise, I’m willing to listen.
What I do know is that the beaver lodge, the uppermost hump on the left, remained abandoned.
I decided to follow the wetland for a bit, until something caught my eye near the root system of an downed tree closer to the trail.
Hair. Small tufts of it.
Gray. With red tips.
Hollow in structure.
Beside hair-filled scat. There were no prints in the snow, such as it was. I wasn’t even digging post holes at that point, with the temperature lower closer to the wetland. Here’s my story of what I saw. As a red fox searched for prey, including in the hole beside the downed tree, the mites that have infected its skin made it itch. The tree roots provided the perfect back scratcher (there were a few hairs hanging from it) and so the fox took advantage. Its scat–incidental or intended, I’m not sure. Typically, it’s intended, leaving a message to others about boundaries, age, sex and the like. Does it also announce the presence of mites? Red foxes and not gray, are affected by the sarcoptic mange mites.
After such a finding, I needed to move on. By the bridges that cross the wetland, the view was as beautiful as ever.
Royal ferns, almost a memory, leaned over the water’s edge.
Trees offered reflections in the flow of the water.
And ice gathered in solid, yet fluid motion.
Hoar frost flowers bloomed, speaking to the frigid temp.
I, too, was chilled, but happy to have time to reflect on the lives that call Flat Hill and Perky’s Path home. And then I was happy to head home, the heat in my truck on high for most of the trip.
My friend, Dick, sent me the following message yesterday: “from a novel, Northwest Angle by Krueger … who has a series which relates to the Objidwa (sp) of the upper parts of Michigan …
‘What’s a Mide?” — ‘A member of the Grand Medicine Society,’ Stephen explained. ‘A healer. Somebody who understands the harmony of life and how to use nature to restore harmony when it’s been lost.” p246
“Belongs.” Meloux (a very senior shaman type of the Native American ‘Mide’ of the Objidwe) seemed to consider the word. “I believe no one belongs to anyone else. You, me Waaboozoons, we are all dust borrowed for a little while from Grandmother Earth. And even that dust does not belong to her. She has borrowed it from all creation, which is the Great Mystery, which is Kitchimanidoo. And if you ask this old man, I would say that another way to think about Kitchiimanidoo is as a great gift. Kitchimanidoo is not about keeping. Nothing belongs to anyone. All of creation is meant as a giving.” p 269
While I haven’t read the book or any of Krueger’s works, these words resonated with me as I moved about this morning.
My first stop was a visit to the vernal pool, where the ice is beginning to melt.
I looked for insects and found instead birch seeds and scales–meant as a giving.
Wintergreen berries remained prolific below the power lines. While this fruit is traditionally browsed by a variety of mammals, I had to wonder if its location is the reason it was left untouched–poisoned by the herbicides Central Maine Power uses to keep the land clear. What was meant as a giving revoked.
Not all was bad as I followed the trail for a distance and enjoyed the beauty that has begun to emerge.
The pompom heads of sphagnum moss contrasted brilliantly beside the running clubmoss.
Looking back, I noticed that today’s sunlight was captured in yesterday’s raindrops–certainly a reason for thanks-giving.
And before me–man and nature in the eternal struggle for harmony. An example of borrowing.
Before I turned onto a logging road, a puddle caught my attention.
My first thought was pollen, but as I approached, I realized the little dots were moving about much like spring tails because . . . they were spring tails. So my learning increased as I noted their color and the fact that there are aquatic members of this family. Another giving received.
On recent treks, my bark eyes have been confused about two trees–black birch (aka sweet or cherry birch) and pin cherry. As youngsters, both feature reddish-brown bark. What has thrown me off is the association with other birch trees, including the yellow birch that grows behind this specimen. Today, I made a point of noticing–the warty orange lenticels, lack of catkins and no wintergreen scent. These are three features that helped point me toward pin cherry. Black birch bark features long, thin lenticels, catkins common to birch trees and when scraped, that delightful wintergreen smell.
Despite the fact that they are not of the same family, certainly they’ve found a way to give to each other and live in harmony. A lesson.
Just beyond the birches, in one of many stump dumps along this logging road, something caught my eye.
A porcupine worked over the bark of a fallen hemlock tree. I stood for several minutes and watched. Either it wasn’t aware of me or I didn’t pose enough of a threat.
The leaf caught on its backside made me chuckle and wonder why we don’t see more of that.
I’m amazed that I saw it at all in this land that has been chopped up over the course of the last three years. Notice how leaves are similarly stuck to this shredded tree stump.
Behind were the trees that have received the porcupine’s recent attention. While the logging is destructive, it helps heat homes, provides income to at least several people including the logger and landowner, and creates new habitat and food opportunities for wildlife. Change is difficult and I’d grown to love these woods the way they were, but they were that way because of prior cuttings. A borrowing.
Most of the logging road was a combination of puddles and mud. At times, air bubbles rippled as I moved through and I was reminded of my youth years spent feeling for clams in the mudflats of Clinton Harbor on Long Island Sound. The memory itself was a giving.
Like the deer that frequent this land, my boots got stuck in the muck. Sometimes, it seemed like I was being sucked in and told to stand still. But my mind wandered on and I followed it.
Going forward in time, I’ll be curious to watch the reflections in the puddles change as the pioneer species move back in and regenerate this land. The harmony.
In the end, as always seems the case, I was on the receiving end of the giving and grateful for the borrowing as the spirit of Grandmother Earth shared a few tidbits of the Great Mystery.
We had many reasons to smile on yesterday’s Mondate.
It began about 5 a.m. when the Canada geese honked continuously. Their chorus was joined by quaking ducks. And then a loon chimed in.
I stepped onto the dock because I thought I heard the reason for the early morning cacophony.
This big guy.
Eventually, he flew off and then I heard the crows across the pond, so I think I know where he stopped next.
Standing on the dock early in the morning provides pleasant views 🙂
Mid-morning, my guy and I drove to Hancock Pond in Denmark, to join F & B H. for a morning jaunt on their son’s forty-acre property. I’m always pleased to learn about people who purchase land to keep it from being developed, but still allow traditional uses. Such is the case here.
But before we hiked to the almost bald summit, we paused on their dock.
As if on cue, their friend Bob stopped by
and greeted us with a smile.
On the trail, B asked me to identify this. He knew. I guessed wrong because I didn’t take the time to examine it closely. When will I ever learn? See the small mandible and the shape of the teeth?
And the little quills mixed? Yup, a baby porcupine.
The land was last harvested ten years ago, so it’s slowly transforming. Pearly everlasting blooms among the raspberries and blackberries, goldenrod and sweet fern on the trail that once served as a skidder road.
Acorns are forming on Northern red oaks, which stand beside white oaks. For me, it was curious to see the white oaks here. They’re a rare find in the woods I travel most frequently.
Near the summit, Hancock Pond came into view.
As did our beloved Pleasant Mountain.
Of all the flowers we saw, the prickly thistle was my favorite. A touch of Scotland that F and I share. We returned to their camp for a delicious lunch and a look at B’s stone art and books. We were in awe of his talent. And their love for each other–50 years strong. Thank you both for sharing your land, lunch and love with us.
A wee bit of barn painting was accomplished–one of these days it will be all red. We have almost completed scraping and priming three sides. It’s a sporadic job, to say the least.
Our day ended with a trip to Portland with our sons–we all needed a technology update. That gives me pause, of course. I liked life before all of this stuff, but I wouldn’t be writing this post without it.
Dinner out with my three guys–what’s not to smile about.
Each time we climb Pleasant Mountain, the view differs–and so it was this morning. Haze sugar coated the summits beyond.
Green, blue, white, purple and gray melted into each other.
That’s what made a bright orange wood lily beside the trail stand out.
Certainly a shock of color.
Step in with me for a closer look. Three sepals and three petals, but their design is similar. Each is jazzed with dark purple to black spots–the better to draw in those butterflies and skippers. And white-tailed deer.
The other thing to notice is how the sepals and petals taper at the base. I actually took this photo on Whiting Hill in Lovell about two weeks ago. But, I’m curious about its reproduction–one on Whiting, one on Pleasant. Am I missing something? Have the deer consumed others? I frequent both of these locations and have only seen the solo plants.
I can’t sit still when I get home. Especially when I know I have work to do. So, I wandered around the backyard. Right off the deck, a quaking aspen grows on the edge of a flower garden. Daylilies surround a wooden barrel we turned into a water feature. Alas. They’ve been knocked down.
The resident porcupine has been visiting on a regular basis. Quaking aspen bark features horizontal and vertical lines, but the porcupine left its own mark–look for the fainter diagonal lines created by its toe nails.
The leaves must be delish.
I wandered some more. Certainly delish–blueberries. They need a wee bit more time.
Not delish, but dramatic in shape and color is the bittersweet nightshade. I remember my mother calling it deadly nightshade. Its berries are poisonous, but unless eaten in large quantities, it isn’t fatal. OK, the point is–admire the flower; don’t eat the berries.
Not as dramatic because it wants to blend in is a grasshopper. Do you see it?
A sibling was hardly invisible on the cellar door.
Before heading inside, I stepped into our neighbor’s yard because her yellow lilies are blooming. Ours will probably show forth their sunshiny faces tomorrow. I’ve a feeling that these are cultivated, but don’t know for sure. I’m hoping Bev Hendricks of DeerWood Farm and Gardens will enlighten me on this species.
From a hazy summit view to brilliant natural hues, today was a day of contrasts.
Eighty-some odd degrees, plenty of sunshine and a welcome breeze greeted a couple of friends and me as we explored the Sucker Brook Outlet Reserve on Farrington Pond Road in Lovell–certainly a beach day.
Though we often refer to them as being shaped like a cigar, on this summer-like spring day, that description hardly seems apropos.
A few of last year’s leaves still cling tentatively to beech branches,
but on others the buds unfurl
displaying pleated leaves covered with long silky hair.
There’s so much to see along the trail, so I hope you’ll continue to wander with me.
and Sessile-leaved Bellwort or Wild Oats.
from a different point of view.
Beaked Hazelnut displaying leaves.
preparing to flower.
Squawroot, that reminded us of . . .
Pitcher Plants, carnivores in the plant world,
with their pitcher-shaped leaves,
covered in trigger hairs–waiting to trap insects.
We saw hemlock polypores,
and old bird nests.
And then there was the other animal sign.
Deer scrapes on Striped Maple bark.
And the work of mice below the snow pack.
There is beaver work everywhere
and numerous lodges in the brook.
A rut in the trail
was put to good use–wood frog eggs and emerging tadpoles.
Something made a meal of this Northern Flicker.
Our best finds were actual wildlife. This guy thought that if he hid his head, we wouldn’t see him.
But we did.
A wood frog, also trying to hide, well, sorta.
And a ribbon snake that quickly slithered into a hole and out of sight–the most successful hider of all.
Lest I forget, we were beside Sucker Brook,
where we paused frequently.
An osprey flew overhead, but I wasn’t quick enough to take a picture.
It was a perfect beech day. Thanks for taking the time to enjoy it with me.
And Happy Birthday to my sister, who has loved the beach since day one.
Though it was a blustery day, the wind wasn’t much of a bother in the woods beyond the power line. I crossed the snowmobile trail and slipped into my peace-filled mode.
Until a couple years ago when I was working on my capstone project for the Maine Master Naturalist Program, I didn’t know a lot about tree bark. Since then, I’ve been developing my bark eyes. Seriously, I have a difficult time driving down the road–my distraction isn’t a cell phone. It’s tree bark.
I like the pattern visible on the plates of Eastern White Pine–its numerous horizontal lines remind me of writing paper. Hmmmm . . .
What better way to get to know it than to sketch it. One thing I’ve learned over the years about sketching is that it doesn’t have to be exact. Only God is perfect–thank goodness I don’t have to aspire to that goal. So my sketches represent what I see.
The red inner bark of Northern Red Oak is visible through the furrows. In older trees, the flattish furrows look like ski tracks coming down the tree.
Do you know this one? Can you see the diamond shape? Some people see a letter A. Others see the rind of a cantaloupe. I guess, whatever works for you is the best way to describe it.
White Ash it is. I feel like we’re not only on a texture tour of trees, but also a color tour 🙂
Last one for today before I share a few other cool things that I discovered.
This one always catches my eye. No only is it known for the color of its twigs, flowers and fall foliage, but look at the bark. Do you see the bull’s eye pattern in the cracks? Bull’s Eye Target on Red Maples is caused by a fungi that only affects this species. Most Red Maples in our area display the target. It doesn’t appear to kill the tree–immediately.
Though the snow is still deep, it’s getting more and more difficult to move–crusty on top and then, whoosh, suddenly I sink in–snowshoes and all.
As I tromped along, my eyes were drawn to the area under a large hemlock that I’ve visited many times this winter. At first there was activity there, and then nothing, until today that is.
The porcupine had nipped the branches and you can see the incisor marks on this one. The fallen branches become prime deer food. Deer had been under the tree. I took a photo of their tracks and scat but, alas, the wrong camera setting and it was overexposed.
Also seen under this tree, a spot where a red a squirrel paused on a branch to strip a white pine cone–and let the scales and leftover cob fall to the ground. Another cafe in the woods.
Porcupines scat as they eat. Under this tree, I found some of the largest porcupine scats I’ve ever seen. The one photographed here is normal size, but I wanted to show it beside a hemlock cone. They do look similar until you get up close and personal. While the scat is woody, the cone has scales.
I couldn’t resist sharing this one. One rather large porcupine scat.
I hope you are still with me. A mystery that I think I’ve solved. Unfortunately, the tracks were diluted by the recent warm temps we’d had but I had a general idea of the movement this critter made.And there was no scat–I looked around as you can imagine.
A closer look. Did you notice that the work is all toward the base of the saplings?
Final clue–an angled cut. Rather clean cut, unlike those made by ungulates (deer and moose). This critter has sharp teeth. And we can thank it for our ability to move on the snow. What is it? Any guesses?
As you wander, take some time to wonder about the bark in front of you. I’ll keep sharing more as my bark eyes continue to develop.