Sometimes the biggest gems arrive in the smallest packages. Such is the case with this month’s book–and this isn’t an April Fools’ Day joke, though I did briefly consider posting an upside-down photo of the cover.


I picked up this copy of  TREES and SHRUBS of NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND at a book swap during the Maine Master Naturalist Program’s first conference this past year. This third edition was compiled by Frederic L. Steele, Chairman of the Science Department, St. Mary’s-in-the-Mountains, Littleton, NH, and Albion R. Hodgdon, Professor of Botany, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, and published in 1975 by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

One of the things I like about it is that it measures 4.5 x 7 inches and fits easily into my pack. Plus, it includes more shrubs than many of my current books.


And check this out from the introduction: “In the preparation of this guide, the authors have received help and encouragement from a number of people. The following, in particular, should be mentioned . . . Mrs. Priscilla Kunhardt and Miss Pamela Bruns have done the illustrations . . . ” Mrs. and Miss! Ah, what happened to those days?

t-quaking description

The descriptions are not lengthy, but enough for a quick reference. I choose the Trembling Aspen, which I’ve learned as Quaking Aspen (I know–that’s the problem with common names say my Latin-oriented friends) because two are located right out the back door. They are the trees of life in our yard.

t-catkins forming

Catkins slowly emerge from waxy-coated buds

qa 1

and grow longer with lengthening days.

qa 5

Tufts of hair adorn tiny seeds.


Soon, leaves on flat stems quake in the breeze,


until visitors arrive.

t-leaf eaters

Very hungry caterpillars.


They aren’t the only ones. Porcupines nip off branches.


Eventually, leaves that survive fall to the ground.

t-hairy woodpeckers

All year long, birds visit to dine


and view the world.


The world looks back.


Ice slowly melts

qa 2

and life continues.

TREES and SHRUBS of NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND doesn’t include photos, but that’s OK because I have my own. Instead, as any good guide, it’s a jumping off place. So many books, so much different information–and sometimes guides contradict each other. Just the same, I love to read them and then to pay attention. For me, it’s all about forever learning. And wondering.

TREES and SHRUBS of NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND, by Frederic L. Steel and Albion R. Hodgdon, Society for the Protection on Northern Forests, 1975.

A Day of Contrasts

Each time we climb Pleasant Mountain, the view differs–and so it was this morning. Haze sugar coated the summits beyond.

hazy 2

Green, blue, white, purple and gray melted into each other.

haze 3

That’s what made a bright orange wood lily beside the trail stand out.

wood lily

Certainly a shock of color.

wood lily 2

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.

wood lily, whiting

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.

porcy 1

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.

porky claws

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.

porky leaves

The leaves must be delish.


I wandered some more. Certainly delish–blueberries. They need a wee bit more time.

Bittersweet Nightshade

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?

grasshopper 2

A sibling was hardly invisible on the cellar door.

yellow lily 2

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.

The Joy of Wonder

cowpath 1

It rained last night and this morning, but we never did get the snow that was mentioned in a few forecasts. And the sun came out so I wandered down the cowpath, headed for the snowmobile trail. Instead of walking toward Mount Washington, I turned left.

vernal pool 1

At the vernal pool, I was excited to see the slush. And I was sad to see that it’s been disturbed–rather recently. Not by wildlife either. It’s such a fragile environment.

shed site

On my way to look at the nearby well, I realized that some land about ten feet from the pool had been carved out. It’s not a root cellar or foundation. Perhaps the site of a farm shed. It appears to be three-sided, maybe the fourth side being an opening.

well 1

And another ten feet away, the well. I didn’t realize last month that there’s a large stone cap over it.

well 2

The well has the signature of a Colonial stone cutter–the drill mark left from a feather and wedge routine to split stone. Granite is a hard, coarse-grained rock that consists of minerals  including quartz and feldspar. Interlocked like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the minerals make it one of the strongest and most durable rocks.

During the 19th century, stone cutters used the plug and feather method to hand drill small holes every six or seven inches across the stone. Then, two shims, called feathers, were placed in a hole and a wedge, or plug, was hammered between them. Drilling took place during the winter months when ice would form in the holes and help complete the work of splitting the granite.

pussy willows 1

I continued along the trail, letting it share its moments of wonder. Suddenly, a sparkle of white light caught my attention.


Pussy Willows in all their glory. I love how one branch reflects the other, don’t you?

British soldiers

And then this–a colony of British Soldier. This one is for my friend, Em.

property marker

All along the trail there are stone walls and occasionally other boundary markers like this one. Notice that it also has the feather and wedge signature of a stone cutter.


Then I saw this disturbance just off the trail. I needed to take a closer look so it didn’t matter that the snow was over my boots.

squirrel drey?

Maybe a toppled red squirrel drey? If it is a squirrel drey, why is it down? Something isn’t quite right here.

vernal pool 2

Because we live in a very wet area–oh heck, all of Maine is wet–I don’t always walk this trail during the spring months. But . . . today I ventured off trail and took a closer look at another vernal pool located about a half mile from our house. It invites further exploration as the season evolves.


One of my favorite trees beckoned to me. Um . . . that could be any tree in the forest. But this one is super cool. It looks almost oak-like on the lower portion and birch-like above. It’s an aspen. Big-toothed or Quaking is always the question. I spent some time exploring the woods with a couple of foresters last fall to hone my bark identification skills. I asked them how to tell the difference between the two. One admitted that he didn’t know and the other was sure he knew until I showed him a leaf on the ground that contradicted what he thought. My quest is to figure out the answer to this.


The lower bark is worth observing . . . and touching. While Northern Red Oak bark has fairly smooth ridges, aspen, or poplars as they are also known ’round these parts, has gnarly bark.

big tooth

And then there are the leaves. Big Toothed Aspen.


Quaking Aspen. Yup, I found both of them below this tree.

big t and quaking

Comparisons make me happy. Teaching moments. Big teeth. Little teeth.

quaking stem

Then there are the stems. Aspens leaves feature flat stems–giving them that ability to quake or tremble in a breeze.


I continued along the trail, which was sometimes covered in snow and other times ice, slush, grass or mud.

stop sign

About a mile and a half later I reached signs of today’s civilization, though I’d seen plenty of signs along the way indicating yesteryear’s activity. A main road was in front of me. I could walk home via that route or turn around and follow the trail back. I chose the latter.


Signs tell it all.

turn left sign

Sometimes they told me to turn this way.

right hand sign

Other times they indicated that I should turn that way.

squiggly sign

But my favorites are those that let me know the route I follow isn’t always straight ahead.


And then I was almost home. Tomorrow is Easter–the joy of wonder.