Province of Chat-HAM

Our journey began with a couple of detours this morning as a friend and I made our way to a particular trailhead in New Hampshire.

First there were the birds along the old course of the Saco River to listen to and welcome home including Red-winged Blackbirds and Canada Geese.

Then there were some friends in New Hampshire to surprise with a quick visit.

Finally, however, we parked on the side of the road knowing that because we couldn’t drive to the trailhead, we’d have to walk along the snowmobile trail all the way in. That was fine with us for as the sign instructed, we took it slow. (And saw only two snowmobiles during the entire journey even though it was a super highway of sorts–apparently that particular season is also slowing down.)

There were artist’s conk fungi to admire for the white pore surface that invites those who sketch to do so.

After that find, we followed raccoon prints until they literally disappeared into midair. Well, maybe up a tree.

In the brook beyond, we found spring whispering her sweet songs as she enticed us with reflections of a season to come.

And then it was more artist’s conks that garnered our attention for their juxtaposition within a hemlock’s hollow center.

They numbered many on the trunk’s outside as well and presented themselves as stepping stones . . . perhaps for a squirrel.

And at least one small rodent had dined, probably on more than one occasion.

We took advantage of the feast as well as we focused our cameras on every possible angle.

Further along, we spent time following bobcat and moose tracks, but each time eventually finding our way back to the trail, where a fungus of another kind begged our attention.

By its youthful presentation, the common name doesn’t always make sense.

But its mature structure certainly does: Red-Belted for the upper surface.

And Polypore for the lower, so named for the many pores on the underside.

Bobcat and moose tracks soon led us to another site where bark had been scaled off a hemlock by either a woodpecker or nuthatch. Their search was for insect larvae. My search was for scat, but I found none and hoped they were more successful.

The cool thing about this if I’m interpreting it correctly, is that I could see lines where the bird’s beak had worked hard to remove each bark scale.

Behind the tree, those moose tracks I spoke of again captured our focus.

And we noted where it had browsed upon the buds of a maple. It appeared that the large mammal’s spit had frozen after it used its lower incisors to rip the buds off the tip of a twig and even left a “flag,” but really, it was probably a bit of sap. Still, I love the thought of the animal’s spit left behind.

Three hours later, and more than four miles for so wandering was our manner, we reached the trailhead we sought.

Because we’d gone slow as the sign early on had encouraged us, we tried to beeline to reach a certain pond before the sun set. Thankfully, as we approached the pond at last, another sign again encouraged us to go forth slowly. And so we did.

And we were rewarded–with a bluebird sky and view of Mount Shaw and the pond. For a few moments we stood still and took in the scene and wondered. And wanted to cross, but knew conditions might not be as pristine as they looked. It would be a long way out with wet feet.

Beside us was the dam and outlet.

It formed the headwaters for a brook bearing the pond’s name, which flows beside our friends’ home.

As we hiked back down the trail, we again beelined, but occasionally gave ourselves permission to pause. Sometimes it was to enjoy the little things such as Hobblebush flower and leaf buds readying for a future display.

Other times it was to listen: to the birds; but also to the million wild animals we swore we heard, and sometimes even sniffed, but never actually spied. They were there. We were certain of that.

As long shadows cast across our path, we made our way back, and then deviated a bit from our journey in, heading out to the paved road in a more direct line than we’d started. Pam suggested we might see other things.

She was correct. Back on the pavement, we had to walk a wee bit up South Chatham Road to my truck for we’d gone in via Week’s Brook Trail and then crossed over to Peaked Hill Road via the snowmobile trail and totally missed this sign.

Chat-HAM as it’s pronounced for H-A-M spells ham, is the site of Province Brook and Pond, and the Province Brook Trail. It’s also a mighty proud town–with a population of 300.

The sign made us smile and we gave great thanks for taking the time to read it and for the opportunity to travel over nine miles in this wee province of New Hampshire.

Marathon Mondate

As he’s done every year for the past however many, my guy is training for the Moose Pond Half Marathon, a race around Moose Pond in Bridgton and Denmark that supports the Shawnee Peak Adaptive Ski Program. The race is only two weeks away and so this morning he headed off to run ten miles. And afterward, he said he felt like he could have run the additional 3.1 miles that would complete the race. That being said, we headed west to join our friends, Pam and Bob, on a hike at a new preserve in New Hampshire.

The plan was to meet at the trailhead near Hurricane Mountain Road on the Chatham/Conway town line. We knew the road, but not the spot, and were racing to get there, so of course I drove right by. But . . . I spied Pam sitting in their car in the parking lot and probably burned some rubber as I came to a screeching halt and then quickly put the truck into reverse. Fortunately, my guy didn’t get whiplash. It’s a back road, so not well traveled, thus I could drive backwards for a hundred feet or more without any problem–thus is the way ’round these parts. And one of the reasons we love it so.

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Another is that local land trusts preserve land for the benefit of the species who call this place home, both flora and fauna–and for us so that we, too, may benefit from time spent tramping along trails, making discoveries and forging friendships. The preserve we visited today isn’t quite open, but Pam said she’d heard they plan to open on November 4th. There were no signs on the kiosk or trail maps, but we quickly learned that none were necessary for the route was easy to follow. We were at the Monroe-Lucas Preserve, a 62-acre property donated to the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust.

According to their website: “The land was given to USVLT by Barrett Lucas in honor of his wife, the late Leita Monroe Lucas. Leita’s family has deep roots in East Conway and Redstone, and her father, Ernest “Red” Monroe, also wanted to see the land preserved. Adjacent to the Conway Common Lands State Forest, The Nature Conservancy’s Green Hills Preserve, and the White Mountain National Forest, this parcel builds on an existing network of preserved land, and has wonderful opportunities for future trail development and increased public access. A branch of Weeks Brook also runs through the property, and the property lies within USVLT’s ‘Green Hills’ focus area. The site is also remarkable as the one-time summer residence of the American Impressionist painter Thomas Wilmer Dewing, and his fellow painter and wife, Maria Oakey Dewing. Their cottage, built in the late 1800s, fell into disrepair in the mid-1900s. Now only the chimney remains onsite.”

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With Pam in the lead, we started up the trail and within minutes the fun began. She spotted a large patch of puff balls begging to be poked. The spores wafted up and away with hopes of finding the perfect place to grow nearby. We assume they will be successful, for within a fifteen foot area, we found patch after patch and knew we weren’t the first to encourage their spores to blow in the breeze.

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And then Pam began to spy prints in the mud. First, a moose. Then this bobcat–if you look closely, as we did, you may see the hind pad matted down; above that a raised ridge in the form of a C for cat; and four large toes, the two in the center being asymmetrical. Because it was a muddy substrate, we even saw nail marks, especially above the two center toes. Five feet further, we found deer prints. And so we rejoiced in the foresight of the Monroe-Lucas family to protect this land.

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A bit further on, we heard the brook before we saw it–a branch of Weeks Brook that borders the property. We all stood beside and let it mesmerize us.

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We thought about its forceful action each spring and the eons it took to carve into the rocks along its banks.

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We shared visions of a summer day spent sliding down its smooth channels and slipping into the pools below.

m-weeks brook between the rocks

And we marveled at the way it split the granite above . . .

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and flowed between the shelves.

m-weeks brook bubbles

All the while, it raced to the finish line and we could only assume it made good time.

m-hobblebush flower?

It was beside the brook where the hobblebush grew prolifically and offered a myriad of colors among their leaves and clasping or clapping hands among their buds. Because we were looking, we noticed one flower forming into its globe shape as it usually does in late winter. Was it confused?

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And on another, a new leaf.

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Fortunately, most behaved as they should and gave us an autumnal display worth celebrating.

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One even added some shadow play.

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Eventually, we turned away from the brook and followed the trail down. A peak through the trees and we could see Mount Kearsarge across the way.

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On a tree stump, we found a couple of fascinating fungi including a slime mold all decked out for Halloween.

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And on the same stump, a display of jelly ear fungi.

m-old moose scat

Around the corner was more evidence of moose traffic, though since it was moss-covered, we decided it was a couple of years old. None of us could ever recall seeing moss grow on moose scat before, but it made perfect sense that it would be a suitable substrate. I did wonder how they’d categorize that on a moss ID key–grows on rock, tree, ground, moose scat?

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Our moments of awe weren’t over yet. We sent up three cheers for the pipsissewa and its seedpods (Bob, did you take one?),

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and red-belted polypore.

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And then Bob spied the frullania. The smaller, spider-webby display in the lower right hand corner is Frullania eboracensis, a liverwort with no common name. But the larger mass is known as Frullania asagrayana, so named for a botanist and natural history professor at Harvard University from 1842-1873–Asa Gray.

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We all went in for a closer look at its worm-like leafy structure.

m-frullania and muy guy

Even my guy got into the act, much to his reluctance. And he was certain he didn’t need a lesson on how to use a hand lens. Thankfully, he doesn’t read these blog posts, so I can get away with this. Shhhh.

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Around the next bend, for the trail has enough S curves to make the descent easy, we came upon a white pine long since uprooted. Did anyone hear the crash?

m-uprooted picture frames

It offered a wonderful view–of more red-belted polypores, the root system and rocks, plus several windows on the world beyond.

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If you go, watch out . . . Thing of The Addams Family, might be lurking about.

m-Pam holding a huge striped maple leaf, Bob photobombing

Continuing on, we moved out of the hemlock and pine grove and back into the land of the broadleaves, including one with the broadest of them all–a huge striped maple leaf that Pam spotted; and Bob made sure to photo bomb the Kodak moment.

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And then, as the trail evened out, we crossed a narrow gangplank to the location of the original cottage. According to a sign posted there, “Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938) and Maria Oakey Dewing (1845-1927) were 19th century American painters based in New York City. Maria often painted flowers and garden scenes, while Thomas is known for his figure paintings of aristocratic women, notably ‘Lady in Yellow’ hanging at the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston. The couple spent their summers at a popular artists’ colony in Cornish, NH, during the early 1900s. The Dewings also lived and painted in a cottage located here on the Monroe-Lucas Preserve for several years.

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All that’s left is the chimney.

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And some artifacts.

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Including the john.

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Our final view was a pokeweed still in flower and fruit. Again, we wondered about its timing, while appreciating its offering.

With that, we were back at the parking lot, where Bob informed us that our distance was just over a mile and time two hours–hardly record breaking. And hardly a “quickest to the destination hike” for my guy, but he kept finding stumps to sit upon as we gazed more intently on our surroundings; I think he secretly appreciated our slow pace and the opportunity to rest his legs.

If you want support his effort to raise funds for the Shawnee Peak Adaptive Ski Program, stop by and see him. Any and all donations are most welcome.