Seeing Red

I wander through the same woods on a regular basis, sometimes following old logging roads and other times bushwhacking through the understory–a mix of young conifers and hardwoods that are slowly reclaiming their territory. Always, there are water holes to avoid as this is a damp area, so damp that in another month I probably will have to curb some of my wandering habits because it will become difficult to navigate.

h-maleberry-buds

But it’s that same water that gives life to the flora and fauna that live therein, such as the buds on the maleberry shrub. Notice how downy the twig is. And the bright red bud waiting patiently within two scales–preparing for the day when it will burst forth with life.

h-maleberry-pods

On the same shrub exists evidence of last year’s flowers, now capsules reddish-brown and five-celled in form.

h-red-maple-buds

And like the maleberry buds, the red maples buds grow more global each day, some with three scales of protective covering and others more.

h-snowflakesbuds

Today was a day of contrasts, from sunshiney moments to snow squalls, as well as greens to reds, tossed in with a mix of browns and grays.

h-moose-scrape

Continuing my venture, I soon realized I wasn’t the only one enjoying red. The moose and deer with whom I share this place, also find it a color of choice–especially the bark of young red maple trees.

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As I looked at the tree trunks, I could sense the motion of the moose’s bottom incisors scraping upward and then pulling against its hard upper palate to rip the bark off. Everywhere I turned, the maples showed signs of recent scrapes.

h-moose-rub

Less frequently seen were antler rubs such as this one, where the middle was smoothed by the constant motion and the upper and lower ends frayed. Such finds offer noted differences between a scrape and rub–the former has tags hanging from the upper section only and the teeth marks stand out, while the latter often features a smooth center with the ragged edges at top and bottom. But . . . like us, nature isn’t perfect and not everything is textbook, so I often have to pay closer attention.

h-moose-bedscat

I saw more than red and so I could hardly resist a moose bed filled with scat and urine. I’m always in awe of the sense of size and again I saw motion, of this large mammal laying down to take a rest and perhaps a few hours later, getting its feet under itself to rise again, do its duty and move on to browse some more.

h-witch-hazel-scattered

Deer tracks were even more numerous than moose and the solidness of the snow allowed them to travel atop the crust. At one point I spied something I didn’t recall seeing before–witch hazel capsules decorating the snow.

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At this time of year, these grayish tan capsules persist on the trees, but their work was completed in the fall when they expelled their two glossy black seeds.

h-witch-hazel-bud-nibbled

Ruffed grouse, wild turkeys and snowshoe hare like witch hazel buds. As do deer, who rip them off in the same fashion as a moose and leave a tag behind–as a signature.

h-witch-hazel-bud

Not all were eaten–yet. Notice these buds, ensconced in dense reddish/yellowish/brown hairs rather than the waxy scales of the maleberry and maple. And the shape extending outward from the twig, almost in scalpel-like fashion. Yeah, I was still seeing a hint of red.

h-witch-hazel-flower-bracts

If I wanted to carry my red theme to the extreme, I could say that the bright yellow bracts that formed the base of the former flowers were framed in red, but really, it’s more of a hairy light tan along their rims. Eventually, the bracts will develop into seed capsules and next autumn they’ll be the ones to shoot their seeds with a popping sound. We always talk about that sound and refer to Henry David Thoreau for as far as I know he was the one to first hear it. This past fall, a friend tried this and like Thoreau, he was awakened during the night by the seeds being forcibly expelled. (Credit goes to Bob Katz for that experiment.)

h-british-soldiers

Back to red. Under the hemlocks where the deer had traveled, I was looking at some mosses when these bright red soldiers showed their cheery caps–it’s been a while since I’ve seen British Soldier lichens, most of it buried beneath the snow.

h1-red-oak-bark

As I headed toward home, a red oak beside the cowpath asked to be included. It seems in winter that the rusty red inner bark stands out more in the landscape, making the tree easy to identify. Of course, don’t get confused by the big tooth aspen, which slightly resembles a red oak at the lower level, but a look up the trunk suddenly reveals similarities to a birch.

h1-acorn-cap

Many of the acorns have been consumed after such a prolific year, but their caps still exist and the color red was exemplified within the scales.

h1-icicles

Back at the homestead, I walked by the shed attached to the barn where icicles dripped–again speaking to this day. By that time the snow squalls had abated and sun shone warmly, but a brisk wind swirled the snow in the field into mini whirling dervishes. My cheeks were certainly red.

h-cardinal

My red adventure was completed at the bird feeder. A happy ending to scenes of red.

 

 

 

 

Sundae School

I went on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon and visited a land trust property I’ve never stepped foot on before. My intention was to scope it out for possible use with a future Maine Master Naturalist class. My realization from the get-go was a happy heart. I can’t wait to return and take others along so we can make discoveries together.

n Preserve sign

I’ve only been on one other Western Maine Foothills Land Trust property, so had no idea what to expect. The small parking area for Shepard’s Farm Preserve is at 121 Crockett Ridge Road in Norway. (Norway, Maine, that is.) This is one of seven preserves owned by the trust. I should have known I’d enjoy myself immensely just by the name. Though we spell Shephard with an “h,” it’s a family name for us. Who knows–maybe there’s a connection.

n-trail sign

On the back of the brochure I grabbed at the kiosk, I read the following: “Originally owned by Benjamin Witt, the high undulating pasture of Shepard’s Farm Family Preserve was transferred to Joshua Crockett in 1799, Charles Freeman in 1853, John Shepard in 1910, and to Bill Detert in 1984.” Mr. Detert and his family donated the property in memory of his wife, Jan, to the WMFLT in 2010.

n-Indian pipe bee 1

My lessons began immediately. What to my wondering eye should appear, but a bee pollinating an Indian pipe. And in the middle of the afternoon. Huh? I’ve always heard that they are pollinated by moths or flies at night. Of course, upon further research, I learned that bees and skipper butterflies have been known to pay a visit to the translucent flowers. Add that to the memory bank.

n-Indian pipe

As I continued along the trail I found the upturned mature flower and again wondered–who stopped by for a sip of sap? Lessons should evoke further questions and a desire to learn more.

n-hawkweed

The trail offered other familiar flowers, like hawkweed,

n-pearly everlasting

pearly everlasting, goldenrods and asters, Queen Anne’s lace, boneset and jewelweed.

n-monkeyflower 3

And then I come upon a wildflower I don’t recall meeting before. The lesson included a look at the leaves, their arrangement on the stem, and the flowerhead.

n-monkeyflower 1

The answer to the quiz–lavender-flowered Sharp-winged Monkeyflower. Monkeys in the woods! You never know. Sometimes I think that red squirrels sound like monkeys when they chit at me, but in this case, it’s the fact that the flower looks something like a monkey’s face.

n-thistle young and old

Further on,  I spotted a favorite that I don’t see as often as I’d like. What I didn’t realize is that thistles are in the aster family. Always learning. Its presence here is referenced by trail conditions, which change periodically from mixed hardwoods to softwoods to open places. Thistles prefer those open places–fields and waste places. Hardly waste in my opinion. Rather, early succession to a woodland.

n-bee on thistle 2

A bee worked its magic on the flowerhead so I moved in for a closer look.

n-bee on thistle1

As with any flower, it was a pollen frenzy.

n-thistle with seeds

Seconds later–maturity! Well, maybe not quite that fast.

n-thistle seeds 1

But the seeds had developed their downy parachutes and the breeze was a’blowing.

n-thistle seed 2

They knew it was time to leave the roost and find a new classroom.

n-trail ferns

Another lesson worth more time was a look at the natural communities along the trail. Bikers and hikers share this space, but what I found fascinating was the constant change.

n-trail hay

The original trail for the Shepard’s Family Farm Preserve was located on a 19-acre parcel. Recently, the Witt Swamp Extension was added, which almost circles around a 250+ acre piece. Hay covers some of the new trail right now–giving it that farm-like feel and smell.

n-trail 1

I’m not certain of the mileage, but believe that I covered at least 4-5 miles in my out and back venture over undulating land and through a variety of neighborhoods. The trail conditions–pure bliss. No rocks or roots to trip over. Instead, I could look around for the next lesson.

n-cedar bark

One of the things I love about hiking in Norway is that I get to be in the presence of cedar trees–Northern white cedar.

n-cedar leaves

I’m fascinated by its scale-like leaves.

n-deer tracks

So are the deer, who feed on the leaves during the winter months.

n-dry stream

I found only deer tracks, and noted that all stream beds were dry, though the moss gave a moist look to the landscape. We’re experiencing a drought this summer.

n-red leaf

Due to that lack of rain, some red maples already have turned and colorful leaves are beginning to float to the ground.

n-porky 3

Deer aren’t the only mammals that inhabit this place. From the trail, I noticed hemlock trees with bases that looked like perfect gnome homes. And then I spotted this one that invited a closer look.

n-porky den

A pile of porcupine scat–the pig-pen of the woods. Even Charlie Brown would note a distinct odor.

n-toad camo

And in true “Where’s Waldo” tradition, a young American toad crossed my path. The camo lesson–blend in for safety’s sake.

n-turtle 2

Being former farmland, stonewalls wind their way through the preserve. And my childhood fascination with turtles was resurrected. Do you see it?

n-turtle 3

How about now? Hint: the head is quartz.

n-turtles

And this one? They’re everywhere. It makes me wonder if it was a style of the times.

n-stone wall ending

I crossed through a gap in the stonewall and noted two smaller stones topped by a large flat one. A reason why? The questions piled up. I need to ask the teacher.

n-stonepile

And then there were the stone piles. Why so many smaller stones around a boulder? What I love about this spot is that a hemlock took advantage of the boulder and grew on top of it.

n-stone structure 2

And another favorite find–a stone structure.

n-stone structure, flat

Created with rather flat field stones.

n-stone structure 1a

It’s near a stonewall, so I surmised it was a shed of some sort rather than a root cellar for a home. I could be wrong, but am thrilled by the opportunity to see it.

n bird sculpture

One of the coolest features of this property is that it’s home to sculptures created in the 1970s by Bernard Langlois, including this bird in flight. The sculptures were made possible recently by the generosity of his widow, Helen Langlois, Colby College and the Kohler Foundation.

n-bird lady 2

Mrs. Noah is my favorite. She has stories to tell and I have lessons to learn.

It’s Sunday and by the time I finished hiking I was hot. I’d intended to check out a few more preserves, but the thought of a creamsicle smoothie at a local ice cream shop had my focus–until I pulled in and saw this posted: “Cash and local checks only.” No cash. And though our checks would be local, I didn’t have any with me either. Lesson learned.

I drove home and made my own sundae.

Three Times A Charm

One might think that following the same loop through the woods in slow motion three times in one day would be boring. One would be wrong. My friend Joan and I can certainly attest this fact.

Round One: 9 am, Wildflower and Bird Walk with Lakes Environmental Association co-led by birder/naturalist Mary Jewett of LEA and the ever delightful botanist Ursula Duve.

h-hobblebush

In abundance here, the hobblebush bouquet–a snowy-white flower that is actually an inflorescence, or lacy cluster of tiny fertile flowers surrounded by a halo of showy, yet sterile bracts. Yeah, so I’ve showed you this before. And I’ll probably show it again. Each presentation is a wee bit different.

h-beech cotyledon1ph

And then we spied something that I’ve suddenly seen almost every day this week.

h-beech coty 4ph

The cotyledon or seed leaf of an American beech. Prior to Monday, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this and yet, since then I’ve continued to discover them almost every day. Worth a wonder.

h-beech coty 3ph

Think about it. The journey from seed to tree can be a dangerous one as the root is sent down through the leaf litter in search of moisture. Since the root system is shallow, lack of moisture can mean its demise. When conditions are right, a new seedling with a rather strange, yet beautiful appearance surfaces. The seed leaves of the beech, aka cotyledons, are leathery and wavy-margined. They contain stored food and will photosynthesize until the true leaves develop, providing a head start for the tree. I realize now that I’ve seen them all my life in other forms, including maple trees, oak trees and vegetables. But . . . the beech cotyledon captures my sense of wonder right now, especially as it reminds me of a luna moth, which I have yet to see this year.

h-green frog 2

Crossing the first boardwalk through the red maple swamp, a large male green frog tried to hide below us. Notice the large circular formation behind his eye. That’s the tympanum, his visible external ear. A male’s tympanum is much larger than his eye.

h-rhodora ph1

Other red maple swamp displays included the showy flowers of rhodora and their woody capsules.

h-rhodora1

Ralph Waldo Emerson knew the charm of this spring splendor:

The Rhodora

On being asked, whence is the flower.
In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals fallen in the pool
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for Being;
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask; I never knew;
But in my simple ignorance suppose
The self-same power that brought me there, brought you.

h-LEA group

To avoid getting our feet too wet, we spread out as we walked on the boardwalk through the quaking bog.

h-five morning

Morning light highlighted the layers from the pond and sphagnum pond up to Five Fields Farm and Bear Trap above.

h-trill 1

And because it was ever present, I couldn’t resist pausing to admire the painted trillium once again (don’t tell my guy).

h-dwarf ginseng1ph

One plant that I will always associate with this place and Ursula, who first introduced me to it years ago, is the dwarf ginseng. I love its global spray of flowers and compound leaves. But maybe what I love most is its beauty in diminutive form–just like Ursula.

Round Two: Noon, Lunch and a walk with my dear friend Joan.

h-bigtooth aspen

After returning to our vehicles following the morning walk, Joan and I grabbed our lunches. And I paused in the parking lot to enjoy the silvery fuzziness of big tooth aspen leaves. The quaking aspen in our yard leafed out a couple of weeks ago, but big tooth aspen leaves are just emerging. Like others, they begin life with a hairy approach–perhaps as a protective coating while they get a start on life?

h-muddy riverlunch

We ate lunch beside Muddy River where the spring colors were reflected in the water.

h-blueberries 1ph

And then we heard something jump in the water, so we moved silently like foxes as we tried to position ourselves and gain a better view. In the back of our minds, or perhaps the front, we wanted to see a turtle, beaver or especially an otter. Not to be. But we did see highbush blueberries in flower.

h-bee 1

And the bees that pollinate them.

h-pitcher 5ph

In their out-of-this universe form, we knelt down to honor the pitcher plant blossoms that grow along a couple of boardwalks.

h-red maple samaras

We were wowed by the color of the red maple samaras,

h-red winged

prominent shoulder patch of the red-winged blackbird,

h-cranberries

and cranberries floating on the quaking bog.

h-lone larch

And then our eyes were drawn to the green–of the lone larch or tamarack tree

h-green 9ph

and the green frogs.

h-green 8ph

I spent some time getting to know one better.

h-green 3

She even climbed out to accommodate me–I’m sure that’s why she climbed up onto the boardwalk.

h-green 6

Or maybe she knew he was nearby. What a handsome prince.

Round Three: 2:30pm, Joan and I (co-coordinators of the Maine Master Naturalist Bridgton 2016 class) were joined by another MMNP grad, Pam Davis Green, who will lead our June field trip to explore natural communities at Holt Pond.

h-striped maple flower

h-spriped flowers 2

Cascading down from the striped maple leaves, we saw their flowers, which had alluded us on our first two passages.

h-speckled 2

The cottony white masses of wooly alder aphids decorated many of the speckled alders in the preserve. In a symbiotic relationship, ants stroke the aphid with their antennae, while  the aphid releases a drop of honeydew, much like a cow being milked. It’s actually rather creepy.

h-duck

Two Canada Geese squawked from another part of the pond, but Mrs. Mallard stood silently by.

h-tree pants

Our final sight brought a smile to our faces–someone put his or her pants on upside down!

We hope that charms your fancy. Joan and I were certainly charmed by our three loops around and those we got to share the trail with today.

We also want to thank Ursula, Mary and Pam for their sharings. And we send good vibes and lots of prayers to my neighbor, Ky, and Pam’s brother-in-law.       

 

 

Wet Feet at Brownfield Bog

When I suggested to Marita that we explore Brownfield Bog this afternoon, she wondered  how much water we might encounter on the road. And so we wore boots. Marita donned her Boggs, while I sported my waterproof hiking boots.

b-johnny jump up

Until we got there, we didn’t realize that the privately-owned road leading into the bog isn’t open yet, but thought we’d park at a driveway near the beginning and leave a note. The owner came along, whom she knew, and graciously invited us to park  near his home and cross through his woods down to the bog road. He and his wife share a piece of heaven and I took only one cheery photo to remind me of their beautiful spot and kind hospitality.

b-river road literally

And then on to the bog it was. Just after the gate, we realized that we couldn’t walk to the Saco River–literally a river road.

b-bog 1

But this is a bog, where all forms of life enjoy wet feet.

b-willow 2

From pussy willows to . . .

b-speckled alder 1

speckled alders,

b-cranberry

cranberries,

b-red maple 2

and flowering red maples–wet feet are happy feet and they all thrive in seasonally flooded places.

b-ducks 1

We kept scaring the ducks off, but know that there were wood ducks among the mix. They, of course, know the importance of wet and webbed feet.

b-lodge 2

b-beaver tree

b-beaver scent mound

And by their lodges, tree works and scent mounds, we knew the beavers had been active–another wet-footed species. We did wonder about the survival rate of those that built beside the road–seems like risky business given the predators that travel this way.

b-pellet

Speaking of predators, check out the orange rodent teeth among all the bones in this owl pellet.

b-bog 2

On this robin’s egg kind of day

b-pleasant mtn

with Pleasant Mountain sandwiched between layers of blue,

b-field 1

the breeze brisk at times and the sun warm always,

b-water over road on way back

the flow of water didn’t stop us.

b-wet feet

Waterproof boots and wool socks–the perfect combination to avoid wet feet. Well, maybe a wee bit damp, but five hours later and I just took my socks off.

 

Renewing the spirit

My guy and I drove to the central Maine town of Madison this morning to join Master Naturalist Kate Drummond on a walk that combined the natural and historical context of a trail beside the Kennebec River.

The Pines

The Pines, as this area is aptly named, once served as an Abenaki settlement.

Kate D

Kate began by sharing the history of Father Sebastien Rasle, who lived among the Abenakis, learned their language and converted them to Catholicism. For more than thirty years in the late 17th/early 18th century, he served as a Jesuit missionary and built at church here. Father Rasle educated the children and developed a dictionary of the native language. He also helped keep the English at bay when they tried to encroach upon Indian lands–until that fatal day–August 23, 1724.

While Father Rasle had earned the respect of the Abenakis, the English militia was wary of him. They combined forces with the Mohawk Indians to destroy the village and killed at least 80 Abenakis and Father Rasle 300 years ago today.

And so it was that Kate chose to honor Father Rasle and the Indians he lived amongst by sharing the trail with local townspeople (and us–from two hours away) to tell his story and recognize the natural elements that were a part of their daily life.

Kate is a high school chemistry teacher, so captivating her audience is a part of her makeup. To begin, she asked us to stand still for a minute and listen, look, be in the moment. After we shared our observations, she took us back in time, to imagine what the area looked like three hundred years ago.

matching cards to cool facts

matching cards

And then our real work began. We were given a set of cards and had to match the photos to the card listing cool facts about a particular species. Thankfully, there was no quiz at the end, but I suspect this group would have passed with flying colors–everyone was equally engaged.

We found some cool finds along the way:

acorn plum gall

Our first was a mystery. This speckled red ball, about the size of a jawbreaker, had us puzzled. We found several on the ground beneath Northern red oaks and Eastern white pines. Cutting one open, it looked rather fleshy and we could see what appeared to be an insect, but we still weren’t sure. And when we later found an empty acorn apple gall, we realized it was the same size. Well, a quick Google search for “large speckled red ball beneath oak” revealed acorn plum gall. It’s the home of a wasp species that uses this as a nursery. The grub slowly eats the gall’s tissue and metamorphs into a pupa before changing into a small wasp that eats its way out through a hole. This particular gall grows at the base of the acorn cup.

red and sugar maple leaves

A red maple and a sugar maple stood side by side, making for a lesson on leaf id. Red on the left, sugar on the right. Red–more teeth, or as Kate said, R=rough. Sugar–a U between the lobes, and as Kate said, Sugar has a U in it. It’s their sap that the Abenakis knew.

beaver works

Though we didn’t see any fresh sign of beaver activity, we knew by this statue that they’ve been here in the past. I love that those who actually cut the rest of the tree down to prevent it from falling across the path, had the foresight to leave the beaver works for all to see. The beavers were important to the Abenakis for a variety of reasons, including as food, tools and warmth.

basswood leaf

The asymmetrical base of the basswood tree makes it easy to identify. It was the bark, though, that was of prime importance all those centuries ago–the stringy fibers were used to make line or rope.

jer art 1

In bloom were the Jerusalem artichokes. In Notes on a Lost Flute: A Field Guide to the Wabanaki, author Kerry Hardy writes, “Peeking out of the woods at Old Norridgewock are Jerusalem artichokes, the penak [ground nut]of the Abenakis who lived here.  I believe these plants must be descendants of those grown here centuries ago.” How cool is that? The plants tubers are edible.

jersaleum artichoke

On this day of reflection, remembrance and revelation, they shown brilliantly, perhaps a sign that reconciliation is possible.

Kennebec River 2

We spent some time beside the Kennebec where eels and alewives were important food sources.

immature bald eagle and nest

And an immature bald eagle let us know of his presence. He’s in the oak on the right, while his nest is toward the top of the pine on the left.

FR monument 1

FR mon 2

FR school

It is Kate’s hope that more people will want to learn about the history of this place. Kudos to her for embarking on renewing its spirit.

One Step at a Time

The past few weeks I’ve felt like an expectant mother. Remember that 70’s Heinz Ketchup commercial? “Anticipation, anticipa-a-a-tion, it’s making me wait.” First it was the Red Maples. Look at them now.

red maple

Tender and colorful, their leaves begin to unfurl.

rm1

vp 5:4

And then there is the vernal pool where the rhythm of life changes with each day.

mosquitoes

Larval mosquitoes wiggle and waggle and somersault through the water.

beetle

Predacious beetles paddle along in this fertile hunting pool.

vp 1 5:5

Sunshine envelopes the wood frog and spotted salamander nursery

eggs 5:4

with a blanket of warmth for the growing embryos.

eggs formed

Their due date fast approaches.

teeming

The pond reverberates with each tiny step.

teem 3 5:4

Tadpoles, at last.

teem 2 5:4

The quarter-inch tadpoles feed on the green algae that has colonized the eggs. In their symbiotic relationship, the algae feed on the embryos’ waste and produce oxygen.

tad poles 1

I’m mesmerized.

drying up 5:5

And curious. The water level has dropped several inches already. The question is, will the gelatinous mass be enough to keep these embryos alive?

Canada mayflower

I turn away and by my feet, a Canada Mayflower about to bloom. Yet another step taken.

So much is going on in this place. I look around at the hardwoods and softwoods that hang over the pool and drop their flowers, leaves, needles, cones and sometimes branches. Moss and lichen cover the rocks. Plants are just emerging. And I’ve seen evidence that mammals stop here for water or food.

I want to protect the wood frog tadpoles so that in time they can hop away into the upland habitat as their parents did. They are my pride and joy. But only for a moment. They are not mine.

The web of life plays out right here and pulls me along one step at a time.

Thanks for stopping by to wonder as I wander.

Seeking Hope

My heart is heavy with thoughts of recent events both here in the US and abroad, especially in Baltimore and Nepal. It all makes me feel so insignificant as I head outside. And it makes me all the more thankful for the opportunity to head outside and wander freely along the path and through the woods.

red maple 1

My hope is that you’ll never pass by a Red Maple tree again and dismiss it as just another tree.

striped maple

The same is true for a Striped Maple.

pussy willows

and willow.

vp1

My hope is you’ll relish the life of a vernal pool

vp eggs

as it supports a variety of species for such a short time,

wb 2

including this predaceous diving beetle and wiggly mosquito larva.

vp 2

Visit soon, because they are already drying up.

porc tree

My hope is you’ll look around and notice the subtle signs

porc damage

of mammal activity.

porc den

And have the good fortune to see a den and scat up close.

stone wall

My hope is you’ll come upon stone walls

trash 3

and objects in the woods that will make you wonder about those who came before.

turkey tail

My hope is you’ll notice the abalone colors of turkey tails

stump

and see castles in tree stumps.

sinking feeling

My hope is you’ll sink in the mud

trail

as you travel along the trail.

May those who suffer find hope and wonder.