Duck, Duck, Porky Bear!

Our mission today, which we chose to accept, was to revisit a Porcupine den and check on the activity there and if time allowed, find a certain Red Pine tree in the forest. We knew the location of the den for we’ve visited it several times in the past three or four months, but had only a vague idea of where the Red Pine grew tall.

The Porcupine’s entry hole was just as we’d remembered it, but it was the scene about that had changed since our last visit. Hemlock boughs decorated the still snow-covered forest floor in great quantity.

And so we looked up–at two trees now mere skeletons of their former selves. All that was left–backbones and ribs. The meat and flesh had been almost completely nipped off. But, it still made us smile for the Porcupine had done what Porcupines do. And except for our occasional visits, it seemed they’d not been interrupted by human interference.

The other thing Porcupines do is scat. Prolifically. Below their tree of choice. And by their dens. Of course, I needed to document such. This presentation offered a delightful contrast, subtle though it may have been, of the prickly rodent’s scat and a Hemlock cone. Sometimes the color is so similar, and as you can see the size is as well, that it’s difficult to tell them apart. But, if we are what we eat, then their similarities make perfect sense.

After admiring the Hemlocks, we returned to the hole and noticed a few quills. You may need your detective eyes to locate them. I’ll leave it at that (Faith and Sara–good luck).

And then we moved out to the edge of the brook to check on another entrance to the same den. It didn’t appear to have been used recently, but that got us wondering about the melting snow. Having said that, we could see the pathway created to the upper right of the tunnel was worn, but any scats we found there were quite dried out and deteriorated to the point of being almost unrecognizable.

Just above the tunnel, however, a new discovery–another Porcupine tree. This one a Beech sapling–most of it denuded of bark and even a few twigs. Our questions continued. Was the upper part of this seven or eight foot tree dined upon when the snow was deep? And the lower part as the snow melted? Or had the Porcupine recently climbed up? How in the world can such a large animal climb such a small tree without snapping the trunk in half? I could practically wrap my thumb and pointer finger around it. Ah, but they do. Another amazing feat by one with grippers for feet.

Leaving the Porcupine area behind, we moved along beside the brook and paid our respects to the Itt family. Cousin Itt and his cousins stood clustered together eagerly awaiting the sun that was to come.

Our slow motion then found us beside a stump upon which Pixie Cup lichens grew. Pixie Cups or Goblet lichens are members of the Cladonia group. This find made us realize that as the snow pack dwindles we have so much to learn or relearn. Thank goodness it’s a slow melt and we have time. 😉

Our time today next involved a magic trick. One of us poked the blisters on the trunk of a Balsam Fir.

With a glob of resin attached to the broken twig, she tossed it into the water. Then we stood and watched . . . as the oil dispersed, changed shape and colors, and the tiny piece of twig moved about like a water fairy’s motorboat.

The essential oil within the sticky tree goo propelled the twig and created a map that could have been the United States.

As we watched, some of the oil broke away and feathered out in the movement of the water . . . but in a fashion we didn’t understand for it seemed to only float so far and then circled back.

As I said, we watched for a while, and where the little twig settled, we began to notice another shape emerging . . . a duck. Some people look at clouds, but we were fascinated by a substance that has antiseptic properties to seal cuts and protect them from infection, lessens the pain of burns if smeared gently onto skin, and serves as nature’s gasoline when one wants to start a fire. Oh, and reacts in water by creating fascinating rainbows while propelling objects.

At last we pulled away for I had a time crunch, but we still wanted to reach the Red Pine. To get there, we passed a Turkey kill site we’d discovered in January. The feathers remained and reminded us of the day we’d spent trying to solve the mystery of the Turkey’s demise. If nothing else, we came up with a good story that day.

From the feathers, we journeyed on, reaching the edge of a wetland that stretched away from the brook. My time was running out, but we gave ourselves six more minutes (why not five, you ask? Why not?) and scanned the tree tops in search of one Red Pine. And then . . . we spied it.

We weren’t the first, for a Winter Firefly moved out from under the bark as we admired its colors and jigsaw presentation–of the bark that is. We admired the insect as well, but that bark. Oh my.

And then our real “Oh my!” exclamations began for we had found what we sought. Bear claw marks on the bark! They are much more subtle on Red Pines than American Beech, but as we circled the tree we kept seeing them.

The thing about the Red Pine is that the flaky bark must make it difficult to climb, but then again, we couldn’t tell how high Ursus americanus had gone. Mind you, we didn’t look at any other trees in the forest, and as I sit and think about this one now, I can’t wait to return (I’ve a feeling my guy will want to be in tow for the next expedition) because this morning I’d forgotten that Black Bears use lone Red Pines as communication poles–turning their heads and biting into the tree while rubbing their backs against it to leave a scent (Think date night invitation). Usually, some hair is left behind in the sap. We did located old Pileated Woodpecker holes filled with sap, but no hair. Yet.

Our journey out was more of a bee-line because our six minutes took longer and I was a wee bit late to an interview, but my hostess was gracious when I explained that a Red Pine had held me up! And then on my way home I stopped by some more open water and much to my delight, a pair of Wood Ducks struck just the right pose.

And now I’m torn. Which duck do I prefer? The Balsam Fir Duck or the male Wood Duck? Such decisions to have to make at the end of the day.

Duck, duck, porky bear! They were each special in their own way.

Firsties

A week ago, I joined friends Marita and Marguerite Wiser for a hike up Albany Mountain from Crocker Pond Road. At the summit, we searched for a loop leading off from the left that I’d been told about, but couldn’t find it. There were cairns leading to the right, but we didn’t see any to the left.

a1-trail sign

And so today, my guy and I headed back up the mountain with a quest in mind–to find the loop. For you see, this week when I again questioned the friend who’d told me about the summit loop, I was assured it was there and we just needed to follow the cairns to the left.

a2-ice on beaver pond

Not far along the trail, we reached the old beaver pond, which was open water last weekend, but coated in a thin layer of ice today. A first for us this season.

a3-dam crossing

We crossed the old beaver dam, made a wee bit easier because of the freeze.

a4-3 in 1 trees

And then we began climbing. Suddenly, I spied a red pine. A lone red pine. A red pine worth inspecting, for I suspected this was bear territory and thought perhaps the tree would show evidence of a past climb since it was the only red pine in the immediate area–bears like something different like a lone red pine. There were no signs of claw marks, but we did wonder about the resources shared by the pine, red maple and beech–a trinity of brethren in these mixed woods.

a5-ice

Moving upward, like all streams this month, water flowed with passion and because of the sudden drop in temperature this past week, ice formed upon obstacles. We slipped off the trail to admire its every rendition.

a6-more ice

Each coated twig offered its own fluid art.

a8-ice spirit

But my favorite of all was the ice spirit who watched over all as his beard grew long.

a9-ice needles

Back on the trail, conditions changed as well and ice needles crackled under our feet, adding to the crunch of dried beech and maple leaves.

am1

We weren’t far along, when we spied snow–another sight that made my heart sing on this brisk November day.

a10-SNOW

For us, it was the first snow of the season and we hope it bespoke the future.

a11-snow on the leaves

The higher we climbed, the more snow we saw, though really, it was only a dusting. But still–we rejoiced.

a12-new steps

Eventually we came upon some new trail work. Actually, last weekend, we’d chatted with the creator of such steps; and on our trip down, I’d asked him about the summit loop because we hadn’t found it. He said there was no such thing. But my friend insisted on such when I told her this info.

a13-climbing higher

On we climbed, reaching bald granite where sometimes conditions were slick. I’d brought my microspikes, but the trail wasn’t difficult and I never did pull them out of the pack. Still–better to be safe than sorry.

a14-Summit sign

At 1.5 miles, we reached the junction. And headed upward to the summit.

a19-ledge 1 view

About one tenth of a mile along, we turned right and followed a spur trail out to a ledge where the view west offered a backdrop featuring the White Mountains.

a16-first ledge and my guy

We suspected the summit loop may have taken off from this point, so my guy went on a reconnaissance mission to the left–to no avail.

a20-Mt Washington

But we did enjoy the view–including the summit of Mount Washington.

am3

Then we went in search of the mountain sage. Given the condition of its glasses, however, we suspected it was feeling a bit bedraggled from the recent wind. Or maybe it had tried to find the loop as well and was just plain tired from coming up short.

a21-lunch rock view

On to Albany Mountain summit we marched. And then we sat on a clear spot upon the granite to dine on . . . none other than the famous PB&J sandwiches (mine with butter, of course). Our view was framed by red pines and spruces.

a23-red pine needles

As it should, the red pines exhibited the look of chimney sweep brushes.

a22-red pine

One bent over, its leader long influenced by the northerly winds.

a23-spruce

Even a spruce known for its spire-like stance had performed the wind dance.

am4

After lunch, we poked around to the left, in search of cairns for the said loop . . . and found none.

am5

There were cairns to the right, however, which the Wisers and I had followed for a short distance last weekend. Today, we decided to see where they led. Cairns gave way to flagging.

am6

And flagging gave way to more cairns.

a24--views of balds from other trail

Meanwhile, the trail gave way to more views–of the Baldfaces.

a25-crossing the ledges

The trail seemed to circle around to the left, but then it turned right. Eventually, we met two young men and asked them if we were on the loop. We learned they’d spent the day exploring the top and knew of no loop, but informed us that we were on a spur. Funny thing is, they were from Texas and Wisconsin.

a26-view toward Pleasant Mtn

And they were right. About a half mile later, we reached the end of the cairns and the end of the spur and another panoramic view–with Keewaydin Lake in the foreground and our beloved Pleasant Mountain in the back.

am7

Again Mount Kearsarge greeted us with its pyramid formation and we stood for a while watching a bald eagle circle below us.

a27-foundation at trailhead

Our trip down the mountain passed quickly for it was my guy that I followed and within 45 minutes we were at the trailhead. Run much? While he went to the kiosk to double-check the map, I spied a foundation I’d previously missed. Who lived here? Was it the Crockers for whom the road was named?

a30a-Crocker Pond

Back in the truck, and because I was driving, we drove to the end of the road and I hopped out to look at Crocker Pond, which was partially coated in ice.

a28-Crocker Pond--backwards C

But it was a backwards reflection that really gave me pause for the birch trees seemed to spell the pond’s initials–backwards and upside down of course. CP. Humor me here. 😉

a35-Patte Marsh

And then I drove down another forest road to Patte Marsh, which was almost completely covered in ice.

a32-dam at Patte Marsh

Its formations were varied below the dam.

a31-sky reflection and ice

But my favorite of all was upon the pond, where the sky was reflected on a wee bit of open water and ice that reminded me of the eagle in flight.

We didn’t find what we’d gone in search of and may just have to try again (oh darn), but it was a day of firsties for us–first ice-covered ponds, first snow, first time on the second spur trail. Definitely a first rate day for a hike.

P.S. Thanks for continuing to stick with me. Please feel free to tell your family and friends about wondermyway. And encourage them to click the “follow” button. I’d appreciate it if you’d help me increase my readership. You never know what you’ll read here because I never know what I’ll write. Even when I think I know, I don’t. The end result is always a wander and definitely a wonder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiking the West Mondate

How could it be? We realized this past week that we’d only hiked in Sebago Lake State Park together once–thirty years ago. Oh, I’ve skied there, visited friends who were camping, and participated in several eighth grade class picnics back in my public education days.  But today we decided to remedy our hiking opportunity–or lack thereof.

s-sebago-sign

Our intention wasn’t to camp, but rather to explore the trails that circle around and cut through the 1,400-acre property. For those of you who know my guy, though we certainly haven’t spent a lot of time in the park, he does feel a certain affinity–to the brown stain that the park staff purchases in five gallon buckets from his hardware store. 🙂

s-boundary-blazes

After looking at a map near the entry booth, we headed off on a trail marked with orange blazes. Or so we thought. Until we realized we were following the boundary. But all the orange paint made me think of our young neighbor, Kyan, and as it turns out he was on my brain for a great reason–he’s been in remission for the past six months following his bone marrow transplant and today had his central line removed. No wonder we spent an hour following those orange blazes. All the while, however, we did think the trails were poorly marked.

s-high-point-1

Unwittingly, we spotted a bit of brown–on the picnic table. We appeared to be on a high spot, home to the table and a cairn garden.

s-cairns-3

I’m of several minds when it comes to cairns. I know that some are historical and symbolic and others mark trails, but these, though each different in sculptural form, bothered me.

s-cairn

While my guy saw them as offering hikers something to do, I saw them as disruptive to the natural landscape. That being said, the landscape was formed by a glacier and these pieces spoke to the bedrock geology of the Sebago pluton with their pinkish coloration.

s-kneeling-before-map

Turns out we were at the summit of the Lookout Trail, the highest point in the park at 499 feet. And behind the cairn park, we found the trail itself, blazed with red triangles, which we followed down to the campground road where we found a map–worth kneeling and worshiping. Well, actually, given the snow depth, that was the easiest way to read it. From that point forward, we found “You Are Here” maps whenever trails intersected, though we did tend to wander off occasionally.

s-ice-bubbles

Over a brook, where balls of ice formed,

s-artist-conks

past artist conks decorating a decaying birch tree,

s-locust-bark

and through woods featuring the braided ridges of black locust bark, we hiked.

s-tree-silhouette

And then we reached the beach. On Sebago Lake.

s-rocky-coast-of-maine

We’d arrived at Witch Cove Beach.

s-waves-and-wind

The wind had kicked up the waves and it felt almost ocean like. Almost.

s-maple-and-pitch

Certainly, tree roots beside the lake spoke to wave action and higher tides (no, the lake doesn’t have a tide, but in storms and floods it must surge higher). Beside the water, a red maple and pitch pine tree embraced from their root source.

s-pitch-pine-bark-1

The bark of the pitch pine featured its reddish plates surrounded by deep furrows.

s-red-pine-bark

While it’s similar to red pine bark that grows nearby, there are subtle differences–red pine bark being plated but much thinner and tighter to the trunk. Plus, the pitch pine has bundles of three needles, while the red features two needles.

s-pitch-pine-growth

The other unique characteristic of pitch pines, their epicormic sprouting of needles on the trunk that grow from dormant buds on the bark.

s-sand-prints

Eventually, we moved on, leaving prints in our wake.

s-beach

Our substrate switched from snow to sand and back to snow, which we much preferred.

s-beach-eyes

Before we turned away from the beach, we found the sand goddess eyeing the world. Again, we noted the orange and thought of Ky, but didn’t truly realize its significance.

s-lunch-table

Into the picnic area we moved, after watching a few deer who eventually flashed their white tails before moving on. Lunch table beckoned us. It needs some fresh stain–there’s job security in that thought–for the park staff and my guy.

s-buried-table-2

Some tables spoke to the snow depth.

s-cache-fest

After we finished our sandwiches, we discovered that others had used the picnic ground–for a cache site. Somewhere in the park, at least one red squirrel prospered through the winter.

s-glacial-kettle

Our journey took us past the glacial kettle formed by the melting of large blocks of ice.

s-map

And then we figured out our final trails to follow.

s-songo-river

We crossed Thompson Point Road and followed the oxbows and meandering of Songo River, which actually proved to be bittersweet. I’d only been on the river twice and both with the milfoil team of the Lakes Environmental Association. As we hiked beside it today, I recognized various points Adam Perron, the milfoil dude had pointed out. Again I say, RIP Adam.

s-beaver-bog-from-table

At last we reached Horseshoe Bog, home to one of those picnic tables needing work. You know who spied it from a mile off.

s-beaver-works-3

He also spied the work of others and eagerly showed me.

s-beaver-teeth

My what big teeth grooves a beaver leaves.

s-beaver-works-4

It left its mark everywhere.

s-beaver-5

And sometimes such works met the forces of nature and all was well that ended well.

s-spur-trail

The same could be said for us. We began the day on a trail that wasn’t and ended by trying to follow a spur trail out, that we couldn’t quite locate (except for the sign at the beginning that identified it as a spur trail) and so we bushwhacked and then an anomaly caught our eyes–snow on a structure, which turned out to be the entry booth from which we’d begun our expedition.

As it turns out, we realized that our adventure thirty years ago was on the east (Casco) side of the park and this was our first visit to the west (Naples) side. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take us thirty more years to return for another Mondate–indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

Three-Season Mondate at Back Pond Reserve

OK, so it wasn’t three seasons all packed into one Monday date, but walking up the   Mountain Trail at GLLT’s Back Pond Reserve in Stoneham today brought back memories of previous visits by my guy and me.

yellow

The woods are awash in golden-green yellows right now, especially where the trees include beech, big-tooth aspen and striped maple.

a dose of red

Climbing higher, variations of red join the carpet display.

summit 3 of 5 Kezars

We were surprised by how quickly we reached the summit, which is what got us recalling previous visits.  Today, the water of three of the Five Kezars sparkled while Pleasant Mountain stood watch in the background.

summit, summersummit, winter

As I looked through my photo files, I realized we have never hiked this trail in the spring. In the summer there are wildflowers to make us pause, and winter finds us exploring mammal activity–thus our treks are slower.

summit, Mt Washington

Today’s view included snow on Mount Washington, the grayish-white mountain located between the pines.

Ganong chocolates

As we enjoyed the view, we topped off our PB&J sandwiches with the last couple of truffles we had purchased at Ganong Chocolatier in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, earlier this month.

water bottle 2

And water, of course.

which way do we go?

Instead of letting the arrows confuse us, we turned 180˚ and followed the connector trail between the Mountain and Ron’s Loop. It’s not on the map yet and still needs some work, but it’s full of surprises–only a few of which I’ll share right now.

winter, connecting trail

We’ve always enjoyed this trail and today realized that though it’s much easier to follow than it was a few years ago, many trees have blown down along the way.

numerous trees 2

They’re easy enough to climb over. If you go, do know that there are two or three mucky spots along this trail as well, but again, easy to get around.

lone red pine, connecting trailred pine, winter

This lone red pine always makes us wonder. Perhaps it found its way here via a seed on a skidder?

winter bobcat prints

Today we found moose tracks, plus red fox and coyote scat. If there was bobcat scat, it was obscured by the leaf litter, but we know they frequent this area.

winter, snowshoe hare

We also know the bobcat’s favorite meal lives here–we saw this guy in early March and of course, always see his prints on winter treks.

artist's conkcrowded parchment, connecting trail

Lion's Mane past peak

A couple of fun finds along the way–artist’s conk, crowded parchment and an old lion’s mane.

the bridge on Ron's Loop

winter, the bridge at Ron's Loop

The bridge on Ron’s Loop is all decked out with autumn colors–a contrast to its winter coat.

honoring Ron

We’re forever thankful to Ron for his leadership and foresight,

bench on Ron's Loop

even when we can’t see the plaque that honors him.

Kendra and Jewell

We met no other people on the trail today, but one of my fondest memories dates back two years when one of GLLT’s interns, Kendra, offered her arm to Jewell for a safe journey. Once upon a time, Jewell was Kendra’s Sunday School teacher and on this summer day, Kendra was Jewell’s guide.

water bottle by Ron's Loop

As we walked into the parking area of Ron’s Loop, we noticed that someone had left behind a water bottle. If it’s yours, it’s still there.   wasp nest Ron's Loop

Each time we visit, we take a moment to check out the wasp nest at the kiosk.

Ron's Loop kiosk, Jan 2015

We can’t remember when we first noticed it, but it’s been there for a while.

coffee sign

One last thing to note before we walked back to the Mountain trailhead where our truck was parked–Magnolia coffee. Wish I’d ordered more than one this past year. Dark roast.

One Mondate–three seasons. And now the quest is to turn it into a four-season destination. Stay tuned.

To Old City and Back

Leaving camp

From camp. To Old City. Bridgton to Sweden. Via Moose Pond.

Toward Black Mtn

The temp was about 40 degrees, but with the brilliant sunshine, it felt even warmer. We reminisced about kayaking and rowing as we headed north on the pond.

Mink 1

Beside one of the islands, a mink had made numerous trails and holes.

Mink 2

I love it when a critter behaves like it’s supposed to. In this case, the prints are on the slant that the weasel family is known for. A mink is a small mammal with a long body and short legs. It has partially-webbed feet, an adaptation to a near-aquatic habitat. A few years ago, an acquaintance and I were helping with the Moose Pond watershed survey. We were sitting on some rocks by the shore, with a dock in front of us, as we jotted down notes. Much to our surprise, a mink came up from under the rocks by the dock. We starred at it, it starred at us. We had cameras. Did we take a photo? Nope. Another one for the mind’s eye.

Mink3

Bound and slide. Like otters. I still want to be an otter in my next life, but minks do have fun too.

following tracks

Tracks tell the story about behavior, but it’s often a guessing game. I think I got this one right. Homo sapiens. Male. About 6 feet tall. Handsome. Puts up with a lot.

finding a seat

He borrowed a resting spot while I examined those mink tracks and holes. There were tons of holes.

on the trail

At the northernmost end of the pond, we followed the snowmobile trail toward Old City. Today it’s a wooded snowmobile trail around the base of Black Mountain in Sweden, Maine, but during the 19th century a road passed by at least six homesteads. All were reportedly occupied by young men who chose not to live at home–perhaps increasing their status as eligible bachelors. Their names included Cushman, Farrington and Eastman, among others–names long associated with Sweden and Lovell. (Sweden was originally part of Lovell)

foundation

The area was abandoned at some point after the Civil War, but foundations like this one remain. This may have belonged to P. Farrington or J. Edgecomb, but I’m thrown off because it occurs on the wrong side of the current “road.” That doesn’t mean the road was originally in the same spot.

stone walls

Stone walls, like this one near the I. Eastman property, formed boundaries to keep animals in or out. I suspect this guy was a major landowner.

stone wall 2

I’m fascinated by stone walls. Not only are they beautiful and functional, but they also represent a tremendous amount of labor. And the stones have their own story to tell about the lay of our land in New England.

color in the woods

I’d been looking at tracks, trees (always looking for bear claw marks on beech trees and quizzing myself on bark) and stones. On the way back, this touch of color caught my eye. Red Pine bark is among my favorites. Then again, I haven’t meet a tree I didn’t like. And the contrast with the hemlock needles, beech leaves and touch of blue sky gave me pause.

vine?

This also caught my eye. Last fall, a friend had sent me a photo of a beech tree with a similar case of strange scars. I didn’t know what it was, so I sent it on to a forester I know. He sent it on to someone in the invasive insect department at the state level. It all boiled down to what they thought was wounds from bittersweet vine being wrapped around the tree at one time.

vine 2

That made sense then. Today, I dunno. As I looked around, I noticed the same phenomenon on other beech trees. But I didn’t see any evidence of vines nearby. Of course, there’s still a lot of snow on the ground, as my guy can tell you since he chose not to wear snowshoes. The area had been logged at some point. But, I’m just not sure.

heading back to camp

Back on the pond and heading toward Bridgton and camp. Shawnee Peak and Pleasant Mountain provide the perfect backdrop. Yesterday, my guy took one of our grand-nephews for another ski lesson. The young’un skied straight over moguls on the Pine, slipped off the trail into the woods several times and fell a kazillion times. On the ride home this tired seven-year-old said that his younger brother probably spent the day playing Xbox. When asked if he wished he’d done the same, he remarked, “No, this was the most fun day I’ve ever had in my ENTIRE life.” I can hear my mother-in-law guffawing in heaven. 🙂

islands and mountain

Only another mile to go before we rest. Thanks for wondering along with us on today’s wander.