Amazing Race–Our Style: The Grand Finale

At last–the day we’d anxiously anticipated for the past month. Actually, for the past year.

I was sure the post-it note we found attached to the door would instruct us to drive to Lincoln, New Hampshire for a visit to the ice castle. My guy thought we’d find ourselves on a dogsled journey.

But no . . . either of those would have been too easy I suppose. Instead, we had to end this race in the same manner we had begun. Aboard a snowmobile. Egads! My least favorite mode of transportation.

To top it off, my guy’s two-seater is headed to the shop for some engine work. But his brother came through and lent us a machine so we were able to stay in the race. Our task was five-fold. 1. Ride through Sweden, Waterford, Lovell, Fryeburg and Bridgton; 2. Identify an interesting natural wonder; 3. Frame a picture; 4. Conquer the moguls; and 5. Pull the entire Amazing Race–our style together in a coherent order.

We started in the frigid morning air and no one else was about so we had Highland Lake and Stearns Pond to ourselves. Our journey took us whizzing across lakes and ponds, along open trails such as ITS 80 and 89, and through some narrow connecting pathways–or so they seemed to this untrained eye. I’d brought along my Trackards and the tracks were many, but all remained a blur.

You have to realize by now that for the two of us riding a snowmobile is like the tortoise meeting the hare–my desire to move slowly through the world met his need for speed. In the end, I did OK, and he went as slow as was safely possible, and even slower than that when he felt my knees nudge his back. But really, my teeth did chatter. Oh, maybe that was because of the temperature.

In Lovell, we got in line to gas up.

Funny things can happen when you’re standing around waiting for your turn at the pump. A nature moment presented itself in the form of a willow gall. Now I can’t wait to return to look at the willow blossoms in the spring.

From there, we made our way across to the Kezar River Reserve for the roadway had been groomed. Alas, at the kiosk, for some unknown reason, the groomer had backed up and headed out to Route 5, so we had to do the same. That wasn’t our only roadblock. We found our way onto a road that had previously served as the trail for a short bit, only to discover where road should have rejoined trail a house had been built. Again, we had to backtrack. Yikes. How would these affect our time?

We also noted historic sites as we cruised along, including the old Evan Homestead in Sweden, the Brick Church in Lovell, and Hemlock Covered Bridge in Fryeburg, which served as our lunch stop at 2pm.

It was there that I found the photo to frame for challenge three–the mixed forest reflected in the Old Course of the Saco as taken through a bridge window.

And then, after the bridge, we meet our fourth challenge: the moguls. For at least two miles, maybe more, between Hemlock Bridge Road and Knights Hill Road, we bounced up and down as if we were riding a bucking Bronco. Truly, I spent more time in the air than on the seat and each time I landed, it was with a thump. I was certain I’d fall off or at least my body would be flying behind the sled while I’d still be attached–via the vice grip I had on the backseat handlebars. Talk about white knuckles. Oh wait, maybe that was from being cold.

Somehow, we survived . . . and so did our relationship.

As for the other contestants, we weren’t sure where they were because as it turned out there were many riders out there and they all looked the same! Well, maybe they had their idiosyncrasies and I wasn’t paying attention to the little details of jacket and helmet color and design, but I’d much rather look at tree bark, mammal tracks, and winter weeds this time of year than people apparel.

Soon after the moguls, it was time for the last task. We encountered a display of twelve photographs; each represented a moment of wonder we’d encountered during the race and one of us had to place them in order from start to finish.

My guy had done all the driving and maneuvered us successfully through the mogul course (I didn’t fall off, remember) so it was my turn to complete this final challenge.

Episode one: The elephant face we discovered along the Narrow Gauge Trail.

Episode two: A rainbow in the Harpswell sea mist.

Episode three: The exotic kissing pigeons with heart-shaped white cere on their bills.

Episode four: The gallery of midnight artists at the Battery on Peaks Island.

Episode five: A Crimson-ringed Whiteface Dragonfly beside Shingle Pond on the Weeks Brook Trail.

Episode six: A sand collar in Clinton, Connecticut. While it felt like sand paper above and was smooth below, it was actually a mass of snail eggs.

Episode seven: After climbing Table Rock, a couple paid for our pie at this roadside stand and so we did the same for the next vehicle that pulled up.

Episode eight: The 1930 122 ft. steel-hulled yacht Atlantide, that served in WWII and was featured in Dunkirk.

Episode nine: (possibly one of our favorites) The cribbage board in the two seater below Piazza Rock on Saddleback Mountain.

Episode ten: An alpaca at America’s Stonehedge in Salem, New Hampshire.

Episode eleven: Finding an H to represent us while looking for decorated trees in the Maine Christmas Tree Scavenger Hunt.

Episode twelve: The final episode and another framed photo of the Old Course of the Saco from Hemlock Bridge.

Phew. I was pretty certain I had them all correct. And so on to the mat we drove, arriving at 3:36pm. And then as we stepped off the sled we discovered that we’d lost our backpack somewhere on the trail. The only item of any value in it was my cell phone.

We were concerned about that, but also found out that without the pack we couldn’t cross the finish line. So, we made a quick decision because we needed to be done by 5pm. I hopped off the sled and my guy took off in a spray of snow to search. We were sure it had fallen off near the moguls. Apparently, along the way he questioned people and learned that someone (thank you whomever you are) had hung the pack on a tree. Over the moguls he went, but to no avail. He was in a dip on his way back to the covered bridge when he spied it. Wowza.

At 4:41pm he pulled up to the mat.

And we crossed it together–As. The. Winners. YES, we WON!

But, of course, we won. For if you have followed us from the start then you’ll remember that in episode one I wrote: I created a Valentine’s gift for my guy–our very own Amazing Race. My rationale was that we enjoy the show, but know that while there are certain stunts one or both of us could handle with ease, there are others that would certainly cause us to be last to the mat–and lose. So, why not create an Amazing Race that we have a 99.9% chance of winning. If we lose, we’re in big trouble.

I do feel bad that I fibbed to some of you, but you got caught up in the challenge and I didn’t want to let you down. Some of you asked me about it and I have a terrible poker face so I was sure you’d figure it out. In the spirit of it all, I was glad that you didn’t. That added to our fun.

And all of the characters–they were real people we met along the way. Team Budz in episode six was my sister and brother-in-law. Team Purple was a hearing-impaired woman full of moxie we met during episode eight in Camden. She hiked in sandals and had spent the previous month camping solo. The others we named for their attitudes, hometowns or some other attribute. I don’t know if you noticed, but we began the journey as Team Wonder, which I probably only mentioned once, but by episode eleven I’d forgotten that and called us Team Hazy–thus the H to represent us. Ahhhh.

Of course, my mom always washed my mouth out with soap when I fibbed, so if you want to do the same, I can’t say I blame you.

Thank you all for following us on this adventure. We’ve had fun looking forward to and participating in a variety of adventures. Though I’d given my guy a list of locales for each month, I didn’t know what the various additional challenges would be until they presented themselves.

Today’s activity was supposed to be a dogsled ride in January. But, the weather gods and price gods weren’t on our side and when the weather didn’t cooperate on his days off we chose not to spend the money. An alternative was the ice castle, but we’ve done that before and were too late in trying to purchase tickets this year, so . . . why not end as we began. On a snowmobile journey. The third of my lifetime and longest one yet. We spent over five hours on the sled. Well, my guy spent even one more hour. And now we’re snug at home and sipping some Bailey’s Irish Creme before we tune in to British comedies and fall asleep on the couch.

The Amazing Race–Our Style has come to an end. Thanks for tuning in. We had fun and hope you did too.

To Pause and Focus

I had no idea what to expect of today’s tramp with two friends as I didn’t even know prior to this afternoon that the trail we would walk even existed. And so I pulled in to the parking area at the end of Meetinghouse Road in Conway, New Hampshire, sure that we’d only be able to walk down to the Saco River about a hundred feet away and that would be the extent of our adventure.

1-Conway Rec Path

But . . .  much to my pleasant surprise I was wrong and in the northeastern corner of the parking lot we crossed a bridge into the unexpected setting.

2-Saco River framed

For the entire journey, we walked above and beside the Saco River. And our minds were awed by the frames through which we viewed the flowing water and boulders.

3-clear view of the Saco River

Occasionally, our view was clear and colorful, the colors now more pastel than a week ago.

5-witch hazel, understory

Even as the colors have begun to wane and leaves fall, we looked up from our spot below the under and upper stories and sighed.

4-Witch Hazel

For much of the time, we were wowed by the Witch Hazel’s flowers–for so thick were they on many a twig.

4a-witch hazel flowers

In fact, if one didn’t pause to notice, you might think that each flower featured a bunch of ribbons, but really, four was the count over and over again.

4b-witch hazel flowers, leaf:bundle scars

And some were much more crinkly than others. One of my other favorites about this shot is the scar left behind by a recently dropped leaf. Do you see the dark smile at the base of the woody yet hairy flower petiole? And the dots within that represented the bundles where water and nutrients passed between leaf and woody structure?

6-spotted wintergreen

And then one among us who is known for her eagle eyes spied a Spotted Wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata, a name that has always made us wonder for its dark green leathery leaves seem far more stripped than spotted. It’s one of those plants with a bunch of common names and so we should try another one on: spotted wintergreen; striped prince’s pine; striped wintergreen; striped pipsissewa; spotted pipissewa; and pipissewa. But perhaps the fact that it’s striped and referred to as spotted helps me to remember its name each time we meet. A sign of how my brain works.

7-spotted wintergreen patch

While we know it to be rare and endangered in Maine, it grew abundantly under the pines on the slight slope beside the river in New Hampshire, and we rejoiced.

8-spotted wintergreen capsules

Its newer capsules were green, but a few of last year’s woody structures also graced the forest floor. Reseeding helps the plant propagate, but it also spreads through its rhizomes.

9-maple-leaf viburnum

Everywhere we looked there was a different sight to focus our lenses and we took photo upon photo of the variations in color of some like Mapleleaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), a shrub with three-lobed maple-like leaves and small white flowers in the spring that form blue fruits in the early fall and had been consumed, only their stems left to tell the story.

10-red maple leaves

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) leaning over the river offered their own hues that bespoke autumn.

16-platter sized mushrooms

And tucked into a fungi bowl, we found the yellow form of Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum). 

11-Saco River with Moat Mountains in background

Onward we continued with the river to our left, outlined with maples and evergreens, and backdropped by the Moat Mountains.

12-small pond stained glass window

And to our right, a small pond where trees in the foreground helped create a stained glass effect filled with autumn’s display.

13-reflection

And once again, in the pond’s quiet waters reflections filled our souls.

14-turn around trespass

A wee bit further, we trespassed onto private land, and decided to make that our turn-around point as we got our bearings via GPS.

15-trail

Backtracking was as enjoyable as our forward motion. We had been on a trail called the Conway Rec Path, part of the Mount Washington Valley Rec Path, intended for walking, running, biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, bird watching, wildflower viewing , tree study, plus river and mountain views. Kennett High School athletes ran past us and we encountered couples out for exercise. None took their time as we did, but that’s our way and occasionally we ventured off trail because something caught our eye.

9-rock carvings match the waves

Meanwhile, the river continued to flow, as it has for almost ever, and the water continued to carve patterns yet to be seen, but we enjoyed those that reflected its action.

17-old silver maple

Back at the parking lot, we were wowed by a Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum), its girth suggesting an age older than a century.

18-silver maple buds

As had been the case all along the way, we experienced another wow moment when we realized how developed were the flower and leaf buds already. We know they form in the summer, but . . . they looked ready to pop!

19-white-throated sparrow

As we stood and admired, a flock of Juncos and White-throated Sparrows flew from one spot to the next as they sought seeds on the ground. Occasionally, the sparrows paused for a moment.

20-2 white-throated sparrows

And then moved on again.

21-Eagle over Moose Pond

At last it was time for us to move on as well and head for home, my friends’ to their mountainside abode in New Hampshire and me to my humble house on the other side of the Moose Pond Causeway. But as I always do when making the crossing, I looked up.

22-immature Bald Eagle

And was honored by a sighting that pulled me out of my truck. The immature Bald Eagle I’d watched and listened to all summer graced me with another opportunity to view it.

One scene after another, it was a delightful autumn afternoon. Thanks P&B, for the sharing a new trail with me and providing many moments to pause and focus.

Mondate of a Rare Type

Aha. So our Mondates are hardly rare, though we don’t spend every Monday on a hiking date. What, therefore could the title mean?

d1

Follow us down the trail at the Dahl Wildlife Sanctuary in North Conway, New Hampshire, and I think you’ll soon understand. The property is owned by NH Audubon and located adjacent to LL Bean, though the parking is in a tiny lot across from Burger King on Route 16.

d2

It’s not a long loop, but it’s chock full of wildflowers like the Black-eyed Susans beginning to burst open into rays of sunshine.

d3

We also passed an abundance of shrubs such as Staghorn Sumac and my mind raced ahead to a future visit with Michael Cline’s book, Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest.

d16a-silver maple floodplain

Because we were near the Saco River, part of the loop took us through a Silver Maple floodplain where the trees arched above in cathedral formation.

d17-ostrich fern

In the same habitat, but at waist level, Ostrich Ferns grew in their vase-like fashion..

d18-Tortricid Moth gall

And among them, growth of another kind was apparent for possibly a Tortricid Moth had used the terminal part of the fern’s frond for its larvae to feed and pupate.

d5-Saco River

Stepping out of the forest and into the sunshine, we suddenly found ourselves beside the Saco River, where we looked north.

d4-Saco River

And then south. A few kayakers passed by, but for the most part we were alone.

d4, spotted sandpiper

In reality, we weren’t for a solitary Spotted Sandpiper explored the water . . .

d7-spotted sandpiper

and cobbled beach,

d23-sanpiper foraging

where it foraged for insects, small fish and crustaceans.

d8-silver maple samaras

Silver Maple seeds were not on its grocery list and they sat in abundance along a high water mark, waiting in anticipation . . .

d9-silver maple saplings

to join their older siblings and create their own line of saplings next year.

d10-South Moat

After standing at the water’s edge for a bit longer and enjoying the ridgeline view from South to Middle Moat Mountains, it was time to search for the rare finds that brought us to this place.

d24

The first was a clump upon a small sand dune–Hudsonia tomentosa.

d25

One of its common names is Sand False Heather, which certainly fit its location and structure. This mat-forming plant had the tiniest of flowers, but it was by its heathery look that I spotted it. It’s listed as rare and threatened in New Hampshire.

d15-silverling

While I only found two clumps of the heather, the second rare plant featured a larger colony.

d12-silverling1

Paronychia argyrocoma is also listed as rare and threatened in New Hampshire (and extremely rare in Maine).

d13-silverling

Also known as Silvery Whitlow-wort, it prefers the ledges and ridges of the White Mountains and . . . gravely bars along rivers. Its whitish green flowers were ever so dainty.

d14-silverling3

From a side view they were most difficult to see for silvery, petal-like bracts hid their essence.

After those two rare finds, my heart sang . . . a song that had started a couple of hours earlier when my guy and I dined with my college friend, Becky, and her daughter, Megan. Another rare and delightful event.

They say three times is a charm and I certainly felt charmed for this rare type of Mondate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Connecting the Dots

We thought we were so smart. A friend had drawn a map in the snow last week to show me the location of an alternate trailhead for Peary Mountain in Brownfield, Maine, and spoke of a round-trip hike that would include Frost Mountain. A quick look at a map in our worn and torn Delorme Gazeteer and we knew exactly where we were going–until we didn’t. We soon discovered that the gate and sign I’d been told about didn’t exist and the road turned 90˚ to the left and eventually became impassable and so we turned around and paused again at the sharp turn and wondered some more and drove back out to the main road and continued on to another road and looked for other possible trailheads that appeared on the road map and turned around again and returned to that sharp turn and parked the truck and slipped on our micro-spikes.

p1-Peary Mtn Road sign

It was worth a try we decided. The name was right though it looked less like a road and more like a snowmobile trail. No matter, we figured we’d give it a whirl and if nothing else, at least we’d enjoy exploring.

p2-wetland below mountains

Almost immediately, we spied two mountains above a wetland and wondered if those were the two summits we sought. We’d never looked at Peary from what we considered the back side before, since all of our previous experiences had been from Farnsworth Road off of Routes 5/113.

p3-trail

The road was quite icy and it had been more than a few days since any snowmobiles had passed by.

p5-trail sign

Eventually we came to a snowmobile sign, looked around for a map that I thought my friend had mentioned, and decided to begin with a journey up the Peary Mountain Trail.

p7-trailing arbutus and wintergreen

Conditions were such where previous logging had left the southwestern side open to the sun’s powerful rays and so in places the snow had melted and wildflowers such as trailing arbutus and winterberry basked in the warmth.

p8-Peary Mtn basement

We continued on up, hopeful that we were on the right path, when a familiar foundation confirmed our location. It’s directly across from this foundation that the Peary Mountain trail makes a 90˚ turn–in the past the turn had always been to the left, but yesterday’s turn was to the right. That is, after we noted that my guy should probably encourage the homeowners to purchase a sump pump, so full was their cellar.

p9-trail sign

If you do approach from Peary Mountain Road, you’ll only see a tad of the back of this sign. And if you come from Farnsworth Road, again, it’s not very obvious. But, for both, the turn is located at the height of land . . . and directly across from the foundation.

p10-Peary view 1

The hike to the bald summit isn’t difficult and offers the best of views on any day, but especially in the fall when the tapestry of color stretches forever–or at least to the White Mountains in the distance.

p11-Mount Washington

Yesterday, the view of Mount Washington was obscured by clouds, but we could see that even there the snow was receding.

p13-Mountain view

We stood for a bit, taking in the scene to the west.

p14-Mountain views

And to the north.

p15-across the ridge

And then we followed the ridge, certain that at the end we’d slip onto another trail we’ve never traveled before and begin to make the loop to Frost Mountain.

p16-Pleasant Mtn, Brownfield Bog

Just before slipping onto that other trail, we had one more view to partake–Brownfield Bog and the Saco River were backdropped by Pleasant Mountain.

Well, we followed that other trail for a while, but realized that rather than going toward Frost Mountain, we were moving further and further away from it. And so . . . we backtracked and rose once again to the summit of Peary and retraced our steps down.

p17-another foundation

We were disappointed, except that we knew we would return. And as often happens when following the same trail, we made new discoveries, including an L-shaped foundation.

p19-well

And then I spied a circular sunken formation subtly outlined with rocks and trusted it was a well.

p19-third foundation

Bingo. For behind it was another foundation, the largest we saw.

p20-day 2-red pines

And so late this morning we returned. But first, we looked for maps in our hiking books and online and found only those created by the local snowmobile club. We had a copy that dated to 2011 and decide to bring it along. We also copied a portion of the map from the Delorme Gazeteer–just in case.

Upon our return, we remembered to pause at the beginning of the trail and take note of the red pine cathedral. Brownfield is a town that knew the fury of the wildfires of October 1947. Most homes and public buildings were mere piles of ash the day after the fire. Many stately places including the summer home and laboratory of Dr. Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of television, had burned. Churches, schools, the post office, Grange, library and town hall all went up in smoke–only twenty houses survived. In the end, 85% of the town was destroyed.

Red pines were planted in reaction and today they stand tall in honor of that event of just over seventy years ago.

p21-water flowed

Our plan today was to follow the same route to the turn off for Frost Mountain. And so we did. This time the snow and ice were softer and mud a constant as snow melted and streams formed.

p21-ruffed grouse scat

One of the things we noted yesterday was a lack of mammal prints. But today made up for that and we found plenty of deer tracks in mud and snow. And then, a pile of bird scat–left behind by a ruffed grouse who had probably plowed into the snow when it was a couple of feet thick and spent the night, leaving behind its signature.

p22-kill site

We also found a kill site with no tracks leading to or fro and so we thought a bird had eaten another bird. The circle of life continued in the Maine woods.

p23-fisher prints

A bit further up the trail we spied weasel prints–left behind by a fisher, the meanest of mean. Notice the teardrop shaped toes and diagonal positioning.

p22-sweet fern

We were distracted (or at least I was) by sculptures a many, including those created by sweet-fern.

p24-another foundation

My guy was also distracted and spied an opening in the woods.

p25-fourth foundation

It was another L-shaped cellar. And nearby were what would have been some outbuildings and possibly even a mill. Along most of today’s trail we encountered one stone wall after another, some single and others double.

I don’t know how to decipher stone that’s known fire, but hope one of these days to be able to make that interpretation. In the meantime we wondered–why had these homes been abandoned. Did they burn? I did later note that homesteads in the area belonged to the Johnsons, Grays and other families in the 1880s.

p28-confusing signs

Though we continued on, we really had no idea where we were going and hoped that we had made the right decision with the intention of reaching the summit of Frost Mountain. But, even if we didn’t, we were delighted with our finds. And confused by the signs.

p29-Pleasant Mtn behind us

And then, we started to climb. I turned around as we moved upward and noted our beloved Pleasant Mountain behind us.

p29-summit at lasst

And finally–success. We’d reached the summit of Frost Mountain.

p30-looking toward Peary

About 300 feet below, we had a view from the ledge, but it wasn’t nearly as spectacular as that on Peary Mountain, which my guy looked toward. It was hardly visible from where we stood.

p32-Burnt Meadow Mountain

From the summit, we followed a loop around, pausing to take in the view of Burnt Meadow Mountain.

p33-Brownfield below

And the town of Brownfield below. As the historical society likes to proclaim, “Brownfield’s still here.” Indeed.

p34--my heart bleeds blue pine sap for you

We’d planned to climb Frost and then make our way to Peary, but changed our minds. We’d already climbed Peary yesterday and after finding our way today had a better understanding of the trail system. We also knew that had we made the loop, we’d have walked on Farnsworth Road for over a half mile and then climbed up and down Peary on trails we already knew. Instead, we let our hearts bleed pine blue sap with happiness.

p27-bear prints

Our happiness overflowed when we spied the final set of prints.

p26-bear prints

A black bear. How cool is that? Our second sighting of black bear prints this winter.

We’d connected the dots–even if not literally–and gained a better understanding of the neighborhood and all who live(d) there.

A Generous Wander

When I donated a guided walk to a recent Lakes Environmental Association fundraiser, I was a wee bit nervous. Would anyone bid on it during the silent auction? And who might bid?

Thankfully, Carol notified me right away that she’d been the high bidder and my relief was immediate. I knew we’d have fun and the offer brought in a few bucks for an organization that has been near and dear to my heart for a long time. She chose the date, time and location. Plus she got to invite some friends along for the journey.

b-Kathy's sign 1

The chosen place–one of my favorites–Brownfield Bog. We started at the shack, where I pointed out Kathy McGreavy’s tiled map. Of course, they were wowed.

b-heron

And then we followed a short spur from the parking lot for the first view of the bog and a great blue heron flew up and then settled again.

b-buttonbush

It was there that they first viewed a buttonbush. Or at least that it first made its presence known, for I think that so many things we see often and they blend into the landscape until that moment when our eyes are opened–and our minds as well.

b-color 1

We followed another spur and noticed a sampling of fall foliage along the bog’s edge. In our minds it was swamp maple, aka red maple–or so we thought for a bit.

b-interrupted fern

At a fork in the road, Carol, Marylou and Sara chose the left-hand turn and so we entered the land of the ferns. It was here that they began to familiarize themselves with royal, cinnamon, interrupted and sensitive–noting features in their forms to tell them apart. While we walked, and at times we walked quickly for the mosquitoes were ferocious, it was fun for me to listen as they quizzed themselves.

b-meadowsweet

In a field at the end of the road, the spireas bloomed and we looked at the branching structure of meadowsweet with blossoms slowly opening in dainty clusters.

b-Saco River 2

When we reached Pirate’s Cove along the Saco River, we paused for a bit.

b-alder-leaf buckthorn 1

It was there that Sara spotted a shrub I couldn’t identify until I arrived home and slowed my brain down.

alder-leaf buckthorn2

The leaves were alternate and simple, with deep veins. But it was the color that stopped us–for it was a deep green, almost bronze on some. And we’d missed the flowers, but the fruits were spherical and when Sara opened one, she found three seeds. Turns out it was an alder-leaf buckthorn. And as far as I remember, it was the only one we spotted. But . . . as I said earlier, our minds were open and let’s hope it made an impact and the memory  lingers.

b-yellow loosestrife

We finally left the river area and as we started back on the road, they asked me to name a flower. I knew when I said its name I was wrong, but I couldn’t pull the real name out of the depths of my brain. So here ’tis–yellow loosestrife.

b-raccoon prints

Making our way back to the main road through the bog, we saw handprints in the mud and knew a raccoon had passed before.

b-Pleasant Mountain 2

Back at the intersection, we turned left and journeyed on, noticing all the pickerelweed and water lilies at the lower layer and changes in vegetation leading all the way to Pleasant Mountain.

b-meadow rue

It was along this route that we stopped most often, sometimes for things we knew like meadow rue

b-steeplebush

and the other spirea, steeplebush–these presenting several renditions of the same theme.

b-elm

We spied an elm tree and reminisced about elms of the past.

b-willow gall

And then a few willow galls shaped like pinecones called to us. This was a new one for them and though I couldn’t remember that the creator was a midge larva, the gall struck them as being a fruit, especially as we broke it open. Had we opened one in the winter, we might have seen the maggot nestled within a chamber at the center of the structure. In the spring a female midge fly lays a single egg in a terminal bud, initiating the gall formation through a chemical reaction causing the leaf tissue to harden into the shape of scales.

b-maleberry 1

I got stumped again when we kept seeing fruits on long stalks, with last year’s growth among the offering.

b-maleberry fruits 2

Once at home, I spent some more time with Michael L. Cline’s Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest, and realized it was a maleberry.

b-witherrod1

Another shrub that was plentiful throughout our journey was the witherod, aka wild raisin, its fruit ovoid in shape, turning blue as they withered.

b-swamp milkweed 1

Adding a splash of fuchsia along the way, swamp milkweed with its upright umbels.

b-silver maples 1

And then the other color that we’d noticed along the perimeter of the bog earlier and thought was red maples. Turns out those trees are silver maples and the ones with the wettest feet seemed to have already shut down their sugar production, thus allowing anthocyanin to form. This happens when sugar gets trapped in a leaf after the chlorophyll is gone and the leaf is exposed to sunlight–the resulting color being reds and purples.

b-silver maple 3

As hot as the day was, these presented a taste of the future. Some years they seem to turn earlier than others and this seems like one of the early years.

b-three amigos 1

At last we reached a turn-around point and these three amigos posed for a photo–Sara, Carol and Marylou.

b-picking blueberries

Of course, we only walked a few feet on our way back when high bush blueberries begged to be noticed. And gathered. And eaten.

b-carrion flower

Our journey back was much quicker, but still we stopped occasionally. Again I was stumped when one in the party spotted this vine. Turns out its the vine and fruit of carrion flower–one that I had never heard of before. (You know what that means.) According to Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, the green flower is ill-smelling, apparently giving rise to its common name.

b-yellow-legged meadowhawk female

Though the mosquitoes were plentiful, more so at the start than the finish, we didn’t see too many dragonflies and I’m not sure why. But this female yellow-legged meadowhawk did pause briefly.

b-checking out the map

Back by my truck, we stopped again. While Sara went in search of the white and red oak trees and their different leaves, Carol and Marylou studied Kathy’s map as they figured where we’d traveled.

It was a glorious adventure–for me anyway. A casual ramble filled with good cheer and conversation. Thank you, Carol Nugent, for your generosity in support of LEA to make this wander possible. I hope the three of you enjoyed our time together as much as I did and took some of Brownfield Bog home in your hearts.

Mount Tom Revisited

As we tried to figure out where we’d hike today, we decided a familiar route would suit us and I was pleased when my guy suggested Mount Tom in Fryeburg. It’s an old favorite that has improved with age since The Nature Conservancy added a new trail recently. This property was important to them because the Saco River flows below.

I’d first explored the new trail with Marita Wiser, author of HIKES & Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES REGION, in October and then with my guy a short time later.

m1-cemetery-buried

Today, we decided to park our truck across from the old trailhead and walk down Menotomy Road so we wouldn’t have that trudge after our hike. I wish the trail was a loop, but it can’t be and so we made our own. The snowstorms of the last two weeks had buried the cemetery entrance and only a couple of headstones poked out.

m2-preserve-sign

One and a half miles later, we climbed over the snowbank at the trailhead and strapped on our snowshoes.

m5-my-guy

We were thankful that someone or two or three had packed the trail before us.

m4-center-chimney

Just after stepping onto the West Ridge Trail, we passed between a house and barn foundation. All that was visible–the center chimney’s supporting structure, which probably dates back to the 1800s. Perhaps the original homesteaders were buried in the cemetery.

m6-tinder-1

At first the tromp was easy because it passes gently across the terrain and so I had time to look around. Fresh tinder conks growing on paper birch trees pleased my eye.

m7-tinder-2

I love their colors, which reminded me of oyster shells I’d spent a childhood collecting.

m8-erratics

A few minutes later I spied a house I hadn’t noticed in the fall. My guy looked over and told me it wasn’t a house at all.

m9-erratics-2

He was right, of course. Two large boulders, erratics dropped by the glaciers that formed Mount Tom, a Roche Moutonnée, stood out because of their snow covered tops. We didn’t move closer, but I’ve a feeling they provided homes for mosses and ferns and other assorted flora and perhaps even wildlife. So maybe I was also correct.

m10-summit-in-distance

After crossing the snowmobile trail that passes through the preserve, we continued on through the hardwood forest and started climbing up and sometimes down. Through the trees we spied the summit, but still had a ways to go.

m11-white-oak-bark

One of my favorite trees grows in this forest–white oak. And though it’s not common in the woods I normally traverse, I’m learning to identify it by the plated blocks of its bark.

m12-white-oak-leaf

It helps, of course, when the round-lobed leaves are found nearby.

m13-ledges

At last we reached the ledges, where I’d hoped to see bobcat sign. We did see porcupine evidence, but the snow was soft and tracks almost indecipherable.

m14-pileated-pile

We also found plenty of signs of another frequent visitor. But with that–a major disappointment. I’m sorry to report that I didn’t find any pileated woodpecker scat today.

m16-squirell-works

Across the trail from the pileated debris, the work of a gray squirrel. Dinner required toil–it had dug a hole that looked to be about three feet deep. How do they know where to find those acorns they cached last fall? I’m always in wonder of such digs. And those that they don’t find become trees. It’s all good.

m17-tree-welcome

I probably wouldn’t have missed this tree, but my guy wanted to make sure I saw it. He spread his arms in the same manner and felt it was welcoming us to the ridge. Indeed.

m18-downy-feather

Nearby, someone else was welcomed–and I’m not referring to the acorn. Yes, that provided a squirrel meal, but scattered feathers indicated a downy woodpecker met its demise. And a predator dined.

m19-burl-revealed

We were almost to the summit when a burl revealed some of its inner beauty–the bark having fallen off. Grains once straight twisted and contorted thanks to a virus or fungus or some other means. I loved the swirl of lines, some thin and squiggly.

m20-summit-view

And then the beauty of the view greeted us–Pleasant Mountain in the distance and the Saco River valley below. We met a young family at the summit and thanked them for paving the way. They’d never climbed here before and asked about the old trail down.

m21-trail-signs-at-intersection

We explained that that was our choice and though it’s a bit steeper, it’s a quicker way back to the road.

m22-blazing-trail

We also told them we’d do the honor of paving the way because it had been a storm or more since anyone had trudged that way.

m23-mount-kearsarge-in-view

Because it’s a rather straight downhill, we felt like we were floating for most of the trail and welcomed the sight of Mount Kearsarge among the beauty of the young birches. Once the trail widened, the snow was deeper and it became a trudge again, but the end was nearing.

m24-flag

Right before reaching the road, Old Glory flew as she faithfully does in the field.

m25-barn-and-kearsarge

And always a favorite–the barn beside the trailhead highlighted by the mountains and sky.

We’d come to the end and were thankful for the opportunity to climb Mount Tom again. We were especially thankful for the family who’d gone before on the West Ridge Trail–it was a bit of a slug for us, but even more so for them and we wondered if we’d have completed the loop had it not been for their hard work. We don’t know their names, though we do know their dog’s–Roscoe. May Roscoe’s owners sleep well tonight.

 

 

 

 

Horsepower Mondate

My guy works way too many hours and such is his life. So our attempt to head out early this morning didn’t exactly happen because he needed to sleep in a bit. It was just after ten when we reached our intended trailhead–Davis Path in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire.

c-bridge

Our hike began as we crossed over the Saco River via a suspension bridge. In 1931, Samuel Bemis built a bridge that spanned 108 feet. The bridge was rebuilt in 1999, when the Town of Hart’s Location received a grant from the National Scenic Byways. The current award-winning bridge is five feet wide, spans 168 feet and was designed as an asymmetrical cable stay bridge–possibly the first such in the USA.

c-Saco River

Below, the Saco River barely trickled.

c-stairway to heaven

The Davis Path begins almost directly across the street from The Notchland Inn on Route 302. At the beginning of the trail, a sign informed us that Abel and Hannah Crawford’s son-in-law, Nathaniel Davis, built the Davis Path in 1845 as a bridle path. As intended, the trail covers 14.4 miles to the top of Mt. Washington. Our destination was the first peak–Mount Crawford at 2.5 miles along the path. Thanks to the AMC, what had been the bridle path is now transformed into a trail that includes a variety of stairways to heaven.

c-climbing higher

Conditions changed constantly as we climbed–in tune with the changing forest. Mixed woods to hemlocks groves to firs to spruces. The higher we hiked, the more I kept thinking about the fact that this was a former horse path. However did they do it? How many in a team? We were each operating at one-horse power as we huffed and puffed along, but I think a team of at least six would be much more appropriate. Six horses pulling me up–I liked that thought.

c-dinner plate

Instead, I spent a lot of time looking down, so I got to see the low sights–like this dinner spot;

c-puffballs

emerging fungi;

c-fern shadows

and fern shadows.

c-trail sign

Eventually we reached the sign pointing the way to the 3,119-foot summit.

c-hitting the balds

The trail changed as we hit the balds.

c-short horned grasshopper

And my view changed. I heard this guy’s crackling sound as he flew from one spot to the next only a foot or so apart. This is a short-horned, band-winged grasshopper.

c-mountain cranberry

Also at our feet–mountain cranberries.

c-mushroom on rock

And then there was this single fruiting structure sticking out of the moss on a rock–a bolete, I believe, but I’m out of my league on this one.

c-summit view 8 (1)

Less than two hours and lots of sweat later, we emerged at the top where many had tracked before us. No horse prints. The wind hit our faces with a cold blast and we were forced to hold onto our hats. Mount Washington and others were obscured by clouds.

c-summit view 7 (1)

c-summit view 5 (1)

c-summit view 4 (1)

The view was 360˚. We took it in, but the clouds truly did tell the story of the wind. And so we paused only briefly, noted the notch for which this area is named and then started our descent.

c-heading down (1)

On the way down, we found a less windy spot and located lunch rock–it’s the rock to the far right.

c- artists conk

My focus was a bit higher as we descended and so I saw artist’s conks,

c-hierogliphics

heiroglyphics left by bark borers,

c-red maple

and signs of the future.

Our descent was quicker than I thought it would be. As we practically rolled down the mountain, I was sure that had I been behind a team of horses, I’d be pulling on the reins and yelling, “Whoa Nellie.” And that brought memories of my mom, who was named Nellie, but went by Nell. She and Dad would have loved the fact that we have made a point to fold as many Mondates as possible into our lives. They loved long walks along beaches and finding picnic places. We love long hikes and finding lunch rocks. Same thing at a higher elevation.

My guy and I enjoyed another wonderful Mondate–at one-horsepower speed.