Midmorning found us driving down a lane in Stoneham, Maine, made extra narrow by high snowbanks. At the second entrance to the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Five Kezars Reserve we were delighted to discover the driveway had been plowed just enough to allow a vehicle or two to park. And so we did.
Our initial plan had been to wear micro-spikes and carry snowshoes, but as we’d passed by the first entrance, we noted that no one had climbed the Mountain Trail, and the road leading back to it had been well sanded, so we left the spikes behind.
Walking back up the road was easy, but then . . . we had to conquer what was probably the most difficult part of the entire journey–the snowbank between the road and the trail.
Thankfully in northern New England, those who drive plow trucks know to knock the snow back a day or so after a storm, thus leaving room for the next storm. (In this case, there’s one on the horizon for tomorrow night with another 8-12 inches predicted). The result is a shelf that makes the snowbank easier to climb up and over.
We did just that with the utmost grace in our steps.
Once on the other side, where the sign gave an indication of depth, we donned our outer footwear.
And walked up to the kiosk where we stood eye to eye with the roof rather than the map.
We did study if for a moment as my guy had not been on the new spur trail overlooking all five of the Five Kezars.
The trails are incredibly well blazed and blow down wasn’t much given the winds of winter, but . . . we did note one small beech that had fallen off trail and taken the signs with it.
A little further up we found another sign encouraging us to climb even higher–as in skyward. Perhaps it knew something we didn’t know.
For the first half of the trail, we mainly focused on our feet, making sure that the cleats on our snowshoes dug into the slippery surface.
Once the trail leveled off, we started looking around. And being winter with no leaves to distract one’s view, the snow-topped boulders stood out like tiny homes in the woods.
About halfway up the Mountain Trail, where it turns left and joins an old jeep road to the summit, a new path was carved last summer–Tom’s Path so named for the late Tom Henderson, who had long served as the land trust’s executive director.
My guy had walked about on the ledges there with me on previous excursions, but this was his first time actually following the new trail and so he studied the “You Are Here” spot on the map.
Along the way, I wanted to pause just before the trail turned left for I had a suspicion about the area below the rock. My suspicion proved correct; a porcupine had created a den under the ledge.
That was further verified by the downed hemlock twigs.
A bit further up the trail we found even more evidence of porcupine activity for many of the trees showed off the tooth scrape marks left behind as the critter sought the cambium layer below the bark.
Recently I saw bark under a porcupine tree that confused me for I’ve always thought of them as eating the bark completely and leaving no mess–unlike a beaver. But today’s findings indicated that all had been consumed.
Behind all of the porcupine artwork trees stood another much larger that will probably be naked by spring.
The debris was the typical–nipped twigs cut at an angle . . .
and plenty of healthy looking scat. 😉
The bark on the big old hemlock, however, had flaked off revealing its cinnamon color beneath for the porcupine had created a regular climbing route.
From below, I looked up in hopes of seeing the rodent, but realized all the evidence had to be enough. I did wonder–Tom always said he wanted to return as an otter, but just maybe he’s a porcupine right now. He was a forester, after all, and loved anything tree related.
A few minutes beyond the porcupine area we found our way to the termination of the spur and took in the view of four of the Five Kezars below: Little Mud, Mud, Middle and Back.
Being winter, a few more steps to the left revealed the fifth of the Five: Jewett.
Retracing our steps, we returned to the Mountain Trail and followed it to the summit where lunch rock had been graciously cleared . . . just for us.
When we finally decided to move on, we first stepped out to the north so we could get a glimpse of Mount Washington in the backdrop.
And then we pulled it in with a telephoto lens.
Following the orange connector trail down, we began to notice more mammal activity. We’d left the porcupines behind, but the snowshoe hare always seem to dine in one particular location.
And scat 😉
We also noticed bobcat tracks like these, muted though they were, crossing over the trail, while we followed coyote tracks down the trail.
And twice we encountered engravings in the snow that at first glimpse we thought were wing marks, but changed our story to one of the predators playing with a prey as it dangled from the mouth. Hmmm.
Continuing down, we constantly looked up–at beech trees for we knew many revealed bear claw marks. Sometimes we had to look extra closely because the cankers on the tree hid the possibilities.
Though this wasn’t part of the Christmas present to my guy in the form of Bear to Beer Possibilities, it could have been a contender.
Our eyes scanned many a tree and we know we missed a bunch today, but we’ll save those for another day. I did think about returning and creating waypoints to mark each one on GPS, but then we wouldn’t have the fun of looking.
And because we were doing such, we found a new one today. Chances are the next time we look, it will be new to us all over again–if you know what I mean.
One other tree also drew my attention. Well, really, they all did. But yesterday I was explaining this very pattern to some folks on a guided walk, and wish I’d had such an example: target fungus on red maple. Indeed!
Eventually we reached the bridge crossing at Ron’s Loop, so named for Ron Gestwicki who was the first president of the Five Kezars Watershed Association and driving force behind creating this reserve that we could enjoy upon occasion, but the mammals know best.
While my guy sashayed straight across the bridge, I chose to go forth in a sideways pattern. In the middle, I remembered once slipping down under the rail, but thankfully today I reached the other side without incident.
The mammal activity continued along the half of the loop that we traveled. Other travelers included the coyote that left its mark on a high spot in the middle of the trail and several more crossings by the bobcat.
I was hoping for an otter slide because sometimes we are so blessed, but instead we found a few tracks of fisher passing through, their five tear-drop shaped toes on display.
Though we’d spent several hours on the trail, it seemed we reached the final bridge crossing in no time and my guy performed a chivalrous act of stomping down the snow to make for an easy crossing.
The water below offered a hint of every season as it flowed forth: summer’s blue sky, autumn’s dried leaves, winter’s clear ice, and spring’s fresh greens.
As we passed by the kiosk for Ron’s Loop on the way back to my truck, we gave thanks to the two men for which the trails were named: Tom Henderson and Ron Gestwicki. We were grateful for their leadership and the opportunity to continue to share the trail with them, especially on our Monday Date or Mondate.