Province of Chat-HAM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beside us was the dam and outlet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lichen Province Brook Trail

My guy completely surprised me this morning when I asked where he wanted to hike and his response, “Province Brook Trail.” Though we’ve travelled many trails repeatedly, he often prefers to explore a new place. Me–I love those repeats for there’s always something new to see, as well as the familiar.

p1-trail sign

From South Chatham Road in South Chatham (pronounced chat-HAM), New Hampshire, I turned onto Peaked Hill Road, which leads to the trailhead.

p2-gate closed

And quickly parked the truck for the gate was still closed. That meant an almost three-mile hike to reach the trailhead. We didn’t mind as it’s a Forest Service Road and easy to walk upon, even as it gradually climbs.

p3-trail sign

Along the way, we noted where some of our favorite bear trees were located, but decided to leave them for another day. Instead, we were eager to move on and hoped to be able to get to the shelter. We weren’t sure what the water conditions might be, so promised ourselves only Province Pond. The shelter would be icing on the cake if we got there.

p4-tree spirit

Right away, the trail’s tree spirit whispered a welcome.

p6-yellow birch

And another of our favorite trees begged to be noticed again. It’s an ancient yellow birch that has graced the granite for more than a century. The tree itself, wasn’t in good health, but the roots atop the rock were still dramatic.

p7-split rock:heart

Conditions were different on the trail than the road, and though it’s a wide space used by snowmobiles in the winter, we had to watch our step for we encountered snow, ice, rocks and mud. But one rock was especially appealing and I’m not sure we’ve ever seen it before. A perfect split revealed a heart tucked within. As it should be.

p8-slow down

Onward and upward, we heeded the sign.

p9-lunch rock

And then hunger overtook our desire to wait until the pond, so we found lunch rock and enjoyed the feast we’d prepared. PB&J topped off with a Clementine and Extra Dark Chocolate Truffle, with water to drink, of course.

p23-Province Brook

Province Brook rushed past while polypody ferns provided a head of hair atop one of the boulders.

p10-moose tracks

After lunch, we had a wee bit further to travel before reaching Province Pond. At the dam, our excitement heightened for we discovered moose tracks in the snow.

p11-moose tracks

And more in the mud.

p12-Mount Shaw and Province Pond

Before us, the pond and Mount Shaw created a pleasing picture. We listened to the wood frogs wruck, though we couldn’t see them. Nor could we see any moose, but we hoped.

p13-Mount Shaw reflection

As usual, I got hung up on the reflection of the mountain and the subtle colors of spring, which was about a week later than back down the road.

p14-me

As I stood on the dam built to prevent beavers from creating their own, my guy took his first ever iPhone photo. I had to chuckle for it was the same view of me that I typically get of him. And do you notice who carries the pack–on the way up when it’s the most full with lunch and water? He always gets it for the descent, which works for me.

p14a-looking toward the shelter

From the dam, we looked across the pond toward the shelter, a tiny speck of roofline almost visible on the far shore, just right of center. And still we wondered, would we be able to get there?

p15-leatherleaf

Before trying, I noted leatherleaf with buds. Within a month, I suspected those tiny buds will become bell-shaped flowers.

p15a-sweetgale

Beside the leatherleaf, the overlapping burgundy and white scales of sweetgale catkins provided a delightful contrast beside the sky’s reflection on the water.

p16-shelter

We moved on, following the trail to the hut–and made it, the water we needed to cross over not being high at all. Built in the 1930s, the shelter has many stories to tell, and my guy read a few of them.

p17-shelter view

We’d actually saved our dessert, our form of icing on the cake, and so enjoyed the view as we finished lunch.

p18-lungwort on tree

On our way back down the trail, the brilliant green upper leaf of lungwort drew my attention as it has always done. The bright green was due to yesterday’s rain, which set the algae into production. The underside was pale with pockets of cyanobacteria, known as blue-green algae. Though it’s named for its resemblance to lung tissue, it does have a lettuce-like look. According to Lichens of the North Woods by Joe Walewski, lungwort is “found in rich, unpolluted and often very old forests.” Bingo!

p19-lungwort on ground

What surprised me was that we found some on the ground, this batch on snow. Moose have a preference for lungwort. Had they pulled it off a tree?

p20-lungwort apothecia

More surprising was that some had apothecia, its spore-producing structure. Do you see the tiny tans specks along the lobe margins? It’s uncommon to see these and was a first for me. Typically, lungwort reproduces by granule-like masses called soredia that form on the surface, break off, land on a suitable substrate and grown into new lungwort lichens.

About nine miles round trip and our journey was completed. Old joke, but I can’t resist for I was lichen the Province Brook Trail from the start and it just kept getting better and better.

 

 

 

 

Snow White Magic

Our first official snow storm of the season left us with about an inch of the white stuff that makes me rejoice. And upon waking this morning and peeking out the window, the sight of porcupine tracks looping around the yard brought a smile to my face.

m-porcupine trail 1

I love the first snow storm for even though I have seen signs of the critters that pass this way, their tracks confirm my convictions. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize the prints and trail patterns, but as the snow gets deeper the tracks sometimes become more difficult to decipher. This one was easy due to its pigeon-toed sashay.

m-porcupine prints

And then the individual prints, especially those that crossed the deck, showed the large foot pad and five toes with nails extended. A friend in Poland, Maine, sent me a couple of photos of the critter that crossed her deck this morning. She ID it herself, but wanted confirmation–for it was an opossum and a first for her.  I found my first opossum prints last December and wonder if I’ll have that opportunity again. Anything is possum-able.

m-worm and junco prints

Since the porcupine had drawn me out (and I noted that it disappeared under the barn–of course), I decided to head off into the woods. But before I left the yard, I spotted junco tracks–and . . .

m-worm

a couple of worms–frozen upon the snow. Juncos don’t eat worms; they look for fallen seeds. And so it seemed that the bird flew off before quite reaching the C-shaped worm. And this other worm was about a foot away from the first worm. Robins were in the yard last week, and I can only hope that they returned today for a frozen dinner awaited.

m-snow art 2

Into the woods I trudged, and the ever-changing colors and designs at my feet reminded me of works of art.

m-snow art 1

Some were palettes of mahoganies juxtaposed against white. A variety of textures gave the scene relief, much like an inlaid mosaic.

m-snow art intersections

Others embodied interconnections; a mingling of lines outlined for emphasis.

m-rock people

Along the cow path, I noticed the rock people for the first time, their mouths gaping open.

m-snow fleas

The minute snow fleas would hardly sustain them.

m-morning light

As it does, my trail crossed the line, where power seemed to originate with its source . . . the sun.

m-Mount Washington

And in the opposite direction, it flowed from pole to pole and onward . . . as if powering the mighty mountain.

m-pine sapling

My journey continued into the land of the pines and their saplings, momentarily coated with decorative baubles.

m-mini oaks

And the red oak saplings I’ve been watching looked more festive than ever.

m-squirrel tracks

I was on a mission and soon found what I was looking for. Some tracks that looked like exclamation points led me to another source of sustenance that I wanted to check on.

m-squirrel cache growing

The red squirrel’s cache had grown taller in the past week, but . . .

m-squirrel dining room

many pine seeds had been consumed in the refectory. All that remained were scales and cobs to show a number of dinners consumed.

m-squirrel rocks

The dining hall extended beyond the reaches of the cache, for every table available was a table used.

m-squirrel dinner in the future

As I walked back toward home, I discovered another table awaiting a guest.

m-beech sunshine

I was almost home when I stood under a beech tree. As winter embraces me, I find that their marcescent leaves create their own golden glow and warm my soul.

m-British soldier

One more sweet peek offered a tiny touch of red to today’s fading winterscape–for the British soldier lichens’ red caps announced their minute presence.

m-snow drops

And then this afternoon, I joined a few friends for a gallivant across the Wild Willy Wilderness Trail beside Province Brook in South Chatham, New Hampshire. And the snowdrops created their own works of art announcing that the meltdown was on.

m-pinwheel 1

As we walked, we noticed delicate parasol-shaped fungi fruiting.

m-pinwheel gills

Their common name is Pinwheel Marasius, but in my mind the shape of the umbrella-like top above the wiry stem looked like a parasol and so I called it such. But to add to the confusion, I first called it carousel. Word association might get me there eventually, but it wasn’t until I looked it up in Lawrence Millman’s Fascinating Fungi of New England, that I realized my confusion. One of the fun facts from Millman is worth quoting: “Resurrection! Shriveled and inconspicuous, Marasmius species are rarely noticed during dry weather, but after rainy periods the tiny fungi revive–hence the nickname ‘resurrection fungi.'” And if not rain, then snow will make them rise again!

m-liverwort magic 1

The water from the melting snow highlighted other lifeforms along the Wild Willy Wilderness Trail. Bazzania liverwort grew abundantly, but one in particular gave us pause . . .  for it glowed. And no matter what position we stood in to look at this worm-like beauty, it continued to glow as if it had a golden halo surrounding it. We had no answers–only questions and wonder.

m-glue fungi

Another find that had been marked with tape, for it too was special–a broken branch attached to a young tree. I’m stepping out on a limb here–pun intended, but I believe this was an example of a glue crust fungus that glues twigs together. Seriously? Yes.

m-Bob, Janet and Pam

It was getting dark when we finally found our way to Province Brook and marveled at the water and ice forms. It was also getting close to the moment when we’d need to say, “See you later,” to Bob and Pam, for they’ll be heading to warmer climes soon. But we know they’ll be back for a winter adventure and then before we know it, spring will be here. And then, we hope the brook will be full with spring run-off from all the snow that is in our future. Until then, see you later we also said to much of the snow for it had almost disappeared.

m-ice works 1

But the ice art will continue to grow.

m-Province Brook 1

And the snow white magic will capture our minds again . . . one flake at a time. And with it, the wonders of the world will continue to be revealed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Willy Wandering Wilderness

There are times when one wanders down a trail and a certain spirit seems to swirl about in the silence of the wilderness. Such was the feeling today as my friend, Joan, and I joined two other friends to explore their land in South Chatham, New Hampshire.

k-Pleasant Mtn

Before we ventured forth, however, we sat upon their deck and enjoyed the view of my hometown mountain–the ridge of Pleasant Mountain, this being a backside view.

k-sensitive pea 2

And then we paused by one of the wildflower gardens they have created with seeds of unknowns sown at abandon.

k-Sensitive Partridge Pea

Based on its seed pods that split open on both sides, we knew it was in the pea family, but didn’t know its name. Upon arriving home and keying it out, I discovered it’s a sensitive partridge pea, also know as a wild sensitive plant, the perfect tribute to the trail. Notice the pinnately-divided leaves–they fold up when touched, thus the name “sensitive.”

k-three amigos under the arch

Soon after getting acquainted with the sensitive pea, we continued onto the trail that Pam and Bob (the couple on the left; Joan on the right) have carved out of the land, with the help of their nephew for whom they constantly uttered words of praise. One of his artistic offerings to them was an archway formed from beech saplings.

k-steps by Willy

Another offering–steps created from stones found nearby. But where exactly did he find the stones? That remains a secret for so good is his work. It seemed as if the trail had been there all along as it wound its way up and over, down and around, passing by landmarks worth pausing by.

k-black cherry

We saw so much, including bark on young trees that we desperately wanted to be black birch (aka sweet or cherry birch), but was really black cherry. Nearby where pin cherry trees that we easily recognized, but this one seemed a wee bit different and we thought maybe, just maybe it was a black birch. But maybe it wasn’t when I opened Michael Wojtech’s BARK later.

k-black cherry 2

And further along the trail we spied a mature black cherry, its bark we knew for the curled chunks that remind us of burnt potato chips.

k-yellow birch

The curls of an old yellow birch also intrigued us and we noted many, many young and a few old members of this family throughout the property.

k-big tooth aspen

It’s a mixed forest and we had fun searching for the big tooth aspen trees, their bark deceptive with a northern red oak look below and birch look above.

k-hemlock and boulder 2

Other landmarks included a hemlock kissing a boulder and . . .

k-Province Brook hemlock root

another with the longest, thickest root we’d ever seen that arched across the land, creating an opportunity for the fairies that live in such an enchanted forest a chance to do the limbo.

k-coyote scat

We discovered what Pam and Bob already knew–it’s more than fairies that inhabit their place. In the middle of the trail, coyote scat presented itself.

k-deer sign

We found lots of deer scrapes, where in previous years they’ve scraped the bark upward to feed on it. But this was a recent visit with tags at both ends of the action, indicating a rub. Deer rub a tree to clean their antlers of velvet–that soft, vascular skin that grows on their antlers. They also rub trees to mark their territory.

k-garter snake1

And our wildest sighting of all–a garter snake enjoying some late afternoon sun. It never moved as we gawked and finally passed by, so really it wasn’t so wild after all. But Pam and Bob shared stories of other sounds and sightings, for this really is a wild land that abuts the National Forest.

k-Province Brook 2

It’s also bounded by Province Brook, where the water’s flow soothed our souls.

k-Province Brook 3

We were embraced by its reflective color . . .

k-Province Brook 4

and life-giving cadence.

k-spirits 1

And it was there that the water spirit . . .

k-spirits 2

rose and embraced us.

k-wood swirls

We found it wherever we went and recognized it in various forms . . .

k-afternoon light 2

as it wandered beside us.

k-sign

Just as we ended our journey, we noticed the sign–Wild Willy Wandering Wilderness Trail. Pam and Bob had told us its name, in honor of their nephew Willis and his hard and creative work in carving out the trail, but they kept the sign a secret until we finished. Hats off to all three of them and their love of the land and for each other. Joan and I were envious of it all and thankful for the opportunity to be embraced by the spirit of this place and these people.