Thrice the Blessings

My mother always said that things happen in threes. It’s a sentiment that has stuck with me and sometimes even haunted me. But when it is good, it is very, very good. And today was one of those days.

Though it was after noon by the time I stepped into Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, the bird song was on high pitch. The American Redstart’s sweet, yet explosive notes came amidst bursts of acrobatic energy as he flew quickly from one branch to the next and then back again a second later over Stevens Brook.

Twenty feet away, the delightful phrases of the Gray Catbird’s tunes filled the air, but it was his raspy mews that gave away his identity. And suddenly, there he was atop a tangle of shrubs and vines as is his habit. I suspected the nest he shares with his lady was located below.

“Wichety, wichety, wichety,” was the give-away song for the Common Yellowthroat, although I do have to say he was much easier to hear than to see.

While the redstart donned the colors of Halloween, the catbird appeared to be a cat in a bird costume, and the yellowthroat was equally disguised with a black mask.

For a few minutes, I stepped off the bridge and followed the Stevens Brook trail where I was met by a delightful surprise. I spied the mottled leaves before the flowers and my heart sang its own tunes with recognition of the species that I didn’t know grew there.

But the Trout Lily flowers were beautiful with a hint of bronze accenting their yellow petals. Do you see the formation? What may look like six petals is actually a configuration known as tepals for it’s difficult to differentiate between the three inner petals and their surrounding three sepals, which had previously enclosed the flower. Ahhh, language.

And within the center core, the pistil (she’s a pistol of a woman) surrounded by six stamen (Stay men), their anthers rusty red with pollen.

Also sometimes agreeing with the division of three were three tiny Goldthread flowers looking all fresh and perky. And their leaves of three parts that remind me of Cilantro.

And then another that knows the number being repeated time and time again: Jack-in-the-Pulpit or Arisaema triphyllum. The “pulpit” from which “Jack” (technically, the “spadix”) preaches stood between two long-stalked, three-parted leaves.

Further along the trail, I watched a female Hairy Woodpecker foraging for insects on stumps and logs.

A male I assumed was her guy did the same.

And then, though the colors don’t really show it in this photo, I heard another bird sing and by his white hanky in the pocket (a dash of white on his wings, right Molly?) I think I’ve identified him correctly: Black-throated Blue Warbler.

I was grateful not only for the two that I knew, but also the third that I’m just learning.

Other flowers showed off their structures, like those of the Norway Maple. OK, so the tree is invasive and grows prolifically in the park because it was originally planted as part of the streetscape above, but the fragrant yellow-green flowers blew delicately in the breeze. (As will their seeds soon, and thus the invasion).

Another that grows much less abundantly, but always makes me smile is the Striped Maple, an understory tree. And it too had flowers to share so there is hope for more of this species.

Flowering in a different way was the Woodland Horsetail, an equisetum. Its flower was in the form of a cone at the tip. Once its spores have been shed, the cone will collapse.

Insects also were part of the scene and tis the season of Mayflies, this one a subimago as indicated by the color of its wings. Cloudy wings indicated it was a teenager that had not gone through its final morph.

And then, a Great Black Wasp–its translucent blue wings giving it away in the duff. I tried to get closer, but it took off.

Such was the case also with a Mourning Cloak butterfly, which would have given me three insects to share. Do remember that insects have three pairs of legs–there’s that number again.

At last, several hours after I’d begun, it was time for me to leave Stevens and Willow Brooks behind.

But not until I had a chance to enjoy the beauty of Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum), which was my initial reason for the journey. Trillium: Latin for tri, refers to the flower parts occurring in threes; llium: Latin for liliaceous, refers to the funnel-shaped flower; and undulatum: Latin reference for wavy, referring to the petals’ wavy margins.

Mom was right. Good things do happen in threes. Along my journey I also had the blessing of chatting with three wonderful women, Becky, Sheila, and Lori.

Thrice the blessings worth a wonder indeed.

LOVE ME, love me: Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park

It had been four years since we last visited Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park and that venture took place at the end of November. We must have been Christmas shopping. Today, we were in search of a bug-repellant shirt for me (Spring shopping) and so our journey took us to Freeport. Not being a shopper, it was a quick in and out of the store and then onto Wolfe’s Neck Road.

There’s a 4.4 mile network of trails in this 200-acre park gifted to the State in 1969 by Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence M.C. Smith of Freeport. One of the stand-out features is Googins Island where Osprey have been entertaining visitors for years as they raise their young on a huge platform nest they’ve built high up in a pine. Can you see it?

Here’s a closer view–and I assume (never assume) that Momma was the one sitting on eggs. The nest has been added to each year and though I have no idea of its actual size, Osprey nests can reach 10–13 feet in depth and 3–6 feet in diameter. The depth of this one appeared to be a few feet, but the diameter was substantial.

We followed the trails and enjoyed journeys to the water where we could take in the views of Casco Bay and its islands.

And before our feet, the mix of granite pegmatite and metamorphic rock. As much as my mom always loved to walk along a beach, she was equally enchanted by the rocky coast of Maine and whenever I encounter it, I feel her presence.

I know mom would have appreciated the artistic rendition of waves created by the water and mimicked by the rock.

Again and then again, the trail was interrupted by a set of wooden steps that led us back to the water’s edge.

It was there that we spied the Common Eiders as they floated and fished.

And . . . the first Dandelion blossom of the season–for us, at least. In my modest opinion, Dandelions are under-appreciated and that fact was driven home when my guy asked, “You’re photographing a dandelion?” Yep. Check out each golden ray of sunshine with its five “teeth” representing a petal that forms a single floret. Yes, each petal is a floret. Therefore, the bloom is a composite of numerous florets. And notice how each stigma splits in two and curls. What’s not to love. Oh yeah, and though we didn’t witness it today, the pollinators love them. (SO don’t pull up the dandelions in your yard!)

The thing about Dandelions is that they leaf out first and then flower, while their cousins, Coltsfoot, which we also found along the trail, flower first and leaf out later. The wonder of it all.

Our journey took us across stepping stones,

along park-like paths (because we were in a park, after all), over roots and rocks, with ups and downs, and even a couple of bog bridges.

The sights along the way included patches of Equisetum, a living fossil. These vascular plants reproduce by spores rather than seeds and dominated the understory of late Paleozoic forests. Just imagine.

While that was a treat, one of my favorite surprises was the patch of Trout Lilies that decorated the forest floor. It’s one I don’t encounter often, but because of its maroon-mottled leaves that remind some of brown or brook trout, I’ve remembered it each time we’ve met.

The nodding flower that could have been a lantern in the forest with its petals and sepals bent backward, exposed six brown stamens hanging low.

And then, and then, one of my all-time favorites in any season, a Hobblebush, showed off its May glory in new leaves and flowers. Those in our western Maine woods aren’t as advanced yet, but trust that I am watching.

Our journey was quick for we had another commitment, but still . . . we made some wonderful discoveries and especially loved the opportunity to see the Osprey on its nest.

The second in our LOVE ME, love me series had come to an end. Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park. ✓ Two down, 32 to go!

On Another Day

Today was a perfect day for a hike–cool temps and a breeze kept the bugs at bay. And so my guy and I headed off after lunch with a destination in mind. Backpack–check. Camera–check. Map–check.

And with the latter, it all ended.

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We’d hiked our intended trail once before within the last ten years, but remembered that back then we had a difficult time following it. We were sure, however, that we could find our way today and we did. Until, that is, we reached a junction and read the snowmobile trail signs. Our gut told us to go straight but because we were on a snowmobile trail, the signs listed destinations. We looked at the map, looked at the signs, and convinced ourselves to turn right.

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And so we journeyed on, enjoying the beauty of hobblebush even as it forced us to do what it was named for–hobble through the undergrowth.

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But how could we resist such beauty. Or should I say, how could I resist such beauty–my guy trudged on. I think it’s the complexity of the blossom that intrigued me most–large, five-petaled, sterile flowers encircled petite and fertile, waxy-white flowers. Why big showy flowers surrounding such tiny ones complete with stamens and pistils? Perhaps the outer sentry attract insects for the sake of pollination.

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Also thinking about pollination–those purple runway lines of the round-leaved violets.  I’m not a fashion girl, but it’s flowers like this that make me realize you can combine a variety of colors to make a statement.

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A much more subtle display of color–rose twisted-stalk. Not a great photo, but the  flowers dangled below the twisted stalk. Why rose?  The bell-shaped flowers that occur singly at the leaf axils are pale rose in hue. Why twisted? Because at each leaf junction the stem takes a distinct twist.

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Adding to the subtle color of the season–sarsaparilla. I love the fact that this particular example shows the variety in the finely toothed compound leaves–in this case, two leaves sporting five leaflets, while another consists of three. It’s the three that sometimes gives this plant an undeserved bad rap–leaves of three, leave them be, refers to poison ivy. But this is not P.I. as we used to call it when I was a kid.

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Another sorta look-alike, coltsfoot that resembles a dandelion. The difference–a coltsfoot seed ball retains its flower parts.

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As the tender new leaves emerge, the landscape softens.

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From subtle colors

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to hairy fringes

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and fuzzy coatings, the world embraces a softer point of view.

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Though we continued to make delightful discoveries, it was evident that we were on the wrong trail.

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After a couple of hours, we turned back.

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And at the point where we ignored our gut feelings and decided to turn right, we checked on the other trail–and found that it was blazed. Oh well.

We’ll save it for another day.

 

 

Spring In Slo-Mo

Spring is so fleeting in Maine. Oh, I know, it lasts the usual three months and the beginning and ending overlap with its seasonal partners, but really . . . one must take time to pause and watch or you’ll miss the most amazing action that occurs in slow motion right outside the window–and beyond.

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Jinny Mae and I drove beyond today to catch a glimpse of this most splendid season.

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Among the offerings, red trillium also known as stinking Benjamin. The Benjamin part is from benzoin, a mid-16th century word derived from the French benjoin, that refers to “a fragrant gum resin obtained from a tropical tree of eastern Asia, used in medicines, perfumes, and incense.”  It’s been tagged “stinking”  because its nodding flower has an unpleasant odor. We didn’t bother to sniff. We were too busy being wowed by the fact that it surrounded us in great number.

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That smell, however, is of extreme importance. Along with the flashy coloration, the odor helps to attract pollinators–green flesh-flies that prefer to lay their eggs on rotting meat. Though this isn’t the perfect nursery, the flies assist the plant on the procreative end. And in this spot, stinking Benjamin rules, but I prefer to think of it as red trillium.

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Even from the backside, its design is one to behold.

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Equally abundant were the leafy structures of false hellebore.

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I was mesmerized by its pattern.

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Unlike the trillium, wood anemones have little scent.

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Their graceful heads drooped, perhaps because the day threatened rain.

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The offerings included sessile-leaved bellwort (aka wild oats),

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Dutchman’s breeches with leaves as interesting as their flowers,

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the delicate white flowers of dwarf ginseng,

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and  zigzag pattern of clasping twisted stalk.

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Its key features are minutely-toothed leaf margins, stalkless leaves that clasp the stem, and flowers dangling below.

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The flowers hadn’t opened, but the closer we got, the more we appreciated its finer details.

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Ever so slowly, as is the case in all things, hobblebush flowers began to bloom.

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Outer sterile flowers form a ring around the delicate inner flowers that are fertile. Nature has a way of protecting its own.

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When we first spotted the fluff ball of seeds across the brook, we thought we were looking at dandelions. And then we saw the scaled stalks and lack of leaves. Coltsfoot it is.

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It wasn’t just the flowers that had us getting down on our hands and knees. There was the brownish wool covering of the cinnamon fern.

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And the hairless ostrich fern

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with its crook-shaped crosier, reminiscent of a bishop’s staff.

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But my favorite today was one I’d never noticed before.

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Oh, I know it’s a Christmas fern, but the tightly-wound, silvery-scaled crosiers were new to me. It was yet another chance for us to wonder how we could have missed something that’s been here all along.

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And then we looked up. Well, sort of up. Striped maple leaves slowly opened in the understory.

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And have you ever noticed that young red maples are a tad hairy along the margin?

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Even hairer, beech leaves.

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All winter long, bud scales enclosed leaves that are now slowly emerging.

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They’re absolutely beautiful in their plaited and hairy state.

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What leaves me wondering (ah, a pun), is the fact that these leaves are so hairy. It seems the hairs are intended to keep insects and others at bay.

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And yet, it won’t be long before the insects discover that beech leaves make a good meal and home.

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Speaking of insects, we found a ladybug presumably feeding on aphids–already. So why do ladybugs sport  bright orange or red color and distinctive spots? To make them unappealing to predators. They can secrete a foul-tasting fluid from their leg joints–the coloring is therefore intended to shout out,  “I taste awful.”

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And Jinny Mae sported her own insect–a Mayfly, known to be more fleeting than spring, landed on her jacket. Oh, and did I mention the black flies? They swarmed our faces, but we practiced mind over matter.

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We were in one of the most beautiful places on Earth,

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as evidenced by brook,  pond and mountains beyond.

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And then there was the gorge.

As we watched the water rush through, we gave thanks for a day spent moving in slo-mo to take in all that this fleeting season has to offer in its spring ephemerals.

Bookends

An absolutely gorgeous day in Maine began with a trek around Perky’s Path in Lovell and ended with a visit to the vernal pool behind our house. In between, I had numerous other things to accomplish, but it was the time spent exploring and wondering that added natural bookends to my day.

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Only a week ago, I was watching flowers and leaves emerge on trees. They still are, but what a difference a week makes. The trail suddenly seems illuminated.

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Among the shining stars–Striped Maple, known by some as goose foot because of its shape. (It’s also known as nature’s toilet paper.)

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And Witch Hazel, which is easy to identify by its asymmetrical base and scalloped edges.

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And then there are the spring ephemerals, like this Red Trillium, that must flower before the tree leaves block the sunlight.

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Painted Trillium was also plentiful. Notice the reason for “tri” in the name? When I taught school, I forced my students to learn word cells–breaking the word down to understand the meaning. Tri=three, llium=referring to liliaceous or the lily family. (They had to learn tri, but llium wasn’t on their list.) I don’t know most of the Latin names, but even a few clues are always helpful.

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Another member of the lily family–Hairy Solomon’s Seal. One characteristic of the lily kin–the parallel leaf veins.

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One of my favorite spring flowers is Goldthread. It personifies daintiness. While the scalloped, three-lobed leaves remind me of cilantro, Native Americans apparently used it to make tea. So why the common name? The root resembles a golden thread. Simplicity and beauty in a small package.

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And yet to come, Bunchberries.

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And the greenish white flowers of Wild Sarsaparilla, that grow under the umbrella-like leaves.

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I would be remiss if I didn’t include Hobblebush.

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In the winter, friends and I usually find otter tracks and slides by this stream. Today, a variety of life spills forth.

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A brook flows from Heald Pond to Bradley Pond, and several years ago the Greater Lovell Land Trust constructed a bench to take in the sights and sounds of this place.

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The view is ever changing.

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Just down the path, a bridge also invites quiet contemplation. (When the black flies aren’t trying to sneak into your eyes, ears and mouth, that is. Protein consumption today? Check)

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And a rock garden.

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One last look before heading out. Morning has ended.

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At the other end of my workday, I’m off to the vernal pool. Among a sea of junipers, an explosion of lavender erupts from one Rhodora plant.

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I’m so glad that the Rhodora attracted my attention, because as I turn from it toward the pool, I realize that a bobcat has walked in the direction of our cowpath.

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We’ve had little rain in the last few weeks, so while the snowmobile trail still has some muddy spots, the pool is drying up.

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Will there be enough water for the spotted salamanders to survive?

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And what will happen to the water striders?

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I’ll be curious to see how the tadpoles do. These two appear as bookends for me, holding everything in between in check.

Every day, it’s something new. I feel like I have to start all over again learning the features of this season and I’ll just begin to get it by the time summer rolls around, and then . . . so much more to learn. Though I have plenty of books to guide me, it’s the actual events that are happening right before my eyes that provide the most accurate information.

I’m thankful for any opportunity to wonder and wander, especially at both ends of the day.