We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I have to wonder if all of our physical/social distancing, and stay-at-home orders may actually have a silver lining. Think of the creative initiatives underway to help others; the reaching out that has become an essential component for many. And think about how all of this is affecting the natural world as we travel much less and spend more time noticing the action in our own backyards.
What have I noticed? For starters, nature didn’t get the directive for social and physical distancing and so as they do, semi-aquatic springtails gathered upon stagnant water as well as in the leaf litter. The mob scene was initiated by phermones sent out by adults, perhaps as a way of saving their lives in herd fashion. If you look bigger than you are while you feed on dead organic matter, algae, spores of mold and mildew, and pollen on the water’s surface, perhaps your enemies, such as spiders and beetles, will reconsider your fate.
What have I noticed? A spider paused briefly before journeying on toward a goal. That goal? To eat some springtails? Spin a web for future meals? Carry out a courtship ritual with a mate? Our time together wasn’t long, and while I moved forward so did it, though less conspicuously for there was plenty of natural litter to hide its progress.
What did I notice? Because I was looking down so much, that is when not looking up trying to spy all the birds chiming up their orchestral instruments from the tops of the hemlock trees, there were other things to see like this vole tunnel and hole. I placed the quarter for size and wondered if the creator survived? Voles are everyone’s favorite food and so typically they spend the winter in what’s called the subnivean zone, the area between the surface of the ground and the bottom of the snowpack, which allows them to move about without being spied by their predators. Once the snow melts, the tunnels they’d created as they fed on roots and grasses and seeds become visible.
What did I notice? I don’t know the vole’s fate, but I do know how the story ended for the hickory tussock caterpillar. Well, rather, I think I know. There’s so much I don’t know, but I do love trying to figure it out. My theory is that it waited too long last fall and a cold snap zapped the life out of it before it could wrap itself in a cocoon.
What did I notice? Life was certainly happening for some, like the underwing moths that chose to “puddle” on fox scat. While they get most of their nutrition from nectar (which must be a challenge right now), perhaps they found sodium as they probed that could serve as a gift should either of them find a fair maiden.
The name “underwing” comes from the fact that while at rest, the brighter wing color of their hind wings doesn’t show. Granted, the brighter color appears on the upper side of those “underwings.”
What did I notice? The hairy buds of Shagbark Hickory were growing larger by the day and each wore its own set of pastel colors. The colors reminded me of the inner part of an oyster shell.
What did I notice? The furry catkins of Pussy Willows begged to be touched, and if everything else wasn’t already giving the message that spring is on, these certainly did.
What did I notice? It wasn’t only the insects, spiders, birds, and buds that were the harbingers of spring, but the acorn also had a message to deliver in the form of a new root: Life will continue; and perhaps because of the challenges so many face, we’ll come out on the other side better persons for it–on behalf of each other and on behalf of the Earth. That would be one of the greatest dividends of noticing.
When Pam asked at the end of our slow tour today what my favorite finds were, I named at least five.
First, there was the Painted Turtle that I spotted on Kezar Lake Road as I drove toward the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Long Meadow Brook Reserve. After I pulled over and approached him, he did what turtles do and retreated into his shell. Though he wasn’t feeling it, I was in celebration mode, for he represented my first turtle of the season. And I helped him cross the road.
I felt safe calling him a he for males have long fingernails. Can you see him peeking out at me in a not too pleased manner? Can’t say I blame him, but our time together was brief and soon he wandered his way while I wandered mine.
And then, another reason for celebration–Coltsfoot in bloom. I know it’s invasive, but its sunny face and scaly purplish stem that predate its leaves offer a first hint of the season’s promises of colors to come.
Coltsfoot is known by some as Filius ante patrem (the son before the father), because the bright yellow star-like flowers appear and wither before its broad, green leaves are produced.
The next sight to be considered: a small spider that, like the painted turtle, continuously eluded our focus by quickly moving to the opposite side of the beech twig. Can you spy it?
And then there were those tree buds bursting forth with life ready to unfold from within. We were offered a few early glimpses of the future and rejoiced at each sample.
At last we reached Long Meadow Brook, for which the reserve is named. And stood and looked and listened and waited and absorbed. Oh, Pam absorbed some water in her boots thanks to a leak. But she didn’t let that stop her and we each enjoyed the opportunity to let this place soak through our pores for moments that turned into a string of minutes and suddenly an hour had passed.
At long last, we pulled away and began a bushwhack through the woods beside the brook.
In so doing, we found more to celebrate, like a red squirrel refectory upon a rock and we suspected a large hole below the tree trunk and boulder had served as the larder.
Continuing on, we saw mats of black upon moss by another tree and almost wrote it off as perhaps a fungi we hadn’t met before.
But. It. Moved. As we watched, we realized the constant motion was created by springtails writhing en masse. To say it wasn’t creepy would be lying. Likewise we were fascinated and leaned in closer to watch the swarm upon the moss.
Resting nearby, perhaps having just gorged on some of those tiny little morsels, was another reason for celebration–a spring peeper. We spotted two, but heard a hundred million more, each adding its song to the symphony that arose from the wetland. And suddenly, an interval of silence would interrupt the music, and then one male would peep, and the rest would join in again until they arrived at the next rest symbol upon their sheet music.
Others added their own notes to the orchestra, including a couple of White-throated Sparrows that trilled in our midst.
Near the end of our journey, we reached a point where we could see that there was still some snow on the the Bald Face Mountains in Evans Notch, but we spotted a dragonfly and honored Trailing Arbutus flowers and rejoiced. Though our celebration didn’t have a Mexican theme, we still had at least cinco reasons to give thanks from the Painted Turtle to Coltsfoot to Bud Bursts to Squirrel Larders to Creepy Collembola to Spring Peepers to White-throated Sparrows. Really, it was more a Siete de Mayo on this Cinco de Mayo–Maine-style.
For Valentine’s Day 2018, I gave my guy the “Amazing Race–Our Style,” which included a list of monthly adventures. And if you kept up with us, you soon discovered that we had challenges to meet along the way as we competed with “imaginary” teams.
And then dawned Valentine’s Day 2019 and I wasn’t sure how I could outdo myself until . . . the proverbial light bulb went off, or rather, on, and a plan took shape.
With that in mind, I walked into Bridgton Books to find just the right card. What could be better than a Maine original by woodcut artist Blue Butterfield in Portland? I did enhance the card a wee bit when I added the heart on the trail. But one of the things I love about this card besides the subject and colors–the shadows: of the trees and the people and the people shadows could almost be bears. Just sayin’.
Inside the card I informed my guy that our next challenge would be to ❤️ ME, ❤️, me. Get it? LOVE Maine, Love, me. Naturally! I thought it was rather brilliant and had no idea at the time that Maine will turn 200 years old in 2020.
The plan is this–we’ll get to know our state better by visiting its 34 state parks. Mind you, this won’t all happen by March 15, 2020, and we may not even finish for another five years, but that’s fine. Nor will we have to compete with anyone along the way or complete challenges. All we need to do is show up, hike together, and appreciate our surroundings.
And so today we finally had a chance to begin and decided to launch our LOVE ME, love, me adventures at Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal. Though we’ve visited some of the parks before, neither of us had ever stepped foot on this one that had been acquired from the Federal Government in 1939 and became one of five original state parks in our grand state.
Others had, for more years than we’ll ever understand, but we did see lots of remnants from the 1800 and 1900s, including this boxy looking structure that we assumed was a pound.
Thank goodness for signs to confirm our assumptions. The pound was used to keep stray cattle, sheep, and pigs once upon a time.
Not only did the pound give us a hint, but by the stone walls, we knew the property had been farmed. By the ledges, we knew where some of the stones had come from.
Trail conditions were such that we walked on well-packed snow and lots of ice, so a break in the wall offered the perfect spot to sit and pull on micro-spikes.
Though the snow wasn’t deep like it is here in western Maine, the ice was quite thick, though water coursed through carving a trough providing a glimpse of the glacial activity that formed the natural features of the mountain.
In fact, striations from the glaciers were still visible upon stones in the trail.
Or not. For really, they were scratches created by snowmobiles because the park is open (for a fee) to hikers, mountain bikers, trail runners, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers. There are also picnic tables and camping areas. What’s not to love?
And did I mention that it’s also open to critters? With a large swath of it being a hemlock grove, we weren’t surprised to see deer activity. And pileated works as well.
Of course, I had to check out the pileated wood pile, and delighted in seeing the cinnamon color of its inner bark. Salmon also came to mind.
And what else should I find within the wood chips–why bodies galore from a scat broken open. Based upon all the holes in the trees we knew the pileated had found the mother-lode of carpenter ants and the scats proved the point.
A little further along, we spied watery ice of a different color than that under our feet and suspected that hiding below the leaves and rocks under the snow cover of the surrounding woods are some amphibians waiting for a certain Big Night when they’ll make their traditional journey to their natal vernal pool.
At the far end of the pool, another shade of salmony-cinnamon greeted us.
A springtail frenzy was taking place where the ice had started to melt. Ahhhh.
Not far beyond the vernal pool, we reached the 485-foot summit. It’s not much as mountains go, but . . . the view was expansive–and we could see the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s also a favorite place to watch the hawk migration and we spent some time chatting with hawk counter Zane Baker who spends six days a week from mid-March to mid-May scanning the sky for raptors. Today was slow, he informed us and you can see by the chart that he’d only recorded four sightings. But today was on the cool side and Zane suspected some birds had ventured north in last week’s bit of a warm-up and the rest were waiting to make the journey.
We sat below and dined on leftover chicken/cranberry relish salad sandwiches while Zane continued to scan the sky with his binoculars and scope. Nada. But still, it was a beautiful spot and we were happy to be there before the crowds arrive.
On the way to the summit, we’d circled around the base of the mountain via a couple of trails, but chose the .3 mile descent via the switchback trail. Steeper and well shaded by an overstory of hemlocks, it wasn’t quite as quick of a descent as it might have been. Thank goodness for spikes. Because I was always looking down to see where to place a foot, I was happy to finally discover that the canopy was changing as evergreens gave way to beech and witch hazel.
We had almost completed the downward climb when we happened upon a chasm that didn’t make sense.
Until we learned that it once served as a feldspar quarry. According to the Maine Geological Survey for Bradbury Mountain compiled by Henry N. Berry IV, “Feldspar is the most abundant mineral in granite, and in pegmatite the individual feldspar crystals can be very large. Feldspar was mined from pegmatite bodies like this in many places across Maine in the early 1900s. The quarry itself, now overgrown with large trees, is about 150 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 10 feet deep. It was crushed and separated to be used in making ceramics or as an abrasive. By the mid-1900s, feldspar mining had moved to other parts of the country and the world.”
Once we’d finished hiking on the West Side, we decided to walk across Route 9 and explore the East Side of the park. We covered lots more miles of trails, but noted only a few things along the way. One was the sweet sight of partridgeberry poking its evergreen leaves through the melted snow. There was even one tiny red berry still intact.
Again, the stone walls were numerous and by the time we had finished hiking, we suspected we’d zigzagged through a few, crossing them more than once.
The terrain was much more level and the mixed forest more open, so the trail conditions were easy.
As we neared the end of our journey, we spied a foundation of stone with a brick fireplace near the Old Tuttle Road.
It reminded us of our own old farmhouse, though our utensils are a bit more up to date. That being said, I’m always a wee bit annoyed when I discover artifacts lined up by a foundation. I guess I’m of the opinion that they should remain where they were and if someone stumbles upon something–great. Let people make their own discoveries. (Enough of a rant for today.)
At last we reached a monument we’d seen denoted on the map. We’d been wondering what it meant.
It turns out that the generous Spiegel family, who’d founded Quoddy Moccassins, had gifted some land to the people of the state of Maine. As two people of the state of Maine, we gave thanks.
Four hours and lots of miles later, our first in our ❤️ ME, ❤️, me Series had come to an end. Bradbury Mountain State Park. ✓ One down, 33 to go!
Time. I never seem to have enough of it. Time with my guy. Time with our sons. Time with family. Time with friends. Time to explore. Time to reflect. Time to write. Time to sketch. Time to be . . . in tune with the world around me and my own soul.
And so today, when I heard a pileated woodpecker as it worked on a dead ash tree by one of the stonewalls, I decided to take a break from my own work and give it the attention it so loudly demanded.
Its a repeat visitor to that tree; along with crows and hawks and smaller birds as well. The tree can no longer create its own source of food, but it continues to provide for others, be they bird, insect or mushroom. And I suspect that it secretly shares its knowledge of the world with the younger ash it towers over–to the right. As for the pileated, his time at that tree came to an end . . . for the moment. He’ll be back–probably soon.
Because I stood below and no longer need to look up, I turned my gaze downward. And then had to pause. What had happened? Who had visited? And scraped the ground right down to the roots? And left a pile of leaves and sticks and other debris at the edge? A mushroom foray? An acorn frenzy? I looked for hair and found none. Turkey? Squirrel? Porcupine?
And at the base of the next old ash, similar behavior.
Returning to the first tree, I discovered that what looked like dirt was actually little pellets of scat . . . tiny scat. Tons of scat. A latrine. Did perhaps a meadow vole live somewhere nearby and a predator went after it? I did also suspect that there may have been a bunch of mushrooms that were harvested and in the process the vole’s latrine was exposed. I’m not sure if I’ll ever really know, but since I had stopped to look, I noticed something else.
Tucked near the base of the tree and relatively untouched by whatever had spent some time clearing the area, was a pigskin poison puffball, so named for its outer skin that feels like a football. (In his book, Fascinating Fungi of New England, Lawrence Millman writes: “historical note: footballs used to be made of pigs’ bladders, not pigskin.”) The dark spore mass within seemed to reflect the ashen color of the tree beside which it grew.
I should have returned to work then, but the puffball discovery and my wonders about the latrine made me want to poke about some more. Since I’d missed the puffball, what else hadn’t I noticed. A few steps to the left upon another tree root–a pelt lichen with many fruits, aka many-fruited pelt. I first discovered this lichen upon Bald Pate Mountain a few years ago, but didn’t know that it grew here–right under my nose.
Its smooth brown lobes shone brightly due to all the recent moisture, but it was the reddish-brown apothecia or fruiting forms that I found so intriguing. They’re described as saddles, and I suppose if you look at one from the right angle, yes, you can see the saddle-like structure.
On the next tree, another pelt known as dog lichen–apparently named because its fruits reminded someone of dog ears.
The algal component of a lichen goes into food production during rain, and so I continued to peer around. But first, a clump of Indian pipes caught my attention and upon them I noticed springtails doing their thing–springing about in search of food. Their diet consists of fungi, pollen, algae and decaying organic matter. Springtails are among the most abundant of insects, but because they are so small, they often go undetected unless you see them on snow in the winter.
And then back to the lichens it was. I found mealy pixie cups in great number growing on a stonewall.
And one large patch looked like it was going to produce another, for so prolific were its fruits of tiny round balls.
Also among my great finds, were the lichens decorating branches that had fallen to the ground in our recent wind storm. I loved the picture they painted with variations on a theme of color . . .
My favorite of all reminded me of so many things–a rose in bloom, waves echoing forth with ripples, and even a topographical map.
Alas, I was short on time and needed to head in, but my finds–were the greatest. Even a wee bit of time spent wondering is time well spent.
We gathered in the parking lot, where the black flies tried to swallow us whole. But, we got the better of them and practiced mind over matter. Of course, bug spray and our flailing arms helped–or at least made us feel as if it was worth the effort.
After an introductory greeting from LEA’s teacher/naturalist Mary Jewett, we stopped frequently as Ursula shared stories of plants and life. You see, she was born in Hamburg, Germany, and grew up during WWII so she has quite a few memories flowing through her system, but as she reminded us, with the bad comes the good. And the good comes from moments she associates with wildflowers, like this bellwort.
Having lived in the United States for 50+ years now, with the last nineteen in Maine, Ursula considers herself a Mainer despite her German accent because she loves it here. And she knows when and where each flower will bloom, such as the painted trillium.
Even those not yet in bloom drew her attention–this being a chokeberry along the first boardwalk.
One of the finds Ursula enjoys sharing with others is the pitcher plant, a perennial herb with pitcher-shaped leaves. We noted that this particular one sported new flower buds.
And on another, the otherworldly shape of last year’s now woody flower capsule–its job completed.
Ursula is as awed as I am by the power of the pitcher plants. Color, scent (that I’ve never smelled) and nectar in glands near the top of the pitcher leaf attract insects. Once inside, those downward-pointing hairs make it difficult to leave. So what happens next? The insect eventually drowns in the rainwater, decomposes and is digested by the plant’s liquid, which turns phosphorus and nitrogen released by the insect into supplemental nutrients for the surrounding peat. Interestingly, no “joules” or units of energy are passed on through this process to the plant itself. The plant gathers its energy through the process of photosynthesis instead.
As we continued, we were wowed once again–this time by the sight of the showy rhodora. Rhodora flowers fully before its leaves emerge and so today they were but small nubs located alternately along the shrub’s branches.
But those flowers–oh my! The rose-purple bloom has what’s considered two lips–with the upper consisting of three lobes and the lower of two. And each produces ten purple-tipped stamen surrounding the pistil, where the pollen will germinate into a many-seeded capsule.
Like the rhodora, another member of the heath family in bloom was the leatherleaf–with bell-shaped flowers formed in leaf axils and dangling below the stem as if it was laundry hung out to dry. One way to differentiate this plant from the highbush blueberries that can be found throughout the preserve, are the alternate, upward-pointing leaves, which decrease in size as your eye moves toward the tip of the stem.
Just before we stepped out onto the Quaking Bog boardwalk, Mary pointed out a native honeysuckle. In my memory bank, I couldn’t remember ever seeing it before, and if I had, well . . . I was glad to make its acquaintance again.
And then we stepped onto the boardwalk. Folks up front paused to admire a green snake, while those of us in the back noticed a green frog. It stayed as calm as possible in hopes that we wouldn’t see it. Nice try.
Like all ponds and lakes right now, the water level remains high and so walking the boardwalk meant wet hiking boots.
But that didn’t stop some of us. Fortunately, mine are waterproof.
Just before we stepped from the boardwalk back onto land, I saw that the frog was still there.
On the trail again, another showy flower called for our attention–hobblebush.
While some looked fresh, others were beginning to pass and their fruits will soon form. We noted the sterile outer blooms that surround the inner array of small fertile flowers. And a beetle paying a visit.
Speaking of insects, a slight movement on the ground pulled us earthward.
We’d found a Mayfly–perhaps just emerged and its wings drying.
In the last wooded section we would cover for the day, we noticed that the two-tiered Indian Cucumber Roots have a few buds. I can’t wait for them to flower soon.
Among the flowers that I’ll always associate with Ursula because she’s the first to have introduced me to them, is the goldthread, so named for its golden-colored root. We usually identify it by its cilantro-shaped leaves, but right now the dainty flowers are not to be missed. What looks like petals are actually sepals and there can be five to seven of them. And stamen–many. Goldthread can feature 5-25 stamen.
Even the number of yellow-and-green pistils can vary from three to seven. Ah nature–forever making us think.
The other plant I associate with Ursula is dwarf ginseng. Its explosive umbel consists of many flowers. And in this one, a dining crab spider.
Finally, we found our way to Grist Mill Road and headed back toward the parking lot. But even on the road we found something to wonder about when one member of our group pointed to the curvy black design. In the past, I’ve always dismissed it as some sort of mineral associated with the dirt.
Today, I learned it was none other than those good old spring tails or snow fleas we associate with late winter, but are really present all year. Something new to notice going forward.
At the end of our walk we all gave thanks to Mary and Ursula. We’d come away with refreshers and new learnings.
And we’d been reminded by Ursula that though she and her husband, Wolfgang, can no longer get out as often as they’d like, after sixty years of marriage they still have fun reminiscing about their many explorations together. A goal for all of us to set.
Most often this wildflower and bird enthusiast walks vicariously with me as she reads my blog entries, but today it was my immense pleasure to walk with her. Thank you, Ursula, for once again sharing your love of all things natural with the rest of us . . . and your optimistic philosophy of life.
Oh and a question for Wolfgang, while Ursula walked with us, did you get on the treadmill?
One of these days I’ll get to explore the route I traveled today with my young neighbor, Kyan, who is recovering from a blood marrow transplant. In the meantime, I took him along with me in spirit.
Our first stop–the frog pond, aka vernal pool, that we both love. After all the recent rain, it has once again filled with water.
As I stood before it and thought about spring moments spent observing the wood frogs that use this pool as a breeding place, I wondered if I’d see any action. I wasn’t disappointed–springtails and mosquito larvae. When I return with Ky in tow, I’ll pull out the small shovel I carry so we can scoop these up for a closer look. Of course, he’ll probably need to remind me to do that. Such is age.
And then I retraced my steps, dodging puddles at first because I had my hiking boots on. Oh, they’re waterproof, but suddenly the water is deep in spots. I’m not complaining–by any means!
Rather than my woodlot trail, I decided to cross the field that Ky’s grandfather owns as I headed home to change into my Boggs. And so I happened upon a mystery. What was this white stuff? Fur? No. Fungi? Maybe. Stay tuned? I hope you will. Had Kyan actually been with me, I’ve a feeling he could have told me right off.
Back on the trail, where the puddles were shaded, nature presented its artistic flair.
I trust Ky would have appreciated the various forms the ice took. Had he been with me, we could have stomped our feet through the ice and felt its thickness. But then again, he may not have wanted to ruin such beauty.
That being said, over the course of several hours, I found plenty of puddles that were ice free and walking through them was the easiest mode of travel. Plus . . . who doesn’t love to jump in a puddle, right Ky?
Had Ky been with me, we would have marveled at all the tracks left behind by creatures who passed in the night or early morning hours.
And I’d have shown him how to make a positive ID of a print, in this case–Eastern Coyote. We’d have looked at the key characteristics, like the winged ball of the pad, the x between toes and pad, the symmetrical front toes and inward facing nails. And I would have shared my Trackards with him so we could both better understand how the critters with whom we share this space move about.
In this case, it appeared there were several coyotes and they shared a brief tussle.
We’d have looked at the contents of coyote scat, of which I saw tons. Ky would have reminded me that the apple skins meant the coyote visited the neighborhood orchard.
And I would shared with him that the grassy scat meant perhaps one of the coyotes had an upset stomach. If you are grossed out by the scat, please forgive me. But . . . it’s natural. It’s a sign. It tells a story. And Ky is 12. Then again, I’m in my late 50s–and I LOVE scat.
Had Ky been with me, we’d have wondered about the swatch of hair deep in the woods. And maybe we would have looked around more than I did to search for other signs of why the hair was left behind.
Had Ky been with me, we would have noted numerous deer tracks as well. And coyote tracks in the same vicinity.
We’d have seen where the deer browsed.
And where one rubbed its antlers–perhaps leaving an important scent for others to note.
Had Ky been with me, we would have seen some downed hemlock twigs.
And known to look for their comma-shaped scat.
Had Ky been with me, we would have found a bunch of puff balls or stink bombs.
And most definitely we would have poked them with our feet and watched the spores flow out like a cloud.
Had Ky been with me, we would have noticed the little things, like a peeled acorn stuck in a tree and wondered how it go there.
We would have enjoyed not only the sight of the Auricularia auricula-judae or brown jelly fungus, but also it’s other common name–wood ear because indeed it does resemble an ear.
Had Ky been with me, we would have felt bad for the wee shrew that took one for the family’s sake. Despite releasing a toxin that prevented his predator from consuming him, he still died from the attack. But perhaps his siblings and parents will not be attacked by the same predator–a lesson learned. Maybe. And we would have marveled at what a long nose he had and what tiny ears.
Had Ky been with me, we might have bushwhacked, only getting fake lost on our way home. If he wasn’t comfortable doing that, however, we most certainly would have turned back and followed the trail.
And finally, had Ky been with me and we had bushwhacked, he might have noted some white fluff on the ground, the same as what I saw in the field earlier. And then he would have noticed the source.
One never knows what one might discover deep in the woods. Had Ky been with me, would he have recognized Myrtle? Was it a dog toy at one time? If so, how did it find its way to the middle of nowhere? I know–it walked. But really, it was over a half hour from home and the terrain not easy, yet I found no other stuffing. Of course, it could have traveled a different route than I took.
At the beginning of today’s journey I’d thought about seeking out the color orange again in honor of Ky, but perhaps he’s tired of orange. And it was much more fun looking for things I thought Ky might appreciate had he been beside me. I know he’ll see things I’ve never noticed and I can’t wait to learn from him. Perhaps soon we can venture together, maybe once the ground is frozen and snow falls. Or in the spring.