Bear to Beer: St. Patrick’s Day

We drove to O’Lovell in western Maine late this morning with the plan to search for bear trees in an area where I’ve seen them in the past.

All along the main road to the Greater Lovell Land Trust property, Irish flags decorated random telephone poles and even a tree. The latter was our favorite for the person who hoisted it had to climb up the steep snowbank in order to show off the colors of the Emerald Isle.

Braving a thousand bumps, or so it felt as we negotiated potholes, frost heaves, and culvert depressions, we at last arrived at the end of a dirt (read: muddy) road and prepared for a hike up the oxymoron called Flat Hill.

While yesterday’s trek meant slogging through the wet snow, today’s brisker temperature allowed us to stay on top of the wintery surface, though we were thankful for our snowshoes.

Upward we climbed until we reached the coppiced red oaks and knew to turn right, walk off trail and begin our search among the beeches in the forest. You see, I knew there were trees to be found for I’ve seen them before, and I knew the turning point tree, but . . . the last time I looked, I couldn’t locate the trees with the bear claw marks. That, however, is a challenge my guy heartily accepts and so we split up and each set off to check all the trees in the forest. Well . . . almost all.

As is to be expected, my guy covered much more territory at a faster rate than I did and I wasn’t surprised to hear the distant call, “I got one!”

Indeed, he did. And a beauty was it. Can’t you just see the bear shimmying its way up and down the tree–several times over.

In my brain, a bear hug was the real deal from one of the original tree huggers. And I gave thanks for being accused of doing the same.

All the way to the top we could envision the quest for those tiny beech nuts that offered nutrition. Hmmm . . . isn’t it curious to note that the core of nutrition is “nut”? Or is it curious?

From the big tree, we moved up the mountain until we reached its sort of flat top where the view to the west is always a treat. And then we began to look about, for usually there is porcupine sign in the immediate vicinity to enjoy–that is . . . until I offered a porcupine prowl there two weeks ago and all we found were fisher tracks.

Today, however, was different and we found some fresh evidence that the porcupine is still in the area. We knew it by the teeth impressions left behind.

Further evidence was seen in some diagonally clipped twigs, scat, and even a strand of hair! Yes, porcupines have hairy bodies–including their quills. But on their bellies and faces they have a silkier variety–do you see it?

While I looked about the summit for more evidence, my guy stalked about below. Can you see him in the middle of the photo?

Eventually I wandered down to join him, pausing halfway to note some porky tracks leading upward . . . and downward, of course.

Below the ledges we hunted for his den, but found only tracks moving along the edges.

Though we never found the critter that we assume could easily look like a miniature bear if one were to remove all its quills, we enjoyed exploring the territory that is part of his home.

The delightful part of paying attention is the noticing. There were the organ pipes attached to the ledges, their music enhanced by drips onto rock tripe, ferns and mosses.

And an icicle of amber that stood at least two feet long.

Eventually we made our way back up and then down, again bushwhacking to look for more bear trees. We found a couple, but it was the works of others that also garnered our attention, such as this one that decided to split, but then came back together as if it was making up for time spent apart.

We found another tree with a burl that could easily have been mistaken for bear cubs spending time in a nurse tree. Typically, however, mama bear would choose a white pine for it would provide cover for her young ones as she went off to search for food for her brood.

Embedded in the snow was a squirrel drey and we mentally noted its location so we can go back another day after its no longer frozen in place and try to dissect it in hopes of better understanding such a structure.

And we spied a stonefly exoskeleton–an offering of total delight for despite its minute size, its discovery was right up there with the bear hug.

At last we left O’Lovell, with its Irish flags flying in the breeze, and found our way to O’Harrison, where we joined our friends, the O’Wisers for a beer and dinner.

The evening was topped off with Irish music performed by our favorite local acoustic folk band, Bold Riley.

From bear to beer, everyone was Irish today as we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. Well, almost everyone–I did wear some orange and donned my Macmillen plaid flannel shirt. O’Macmillen! O’Hayes! O’Bear!

The Irish Colors

With so much snow still on the ground, it’s easy to see the landscape as a monochrome palette of grays. And so I set out on this St. Patrick’s Day to find some color.

f-bridge

My destination was the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s Flat Hill trail and Perky’s Path from the end of Heald Pond Road. The parking lot is almost non-existent, so much snow do we have. And the bridge crossing tricky.

f-cherry bark

As I climbed upward, the thought that some see the world as black (cherry) and . . .

f-paper birch 1

white (paper birch) kept racing through my brain.

f-gray birch 1

And then there are those who accept that gray areas exist (gray birch–a brother of paper birch from another mother).

f-yellow birch bark

Textures visible in shadows reflected differences (yellow birch–a cousin),

f-hop hornbeam

even among family members (hop hornbeam–also a birch relative.)

f-mink tracks

It may have seemed there wasn’t much new to see and wonder about, but . . .

f-mink prints

the straddle (width from outside of one print in a set to outside of the other) and angle of these prints told a different story. A mink had crossed the trail. (My mitten had to hold the Trackard in place or it would have slid down the trail.)

f-porcupine trail

Nearing the top, I went in search of another mammal who has frequented this area for years–and I wasn’t disappointed. The porcupine trough was fresh.

f-view from Flat Hill

And then I reached the summit of Flat Hill (forever an oxymoron) and the whites, greens, browns and blues of mountains and sky opened before me. There was even a hint of red in swelling buds.

f-downhill from Flat Hill

The wind was cold, so I didn’t pause for long. Instead, I retraced my own tracks down the hill.

f-orange trail

And then I turned onto the orange trail that is Perky’s Path and realized the symbolism of the color and this day. My Scottish ancestors smiled down on me.

f-beaver lodge

I’m always drawn to the wetland and had to take a peek at the beaver lodge, which remained snow covered, indicating that no one was home. But there again, the sky enhanced my view.

f-wetland from bridge

The path leads to another set of small bridges, and there I stood for a while, taking in the peacefulness and beauty before me. Oh, and the warmth of the sun as its strong rays embraced me.

f-chickadee 1

While I stood and listened, a chickadee called and I watched as it entered a hole in the birch snag. This was a wow moment, for though I know birds use old pileated holes, I rarely see them come and go.

f-chickadee 3

Out he popped, giving a curious look–perhaps because I was pishing.

f-chickadee 2

He paused for a moment and then flew off, chickadee-dee-deeing across the bright blue sky.

f-brook view

I, too, took off, but not before enjoying a few more reflective moments.

f-ice swirls

The juxtaposition of snow, hemlock branches, water and ice created colorful swirls of artistic design beyond understanding.

f-wintergreen

And then I found a few wintergreen plants, their waxy leaves transforming from winter maroon to summer green.

f-beaked hazelnut

On my way out, I stopped to examine a few buds–and catkins, in this case. I love winter, but I am beginning to crave color and beaked hazelnuts will be among the first to flower.

f-striped maple bud1

A striped maple showed off its waxy buds, leaf scars and growth rings. The bud reminded me of hands in prayer–perhaps worshipping the patron saint of Ireland.

f-striped maple covered

One bud was sheathed in white. Even with my hand lens, I couldn’t figure it out. I’d like to think it was an angelic covering, but suspect it is a cocoon.

f-basswood 2

And then there were the bulbous bright buds on the basswood tree.

f-basswood lateral bud

Indeed, they were a sight to behold. Though winter reduced the color palette to the essentials, slowly the transition to spring has begun.

f-Irish flag in breeze

My journey was done, but I made one more stop along Route 5, where Irish flags flapped in the breeze to commemorate this day. The Irish color–where white signifies the truce between the Orange and the Green.

I always wear a hint of orange on this day in contrast to my Irish guy’s green. And I remind him that St. Patrick was born in Scotland.