Celebrating the Vernal Equinox

We fell asleep to winter and awoke early this morning–eager to celebrate the vernal equinox.

b-dark

It was dark and cold (15˚) with a brisk breeze when we joined others for a 6am hike up Bald Pate sponsored by Loon Echo Land Trust.

b-sun begins

While we waited at the summit and tried to stay warm, we were treated to hot cocoa and amaretto cake. YUM!

b-sunrise1

And then . . .

b-sunrise 3

the sun shone upon this first day of spring.

b-vernal pool

After church, I made a quick visit to the vernal pool where ice is still the name of the game.

b-wet road

And after lunch, we headed off on another adventure. At first we followed an old road, which was tricky business.

b-1st fdn

Though at least six foundations are located along this road where young men carved out a living prior to the Civil War, we allowed ourselves time only to stop at one. We were on a mission.

b-powerline1

We turned north at the power line and trudged up and down hills in search of a brook.

b-stream crossing

That direction didn’t feel quite right, so we followed our noses and turned into the woods.

b-posted 1

And then we stumbled upon a property line that was posted. We love the fact that in Maine one can walk upon any property that isn’t posted. This one was recently marked and so we respected the landowner’s wishes.

b-meandering stream

That is, until we got to a point where we decided to trespass after all. Our journey took us past meandering streams,

b-stream crossing 2

stepping across others,

b-wetland 1

slogging through boggy areas,

b-bushwhack

and tripping among the understory.

b-deer rub

We saw where a deer had rubbed its antlers,

b-deer scrape

another enjoyed fine dining, and

b-deer skull

a third said goodbye as it returned from whence it came.

b-polypody 2

We found common polypody fern (Polypodium vulgare) indicating that the temperature was higher than it had been earlier in the morning.

b-polypody 1

This was our view of polypody when the temperature was much lower on Bald Pate.

b-pork den

We passed a porcupine den.

b-porky tree

And then we came upon downed hemlock branches and

b-pork scat 1

fresh scat.

b-pork in tree 1

I looked up.

b-pork in tree

He looked down.

b-game trail beside brook

Finally, we found ourselves walking along a game trail beside a brook–feeling like we might just be on the right track.

b-mill pond

Where the brook widened into a pond, we knew we were in the right place.

b-on a rock

Just below the pond, my guy stood in the middle of the brook, excited about our find. We’d attempted to locate this spot a year ago and missed it by a long shot.

b-mill site1

According to the 1858 map of Oxford County, we were at the sight of R. Bennett’s sawmill. I’d first visited two years ago with my friends, Sue and Janet. It’s actually located on Sue’s land. We’d come in from her home on my first visit, but today we came via Old City.

b-b mill 3

b-b mill 2

 

b-bmill stones brook

A year ago, my guy and I snowshoed in search of this sight but never found it so we were gleeful about today’s success.

b-fdn near mill.jpg

Our intention had been to search for the mill until 3:30. We found it just after 4pm. And rather than try to follow the stream back, we decided to bushwhack in a more westerly direction. On a hill above the mill we found a foundation made of drilled stones that are neatly hidden by moss and ferns and assume it was part of the mill.

b-rock pile?

Our bushwhack continued until we finally emerged by a rock pile beside Old City Road. Its circular formation had me thinking water well.

b-double wall

Will we ever find it again? That’s always a question, but now we know to walk along the road until we reach the last double-wide wall and then turn at the well.

b-ghost

I liked the ghost-like effect of my guy walking back on the road–reminiscent of the men who once lived here and worked these woods. I followed my guy out and both of us occasionally felt the suction of mud. Occasionally one foot was drawn into the earth as if it intended to stay behind. We finally returned to our truck at 6pm (so much for our intention to be home by 4:30), our celebration of the vernal equinox complete.

 

 

 

 

Nature Works

Sometimes when you walk off the beaten path you discover that you are actually on the beaten path. A path once created by those who walked before. Such was the case today for ten of us from the Greater Lovell Land Trust.

We began our journey by carpooling from the main road, Route 5. One side road led to another, much curvier and bumpier. Eventually, that road became a dirt road. And finally, it ended at a gate where we parked.

There were several choices of paths to follow and we choose the one closest to the brook.

early fall day

As we crossed the brook, my eye was drawn to the changing color of the maple leaves. The days have been warm and sunny, but the nights are beginning to cool down and so sugar made in the leaves during the day gets trapped there. As the leaves begin to stop their food-making process, the yellow, red and orange carotenoids that are masked by the green pigment all summer slowly become visible.

downy woodpecker's feathers

One of our docents had a keen eye today. While the rest walked past, she spotted this dinner site. Downy woodpecker feathers and body parts. Good find, Ann.

got mail

Got mail? Though this mailbox wasn’t our intended destination, it’s on the way. We wondered about its purpose, knowing it was beside a former logging/hunter camp. But still . . . it struck us as odd.

bed frame 1

Nature slowly reclaims that which was left behind.

massive yellow birch

We turned right at this yellow birch. Though we didn’t hug it, I think it would have taken two or three of us to embrace this tree. There were others equally as big or bigger–mostly sugar maples, which led a few to surmise that they were left because of their importance for sap production.

country lane

At last we were in the old neighborhood, where the path existed between two single-wide stone walls. The farmland is bordered by numerous walls that stand stalwart, though some sections are more ragged that others.

chatting in the parlor

Standing in the parlor, my friends tried to make sense of an old foundation. Trees, roots, frost, weather, critters and humans have added to the foundation’s demise, but what remains left us in awe of those who had lived on this land. We suspect the neighborhood was abandoned post Civil War, when soldiers/farmers discovered that there was fertile ground elsewhere where stone potatoes were not the number one crop.

root cellar

Within the cellar of a neighboring foundation was a root cellar.

root cellar 2

Taking a closer look, we learned that someone else has made use of it. Or should I say something else–a porcupine. The back corner is filled with scat.

snapping turtle headshape

We explored the hillside and checked out some boulders taller than us. The ragged edges reminded us that this didn’t get rolled about by the glacier, but may have been part of a boulder field left behind. Sometimes our imagination turned from the historical nature to whimsy. I see a snapping turtle head; someone else saw a frog in this stone formation.

moose femur

Another great find by the woman in blue (Ann, you had eagle eyes today!) was the femur of a moose. It had some nibble marks–evidence that a rodent had been gnawing it to get the benefit of the calcium. The circle of life dictates that something will then eat the rodent, and the calcium will continue to make its way through the food web.

Sarah's stoneMary's stoneEphraim's stone

We bushwhacked to the site of a cemetery. It was interesting to note that the two stones on the left are slate. Hmmm . . . it would have cost more money for slate since it’s not a local stone.

barbed wire

On the way back, someone spotted barbed wire growing through a tree–or rather, a tree that grew around barbed wire, another indication of this land’s use once upon a time.

shrew 2

And a dead shrew–easy to identify by its elongated snout. It was killed but not consumed, probably because it has a musky gland that makes it smell unappetizing–but it’s not until the animal has died that the smell is evident. Why after death? One of my mentors, Kevin Harding, was with us today and so I posed this question to him. He and Naturalist David Brown theorize that one shrew takes a hit for the whole team. In other words, its predators might recognize the next shrew and decide to let it live. Maybe so.

Hobblebush

If you’ve been following my wanders, you know I can’t pass by a hobblebush without admiring it.

GB 3A

Three hours later we returned to the trailhead, thankful for a chance to spend time together on an autumn day and wonder how nature works.