Celebrating First Day 2018 Lovell-Style

In the name of tradition, today the Greater Lovell Land Trust hosted a hike up Whiting Hill at the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve to welcome the new year. Last year’s inaugural hike attracted eight of us and the temp was so comfortable that we began to shed layers as we climbed. This year, six of us made the trek and conditions were a bit on the cool side–um, that would be an understatement.

f-Heald Pond dam

But . . . the crisp air enhanced the beauty all around us and we began with a brief stop to appreciate the dam. What we didn’t realize until a minute later was that we’d also startled some wood ducks who immediately flew off.

f-snowshoe journey up Whiting Hill Trail

Though our group was small, old friendships were renewed and new ones formed as we shared the trail.

f-otter trough 2

Periodically, we stopped to admire others who had carved their own trails. We read the stories of many mouse journeys, a fisher chasing a red fox, red and gray squirrel adventures and these–an otter bounding through the landscape.

f-otter trough 1

Otter troughs are about 6-10 inches wide, this one being the larger size. And in what can seem like two by two format, their front feet touch down as back feet rise, coming forward to land where the front feet had been just moments ago for they are bounders. Occasionally, this fun-loving critter chose to slide down on its belly.

f-summit achievement

By the time we reached the summit sign and turned right, we weren’t sure what to expect. Would it be so cold that we’d take a quick peek at the view and retreat? Would we be able to toast Lovell as planned?

f-who said it was cold?

As it turned out, a few in our group found their hands getting too warm, so welcomed a chance for a mitten break.

f-sit a minute

Others sat for a moment on the bench and left behind impressions.

f-hot water carafe

One of our docents had made pumpkin bread to enhance our toast and we brought a carafe full of hot water for cocoa or tea.

f-Heinrich filling cup

The water was very hot indeed and warmed us right up.

f-enjoying the summit and each other

And so it was with big grins that we shared camaraderie at the summit, enjoyed the view and noted the fact that it wasn’t too windy and the cold air was tolerable.

f-red fox print and pee

When we did finally pack up to make our descent, we snowshoed first over to the bench on the Heald Pond side of the summit, where last year we found a sacrificial squirrel upon the altar. Prints left behind indicated a fox had dined there. Of course, a few of us got excited about the kill site and perhaps scared others away from joining us again this year. But . . . we just like to know what the mammals have eaten.

Today, an offering of another kind at the same bench. We found more fox prints all around it and as is typical on a raised object, a hint of pee–its skunky scent indicating it was a red fox. (Yes, I sniffed the pee. By the way, deer pee smells rather piney–just saying.)

f-deer trail

On the way down, more fox and mouse prints everywhere we looked, some old, others fresh. But also, deer tracks a few days old and filled with beech leaves that had recently blown down. It was much colder on our descent given that we were on the eastern side of the mountain and for the most part out of the sun.

f-John Fox Homestead

But that didn’t stop us from making a quick trip to Otter Rocks where two members of our party told us they had the great joy of watching a couple of otters frolic last summer.

f-dragonfly exuvia, lichen and ice:snow on otter rock

We stepped onto the ice and looked back at the large, erratic boulder that marks the point, and reveled in the sight of lichens, dragonfly exuviae and ice displayed.

f-dragonfly exuvia 2

We always check the area for dragonfly exoskeletons but now that the ice has frozen, we can visit the rock’s backside for a change. A few remain, and it was easy to see the hole from which the dragonfly had cast off its external covering during last spring/summer’s moult.

f-Toasting Lovell

The temperature dropped drastically by Heald Pond and wind picked up, so we soon made our departure and headed back to the parking lot.

We were, however, tickled with the knowledge that we’d taken the opportunity to hike on this First Day of 2018. And while at the summit of Whiting Hill, on the count of three, we’d shouted Happy New Year to  Lovell, Stoneham, Stow and Sweden. Did you hear us?

Lingering at Long Meadow Brook

It’s Tuesday, which means time for a tramp through the woods–especially if you are a docent for the Greater Lovell Land Trust. We take our job seriously, filling our bags with field guides, hand lenses, binoculars, cameras, water, humor and wonder. The latter two are the key components and thankfully we’re all comfortable enough with each other to tell corny jokes and laugh at our misidentifications as we explore the natural world through curious eyes and minds, while sharing a brain.

l1-white spores 1

And so today, though our intention was to look for fall wildflowers, we had much more to notice along the way, like the white spores of mushrooms decorating the surrounding haircap mosses.

l2-funnel spider 1

And there were funnel sheet webs to examine, given that the morning fog left them dew covered and easier to spot.

l3-funnel 2

Though we wanted to take a closer look at the creators of such fine work, and tried gently touching webs with pine needles, our antics obviously vibrated more than your ordinary bug might, and the spiders ran into their funnels to hide.

l4a-cup and saucers

As we’d driven to the Long Meadow Brook Reserve, we’d spotted a field of medium-sized white pines decorated with webs and were thrilled to find the same on saplings.

l5-cup and saucer web 1

The bowl and doily spider is another member of the sheet species, and it builds webs that consist of two intricate parts. Above is the bowl, an inverted dome, and below, the lacier doily. The spider hangs upside down beneath the bowl, but above the doily, waiting for dinner to drop in.

l6-looking at spider webs

Trying to see the tiny bowl and doily spiders requires getting down on all fours and looking through a hand lens for they are only about 3-4 millimeters in length. We did and were successful in our efforts.

l4b-cup and saucer on bristly sarsaparilla

It seemed today that nothing escaped spider activity, including the gone-by fruits of bristly sarsaparilla.

l4-orb web 1

Equally delightful in the making was an orb web outlined in dew, larger droplets highlighting each spoke, with smaller ones on the sticky silken spirals.

l1b-pilewort

In several openings, pilewort grew in abundance.

l1a-pilewort field

Like a field of cotton, its dandelion-like seedheads were prolific.

l1c-pilewort seedhead

But really, I preferred the seed display to the petal-less flowerhead that emerges from the cylindrical cluster.

l7-pine cones 1

Also prolific were the female cones atop the white pines, their brown color indicating they were in their second or third year of development, having been wind pollinated by  tiny male cones. The pollen cones fall of trees within a few days of decorating our vehicles, outdoor furniture, and naked female seeds with yellow dust. If you think back to spring and all the little rice krispies that decorated the ground below white pines, you’ll know that you were looking at male cones. The seed cones typically form on the uppermost branches, so that the tree won’t pollinate itself from below, but can receive pollen blowing in the breeze from another tree.

l8-pokeweed 1

We’d looked high to see the cones, and then drew our eyes lower and thrilled with the sight of one of our tallest perennials.

l9-pokeweed 2

At first we only spied one pokeweed growing in an opening, but then began to spot others in flower and . . .

l11-pokeweed 3

fruit.

l29-blueberry

Another one of our surprises–still flowering blueberries. The plants themselves didn’t look too happy . . .

l13-blueberry flowers

and we wondered if there would be enough energy or time for the fruit to form.

l14-cinnabar-red polypore

As we ambled along, we found cinnabar-red polypores,

l18b-turkey tails1

turkey tails,

ll18a-gilled polypore

and polypores know for their . . .

l18-labyrinth of pores

underside labyrinth of pores that look like gills.

l20a-brown spores 1

And we found another type that had spread brown spores.

l19a-mystery hole

Making our way down to the brook, we were stumped by a pile of dirt, small hole about one-half inch across and chewed mushroom. We remain stumped, so if you have a clue, we’ll listen. It was a messy dooryard so we didn’t suspect a chipmunk, plus the hole wasn’t wide enough. Voles eat vegetation. Could it be? Was it even made by a mammal?

l22-white oak

Along the same route, we made another fun find. White oak saplings.

l23--white oak 2

White oak grows in surrounding towns–Fryeburg, Sweden, Brownfield, Waterford, but not in Lovell or Stow, where this property was located. So, how did it arrive? Two theories–it was on a skidder trail, so could have come in on a machine; or perhaps via airmail from a bird. Long ago, white oaks grew in this area, but were used for barrel making. And because their acorns contain less tannin than that of a Northern red oak, mammals devour them quickly, thus making it more difficult for the trees to regenerate.

l23-LMB 2

It took us a while, but finally we reached the old beaver dam and culvert by the brook, where the fall foliage was subtle at best, but still beautiful. We walked (if you can call it that) for 2.5 hours and covered all of .95 miles. It was hot and muggy, so we felt like we’d covered 9.5 miles, but as always were thankful for our time spent lingering at Long Meadow Brook.

 

 

 

On the Edge

I’ve been blessed with amazing opportunities. From writing and editing projects to nature education, I get to meet and learn from a variety of people. Yesterday, I spent two hours with a couple who live off-the-grid on a farm in Stow and rent greenhouse and farm stand space in Lovell. Though we’d met only briefly at an owl presentation this winter, I immediately felt like I was among old friends. My task today was to turn our interview into an article.

Writing is a process that I embrace. I work best when the house is quiet. Then it’s pen or pencil to paper, letting the story flow from head and heart to hand.

Once the rough draft is completed and I’ve typed it, I’ll read it aloud and make some changes. But then I need to step away. And that’s what I did this afternoon.

Mt Wash

I didn’t go far. I felt the need to wander along the edge of the power/tree line, where the snow is melting.

blueberry twig

 The color red pulled me in for a closer look. Seems funny that blueberry twigs are red, but then again, I’ve never seen a blue twig . . . and never hope to see one.

teaberry

Still reddish maroon Teaberry or Wintergreen leaves. On summer walks, it’s refreshing to pick a leaf and breath in the wintergreen scent. Though the leaf shouldn’t be swallowed, some like to chew it for the flavor. Or make tea from it.

red maple

I can’t resist the Red Maples. In less than a month they should be flowering.

sketch

After walking along, sinking frequently in the still knee deep snow, I finally settled down. The sun was warm on my back. Every so often a gentle breeze made the hemlock boughs sway daintily above my head as dried leaves rattled on a nearby beech.

Hemlock leaves or needles are each attached to the twig by a hairy stem called a petiole. The needles on a Balsam Fir attach directly to the twig. I love the subtle differences between the two.

I love taking the time to sit and pay attention. To be. On the edge.