Rocking the First Mondate

Christmas gifts don’t always have to cost and such was one that my guy cashed in on today. You see, I gave him a card and wrote a message within that read something like this: “Let’s travel to Tin Mountain Conservation Center’s Rockwell Sanctuary in Albany, New Hampshire, one Monday this winter. Your task will be to identify three reasons why I chose this place for us to journey. If you figure out all three, I’ll buy you a beer.”

And so we went. And I wondered how quickly he would figure it out.

At the kiosk, we examined the map and decided we’d start off on the Maple Leaf Loop to the left and stay to the left, thus covering all of the outer trails. That meant we wouldn’t see everything, but in three or four hours we would see enough. Maybe.

From the get-go, he tried to figure out what three things I had in mind. Was it the signage on the trees for he appreciated that they boasted their names?

I liked that as well, but, no, the tree signs weren’t part of the deal.

What about the trail being well marked, he wondered. Yes, that was a good thing and we do sometimes have a tendency to get “fake” lost, but donning snowshoes meant we could always backtrack and find our way out. So that wasn’t it.

Could it be the decorated Christmas tree? Well, that certainly is what introduced me to the trail system a month ago for the tree was decorated as part of the ME/NH Christmas Tree Quest I’d coordinated, but that wasn’t why I wanted to travel these trails with him.

Maybe it was Chase Pond? No again. I did, however, love its layers and really wanted to walk onto it to explore some more, but I’m not ready to trust ice recently formed and then coated with an insulating layer of a foot of snow. Soon, but not yet.

In the meantime, however, the edge of the pond presented the woody structures of Leatherleaf’s former flowers and I rejoiced. He marched on, totally oblivious, but that was okay. I knew these would capture my heart, not his, and the goal was for him to figure out the three things that would appeal to both of us.

“Could it be the beaver works?” he asked as we circled the Beaver Loop.

No, but the high ridge of an old beaver dam in the mid portion of this photo made me wish we’d seen more recent works. It appeared the beavers had done their work and moved on a few years ago.

Was it the canoe half hidden in the snow? That surely was fun to stumble upon and reminded us both of canoes at LEA’s Holt Pond in Bridgton. This looked like another case of bring your own PFD and paddles. You might throw in some duck tape, just in case. But, no, it wasn’t the canoe.

We followed Stoney’s Spur down to the water’s edge and again a question: Perhaps it was that we could be the first to make tracks in the snow? Well, sorta the first, for a fox and mink had been there before us. I reminded him that when I wrote the message on the card I had no idea exactly when we would visit the sanctuary or what the trail conditions would be so again, that wasn’t one of the thoughts on my mind.

The spur did lead us to a boardwalk and we broke trail on it before heading back around to the Laurel Loop.

A sudden stop by me and he knew that this wasn’t part of the equation for he had no idea what the structure was that drew my attention. We find these occasionally and they always make me happy. This was the capsule of a Lady’s Slipper and while I suspected that there are more such plants in these woods, we’ll have to return in the spring to verify that assumption.

The Laurel Trail lead us across Bald Hill Road and it was there that the great signage we’d enjoyed came to an abrupt end. And so we moved about searching left and right to figure out where to go next.

No blaze led diagonally behind us, but down through the trees my guy spied some yellow paint and so he checked it out before beckoning me to join him.

It was that way for much of the trail and though we enjoyed the lay of the land, we had a difficult time determining where to go next.

The glacial boulders, however, were a sight to see.

And upon one I discovered an act of gravity I didn’t understand: icicles extending outward and growing parallel to the ground rather than perpendicular to it.

Was this some sort of magnetic hill? My guy never saw these so he couldn’t add his two cents, which I would have gladly welcomed. Sometimes he sees things that make sense of what I spy.

The thing about the trail, however, was that neither of us could spy the blazes most of the time, unless we turned around and looked back. We were supposed to be exploring a loop and crossing back over the road, but suddenly found ourselves traveling back toward whence we’d come. Even with GPS, which didn’t pick up the actual trail, we could see our movement but couldn’t determine where we were supposed to be since the map wasn’t geo-referenced.

That was okay because our wander found us traveling through a Mountain Laurel field we would have otherwise missed.

My guy was rather certain the plant was not for his focus and so he moved on while I paused for the old Kodak moment.

Finally crossing back over the road by backtracking our steps for a bit, he wondered if the Owl Prowl Trail was one of the three reasons I’d chosen this place. No, though we both love owl encounters.

Crossing a bridge, he didn’t realize that he was suddenly getting hotter.

The bridge marked the outlet of Chase Pond and huge boulders formed its old damming point.

Our next left hand turn took us on to the Quarry Trail.

As we traversed it, a lightbulb went off and he asked, “The quarry?” YES! Quarries fascinate both of us and I knew he’d enjoy finding and exploring this one. He was feeling rather successful and grateful that he wouldn’t be the victim of a shut out.

At the next intersection he had his second answer: Bear Trees. Bingo. But, would we be able to actually see any?

Indeed we would. We both love the discovery of scratches left behind by the big mammals.

And so, as we climbed about through the quarry, we continued to look for beech trees with marks showing the way of the climber.

The rocks left behind offered their own interesting forms.

And the trees, lots of evidence.

There was more on the trees as well, and not all of it worth celebrating: do you see the tiny white spots mingled occasionally among the red bloom? Those white dots are the minute beech scale insects. The holes the tiny insect makes in the bark create a perfect entry point for nectria pathogen to make its way into the tree. The pathogen, a type of fungus, kills some areas of the tree at the point of entry. In reaction, the tree develops a canker as a defensive attempt to ward off the invader, but by doing so the canker blocks the vascular tissue of the infected beech by stopping nutrient flow in that one area.

And those red spots, as pretty as they appear, are actually tarry spots which ooze out of the cracks in the bark caused by the canker. Essentially, it appeared the tree was bleeding.

We preferred to focus on the scratches, some indicating a more recent visit than others, based on the width of the marks.

We kept finding them and wondered how many more there must be within the sanctuary and beyond.

It was no wonder for many of the trees are mature and, as evidenced by the husks left scattered on the snow, they’ve been producing fruits, aka beech nuts, for a long time.

After almost four miles in three hours, my guy and I finished up our trip and he was thrilled to have figured out that I chose this place for the quarry and the bear trees. But the third reason alluded him.

That’s okay. It just means we’ll have to return again so he can figure it out. Of course, that also meant no stop for a beer on the way home.

Perhaps the next time. In the meantime, we’re both still thrilled with the finds we did make as we rocked this first Mondate of the new year.

Books of December: A Holiday Wish List

In the spirit of changing things up a bit, I decided that I’d include five books I highly recommend you add to your holiday wish list and two that I hope to receive.

These are not in any particular order, but I’m just beginning to realize there is a theme–beyond that of being “nature” books.

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Book of December: Forest Forensics

Tom Wessels, forest guru and author of Reading the Forested Landscape, published this smaller work in 2010. Though only 5″ x 7.5″, the book is rather heavy because it’s filled with photographs. Despite the weight, Forest Forensics fits into a backpack and is the perfect guide for trying to figure out the lay of the land. Using the format of a dichotomous key, Wessels asks readers to answer two-part questions, which link to the photos as well as an Evidence section for Agriculture, Old Growth and Wind, plus Logging and Fire. In the back of the book, he includes Quick Reference Charts that list features of particular forest and field types. And finally, a glossary defines terms ranging from “age discontinuity” to “Uphill basal scar,” “weevil-deformed white pines” and “wind-tipped trees.” In total, it’s 160 pages long, but not necessarily a book you read from cover to cover. If you have any interest in rocks, trees, and the lay of the land, then this is a must have.

Forest Forensics by Tom Wessels, The Countryman Press, Woodstock, VT, 2010.

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Book of December: Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest

Michael L. Cline is executive director of Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, New Hampshire. In September, I had the pleasure of attending a talk he gave at the center about Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest. The 6″ x 9″ book weighs about the same as Wessels’, and will also fit handily into your pack. Of course, you might want to leave the books in your vehicle or at home and look up the items later–thus lightening your load. Using Brownfield Bog as one of his main go-to places, Cline describes 70 species of shrubs from Creeping Snowberry to Mountain Ash. The book is arranged by family, beginning with Mountain Maple and Striped Maple of the Aceraceae (Maple) family and ending with the American Yew of the Taxaceae (Yew) family. Each two-page layout includes photographs (and  occasionally drawings), plus a description of habit, leaves, flowers, twig/buds, habitat, range, wildlife use, notes and other names. I have no excuse now to not know what I’m looking at as I walk along–especially near a wetland. That being said, I’ll think of one–like I left the book at home, but I’ll get back to you.

Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest by Michael L. Cline, J.S. McCarthy Printers, 2016

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Book of December: Bogs and Fens

Ronald B. Davis’ book, Bogs and Fens, was a recent gift from my guy. I hadn’t asked for it, and actually didn’t know about it, so I’m tickled that he found it. I’m just getting to know Dr. Davis’s work, but trust that this 5.5″ x 8.5″ guide about peatland plants will also inform my walks. Again, it’s heavy. The first 26 pages include a description of vegetation and peatlands and even the difference between a fen and a bog. More than 200 hundred pages are devoted to the trees, plants and ferns. In color-coded format, Davis begins with the canopy level of trees and works down to tall shrubs, short and dwarf shrubs, prostrate shrubs, herbaceous plants and finally, ferns. He also includes an annotated list of books for further reference, as well as a variety of peatlands to visit from Wisconsin to Prince Edward Island. As a retired University of Maine professor, Davis has been a docent and guide at the Orono Bog Boardwalk for many years. Field trip anyone?

Bogs and Fens: A Guide to the Peatland Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada by Ronald B. Davis, University of New England Press, 2016.

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Book of December: Lab Girl

I’d never heard of Hope Jahren until this summer and then several people recommended her book, Lab Girl, to me. Rather than a guide, this is the story of Jahren’s journey from her childhood in rural Minnesota to the science labs she has built along the way. As a scientist, Jahren takes the reader through the ups and downs of the research world. And she does so with a voice that makes me feel like we’re old friends. Simultaneously, she interweaves short chapters filled with  information about the secret life of plants, giving us a closer look at their world. I had to buy a copy because for me, those chapters were meant to be underlined and commented upon. I do believe this will be a book I’ll read over and over again–especially those in-between chapters.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.

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Book of December: The Hidden Life of TREES

And finally, a gift to myself: The Hidden Life of TREES by Peter Wohlleben. I’d first learned about this book in a newspaper article published last year and had to wait until recently to purchase it after the book was translated from German to English. Again, it’s not a field guide, but offers a delightful read that makes me think. And thus, you can see my bookmark. I’ve not finished reading it yet, but I’m having fun thinking about some different theories Wohlleben puts forth. As a forester, Wohlleben has spent his career among trees and knows them well. He’s had the opportunity to witness firsthand the ideas he proclaims about how trees communicate. And so, I realize as I read it that I, too,  need to listen and observe more closely to what is going on in the tree world–one of my favorite places to be. Maybe he’s right on all accounts–the best part is that he has me questioning.

The Hidden Life of TREES: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben, Random House, 2016.

And that’s just it–the underlying theme of these five books you might consider is TREES. I can’t seem to learn enough about them. One word of caution, each author has their own take on things, so the best thing to do is to read the book, but then to head out as often as you can and try to come to your own conclusions or at least increase your own sense of wonder.

And now for the books on my list (My guy is the keeper of the list):

Naturally Curious Day by Day: A Photographic Field Guide and Daily Visit to the Forests, Fields, and Wetlands of Eastern North America by Mary Holland, Stackpole Books, 2016

Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast by Ralph Pope, Cornell University Press, 2016.

Do you have any other suggestions for me?

One final thought about books–support your local independent book store as much as you can. Here in western Maine, we are fortunate to have Bridgton Books. Justin and Pam Ward know what we like to read and if they don’t have a particular book we’re looking for, they bend over backwards to get it for us.