Transformation of a Different Sort

Late afternoon found me heading to the vernal pool behind our home, mostly out of curiosity for we’ve had a week of dry, steamy days and I suspected the worst.

Not only by sight, but also stench did I know that my fears had come true.

There was merely a drop of water left, hidden below the leaves as it were.

I stood in the center for the first time all year, where the odor reminded me of New Haven Harbor at low tide, though the pool was perhaps more rank. The harbor has a mud-flat smell that entered my nostrils as a youth and has remained in my memory since, becoming that upon which I judge all other such scents.

Directly above, the sky veiled only by the canopy, offered a few clouds to occasionally shade the hot sun, but not a drop of rain was to be felt as has been the situation of late.

The source of the stench was my little friends who unfortunately didn’t get to hop out.

I could only hope that a few did leave the water of their own accord, but sadly most were fried.

All that realized, it didn’t mean the pool was a static place. There were Flesh Flies with brick red eyes who found this habitat of tadpole carcasses to be to their liking.

And Rove Beetles who surprised me with their presence, though they shouldn’t have for they also have a preference of feeding upon decaying matter.

Both the Flesh and Rove moved quickly through the neighborhood, but for a brief second each paused and posed, as if it was meant to be.

Others included the metallic Green Bottle Fly,

a cricket,

canoodling moths,

and a spider or two or many. There were also birds in the canopy and I suspected they were waiting for me to leave so they could bring food home to the nest.

In the midst, a splash of color was offered by the wee Northern Crescent butterfly whose presence perplexed me at first . . . until I realized that the pool still held moisture and other nutrients, and it offered just the right habitat for butterflies who need to puddle or suck the fluid and minerals to enhance their breeding relationships.

Right beside the pool I spied another of the order Lepidoptera in the pupal form of a Viceroy butterfly.

As has happened year after year, the vernal pool didn’t follow quite the path I had hoped since early April when the ice went out, but still, it’s a place where transformations of a different sort occur . . . and despite the demise of the tadpoles, life goes on.

Bluebird, Bluebird, Through My Focus

It rained. The sun came it. Rain drops continued to fall. Until they didn’t. Then the temperature rose to a degree we haven’t seen in over eight months here in western Maine. And we melted.

But, with the heat wave came some new visitors, including this male Baltimore Oriole, so named because his coloration resembled the coat-of-arms of Lord Baltimore.

The funny thing about Lord Oriole: he’d stopped by a few days ago when I had a sturdy chunk of suet in the feeder. After seeing him, I immediately added orange slices to the offering in hopes of enticing him to return.

And so when he did this morning, I marveled at the fact that he ignored the oranges and chose instead a small bite of the suet.

Adding more color to the yard was a male House Finch. He tarried not long for his gal paused in the lilac bush and then flew past and he followed in hot pursuit.

But I gave thanks to the finch for as I looked for him to return, I noticed movement on the outer edge of the garden below the back deck. Shuffling about the dried leaves looking to glean a meal was a Common Yellowthroat. My very own Common Yellowthroat. Certainly another reason to rejoice.

There was more rejoicing to be done for I eventually found my way to the vernal pool. I realized I’ve been avoiding it lately, ever fearful after discovering a few dead frogs that life had taken a turn for the worse within that small body of water.

But the surprise was all mine when I discovered recently hatched tadpoles resting atop an egg mass. The green color is an algae with which they share a symbiotic relationship. The algae colonize the egg mass and produces oxygen. Being symbiotic, it’s a two-way street and the algae benefits from the eggs by gaining carbon dioxide produced by the embryos. The carbon dioxide is needed for the photosynthetic process. For a few days after hatching, the tadpoles feed on the alga.

Salamander embryos within their own gelatinous also took on that greenish hue due to the same symbiotic alga. My heart was filled with joy for there were numerous masses within the pool, most of them spotted salamander. And now I can only hope that the pool stays wet enough for them to mature and crawl out as their parents did.

Leaving the pool behind, I wandered toward home, but a familiar call beckoned. It took a few minutes for me to locate the creator, but eventually I saw him.

On a sturdy branch parallel to the ground, the Broad-winged Hawk did dine. He also frequently announced his presence with his high-pitched voice.

As a true carnivore, he’s known to eat reptiles, amphibians, birds, small mammals and even large insects. From my stance, I thought I saw a long tail that didn’t seem right for a vole. Instead, I wondered if it was a snake. I kept expecting to be greeted by one beside the vernal pool and the hawk wasn’t all that far away. I suppose that means that if the salamanders and frogs are able to crawl and leap out of the water, they’d better find good hiding places because this guy and a possible mate have been soaring above for a couple of weeks and probably have a nest nearby.

In the end, it seemed that whatever his meal was, it was lip-licking good. Upon finishing it, he flew south while I trudged across the field to the east. But I suspect our paths will cross again going forward.

All of those finds were spectacular, but . . . one of the best parts of the day–watching Eastern Bluebirds in the yard. I first spied the male in this morning’s rain.

And then late this afternoon, I was surprised to discover that they were both here, the she and the he. For the most part, they stayed out by the stone wall, perched on branches above before flying down to catch a meal.

Then they flew closer to the house and landed atop the feeders where I don’t have any mealy worms that are much to their liking. I hadn’t even planned to still have the feeders out, but with each new day bringing new visitors, I’ve delayed taking them in for the season. That is, until a Black Bear arrives.

But no Black Bears yet. (Just wait, one will probably show up overnight or tomorrow.)

And so . . . Bluebird, Bluebird, through my focus. Thanks for taping me on the shoulder. 😉 And sharing this day with me.

Lessons from the Earth

Dear Earth,

This year found me once again staying in my home territory to honor you and so while my guy did some yard chores, I chose to visit a few of your vernal pools.

Along the way, I stopped to smell the roses! Opps, I mean admire the flowers of the Red Maples, their pistils and stamen all aglow.

As I approached the first and nearest pool, I new love was in the air for I heard the deep wrucks of the Wood Frogs. That is, until I got to within about ten feet, and then the only sounds were small splashes that barely created ripples as the frogs sought cover under the leafy pool lining.

But, as you’ve taught me in the past, I stood as still as possible and waited patiently. It was then that my eyes began to focus on the pool’s tenants. And I realized that the usual population of larval mosquitoes, aka “wrigglers” already somersaulting their way through the water. That may be bad news for me, but it’s certainly good news for the birds and dragonflies of the neighborhood. While I try to practice mind over matter when I’m stung by a mosquito, I have to remember that your plan to offer “Meals on the Fly” sustains so many others.

And then, and then I spied something disturbing. Actually it was two somethings. Frog legs of two frogs. And even a head. Dinner? For whom? Typically, I rejoice at a kill site for I realize that one species feeds another, but this one disturbed me. Perhaps, dear Earth, it was because I think of this pool as mine even though it’s located on a neighbor’s land, and I want to protect it and all that live within, as well as all who venture to it for nourishment. Eventually, I realized that perhaps someone had been nourished by the frogs, but why didn’t they consume the entire beings? Could it be one of their own species who went into attack mode? I don’t have the answer–but once again you’ve given me more to question. And so in the end I realized I should be grateful for having the opportunity to wonder.

The good news–right behind the two dead frogs was a recently deposited egg mass. Its form made me think Spring Peepers, but I’ll need to watch them develop.

Death. Life. The cycle plays out as if a best seller in this dramatic genre.

I circled the pool looking for any other unusual sights or clues, but found none. Eventually I stood on my favorite rock and appreciated that you finally rewarded me, dear Earth. A Wood Frog appeared by my feet and we both remained as still as possible–that is until my feet began to fall asleep and I needed to move on.

As you know, dear Earth, I located several more pools, their wruck choruses giving them away. And within one, it was obvious by the egg masses that the lover frogs had found their mates.

Walking back toward home, I got a bit nosey, as you know, and turned over some bark that had fallen from dead trees. To my delight: millipedes, earth worms, bark beetles, slugs, and . . .

At least five Red-backed Salamanders. That reminded me, dear Earth, that though I wasn’t able to join Lakes Environmental Association for Big Night on Saturday, that rainy night when the temperature ranges about 40˚ and the amphibians decide to return to their vernal pools to mate and folks try to help them cross our roadways to do so, I trust that you made sure the Red-backed Sallies and worms made their presence known in the grass behind the Masonic Hall. Did you?

As for my walk today, I followed our trails and then an old logging road, where the deer and moose and coyotes and foxes and turkeys also roam.

And because part of my journey took me along the snowmobile trail, I picked up some empties and realized that not all turkeys are created equal.

But you don’t judge, do you dear Earth. Nor do you pretend that the world is perfect.

That being said, the sight of my first butterfly of the season, the pastel colored Clouded Sulphur, was rather perfect in my book.

Thanks for once again taking the time to teach me a few lessons . . . lessons from the Earth on this, your day, Earth Day 2019.

Looking for Spring

Last night one of the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s volunteer docents earned her certification from the Maine Master Naturalist Program. The MMNP’s goal is to develop a statewide network of volunteers who will teach natural history throughout Maine. With hands-on training, the course provides over 100 hours of classroom and outdoor experience, focusing on geology, identification of flora and fauna, wetland and upland ecology, ecological principles and teaching methods. By the time students complete the program, which includes a final capstone project, they have developed the skills to lead a walk, present a talk and provide outreach. In the year following certification, each graduate agrees to volunteer 40 hours and thereafter must continue to volunteer to remain an active Maine Master Naturalist.

And so it was that Juli joined four of us in the GLLT’s docent group by becoming a certified naturalist last evening. And today, she was out doing what she does best–leading homeschooled families along a GLLT trail. You see, for her capstone project Juli created a group called Nature Explorers. On the second Tuesday of each month (and today’s was the third trip she’d led for this group), other homeschooled families join hers for a walk with a focus along a GLLT trail. Today’s focus: Signs of Spring.

Given the fact that the snow is still at least knee deep, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But the day dawned bright, if a bit chilly to start, and so two of Juli’s kids waited for others by hanging out with the trees. Or rather . . . in the trees.

Once all had gathered, she led us down Slab City Road to the trailhead for the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

It was there that while we began our search for the season that often begins with a stubborn start in western Maine , we spied something that brought smiles to our faces and awe to our experience. Otter slides. On both sides of Mill Brook. Look carefully and you may also notice the slides–they look like troughs in the snow.

We tromped through (leaving our snowshoes behind, which we sometimes regretted) to take a closer look, noticing where the mammal had bounded and then slid down the embankment.

And then we moved on . . . to observe and learn, including fifty cent words like marcescent, which means withering but remaining attached to the stem. Juli pointed out the dried up leaves on the beech trees.

And the kids joined her to take a closer look–at the leaves, but also the buds, which had started to swell. Ah, sign one!

It was a Witch-Hazel which next grabbed the group’s attention. She explained that while the small, gray woody structures looked like flowers, they were really capsules that go dormant throughout the winter. Those will develop over the next growing season and then in autumn forcibly expel two shiny black seeds about 10 to 20 feet.

One of the boys noticed that the buds were hairy and so others came in to examine the structures.

From there, it was another beech tree to check out, but this time the discussion moved toward the alternate orientation of its branches and leaves.

And then, because they suffer from the best of syndromes we refer to as Nature Distraction Disorder, the group stopped at a Red Pine to admire its bark.

With hand lenses, they focused on the various colors of the thin, puzzle-like scales. Some had fallen to the ground as is the habit of the flakey bark, but Juli reminded everyone that it’s best not to pull it off for bark protects the tree much like winter coats protect us.

It was a fungi that next attracted the group.

And so they pulled out the lenses again to look at the spore surface of several Birch Polypores growing on downed trees. The brownish underside was actually another sign of the season for they would have released their spores in late summer or autumn.

A wee bit further and a wet spot was noted where we could see some brown leaves reflecting the names of trees in the canopy above, but also, drum role please . . .

some greenery with buds beginning to form–in the shape of Wintergreen. One of the girls did point out that though it was a sign of the season, it did have the word “winter” in its name.

Another one of the girls looked up at an old Pileated Woodpecker excavation site, and noted the spider web within that had been created last summer by a funnel-web spider, so named because of the funnel-shaped web. Though no one was home today, the spider typically waits in the funnel for prey to fall onto its horizontal web. Then it rushes out, grabs its victim, and takes it back to the silken burrow to consume and hide in wait.

Since our signs were few and far between, and Juli really wanted to get to Otter Rock to show some fun finds, she challenged the kids to run with her.

They did. And then they slid.

And looked.

And spotted.

And wondered.

And wondered some more.

We’d reached our destination of Otter Rock and though we didn’t have any dipping containers, we made do with lucite bug boxes.

At the edge of Heald Pond, the kids found movement in the water . . .

in the form of Mayfly Larvae, with fan-like gills along the abdomen and three filaments at the tip.

Spring indeed! With that discover, we left with a spring in our steps, already looking forward to next month’s vernal pool exploration.

P.S. Thanks Juli for this wonder-filled offering, and congratulations on your achievement. You are now a member of the nexus of naturalists.

Lake Living–spring 2019 issue

If you are receiving this for a second time, I apologize, but the link to the magazine was incorrect.

I am beyond excited to announce that the spring issue of Lake Living magazine is now available on a store shelf near you . . . or right here!

It’s our At Home” issue, where we feature articles about home-related items and projects. One of the projects is very close to my heart:

Yup, that’s our current kitchen. But as you can see by the title, change is in the air. You’ll have to read about it. The plans continue to evolve as I write, but we’re close to finalizing them. All that being said, nothing will happen until this summer as we still have a couple of feet of snow in the yard and after that melts, it will be quite wet for a few months. But stay tuned for The Evolving Home, part 2 in the fall issue.

Also featured: “Finding Home” by Laurie LaMountain–about rescue dogs and organizations that place them in forever homes; “Shaker Inspired”–a collaborative effort by Laurie and me about furniture built in Bethel, Maine; “A Patch of Land, part ii” by the up-and-coming writer Marguerite Wiser–describing the efforts of a local couple who have worked hard to turn their farm into a vibrant, year-round enterprise; “Cooking with Clay” by Laurie–highlighting the ever-delightful and creative Rusty Wiltjer, a local potter, and also featuring some cooking with clay recipes; “An Improved State of Home” by Laurie–offering fresh ideas for organizing and getting rid of some of your “stuff;” and finally, “Dear Earth” by yours truly–a heartfelt and funny homage to our wise and wonderful, but challenged Earth.

Please, please, please support the magazine’s advertisers (including a certain hardware store). Without them, we can’t continue to produce this little gem of a magazine (yes, I’m biased.)

And get ready . . . for soon, I promise, the snow and ice will melt and the wood frogs and spring peepers will come to a vernal pool near you.

So Many Unknowns

On this historic election day, a few friends and I took to the woods with the intention of absorbing not only the sun’s heat, but the warmth of each others company. Yes, occasionally our conversation turned to politics and wonder about the future, but for the most part, we just wanted to wander together.

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Our first spot for consideration–a vernal pool tucked away in the woods.

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In true v.p. behavior, it dried up during the summer drought, though as we moved about we experienced a sinking feeling–muck obscured by grasses and leaves. This particular pool is home to fairy shrimp and their eggs cases are protected under the leaf litter until water returns. The amazing thing about fairy shrimp–those eggs can survive long periods of drying and freezing. We trust we’ll have the opportunity to meet the next generation.

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Sometimes our eyes were tricked by what we viewed and we questioned how things could be so.

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But upon a closer examination of the facts, we realized that a club moss was merely growing near the wintergreen and the wintergreen hadn’t taken on a strange candelabra form.

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Our questions continued, however. Why was the ground completely cleared in the middle of the trail? Mammal behavior? We noted boot prints and wondered about human interaction. Finally, we moved on, unable to understand the reasoning, but knew that there are some things we’ll never fully comprehend.

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In another place, we noticed a green red-oak leaf. A holdout perhaps that preferred the way things had been and didn’t want to follow the rest of the group?

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Occasionally, we calmly debated the structures before us as we considered shape and hairiness and growth pattern and location before we determined species–in this case, hawkweed.

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And other times, no need for questions, no need for answers. Pure admiration for the presentation was enough.

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When we were again drawn in for a closer look, in this case at the white fuzzy beech scale insect, we suddenly realized there was so much more to observe, such as the black ladybird beetle.

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And then, something we didn’t understand at all. What was this spiny creature? And what was emerging from it? We left with that question floating among us. It wasn’t until doing some research later that I came to what may be the answer. Was it a ladybird beetle emerging from the pupa stage? How I wish we could go back and find it again and look at it with a different mindset.

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Drawing close to the finish of our journey together, we spied something we’ve passed many times before, but never noticed.

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Again, we’ll need to revisit the mossy boulder, but we determined it was a dog lichen. Why dog? Was it so named for the white “fang” like rhizines on its lower surface?  Or did the lobes remind someone of dog ears? Based on the large, fan-like shape, my leaning is toward Peltigera membranacea or Membrane Dog Lichen. But, I could be easily swayed on its ID.

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A short walk and hours later, we finally passed a field of milkweed, their seeds blowing in the slight breeze like flags on a pole.

It was time to say goodbye to friends who will head south this weekend before I headed back to “reality” and colored in those little ovals.

I think we all came away thankful for the questions raised and knowledge shared, but still . . . so many unknowns.

America the Beautiful

This morning’s rain and overcast sky embraced the melancholy emotions of this day as we remembered  family, friends, acquaintances and strangers who have served our country, especially those who died during times of conflict.

And then the sun shone.  It didn’t mean that we stopped remembering. But it did shine a light on the beauty that surrounds us and that we have the opportunity to observe if we so choose. Because of the service of others, we’re fortunate in that regard–we get to choose.

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I chose to step out the back door and notice.

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Visitors upon chive florets.

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Unfolding Canada anemone.

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And the first to open.

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Black cherry blossoms all in a column.

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And chokecherry blooms in terminal clusters.

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Blue-green baby hemlock cones.

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And life teeming in the vernal pool.

I’m thankful for the freedom of choice. America is beautiful.

 

The Big, The Little and Everything In Between

I stepped out of the shower after a walk around town with friend Marita and heard someone chatting away on the answering machine. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have my glasses on, though what that has to do with it I don’t know, but I couldn’t ID the voice. The male yammered away about something in the snow and it had come last night and I had to get there quickly. For some reason I thought it was our eldest and I  wondered what it was that needed my immediate attention. So, I cautiously picked up the phone and said hello. The voice on the other end continued talking desperately about me going somewhere. “Who is this?” I asked. It was friend Dick and I should have recognized his voice, but maybe not having glasses on is like not being able to taste if your nose is stuffed. Or maybe I’m overthinking as usual. Dick, however, was not overthinking or overreacting. He was excited and knew I would be as well. He was standing in a friend’s yard about a half mile from here and looking at bear tracks in the snow.

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As he knew he would, he had me on the word “bear.” His voice was urgent as he insisted I stop everything and get to his friend’s house. “I just need to dry my hair and then I’ll be right there,” I said. Deadlines loomed before me but bear tracks won my internal war. Dick suggested I just wrap a towel around my head. Really, that’s what I should have done because my hair has no sense of style whether wet or dry, so after a few minutes I said the heck with it and popped into my truck, camera and trackards in hand.

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Yup–bear tracks. Classic, beautiful bear tracks. Even nail marks above the toes.

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And the pigeon-toed gait.

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My heart be still. The bear certainly wasn’t.

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It trampled a garden fence.

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And yanked down a suet feeder that dangled from a wonderful rigging at second story height designed to keep the raccoons from stealing it. We couldn’t find the actual feeder.

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It toppled another feeder and consumed all the sunflower seeds. Oh, the squirrels may have helped, but apparently the feeder was stock full. Not any more. We looked for hair but found none.

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One of the mysteries to us was why did the bear suddenly trot. I’m now wondering if it was startled at some point and ran away.

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Before leaving, I enjoyed one more look. How sweet it is. And how thrilled I was to have seen it–especially knowing that it wouldn’t last long. The. Big.

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When I arrived home, I knew I needed to work, but figured a quick walk to check on the vernal pool was a great way to celebrate the bear tracks. And on my way–feathers. Long black feathers.

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Most were about a foot long.

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They appeared to be torn out rather than cut.

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I know the neighborhood cats hang around our bird feeders all day–ever hopeful. But I don’t think they got this crow. I’ve a feeling a hawk was the culprit. The. In. Between.

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It’s my neighborhood, so I always cast an eye toward the Mount. The. Big. Again.

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The water level seems about the same as last week and a wee bit of Tuesday’s snow still decorated the  western shore.

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Though the lighting wasn’t great at that hour, it was obvious that the tadpole population had increased.

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And the salamanders continued to grow within their protective covering. The. Little.

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I did finally settle down to work. And then it was lunch time. My guy and I weren’t the only ones dining.

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After I finished two assignments and before I walked to a meeting, I decided to visit the pool again and capture the action in the late afternoon light. But first, an examination of the woodchuck’s feeding site. Yup, those leaves were nibbled.

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And so were these. The. In. Between.

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And then it was back to the pool, where the snow had melted. But, I have to share a finding along the way. Or rather, a non-finding. I intended to grab the crow head because I wanted the skull. Not. It wasn’t in the path where I’d seen it in the morning. I poked around and couldn’t find it anywhere. Who stole it? Maybe one of those darn cats.

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In the warmth of the sun at the eastern side of the pool where most of the egg masses were laid, the population continued to increase.

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I felt the same glee about all of these little critters as I felt about the bear tracks earlier in the day.

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Tadpoles and salamanders. I may not see bears tracks every day, but for a brief moment in time, I’m honored to watch the transformation that takes place in the vernal pool. The. Little. Times. Two.

Giving thanks for the ability to wonder. The Big. The Little. And Everything In Between. Especially Everything.

Mondate on Mount Will

It’s been a while since we’ve actually had a Mondate. After two days of hiking the trails up Pleasant Mountain, today’s journey found us venturing a wee bit out of the neighborhood as we made our way through Bethel to Mount Will.

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w-tree farm sign

The parking lot is located between these two signs. Part of the Mount Will trail system is within the 115-acre Bethel Town Forest that had served as the Town Farm back in the day.

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The South Cliff trail leaves from the left, while the North Ledges is on the right. This is a loop and we decided on a counterclockwise trek. It had been at least five years since we last hiked here and we’d forgotten about some of the steep sections.

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Of course, at the start, it seemed almost parklike. Three years ago, several local organizations including Mahoosuc Pathways, the Oxford County Conservation Corps, Outward Bound and the Bethel Conservation Commission rerouted this particular section of the loop.

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Now switchbacks wind their way up toward the North Ledge.

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When I wasn’t looking down, I scanned the woods, ever searching for my favorite species–bear claw trees.

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And I wasn’t disappointed.

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We saw them over,

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and over again. Oh happy day! We found more than these, which leads me to believe that there are even more. Let the search continue!

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A few trees displayed other surprise packages–burls or warty growths caused by some environmental condition such as injury, virus, fungus, insect infestation or mold. Though this growth can put stress on a tree if it becomes too heavy, generally trees with these features are healthy. And woodworkers covet burls for the unique pattern and beauty found within. That sounds like a comment on the world–we all have hidden treasures, but they aren’t always visible.

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Other tree growths include artist’s conk and

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red-belted polypores.

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The trail passed below rocky outcrops–and my imagination saw bobcats. But, what would they eat? The undergrowth is limited, so I doubted snowshoe hare. That being said, spruce and hemlock cones are many and red squirrels chided us constantly.

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Meanwhile, at a vernal pool just off the trail, all was quiet–and still partially covered in ice.

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Lunch rock was the North Ledge. Below, the Androscoggin River wends its way through the landscape. The Androscoggin has a long history as a life-giving force–beginning with the Abenaki Indians who used it as a water trail and knew the nuances of this 170-mile river.

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The fertile, ancient floodplain has served many a farmer, including the Carters who own the farm across the river below where we sat. While we ate, we shared our memories of cross-country skiing across those fields, beside the river and into the woods.

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We continued on across the ridge and through the spruce forest where the sap ran blue.

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Before turning toward South Cliffs, we caught a glimpse of the trails at Sunday River Ski Area in Newry.

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And then we saw a sign that had us wondering. The Gray Memorial? We had no previous memory of it, so we followed the detour and walked along a snowmobile trail for about a quarter of a mile.

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The story is sad. The airplane remnants powerful in suggestion. Upon arriving home, I found an article in the Sun Journal referencing the event. Leroy was a state trooper and his wife, Brenda, an executive secretary who became head dispatcher for the Bar Harbor Police Department. With their 14-year-old daughter, Karen, they were flying their Cherokee Piper to Bethel to spend time with relatives when the plane “crashed nose first” into Mount Will about 7:30pm. Despite her own injuries, Karen hiked down the steep mountainside to seek help. A somber site indeed.

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We backtracked to the trail and continued on to the South Cliffs, where our view again showed the river, with Route 2 following beside and both leading to Bethel village.

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Moving off the cliff, we were sure mountain goats had laid out the trail.

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Again, we were in bobcat territory, frequented by chatty red squirrels who seemed to feel quite safe as they scrambled from tree to tree.

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And then we moved into the land where the monkeys in the Wizard of Oz jumped out upon Dorothy and her friends. My guy started humming the music from his favorite movie. The reality is that these trees knew the wrath of previous storms.

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Once again the trail turned S curves as we continued downward and

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listened to water trickling over the mossy stream bed beside us.

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And then we found ourselves in the midst of a recent logging operation–remember, this is a working forest. Slash galore decorated the landscape, but we suspect that all of this will be chipped eventually. One thing we happily noted–bird song. Lots of bird song at this spot.

w-s-weather1

We were almost to the bottom of the trail when an anomaly grabbed our attention and forced us to investigate.

w-s-weather 1

w-s-weather tape

We’d stumbled upon a winter weather station. We only knew that because “winter weather station” was printed in faded paint across the box. So, we get the tape measure for snow depth, but the box? And the hole covered with mesh? Worth a wonder, so we did.

w-s-weather cocoon

Apparently, a moth appreciated the efforts of the citizen scientists who created this shelter. Our hike was over, but this chrysalis holds the future.

w-covered 2

We decided to complete our Mount Will Mondate with a visit to Artist’s Bridge over Sunday River–the perfect culmination of our love for nature and history.

 

 

So Many Quacks

Stepping as quietly as possible through the woodland, my heart quickened when I heard a particular chorus vibrating from the vernal pool.

v-ice 2

Three days ago a thin layer of ice still covered half of it.

v-ice 3

But I was happy to note that despite last week’s frigid nighttime temperatures, the wood frogs had been active.

v-many heads

While I stood and waited on Sunday, there’d been no movement or sound and I thought that the frogs had already moved on–mission accomplished. My ears and then my eyes knew differently today. I heard the quack of the males and then saw a number of heads on the water’s surface. Quickly, I snapped a photo–the little balls of light represent those precious heads.

v-ripples

They sensed my approach and began to make waves. Water rippled as they dove under the leaf cover below. And all was silent.

v-eggs 3

The community of egg masses, however, showed that their efforts continued to be fruitful.

v-egg masses 2

In general, each mass laid by different females is attached to a twig or branch. They tend to take advantage of the same site for attachment and usually in a sunny, warm spot. Already, some floated to the surface. Eventually, they’ll gain a greenish tinge from algae, which actually helps to camouflage them. One of the many wonders is that any given mass may contain up to 1,000 eggs–from a two-to-three-inch frog.

v-egg mass 1

A couple of masses were positioned independent of the rest, like this one–embraced in oak and maple leaves. It’s almost out of the water, though yesterday’s rain helped, but I questioned whether or not it will be viable.

v-frog and sally eggs

Then again, will any of them? Last year, the pool dried up before the tadpoles reached maturity. And it isn’t just tadpoles that begin life in this pond. Notice the white, gelatinous masses below those of the wood frogs? Spotted salamanders had also returned to this small body of water.

v-sally 3

They, too, attached clusters to vegetation. Smaller in number of individual eggs, salamanders lay 30-250 within each clear or opaque white mass. As they absorb water, the masses enlarge.

I walked around the pool looking for spermatophores produced by males and left on the leafy bottom, but saw none. Earlier today, my friend, JVP, and I walked along the Narrow Gauge trail and saw them in several pools. Unfortunately, though I had my camera in tow, I’d left the battery at home–still sitting on the charger. Oy vey!

v-beech leaves

As beech leaves continued to cling and blow in the slight breeze over the pool, I finally settled down at the edge and waited for action.

v-diving beetle

Moving with aquatic beetle speed, predaceous diving bugs swam about in constant motion.

v-water boatman

Also calling this small pool home were numerous water boatmen.

v-peaking out:blending in

But what I most wanted to see–the wood frogs themselves. Ever so slowly, they began to emerge from the leaf cover.

v-frog 1

Once by the surface, they floated.

v-frog 5

As long as I didn’t make any sudden moves, they stayed–showing off the dorsolateral ridges that run from the back of their eyes toward their hind legs.

v-frog 4

Color variation was evident–from rusty browns to gray and tan.

v-frogs hanging

Sometimes, several floated near each other–probably wishing I would leave so they could continue their serenade.

v-2 frogs

And then there were two that seemed intent upon one another.

v-2 frogs 3

I’m sure they spoke–probably cursing my presence.

v-2 frogs 1

With the flick of a frog leg . . .

v-2 frogs depart

they suddenly went their separate ways.

v-love 1

One couple, however, did hug. So that brings up another curious thing about wood frogs. Males cannot identify females by sight or sound, so he has to clasp the other frog. If the frog is thin, it’s either  another male or a female that has already released her eggs–thus he’ll release it quickly. Yup–females are generally fatter because they carry eggs.

My eyes were as wide as the frogs I watched–I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing so many in this particular pool. And I was sure that due to the ice, all the action was completed a few days ago. But the multiple chortles I heard upon my initial approach created a racket today–and sounded, of course, like a bunch of mallards. I rejoiced over the sound of so many quacks.

 

 

 

The Borrowing

My friend, Dick, sent me the following message yesterday: “from a novel, Northwest Angle by Krueger … who has a series which relates to the Objidwa (sp) of the upper parts of Michigan …

‘What’s a Mide?” — ‘A member of the Grand Medicine Society,’ Stephen explained. ‘A healer. Somebody who understands the harmony of life and how to use nature to restore harmony when it’s been lost.” p246

“Belongs.” Meloux (a very senior shaman type of the Native American ‘Mide’ of the Objidwe) seemed to consider the word. “I believe no one belongs to anyone else. You, me Waaboozoons, we are all dust borrowed for a little while from Grandmother Earth. And even that dust does not belong to her. She has borrowed it from all creation, which is the Great Mystery, which is Kitchimanidoo. And if you ask this old man, I would say that another way to think about Kitchiimanidoo is as a great gift. Kitchimanidoo is not about keeping. Nothing belongs to anyone. All of creation is meant as a giving.” p 269

While I haven’t read the book or any of Krueger’s works, these words resonated with me as I moved about this morning.

m-vp

My first stop was a visit to the vernal pool, where the ice is beginning to melt.

m-vp, birch seeds

I looked for insects and found instead birch seeds and scales–meant as a giving.

m-berries

Wintergreen berries remained prolific below the power lines. While this fruit is traditionally browsed by a variety of mammals, I had to wonder if its location is the reason it was left untouched–poisoned by the herbicides Central Maine Power uses to keep the land clear. What was meant as a giving revoked.

m-leaves thru ice

Not all was bad as I followed the trail for a distance and enjoyed the beauty that has begun to emerge.

m-sphagnum color

The pompom heads of sphagnum moss contrasted brilliantly beside the running clubmoss.

m-trail light

Looking back, I noticed that today’s sunlight was captured in yesterday’s raindrops–certainly a reason for thanks-giving.

m-mount 1

And before me–man and nature in the eternal struggle for harmony. An example of borrowing.

m-pollen?1

Before I turned onto a logging road, a puddle caught my attention.

m-pollen?2

My first thought was pollen, but as I approached, I realized the little dots were moving about much like spring tails because .  . . they were spring tails. So my learning increased as I noted their color and the fact that there are aquatic members of this family. Another giving received.

m-pin cherry warts 2

On recent treks, my bark eyes have been confused about two trees–black birch (aka sweet or cherry birch) and pin cherry. As youngsters, both feature reddish-brown bark. What has thrown me off is the association with other birch trees, including the yellow birch that grows behind this specimen. Today, I made a point of noticing–the warty orange lenticels, lack of catkins and no wintergreen scent. These are three features that helped point me toward pin cherry. Black birch bark features long, thin lenticels, catkins common to birch trees and when scraped, that delightful wintergreen smell.

m-pin cherry:birch1

Despite the fact that they are not of the same family, certainly they’ve found a way to give to each other and live in harmony. A lesson.

m-porky

Just beyond the birches, in one of many stump dumps along this logging road, something caught my eye.

m-porky 1

A porcupine worked over the bark of a fallen hemlock tree. I stood for several minutes and watched. Either it wasn’t aware of me or I didn’t pose enough of a threat.

m-porky again

The leaf caught on its backside made me chuckle and wonder why we don’t see more of that.

m-porky like

I’m amazed that I saw it at all in this land that has been chopped up over the course of the last three years. Notice how leaves are similarly stuck to this shredded tree stump.

m-porky tree 3

m-porky tree 2

m-porky tree

Behind were the trees that have received the porcupine’s recent attention. While the logging is destructive, it helps heat homes, provides income to at least several people including the logger and landowner, and creates new habitat and food opportunities for wildlife. Change is difficult and I’d grown to love these woods the way they were, but they were that way because of prior cuttings. A borrowing.

m-bubbles

Most of the logging road was a combination of puddles and mud. At times, air bubbles rippled as I moved through and I was reminded of my youth years spent feeling for clams in the mudflats of Clinton Harbor on Long Island Sound. The memory itself was a giving.

m-deer 2

Like the deer that frequent this land, my boots got stuck in the muck. Sometimes, it seemed like I was being sucked in and told to stand still. But my mind wandered on and I followed it.

m-trail conditions

Going forward in time, I’ll be curious to watch the reflections in the puddles change as the pioneer species move back in and regenerate this land. The harmony.

m-spirit

In the end, as always seems the case, I was on the receiving end of the giving and grateful for the borrowing as the spirit of Grandmother Earth shared a few tidbits of the Great Mystery.

 

 

 

life IS good, but we NEED rain

Logger PHil 2

“Einstein said ‘The difference between stupidity and genius,” quoted Maine logger Phil Dow, “is that genius has its limits.'” Whether or not Einstein actually made that statement doesn’t matter. What’s matter is that on a beautiful day in May, Mr. Dow stood beside the reading tree at China Schools Forest in China, Maine, and in his soft-spoken way he informed the students sitting on picnic tables in front of him about Maine’s history and the logging industry. They were mesmerized. So was I. Life IS good. And check out his beard and that reading tree platform. Wow!

China Schools Forest

A friend and I had journeyed to China this morning to observe Forest Days in the 50-acre forest abutting the China Primary and Middle Schools. Six hundred, yes, you read that correctly, 600 kids participated in the program. With their teachers and parent volunteers, they moved from station to station, learning about forest management, pond critters, soil composition, tree id, flower dissection, and so much more from over 30 presenters. They were engaged, happy, polite . . .  and not in school. 600 kids roaming about. We loved hearing their voices wafting through the woodland.

station 4, wildlife pond

We not only wanted to see how the program worked, but also to take a look at the outside classrooms. Created in the 1990s, this demonstration forest is an on-going project. To date, there are seventeen classrooms. At each, an interpretive sign explains what you should notice. (Disclaimer: the signs were created by Anita Smith, a former teacher at the schools and a Maine Master Naturalist graduate, who served as our most gracious guide today. Anita and a colleague have spent the last year developing today’s program. They offer Forest Day every other year, but the outdoor classrooms are always available.)

kids on bridge

There’s a silviculture classroom, a red pine plantation, a tracking pit, den tree and more. And across the man-made pond, is a bridge that expands at the center, creating plenty of room for an entire class of students. Today, they used nets to explore pond life from the bridge.

leach

My friend and I explored pond life as well. Check out this leach.

dragonfly

And a dragonfly. Dragonfly sitings–always worthy of a celebration.

measuring-wood-300x200

Though I didn’t see them work with this today, at the Forest Measurement classroom, they learn how to measure a cord of wood and board feet. And about the clinometer, a hand-held instrument used to measure ground slope, road grade and tree height, plus a biltmore or woodland stick used to estimate tree height and diameter. When we paused today, a local forester had middle school students simulate best forest management practices.

white lady's slipper

As we walked along part of the 1.4-mile path, we also noticed the flora–a White Lady’s Slipper. In Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, this is listed as very rare.

pink

Pink Lady’s Slippers grow abundantly in these woods.

False Solomon's Seal

We also saw False Solomon’s Seal or Wild Spikenard.

job-started-300x200

I have a lot of favorite things about this place, but the two that top my list are the reading tree where Logger Phil spoke and the signs above the pavilion–especially this one: “Congratulations on a job well started.” Indeed.

The driving was a cinch because we chatted non-stop and two hours later, I was home again, home again, jiggity jig.

If you read my post yesterday about the vernal pool, you won’t necessarily want to read any further. The life cycle is complete. Less than 24 hours after my visit yesterday afternoon, the pool has dried up.

VP 1

And, I’m afraid the tadpoles have succumbed.

dead tadpoles

To the earth they shall return in one form or another.

flies galore

The place was buzzing with flies.

Moose Pond

So on a brighter note, I visited my third “pond” of the day–Moose Pond. It was the perfect setting for a late afternoon interview.

life IS good, but we do NEED rain.

Observing the Cycle of Life

The Maine Master Naturalist class of 2015 graduated last night and for the second year in a row I had the privilege of helping students focus their eyes and develop a strong foundation about the natural communities of Maine. And now, they are ready to go forth and educate others.

In some ways, the year reminds me of life in a vernal pool.

And at the vernal pool I’ve been visiting on a regular basis since March, the transformation continues. I know I’ve included it in several (probably more than several) posts, but today seems like a good day to reflect upon its life cycle.

VP March 25

March 25: A snow-covered depression with some indecipherable tracks crisscrossing the surface.

VP April 4

April 4: Snow, water and slush. Something caused a disturbance.

VP April 12VP April 12 A

April 12: Freeze and thaw and freeze again, trapping newly fallen beech leaves.

VP April 21

April 21: Three days ago, this was still covered in slush. Suddenly, open water.

VP woodfrog eggs, April 21

April 21: The wood frogs didn’t waste any time.

VP April 24

April 24: More and more egg masses appear–attached to the branches or each other, as is their habit.

VP April 28

April 28: Though most are wood frog, there are some spotted salamander egg masses in the mix. All are taking on the green tinge from the algae with which they have a symbiotic relationship.

VP Predacious, April 28

April 28: Meanwhile, not even bothering to lurk in the shadows, a predaceous diving beetle swims about.

VP frog May 2

May 2: A well camouflaged wood frog still hopes for some action.

 VP wood frog, sally, May 4

May 4: Wood frog egg mass at top; spotted salamanders mass at bottom.

VP Babies May 4

May 4: Tadpoles at last.

Swarm

May 4: With communal living comes warmth.

VP, larvae, May 4

May 4: Mosquito and other larvae flip-flopping around.

VP, drying up, May 5

May 5: A sign that the pool is beginning to dry up–egg masses suspended in midair.

VP, life, May 5

May 5: Meanwhile, in the water, life continues. Tadpoles and others feed on the algae.

VP, May 12

May 12: Due to a lack of rain, the pool size decreases.

VP, lower, May 12

May 12: I can only hope that these blobs are just the remains and that most of the tadpoles have hatched.

VP, May 12, more life

May 12: A peek into the variety of life below the water.

May 14

May 14: Shrinking more and more.

VP, May 14, drying up

May 14: Some masses are left high and dry.

VP, May 14, tadpole:sally

May 14: A tadpole visits the salamander embryos.

VP, May 14, peanuts

May 14: Peanut shells. What? There hasn’t been much evidence of any person or critter visiting the pool . . .  until this.

vp 1

May 28: Almost completely dried up.

wet spot

May 28: The only wet spot left.

tadpoles

May 28: Tadpoles make the most of the wee bit of water.

tadpoles galore

May 28: The wet depression boils with action.

peanuts

May 28: And peanut shells are everywhere in the pool, but only one on the snowmobile trail. Another mystery.

With the end of class, eighteen new master naturalists are heading off into the woods to teach others. I hope the tadpoles have a chance to continue their development so that they, too, can hop away from the pool.

As for the vernal pool–vernal means spring and though spring isn’t over, unless we receive a substantial rainstorm, it has almost completed its cycle of life.

Thanks for wandering and wondering with me today.

Bookends

An absolutely gorgeous day in Maine began with a trek around Perky’s Path in Lovell and ended with a visit to the vernal pool behind our house. In between, I had numerous other things to accomplish, but it was the time spent exploring and wondering that added natural bookends to my day.

spring trail

Only a week ago, I was watching flowers and leaves emerge on trees. They still are, but what a difference a week makes. The trail suddenly seems illuminated.

striped maple

Among the shining stars–Striped Maple, known by some as goose foot because of its shape. (It’s also known as nature’s toilet paper.)

witch hazel

And Witch Hazel, which is easy to identify by its asymmetrical base and scalloped edges.

Red 2

And then there are the spring ephemerals, like this Red Trillium, that must flower before the tree leaves block the sunlight.

pt 2

Painted Trillium was also plentiful. Notice the reason for “tri” in the name? When I taught school, I forced my students to learn word cells–breaking the word down to understand the meaning. Tri=three, llium=referring to liliaceous or the lily family. (They had to learn tri, but llium wasn’t on their list.) I don’t know most of the Latin names, but even a few clues are always helpful.

fs3

Another member of the lily family–Hairy Solomon’s Seal. One characteristic of the lily kin–the parallel leaf veins.

goldthread

One of my favorite spring flowers is Goldthread. It personifies daintiness. While the scalloped, three-lobed leaves remind me of cilantro, Native Americans apparently used it to make tea. So why the common name? The root resembles a golden thread. Simplicity and beauty in a small package.

bunch

And yet to come, Bunchberries.

wild sars flowers

And the greenish white flowers of Wild Sarsaparilla, that grow under the umbrella-like leaves.

hb2

I would be remiss if I didn’t include Hobblebush.

stream

In the winter, friends and I usually find otter tracks and slides by this stream. Today, a variety of life spills forth.

brook

A brook flows from Heald Pond to Bradley Pond, and several years ago the Greater Lovell Land Trust constructed a bench to take in the sights and sounds of this place.

brook2

The view is ever changing.

bridge

Just down the path, a bridge also invites quiet contemplation. (When the black flies aren’t trying to sneak into your eyes, ears and mouth, that is. Protein consumption today? Check)

bridge 2 rock garden

And a rock garden.

swamp

One last look before heading out. Morning has ended.

rhodora

At the other end of my workday, I’m off to the vernal pool. Among a sea of junipers, an explosion of lavender erupts from one Rhodora plant.

bobcat

I’m so glad that the Rhodora attracted my attention, because as I turn from it toward the pool, I realize that a bobcat has walked in the direction of our cowpath.

vp

We’ve had little rain in the last few weeks, so while the snowmobile trail still has some muddy spots, the pool is drying up.

sally eggs

Will there be enough water for the spotted salamanders to survive?

water strider

And what will happen to the water striders?

twins

I’ll be curious to see how the tadpoles do. These two appear as bookends for me, holding everything in between in check.

Every day, it’s something new. I feel like I have to start all over again learning the features of this season and I’ll just begin to get it by the time summer rolls around, and then . . . so much more to learn. Though I have plenty of books to guide me, it’s the actual events that are happening right before my eyes that provide the most accurate information.

I’m thankful for any opportunity to wonder and wander, especially at both ends of the day.

One Step at a Time

The past few weeks I’ve felt like an expectant mother. Remember that 70’s Heinz Ketchup commercial? “Anticipation, anticipa-a-a-tion, it’s making me wait.” First it was the Red Maples. Look at them now.

red maple

Tender and colorful, their leaves begin to unfurl.

rm1

vp 5:4

And then there is the vernal pool where the rhythm of life changes with each day.

mosquitoes

Larval mosquitoes wiggle and waggle and somersault through the water.

beetle

Predacious beetles paddle along in this fertile hunting pool.

vp 1 5:5

Sunshine envelopes the wood frog and spotted salamander nursery

eggs 5:4

with a blanket of warmth for the growing embryos.

eggs formed

Their due date fast approaches.

teeming

The pond reverberates with each tiny step.

teem 3 5:4

Tadpoles, at last.

teem 2 5:4

The quarter-inch tadpoles feed on the green algae that has colonized the eggs. In their symbiotic relationship, the algae feed on the embryos’ waste and produce oxygen.

tad poles 1

I’m mesmerized.

drying up 5:5

And curious. The water level has dropped several inches already. The question is, will the gelatinous mass be enough to keep these embryos alive?

Canada mayflower

I turn away and by my feet, a Canada Mayflower about to bloom. Yet another step taken.

So much is going on in this place. I look around at the hardwoods and softwoods that hang over the pool and drop their flowers, leaves, needles, cones and sometimes branches. Moss and lichen cover the rocks. Plants are just emerging. And I’ve seen evidence that mammals stop here for water or food.

I want to protect the wood frog tadpoles so that in time they can hop away into the upland habitat as their parents did. They are my pride and joy. But only for a moment. They are not mine.

The web of life plays out right here and pulls me along one step at a time.

Thanks for stopping by to wonder as I wander.

Signs of Life

I headed up to the vernal pool this afternoon with every intention of pausing along the way to sketch.

Mt Wash

The only snow left is atop Mount Washington.

vp1

Egg masses continue to accumulate. Blue sky with a few cumulous clouds, warm sunshine (almost too warm, but I’m not complaining), a gentle breeze, white-throated sparrows singing to each other–signs of life were everywhere.

FROG

Including this secretive wood frog. From above, his coloration matched the leaves beside and below.

frog2

We eyed each other as he floated near a large mass of eggs that have turned green with envy, I mean algae, in the past few days.  Their egg masses can include 500-1,500 eggs. Yooza!

sally eggs

Salamander eggs are either clear or opaque, like these two masses. They usually contain anywhere from 30 to 250 eggs.

at mansion road

My guy was sanding the dock at camp and I had finished several writing projects this morning, so I decided that rather than sit and sketch, I’d walk out to the log landing. Walking along the snowmobile trail was like walking in Clinton Harbor at low tide. The mud squelched underfoot, sucking in my boots. Rocks underneath felt like clams–maybe I was just hungry.trail

I headed down the logging road with mixed emotions. My heart cried, but my head knew better. Like other paths that I’ve frequented over the years, I loved this one and knew its quirky features well enough that I recognized the slightest change. Yup, that’s change you see in front of you. This logging operation has been going on for two years. Prior to that, the gray birches, paper birches and speckled alders, plus hemlock and white pine saplings bordered the old road. It was last logged about thirty years ago so those species grew in first. They’ve all been hacked down to make room for the equipment and trucks.

gray birch

I went in search of beauty and life among the destruction. Sometimes, you just have to look for it.

moose

One of the good things about such an operation is that it provides easy vegetation for wildlife, like the moose that are frequenting the trail.

moose bobcat

The herbivores, like moose and deer, love the easy feeding. And the bobcats like that the herbivores are easy feeding.

bobcat

A closer look at the bobcat tracks.

bobcat1

And even closer. I don’t often see bobcat claw marks, but muddy conditions warranted their use. In the back of the foot pad, you might see the imprint of hair.

bob scat

I was bound to find this. Bobcat scat–filled with dark organ meat and lots of hair. Bobcats, being carnivores, grind their prey right up with their sharp-pointed molars.

coyote scat

Coyotes, on the other hand, are omnivores and their molars are flatter, thus big bone chips pass through. The funny thing (to me anyway) about this scat, is that it looks exactly like some I found near the beaver lodge pond that I shared in yesterday’s May Day Celebration. Both were filled with extra large bone chips and hair. I took some of the scat I found yesterday. Today, I left it all.

Yes, my fetish for scat continues, but I only take a sample that will be an effective teaching tool. Really. And, I need to keep in mind that scat is a sign for other mammals–health, wealth and status quo are all wrapped up in it. If I take it, they have to work harder (or scat more) to get the word out about who and where they are. So, the next time you wander with me and we see some scat and I get all buggy-eyed over it, give me a nudge. OK, enough about scat.

weaselsquirrel

Dinner anyone?

Weasel and squirrel.

turkey

And the ubiquitous turkey.

landing

This is the second of two landing areas. When the job is completed, we’ll have new trails to explore via snowshoe–it’s rather wet and the trails are currently covered in a lot of slash.

The logging operation is a one-man job and he’s been selective. The end result, as ugly as it may look now, is that the ecosystem will be healthier because of this project. Grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and tree saplings will grow in–early succession. And the fauna will follow.

eggs at landing

The vernal pools associated with the area are still here for the most part–and show signs of life. I found wood frog and salamander egg masses. Even startled a couple of frogs, including a bull frog.

single

And just when you think that wood frogs only return to their natal vernal pools . . . here is proof they’ll take advantage of any water.

eggs

An opportunist recently used a wet depression in the landing.

Signs of life. No matter how devastated an area may look, they’re there.

Thanks for joining me on today’s wonder-filled wander.

Seeking Hope

My heart is heavy with thoughts of recent events both here in the US and abroad, especially in Baltimore and Nepal. It all makes me feel so insignificant as I head outside. And it makes me all the more thankful for the opportunity to head outside and wander freely along the path and through the woods.

red maple 1

My hope is that you’ll never pass by a Red Maple tree again and dismiss it as just another tree.

striped maple

The same is true for a Striped Maple.

pussy willows

and willow.

vp1

My hope is you’ll relish the life of a vernal pool

vp eggs

as it supports a variety of species for such a short time,

wb 2

including this predaceous diving beetle and wiggly mosquito larva.

vp 2

Visit soon, because they are already drying up.

porc tree

My hope is you’ll look around and notice the subtle signs

porc damage

of mammal activity.

porc den

And have the good fortune to see a den and scat up close.

stone wall

My hope is you’ll come upon stone walls

trash 3

and objects in the woods that will make you wonder about those who came before.

turkey tail

My hope is you’ll notice the abalone colors of turkey tails

stump

and see castles in tree stumps.

sinking feeling

My hope is you’ll sink in the mud

trail

as you travel along the trail.

May those who suffer find hope and wonder.

Who Done It?

tree activity

The first mystery I encountered when I slipped out the door and away from some writing and editing assignments today (yes JVP, I’m working on a rough draft), was this ground disturbance around the base of a dead snag. The pileated woodpeckers have worked on this tree for many years, and I’m not sure why it’s still standing. Actually, there are several of these dead pines in one area and they all look like they’re ready to fall over. But what interested me today was that the pine needles and leaves had been raked back all the way around the tree trunk. Only at this one spot. Who done it? And why? There were some pine cone scales and a cob, evidence of a red squirrel feasting here at some point. But was this ground work done by a squirrel? I’ve never seen that before. I looked for scat. Nada. Scratch marks? Not visible. Would a turkey do this? Or another bird?

Don’t you just love a mystery?

cowpath

The leaves were a bit disturbed all along the cowpath, but that could have been because of today’s wind, or turkeys, or deer.

eggs

I headed over to the vernal pool. Since the wind was blowing yet again, I didn’t see any action, but the wood frog egg masses look healthy.

eggs 4

And plentiful. As is their custom, the masses are attached to branches and clustered together. Maybe there’s warmth in communal living. It’s certainly a bit chilly today, and yesterday we had hail, snow and rain.

eggs 2

I felt like a million little eyes were looking up at me.

eggs 3

This mass didn’t get the memo about community living.

Usually I see a few salamander masses in this pool as well, but maybe it’s early yet. The ice only melted a week ago.

I walked around the perimeter, noting that as usual, there are no masses on the southern side of the pool. They tend to be clustered on the northeastern side, where perhaps they capture the most warmth of the sun.

msyteryt hole

What I did find, though, was a hole about a foot from the pool. The only reference item I had was a pair of kid scissors in my pocket. They are five inches long. That’s about how far back the debris was thrown. A messy dooryard.

mh2

The pink handle is three inches, about the size of the opening. I stuck a stick in and it seemed to end at about a foot, maybe a bit more. Another who done it? Decent size hole; beside pool, but dry; messy door yard; recently dug; no one home. I looked through Mark Elbroch’s book Mammal Tracks and Sign because he has a section devoted to burrows and dens, but so far I don’t have the answer. Will the maker of the hole affect the egg masses? Another good question that remains to be answered.

red maple 2

And then it was time to visit another harbinger of spring, the Red Maple flowers. They are bursting with joy . . . and love.

red maple 3

rm 4

rm5

Stamens and pistils in all their glory.

sketch 1

It was nippy, but I took a moment to sketch.

As I wander along the path, I’m thankful for the mysteries and beauty that draw me out and continue to provide moments of wonder.

And I’m thankful for my sister and brother-in-law who encourage me along the way. Happy Anniversary to you!

Pool Side

Today was a day meant to be spent outside. Temp in the 60s, brilliant sunshine, not a cloud in the sky. It was almost too hot. Certainly a day to sit pool side.

I spent the late morning/early afternoon hours enjoying lunch at a picnic table outside The Good Life Market in Raymond, and interviewing a friend for an article. (Thanks JVP :-))  The Supreme Aubergine was delish even if I couldn’t pronounce its name. And she had the Grilled Chicken Cobb Salad.

But that wasn’t enough time outdoors, so I packed up my camera, drawing supplies and stool, then headed out the back door later in the day.

mole work

Where the snow has melted in the yard, there is evidence of mole work. Though they eat some vegetation, moles are insectivores and they aerate the lawn. Let them eat grubs, I say.

Vole tunnel

Behind the barn, a vole tunnel melting in the snow. These little field mice are more destructive as they are herbivores, but there’s a cat who likes to hang out in our yard. Here kitty, kitty.

pussy willows 1

My destination was the vernal pools, but along the way I had to stop and smell, I mean touch, the pussy willows.

pw2

Spring’s certain harbinger.

gall1

Sadly, some teeny tiny midges attacked one of the willow trees last year.

gall2

The result, this pineapple-shaped gall. It has its own certain beauty and when you think about the number of papery scales and size of the insect that created it, it is amazing.

vp2

VP2–the vernal pool furthest from home. I stood there for a while, watching and listening.

leaves

And admiring the leaves below the water. They’ll soon provide the perfect hiding place for the wood frogs, who will disappear underneath when I approach.

pine candelabras

On my way back to VP1, the pool in the neighboring woodlot, the candelabras on the white pines again made their presence known.

leaves waiting to be released

It’s getting easier to walk along the rocks that form the perimeter of this pool and take it in from all sides. Here, the leaves wait to become part of the organic matter on the pool’s bottom.

leaves hanging on

While just above, others still cling to the mother tree.

water on vp

In the southwestern corner–water atop the ice.

vp1

Overall, a rather slushy topping. I set up my stool and sat to sketch it.

poolside

When I look at this now, it looks like the bubbles are frogs or something. Not so. Oh well. I was happy to be pool side . . . until I fell backward as the soft snow gave way. A reason to chuckle and head home.

Thanks for joining me to wonder as I wander.

Naturally Wavy

The roads were coated in black ice when I drove toward Jefferson, Maine, early this morning to meet up with the Maine Master Naturalist class. The morning sun, brilliant blue sky with scattered cumulous clouds, and mist rising from open waterways, made me want to pause along the highway and take some photos, but I wasn’t sure how I’d explain to a state policeman that indeed it was an emergency. Instead, I continued on to Gardiner, got off the highway and followed backroads over rolling hills and through farm country to my destination–Hidden Valley Nature Center. 

Aptly named, the 1,000-acre natural education center consists of contiguous forest dotted with vernal pools, a kettle bog, ponds and 30 miles of trails.

Bambi

Bambi Jones, a Master Naturalist and co-founder of HVNC, spent the morning with us, showing us the vernal pools and sharing her knowledge. Things aren’t exactly hopping at the pools yet, but . . . the weather is supposed to warm up this week and once the snow melts–look out!

vp1

When I first looked at this vernal pool photo, I thought it was upside down–such is the reflection.

vpsign

A wee bit of info and a reason why we should pay attention.

fen2

This is a kettle hole bog apparently, caused by glacial action. I was looking up the difference between a bog and a fen and found this on The International Carnivorous Plant Society’s Web site: “People commonly describe wetlands with words like pond, bog, marsh, fen, and swamp, thinking these are mostly interchangeable. Actually, there are careful definitions for each of these names. The only problem is that a hydrologist may use one set of definitions, while a botanist may use another, and an ecologist may use yet another.”

While we stood looking across, someone in the group spotted what they thought was a bobcat across the way and coming down a hill. I never saw it, but I did note lots of ledges in the area and on the way out saw some potential bobcat tracks.

fen1

Another view. Lots of black spruce, sheep laurel and pitcher plant seed pods visible.

pitcher plant flower

The seed pod of a  pitcher plant, one of our carnivorous plants.

beaver lodge:fen

And a beaver lodge along the edge.

2nd beaver lodge

There were so many things to see, including a second beaver lodge that may have more action. Do you see it in the center of the photo?

beaver dam

This dam is nearby and had seen lots of activity. Due to yesterday’s rain, it’s a bit hard to decipher the tracks.

Cheryl , spring tails

Remember when I mentioned snow fleas or spring tails in my post entitled, The Small Stuff? Well, this is one of our students enjoying a circus performance.

cat

You never know what you might see when you take the time to look.

looking for life

So they did–look that is. And almost fell in.

what's in your dannon?

More observations–whatcha got in your Dannon container?

white oak1

One of my joys was meeting two new trees. I was excited to make the acquaintance of White Oak (Quercus alba) today. Rather than the ski trails and redness of Northern Red Oak, this species features bark that looks like irregular blocks.

white oak 2

And sometimes it looks shaggier, with long, vertical plates. Like its red brethren, the leaves are marcescent, meaning they stay on the tree through the winter months.

white oak leaf

What I love about the White Oak leaf is its rounded lobes.

red oak

Here’s a middle-aged (just like me!) Northern Red Oak for comparison. The flat-ridged ski trails are forming and the red is clearly visible between them.

red oak leaf

Then there’s the bristle-tipped leaf.

amer hornbeam

My second new encounter was with the American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroloiniana). Again, a thrilling experience. OK, it doesn’t take much. Now I understand why it’s called musclewood. It could easily be mistaken for a beech tree because the bark of a young  tree is smooth, but there is a sinewy beauty to it. My bark eyes are now cued into this one.

Hop Hornbeam

The fun part was that not far away stood this old friend. Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginians) has thin, flaky vertical strips. Both species, members of the birch family, are known as ironwood.

stream

As the day went on, though our focus was on vernal pools and communities, we often got distracted by other things–which I’ve dubbed Nature Distraction Disorder.

What I began to notice was a natural waviness. I saw it in the snow along the edge of this stream.

folds

In the folds of the rocks.

more folds

And more folds.

beech 2

In the scar on this beech tree.

red oak growth

And the growth on this red oak.

 sculpture

But probably my favorite, this naturally wavy sculpture on display by the barn where we convened a few times. It invites reflection.

Thanks for joining me for today’s wonder-filled wander.