A Collection of Mondates

Every Mondate is different, which goes without saying, and the adventure always begins with a question, “What are we going to do today?”

The answer is frequently this, “I don’t know, you pick.”

The instantaneous reply, “I asked first. You need to figure it out.”

Some have found us paddling in our favorite body of water, where we love to explore the edges and islands and float among the lily pads.

It’s a place where we always look below the surface and sometimes are rewarded, this being a Bryozoan mass, a most definite gift for the tiny colonial aquatic creatures that connect their tubes together and form the jelly-like blob, effectively filter particles from the water. The animals live in the tubes and extend their tentacles that capture even smaller microscopic organisms for food. The gelatinous species, also known as moss animals, is native to North America.

We’ve wandered beside ponds where gentle breezes provided relief from mosquitoes and views of distant mountains doubled our joy.

Being my guy, he’s spotted lady’s slippers in bloom and more than once observed clusters bouquets worth noting.

Likewise he’s occasionally rewarded with pendants, this being an immature Chalk-fronted Skimmer dragonfly.

I’ve been equally rewarded with the sighting of a perching Dragonhunter, one of the largest clubtail species in our neck of the woods.

One hot summer Monday found us taking a shower under a waterfall.

And contemplating in front another.

We’ve searched for our favorite shades of blue, mine being that offered by Clintonia borealis, aka Blue-bead lily, it’s fruits reminding me of porcelain.

While mine is inedible, his favorite shade of blue invites his greed.

And so several Mondays were spent picking blueberries from the water . . .

and atop our hometown mountain.

Upon several occasions we summited said mountain and always paid homage to the fire tower that still stands tall and recalls an early era when wardens spent hours in the cab scanning the horizon for smoke.

We’ve posed at the ski area on the same mountain, where the pond below sometimes serves as our backyard.

Some of our best Mondates of this summer have been spent with family, this being our youngest and his gal.

And our oldest and his gal and their friends.

One we even shared with a tyke we finally got to meet, a grandnephew from Virginia . . .

who travelled north with my niece, his mom, and his daddy and grandmother.

It’s been a summer of catching up on so many fronts, and now I’ve arrived at our most recent Mondate. The morning began with a delightful surprise for when we uncovered a pie we’d purchased at one of our favorite roadside stands, and discovered it was decorated with a dragonfly. I swear we purchased it for the strawberry/rhubarb flavor and not the design. Really.

After dining on the pie for breakfast, we started our journey by searching for a trail someone had told me about. But . . . did she say park at the shed before the pond or after? We couldn’t find a shed in either location, but did find lots of NO TRESPASSING signs. Finally, we located what might be a trail and it wasn’t posted. For about a quarter mile we walked, until we found ourselves facing a field with a farmhouse at the far side. Backtrack we did, with Plan B in mind, but at least we were rewarded with the spot of Actaea pachypoda, White Baneberry, aka Doll’s-eyes. It does look like the eyes of a china doll, its creepiness accentuated by the thick red stalks and the fact that the fruits are poisonous.

The trail we chose instead let us know from the start that we’d made the right decision when we spotted a bumblebee upon a thistle.

It was a place beside two small specks of ponds, where the beavers have docked a boat conveniently beside their lodge.

Though we didn’t see any beavers in action, my guy demonstrated their gnawing technique.

It’s also a place where Autumn Meadowhawk Skimmer dragonflies danced and paused, danced and paused.

But the best moments of the day where spent crossing under a powerline where goldenrod grows abundantly. If you look closely, you might spot the subjects of my guy’s attention.

Monarch Butterflies. The most Monarchs we’ve seen in the last twenty years. Ten butterflies? A dozen? Perhaps two dozen? Maybe more.

Watching them flutter and sip, flutter and sip, gladdened our hearts and made a perfect ending for this particular collection of Mondates.

Happy 6th Birthday, wondermyway

It’s hard to believe that six years ago I gave birth to wondermyway as a means to record the natural world and all I met along the way.

There’s no need in reminding everyone that since last February it has been quite a year, but I have to say that I’m especially grateful to live where I do, in a place where I CAN wander and wonder on a regular basis.

As I look back through posts of these expeditions, I realize how often nature presents itself in such a way that moments of awe make everything else going on in the world seem so foreign. If only everyone could whisper to a dragonfly upon his or her hand; watch a cicada emerge from its larval form; and even appreciate a snake or two or three.

Join me for a look back at some of my favorite natural encounters of the past year. If you want to remember a particular adventure, click the titled link below each photo.

Transitioning With My Neighbors:

From sun to rain to sleet and even snow, it’s been a weekend of weather events. And like so many across the globe, I’m spending lots of time outdoors, in the midst of warm rays and raw mists.

I’m fortunate in that I live in a spot where the great beyond is just that–great . . . and beyond most people’s reach. By the same token, it’s the most crowded place on Earth right now.

We’re all in transition, my neighbors and me. What the future holds, we know not. The best we can do is hope we come out on the other side–changed by the experience, of course.

Under the Bubbles

Wander outdoors if you can and let the anomalies pull you into their realm. I promise, your eyes and your mind will be opened to so many wonders that you’ll resist the urge to move along for so enamored will you be by your finds. Slow down and look and be wowed.

In the end, may it not be an end. May it be a beginning. May you live under the bubbles and give thanks that your bubble is attached to so many others as you share a brain.

Dragonfly Whisperer Whispers

We had no intention of eating lunch in this spot today, but while looking for a mountain to climb, we kept encountering full parking lots and so our backroad meander put us beside a bog at lunch time and voilà, we managed to walk all of less than two tenths of a mile. Total.

But in that short distance, our eyes feasted. First it was all the Painted Turtles basking in the sun. And birds. And dragonflies.

I just had to find out. Would he or wouldn’t he? He would and did. Yes, I quietly placed my finger on the leaf and he climbed aboard, then struck a rather relaxed pose. The Dragonfly Whisperer whispers once more.

Marvels of the Meadow

“My lupine meadow is in full glory!” a friend wrote in an e-mail. And she encouraged visitations. So . . . I went. Actually, we went, for I invited another friend to join me.

Fortunately, I guess, though unfortunately on some levels, we pulled ourselves away by mid-afternoon. But our bug eyes were wide open. In the end, we offered up thanks to our hosts, Linda and Heinrich, for inviting us to enjoy the full glory of their lupines and all the marvels of the meadow.

Celebrating Cemetery Cicadas

Beings who once walked the Earth
support new life as summer's serenade
begins to take shape 
upon stones that memorialize the past...

On this summer day, hollow cast(ket)s left behind
provide a memory of vulnerable forms.
From soft pastel bodies to wide-faced creatures with bulging eyes,
I get to celebrate cemetery cicadas. 

Frog Alley

I’m pretty sure I said to the friend whom I met on the dirt road that I never see frogs there except for the painted boulder that has faded with age and I no longer even think to honor with a photograph.

But still, she reminded me, “I’m sure we’ll see something interesting.”

No way.

After walking one stretch of the road and only pausing a few times in the hot sun, we hopped back into our vehicles and made our way to a much more shaded location. As we stepped toward the river, in flew a Kingfisher. And we knew we were in for a treat or two or three.

Crowning Glory

The theme of the week didn’t dawn on me immediately, but a few days into it and I knew how blessed I am.

It was a week for me to realize how important all the young people in my life are from our sons whom I can chat with on the phone to those who have chosen to make this area of western Maine their home and to get to know their place in it. And then to go beyond and share it in a way that benefits the wider community.

Thank you, Hadley, for the opportunity to celebrate your birthday. And thank you Rhyan, Parker, Dan, Jon, Mary, Brent, and Alanna: it’s my utmost pleasure to share the trail with you whenever we can. And to know that the future is in your capable hands.

We are all blessed. Today we crowed Hadley, and in so doing, gloried so many others.

Making Sense of Scents

Last week, while walking along a trail I later intended to share with some local kids, a subtle movement caught my attention.

About two thirds of the way along the trail, exactly where I’d spied it two hours prior, the Garter Snake still posed. And the kids got to examine it. And wonder. And exclaim. They went in for a close-up look, thus the snake stuck out its tongue repeatedly in an attempt to get a better sense of who or what might be in its midst.

Snakes have poor eyesight and their hearing ability is limited. Thus they use their nostrils and tongues to pick up scents of prey or predator. By flicking the tongue, they collect odors that the forked prongs relay to two holes in the roof of their mouths, aka Jacobson’s organ. With information transferred from the organ to the brain, they can interpret scents.

For the kids and me, it was this sense: Best. Moment. Of. The. Afternoon.

For the snake: it decided we weren’t worth getting excited about as it made sense of our scents.

All In A Day’s Walk

My mission was two-fold. Hike up a small mountain and capture a one minute video to post on a work website next week, and retrieve a game camera so we can download the photos and then place in a different location.

First there was the porcupine den, then a beaver tree, and along the way a fungi.

My final sighting of the day, that still has me smiling, occurred in the middle of the adventure, but I wanted to save it for last. Do you see what I saw?

Who cooks for me? I wish this Barred Owl would, for I must now prepare dinner. But that’s okay because I’ll take him with into the kitchen in spirit and give thanks that I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with him . . . all in a day’s work.

My Heart Pines

Fourteen months ago I wrote Ode to Pinus Strobus, showing my respect for the mighty pines that inhabit our woods. Curiously, it was a rainy day then. And today dawned the same, though even more curiously, today we turned the calendar to December 1, yet the temperature rose to 57˚, like a summer day as we approach winter in western Maine. Because of the temp, the day offered some incredible wonders.

For those who love to wander and wonder, I hope you’ll be still and have an experience similar to what this tree offered me today.

My heart pines . . . naturally.

Sharp Observation

I was early–a rare occasion as usually I’m the one who arrives at least ten minutes after the agreed upon time. It wasn’t always that way, but has become a bad habit. That said, it was a creature of habit that I went in search of because I had some time to spare.

He was up there enjoying the cambium layer of the bark as witnessed by the goldeny color of the branch by his feet. All those downed twigs–apparently they were in his way so he nipped them off and dropped them to the ground in order to get to the nutrients he sought for his winter diet.

Check out his eye. We were both sharp observers as we eyed each other from a distance.

Ghost of the North Woods

For almost thirty years I’ve roamed this particular wood and for the most part you’ve eluded me.

After finding so many signs year after year, today . . . today I spied an uprooted tree at the very spot I thought might be a good place to stop and spend a few hours in silence. As I made plans to do such in the near future, the tree moved.

And transformed into you!

When at last you and your youngster departed, despite your sizes, it was as if you walked through the forest in silence. My every move comes with a sound like a bull in a china shop, but you . . . Alces alces, you weigh over one thousand pounds, stand six feet at your shoulder, and move through the forest like a ghost. For that reason and because you let me spend some time with you today, February 11 will henceforth mark the day that I celebrate the Ghost of the North Woods.

Thank you to all who have joined me for any or all of these journeys. With each learning or sighting, I get excited and can’t wait to share it with you. I’m not only grateful to be able to wander and wonder, but I’m also thankful for all of you who take the time to read these posts.

Top Notch Tracking

“Want to go back to Becky’s?” was the message I received last night.

My instant reply, “Yes!”

And so we did, Pamela M. and I.

We chose Moose Alley as the first trail to follow, though traveling in a counterclockwise pattern to change things up a bit. If you joined us for our journey there a few weeks ago, you’ll recall that we found lots of moose sign and even a few beds. Oh, I know, this is indeed a sign, but . . . it wasn’t exactly what we hoped to discover.

Within seconds of beginning today’s journey, tracks of a snowshoe hare pretending to imitate a snow lobster made themselves known.

We soon began to realize that the hare crossed the trail . . . frequently. One hare? Two? Or even more. One thing we did notice was that there was a least one of a slightly smaller size than the rest and now I regret that we didn’t measure the print and snap a photo. Oh well, maybe the next time. There’s always time for another trip to Becky’s.

There were some domestic dog tracks and we had to remind ourselves not to be confused by those, but we did spy coyote and possibly fisher along the way as well. More certain we were, however, when we occasionally spotted prints on the diagonal of a bounder. We quickly nailed down the identification to either ermine or long-tailed weasel by the size and track pattern.

After a bit, we found another moose sign. But still no moose prints.

So, we decided to explore the land around and beside the bog to see if the moose was just off trail. In our search, we found an old vireo nest tucked away in a beech sapling. On first thought it seemed the bird had built it rather close to the ground, but a second thought was the realization that the ground was probably two feet below our feet for such is the depth of the snow all of a sudden.

We also found a small cottony egg sac on red maple bark and wondered if it was deposited by a moth.

And an intact sawfly cocoon. Quite often we encounter these with perfectly cut lids meaning the adult fly had previously emerged–as in six months previous at least.

But, just as we know we should follow a track for a ways to make a correct identification, or walk all the way around a tree to study its bark, we were also reminded to look at the backside of the cocoon. Had a bird tried to dine? Or perhaps a wasp parasitized the sawfly? We’ve been spending a lot of time lately focused on bug forms in winter, but thankfully still have so much more to learn.

The bog, itself, was beautiful and we followed the edge of it for a wee bit, until that is, we saw water and thought better of our intention to locate the moose for which it was named.

Back on Moose Alley, we made our way downhill and then a depression about fifteen feet off trail stopped us. And, of course, we had to tromp through the snow to check it out. Though we made quite a disturbance with our snowshoes, there was only one possible track about ten feet behind us and five feet off trail. Then we noticed a ball of scat.

Being the mighty investigators that we are, once we realized the sawdusty scat was from a moose, we got down on all fours to investigate the broken depression. When we started digging we discovered more moose scat frozen inside. But still, we pondered. There were no other tracks. The depression was several feet across, but not large enough for a moose. We hadn’t seen any deer tracks. And it seemed odd that it the crusty chunks were not smoothed out by the body heat of an ungulate. Still, we did consider a small flying moose. How else would it have gotten to that spot?

Walking back to the “prints” that were closer to the trail, we examined them again. And noted a bit of tunneling. Maybe they weren’t prints after all.

And then we spied a bird track a few feet beyond. Turn on the light bulb please. Could it be that the ruffed grouse, who burrows into deep, soft snow to hide from predators, and scares the daylight out of us when it explodes out of its hiding spot, had blasted through the crusty layer of snow to spend the night. Was it surprised to find moose scat in its chosen spot?

Once we began spying the grouse tracks, we realized they were everywhere. Just like the snowshoe hare. The question remains: which came first?

While the grouse was searching for birch seeds upon which to dine, the hare made its meals of the woody foliage stems. Like a moose’s winter scat, the hare’s is also quite sawdusty in texture given its food source.

Did I say the grouse’s tracks became quite ubiquitous? And we began to find more holes like that made by the flying moose, I mean grouse.

The thing that really struck us was the thickness of the crusty layer and the energy the grouse had to use in order to blast into and out of it. Some call them fool’s hens, but they struck us as being rather smart about penetrating solid slabs.

Eventually, our own need for nourishment and energy renewal brought us to a halt in a sunny spot at Moose Alley’s intersection with Loop Trail. We each found a stump upon which to dine and while we sat quietly, chickadees entertained us with their quick seed gathering foray and calls to each other.

To take it all in, Pam struck a pose the reminded me of a certain famous person; she just needed wool mittens 😉

Eventually we stood and moved along, pausing briefly beside mullein in its winter form–hoping against hope that a spider or another insect might make itself known. No such luck, though we did admire the size and structure.

More domestic dog tracks shouted their names by their behavior, but we soon discovered prints of a strict carnivore who had recently moved through the forest with intention.

By the four toes, no visible nails, and shape of the ridge and heel pad, we knew it to be one who says, “Meow.” Well, maybe not exactly like a domestic cat, but still a feline, in this case a bobcat.

Our final find of the day was the track of a red fox. Oh, we’d seen squirrel and mouse as well. And maybe a few others I’m forgetting to mention. But moose?

Just as Marta and Kristoff wanted nothing to do with us, we suspect the moose was the same. That means only one thing.

We must return to Notch View Farm on Route 113 in Evans Notch again . . . and again . . . and maybe again.

As for today, with powder upon the crusty layer of snow, it was a Top Notch Tracking day.

P.S. Thank you, Becky and Jim.

Folly of a Sun-Mondate

Into the wilderness of Sebago, Maine, we ventured upon land owned by Loon Echo Land Trust.

Sometimes we had to break trail.

Other times it was like the white carpet had been rolled out to show us the way.

And often, we found ourselves traveling the same route others had taken or crossed over, for such a corridor it is.

We tromped through a vast wetland.

And bushwhacked into what seemed like a never-ending shrub-land.

The hares made it all look so easy as they traveled back and forth on their packed-down snowshoe routes.

Meanwhile, the beavers remained snug at home despite frequent callers.

Though we couldn’t see steam rising from the lodge’s chimney, we suspected they reposed quietly within.

Nearby, their works of art added a decorative nature to the winter scene.

We spent one day seeing hugs . . .

and hearts in the forest.

And the next day exploring an unorganized territory; or was it?

It’s such a place where wooden birds fly.

And owl talons cling.

On Sunday, we snowshoed along a five-mile route, that was rather easy given that most of it was a snowmobile trail at Tiger Hill Community Forest, and paused briefly for lunch on a rock in the woods, followed later by a brownie beside Cold Rain Pond that I think my guy was still eating when I snapped this photo.

Today found us nearby at Perley Ponds-Northwest River Preserve, where the tree spirit chuckled for he knew before we did that our two-mile tramp would be much more challenging but we’d come upon unexpected finds that would add to this folly of a two-day Mondate on either side of Folly Road.

Winter Bug Safari

I’m a winter gal and snow and tracks and scat and bark and buds all pull me out the door on a daily basis as I try to understand who has traveled where and why, and through what natural community the journey has been made.

But now . . . I have another reason to slip outside: Bugs. And how they overwinter. And where.

On one tramp through the woods this past week, with eyes peeled for the tiniest movement on the snow or twigs or tree trunks, I spotted the fresh work of a Pileated Woodpecker. Though I would have loved to see the bird, I was equally thrilled to see the pile of debris below the hemlock tree. (And that gorgeous magenta-colored inner bark, of course.)

The fresh wood chips on the snow invited a closer examination. And you thought this post would be about bugs. But indeed it is for it’s Carpenter Ants that the bird sought. By the two clumps of bird scat that I found, it was obvious the woodpecker had been successful.

For you see, within the cylindrical casing coated with uric acid were body parts.

Ant body parts. Now, here’s the thing that I need to learn more about. I’ve watched Pileated Woodpeckers land on trees and pause, sometimes deciding to excavate, but other times moving on. And I’ve been told that they test the tree out and listen for the ants. I’ve never been able to prove that. But here’s the thing: what I learned today is that Carpenter Ants not insulated by snow or the warmth of your home enter diapause, a low-energy state that allows them to survive the cold and go for long periods without eating. So the question remains, how does the woodpecker know which tree to pick on, or is it a lucky strike?

Further along that same trail, I came upon the prints of a horse that had stymied me a few weeks ago when I tried to mentally turn its track pattern into either a bear or a moose, knowing full well that what I was seeing didn’t quite fit what I knew to be true of those species. Horse manure would have helped, but there was none to be seen . . . until the other day when a fresh plop in the middle of the trail offered an invite to look for insects seeking minerals upon it. I saw one small fly that I couldn’t identify, but beside the manure was this Winter Cranefly. It was a brisk day and today I learned that this species is only active when the temperature is below freezing. My kind of bug, indeed.

On another day and another trail, it was a Winter Firefly that drew attention. First, fireflies are not flies; they are beetles.

Second, unlike many beetles, Winter Fireflies overwinter as adults.

Third, Winter Fireflies are diurnal and don’t have lanterns to light up the night sky.

And fourth, though I find most tucked into the bark of maple trees, the first one this week was on a hemlock. After that, it seemed to be maples upon which I found others.

As the temperatures rise bit in the next month, they’ll become more active and will be visible crawling up the tree trunks and eventually flying. By summer, you’ll see not a one but their nocturnal cousins will light up the night.

One day, it was Snow Fleas, aka Spring Tails upon lichenized bark that garned a look.

And another day, upon another crustose lichen on a maple tree, shed larval skins of possibly Twice-Stabbed Lady Beetles were visible. Kinda creepy, especially when you are looking up-close and personal with a hand lens, but oh, so cool.

And then there were the spiders, thus the reason this isn’t just an Insect Safari. This minute eight-legged creature that practically ran across the bark must have had antifreeze in its blood.

Behind another piece of bark was this slightly active crab spider . . .

and its more dormant relatives hunkered down who had probably supercooled through the process of accumulating glycols in their blood (antifreeze again). Apparently, despite the below freezing temps, their tissues remained unfrozen and they won’t become spidercicles. How in the world did spiders and other critters physiologically adapt via the antifreeze compounds so that they won’t turn to ice?

It’s all a wonder to me.

Before I finish, let me leave you with one last image. It’s some sort of beetle, I know not what. And I don’t know what is on its wings–perhaps some sort of mite or parasite? When class reconvenes again, I will ask the instructor.

I am so excited to be taking Bugs In Winter, taught by Charley Eiseman, author of Tracks and Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates: a Guide to North American Species. Thank you to Maine Master Naturalist Anthony Underwood for suggesting it to me (perhaps so I’d stop sending him photos of mystery bugs and asking his advice).

The course has only just begun and a few naturalist friends are taking it with me. We have tons to learn and so I invite you to tag along cuze for the next two months I’m going to be on a Winter Bug Safari, which will then turn into Spring Bug Safari, and after that . . . you get the picture.

Cached In My Heart

I knew it was going to be a great day when snowflakes began to fall. And when asked the day before how I intended to spend yesterday, I said I’d probably read, bake, and knit. But . . . those plans were postponed for a few hours because that white stuff was falling and I heard it calling my name.

Thankfully, it was only my name that it called and for the first time since March, I stepped back into Pondicherry Park, a place that I love, but have intentionally avoided because so many others have discovered it as a tonic to the worries of the pandemic and I wanted to give them space, knowing I could find plenty of other places to explore with the same quest in mind. But . . . it was snowing, and I suspected that others might be home reading and baking and, well, maybe even knitting, and I would have the place to myself.

Soon, however, I discovered that I wasn’t really alone for even though the snow wasn’t piling up, tiny tracks on boardwalks indicated others were scampering about.

A few minutes into the hike, bright green moss invited me off trail to examine the base of pine where a hole beneath the tree . . .

and a cone still intact made me wonder: If this was the home of a little scamperer, what might it be eating other than this cone?

And then I twisted right–in more ways than one. And spread out along a downed pine and all around the base of another–a huge cache/midden: the cache being a collection of cones gathered and stored; and the midden being the refuse pile of scales and cobs left behind after the seeds were consumed.

I’ve been looking for one of these for a few weeks as the air temperature has dropped and wondered when the little guys would get their acts together and gather a supply to see them through winter.

One among them had, indeed, been busy, not only gathering, but dining, and with today being Thanksgiving, you might think this critter had the longest dining room table because it intended to invite everyone over for a meal.

But, its a feisty diner, and each meal is consumed quickly, with some chits and chats warning others to stay away–social distancing naturally.

Peeking under the dinner table, I discovered some cones tucked away in the pantry . . .

others in the fridge, with the door left open, thus exposing them to the elements . . .

and a few in cold storage.

On the other side of the pine table, holes in the midden showed the downstairs and upstairs doorways: all leading to Rome–or rather, the cache that must have been huge based on the size of the midden left behind. I did feel concern that so much had been consumed and there might not be enough for winter survival.

No need to worry. On the backside of the tree, three were tucked into furrows–making me think of a $20 bill stored away in a wallet, just in case.

My journey through the park eventually continued and meant a few pauses at favorite haunts, including one where the reflection nourishes my little friends . . . and me.

Occasionally more boardwalks curve through the landscape offering their own reflection–of this past year, which has taught us all that when there are curves in the road, we should follow and embrace them.

And if a hemlock grows beside a pine, it’s okay to cache your pinecone supply atop the former’s roots. You don’t always have do what the rest of us expect you to do.

Especially if you are the creator of the caches–a feisty Red Squirrel, ever ready to give chase to your siblings and chitter at any intruders such as me.

Of course, if you are a Gray Squirrel, you’ll take a different approach to winter preparations and store one acorn at a time and hope you remember where you left each one.

Three hours later, I finally found my way home, grateful that the stars had aligned, it had snowed, and I had the trails to myself. And then I began to bake, but never got around to reading or knitting or even writing this post for the phone kept ringing and there were envelopes and gifts to open, messages and emails galore to read, and cake to consume, and though we can’t be with our family or friends today, I gave thanks that on my birthday the squirrels let me share their world for a wee bit and I was showered with so much love–that I’ve cached in my heart.

All In A Flash

To feed or not to feed? That is not the question for I know I will continue to put out bird seed from now til April or May since it provides them with a constant food source and me with a constant entertainment source.

But still, things happen, like Gray Squirrels figure out how to access the squirrel-proof feeders.

And when I least expect it, everyone makes a mad dash because a bird of prey suddenly rockets in with talons extended.

I’d only placed the feeders in the yard a few days ago, but today this Cooper’s Hawk explained why I keep discovering feathers on the grass. Do you see the gray feathers by its talons? Tufted Titmouse? That makes me sad, but . . . raptors need to eat too.

Meanwhile, a female Northern Cardinal who had been feeding on the seed I spread on the ground tried to take cover in the grass. Notice how her crest is raised? I suspect it stood tall indicating her worry.

Even after the hawk flew off, she remained in the same spot. But, do you see the difference? The crest began to drop, perhaps because she began to relax.

I could almost hear her say, “If I don’t move, he won’t see me.”

About 15 minutes and lots of raindrops later, she finally perused the yard.

And let a few more raindrops gather on her feathers before flying off. I was grateful to see her fly, because for a while I worried that she had been injured in the fracas. My other thought was that she might be in shock. But, I think for now, until I learn more about bird behavior, I’ll stick with thinking she was playing it smart and waiting for danger to pass.

Two hours later, I spotted the hawk on our stonewall and later went out to search for feeding evidence as chipmunks and other small mammals are also part of their diet. I found only a couple of downy feathers where the bird had stood in the yard and nothing by the stonewall, but I suspect there may be something to notice in the future.

Today’s drama all happened in a flash and as odd as it may seem, I was grateful to be a witness.

All In A Day’s Walk

My mission was two-fold. Hike up a small mountain and capture a one minute video to post on a work website next week, and retrieve a game camera so we can download the photos and then place in a different location.

And so it was that on this brisk morning, snow-capped Mount Washington greeted me. If you zoom in, you might see the buildings at the summit.

Because I was at a different summit that I frequent, I knew I had to check on the activity of the local residents and wasn’t disappointed. First, I followed their trails, where leaves are well packed. Those led to trees, but no downed nip twigs as one might expect. That could only mean one thing–there are still plenty of acorns on the ground for them to eat. Because I was searching, however, I was thrilled to discover one sign that the season is changing. I knew that by the five layers I was wearing, but the stripped bark and cambium layer of a birch indicated the same. A porcupine’s diet varies with the offerings and part of their winter dining includes just this. Notice, too, the pattern of the incisor marks. Such a design thrills me no matter how often I encounter it.

One of the porky trails led into a crevice below where I stood. It was there that I caught the first glimpse of icicles and knew I had to climb down. My route wasn’t the same as the porcupine’s for I’m not quite as nimble on rocks and slippery leaves.

But, with grace, I descended and made the surprise discovery of Mount Rushmore East. At least, that’s how the rock faces looked to my eyes.

But seriously, I wanted to spy the icicles from below and they became the inspiration for next week’s GLLT Moment.

That wasn’t all I wanted to spy and I wasn’t disappointed for the trail of scat indicated one potential den site.

And more scat led to another. I suspect those aren’t the only two, but I wanted to keep moving, such was the temp.

That said, right beside the second porcupine den, I found a small hole in the ground capped in hoar frost and suspected that someone was inside. It seemed a bit larger than a chipmunk hole. Maybe a squirrel? Or a weasel? Or even, the porcupine’s den vent?

While those choices rolled around in my brain, I climbed up the ledges and made my way down the trail until it intersected with another. Eventually, water once again stopped me as it often does.

Only two weeks ago the temperatures in western Maine were in the 60˚s and 70˚s, but the past few days have been chilly and already dancing elephant legs are forming over sticks that dangle above moving streams.

Even the froth created by the friction of the stream’s movement had frozen in place.

I stopped a few more times, but finally reached the spot that was my second intention of the day. While exploring in this area a couple of week’s ago with several Greater Lovell Land Trust docents, we noticed beaver trees. The work looked rather recent and so we set up a game cam in hopes of getting a view of the perpetrator.

Today’s visit, however, showed no fresh work on this tree.

And a skim of ice indicated no one had recently walked out of the water. I snagged the camera and dropped it at the office so the photos can be downloaded. I hope they reveal more than a few test pics of us homo sapiens.

It was while heading back to my truck that this splash of color caught my attention. Notice the Striped Maple leaf on the mushroom–they are like a matched set. I’ve been torn in my identification between an Artist’s Conk and a Red-belted Polypore, whose belt is not always red.

But more important than identification was presentation. And the knowledge that the middle mushroom grew when the tree was still standing, while the others fruited after the tree had fallen, for mushrooms must always orient toward the ground, the better to spread one’s spores, of course.

My final sighting of the day, that still has me smiling, occurred in the middle of the adventure, but I wanted to save it for last. Do you see what I saw?

How about now?

Surely now you can.

Who cooks for me? I wish this Barred Owl would, for I must now prepare dinner. But that’s okay because I’ll take him with into the kitchen in spirit and give thanks that I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with him . . . all in a day’s work.

Cascading Mondate

Yeah, so on Sunday my guy and I hiked about four miles all told and found three geocaches in the mix cuze he’s now hooked, which is fun on my end since it slows him down a wee bit.

And on Monday–almost eight miles covered. But it wasn’t the mileage that mattered. Really.

Our morning began beside still waters. Well, the water was hardly still, but considering how crowded the area can be on a summer day, it was a delight to be the only two human beings in that space for those moments.

It’s a cool spot on many levels. No, we didn’t slide into the pool below; nor did we jump off the 20-foot cliff. Rather, we stood in awe and appreciated. That is, after finding another geocache located nearby.

Eventually, we pulled ourselves away because there was more water to meet, though we were surprised to arrive at a closed gate. No signs forbid our trespass and so we walked around the gate, and up the dirt road to the parking area and kiosk. On the way, we could hear a machine being operated and wondered if we’d stumbled upon a logging operation. A few minutes further along, a young man with an easy grin pulled up in a pick-up truck and knowing that the gate behind us was closed, we figured he must have something to do with the property. Sure enough, he told us they were working on the roadway and bike path ahead. The gate is closed for hunting season, but will reopen in the winter. Still, we were welcomed to hike on.

Half a mile later, we slipped into the woods and left the machinery sounds behind.

Occasionally, we walked across bog bridges and into the future.

Looking down at our feet was a constant, given that there were lots of slippery beech leaves to contend with, but . . . beech leaves mean one thing: American Beech Trees. And much to our delight, smack dab beside the trail stood a well-used beech tree. Some of the claw scratches weren’t all that old, given the width of the scars, and though this year proved to be yet another mast year for Northern Red Oaks (is it just me, or have red oaks been producing acorns on a yearly basis for at least the past five years?) it wasn’t so for the beeches. But perhaps last year or the year before or maybe a few years ago, this tree was a magnet for Ursus americanus.

We could have turned around then for our hearts were delighted, but, of course, we didn’t and soon found ourselves beside a single-wide stone wall.

Barbed wire that a tree had grown around told us the wall was intended to keep animals in . . . or out, depending on your point of view.

Certainly the tree knew, and had we spent a few more minutes with it, I suspect it would have quietly shared more knowledge with us, but we were on a quest and knew we only had so much daylight left.

And so, we hiked on. Until we reached one rather large blow-down and wondered: if a tree falls in a forest . . . Our answer: it land on the ground. Presumably with a thump. And this one must have created a ground-shaking thump.

Not far above the tree, a fanciful picnic table graces a knoll, and invites all questers, including this guy, to pause.

He didn’t pause for long. Back on the trail, as we climbed higher, the naturally community did what it does, and changed. For a bit, the delightful aroma of Balsam Fir spurred us forward, both by our feet and by our thoughts of the holiday season to come.

At last we reached water, and I thought our quest might be over. Could this be what we sought? As much as I loved watching bubbles form and pop, I was rather disappointed.

But after crossing rocks to get to the other side, the fall coloration of Tiarella (Heartleaf Foamflower) in all its hairiness called for attention.

And then, as we entered an opening where pine saplings grew in the sun, one showed off its crosier-shaped leader–bent over as commanded by a pine weevil. The tree will grow, but the live whorl of branches below will take over as leaders and change its stature.

Did I mention that the natural community kept changing? My guy and I soon realized that that was one of the things we really enjoyed about the trail, for there was so much diversity. And just steps beyond the weeviled pine, we entered a beech stand, where you know who had lumbered before us.

As much as we knew we needed to keep moving, we couldn’t help but search and didn’t have to stare far off trail to see evidence of so many bear claw trees. We figured we spied at least 25, though ask me tomorrow and I may say 30. They were everywhere and we wondered how many more we had missed.

But . . . there was more to see and so down a portion of trail that the young man we’d met had created all on his own and opened only last week, did we tramp. It was so new that the ground practically sprang under our feet. Can ground sprang?

We’d reached our quest at last and had to hurry three plus miles back as quickly as possible, promising each other not to stop and recount the bear trees, and we emerged at the parking lot as the sun was setting, with only the half mile walk down the road to our truck left to complete.

Oh, but what was our quest? It wasn’t a geocache this time.

And it wasn’t the bear trees; though they were a bonus.

Rather, it was the water that cascaded forth in three locations on this Mondate and already has us dreaming of return visits–though on a day when we either begin hiking earlier or there’s more daylight so we don’t have to hike down in twilight.

Thank you, Rosemary Wiser, for hiking this trail before us and giving us the inspiration.

Making Sense of Scents

Last week, while walking along a trail I later intended to share with some local kids, a subtle movement on the ground caught my attention.

My heart sang because I suspected I knew who I was looking at, but just the same, there were a few key characteristics that had to be acknowledged before I was one hundred percent confident.

You see, the first clues were the three buff-colored lines down its back. Between the lines, the keeled scales were quite dark. And this snake is known for its thin body and narrow, mahogany head.

But one of the most defining features, at least for me, is the whitish spot in front of each eye.

Do you see it? And the fact that there’s a line below separating it from the labial scales? Oh, and its lips are pure white.

These are examples of Ribbon Snakes, Thamnophis sauritus. In Maine, they are listed as a Species of Special Concern, which means this: “Any species of fish or wildlife that does not meet the criteria of an endangered or threatened species but is particularly vulnerable, and could easily become an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species due to restricted distribution, low or declining numbers, specialized habitat needs or limits, or other factors.” ~maine.gov.

I’ve had the good fortune of spying three or four this year, but always, I have to stop and think about the characteristics before feeling comfortable that I’ve made the correct identification.

I really wanted the kids in the Greater Lovell Land Trust/Lovell Rec afterschool program to see this snake when they arrived. We searched. But the best I could offer was the photos I had taken.

A much more frequent sighting is of one of the largest snakes in Maine–at least of the snakes that I have met. There are nine species of snakes in Maine, but in my encounters, I’ve only met five of them (and only have photos of four to share).

This species is happy on land or in the water and before you let the hair raise up on the back of your neck and think you may never swim in a Maine lake or pond again, in the 35 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve seen plenty, but never encountered one while swimming. Oh, I’m sure people have other stories to share, but that has been my experience.

That said, this is one LARGE snake and can measure up to 42 inches in length.

Coloration can vary from a base color of pale gray to dark brown.

Notice how the pattern looks like bands wrapped around the body as presented from behind the head, but then becomes more blotchy in appearance.

Meet Maine’s Northern Water Snake, Nerodia sipedon, featuring a face only a mother could love.

I know some favorite haunts of Water Snakes and always look carefully because it can be well camouflaged.

One not camouflaged at all that my guy and I saw a few weeks ago on a Mondate, struck us as being out of its realm as it paused briefly on a granite ledge near the summit of a mountain upon which we hiked.

Its coloration gives away its common name: Smooth Green Snake. Smooth because unlike the first two snakes and the one I’m about to share, Green Snakes’ scales are not keeled. And its scientific name: Liochlorophis vernalis.

In my book of observations, I’ve only seen two Green Snakes ever–because they do look like their preferred grassier habitat.

The final snake of this series is the one I see most often. It might be sunning on a granite rock or searching for a meal in the kitchen garden.

Sometimes more than one crosses my path simultaneously.

And though it would be easy to mistake for a Ribbon Snake because of the buff-colored lines on its back, it isn’t. This snake has a stockier body and wider, olive-green head. Two other differences include dark marks along the edges of each labial (lip) scale, and of equal importance, no defined white spot in front of each eye. Oh, it’s pale yes, But scroll back up to the photo of the Ribbon Snake and see how they differ.

Also note how its coloration differs from one snake to another. Blotches between the stripes are common on this species but not a part of a Ribbon Snake’s appearance.

This is a Common Garter Snake: Thamnophis sirtalis.

So here’s the most exciting news of the day. Yesterday, before meeting with the same afterschool group as last week, I pre-hiked the trail. Suddenly, I walked into web as thick and sturdy as a fish net and bounced back with surprise. When I looked for the creators, I found three small spiders, who immediately went into action to fix what I had just ruined. I spent a few minutes watching them, then turned my attention back to the trail and just off to the left I spied this Garter Snake at eye level in an Eastern Hemlock sapling.

Snakes spend the fall basking in the sun because they are ecothermic, meaning they are cold-blooded and their body temperature varies with the environment. Mary Holland, in her Naturally Curious blog post today, described their fall/winter habits of Basking and Brumating.

When the kids arrived, I told them about my sighting–and we talked a bit about the differences between last week’s Ribbon Snake sighting and this week’s Garter Snake. And then we began our hike, stopping along the way to examine leaves, dig into the leaf litter as Forest Floor Archaeologists, and play with sticks cuze kids just love to play with sticks.

About two thirds of the way along the trail, exactly where I’d spied it two hours prior, the Garter Snake still posed. And the kids got to examine it. And wonder. And exclaim. They went in for a close-up look, thus the snake stuck out its tongue repeatedly in an attempt to get a better sense of who or what might be in its midst.

Snakes have poor eyesight and their hearing ability is limited. Thus they use their nostrils and tongues to pick up scents of prey or predator. By flicking the tongue, they collect odors that the forked prongs relay to two holes in the roof of their mouths, aka Jacobson’s organ. With information transferred from the organ to the brain, they can interpret scents.

For the kids and me, it was this sense: Best. Moment. Of. The. Afternoon.

For the snake: it decided we weren’t worth getting excited about as it made sense of our scents.

Real McCoy Mondate

We had no idea when we set out what today’s hike might involve. Oh, we’d read the trail description and studied the map, but still, other than it being six miles long and of moderate ability and owned by a land trust and located in western Maine, we knew nothing. Yikes, that sounds like a lot, but follow along and you’ll see what I mean.

Our goal these past months has been to hike less traveled trails. That said, we’ve done some old favs that are everyone’s favs, but we’ve also made some discoveries along the way and gotten to know our neck of the woods just a wee bit better. This was such a trail. It began much like a walk in a park.

Within moments it led us to a swimming hole that we might have enjoyed had the temperature been a wee bit warmer. But still . . . it was delightful and as the trail continued we soon realized the brook would accompany us for our entire journey, murmuring and gurgling with each step we took.

Periodically we crossed it via bridges new and old . . .

and listened as it sang–hearing it rejoice for the recent rain.

Along the path from the trailhead to the summit, Pearly Everlasting looked ready to enhance a winter bouquet.

Meanwhile, a Red Clover pretended it was still summer.

A little further on, many willows unwittingly played host to a gall gnat midge with plans to overwinter in a structure created by the reaction to a chemical released by the larva.

What would have been leaves were forced to harden into a pinecone-look-alike.

Those weren’t the only galls along the way. A small aphid, Melaphis rhois, laid an egg on the underside of a Staghorn Sumac leaf, causing it to secrete material that created a sac over the egg where a number of generations of aphids formed inside. For such small aphids, it’s a rather large gall.

And speaking of aphids–we actually saw some as we approached the summit.

Theirs was an assemblage bigger than any I’d ever encountered–each speck of Wooly Alder Aphid made up of a waxy, curly, white wool, excreted from the insect’s abdomen. While it always strikes me that the filaments keep them warm in the winter, actually they help keep the little creatures from being eaten.

Birds also enhanced the seen, though not so many today as might have been there a month or three ago. But still we heard a few and saw a nest perhaps created by a cardinal or catbird or another who built a cup-shaped structure about three feet off the ground.

And in the midst of the trail, one scat–left behind by a bobcat, segmented and tarry as it was.

An hour and a half and two miles after beginning, we reached the final lookout point where the view embraced the White Mountains to the west.

It was behind us that we met Mother Maple standing tall over all her offspring.

And back below, we followed the same brook as we crossed the road and watched it journey south toward its outlet. The brook that is.

It was there that we met Father Maple and wondered about all that he had seen and heard, the stories he knew and history he’d observed.

Upon an esker we did finally journey, our trail in constant change the entire way. That was part of what made it such a joy to hike.

For a few moments before our journey ended, we sat upon a bench and expressed our gratitude to the woman who wanted 400+ acres of her land conserved after her death, the land trust that did so and now manages the trails and built bridge crossings and even a few steps, and what we assumed were members of a local Congregational Church for providing a place of contemplation beside a river that the brook we’d followed emptied into.

Amazingly, we encountered only two people on the trail.

Ours was a real McCoy Mondate.

Stymied by Nature

To the vernal pool I wandered on this overcast, drizzly, rainy day.

I thought for sure I’d later expound upon the deciduous trees that surround it and their leaf colors for such was the carpet at my feet as it reflected the sky above, despite the lack of water in the pool.

But . . . it was the conifer trees that shouted quietly for my attention, their offerings much more subtle than their broad-leafed cousins. First, there was a firefly that made me wonder how he could move so quickly and gingerly in an upside down manner.

Take half a minute and watch his progress.

From the pine sapling I moved over to a hemlock on the far side of the pool. Something dark dangling below its branches begged to be inspected.

It was (is) about two inches long and felt almost leafy when I touched it. Protruding from it were several spikes that weren’t really sharp.

I looked at it from as many angles as I could. And found it curious that it appeared to be performing a split at its upside down base (meaning the top portion in the photo).

Some serious webbing held it in place and what appeared to be sap decorated it.

What could it be? I wondered if we’d ever been introduced before and like so many I’d forgotten its name. Perhaps a moth cocoon inside a spider web? Or a gall that dropped from a tree and got caught in the web? Or a spider egg sac? I looked for a spider and found one. Do you see it in the lower left-hand corner? Rather tiny compared to the alien object. Was the object an alien? Something from outer space? I suppose I could have split it open to see what it contained, but I decided to look around for others like it. And found absolutely none. Knowing that, I could hardly destroy it and so it’s still dangling from the hemlock and I’ll visit from time to time to see if the mystery solves itself. (Please don’t tell me if you know because that will ruin the fun of making a discovery.)

Oh, I did have one other thought, that it might be related to a hemlock cone gone awry, but when I stopped to look at cones on another tree, that theory didn’t make sense. It was there, however, that I spotted a flying insect that wasn’t flying. It, too, was a dangler.

Though my identification wasn’t definite, I suspected it was a member of the flower fly family. Curious enough, just moments before spotting the fly, I’d noticed a couple of blueberry flowers blooming. These are strange times, indeed.

A few more steps and I began to notice one I am familiar with: the tube created by a Pine-Tube moth. The larva ties needles together with silk as a form of protection in which to pupate. The tubes then get lined with more silk and are usually half as long as the needles because the larva eat the ends off. Though the larva may eat their way through several tubes over the course of a winter, I suspected this one was currently active because one needle stuck loosely out of the end. Inside, someone must have been dining.

And then . . . and then . . . I spied a small inch-worm type caterpillar. A Pine-Tube Moth larva?

Again, I wasn’t sure, but it seemed to display the right behavior.

I didn’t have all the answers today, but I know right where I met my acquaintances and hope that the next time we meet I’ll recognize them and perhaps will greet them by name. Chances are, though, that when I head out the back door to look for them, something else will shout quietly for attention and I’ll meet new things in the forest that will also leave me stymied by nature.

A Layered Life

Perhaps some can walk in a straight line, but I’m not one of them. Even in our home, I find myself darting here and then there as one thought or another enters my mind and I need to check on this or look into that. So it was when I entered a wetland today.

My journey began with a destination toward a certain coppiced (many trunked) Red Maple but I knew ahead of time that I’d divert from the path that didn’t exist and scramble through the Buttonbush shrubs to visit a kettle hole that is groundwater dependent. Only two weeks ago, it was filled with much more water and I was surprised to find it so low today. And thrilled.

Behind the first “hole” or kettle is a second and between the two: tracks galore. The baby-hand look gave away the ID of the most frequent travelers: Raccoons.

But . . . where two weeks ago some friends and I spied Black Bear prints, today I noted the track of a large moose that had headed in the opposite direction of my foot. If you look carefully from the bottom of the photograph to the top left-hand corner, you’ll see three dark indentations, giving a sense of size: Mighty big.

After enjoying the first kettles for a while, I decided to bushwhack toward another. Again, my path was a zigzag and again the ground water was significantly lower. Why? Given that we finally had rain this week, I expected it to be higher, but by the state of the leaves on the trees, and the color of the plant life, it’s obvious that the drought has truly affected the landscape. Because of all the undergrowth and downed trees and branches that snap as one walks, I was hardly quiet in my approach, thus several Wood Ducks sang their “oo-eek, oo-eek” song as they took flight.

That was ok, for still I stood in silent reverence and thought about the soils under the water and how it must differ from that under the American Bur-reed, and how that soil must differ from that under the Buttonbush and Winterberry shrubs, and how that soil must differ from that under the Red and Silver Maples.

Pulling away at last, I journeyed forth in a continued erratic fashion, made even more erratic by the shrubs that acted like Hobblebush and persisted in trying to daunt my procession. Each foot had to find placement among branches only to then be confronted by fallen trees that don’t decompose so readily in this acidic neighborhood.

The obstacles were unsuccessful in pulling me to a complete stop and at last I arrived. Well, I’m not sure I’ll ever really arrive . . . anywhere. But I reached a point on my quest and zigzagged through the grasses and Leatherleaf and Swamp Candles. Once again, it was obvious by the plant life that the soil composition differed from one zone to the next.

Meandering about, occasionally I heard a slight “pop” at my feet.

You see, growing upon the Sphagnum Moss are thousands of Cranberry plants and I spent some time picking from the offerings, though I did note many soft ones–the result of last week’s frost. Still, they’ll make a good relish or sauce.

And in the same community, though a bit closer to the water and therefore finding a home on a soil that probably differed a bit from that which the cranberries preferred, a few robust Pitcher Plants showed off their always intriguing leaves and flowers gone by.

The now woody structure of this carnivorous plant is as interesting as the plant’s way of seeking nutrients in hydric (low-oxygen) soils. Though the petals had long since fallen, the round, five-celled fruit remained intact. The rusty-brown seed capsule, about ¾ inch in diameter, had begun to split open and exposed within were numerous seeds. Upon a closer look, I realized I wasn’t the only one observing this unique structure.

Do you see the teeny, tiny black and white insect? It wasn’t there for pollen, and so I began to wonder.

Would the insect eventually find its way down to the pitcher-shaped leaves and be enticed by the terminal red-lipstick lips, nectar glands, and brightly colored veins?

Would it follow the downward-pointing hairs into the trap below and not be able to crawl back out?

Would it become a snack, much as the insect in the water of the leaf on the left? You see, once the prey slides down through the hairs, it reaches a smooth zone where it encounters some sticky goo, thus making it even more difficult to climb out. And then, there’s the water, rainwater. It is there that the insect drowns, and is digested by bacteria and enzymes in the water. The resulting nutrients are then absorbed by the plant that grows in a habitat low in essential nutrients such as nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Actually, the tiny insect might not become a meal because it just might be a Pitcher-plant Midge, who has anti-enzymes to counteract the digestive enzymes in the fluid, and feeds on the plant’s decomposed insects. There’s also a type of mosquito and flesh fly that survive in the same manner.

Mostly hidden by other plant forms, another Pitcher Plant grows a few feet away, but its leaves are much greener due to its shadier habitat.

As I looked at the plants at my feet, suddenly I heard the bugling, rattle-like sound of Sandhill Cranes. Take a listen.

Rather than return via the “path” I’d created into the bog, I had to go in search, certain that I might be disappointed.

I was so certain I’d be disappointed because my approach was rather loud.

At last I reached the edge of the largest kettle of all. And scanned the scene.

Suddenly to my right three large birds emerged from behind the Buttonbush. I’d found the cranes. But as I fumbled switching cameras, they flew off, rattling all the way.

Still, there was more movement where they had been and for a few seconds I watched three Greater Yellowlegs Sandpipers until they also flew off.

And so I began to wander back, at times totally uncertain of my whereabouts, though by the sky and trees ahead I thought I was headed in the correct direction. Still, it felt rather jungle-like among so many Winterberries. The curious thing: two weeks ago there had been many other berries including Witherod or Wild Raisin. Apparently the birds that I heard all around me had been feasting.

A flock of Northern Flickers darted here and there. I know they are seed eaters, but they’ll also eat fruits. Perhaps it was they? And so many others in the midst of migration.

I know it wasn’t the Great Blue Heron who suddenly flew up into a tree and preened. His intention would have been on the aquatic life in the kettles.

Adding my stomach growls to the scene, I knew it was time for me to depart. Still I stood, taking it all in.

A layered life. Where hours pass like moments. And life transpires while fruits form.

I am grateful to wander and wonder and wonder and wander some more.

Summer Falls

Today dawned the chilliest in a while with 29˚ registering on the thermometer at 6am. But as these September days do, it warmed up a bit and I didn’t need my gauntlet mittens, aka hand-made wrist warmers, for long.

As I ventured forth, I noticed, however, that the fairies had worked like crazy and prepared for the temperature and their beds were well covered.

Further along, Cinnamon fern fronds curled into themselves as is their manner at this time of year, but really, it looked like they had donned caterpillar coats in an attempt to stay cozy. So named cinnamon for the color of their separate fertile frond in the spring, the late season hue also sings their common name.

Upon another stalk that also appeared cinnamon in color, paused a Swamp Spreadwing Damselfly, its days diminishing as its a summer flyer.

For a while, I stood in an area where Bog Rosemary and Cotton Grass grow among a variety of others. One of those others blooms late in the season and added a tad bit of color to the display.

As I wandered, I wondered. Where are the pollinators? For the early hours I suspected they were tucked under the flowers, but eventually the day warmed enough and the action began and no one was busier than this Bumblebee.

Maybe that’s not entirely true, for Hover Flies did what they do: hovered. And occasionally landed.

Notice the hairy fringe? Hover or Drone Flies as they are also known, mimic bees in an attempt to keep predators at bay. Perhaps the hair also keeps the cold temp from tamping down their efforts?

Crossing streams more than several times, Water Striders skated while the tension between feet and water created reflections of the still green canopy and blue sky. And do you notice the tiny red water mites that had hitched a ride on the strider?

Meandering along, the natural community kept changing and so did the plant life. One of my favorites, Hobblebush, spoke of three seasons to come: autumn’s colorful foliage, winter’s naked buds a bit hairy in presentation, and spring’s global promise of a floral display forming between the buds.

One might think this was a serene hike in the woods and through the wetlands. One would be slightly wrong. Ah, there were not man-made sounds interrupting the peace, but the grasshoppers and cicadas did sing, birds did forage and scatter and forage some more, and red squirrels did cackle. A. Lot.

Perhaps their dirty faces indicated the source of their current food source: white pine seeds. It certainly looked like sap dripped from facial hairs.

And I’m pretty sure I heard a request for sunflower seeds and peanuts to be on the menu soon.

I wandered today beside a muddy river,

through a Red Maple swamp,

and into a quaking bog.

In each instance it was obvious: Summer falls . . . into autumn. It’s on the horizon.

A Spider’s Feast

In the changing light of the early afternoon, I began chasing male Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies. That’s no surprise, I’m sure.

But what did surprise me was that I didn’t notice any females. And that reminded me of the Calico Pennants, for in the early summer it was the males of that species that I spotted most often. Where were the females?

Perhaps mating was no longer on the minds of the meadowhawks and given the cooler temp of the day, I could convince one to climb upon my finger to gain some warmth.

And so it did . . . until in a flash, it flew off. In pursuit of what? I didn’t know.

And so I turned my attention to a Mottled Grasshopper, also known as a Pine Tree Spur-throated Grasshopper, or more scientifically Melanoplus punctulatus. Had it been on a tree, I might have missed spying it, but upon the rock it posed thus allowing me to spend some time in admiration. Ah, the eyes. Two segmented antennae. Those teeny, tiny feet that support such a large body. And that body suited in armor. Its colors and patterns reflecting an artistic creator. Lest I get carried away, I moved on in search of more dragonflies.

And suddenly I spotted a canoodling pair that flew past me and landed on an oak tree, where their bodies formed the mating circle. But again, just as they’d flown in, off they went in tandem, toward the pond so he could make sure it was his sperm that fertilized the eggs she deposited along the shoreline.

What was I to do? Why, look around, of course. And that’s when I spotted a huge orbweaver in action as it dangled from the camp shed.

I was immediately mesmerized as I realized it was a grasshopper that must have climbed the building and become ensnared. The red squirrel above me was not as enchanted with my presence and so he scolded.

Looking up into the white pine, I searched for the branch upon which he sat.

It took a moment for he was rather high up in the tree, but at last I spied the chatterbox.

But my main focus was on the feast waiting to happen. First it had to be wrapped.

I’ve seen wrapped insects in webs before, but I what I found most fascinating about this one was the size of the predator and its prey. The spider was hardly daunted.

From different angles, I tried to gain a better understanding. Not only was the wrap so intriguing, but have you ever wondered how such a large spider can dangle upside down, held only by thin threads of silk? Then again, have you ever broken through a spider web? Some are mighty strong and sticky.

While that action continued on the front of the shed, I looked to the side to see if there was any evidence of an old feast. None was evident, but I did see another grasshopper heading toward the roof line.

And then it turned . . . toward the front of the building. A wrong turn?

Indeed. Slowly it advanced . . . until it encountered an entanglement and realized its poor choice of direction.

With care, it retreated.

And so I returned to the front of the shed to check on the action where the well wrapped meal could have been mistaken for a small fish.

Orbweavers typically bite their prey to kill them, then wrap their meals in silk for later consumption. Really wrap. I watched for well over an hour and then headed off for a hike with my guy.

Just before leaving I glimpsed at the side where the live grasshopper had tried to escape. In the moment, it was a success story for I didn’t see it anywhere.

Upon returning three hours later, I immediately checked upon my friend. Wait. Did I just call this incredibly huge, hairy/spiny arachnid “my friend”? I do suffer like many from arachnophobia, but at the same time, their structures and behaviors garner my awe.

As for the wrapped grasshopper, I guess you could say it was “toast.” The spider had turned and it appeared that meal was being consumed.

I looked for crumbs this morning, but found nary a morsel. Somewhere there may be a small ball of indigestible parts on the ground that I overlooked. Even the web had been destroyed, which is typical spider behavior–consume the silk as morning approaches, thus reabsorbing any moisture used in its construction, as well as the dew. Perhaps it’s like a sip of juice to help with digestion.

A meal of toast and juice–a spider’s feast.

Goldenrod Gala

As many of you know, I’ve never been a party girl, much preferring to hide in the wings and be the wallflower at the edge of the crowd, but when the invite arrived today, how could I resist?

It didn’t give an actual location, but by the photo I suspected I knew where in the yard would I meet my friends.

Immediately upon entering, I wished I’d waited a bit for the Ambush Bugs had already discovered each other and chose the corner I preferred as their hide-away spot in which to mate. Really, shouldn’t they have gotten a room?

At last, however, I discovered others who like me were solo for the party, this being a Mason Wasp. His eye was on the bar and nectar was the drink of choice.

While I inquired about something to sip upon, into the middle of the space danced a pair of Thread-waisted Wasps. She seemed rather oblivious to his advances.

They maneuvered this way . . .

and that. No matter which way they swayed, he clung on.

At times I wondered if she really appreciated his clingy mannersim.

At best, she seemed to tolerate him. But never did she let him get any closer.

For over an hour, we all watched from the edges as they sashayed back and forth across the dance floor. Maybe he clung so close because he hoped to get lucky in the near future, or maybe they’d already finished canoodling and he wanted to make sure that it was eggs he’d fertilized that she laid, much the way male dragonflies hold on until the female of their intentions do the same.

Meanwhile, back in the corner, the Ambush Bugs began to separate as he climbed down off of her. And below them, another insect that might become their choice at the buffet table lingered.

Finding a stem all its own upon which to practice its own dance steps was a Locust Borer decked out in fancy dress clothes.

Also dressed to the nines was a Flesh Fly wearing gray pin stripes.

As the party continued, I soon realized that the Mason Wasp was a tease.

Or so it seemed as its antennae played with a shy Crab Spider waiting under the buffet for a morsel upon which to dine.

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the spider–who was certain it was about to score, only to discover it had been outsmarted. But that’s the way it is in these social affairs as a variety of personalities come together to greet each other and yet satisfy their own needs.

At last the hour had chimed and it was time for all of us to depart. As I stepped through the doorway, a final greeting was bestowed . . . by an Assassin Bug Nymph completely camouflaged by the flower’s greenery.

With that, my visit to the two-hour Goldenrod Gala was completed and I gave thanks for the invite to such a pop-up event. A social gathering of my type, indeed.

What the House Wren Pronounced

They’re said to be uncommon in our area, but in the past few weeks I’ve twice had the opportunity to spot a House Wren. And truly, that word “uncommon” strikes me the same way as “common.” My guy sometimes refers to me as “uncommon,” but really . . . I’m just plain common.

Still, the wren foretold the insects to come because so many are part of its diet.

And its habitat, one full of fields and forest beyond.

Such a forest includes Purple Milkwort, a teeny, tiny flower with a structure that reminds me of Origami folds, yet so easy to overlook for its location so close to the ground.

Equally small in relationship to the landscape, the suddenly prolific juvenile Autumn Meadowhawks, their yellow legs a sure giveaway to their “common” name.

Short-horned grasshoppers were also among the mix, which included so many grasshoppers with every step. Curiously, some found a new split-rail fence to be much to their liking.

Today’s path led to a spur trail into an old quarry that possibly supported mill sites built downstream, including a former woolen mill. It was a place where the past begged an honor.

And the present offered new learnings. On the left: the underside of Bear or Scrub Oak; and the right: Northern Red Oak. Notice how the former is not only whiter, but smaller in structure. Both, however, feature bristled lobes.

The cones of the Bear Oak were much smaller than the Red, and in their present form still bespoke the flowers from which they’d formed.

Added into the mixed forest were a couple of saplings of White Oak, another species not so “common” to the setting.

One spot combined two more common sightings–a White Pine cone having been consumed by a Red Squirrel who probably sat upon a branch of the pine tree above to devour the seeds tucked within each scale and discarded said scales below while turning the cone much the way we eat an ear of corn and finally dropping the leftover cob which landed upon a Red Oak.

In this same forest setting, Striped Maples showed off their dangling lanterns of samaras, dimpled on one side and robust on the other.

Upon the trunk of another Striped Maple a grasshopper practiced its best camouflage, but . . . it was seen.

At another section of trail where the wildflowers grew, the Ambush Bugs waited for prey upon which to dine.

Activity upon the wildflowers was abundant and include this stink bug: Stiretrus anchorago.

Ants were very much a part of the scene, giving rise to the sweet factor the Meadowsweet flowers offered.

And when one is looking, one discovers others who try to secretly travel through the landscape, such as the Western Conifer Seed Bug Nymph.

Curiously, a “common” Harvestman Daddy Long Legs showed off a display of Red Mites.

But, one of the coolest dudes in the neighborhood was a Tachnid Fly, its dark oval eyes and bristly oversized body a giveaway. Tachnid flies are considered beneficial because they dine on lots of other insects including sawflies, borers, and green stink bugs, plus tent caterpillars, cabbage loopers, and gypsy moth larvae.

As had been the manner at the beginning of the hike, so it was at the end with band-winged grasshoppers displaying their armored forms upon the split-fence posts.

Hidden among the pine needles, molts of grasshopper species showed off their exoskeletons.

In the midst of all who followed the trail, Sedge Darners flew and landed and dined and flew some more.

The question remained: How much did the House Wren pronounce? A lot for as it knew, there was much to see and understand. But really, it probably pronounced so much more to be considered in the future.

Glee on Zle Mondate

I suggested this mountain to my guy the night before last. But yesterday morning I wasn’t sure I wanted to drive to it and so I offered two other possibilities much closer to home, including the one in our backyard. The original choice, however, still resonated with him because . . . there might be a pie involved. We could only hope.

We certainly found berries, though most weren’t meant for our pie, unless, of course, we were of the avian or mammal sort. This one the fruit of a Stinking Benjamin.

Along some parts of the trail Mountain Holly’s raspberry red berries mixed with the smell of the surrounding fir trees made us feel as if we’d stepped into the Christmas aisle.

The reds were delightful, but my favorite of all, the porcelain blue of Bluebead Lily, aka Clintonia. To think that its yellow spring flower transforms into this brilliant blue fruit astonishes me each time I have a chance encounter with it. Chance because as was the case along most of the trail, the berries had been consumed. Not edible to us, but obviously there are those who can enjoy the feast.

We could have eaten a Creeping Snowberry or two, but again, it’s always such a surprise to see these fruits that we left them for the animals to bake into their own dessert of choice.

For a long way, the trail passes through mixed woods but as we climbed higher the natural community gradually changed and soon we were among the evergreens, where a break offered a sampling of the view to come.

Staying out of view was a shy garter snake.

Until we reached the bald ledges, much of our vision was consumed by the forest floor for we had to pay attention to the exposed roots and rocks that thousands of others had trodden, knowing that somewhere in the midst we’d left our prints previously.

At times boulders bordered the trail in the form of enormous outcrops and I kept expecting to see a bobcat hiding within, but no such luck.

At last we reached the summit and took in the panoramic view. And rejoiced in the day, the opportunity to hike and encounter few others, and especially the temperature for it was really quite comfortable.

Beside the cairn we found lunch rock and . . . lunched. (Is that a verb?)

And then I began to poke around. I really wanted to get a photo of the dragonflies that kept zooming past and the butterflies who fluttered nearby but never paused. Instead, a White-spotted Sawyer flew in and took up a few minutes of my time.

That is until a hawk’s shadow drew our attention to the sky.

It suddenly turned and flew straight at us. I thought I was taking the most spectacular photograph just before I dove for cover. Apparently I missed that photo op but it will remain forever in our minds’ eyes . . . and we think it was a Goshawk based on its colors and behavior. That said, it was time for us to skedaddle.

And so we began our descent, choosing to make the loop that tried to allude us the first time we ever climbed this mountain. Now we know where to look for it, but if you go, know to keep searching for the cairns at the summit because otherwise there are a lot of false paths. Well, they aren’t actually false for they do exist, but they won’t lead you down the “easy” way.

Knowing that I was bummed not to snap a shot of the dragonflies at the top, my guy stopped when we encountered them again in sunny spots along the trail. No, he wasn’t saying “Peace be with you,” but rather he hoped to be a dragonfly whisperer. They’d have none of it, though they flew at us and over us and we repeatedly thanked them because we’ve been in this place when the biting bugs think we’re meant to be the feast.

At long last, my guy spotted this guy dangling as the darner family does. You might also find one resting upon a tree trunk. The lighting wasn’t right for me to make a precise identification because I couldn’t see the markings on its face and thorax, but still . . . I got my dragonfly and was happy.

Further along he pointed to scat and I said, “Weasel.” It was right beside a small critter hole and I suspected it had feasted upon the residents within.

To follow the loop takes a lot longer than had we chosen to descend the way we’d climbed up; but eventually we were back on the main trail where we’d completely missed this sign-in rock. We chose not to sign in or out and tried our best to leave no trace.

We took only photos, including a selfie as we ascended.

And though there were blueberries here and there along the trail and I suspect some of you expected us to pick and me to bake (LOL), we only sampled a few because on our way we’d stopped at the roadside bakery and made a selection, not wanting to take a chance that upon our return the shelves would be empty.

Our choice de resistance and reward for completing an over nine-mile hike: Blueberry Cherry Pie.

Indeed Glee upon Zle Mountain Mondate.

P.S. All along we talked about this pie and fully expected to dig in last night, but ended up eating too late because we had chores to do at home and it’s on the counter right now and I hope the grand moment will follow lunch today. That or we’ll just savor the sight of it for a while and remember that we love hiking that mountain because it offers such variety . . . and pie.

P.M. Gathering

A friend and I met this afternoon and ventured forth upon a path that was quite different from those we usually travel. Our finds began as soon as we stepped out of our vehicles.

First there was the White Admiral Butterfly, preparing to puddle with its straw-like proboscis, at the moment curled but ready to extend into the gravely parking area to search for nutrients he might share with a gal.

And after only a few minutes into the woodland habitat, as is its preference, a Northern Pearly-eyed Butterfly fluttered into the scene, and posed–also with its proboscis curled.

Keen eyes of my friend spotted the next mention of wildlife–that of a very young garter snake who slithered across our path and then found a stick upon which to blend into the scene.

There was so much to see, such as a giant burl upon a White Cedar, its growth a consequence of an injury, virus, or fungus, creating a vase-like base enhanced by the tree’s shaggy-lined bark.

The tree’s leaves were as interesting as the bark with scaly leaves offering another texture to the forest.

Occasionally, as we continued, we stumbled upon Indian Pipes in their clustered colonies. Though some were just emerging and had their single flowers dangling low, many had been fertilized and showed off a dash of maturity with upright flowers. Eventually a woody structure filled with dust-like seeds will be produced, though it is doubtful many will germinate and grow into these most interesting plants that lack chlorophyll and depend upon a fungus and tree root to survive. And yet they will.

In the midst of it all, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, Raven, and Bluejays considered our attention and as we practiced using the Merlin App for bird identification, two little brown things flitted here and there. Turns out they were House Wrens with their upright tail feathers and barbed wings, an exciting find for us.

That was, until we met a fungus we couldn’t identify, but could certainly appreciate for its formation upon a couple of Balsam Firs.

It poured forth out of the tree like pancake batter on a Sunday morning.

Further along, where the red and gray squirrels made sure to announce their presence, a lone chipmunk posed for moments on end and so we all stood still, thinking at first its cheeks were full, but then realizing it had elbows reminiscent of favorite aunts’ flabby arms. OK, so maybe we’ve reached that age when such flabbiness gathers despite our efforts to exercise and we’re now trying to find ways to laugh about such features. .

There was so much more to see, including a Purple-fringed Orchid,

Arrowhead flower,

and Joe Pye-weed topped with a green iridescent sweat bee.

Our journey was almost over when we spotted a bluet damselfly dining upon a crab spider,

and a Ruby Meadowhawk dragonfly with its straw-colored face pausing upon a boardwalk.

Said boardwalk offered the most abundant selection of species, but there was still more to accumulate on this long weekend. And my friend knew that though our time together had been special, there was still more to rejoice in.

You see, our youngest son and his gal had ventured north from New York City because they could.

And their smiles filled our souls as they took in the sights and sounds and smells of our most delightful western Maine locale.

Eventually, they honored us by preparing a meal, and chuckled as they worked for she slaved over a large pan while he managed the smallest of the collection.

Several times we sat around our new kitchen table, grateful to those who had created it, the dishes and food upon it, and those who at last could gather round it as we’d intended.

Thank you P and M, for heading north from the Big Apple, enjoying the fresh air, sharing talents and gifts and laughter, and just being YOU. And thank you, P.M. for sharing the trail and appreciating the gathering that was happening in our midst.

Resurrection

I warned you that last week’s Cemetery Cicada Celebration would be revised. And so it was. Over and over again as is my custom.

But the thing is that last week I took part in a poetry workshop offered through Greater Lovell Land Trust by Poet Judith Steinbergh. The title of the workshop was “Caring for Our Earth and Waters.” Judy shared various poems with us through a remote gathering and asked us to read them aloud while thinking “about what we might visualize from the images, and how the sounds and form blend together with the image and feeling.”

She encouraged us to make notes and suggested some different approaches: speak to the subject; become the subject; instruct the reader; show feelings toward the subject. She even gave us some beginnings and endings that might inspire us to begin.

And then she concluded with “Poetry Revision Guidelines,” which included such practices as reading the poem aloud several times, questioning whether or not the opening was strong enough, maintaining focus, creating images the reader could visualize, using tight language, finding a rhythm, helping the reader gain insight, and providing appropriate breaks.

We had one week to write a poem, submit it to Judy for comments, and then the big night would come: The Reading.

Just as it’s scary to publish in this blog manner or via Lake Living magazine and other avenues I’ve used over the years, it’s equally terrifying to read aloud–especially when you can see yourself on the computer screen.

But that’s what some of us did the other night for the remote Poetry Reading and you can watch and listen in: GLLT Poetry Reading 2020

My original subject was a pine tree, but after watching the magical emergence of cicadas last week, I knew I had to write about that experience. Figuring out the angle was much more difficult and I tried a variety of avenues. In the end, I chose a style that works best for me, teaching through imagery.

It’s not a done deal, mind you, for it is my belief that there is no such thing as a final draft. OK, so that’s my default in case you don’t think this works or have suggestions to improve my attempt. All comments are welcome. It’s only a draft and I haven’t written 18 drafts yet as I often do with an article. I’m at 7 or 8.

Resurrection
By Leigh Macmillen Hayes, 7/19/2020

To walk into a cemetery on a summer day
And find an insect metamorphosing upon a stone
I begin to understand the process of resurrection.

A life well spent questing sap for sustenance
Prepares to crawl free of its past
And reach for heavenly aspirations.

Through a tiny slit, a spirit no longer contained
Emerges head first as a teneral shape develops
with bulging eyes to view a new world.

Gradually, a pale tourmaline-colored body extends outward
With stained-glass wings unfurling
That provide baby steps toward freedom beyond.

I mourn the loss of your former soul
But give thanks for a peek at your upcoming ascension
From this place to the next.

It is not for me to know when you will first use the gift of flight
As I didn’t know when you would shed your old skin,
And I quickly offer a final goodbye when I see your wings spread.

I rejoice that I’ll spend the rest of the summer
Listening to your raspy love songs
Playing nature’s lullabies upon violin strings from above.

On this day, I celebrate the secrets of a cicada’s life,
Dying to the old ways and rising to new,
While I wander among the graves of others who have done the same.

To all who joined the Poetry Workshop or the Poetry Reading or wished they could, and especially to Judy Steinbergh, I dedicate this post. Thank you for sharing.