The Story in the Web

When I invited friends Pam and Bob to join me at Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve for a reconnaissance hike, I had no idea what might await us. But isn’t that true of every day, no matter what path in life we choose to follow? With each step we take, doesn’t a surprise await?

Today’s path found us making a few detours for fun, but it was when we followed the route long ago laid out by LEA that we made the most interesting discoveries.

The boardwalk through the Red Maple Swamp led us to the hummock that leads out to Muddy River, where fall’s colors were ablaze on the far side. Red Maple is an early harbinger of autumn as it turns color well in advance of other eastern deciduous trees, especially when it is located in wet sites.

As we continued, we found ourselves on the new/old boardwalk to the Quaking Bog by Holt Pond. The boardwalk is new in that its old self has recently undergone a renovation with corrugated culverts added below in hopes that come high water in spring or fall, the water will flow and the structure will float above.

We were excited to see such a change, but especially wowed by the Pitcher Plants that grew there.

As wild as the Pitcher’s leaves are, the fall structure of the flower was equally astonishing. I’ve forever found it a wonder that the extremely large style of this flower sits below the rest of the structure in order to capture pollen in its upside-down umbrella shape. With leathery sepals above, the large swollen ovary below may house as many as 300 tiny seeds.

At the end of the boardwalk, we stood beside Holt Pond for a bit and did what we frequently found ourselves doing: listened; looked; lollygagged.

At last we pulled ourselves away; but still there was more to see.

Because we were noticing, Pam spied Charlotte, a yellow garden spider, aka Argiope aurantia.

You might think we weren’t actually in a garden, but indeed, we were. Just prior to meeting Charlotte, we’d munched on tart cranberries, and sniffed and tasted Bog Rosemary leaves.

There was also a Lake Darner Dragonfly to admire. Especially given the tattered nature of its wings. Really, the dragonflies controlled their territory throughout much of our journey and sometimes appeared to brazenly want to gobble us up. I’m here to say that they didn’t succeed and we’ll never tire of being in their presence.

Leaving the quaking bog behind, we walked through a huge hemlock grove and noticed one noticing us. Do you see the Chipmunk? He remained still for moments on end, sure that we wouldn’t spy him. And then when we made a sudden movement, he darted into a safety hole.

At the edge of the hemlock grove, the natural community switched immediately to another wetland and offered new opportunities. This time, you need to locate the Phantom Cranefly. Do you see its black and white legs?

At last we reached Tea Garden Bridge, so named if I remember correctly, because the water in Sawyer Brook resembles the color of tea.

What drew our attention was the Water Strider Convention. The shadow of the Water Striders tells their story. To our eyes, it looked like their actual feet were tiny and insignificant. What we couldn’t see were the fuzzy little hairs that both repel water and trap tiny air bubbles, thus allowing them to float or skate along the water’s surface. But still, why was the foot shadow so big while the body shadow was more relative to the strider’s size? Did the movement of the foot against the water create the larger shadow?

Continuing on into the land of abundant Winterberry, we thought about all the birds who will benefit from its red fruit in the coming months.

And then our eyes cued in again. First on a Katydid, with its beady eyes so green.

And then another Phantom Cranefly. And another. And another. I met my first Phantom Cranefly in the spring, but today they seemed to appear from out of nowhere everywhere.

And finally, a male Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly pausing and flying; pausing and flying; all within a small territory it had claimed.

At last it was time for us to turn around and head out, but I gave great thanks for the opportunity to travel slowly and wonder with Pam and Bob as I prepared for a private hike I’m leading tomorrow. Some folks chose to bid on a walk with me in support of camperships (aka full scholarships camp) for Camp Susan Curtis, a camp for economically disadvantaged Maine youth who attend at no cost to their families. I’m honored to lead them and pleased that local kids will benefit from this offering.

I can only hope that I’m able to weave a story for them as Charlotte did for us today. She even signed it. Do you see her zigzag signature?

Wondering With Jinny Mae

It takes us forever and we like it that way. In fact, today a woman who saw us in our typical slo-mo movement commented, “It’s like you’re on a meditative walk. I always move quickly and miss so much.” Indeed we were and when I travel beside Jinny Mae there isn’t much we don’t see. But always, we’re sure that we’ve moved too quickly and missed something. Then again, we realize that whatever it was that we accidentally passed by this time may offer us a second chance the next time.

1-winterberry

Today’s wonder began with the realization that winterberry holly or Ilex verticillata, grew abundantly where we chose to travel. This native shrub will eventually lose its leaves, but the plentiful berries will last for a while–until they’ve softened considerably that is and then the birds will come a’calling.

2-winterberry

Everywhere we turned, or so it seemed, we found them ranging in color from spring green to shades of red. As summer turns to autumn, the leaves will yellow and eventually fall.

3-winterberry

And then the brightly colored berries that cling to every stem will add color where it’s otherwise lacking in the landscape.

4-winterberry

Even while the leaves still held fast, we found some brightly colored berries that offered a breathtaking view.

5-to Muddy River

We passed through numerous natural communities, tiptoeing at times, such as on the boardwalks, for we didn’t want to disturb the wildlife around us–no matter what form it took.

9-dragonfly attachment

And we rejoiced in spying a cherry-faced meadowhawk couple in their pre-canoodling mode. Can you see how he has used his cerci to clasp the back of her head? His hope is that he can get her to connect in the wheel position and they’ll take off into the safety of the nearby shrubbery to mate.

6-Muddy River

At the river, we began to notice other signs that we’ve once again entered a transition between seasons, for subtle were the colors before us.

7-beaver lodge

Across the river and just north of where we stood, we spotted an old lodge, but weren’t sure anyone was in residence for it didn’t seem like work was being done to prepare for winter. Then again, we haven’t done anything to prepare either, for though the temperature has suddenly shifted from stifling to comfortable (and possibly near freezing tonight), it’s still summer in Maine. And we’re not quite ready to let go.

17-Sheep Laurel

That being said, we found a most confusing sight. Sheep laurel grew prolifically in this place and we could see the fruits had formed from this past spring’s flowers and dangled below the new leaves like bells stringed together.

18- sheep laurel flowering in September

Then again, maybe it wasn’t all that odd that it still bloomed for when I got home I read that it blooms late spring to late summer. I guess we’ve just always noticed it in late spring and assumed that was the end of its flowering season. But then again, it appeared that this particular plant had already bloomed earlier in the season and produced fruit, so why a second bloom? Is that normal?

10-pitcherplant 1

As we continued on, we started to look for another old favorite that we like to honor each time we visit. No matter how often we see them, we stand and squat in awe of the carnivorous pitcher plants.

11-pitcher plant 2

But today, we were a bit disturbed for one that we’ve admired for years on end looked like it was drying up and dying. In fact, the location is typically wet, but not this year given the moderate drought we’ve been experiencing in western Maine. What would that mean for the pitcher plant?

13-pitcher plant flower

Even the flower pod of that particular one didn’t look like it had any life-giving advice to share in the future.

14-Pitcher Plant 4

Fortunately, further on we found others that seemed healthy, though even the sphagnum moss that surrounded them had dried out.

14a-pitcher plant

Their pitcher-like leaves were full of water and we hoped that they had found nourishment via many an insect. Not only do I love the scaly hairs that draw the insects in much like a runway and then deter them from exiting, but also the red venation against the green for the veins remind me of trees, their branches spreading rather like the tree of life. Or maybe a stained glass window. Or . . . or . . . we all have our own interpretations and that’s what makes life interesting.

15-pitcher plant flower 2

Speaking of interesting, the structure of the pitcher plant flower is one we revere whenever we see it because it’s so otherworldly in form. And this one . . . no the photo isn’t sideways, but the flower certainly was. If you scroll up two photos, you’ll see it as it grew among the leaves. The curious thing is that it was sideways. Typically in this locale, Jinny Mae and I spy many pitcher plant flowers standing tall. Today, we had to squint to find any.

16-pitcher flower and aster

She found the sideways presentation and this one. But that was it. Because of the drought? Or were we just not cueing in to them?

20-cinnamon fern

We did cue in to plenty of other striking sights like the light on a cinnamon fern that featured a contrast of green blades and brown.

21-cinnamon fern drying up

Again, whether the brown spoke of drought or the transition to autumn, we didn’t know. But we loved its arching form dramatically reflected in each pinna.

18a-swamp maple

But here’s another curious thing we noted. We were in a red maple swamp that is often the first place where the foliage shows off its fall colors and while some in other locales have started to turn red, only the occasional one in this place had done so. Our brains were totally confused. Sheep laurel blooming for a second time; pitcher plants drying up and dying; and few red maples yet displaying red leaves?

19-witch's caps or candy corn

We needed something normal to focus on. And so we looked at the candy corn we found along the trail. Some know them as witch’s caps. They are actually witch hazel cone galls caused by an aphid that doesn’t appear to harm the plant. It is a rather cool malformation.

24-white-faced meadowhawk

On a boardwalk again, we stepped slowly because the white-faced meadowhawk kept us company and we didn’t want to startle it into flight.

25-white-faced meadowhawk dining

One flew in with dinner in its mouth and though I couldn’t get a photo face on before it flew to another spot to dine in peace, if you look closely, you might see the green bug dangling from its mouth.

26-New York Aster

All round us grew asters including New York, water-horehound, cranberries, bog rosemary and so many others.

27-Virginia marsh-St. John's Wort

There was Virginia marsh St. John’s Wort,

28-fragrant water lily

fragrant water lilies,

28-jewelweed

jewelweed,

29-pilewort globe

and even pilewort to admire. The latter is so much prettier in its seed stage than flowering. Why is that we wondered.

30-Holt Pond Quaking Bog

Ahhhh, an afternoon of wondering . . . with Jinny Mae. At LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve. In Bridgton. An afternoon well spent. Thanks JM.

 

 

 

 

 

A Circle Completed

The day began with a reconnaissance mission to the Kezar Outlet Fen and a check on the cranberry crop. One of the most delightful ways to spend an early October morning is foraging for those little red balls of tartness and while my guy may have blue greed in his  need to pick every blueberry in sight, my greed turns red this time of year.

f2-winterberries

Of course, on the way to the fen, other red berries showed their shiny faces–and we rejoiced in their presence as well. Winterberries were they.

f4-cranberries 1

But it was those little gems that grew closer to the ground that caught our attention on this morning’s Greater Lovell Land Trust docent tramp. And like those who have come before, we each claimed a spot and made sure not to trespass in our quest to fill our bags with such redness.

f6-cranberries

It didn’t take long. And really, there is no better way to spend the morning . . .

f3-kettle hole

for this is a place to share the joy of foraging, the beauty of place, and the conversation of friendships.

m1-abandoned lodge 1

And then one friend and I returned to the beaver quest I’ve been pursuing for the past two weeks. It was another reconnaissance mission intended to find some new activity. Today, we traveled a different trail and visited an old lodge–again several years abandoned.

m3-anthill

Though no one was home at the stick lodge, we did find a few inhabitants of a nearby sand lodge, aka ant hill. And Forester Dave, with whom I was traveling, pointed out that the sweet and bracken ferns circled the spot, but didn’t grow within at least a foot of the hill. His theory is that the ants chemically affect the ferns. That was new to me and one to observe in other places.

m4-side lodge

We continued on our way and eventually came to another beaver pond that seemed equally abandoned. The lodge was built along a side bank, but no new construction had taken place recently. Nor was there a display of food gathering in preparation for winter.

m5-watercress

But . . . we found a food source of a different kind in the form of watercress.

m8-green frog

We also watched a number of green frogs leap into the leaf-strewn water to hide–and yet slowly float to the surface in an ever curious way.

m9-hornbeam hop

And we saw numerous “hop” balloons, those little slightly inflated cases of hop hornbeam fruits that protect the seeds–many of which flowed in the water. So where was the source?

m10-hornbeam bark

We scanned the forest and finally found the shaggy barked tree beside the water.

m11-bobcat print

After that, some bushwhacking found us passing through a muddy zone–and prime tracking location. Deer, raccoons, coyotes and bobcats had previously walked where we stepped. Do you see the C for cat in this print?

m13-dam3

At last we reached our intended destination, only to realize that the beavers still eluded us. We were sure that since all other areas had been abandoned, this one would be active.

m14-beaver pond of yore

We were wrong. The only activity seemed to be leaves clustering on the water’s surface.

m16-raccoon prints

And so we backtracked and made our way down to another beaver pond, deciding  that we’d travel in the opposite direction of the raccoons and follow the stream downhill. From the top of the land to the lower portion, we encountered four or five well built dams, all still intact, yet the water levels were much lower than we would have noted if the ponds had active beavers. To say we were disappointed would be an understatement.

m17-bobcat scat?

We did, however, find a great scat specimen. We debated bobcat and coyote–sectioned as it was had us leaning toward bobcat, but there were some large bone pieces that suggested coyote. Either way–we knew both had passed through.

m18-spring peeper

And we found a spring peeper and chatted about their callings in autumn weather that reflects their mating season–the fall echo season.

m20-brook view

A little more bush and whack and at last we reached the brook below.

m21-single leaf

As we stood in companionable silence, a single leaf floated past.

m24-balsam seedling

When it was time to turn away, we continued on, reveling in sights missed on previous missions, including a balsam sapling growing on a fern-covered stump.

m25-fresh beaver works!

And then, and then, much to our surprise, we encountered fresh beaver works where only three days ago there had been none. In at least three locations, we discovered that tree roots had been gnawed upon. It was a subtle sign–but a positive sign.

m26-smaller lodge

The lodges, which number at least three in this particular beaver pond that keeps pulling me back, still don’t look like they’ve been attended to. And there are no winter food platforms yet, but apparently they have time and don’t need to button down the hatches yet.

m28-brook

Happy in the knowledge that we’d found the beavers, though we never saw them, we decided to continue to follow the stream to a trail that abuts the property boundary.

m27-black ash

And being a forester, Dave quizzed me on a tree or two. This one I got wrong by its bark because it doesn’t exactly look like its white and green siblings, but knew by its leaf–black ash with no petioles on the leaflets.

m29-foam reflecting bark

About three hours later, we left the beaver community behind–our circle completed, figuratively and literally. Even the brook appeared to know, its froth circled in reflection of the log above.