Standing beside quiet water in so many places this past week offered rewards for those of us who took the time to look.
The first order of business was to watch for large aquatic insects moving quickly toward the shore or vegetation. Hormones send the signal that any give day is THE day to begin the quest. In Kurt Mead’s Dragonflies of the North Woods, he explains that just prior to THE day, the aquatic insect rests (goes into a state of diapause), “while the final changes are made inside the larval exoskeleton.”
Once out of the water, it can be quite a journey to cross land and find the right plant or tree. I’ve seen some travel more than ten feet for just the right spot upon which next to pose.
Should a boardwalk get in the way, scampering across it is of utmost importance. When one is on a mission, road blocks must be overcome.
I do have to say I had to relocate a few who thought my boot, green as it is, offered the right opportunity. Certainly I would have protected it from any predators at the period of time when a dragonfly switches from aquatic predator to teneral land prey before becoming a terrestrial flying predator. For hungry nesting birds, these could become quick snacks.
Once the perfect substrate is chosen, it takes a while before the insect begins to undergo metamorphosis into an adult. Then the magic begins. The skin at the back of the head cracks open, and ever sooooo slowly the head, thorax with wings that had been stuffed into little packages on its back, legs, and abdomen begin to emerge. This process of emerging from the larval skin is called eclosing.
With all the effort it can muster, it briefly pumps its body as it arches backward away from the vegetation. The pumping is followed by periods of rest because this process takes so much energy.
Over time, as in at least an hour, more and more of the body pulls free and its aquatic breathing tubes are no longer needed.
Colors are drab throughout the process making it difficult to ID to species, but that will come.
Ever so slowly, the legs harden and the dragonfly begins to extend them. If you look closely at this photo you might notice one emerging and another climbing up the vegetation to find its own spot for emergence.
Just before fully pulling its abdomen free, the dragonfly reaches up and grabs its shed skin or exuviae. And then it begins to unfurl its wings while pumping hemolymph, aka bug blood, into them. Once elongated, the wings are cloudy. It’s actually one of the easiest times to spot the process, for the cloudy grayish brownish wings become obvious among the foliage.
It’s rather like a “Where’s Waldo” moment when you do start to look. One here, another there. And, and look, yet another.
The next step, while still clasping the shed skin, is to extend the wings out, pumping the bug blood back into the body so the abdomen can extend and colors begin to emerge. At this point, the spread wings take on a shiny sheen as they dry.
This is the second most obvious way to spot a newly emerged dragonfly, for the shiny wings glisten with hints of rainbow colors.
Remember the naiads making a quick exit from life spent below water? Many of them stalk their prey among the underwater vegetation, and it seems sometimes the vegetation stalks them. Can you see a stem sticking through the body of this larval form?
I have to wonder if it’s the reason some wings are folded and never quite open all the way, thus leaving the insect unable to fly. Well, maybe it’s one reason.
Those who do fly off find that first flight to be a bit tenuous, lift off happening suddenly and the insects act like balloons floating toward the heavens. Within a day, however, the sheen begins to dry and true colors, like those of this Belted Whiteface form.
The same was true for this Stream Cruiser, the only cruiser species in our neck of the woods (at least to date). But, the right hind wing was stuck to the front wing and flight was difficult. That said, this particular species was found at least a quarter mile from water and it got there somehow.
All this being said, I highly encourage you to head to the water’s edge and take a look. I wasn’t rewarded each day this week, but more often than not, and I suspect you will be too. If nothing else, you might discover the papery remains of a discarded exuviae and once you locate one, you’ll surely see a bunch of others.
Go ahead. Take a peek.
The best part of this week for me was that not only did I don my own set for another year, but I had the pleasure of sharing the opportunity with so many people, young and more mature (nice way to say old), who developed their own set of dragonfly eyes.
On April 10, the ice had started to melt on the little vernal pool behind our house. And I got excited.
Suddenly it was time to start paying attention on a daily basis.
Within a few days, following a long winter of being frozen under the leaf litter, male Wood Frogs arrived at the pool. I heard their “Wruck, wruck” quacks as I approached and recognized that love was in the air. But the moment I stepped to the edge, all went silent and the frogs dove to the bottom. Standing as still as possible, I watched as they slowly began to resurface.
A few days later, it was in the pool. Love that is. The females had arrived, their abdomens swollen with eggs. And tada, the Wood Frogs were in business. A male, and it could be more than one, jockeyed for a chance to grasp a female around her waist in a long embrace and fertilized her eggs externally as she laid them.
A week or so later, and all was quiet again on the vernal pool front, for momma and papa had exited the water and returned to the forest floor in search of food, and the nursery was left to develop on its own in the form of a lumpy mass of eggs with a single embryo elongating within each.
About a week later, Spotted Salamanders crossed the road with a little help from some human friends, and they (the salamanders) also sought out their natal vernal pools in which to breed.
To do this, the salamanders performed a dance in which he stimulated her rather than participate in amplexus like the frogs. Then he deposited little packets of spermatophores consisting of mucus and a sperm capsule, and enticed her to crawl over such. According to Mary Holland’s blog, Naturally Curious, the female “positions her vent, or cloaca, so as to allow the lips of her cloaca to detach the sperm capsule . . . she collects his sperm into her body and internal fertilization takes place.”
If you look closely at the two plugs attached to the leaf, you’ll notice that the one to the right still had a sperm capsule attached.
I always think of them as little bundles of cauliflower.
And another tada, the eggs were laid and began to swell up, surrounded as they were by a gelatinous mass (and this one momentarily lifted into a container at the surface of the water for educational purposes), and the parents returned to the their mole-like life below the leaf litter, to be spotted rarely until next year’s Big Night.
In yet a different wetland locale, I found Painted Turtles basking together on a log. Being ectothermic, or cold-blooded, their body temperature depends upon the environment and in the spring they need the sun’s rays to warm them up to an internal temperature of 63˚ – 73˚.
Because the spot where I saw the turtles was not a vernal pool, but rather a bog, I didn’t spy any Wood Frog or Spotted Salamander egg masses, but there were tadpoles of another type upon which to dine, like this Bullfrog, which takes two years to mature.
And leeches. A plethora of leeches floated past the rock upon which I stood. Not all leeches suck human blood. Many prefer that of amphibians and reptiles.
Visiting several other vernal pools, Predacious Diving Beetles soon made themselves known in several forms, from this, the larva, aka Water Tiger, with its strong mandibles, ready to grasp prey at any second . . .
to an adult.
The body of a Predacious Diving Beetle is oval with oar-shaped hind legs that feature fringed hairs to increase stroke power. So here’s a thing I learned last week and now try to pay attention to: when swimming, Predacious Diving Beetles kick both hind legs simultaneously, whereas Water Scavenger Beetles, which look similar, kick their hind legs alternately.
Oh, and do you see the Mosquitoes wriggling behind the beetle?
Speaking of behind, look at the beetle’s behind–it’s an air bubble. They trap oxygen-filled air between their wings and body, prolonging their time under water. and thus can stay under for long periods of time, returning to the surface when it runs out.
So back to the Mosquitoes. Meet the third stage in their life cycle (egg, larva, pupa) known as a tumbler. Tumblers lack mouth parts because they don’t eat while undergoing the magical transformation into an adult. Spying this means that very soon biting female Black Flies and Mosquitoes will be part of the landscape. They’ll annoy us, but we need to remember that they are food for others, like tadpoles and birds and dragonflies.
As for the biting insects, I’ll try to practice mind over matter because I can’t resist the opportunity to learn more and be present as I hone my focus above and below the water’s surface.
It seems there are never enough rainy days to complete home chores so when today dawned as such I thought that all the contents I’d been sorting from a closet would finally make their way to new homes like the dump store or community clothing closet or back into containers to be stored for another rainy day.
Apparently, I thought wrong for the Cardinal beckoned and we answered the call to head out the door.
When I mentioned a location for today’s hike to My Guy, he agreed that it sounded good, though come to find out, in reality he thought we were going someplace else and even when we arrived at Great Brook, he couldn’t recall our last visit, which was in 2016. Fair enough. I’ve been there many more times.
It soon became apparent that we were in Moose territory and our excitement rose. Actually, on another trail in this same neck of the woods we once spotted a Moose, so all we could do was hope that today we’d receive the same honor.
But first, there were other honors to receive, such as this bouquet of flowering Red Maple.
And the first of the season for us, maple leaves bursting forth in all their spring glory of color.
Onward we hiked deeper into the woods where a place one might think of as no place was once some place. This particular foundation has long been a favorite of mine because within is a root cellar.
It’s one I can’t resist stepping into because you never know what tidbit might have been left behind.
Porcupine scat! Rather old, but still.
My friend, Jinny Mae (RIP), was a talented techie and though the red line isn’t the entire route we followed today, it’s one she and I explored back in 2016. The map is from a section of the 1858 map of Stoneham. And we were at E. Durgin’s old homestead.
Knowing that there were some gravestones in the woods behind the house, we once again followed the Moose who led us directly to the family cemetery. Someone has cleared the site a bit, so it was easy to spot, especially since the trees haven’t fully leafed out.
Sarah, daughter of Anna and Ephraim Durgin, is the first tombstone. She died in 1858 at age 22.
Beside her is the stone for Mary, wife of Sumner Dergin, who died before Sarah–in 1856. She, too, was 22 years old. As best I can tell, Sarah and Sumner were siblings.
And Ephraim, Sarah’s father, died in 1873 at age 81. Notice the difference in stone from the two girls to Ephraim? Slate to cement. And the name spelling–Dergin and Durgin. As genealogy hobbiests, we’ve become accustomed to variations in spelling.
8. ANNA3 FURLONG (PATRICK2, JOHN1) was born 1791 in Limerick, Maine, and died 1873 in Stoneham, Maine. She married EPHRAIM DURGIN June 18, 1817 in Limerick, Maine14. He was born April 13, 1790 in Limerick, Maine, and died in Stoneham.
Children of ANNA FURLONG and EPHRAIM DURGIN are: i.OLIVE4 DURGIN, b. 1811, Stoneham, Maine; m. DUNCAN M. ROSS, April 11, 1860, Portland, Maine. ii.SALOMA DURGIN, b. 1813. iii.ELIZABETH DURGIN, b. 1815. iv.SALLY DURGIN, b. 1817. v.SUMNER F. DURGIN, b. 1819, Of Stoneham, Massachusettes; m. MARY ANN DURGAN, July 11, 1853, York County, Maine; b. Of Parsonsfield, Maine. vi.CASANDIA DURGIN, b. 1821. vii.EPHRAIM DURGIN, b. 1823. viii.FANNY DURGIN, b. 1825.
Sarah isn’t listed above. But . . . Sally and Sarah were often interchangeable.
By 1880, there had been a change in ownership of the neighborhood homes and the Rowlands had moved into the Durgin house.
Again, we followed the moose, this time in the form of a Striped Maple browsed upon, curious to see what might be ahead.
A chuckle. Yes, a mailbox in the middle of nowhere, this spot being a place where someone once had a camp. Our Moose tried to send a letter, but missed by a couple of feet.
Willard Brook was our next stop and I was reminded that when I first started wondermyway.com, a post about this brook initiated some discussion about the Indigenous stonework found throughout the area. I’ve explored it looking for such and convinced myself in the past that I saw the turtles in most of the stonewalls. In fact, I see them everywhere, but today I was looking at different subjects.
Beside the brook, lots of Hobblebush looked ready to burst into life and we thought how fortunate that the moose hadn’t decided to dine. Yet.
There were even tiny Hobblebush leaves to celebrate for their accordion style.
And Broad-leaved Dock looking quite happy and healthy.
Back to Great Brook we eventually wandered, still with no actual Moose in sight.
But beside the brook I did spot some Trailing Arbutus buds preparing for their grand opening.
As we walked back on the dirt road we’d walked in on, we paused beside a beaver pond where Spring Peepers sang their high-pitched love songs. I made My Guy scan the area with me because just maybe . . .
or maybe not. We did spot a Mallard couple. Oh well, We still had fun discovering everything else where the Moose led us on this rainy day.
And when we arrived home I had an email from an acquaintance double-checking with me that the print he found on his shore front of Kezar Lake was a moose print. Indeed it was!
(And now it’s time to prepare for Big Night. Finally. The temperature is in the 40˚s; it’s been raining all day and will continue tonight; and though lots of amphibians have moved to their native vernal pools, I think there will be some action tonight and we’ll be able to help them cross the road safely.)
At the risk
of sounding redundant,
I bring forth
a prickly topic.
A quick glance
while surveying treetops
my heart sang
as I spotted
a well-armored back.
the track of
a bobcat to thank,
for it showed me the way
to this special find.
as branches snapped
at my side,
and snow crunched
below my feet,
a better look.
My, what big nails you have!
to disturb you,
I chose instead
to follow your
and see where
they might lead.
I lost track of
but then a hint
in the form
a rambling line.
In an opening
I next stepped
and discovered you
had done the same
over and over
to another hemlock stand
by the little brown commas
scattered across the snow,
I knew I'd found
one of your dining rooms.
What I could not locate
was your den
and so I circled back
a few more minutes
admiring your auburn hair,
and chocolate brown eyes.
With your poor eyesight,
I thought perhaps
I was safe
across the snow,
for so loud
were my snowshoes,
to see if I could find a den
in this vicinity
but all I saw
were the fallen branches
from the trees.
It was then
that I returned
you were beginning
to move as well.
Poor eyesight yes,
auditory and olfactory senses
are spot on.
Aware of my presence,
and those raised, sharp-tipped quills
another pole tree
with your feet
as your tail
stayed on full alert
should I approach.
'a slow waddler,
I know you
to move swiftly
so once you
began to climb down,
the time had come
for me to bid adieu
hightailed it home.
Dear Prickly Porcupine,
will be the day
I celebrate you!
It’s not even Valentine’s Day and already I’m thinking of love. Don’t tell My Guy, but this is love of a different sort. And the story all began while tracking with friends earlier this week.
Just as we were about to finish up the program, we spotted the signs of a resident rodent, including downed hemlock twigs and then a den. The den did not entirely make sense due to its placement in what seemed like a wet area, but we decided the critter must have found a dry place above the moisture, for indeed there was scat.
Once spotted, I knew I needed to return, for almost nothing makes me happier than to spot sign left behind by this mammal.
And so I did yesterday afternoon and while taking a different route to the den, I noticed the sashay of said critter as it had waddled through fluffy snow.
Next, I did what I do, and followed the tracks in a different direction than originally intended. And that’s when I saw these, the resident’s name carved on several wooden shingles. It’s an agile critter given that the shingles were posted all the way to the tip top of these pole trees.
Can you read it? Porcupine Lives Here is the inscription engraved on the tree. Actually, it’s a sign of winter feeding for porcupines, like beavers and deer, seek the cambium layer as one of their food sources. Each line shows where the porcupine’s incisors came together as it scraped away to obtain a meal.
And just beyond those pole trees, I spotted a hole that I suspected could only be one thing. A den with tracks leading in and out and the required pee, for such is this mammal’s habit.
A closer look at the dooryard and I spotted a barbed quill and hair. Actually, quills are a modified form of hair.
Did you know that porcupines have a variety of hair? For winter insulation, they have dark, wooly underfur. In addition, there are long guard hairs, short, soft bristles on the tail’s underside, stout whiskers, and then there are those pesky quills.
They aren’t pesky to the porcupine; just us and our pets and any animal that might choose to or accidentally encounter a porcupine.
The quills are 1 – 4 inches in length and lined with a foam-like material composed of many tiny air cells, thus their round, hollow look. There are no quills on the porcupine’s face, belly, or inside its legs.
But on the upper portion of its head, down its back and along the top of its tail, oh my. Within one square inch, there are approximately one hundred quills.
All told, there are over 30,000 quills. But who is counting. Not me. Though I did count these fancy toothpicks, 100 in all, to represent the quills in a square inch.
Despite the myth, porcupines cannot throw their quills. Because the quills are loosely attached, they dislodge easily on contact and stick into a victim’s flesh. And because they are barbed, they are difficult to remove. Talk about a formidable defense!
Returning to the den, which was located within a hollowed tree, I knew the porcupine had visited within the last twenty-four hours but wasn’t so sure it was home at the hour I stopped by.
As I often say, “Scat happens.” And in the case of a porcupine, it happens a LOT! One porcupine evacuates 75 – 200 scats a day. And though this happens as it dines, most of the scat is deposited in the den. Why? Warm insulation on a night as cold as tonight will be with temperatures already in the negatives and wind chills expected to reach -45˚? Or a detractor for predators–do they get a whiff and realize its one they don’t want to visit?
I’m not sure, but this is an example of a winter scat–fibrous from that woody diet of bark and twigs. It’s comma shaped. And often there is a groove down the inside curve.
By spring, it may come as linked pieces, much like a necklace, for grass fibers from a change in diet help create the connection.
Having discovered this den, I decided to follow the tracks, which indicated the mammal had traveled in two directions. Where would it lead me?
Within a tenth or two of a mile, I realized I’d snowshoed back to the spot my fellow trackers and I had discovered two days prior. You can see our snowshoe tracks. But since our visit, the porcupine had happened along, climbed over the downed log and peed.
Did you know that pee plays an important role in a porcupine’s courting ritual. These critters are solitary most of the year, but between September and November they seek a mate. The male, in a bid to woe a female, often approaches and sprays her with his urine. Are you feeling the love? She apparently does, for if she likes the scent of his urine, they might rub noses, or walk on their hind feet before canoodling begins.
Right above the peed-upon log was the entrance to the den and by the sight of the pigpen approach, browner even that it had been previously, I knew this really was active. The soiled snow is from the porcupine walking across its scat to exit the den.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the camera lighting right, but believe me that this one is full of scat as well. And I suspect, though I couldn’t see it, that a porcupine was sleeping somewhere in there, with its tail facing the entrance just in case a predator happened along.
Another indicator of a resident in the house–hoar frost created by breath on a cold winter day.
Right above the den I discovered the tracks of another–enemy number one in a porcupine’s world view. A fisher will kill a porcupine with repeated bites to the face and head.
Coyotes have also been known to work in pairs to maneuver a porcupine onto its back, thus going for the belly, where the hair is wooly.
So the curious story to me was that the fisher passed through after the porcupine was already back in the den, but it didn’t approach the den. Perhaps it had hoped to find the porcupine out in the open and didn’t want to face a tail lashing if it stuck its nose into the house.
Since the pervious visit, there were also more hemlock twigs on the ground and lots more evidence of scat-dirty feet and pee.
Because a porcupine is a rodent, and a large one at that, only exceeded by a beaver in size, it has prominent top and bottom incisors and twig nips are at a 45˚ angle. Can you also spot the scat and hair?
The winter diet consists of needles and bark–favorite trees being hemlock, birch, beech, aspen, elm, oak, willow, fir, and pine.
In spring and summer, a porcupine seeks out grasses and other green plants. And then in the fall, it looks for acorns, tearing into them in a rather messy manner.
In fact, a squirrel’s midden of opened acorns shows that it cuts the hard shell into much neater strips.
A porcupine’s cheek tooth pattern consists of one premolar and 3 molars on each side top and bottom. As you can see, the cheek teeth are modified for grinding since they are strict herbivores.
It’s those prominent incisors that are to be admired. A porcupine uses its large two front teeth for gnawing off bites of food. The incisors continue to grow throughout the porcupine’s life at a rate of twelve inches/year, and the constant gnawing keeps them worn down to the perfect size.
I did not actually see a porcupine yesterday, despite my best hopes, but sometimes it happens when I’m not looking intentionally so there may be a sequel to this story.
A porcupine has poor eyesight, so I’m not sure if it ever actually sees me when it’s up in a tree, especially if I’m standing sorta still, but it does have a good sense of hearing and smell, so I’m sure its aware of my presence. And the tail always faces the trunk in case I decide to climb up–it’s a great defense mechanism–having the tail at the ready to thwart a predator.
I will end this long story with a drawing by a dear friend and fellow naturalist, 8-year-old Aurora. She’s done her homework and I hope one day soon she’ll be able to answer the question: Quill You Be Mine? with a yes!
I’ll let you in on a tad bit of a secret . . . eventually.
But first, today was a tracking day and so five of us did just that. When we arrived at the intended location, due to snow conditions, I think we had low expectations. I know I did.
We had just stepped off trail to begin our bushwhack excursion when we spotted this Ruffed Grouse scat. So the curious thing about this is that there are two kinds of grouse scat, the typical cylindrical packets coated with white uric acid, but also a juicier, brown dropping. And I regret that I didn’t take a photo of the juicier, yet slightly frozen stuff we saw dripping from some twigs above. At the time, I knew the brown stuff was significant because I’ve looked it up before, but couldn’t bring it to mind. Thanks to Mark Elbroch and Eleanor Marks, I found an explanation in Bird Tracks and Sign: “Interestingly, after producing these lower-gut-generated solid evacuations, some game birds, such as a grouse, often then evacuate a semi-liquid brownish mass from the upper gut, or cecum, with the two types of droppings coming out sequentially; the more liquid, almost liver-colored scat comes out second and is spread on top of the solid matter. In Ruffed Grouse, it is common to find the hard, fibrous scats at one roost and the soft, brown cecal droppings at another.”
But not uncommon to find them together!
We stood for a long time discussing the grouse scat and when we finally moved on, it wasn’t too far that we discovered bobcat prints. Given that the prints were not super fresh because there was some debris in them, we decided to follow the track forward. Had they been fresh, we would have backtracked so as not to put pressure on the animal. Though secretly, we all love it when we do actually get to spot a mammal. Or a grouse, for that matter.
Eventually, we lost track of the bobcat, because as you can see, there were spots with no snow. But then we stumbled across a sighting that confused us. White-tail Deer scat on the edge of a boulder. Dawn has some new tools she was gifted for Christmas, and so she was excited to pull them out. Our confusion, despite the fact that it looked exactly like deer scat, was caused by the location. On top of a boulder. On the edge of said rock. We came up with a few stories, but will let you try to interpret this on your own.
Back in the snow, we found canine rather than the feline prints we’d been looking for and so out came the tape measure to determine species. Based on the fact that the print measured less than two inches at the widest point and that the stride, or space between where two feet touched the snow (toe to toe), we determined it was a Red Fox.
Everywhere, we spotted Red Squirrel holes and middens, indicating the squirrel had cached a bunch of hemlock cones in numerous pantries and returned since the snow fell to dig them up and dine, leaving behind the cone cobs and scales in trash piles. What struck us was that for all the middens we saw, we never heard or caught sight of any squirrels. In fact, we didn’t see any animals . . . until we did. Huh? You’ll have to read on.
Our next great find close to the pond we walked beside, was more scat! Of course, it was. This being the works of a River Otter and filled with fish scales, all those whitish ovals embedded in it. Like a small pile of Raccoon scat we’d spotted earlier, but again, I forgot to photograph (the sign that we were having fun making all these discoveries), otters tend to defecate in latrines, using the same places over and over again.
Our movement was slow, and every once in a while we’d spread out until someone made a discovery and then we’d all gather again.
Which was exactly what happened when this Snowshoe Hare scat was discovered. Three little malt balls.
After the hare find, we followed a couple of canine trails that took us back to the water. Domestic dog or Coyote? We kept questioning this, but never saw human prints. And the animals did seem to be moving in a direct line on a mission. The warm weather we’ve been experiencing may have been enough to make their prints look larger than they typically would so I think I’m leaning toward Coyote.
But in following those, we discovered a sign from another critter by the water’s edge: Mink scat!
When our time was nearing an end and we bushwhacked back to a road near the trailhead, we were all exclaiming about our cool finds. And then a little birdie we encountered asked, “Do you want to see a bear?”
We don’t need to be asked that question twice, though now that I think back, I’m pretty sure we asked the birdie to repeat the question. YES! She gave us directions and we decided we needed to take an immediate field trip. We each hopped into our vehicles, drove almost to the destination, parked, and walked as quietly as we could toward the den site.
We got us a bear! A Black Bear! The birdie said it has been there since sometime in December.
Now that I’ve shared it with you, I’ll say no more for the five of us are sworn to secrecy about its location.
Walking in silence
along a trail so familiar
my eyes were drawn
to bubbles at my feet.
Tiny bubbles, tinier bubbles, tiniest bubbles
formed random patterns
as they gave new life
to dying grasses.
Nearby, salmon-colored disks
the mint-green crustose form
of candy lichen's granular base.
Meanwhile, crimson caps of British Soldiers
shouted for recognition
as they showed off
their branching structures.
Upon a rotting tree
and backlit by the sun
glowed the irregularly lobed fruits
of Orange Jelly Spot.
In another sunny spot, a Little Copper sought nectar
from a goldenrod still in bloom
while a Spotted Cucumber Beetle
photobombed the shot.
I have to admit that I struggled with ID:
Ruby, Cherry-faced, and Saffron-winged
since this dragonfly showed characteristics
of each in the meadowhawk clan.
Being present on this October afternoon
reminded me of another day
when I paced before a couple of shrubs
and watched the insect action.
I am honored and humbled to announce that that blog post was recently published
in The Observer, a publication produced by the Maine Natural History Observatory.
My friend and fellow master naturalist, Cheryl Ring, also has an article in this issue.
The most humbling thing for me was an email I received from a reader who is also an avid naturalist. She commented that my ID of a butterfly at the end of the article, which I called Painted Lady, is actually American Lady. I now realize I need a new field guide because mine refers to it as American Painted Lady and I inadvertently dropped "American," while hers dropped "Painted" in the name. It's another lesson in why I need to wrap my brain around scientific names since common can cause confusion. I do appreciate that she took the time to read the article and write to me.
That said, the best lesson of any day is to take time to be present and observe in nature. Even if it's only for a few minutes.
My Guy and I were climbing Mount Tom in Fryeburg, Maine, this afternoon when it began to rain. Being under the canopy, it didn’t bother us. Until it did. That moment occurred when the thunder began and continued as the storm seemed to circle nearby Pleasant Mountain. Even though we were close to the summit and had planned a round trip hike, we quickly turned about and backtracked as the heavens opened and even the canopy could no longer protect us. And then back at the trailhead, the sun came out. This is Maine after all.
And so I drove down the road to another spot where the actual “hike” is about 50 feet long, but the view and sounds spectacular.
The first friend we did meet was a Dot-tailed Whiteface Skimmer Dragonfly, so named for that spot on its abdomen and the fact that its face is white. Sometimes common names make complete sense and other times they are a source of confusion, but to learn the scientific names boggles my brain most of the time. Or maybe I’m too lazy.
Dragonflies are often territorial, unless they are Chalk-fronted Corporal Skimmers as are two resting here on Sensitive Fern. The Corporals often share a space and I’ve frequently spotted bunches resting on rocks or the ground.
But there’s another dragonfly in this scene. Can you find it? And it got me thinking about how some different species do share a space within the same habitat. That is, until one decides to eat the other.
In the mix, Familiar Bluet Damselflies also flew … and rested. This one upon an equisetum.
And another upon a Sensitive Fern. The damselfly wasn’t all that senstive for if you look at the last few segments of its abdomen, you’ll spot little red dots, the bodies of water mites.
Some species of water mites are parasites on insects like damselflies. The mite larvae attach to a damselfly nymph in its underwater stage. When the nymph emerges from the water and enters adulthood, the mite larvae stay with it and also mature as they feed on the body fluids of the damselfly. While the damselfly will probably survive the mite parasitism, it may be weakened by the tiny critters.
In the water itself, tadpoles. Tadpoles galore.
Above the water, a Frosted Whiteface Skimmer, a rather minute species in the whole scheme of things.
That’s not all. Four-spotted Skimmers also flew and paused, flew and paused. The Four-spotted is an aggressive hunter of other insects, sometimes even capturing smaller dragonflies, um, like the Frosted Whiteface. Fortunately, no such action happened on our clock. (Though it would have been cool to witness.)
Oh, and then a Viceroy Butterfly flew in. Be still my heart. While one might think Monarch Butterfly based on the coloration, the Viceroy is much smaller and features that black line that crosses the hind wing, Monarchs don’t have a line across their hind wings.
Perhaps, though, my favorite spot of the hour was the Racket-tailed Emerald, so named for the tennis racket shape of its abdomen–use your imagination. Even more important to notice: those shiny green eyes. This was the dragonfly that shared the space with the Chalk-fronted Corporals.
So the reality was that My Guy spent a few minutes with me and was impressed by the tadpoles, but then he returned to the truck and took a nap.
The Dot-spotted Whiteface looked at me as if to say, “Hey lady, haven’t you had enough yet? Maybe it’s time for you to return to the truck as well. And skedaddle. ”
I supposed I should, but really, based on all the sounds and sights and the fact that there was so much more going on that I didn’t capture, I could still be standing there.
Take a gander yourself. I welcome you to observe friends on the edge of Abraham Krasker Bog Pond on Bog Road in Fryeburg.
Our day began with a remembrance of our fathers and uncles and cousins and friends and all who have served and continue to serve our country. Growing up, my hometown celebrated Memorial Day with a parade and I remember riding or marching or watching–depending upon the year. And after there was a picnic topped off with Strawberry Shortbread. But in my adopted hometown, July 4th is the date that receives all the attention.
And so, that’s a long introduction as to why My Guy and I headed off to Overset Mountain for today’s hike. We were on a mission.
Said mission was not to count all of the Indian Cucumber Root plants we could find in flower, though My Guy did point to this one at the start of our journey because just a week ago I introduced him to their double-decker structure necessary for extra sugar creation and therefore flower followed by fruiting form.
Nor was said mission to marvel at the water as it flowed over the rocks in Sanborn River.
Instead, it was a bit of a treasure hunt that motivated us as we sought the ones who liked to hide along the trail. Um, kinda like My Guy is hiding in this photo. Can you spot him?
Success at last. The first success that is–a Pink Lady’s Slipper in full bloom. #1. Henceforth, had you been with us, you would have heard us stating the number of each Lady’s Slipper we spied and honored.
At first, there weren’t many but we did what we like to do when faced with a challenge such as locating bear claw trees–we scanned both sides of the trail in hopes of being the one to announce the next number.
Oh how they hid!
To spy one often required a sharp eye. The question was thus: what determined where a Lady’s Slipper would grow? I knew it was a certain fungus, but the US Forest Service clarifies it more than I can: “In order to survive and reproduce, pink lady’s slipper interacts with a fungus in the soil from the Rhizoctonia genus. Generally, orchid seeds do not have food supplies inside them like most other kinds of seeds. Pink lady’s slipper seeds require threads of the fungus to break open the seed and attach them to it. The fungus will pass on food and nutrients to the pink lady’s slipper seed. When the lady’s slipper plant is older and producing most of its own nutrients, the fungus will extract nutrients from the orchid roots. This mutually beneficial relationship between the orchid and the fungus is known as ‘symbiosis’ and is typical of almost all orchid species.”
Turns out, we weren’t the only ones on the hunt. This Garter Snake crossed the trail and then paused, certain that it was so well camouflaged by the leaves and the twig it passed under that we couldn’t possibly spy it. But we did.
Sometimes, it was the white version of the pink that we spotted. As I mentioned, Lady’s Sippers orchids in the genus Cypripedium in the Orchidaceae family. The genus name Cypripedium is derived from the Greek words “Cypris,” an early reference in Greek myth to Aphrodite, and “pedilon” for sandal, so named for the fused petals that form the pouch and their resemblance.
There were other white flowers to also admire, such as the Canada Mayflower or Wild Lily of the Valley that decorated a boulder.
Ah, but we reminded ourselves that Lady’s Slippers were our focus. Though most stood upon straight stems, there was the occasional one such as this that had a mind of its own. What had this flower endured to create such a curvature?
At last we reached Overset Pond with the mountain of the same name beyond. This became our lunch spot and while there we watched a Common Loon and a Snapper Turtle swim underwater, for so clear it is.
It was after that, however, that our Lady’s Slipper numbers began to increase. We were at 47 when we reached the pond. But then, it felt like we were constantly taking turns announcing a number and pointing to make sure the other saw the same flowers.
When one is noticing, one notices. And so My Guy pointed out this Tiger Swallowtail taking a break, its proboscis rolled as it should be when not seeking nectar.
The next flower we spotted chose a different orientation, as if it had done something wrong and needed to show its backside to the trail. But really, perhaps it was honoring the tree beside which it grew.
We soon reached one of My Guy’s favorite spots where he counted 50 in bloom in a ten-foot-square area. And that’s just what we could see from the trail.
We found some who stood tall.
And others barely overextending the height of Bunchberry.
At the summit of Overset Mountain, we paused for a dessert break before making our way down.
On the descent there were still others to admire, though for a wee bit it felt like we’d entered the desert, but once closer to the pond, the natural community changed and apparently the fungus did as well for such were our finds.
The last of the day appeared to be the richest in color, though I’m not sure we had an overall favorite for each offered a different hue of the same theme from pale white to this rich pink.
We were on our way back to the truck, when things got even more exciting–if that can be so given all the Lady’s Slippers we’d spotted. Say hello to an immature male Common Whitetail Skimmer Dragonfly. By the time he matures, his tail will turn whitish blue, but those wings will remain the same. Oh my.
And then for the final oh my . . .
Oh My Guy! This was the closet I’ve been to my favorite Black Bear (UMaine grad–though known as UMO grad back in his day) on any hike . . . ever. And for this I give thanks to the Lady’s Slippers for slowing him down to my speed. All together we counted 286 flowering Lady’s Slippers today and know that we missed some and beyond the trail there are probably a million more.
Every day this week found me wandering a different trail, or even sometimes the same trail on multiple days.
To that end, on May 24th, I celebrated a full-fledged dragonfly emergence.
Though I wasn’t there at the time of eclosure, many of the dragonflies I spotted, and there were hundreds, were either still pumping hemolymph from their wings back into their bodies, gaining their color patterns, or letting their shiny wings dry in the breeze as they slowly began to expand them. A few had wings that seemed stuck together, but then in an unexpected moment they flew and I whispered farewell in hopes that we might meet again.
On May 25th, there were other species to behold.
It was that day that I knew the Highbush Blueberry crop will be significant this year for so many were the robust Bumble Bees that worked the pollen route. I even managed to capture one doing a happy dance with pollen on its feet. And this is canoodling season, after all, so it was fun to find a pair of flower bugs enjoying a tender moment upon Chokeberry flowers. The Mayfly did not have such a happy ending for before maturing to its adult form, it landed in a sticky web, but . . . alas, the spider must eat, so it was a good day after all.
On May 26th, my travels were more varied, as were the sightings.
For a few moments, I watched as ants, both winged and not, farmed aphids upon the stem of a Maple-leaf Viburnum. Along a trail or two that day, a melodious Song Sparrow serenaded me with its happy tune. And a quick trip to the vernal pool out back found me looking into the eyes of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Wood Frog tadpoles. But the best find of all, a fairy ring along a trail.
On May 27th, I was one of a bunch who arrived at a certain locale to bird at 6:30am.
Though I couldn’t stay for the entire trip, which yielded 38 species, I did have the joy of watching a small flock of Cedar Waxwings land and fly, land and fly. And then there was the Indigo Bunting. It’s blue coloration reminded me of Clintonia’s Blue Bead fruits we’ll spot in the summer if the birds don’t eat them all first. And I’m never sure why I’m surprised to find a House Wren on these journeys, but perhaps its because for so many years I didn’t see them (or didn’t realize I was seeing them) and thought of them more as a childhood bird from my beginnings in southern New England. The best find of all, on this day, however, was an Eastern Phoebe sitting on her nest.
On May 28th, I met some old friends, though for the first three I had to jog my memory for their names.
The first was a female Common Whitetail Skimmer dragonfly. It’s her guy who has the whitish “tail,” and I believe that she received the better strokes of nature’s paintbrush. Then there were the Hudsonian Whiteface Skimmers, she with yellow marks and his defined in red. Soon, the Calico Pennants will emerge, and we’ll see she also dons a yellow coat while he sports red. But as much as you know I love dragonflies, a fresh moose track also makes my heart sing.
On May 29th, I wondered how I could possibly top all of that.
And yet I did. First there were more ants farming aphids, this time Wooly Alder Aphids on Speckled Alders. After that, a Bluet Damselfly that didn’t seem to mind that I rustled around in some shrubs trying to get better photos of other species. For its patience, I thought I should honor it in this post. One of those other species, a small Dot-tailed Whiteface Skimmer dragonfly, drew my attention to a Pitcher Plant Flower preparing to open. I was surprised by its presence because though I knew I was in the land where Pitcher Plants are abundant, I couldn’t recall spying one in this particular spot before. But the best find of the day, an Assassin Bug, Pselliopus cinctus, finishing a meal. I had never met this species of Assassin Bug before as usually it is the slender green Zelus luridus that I encounter. The black and white legs were to be admired, by me, not its poor victim who had just had the juices sucked out of it.
It certainly has been a week to celebrate my daily wonders as I wander. And though the Assassin Bug was the best of today, the actual best I did not capture a photo of this afternoon. A River Otter popped up and stared at me briefly, chirped, and before I could reach for the camera, disappeared. But I will remember that moment and that spot in my mind’s eye.
Where to begin? Perhaps at the beginning? Or better yet, half way through. And so that’s where today’s story starts.
My Guy and I had some errands to run, but then it was time to have fun. To that end, we chose the Weeks Brook Trail up the backside (or maybe it’s the front side depending on your perspective) of Mount Kearsarge North in New Hampshire. We last climbed Kearsarge in November, which I recorded in What’s To Come Mondate, via the Kearsarge Trail that starts on Hurricane Mountain Road. We knew we didn’t have time to go to the summit today, but Shingle Pond, halfway up the trail offered a fine lunch log date and turn-around point.
Along the way we had many to honor and so we did, beginning with a colony of Clintonia showing off bright yellow blossoms.
Each cheery bloom offered an explosion of sunshine radiating from its flaring bell shape and six long stamens with yellow tips and a long style.
Sharing the trail were Pink Lady’s Slippers offering a variation of hues sharing a color scheme.
Since My Guy loves to count slippers, an activity that forever surprises me, he noted only eight in bloom today, but this one was extra special because it featured not only today’s blossom, but also last year’s fruit in the shape of a capsule that once contained thousands of tiny seeds.
And then there was Wild Sarsapirilla with its whorl of three compound leaves at the tip of a long stem.
The globe-shaped flowers that grow upon a stem of their own below the umbrella teemed with pollinators of all shapes and sizes.
My joyous heart kept growing larger and larger with each wonder-filled find enhanced in a few cases by being the first of the species I’ve spotted this year. Indian Cucumber Root topped that list with several in flower. To some, the flowers are inconspicuous as they nod below the plant’s second tier, but to me they are among nature’s most amazing constructions as the petal-like segments turn backward and the stamens stand out in reddish purple offering a contrast to the yellow pistils.
By the time we reached the Swamp Beacon Fungi, my heart was full, but like any sweet treats, there’s always room for more. These little yellow mushrooms love a wet seep and there were a few along today’s trail. I was reminded of my first encounter with this species in 2015 when I posted Slugs, Bears and Caterpillar Clubs, Oh My! (RIP PV. I’ll miss you forever)
At last we reached the pond and immediately my focus changed from flowers to other structures all belonging to the Odonata family, this one in particular being the left-behind exuviae of a Skimmer Dragonfly. I found it at eye level–my eyes that is and not My Guy’s.
I really wanted to introduce him to a dragonfly eclosing and the best I could find today was one that had already split out of its aquatic form and was still pumping hemolymph (bug blood) from its wings back into its expanding body. “Isn’t that cool?” I asked. His response somehow turned a basketball move he expected to see on tonight’s Celtics game into a cooler situation. Hmmm. I’ll win him over yet.
Despite that, I did win another one over. It was an immature Skimmer Dragonfly who had recently emerged for a wee bit cloudy were its wings still.
I knew it to species as a Whiteface for such was the color of . . . its face.
Whether it was a Belted Whiteface Skimmer or a Crimson Whiteface Skimmer, the jury is still out and based upon wing venation. My gut leans toward the former, but I’m open to learning so if you think otherwise, please explain.
That said, it was the first dragonfly that easily climbed upon my offered hand this year and I rejoiced that the Dragonfly Whisperer had joined today’s Mondate. Even My Guy was impressed.
If you follow me either virtually or in reality, you know that during April and May I spend a lot of time beside vernal pools. And this year is no different. Thankfully, I also get to take others along on the journey, from school children to their parents, and members of the public, plus colleague naturalists in the form of Greater Lovell Land Trust’s volunteer docents.
And so it’s been that this particular pool on a land trust property has received tons of attention this year. We’ve always known it to be special because it’s home to Fairy Shrimp, which just the occurrence of one makes it significant by State of Maine standards.
Vernal pools provide essential breeding habitat for certain species of wildlife, including salamanders and some frogs species. At the same time, juvenile and adult amphibians associated with such a pool provide an important food source for small carnivores as well as large game species. Many of these amphibians are pool specific in that they must return to their natal vernal pool to breed, thus making them and the surrounding habitat important and the loss of such would lead to loss of local amphibians, a decrease in biodiversity, and a decline in food available to others who inhabit the surrounding natural community.
Upon visiting this past week, the pool had taken on a new sheen, appearing at first glance to resemble ice. But it was much too warm for that to be the case.
Floating upon the pool’s surface were male Red Maple flowers, the oval items at the ends of slender, threadlike stalks the pollen producing anthers dangling on their filaments and the release of said pollen the cause of the ice-like presentation.
So the exciting thing about this particular pool is that though It has long been a breeding ground for Fairy Shrimp (and mosquito larvae), this year we spotted more of the former than ever swimming along on their backs as they filtered the water and sought a mate.
Though the pollen on the pool may give it a look of being polluted, the presence of Fairy Shrimp actually serve as an indicator of good water quality.
Where a month ago we were scooping up hundreds of these tiny crustaceans, this past week we found only a few, which served as one sign that this is a pool in transition. Their life cycle isn’t long, but if you checked in recently with the post entitled Peering Into the Pool, you’ll have learned a cool fact or two about their existence.
Back to now. Wood Frog tadpoles had suddenly emerged and their egg masses began to disintegrate, though still adding a source of food in the symbiotic relationship with an algal form.
Mosquito larvae and pupae, though still present, were not as prevalent, given that their flying, biting form had begun to hatch.
And then there was another change to note. And it’s a major change in my book of these habitats. Large Bullfrogs had taken up residence.
The wee bit smaller but similar Green Frogs had as well.
How does one decipher between a Bullfrog and Green Frog? First, as you approach a pool and you hear a squeal as a frog jumps from the edge into the water, you know that Green Frogs are in the midst.
And if you finally get to spy one, look for the line behind the eye. If it follows along both edges of the frog’s back, called dorsal lateral folds, it’s a Green Frog.
If, however, the line extends from the back of the eye and wraps around the round disk, or tympanum membrane (think ear), it’s a Bullfrog.
Also, Bullfrogs don’t leap away quite a suddenly as Green Frogs. In fact, they can stay quite still for hours on end.
Once human eyes adjust to the surroundings, shadows may pretend to be frogs, but they aren’t. The real deal, however, lurks at the surface, often only its eyes making its presence known.
Hemlock needles and maple flowers decorate it, and much to my surprise don’t frustrate it. Though some frogs may seem super sensitive to us, they also exhibit a patience not to be matched as they sit and wait.
Oh, did I mention that they were everywhere? Literally.
The thing is. these two frog species weren’t in the pool to breed like the Wood Frogs had been. They, after all, need a permanent water source because their tadpoles take two years at a minimum to morph into adults and a vernal pool that dries up each year would not be suitable. This tadpole was spied at a nearby pond, indicating that perhaps the Bullfrog came from that source to the vernal pool.
So what were the Bullfrogs and Green Frogs doing at the pool? Predating all that live within. Remember what I said earlier, that vernal pools provide food for small and large predators. These would be on the smaller size, though not the smallest.
Perhaps that’s why we weren’t seeing as many Fairy Shrimp this past week. And given the prevalence of these two frogs, who knows what will hop or crawl out of the pool, but we suspect some Wood Frogs and Spotted Salamanders will make it to adulthood so that they can carry on the tradition of returning to their natal pools to breed.
The thing about visiting a pool such as this with the younger set is that they are bound to make exciting finds. And so one did, locating a Spring Peeper swimming about.
And in the surrounding uplands, another found a Pickerel Frog. We could hear their snoring chorus, so this discovery wasn’t unexpected. But still it was special.
How to tell a Pickerel Frog from a Leopard Frog (the latter a species I’ve only seen a few times): by the spots on its back. The Pickerel’s spots are more symmetrical than the randomness of a Leopard’s and the Pickerel’s spots are outlined while a Leopard’s are not.
And then there was this teeny, tiny American Toad covered with warts and suddenly the ground was hopping with these wee creatures and Spring Peepers and one had to be careful where one stepped.
The final find of the week, an adult Wood Frog with its robber mask making for a sure ID. This one was a poser.
As the vernal pool turns, so do its inhabitants and I give great thanks for the opportunity to learn from it and share it with so many others who add to the lessons.
Dedication: This one is for Nancy Hogan Posey cuze I was going to write about something completely different today and your question turned the page to this one. Thank you.
The temperature dipped overnight and wind picked up out of the WNW but given the destination we had chosen, we knew if we dressed appropriately we’d be fine because we’d be in the woods most of the time, unlike last week’s walk where we were completely exposed to the elements on Popham Beach. That said, it was cold today.
Our plan was to follow the trail around Shell Pond at the Stone House property and do it with micro-spikes on our boots rather than snowshoes. Or at least on my boots. Given that there had been some foot traffic, we hoped that when we actually arrived at the trail we’d made the right decision.
As it turned out, most of the traffic had headed to the air strip, but a few had walked our way and really, there’s more ice than snow in this part of western Maine right now.
We cruised along at My Guy’s speed, which boded well for keeping our bodies warm and gave thanks that we were both quite comfortable as we began to circle the pond. Mammal tracks were numerous, but most muted and really, we didn’t want to take time to stop and measure so we only named to each other those we were certain we knew.
Well, one of us did walk a tad faster than the other, but that’s nothing new.
In what felt like no time, we greeted the Keeper of the Trail who gave us a smile from below his winter hat.
And then we reached lunch bench, which my guy cleaned of snow so we could dine on our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in comfort. Well, sorta in comfort. It was here that we met the wind as it swept across Shell Pond from Evans Notch. So, it was a quick lunch.
And a quick journey to the orchard. As we crossed the bridge over Rattlesnake Brook I recalled once watching a muskrat swim beneath. My guy informed me that I’d probably not see such today–how right he was.
I was feeling a bit bummed that we’d circled so quickly but we did promise ourselves that by the Stone House we’d turn off the air strip and check out Rattlesnake Pool and Gorge, which we’d missed on a Thanksgiving Day hike when we journeyed up Blueberry Mountain located behind the house to Speckled Mountain.
Each time we pass this way I give thanks to the owners who long ago put most of the forested part of the land into a conservation easement with Greater Lovell Land Trust and allow hikers and hunters and rock climbers to use their trails.
And so up the Stone House Trail we went, passing the gorge to start so we could meet the brook at a spot above and watch as the water swirled under ice,
and down through a chute,
creating ice sculptures all along its journey.
Briefly it danced into Rattlesnake Pond, and then followed the course below.
The pool’s nature as forever emerald green never ceases to amaze me.
We met it again at Rattlesnake Gorge were the flow continued despite all the frozen formations.
Down it continued on its way to the point where I earlier showed it in its calm and completely frozen flatwater oxbow.
Click on the video to briefly enjoy the sound.
As much as I was thrilled to have visited the Rattlesnake sites because it was too dark to do so the last time we hiked here, it was the image in the negative space of the ice that really put a smile on my face today.
Do you see a bear?
Back at the air strip we turned right and headed back to the gate. After that, we still had another mile to walk because we’d parked closer to Route 113 since the road in to Stone House isn’t plowed.
And then we played my favorite Stone House Road game–checking telephone poles for bear hair. Black bears LOVE telephone poles. For the creosote? Maybe. Is it the soft pine that they can so easily chew and claw? Maybe. Is it a great place to hang a sign that you are available for a date or this is your territory? Probably, but maybe it’s the other two possibilities that lead the bears to the poles. I do know this. They are well marked along this road.
In the process of biting and scratching some hair is left behind. Mating usually takes place in late June or July, so possibly this hair was left then and has since bleached out in the sunshine.
Shiny numbers also seem to draw their attention, or perhaps the bear wants to hang its own sign and tear down the one left by a human.
Look at the horizontal dots and dashes–can you see them? Think of the bear turning its head and the upper and lower canine teeth meeting as it bites at the wood.
Closer to the truck one pole indicated that the bear won–it had almost totally remodeled the pole including removing most of the number.
As Mondates go, I have to say this one was a very good hair date! And I’m not talking about mine or my guy’s, since we didn’t care what we looked like as long as our warm hats smooshed our manes.
As we drove to North Conway, New Hampshire for an errand today, we had no idea where we might hike. And then in the midst of said errand, my guy suggested Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch. It had been a while since our last visit so we decided it was a great idea.
It’s funny how the trail seems flat in my mind’s eye, but it’s hardly that as roots and rocks or boulders keep all eyes looking down while we climbed up. While it’s long been this way, the impact of hikers seeking solace during the past fifteen months means it’s been trodden even more than in the past.
The hike to the falls is rather generic and I soon decided I wouldn’t need to write about it until . . . we reached the Devlin’s staircase. And then it dawned on me that summer began late last night and we were in the right place, only having missed the celebration by half a day. My only hope was that we might glimpse our friend who had built them.
When we arrived at the falls, I could see that he had indeed turned on the shower and others were standing below taking advantage of the cool water on such a hot day. Do you see the heart created by leaves and trees at the top of the waterfall? That was another sign.
When in Rome–and so yes, we did the same.
After hanging out there for a bit, we hiked down and decided to detour via the trail to Bemis Falls, where even more roots slowed us down a bit, but the water spilling into the tiered basins made the trip well worth the effort. Notice how rather than a shower, the basins offered a place to bathe. It was another sign and again we knew Devlin was responsible.
Farther down the trail, we walked into Colesium Falls and again sat for bit while White Admiral butterlies fluttered around us.
One even paused long enough for us to admire its handsome features. We suspected their presence in this particular area was to serve as decoys.
For without realizing it until we returned to the Bemis Trail, we’d entered Falda’s home range. My heart be still. It was all coming together as planned.
The icing on the cake was a single Pink Lady’s Slipper, which we’re convinced Devlin had planted for Falda.
So . . . who are these two: Devlin and Falda? Why a giant and a fairy, of course. And perhaps you’ve read my fairy tale before, but even if you did, I’d love for you to read it again. And share it. And if you haven’t then, sit back and enjoy. And one more and, if anyone cares to illustrate it for fun, give it a whirl, but please share your works with me and maybe when I post this again in a year or two (It seems I’m on an every-two-years plan for sharing this story) I’ll include your works, with attribution, of course.
Once upon a Midsummer’s Eve, on Sabattus Mountain, a group of fairies gathered in a circle for a night of magic and merriment. All wore crowns of wood sorrel and ferns about their heads. Their sparkly skirts matched the color of their hair, purple and green and yellow and orange and blue. Together they danced and sang this tune:
We whirl and twirl and dance around, Our feet, they barely touch the ground. We wish and wish and wish tonight, For a Midsummer’s Eve that is fun and bright.
Aisling stopped suddenly and stared at the delicate pink lady’s slipper they circled around.
“What is it, Aisling?” asked Carys. “Why did you pause?”
“I had a vision,” Aisling said. Her wings fluttered as fast as a hummingbird’s, which they always did whenever she had a vision.
“Tell us,” insisted Imma.
“It’s about Falda,” said Aisling.
“Oh, will my wings work again?” pleaded Falda, for her wings were folded and though she could dance and jump, she could no longer fly.
“No, Falda. It’s not that, but something even better, I think. And there’s a nice ogre too,” explained Aisling.
“Tsk. Tsk. A nice ogre. Whoever heard of such a thing?” demanded Biddie. “The only ogre we ever knew was a devil. Remember his sign in Crawford Notch: ‘Devl Hom.’ That ogre was so mean, he couldn’t even spell.”
The fairies continued dancing and forgot about Aisling’s vision for a few hours. When the merriment was over, Falda and Biddie, the older fairies, returned to their homes beneath the thick foliage and moss-covered tree stumps. Imma, Carys and Aisling used pine needles to sweep the area so no hikers would discover them.
“Tell us more about your vision, Aisling,” said Carys. “Who is the ogre? And what does he have to do with Falda?”
“I don’t know for sure,” said Aisling.
“Biddie always says that there was a giant who lived near our old home in Crawford Notch. He was cursed and not to be trusted,” said Imma.
“Let’s go back there and check him out,” suggested Carys.
“Yes, let’s,” said Aisling. “Remember, we can always avoid contact with him by reciting the backward chant: Ogres bad big with contact eye avoid always.”
“OK,” agreed Imma. “Let’s go.”
In a twinkle and a flitter, the three fairies left their home in Lovell, Maine, and reached Crawford Notch. The rising moon glowed on the giant’s staircase made of carefully placed tree trunks.
Aisling was the first to smell something awful. “What stinks?” she asked.
“I think it’s him,” said Imma, pointing to where the giant stood building a two-hundred-foot high granite wall. “Biddie said his smell is why we left.”
“Shhh,” whispered Carys from her hiding place high up in a beech tree. “Listen to him.” This is what they heard: “Humph. I sure hope I can find water to flow over this fall. Then I can finally take a shower. And who knows, maybe Sweet Falda will hear that I’m clean and she’ll finally return.”
The three fairies held their noses and giggled.
“That’s your vision, Aisling,” squealed Imma.
“Humph. What was that sound?” the giant demanded. In the gruffest voice he could muster, he said, “Who goes there?”
Imma quickly waved her magic wand and a breeze moved the leaves. The giant could no longer hear them. He returned to his work of stacking granite boulders on top of one another.
“We’ve got to figure out how to get Falda and the giant together,” said Carys.
“Don’t you think he’s a mean, old ogre?” asked Imma.
“Not at all,” said Carys.
“Me either,” said Aisling.
“OK then. I have a plan, but I’ll need to ask my cousin to help,” Imma said.
In a twinkle and a flitter, the fairies returned to Sabattus Mountain and their village under the moss-covered tree stumps in the old pine grove.
“Falda, Biddie, wake up,” they called.
“What is it?” Falda asked as she walked out of her wee house, rubbing sleep from her eyes.
“We just came from Crawford Notch and we saw the most amazing thing,” said Carys.
“Tsk. Tsk. There’s nothing amazing left in Crawford Notch,” said Biddie.
“Oh, but you are wrong, Biddie. We saw a giant staircase, a giant waterfall . . . well, almost waterfall, and a certain giant himself,” said Imma.
“Almost waterfall?” asked Falda.
“Yes, it just needs water,” said Imma.
“Tsk. Tsk. Did you say ‘a certain giant’?” asked Biddie.
Carys fluttered up and down. “Yes, Aisling’s vision is coming true. We saw a certain giant building the almost waterfall and . . .” She was so overcome with excitement that she choked up and cried happy tears.
Aisling continued, “ . . . and he mentioned you, Falda.”
Falda’s cheeks turned as pink as the lady’s slippers that bloomed around them.
“Tsk. Tsk. You talked to that devil? Didn’t I always teach you that he is a cursed ogre and not to be trusted? Did you use the backward chant?” demanded Biddie.
“Oh, Biddie, don’t worry. We didn’t talk to him,” Imma said. The she whispered, “Yet.”
“No, we didn’t talk to him. We just listened to him,” said Aisling.
“I never even knew his name,” said Falda. She twisted her wee hands together. “He used to leave me beautiful gifts though, like a pinecone wreath and an oak picture frame.”
Biddie said, “Tsk. Tsk. He’s the devil, I tell you. And he stinks.”
“Yes, he did have a certain odor,” said Falda. “That was one reason we moved to Maine.”
“Maybe he smelled bad because he was always busy building something and couldn’t take a shower,” suggested Carys.
“Tsk. Tsk. He’s the devil and we’ll not return to Crawford Notch. It’s obvious that he put a curse on Falda and her wings got caught on a branch when we landed here. Now they are folded and she cannot fly,” insisted Biddie. “Enough of this nonsense. Go back to bed all of you.”
Aisling, Imma and Carys returned to their homes . . . momentarily. A few minutes later, when they were sure they could hear Biddie snoring, they met under an oak leaf behind Aisling’s house.
“I’ll ask Cousin Arethusa to provide a spring so water will flow over the boulders,” said Imma.
“Oh goody,” Carys said as she clapped her hands.
“Shhh,” Aisling whispered. “Quiet or they’ll hear us. We must act quickly before the sun rises on a new day.”
Silently, the three fairies formed a circle. Imma held her magic wand high and swung it in a sweeping arch above their heads. Fairy dust sprinkled upon them. Out of the dust, Cousin Arethusa appeared. In a whisper, Imma explained the need for a spring in Crawford Notch to which Arethusa agreed as long as the waterfall would be named for her.
“Thank you, Cousin Arethusa. Now we must go,” said Imma.
In a twinkle and a flitter, the three fairies returned to the Notch. They found the giant placing the last granite boulder on top of the wall.
He blinked when they landed on it. “Humph,” he growled, again using his gruffest voice, which wasn’t really gruff at all. “Who might you be?”
Immediately the three fairies covered their noses and gasped for air.
“Oh my. Do I smell that bad?” the giant asked. His cheeks turned red as the wintergreen berries that grew on the forest floor.
“Yes,” Carys squeaked.
“But if you turn around three times . . .” gasped Aisling.
“ . . . And say ‘water, water, everywhere’ five times fast,” added Carys.
“ . . . Water will flow over the falls and you can finally shower,” finished Imma.
“Really?” asked the giant.
“Try it,” said Carys.
“And hurry,” added Aisling.
“Do it for Falda,” finished Imma.
“Fal . . . da? You know Sweet Falda?” asked the giant.
“Yes, but hurry . . . you need to shower,” said Imma.
“Oh, yes.” So the giant turned around three times, said, “Water, water, everywhere,” five times and water flowed over the falls.
“Look, Arethusa Falls,” exclaimed Imma.
“I can’t believe it. I’m not very good at being mean and scary, but I can make wonderful things with my hands. Only I did wonder how I’d make this shower work,” said the giant.
“Well, you must thank Arethusa for that. And by the way, Biddie thinks you ARE mean and scary,” said Imma.
“Biddie. As I recall, she’s just an old biddie,” said the giant.
The fairies giggled.
“Why are you laughing?” he asked.
“Because that is exactly what Falda always says about Biddie,” explained Aisling.
“Oh, Sweet Falda. I must shower now so I can see her again.”
The fairies told him that Sabattus Mountain was only a few giant steps east of Arethusa Falls. Then in a twinkle and a flitter they returned to their village.
A few winks later, the Earth rumbled. All five fairies quickly gathered at Falda’s house.
“What was that?” they wondered together.
“Sounds like thunder,” said Falda. “A storm must be approaching.”
“But I thought I saw the sun rising as I rushed over here,” said Carys.
Suddenly, the sky darkened. The fairies fluttered closer together. Falda lit a candle. Then they heard a tapping sound near the entrance. She peeked out, but saw no one. Curious, the fairies cautiously walked outside. Standing atop the mountain was a certain giant.
“Oh,” said Falda and her face brightened with a smile.
“Tsk. Tsk. If it isn’t the devil himself. And he’s flattened the trees,” exclaimed Biddie.
“The devil? Why on Earth do you say that, Biddie? And sorry about the trees. I tried my best to tiptoe,” said the giant.
“Tsk. Tsk. That’s what your sign said, ‘Devl Hom,’” said Biddie.
“Oh, that sign. It broke in an ice storm. I just never got around to fixing it. I was too busy building other things. My name is Devlin. That sign should read, ‘Devlin’s Home,’” said the giant.
“Tsk. Tsk . . . you stink too,” stammered Biddie.
“Not anymore. Now I can shower whenever I want. You must come see all the changes in the Notch.” Devlin leaned down, picked Falda up and placed her in the palm of his oversized hand. “What happened to your wings, Sweet Falda?”
“Nothing really. Just a wee accident,” she said.
So Devlin carried Falda over to Crawford Notch for a visit. In a twinkle and a flitter, Carys, Imma and Aisling followed behind him. Biddie tagged along, tsk-tsking all the way.
And they all lived happily ever after. All but Biddie were happy, of course.
Arethusa Falls and Sabattus Mountain Hikes
Guess what! You can hike to both locations mentioned in The Giant’s Shower. First, climb the giant’s staircase to Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. Be sure to pack a snack or lunch to enjoy beside the falls. Who knows, you might even see Devlin working nearby. If he smells, remind him to take a shower.
The trailhead to Arethusa Falls is located on Route 302 at the southern end of Crawford Notch in the White Mountains. The hike is easy, but it does take about 45-60 minutes to reach the over 200-foot high falls. Several trail options are available so be sure to check local guides, such as the Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain Guide and bring a map.
And only a few giant steps east of the falls is Sabattus Mountain in Lovell, Maine. If you are traveling via car rather than giant steps, Sabattus Mountain is about an hour and a half from Arethusa Falls. Follow Route 302 East to Route 5 North in Fryeburg, Maine. Stay on Route 5 through the villages of Lovell and Center Lovell. Just after the Center Lovell Inn, turn right onto Sabattus Road. Drive about 1 1/2 miles, then turn right onto Sabattus Trail Road.
The trailhead and parking area are a half mile up the road and clearly marked. The round-trip hike takes about 1 hour and is fairly easy, with one moderate spot. From the top, you will see Kezar Lake and Pleasant Mountain to the south. The White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire are to the west.
Hike up the right-hand trail. You’ll reach the top in about 45 minutes. Take time to enjoy the view left behind when the giant flattened trees with his footsteps. Some trees still stand tall, because he was only tiptoeing. Continue along the ridge until the trail turns left to descend.
In an old pine grove along this trail, you might suddenly feel the presence of fairies. Their homes are among the moss-covered tree stumps. They enjoy visiting Crawford Notch, but Sabattus is now their forever home. Pause a bit and let the magic of this place overtake you.
Do be sure not to add to or take away from the fairies’ homes. These are natural homes and you shouldn’t disturb them.
Happy hiking! And say hello to Carys, Imma, Aisling, Falda and Biddie for me.
Meanings of names used in the story: Aisling–vision, dream Carys–love Imma–water bearer Falda–folded wings Biddie–strength Arethusa (Ara-Thuse-A)–spring Devlin–brave, one of fierce valor Pink lady’s slipper–moccasin flower, large, showy orchid found in the woods of Maine and New Hampshire
How to make your own fairy dust: Combine dried flower petals, leaves and birdseed in a small bowl. Crush together. Sprinkle outdoors wherever magic is needed.
Fairy houses: Best if made from natural materials, e.g. bark, sticks, leaves, pinecones, rocks, grass, moss, berries, wood chips and flowers. Fairies particularly like the thick foliage of moss and old tree stumps. Remember, they hope that humans won’t discover them, so be cautious and don’t upset nature.
Early this morning I posted this on Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Facebook page: “Wear your long johns and hand warmers as you head out on a trail today. Maybe you’ll choose the Homestead/Hemlock route to the picnic table. If you do, look for tracks along the way, including turkey and red fox. And bring some hot cocoa to sip when you reach the table or return to your vehicle. To the table and back is two miles; or you can extend your trip and climb Amos Mountain. #greaterlovelllandtrust#takeahike#getoutside#lovellmaine#maine“
And then we did just that. Well, not exactly that. We didn’t actually follow the Homestead Trail, but did connect to the Hemlock and a series of other trails as well, which you can see if you check out our route as outlined in black on this map.
Conditions were such that we chose micro-spikes over snowshoes (though it sounds like there’s a decent storm on the horizon–finally). More important than footwear, however, was the fact that we wore layers to fend off the low temp and wind chill.
Soon reaching the summit of Whiting Hill, we took in the view of Kezar Lake and the mountains to the west, reminiscing on First Day Hikes in past years that brought us to this summit and noting this would have been the same destination for 2021, albeit via a different route, if COVID-19 hadn’t interrupted the plan.
Turning from Whiting Loop to the Hemlock Trail, at least one old bear tree begged to be honored and so we did, its claw marks disappearing among the cankers of Beech Scale Disease more and more each year.
Eventually we reached the picnic table I’d encouraged people to visit in my morning post and realized a couple had done just such. I wasn’t sure they had done so because of my suggestion or just because . . . they live nearby. My guy was impressed when I named the likely creators of such tracks. Notice the pattern of mittens on the bench.
After arriving home, I reached out to the likely suspects and discovered I’d nailed it. Ah, said mittens.
Responded Dale, with these photos of he and his wife Kitty when I inquired, “Yes Leigh, that was us. You ARE a good tracker.” It’s all about knowing the local community and those who call it home 😉 There were plenty of wildlife tracks as well, ranging from mouse to fisher, porucpine, and fox.
While Dale and Kitty had turned around at the picnic table, my guy and I continued up, climbing part way up Amos Mountain Trail and then turning west on the Heritage Trail, where we eventually reached the scenic outlook over an area formerly known as Devil’s Staircase, where more memories overtook us as we recalled a Devil of a Mondate.
Eventually, we found our way down part of the Rogers Family Trail where ice flows off the ledges next captured our attention.
And my guy grudgingly posed to add perspective to the scene.
But really, that ice.
Back up to the Heritage Trail, El Pupito came into view.
The stained-glass view beyond the pulpit once again offered views of Kezar Lake’s Upper Basin.
We paused to pontificate as one cannot help but do in this setting. And my guy found it much more to his satisfaction to pose as long as I did the same. Notice our rosy cheeks.
And then the journey continued, with the summit of Amos Mountain our next stopping point. Again we could glimpse the lake as we soaked up the sun’s rays.
Finally heading down Amos Mountain, we turned eastward at the intersection with Heritage, passing by a foundation that once belonged to the man for whom the mountain was named, before eventually reaching the Mystery Structure, its stone configuration often a site of contemplation.
Three and a half hours later, and almost seven miles under our belts, we arrived back at the mill site at the outlet of Heald Pond where we’d begun our journey.
For my guy, the finds included two geocaches.
Both were in great shape. Lately, we’ve unearthed some that have been wet, and either frozen or moldy. Also, the boxes included pencils, a great alternative to pens as the ink freezes when the temp is as low as it was today.
He wasn’t the only one pleased with discoveries. Mine included the shed skin of a Gypsy Moth larva, and dark brown shell that the new skin of the same caterpillar had hardened into so it could pupate. Though not a pleasant find, I’m forever intrigued by its alien form.
There was also a Polyphemus Moth cocoon to notice, oval in shape and featuring a tough outer layer of silk.
But the best find of all was one we made and honored together: a bear claw tree featuring scratches made within the last five years as based on the size of the lines.
We’re so glad we heeded my suggestion and headed out today, truly thankful for long johns and hand warmers. and layers upon layers of clothing.
Though we didn’t meet anyone else on the trail, which is actually our preferred way in these times, we knew by the signs left behind that Dale and Kitty had been there, and when we returned to our truck discovered a note on the windshield with this note: “Who Cooks For You?” We had our suspicions about the authors and turns out we were right again.
The finds of this day were plentiful. As was the beauty.
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.
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.
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