Dear Aunt Ruth

My memories are snapshots of times spent with you and Uncle Bob and all the cousins. I loved visiting your home–whether we drove down the long road and driveway with Dad or walked via the old dump road and skeet field with Mom. Each time we arrived, you welcomed us with grace and your unassuming manner.

I remember sipping lemonade on the back porch, riding the wooden horse, and checking on Dale’s bunnies, especially Peter who soon became Mrs. Peter. I remember lunches at your kitchen table, and the time we bit into our tuna sandwiches only to discover the bread was filled with ants. Why that sticks with me, I don’t know, but we all thought it was funny. I remember family reunions, where food and laughter and aunts and uncles and cousins were abundant. Eventually, it evolved into a musical gathering–such was the talent of the clan.

But most of all, I remember your flower and vegetable gardens and your love of all things natural.

p-kiosk

And so today, as my guy and I ventured to a park we’d never before visited, I took you with us. I wanted to share with you our findings, just as you used to share stories of your gardens and wildlife sightings with us in Christmas cards after I moved north.

p-moose trail

Our first observation–a moose! Well, not really.

p-deer tracks

But we did see evidence of deer and I knew you’d be glad they were running away–leaving your gardens alone. Oh, and those pesky raccoons! Raising eight children didn’t seem to phase you, but those raccoons in the corn field–that did rattle you.

p-gardens on high

The gardens in these woods differ from yours–and right now, given the snow cover, the only ones visible were high up in pine trees, where yesterday’s snow offered nourishment to the mosses and lichens that grow there.

p-locust legume-like seed pod

We did, however, find one similarity–the legume-like seed pod from a locust tree. It’s almost time to sow the peas.

p-apples

In these woods, we also found a symbol of the past–it was once farmland as signified by the apple trees. If memory serves me right, there was a very climbable apple tree beside your driveway.

p-hidden acorn

And then we spied one impossible possibility–an acorn tucked into red maple bark. How did it get there? And will it germinate? If it does, what then?  I trust, you too, would have noticed such and wondered.

p-pratt brook 2

We followed the trails through the woods and sometimes beside the brook for which the property was named–Pratt Brook. It was a bit more bubbly than the creek in your yard, but such is the snow melt right now.

p-artist conks

Along the way, I noted a family of artist conks decorating a tree. And, that, of course, brought to mind the box of colored pencils you (or perhaps it was the cousins, though Neal had no qualms about telling us that our gifts were really chosen by you) gave me long ago. I cherished that box and used those pencils with care. They lasted into my early adulthood.

p-colors 1 (1)

And then my guy gifted me another box, which I again revere. One of my favorite pastimes is to sit and sketch and then add a dash of color. Whenever I do, Aunt Ruth, you are with me.

p-powerline

For a while we followed the power line trail, aka Bear Trail. As you can see, we tramped in the footsteps of many others who’ve traveled this way just today–via skis, snowshoes and hiking boots like us. We were an hour from home and close to the ocean, so the snow level was about six inches compared to at least two feet we walk upon daily. But today’s sun warmed us and initiated a meltdown.

p-spider

I didn’t mind being on the power line for a bit, for it was here that we saw our only sign of wildlife.

p-aster 1

It was also the spot where I knew we’d find wildflowers–and I wasn’t disappointed. Asters like these, and goldenrods, spireas and berries displayed their winter forms.

p-beetle 3

Back into the woods, we were almost done, when we spied this woodwork, carved by bark beetles.

p-bark beetles 1 (1)

And I was again reminded of my past observations when I moved a log and discovered a gnawer on the job.

p-me

The intricate work reminded me of Uncle Bob’s woodworking skills and I knew you’d appreciate that. You’d also appreciate that as I write, my guy is watching a National Geographic show about Wild Scotland.

Thanks for the memories, Aunt Ruth. And thanks for making time for us and showing an interest in all that we did–always as curious about our adventures as those of your brood. You were a remarkable woman and a genuine Yankee whom I was blessed to have as a part of my life.

Fondly, Leigh

 

 

 

The Homecoming

The other day a friend handed me a piece of paper and told me to read it later. We were about to go tracking, so I stuck it into my pack and forgot about it. This afternoon, as I prepared for a hike up Mount Tom in Fryeburg, I found the paper.

I’d originally thought it was an article, but instead, it’s a quote from the October 1967 issue of Yankee. A friend had given it to him and he passed it on to me: “We hunt as much for the memories as for the birds. For the memories, and for the hours afield in the autumn woods where a man can get back, for a while, to remembered realities, to a time and a way of life close to the eternities of the land. It’s hard to explain this to the outlander who never knew such things. He thinks of it as an escape. To us it is more like a homecoming. We live here, of course, but only in the leisure after we’ve done the stint at our jobs do we go out on the hills and up the brooks. There we find the truth of our world, even the truth of ourselves.” ~author unknown.

trail sign

I reflected upon those words as I slipped into my snowshoes at the trail head. I’d made a decision to end one of my freelance writing/editing jobs this week (not Lake Living, which is my all time favorite writing job. Hard to believe the spring issue will mark my tenth anniversary!) and declutter my world.

porky paths stump dump

It will never happen, but certainly the porcupines that inhabit this mountain should consider the same.

stump dumpporcupine den

I had a hunch I’d see evidence of their existence once I got up into the hemlock neighborhood, but a small stump dump early on provided ample den space.

porcupine tracks 1

I didn’t even realize as I climbed toward the summit that I wasn’t taking too many photos. Instead, I was cued into the tracks left behind by two people who had traveled this way before me and the porcupines, deer, hare, coyote, bobcats and little brown things. While the people stuck to the trail, I wandered this way and that as I tried to decipher what I saw–my own zig zag trail reminiscent of those I followed.

logged community, thin trees

I didn’t get lost today, though truly, when I do get fake lost, it’s a time to understand myself better– listening to my inner self sort things out. Most of today’s trail is an old logging road. And most of what I saw was familiar. Perhaps that’s what it’s all about–knowing a place so no matter where you are, you recognize it.

hemlock community

The community changes abruptly from birch, beech and maple saplings to hemlocks and pines. I, too, can change abruptly and have a tendency to be blunt. I don’t see that as a bad thing, though occasionally I do regret what I’ve said.

striped maple scrapes

And then I began to look up and notice other parts of my surroundings like these old deer or moose scrapes on striped maples. Forever scared, they provided nourishment in the past–and may do so in the future when the time is right.

striped maple samaras

One striped maple still sported a few seeds that have yet to go forth in the world. What’s holding them back? Don’t they know the time has come to let go?

frost crack

Amongst the evergreens  a paper birch offered a twist on life. I believe this is the result of sun scald–the heating and freezing of thin bark. Typically, the white reflective bark helps the tree avoid such danger–but something obviously happened to cause this candycane-like stripe..

sun on hemlocks

Though it was getting late in the day, rays of sunshine illuminated the darker side of things.
white oak leaf

As I followed more porcupine tracks at the summit, a dried leaf captured my attention. In my ongoing attempt to draw an imaginary line showing the boundary of white oak, I added another dot.

white, beech, red oak

Nestled within animal tracks, three leaves told me more about the members of this neighborhood–white oak, beech and Northern red oak.

white oak 2 white oak 3 white oak layers

So then I searched for the white oak trees–and found them. My bark eyes still don’t cue into this one immediately and I need to learn its idiosyncrasies, including its ashy gray color and blocky presentation.

bird nest 1 bird nest 2

I discovered a snow-covered nest that made me ask–bird-made or human-made? It’s constructed of reindeer lichen and sits upon a base of sticks about four feet up in a scrubby old oak. I was as excited by the find as I was by my wonder and lack of an answer. What fun would it be to know everything?

summit

From the summit, I could see Pleasant Mountain’s ridge–giving me another sense of home. The view isn’t spectacular, but that isn’t the point.

Kearsarge 2

Heading down, a second old favorite came into view–Kearsarge North. I stopped frequently as I descended–to listen and watch. And smell. Twice, a strong cat-like pee odor tickled my nose. The tracks were there, but I couldn’t find any other bobcat evidence. One of these days.

paper 4 paper birch 1 paper birch 3 paper birch rainbow paper burgundy Paper pastel

A rainbow of color presented itself among the paper birch trees–such variation for what is commonly called white birch.

Mount Tom cabin 1 Mt tom cabin 2

Near the bottom, the Mt Tom cabin speaks to an earlier time when living off this land was the norm. Though I like to think that I could stay here by myself for a week, I’m not so sure. Of course, that would force the issue and surely the truth about myself would be revealed. Maybe it’s best left a mystery. 😉

staghorn sumac1 staghorn red

Before slipping out of my snowshoes, I paused beside the staghorn sumac. It was my height, so I had an opportunity to examine its hairy features closely. Animal from The Muppets must have cloned himself.

Full moon

There was a time when I was easily unnerved being in the woods alone. And I still have moments–especially when a ruffed grouse erupts. Geesh–that can certainly make my heart sound like it’s going to jump out of my body. But, the more time I spend out there, the more time I want to spend out there–exploring, discovering, wondering. This afternoon, I finally followed the full moon home, thankful to find even an inkling of my spirit. I recognize that the word “home” has come to mean more than one place. Our abode is our home, but time in the woods is also a homecoming.