Otter Delight

Once upon a time in a land close, close at hand, there lived a family of Otters who were mothered by a Snowshoe Hare.

They spent most of their days and nights exploding through the ice and sliding up and down the mill pond’s edge.

But one day their momma rounded up some snowshoes large and small and strapped them on to all.

The family headed off through the woods where moments of wonder captured their attention.

It wasn’t long into their journey when a winter firefly upon the snowy surface stopped them in their tracks.

E. Otter took the firefly that overwinters as an adult and looked for a safe place to deposit it.

She found such in an old beetle hole upon a dead snag and wished it well before she hopped away.

W. Otter found another tree that he quickly identified as a yellow birch and then honored with a hug.

C. Otter looked upon the bark of a beech tree and was thrilled to spy a fungi.

On the tree’s back side he spied another and posed above the false tinder conk.

Soon, the little Otters convinced their momma that they didn’t want to try to be hares any more and so they shed their snowshoes.

Within moments, A. Otter decided to instead try his feet at being a frog.

Catching some air, he leapt up the trail.

By a vernal pool he revealed his true identity–a tree frog.

Soon, his siblings joined him as they channeled their inner tree frogs.

A short distance later, momma couldn’t help but smile when her young’uns displayed their angelic nature.

Those angelic Otters eventually found their way to the top of a huge boulder.

And then they began to do what Otters do.

They slid.

And climbed back up.

To slide some more.

Sometimes, it seemed as if they flew down the boulder’s face.

Other times they bounded.

In true Otter rhythm, one foot landed diagonally in front of the other.

After creating a series of troughs in the snow, they begged their momma to join them.

Being a Snowshoe Hare, she wasn’t sure she would be able to slide quite the way they did.

But she shed her inhibitions and climbed up to join her children.

After noting how scary it was, she smiled and slid down in one of the troughs the children had created.

Once was not enough and up and down she went again.

At last it was time to head for home. Being Otters, the children thought they might just den up below their favorite boulder. The youngest, of course, pouted for he wanted to slide some more.

But moments later, he showed his momma how much he loved her by presenting her with a snowheart.

What an otterly delightful family and equally otterly delightful way to spend the day!

Hiking to the Vanishing Point

My friend, Ann, and I spent today focused on points close to us, while those in the distance also drew our attention.

h-trail sign

Our chosen trail to accomplish such, Mt. Willard in Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire. We began on the Avalon Trail and then turned onto the Mt. Willard Trail. I kept thinking I’d last travelled this way in the early spring, but now realize it was last November that my guy and I ventured forth on a Top Notch Mondate.

h-paper birch bark

Ann had in her mind that there were several varieties of birch trees along the way. We did marvel at pastel colors revealed by the paper birch.

h-yellow birch bark

And the golden ribbony peeling of the yellow birch. But those were the only two birch species we saw over and over again. It had been a while since she’d last hiked here so the forest had changed.

h-rocky trail (1)

The trail has also changed. Somewhere stuck in my memory (despite the fact that I hiked here ten months ago) is a fairly flat, graveled carriage path. Um . . . I truly think that was the case years ago, but perhaps funding means it’s no longer maintained like it once was and stormwater has washed the trail out.

h-culvert stones (1)

The carriage road was built in 1845 by Thomas Crawford, owner and host of the Notch House in Crawford Notch. Daniel Webster and Henry David Thoreau reportedly slept there. Crawford wanted to provide his guests with an easy excursion to the summit of the mountain. Old culverts and stone diversions still mark the way.

h-hobble leaf and bud 1

One of the most predominant plants from beginning to end is the hobblebush shrub, so named because its horizontal growth pattern trips hikers, causing them to hobble through the woods. This shrub wows us in any season and right now it’s displaying its late summer colors.

h-hobble berries

On a few, we even found some fruit. I especially loved the new buds posed together like praying hands beneath the berries.

h-hobble in row (1)

And leaf displays that led to vanishing points.

h-water funnels

We chuckled to ourselves as others passed by, sweating in their efforts to reach the summit quickly. Our purpose–a slow and steady climb filled with opportunities to notice, like the funnels of water that dripped from rock to rock.

h-centennial pool

One of our favorite stops–Centennial Pool, where water mesmerized us as it cascaded over moss-covered rocks.

h-chipmunk.jpg

And a chipmunk darted about, surprising us with its close proximity–until we looked up and saw a couple with a dog. Perhaps we looked like we’d offer a safe haven.

h-narrow beech fern

We spent a lot of time wallowing in ferns because Ann has developed a keen interest in them this year. One of our fun finds was the narrow or northern beech fern, which portrayed its natural habit of dripping downward. We loved that we could ID this one by beginning with its winged attachment to the rachis or center stem.

h-artist's conk

Fungi also drew our attention. The mountain had been in the clouds as we approached, so it was no wonder that dew drops decorated this artist’s conk.

h-false tinder conk (1)

Among our fungi sightings–a false tinder conk.

h-fairy ring (1)

And among my favorites–a fairy ring.

h-purple aster 2 (1)

Though the flowers were few, we did spy some purple asters.

h-paper art

And then there were sculptures that caught our attention, like this paper birch artwork framed by moss-covered trees.

h-birch art yellow

And a yellow birch offering its own message to the universe.

h-mossy roots

Some tree roots also begged to be noticed. So we did as we acknowledged the resident faeries.

h-carriage road 1.jpg

At last we found my carriage road. Or at least something that slightly resembled it.

h-tunnel light.jpg

And then the tunnel.

h-tunnel 2

And a glimpse of the world beyond.

h-view 2 (1)

Within seconds, without a drum roll, the jaw-dropping view of the Notch enveloped our focus.

h-squirrel 2

As we ate lunch, another human-savvy critter came closer than is the norm–a red squirrel. We think he coveted Ann’s lunch–a peanut butter and blueberry sandwich with whole blueberries. Who wouldn’t?

h-mtn ash display

Mountain summits in these parts often feature Mountain Ash trees. Today, I paid attention to the pattern, including the six finger splay of its leaflet.

h-mtn ash twigs

And I couldn’t resist the contrast of color it offered against the mountain backdrop.

h-mtn ash leaf

Though we didn’t see any Mountain Ash berries, each individual leaf presented its own point of view.

h-Ann (1)

At the beginning of our hike and again at the summit, we kept hearing a helicopter. Mount Washington was obscured by cloud cover, but with her binoculars, Ann observed a helicopter with a litter. It seemed to follow the same route again and again.

IMG_5996

Our hope was that it was practice over mission. We had no idea of the purpose.

h-maple tree? (1)

At last we hiked down. One of the best parts about following the same path is that new stories await–when you can take the time to look up. And our pièce de résistance–an old snag. A beautiful old snag. Notice its vertical lines intersected by horizontal lines. We spent a long time studying and caressing this natural sculpture.

h-Sharp-scaly Pholiota (Pholiota squarrosoides) (1)

Though it appeared to be dead, life reigned.

h-sharp scaly 2 (1)

I know my mentors will correct me if I’m wrong, but I do believe this is Pholiota squarrosa, commonly known as the shaggy scalycap, the shaggy Pholiota, or the scaly Pholiota. Whatever you want to call it, it seemed to have its own vanishing point.

h-train tracks (1)

Much the same was true for the train tracks we crossed that head north toward Breton Woods.

h-train tracks south (1)

And those that lead south from Crawford’s Notch.

Thanks to Ann for today’s hike into the vanishing point, a disappearance into the woods for a visual exploration.

Wondering Beside Willard Brook

I dragged my guy along for a wander in the Hut Road neighborhood today and we made Willard Brook the center of our attention.

That being said, our journey began at Great Brook. I parked by the gate that isn’t open yet due to  road conditions–not realizing that the only other vehicle belonged to a friend, who kindly left us a note we found under the windshield wiper as we drove away hours later.

The wind was wild and we felt it rattle our bones while we walked along Forest Service Road #4. That just meant a fast walk to the start of our adventure.

h-Great falls

The beauty of this spot never ceases to take my breath away.

h-ice

But we didn’t pause long because that wind was cold and icicles helped tell the story.

h-map

Lately, when I’ve tramped about in this area, I’ve been on the Great Brook Trail to start, but I contacted a few folks in the past two days because they’ve made comments on previous posts that indicated they have some understanding of the Native American presence that once existed here. And perhaps still does.

Stoneham_Hut_Road_1858_12-06-2015

My friend, Jinny Mae, had intended to join us today, but that didn’t work as planned. She and I have explored this area a couple of times in the past few months and she’s my GPS techie, as well as a talented historian and naturalist. The above map is from a section of the 1858 map of Stoneham she posted. (Thanks JM for letting me borrow this without asking.)

Stoneham_Hut_Road_1880_12-06-2015

As Jinny Mae indicates on her blog, this is from the 1880 map and there’s been a change in ownership of the neighborhood homes.

h-stone pile beside willard

We chose a different route than the one she has outlined in red. Ours led to Willard Brook. Just before the snowmobile bridge, we turned right and began to follow the brook. I realized immediately that I’d been here before. Part of my quest was to take a look at stone placement and think about it not as Colonial only, but also as Pre-colonial or Native American. And so, I paused at every rock formation I found, including this circular configuration beside the brook. Current day fire pit? My guy didn’t think so. I don’t know.

h-stove 2

As happens in our woods, we suddenly found ourselves visiting an old camp. Debris is scattered about. This particular piece from a stove front caught my guy’s attention. He was born in Taunton, Massachusetts, and immediately recognized this as coming from The Weir, an industrial section of town. If memory serves him right, there were at least three stove companies in that area.

h-mailbox

My favorite will always be the mailbox, truly a tribute to snail mail.

h-yellow birch

Our intention had been to follow the brook north, but we let an already traveled trail lead us instead. Soon we came to another landmark I remembered, the great yellow birch. An old yellow birch. Very old. I led a bark workshop yesterday and this is one of the trees we talked about. Yellow birch can live to be 200 years old, much longer than any of their relatives. I don’t know the age of this monument, but I do wish I could hear the stories it has to tell of this land.

h-colonial road

We turned left and followed the former road to Willard Brook. Colonial road or older?

h-stone wall turtle

I’ve learned from others to look at the shapes incorporated into stone walls and fences. I may be making this up because I’ve had an affinity with turtles since I was a young child and own quite a collection even to this day, but I see a turtle configured in this wall. Planned or coincidence? Worth a wonder.

h-stone wall 2, turtle

Potentially another in this section of the same wall, but at the same time, this part seems more consistent in structure.

h-Willard 1

We ate the quickest lunch in our hiking history because our fingers were so cold. Even winter temps didn’t seem to bother us as much as today’s temp and wind chill. Lunch rock  sat beside Willard Brook with Speckled Mountain above.

h-entering neighborhood

And then we backtracked up the road and I took my guy up to the Hut Road neighborhood. He’d not visited this particular community before, so was happy to make its acquaintance.

h-1st fdn

Our first encounter was with the Willard homestead of 1858; later known as the McKeen homestead of 1880.

h-wall on hill, balancing

As we moved up the hill to another foundation, we passed by this stonewall, where I wondered about the difference in stone size. A balancing act perhaps?

h-fdn 2 and chamber

Homestead #2 belonged to the Durgins in 1858 and Rowlands in 1880. It’s one of my favorites because of the stone chamber within. Which came first–the stone chamber or the rest of the cellar? Was the entire cellar considered a root cellar?

h-chamber interior

Hence, a closer look. Oh yes, and the porcupine scat pile is still there in the back right-hand corner, but none of it is fresh. Darn.

h-chamber stones 1

On the outside of the chamber’s edge that connects with the cellar–again my imagination took over. Perhaps my turtle’s head is the large blocky rock bottom center. Or is it a smaller version in the rocks above. Am I seeing things that are not there? Overthinking as my guy would suggest?

h-chamber back

Perhaps in the back wall?

h-chamber int 2

And in the side? Again, I see a face peering out at me just up from the bottom center/left. Do you see it?

h-rock pile 2

h-stone 5

h-stone pile 4

h-stone pile 3

While I was busy photographing stone piles in the woods and wondering about their significance, my guy followed his nose and made a discovery that has eluded Jinny Mae and me for months.

h-tombstones 1

Just like that he found the cemetery.

h-Sarah Dergin

Sarah, daughter of Anna and Ephraim, is the first tombstone. She died in 1858 at age 22.

h-Mary Dergin

Beside her, 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.

h-Ephraim Durgin

And Ephraim, Sarah’s father, who 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.

I found the following on RootsWeb:

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.

h-cemetery view-Durgin

Though only these three stones stand upright, leaning against a wall, this potentially was a large cemetery. And the view–Durgin Mountain.

h-down from cem

Rather than backtrack again, we decided to travel cross-country back toward Willard Brook.

h-bog

At the bottom of the hill, the area was filled with sphagnum moss and cinnamon and interrupted fern.

h-bear scat

Though I didn’t find any bear trees today, I did find bear scat 😉

h-moose scat

And plenty of moose sign.

h-red maple

The red maples offered numerous examples of the bull’s-eye fungi that I told yesterday’s workshop participants to notice. I encouraged them to develop bark eyes. Meanwhile, I’m working on my stone eyes. (not stoned!)

h-willard dry bed

As we traipsed across the landscape, my guy recognized the large yellow birch we’d come upon earlier. And then we followed the walls down to Willard Brook where bushwhacking became the name of the game. Sometimes we found ourselves moving cautiously along the rocks in a dry section of riverbed–the overflow.

h-rock slide by Willard

I kept my eyes open for stone treatments and found this twenty-foot rock slide that didn’t look natural. I have no idea what it represents.

h-wheels

One of the things I continue to notice and love about the woods around us–no matter how far from civilization you think you are, you never are. Notice the wooden wheel spokes.

h-trees and rocks beside willard

I also noticed the trees and rocks across Willard, where the water’s rise and fall over the years has carved out a unique landscape and each entity is intertwined with the other.

h-2nd bridge

Eventually we came out at the spot where we’d headed off the snowmobile trail and decided to turn right and follow it toward Evergreen Valley.

h-cairn

Though the walk was nice and the wind not so strong, we got to this modern-day cairn and felt we’d gone far enough. We turned back and bushwhacked down to Willard Brook.

h-scouting willard

Like Lewis, my guy scouted for a crossing. Like Clark, I followed.

h-brook crossing

Our spot to ford the brook looked easier than it was. He crossed first and landed without issue. Me too–um, almost. Only one foot slipped. His comment, “Good thing your hiking boots are waterproof.” My response, “Yeah, but my socks aren’t.” Oh well. I’ve had wet feet before and will again. When I finally took my boot off at home, I was surprised at how drenched the sock was.

h-great brook on way back

We made our way through balsam fir saplings and hobblebush and a variety of other species and turned away from Willard assuming we’d eventually encounter Great Brook again. Success.

h-great structure 2

I’d been told to pay attention to Willard for Native American sites, and found this beside Great Brook. I have no idea what it represents.

h-3rd fdn central chimney

And lo and behold as we headed back to our starting point, we found ourselves at a third foundation–a rather large one with a center chimney between two cellar holes and an addition behind it. It’s where the school probably stood in 1858 and A. Gray’s home in 1880.

h-fnd 3 chimney

Bricks still top the central chimney.

h-final

Just like that, we were back at our starting point–looking at it from the opposite side of the brook.

Thanks to all those I bugged about what to look for as we tramped about today. And thanks again to Jinny Mae for her talent. I can’t wait to share this trail with you again.

We’d wandered for hours and found plenty to wonder about–especially along Willard Brook.

 

 

 

Wetland Wonders

wetland 1

The Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Tuesday Tracking group returned to the wetland at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge today. It’s one of those places that I could spend hours upon hours exploring and still only see a smidgeon of what is there. I’m overwhelmed when I walk into a store filled with stuff, but completely at home in a place like this where life and death happen and the “merchandise” changes daily.

insect

Walking across the snow was this small insect. So . . . we were in a wetland. Tomorrow will be April 1–no kidding. The insect is about an inch long. It has long antennae and a pair of cerci or appendages at the posterior end of its abdomen. I’d say we found a common stonefly nymph. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

artists 1

On first glimpse, this may look like a pile of dried grasses and twigs.

artists's conk?

But stepping in for a closer look reveals what I believe is an artist’s conk. An old artist’s conk. We didn’t cut it off, but apparently you can age one by cutting it and counting the layers–much the same way you can age a tree by counting the number of rings.

old beaver lodge

There’s evidence of beaver work throughout the sanctuary, but none of it is recent. So . . . my friend decided to play Queen of the Lodge.

dam crossing

We crossed Boulder Brook via an old beaver dam–one-by-one in the name of caution.

lobster lichenlobster 3

 Color draws us in for closer inspection. I’m betting on Cinnabar-red Polypore (Pycnoporus cinnabarinus) as this one’s ID. If I learn otherwise, I’ll let you know.

lungwort

Remember this lungwort I shared last week in my Island Hopping blog?

Lungwort

Same species. Same tree. Nature–worth wondering about.

myatery 1

Then there was the mysterious event.

mystery 3

Very fine tags dangle from the upper edge of the scraped bark. Not the work of a deer, beaver or porcupine. Not a hare or little brown thing. Maybe a bird? No holes, just the fine layer of outer bark delicately scraped off.

deer scrape

Here’s a deer scrape as a contrast.

tree within tree

For this next wonder, you’ll have to look closely inside the hollow yellow birch. Peer to the left of the hole toward the rear. Think vertical.

tree 2

Do you see it? It’s in the center of this photo.

tree 3

And here it is further up in the hollowed out tree. A tree within a tree. Another yellow birch or birch root growing up through the center of this dead snag. Life and death. Together. One within the other.

spider

This guy was dashing across the snow, but had the decency to pose for a photo op. Given that he wasn’t wearing boots, I don’t blame him for running along.

crossing dam again

And suddenly, we realized we’d spent over three hours exploring and it was time to head back over the beaver dam.

white pine

On the trail again, we paused to admire spring growth on a small white pine–a mini candelabra.

Thanks for wandering along and wondering my way.