Reading the Forest

Onebeechhillsep16-2 Saturday in September we decided to attend a guided walk hosted by the local land trust. Our guide for this outing would take us up the forested side of Beech Hill, discussing how to interpret the history of the area through clues of the landscape.  Along the way he referenced two books by Tom Wessels; The Forested Landscape and Forest Forensics.

Our first stop was an area consisting mostly of young sugar maples, with one lone massive oak tree nearby. According to our guide, the single oak tree and its size indicated that at one time this area was an open space, a pasture perhaps with the oak tree providing shade for farm animals. I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you much about the sugar maples for my mind began to wander. Seems to happen when things get too technical for me. At this point, I started to study the area around me and was attracted to a small seed pod, like a dandelion puff, stuck to a log at my feet. While the conversation droned on, I was mesmerized by the beautybeechhillsep16-1 of that intricate spidery form below me. I was brought back into the group as an arborist in our group was estimating the age of the oak, as well as the maple grove, confirming that this area was clear at one time.

We stopped at a stone wall, where we learned that the large trees near the wall were left as “border” or boundary trees. Here, we learned that if you studied the area around the wall, you would find a hollow and piles of small stones against the wall. If beechhillsep16-3I remember correctly, this indicated that the smaller stones in the field were pushed against the wall, by a plow leaving the hollow nearby.

Our guide then led us down a side trail towards the only wet spot left after this dry summer. The fact that this pond was here could only be the result of a spring, and indeed our leader pointed out the source that was feeding this small pond. One of the members of the land trust who had joined this walk, pointed out that this side trail was a “social trail” and beechhillsep16-4not sanctioned by the land trust. In other words, they wanted this pond to stay protected for the wildlife seeking refreshment.

Nearing the section of this loop trail that would return the group to the parking lot, most of our fellow travelers decided to finish the walk there while a few of us continued on up to Beech Nut House at the top of the hill. From here, the path became very overgrown and we had to push our way through flowers and hedges that were taller than anyone in the group. In addition to fighting the vegetation, we crossed two bog bridges that were nearly rotten. Finally, we emerged on a ledge and I admired the view while a geologist in our group talked about the ledge and pointed outbeechhillsep16-5 glacial markings.

Shortly after this brief stop, we reached the top of  Beech Hill and the beautiful Beech Nut House. What was left of our group listened to a docent talk about the history of this small, stone cottage before wandering around the top of the hill to admire the house and the views. I looked out over the water and noted the clouds of an incoming front that would bring rain later that evening. Shortly after this observation we headed back through overgrown trail and completed the loop back to the car.

 

 

Shell Middens

Although shellmiddensep16-6the first week of September was cooler than the previous week, the humidity hovered near 80 to 90 percent covering the area with a grey oppressive mist. I eyed the ominous skies debating whether I really wanted to explore and risk getting caught in a downpour, before grabbing my raincoat and heading down to Damariscotta with my friend. shellmiddensep16-1Our destination was the Whaleback Shell Midden, an archaeological site that I was surprised my walking buddy had never been to, given her interest in Native American artifacts.

We decided to park at Round Top Farm and explore those trails before meandering along a connector path towards the Shell Midden preserve. Our journey at Round Top began on a lane mowed through the field that led down towards the Damariscotta River. As the area became a little damper we were surprised at the number of mosquitos we had to fight off. shellmiddensep16-2Who knew that by September we would still need netting to keep these hungry critters at bay? They certainly did not encourage any visitors from lingering at the picnic tables near the water. Although, the tables were also guarded by a rather grouchy looking ENT, glaring at those who might have had any thoughts of meditating here. Given shellmiddensep16-3the welcoming committee we encountered, we decided to move on.

After leaving this scene behind us, we continued along the loop towards the connector path. Due to the frequency of the mosquitos, we did not stop long at any one place to admire the asters, milkweeds or mulleins we found along the way. Our route took us through an old apple orchard as it looped back down towards the river. shellmiddensep16-4At the bottom of the orchard was an old bench swing situated directly across from the Whaleback Shell Midden. A midden is basically a heap of domestic waste, in this case the shell midden is a mound of oyster shells left by a native culture over 2000 years ago. The Whaleback Midden, named so because of its shape, was at one time over 30 feet high. Even from our spot on the opposite side of the river, the bright white mound across from us was impressive.

Soon, we continued back to the path. The trail began to loop back uphill, when I noticed a side trail that was a bit overgrown. My friend, too afraid of the possibility of ticks, stayed on the lane while I decided to explore. I reached a wooden overlook and called to her to come see what I had found, promising her that it would be worth her while. She groaned a bit about the vegetation on the trail shellmiddensep16-5but soon joined me on the platform to look down at a smaller example of a shell midden on this side of the river. She happily took some pictures of this shell mound before we pushed our way back to the lane.

Our journey took us back through a field of golden rod and milkweed before joining with the connector that would take us back to Round Top Farm. The entire walk was about 40 minutes. Returning to the car, we noticed that the Round Top Ice Cream building was situated between the two preserves, so we decided to reward our efforts with a sweet snack before heading home.

 

Martin Point Preserve

The MartinPointAug16.2last week of August displayed all the signs of the end of a season; the sun was setting closer to 7, nighttime temperatures were settling into the 50s while daytime highs were in the 70s, and the tourist traffic was getting lighter. It was the perfect time to explore one of the nearby peninsulas. Driving down any one of the finger peninsulas of Maine, with views of woods, meadows and water is always a delight. I decided to explore Martin Point Wildlife Reserve in Friendship.

I studied the trail map at the kiosk and had a description of the hike from Falcon Guides “Best Day Hikes Camden” in my pocket, so I already knew that I would begin by exploring the blue blazed trail to my right. For the most part, all the trails were clearly marked and copies of the trail map were posted at intersections with “you are here” marks, MartinPointAug16.3so even I couldn’t get too lost. I wasn’t too happy that the blue route was a narrow footpath with ferns, berry bushes and grasses encroaching into the walking space but I did not let that stop me from exploring.

Not far into my explorations I suspected that this might be a magical place. My first hint was the sight of a tiny structure made of stones, twigs, moss and shells. This fairy house at the beginning of my journey seemed an invitation to discover the enchantment in nature.

A little further on, MartinPointAug16.4I veered right on to the yellow blazed path.  Along this route I discovered a trillium showing off a brilliant seed pod. As the trail reached the water I found a glass topped table with 3 chairs; set there by someone who thought this would be the perfect spot to contemplate the views of Crystal Pond.

Following the trail along the edge of the pond MartinPointAug16.6I noticed that the blazes became a bit scarce; the yellow markers disappearing but red blazes appearing to my left. If I hadn’t studied the “Easy Day Hikes” description I probably would have gotten lost at this point since the red blazes do not appear on the trail map. But even the book was a little bit confusing for it indicated that one should “continue straight” to follow the red blazes.MartinPointAug16.5 I did continue straight because I wanted a close-up view of the beaver lodge but all blazes disappeared in that direction. I stood for a bit admiring the craftsmanship that went into the double lodge before continuing straight. Since the trail seemed to narrow at this point, I returned to the red blaze trail which seemed to backtrack to the blue blazed path.

I continuedMartinPointAug16.7 along the blue route before crossing the gold blazed woods road to the green blazed Muscongus Bay Loop. The bay loop never reached the water since this was a protected area, but the wanderer could catch an occasional glimpse of the water through the trees. On this side of the preserve, the ground vegetation gave way to moss covered earth. The effect was magical. In fact, as I meandered away from the bay I discovered a rock cove under Judy’s Ledges and could imagine elves living there.

The green blazed passage intersected the gold blazed wood road shortly after my discovery of the elf lodging,MartinPointAug16.1 but the evidence of a fantasy world continued when I discovered another more intricate fairy house. In fact, I ended up photographing at least 10 fairy houses and counted almost a dozen more. Who knows how many hidden dwellings I might have missed! The last, most intricate structure, bearing a doorpost sign “there be fairies here” said it all. I could just picture a starlit evening with a full moon and all the “little people” dancing through the woods. A magical place indeed!

Northern Headwaters Trail

With SheepscotAug16.1one week to go before our youngest was to leave for her latest adventure, we decided on a family outing to explore the Northern Headwaters Trail of the Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance. The Sheepscot Land Alliance maintains over 20 miles of trails around the interior sections of Waldo County. Our trip along the Northern Headwaters Trail would allow us to complete a 3.5 mile loop.

From the parking area, we entered the woods on the short Whitten Hill Trail that would take us to the Northern Headwaters loop. Once on the loop trail we walked along a stone wall that seemed to extend for miles. Stopping to imagine the hard work that went into constructing such a wall, I found the remnant of a rusted tool; a farm blade of some sort that looked like an attachment for an old piece of machinery. SheepscotAug16.2A little further on was the remains of an old cellar hole with the remains of a rusted sink lying on top of the stone structure. These were the only remnants left of a farm abandoned long ago, replaced now by a beautiful hemlock forest.

Continuing our journey we noticed small stone bridges, erected to allow the water to flow underneath; the channels now dry from the summer drought.SheepscotAug16.4 Further along, we found a perfect spider web suspended between the branches of a tree. The occupant of this web sensed our presence and quickly ran to a branch above our heads. Fearing it might leap to defend its home, we decided to move on.

The trail began to loop around to follow the headwaters for a spell. According to the brochure, we had reached the “pristine headwaters”. Unfortunately the dry summer had left the water level pretty low. I gazed down the narrow river as it travelled beyond a tree bearing some interesting shelf fungus and hoped we would see some rain in the not too distant future.

As we walked along this section of trail, we soon noticed another set of blue blazes; SheepscotAug16.3markers that did not seem to designate any particular trail. It wasn’t long before we found a sign noting that the trail was now following a boundary and the actual blazes we were to follow were more rectangular in shape. Eventually, we realized that the boundary markers seemed to be painted over notches in the trees, so this also made it easier to tell where we needed to be.SheepscotAug16.5

Not far from this point, the path began to climb away from the river and soon deposited us in a meadow. We followed the blue posts along the side of the field until we found a sign marking the trails entrance back into the woods. There were more exposed tree roots along this route, so between the steady incline and the foot grabbing roots, I found the final section of our travels a bit difficult. Occasionally the others had to wait for me to catch up before moving on towards the end of the loop. Once we reached the Whitten Hill Trail, it wasn’t long before we reached the end of our 2.5 hour outing.

 

Vaughan Woods

For those visiting Vaughan Woods, please follow the preserve guidelines and parking rules.

 

With VaughanAug16.1the humidity down and my youngest soon to be flying from the nest once more, I decided that it would be nice to share a mother daughter hike before she traveled on to greater things. Knowing my outdoor limitations, I thought a stroll through Vaughan Woods in Hallowell would be the perfect place for an exploration, so we hit the road early and began the hour drive inland. We did not anticipate that this would be an adventure even before we hit the trail. August is the height of tourist season, but somehow the road gods have decided that this is the best time to repair the roads, probably to bring angst to the greatest number of people. After driving through 2 one lane sections of road and obeying a detour sign that placed me on the wrong side of the bridge to the parking area (causing me to back track), we finally found the preferred parking area and headed into the woods.VaughanAug16.2

We soon found ourselves on a wide, well maintained dirt path. Although sections of the forest floor showed the dried, cracked earth of the dry summer, the tree canopy was still lush and green. The mulched trail and the thick wood was certainly a peaceful setting for a walk. The added bonus was the number of photo opportunities that slowed my daughter down enough for me to keep up (or maybe she was being kind to her dear, old mother).VaughanAug16.3

After a short time, we came to a field with a single, majestic tree keeping guard over its domain. As I looked out over the meadow of yellow flowers, Wordsworth’s “host of golden daffodils” came to mind but in this case it would have to be a host of yellow goldenrod. It looked like there were several paths running through the field and we were not quite sure which way one would take deposit us on the correct trail. With no trail markers and VaughanAug16.5several routes that my daughter referred to as “social trails”, we picked the most likely looking path and soon found ourselves back in the woods.

We strolled along until we came to a stone bridge. We made our way down to the banks of a lovely pool with a small waterfall flowing over the rocks. It was a lovely place to soak in the magical atmosphere while my daughter spent a few minutes taking pictures. Done with our rest, we crossed over the bridge to continue our journey.

At some point we came to another intersection near another meadow. This didn’t seem to correspond with my trail map but we opted to cross the field only to find ourselves in the second parking lot. VaughanAug16.4We turned around, turned towards the second option and found a bridge spanning a gorge. Again I rested while my daughter explored. Another family was poking around the rocks and water as well. They were very happy to see me with a trail map since they had been making wrong turns at the trail junctions. I informed them that even with the map we ended up in the wrong place but they could certainly study it and hoped they had better luck.

Done with our explorations we continued on our way back to the car. It had been a wonderful 1.5 to 2 hour stroll.