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Sagamore Farm Trees and Vernal Ponds

The first nature walk of 2018 sponsored by the Coastal Mountain Land Trust was held on the last weekend of April, and this year they were kicking off the season with a focus on tree identification and vernal ponds. Perfect! Given my tree identification skills this was a must attend event for us, so despite the misty weather we headed towards Sagamore Farm with the hopes of actually learning something new.

Since we had already explored Sagamore Farm in the fall, we knew that it was located behind one of the inns known as The Lodge, so once we located parking on the inn property we joined our fellow explorers at the small but already full parking lot near the front of The Lodge. From there, the group walked towards the back of the property to enter the preserve. We noticed the gloomy weather had kept our numbers down, but to me, that was a good thing, for that meant we would actually be able to hear our leader. We have already attended these events with well over 50 people, all trying to hear the topic expert while walking along a single file trail.

The first tree we studied was a red oak.  I learned that the red oak actually has red markings between the deep grooves of the bark. Although it is the most common oak tree in Maine, I was soon able to tell the difference between a white and red oak by the shape of the leaf (the red oak had more pointed leaves than the white). Most of you probably already knew this, but hey, this was all new to me!

From there, the coordinator of this adventure led us to a vernal pond. He had examined the pond the day before and that morning, discovering that the rain the night before had created ideal conditions for the “Big Night”, the night when the salamanders head down to the pond to lay their eggs. After explaining the importance of vernal ponds to the eco-system, he took us closer to the pond to point out the egg masses that had been laid the night before. I must confess that while we were listening to these interesting facts about vernal ponds my attention kept focusing on the perfect reflection of trees in the water.

Not far from the water, our next stop was a grove of white birch trees, looking rather ghost like in the mist. Here we learned that the grey birch is not as brilliant white as the paper (or white) birch and often has dark triangle shaped markings. We also spotted a yellow birch which, in addition to the yellow bark, is shaggier that the other birches.

We continued on our walk, with our guide pointing out the striped maples that were budding, and the mountain ash lined with sapsucker holes. At another stop I found a perfect yet delicate spider web; a lovely work of art on this overcast outing. All too soon our lesson was over and our allotted time was up. I did learn to identify a few trees but I had also found that nature can offer up some pretty impressive artwork even on foggy days.

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A Snowshoe Exploration

After clearing the roughly 13 inches of snow from the second nor’easter in a week, we decided to take out our snowshoes and explore the woods behind the house. Even though we knew that this had been a very wet snow, we were not expecting to hear the snow squish under our feet. The sound reminded me of walking on supposedly dry ground during mud season. Clearly there was a lot of water running underneath this wet blanket but everything was bright and fresh looking so we continued with our ramble through the woods.

It was early enough that the sun had not yet melted the snow and ice from the trees. I took a moment to admire the icing on the branches before heading off towards the drier side of the property. As we wandered around snow-capped branches and stone walls the white blanket started to melt, and soon we were being pelted by snow falling from the highest point of the trees around us. This still did not deter us from stopping to admire the ice ball crusted around a branch, or the shelf mushroom bearing a rather large white cap. I also paused to study the intricate design of a fungus attached to a twig on the ground. I almost walked by this find but the golden color and the unusual shape caught my eye so I had to stop.

It became harder to maneuver through the snow as we made our way to the wetter side of the property. There were many dead trees on this side and more bushy type vegetation, with a few sticker bushes thrown in. We found it more difficult to find a clear path through this jungle and soon decided to call it a day, but first, we had to force our way through this tangle of growth. Once we reached the road, we walked back towards the house anticipating a nice hot cup of tea.

Meadow Brook Preserve – Hauk-Fry Trail

Over the years, I had come to realize that if I want to explore the outdoors I needed to do so early in the day. There have been too many times when I assumed that I would go on a hike after lunch and it somehow never happened.  So when the second weekend in December brought clear weather and seasonable temperatures, we decided to explore the Hauk-Fry trail of the Meadow Brook preserve in Swanville.

The Meadow Brook preserve consists of three separate tracts of land with a mile long trail on each of two of the tracts. Since the local land trust has been placing highly visible signs on the various preserves, we assumed that we would locate this spot and a parking pullout without any problem. Alas, after we drove way too long, we were forced to turn around and looked more closely for the preserve designation on our return trip. We eventually found a small off-road sign for each of the two pieces of land but neither one provided a pullout. The directions to this piece of land did indicate that we should park on the road and we did so with some reservation since the lane was a bit curvy.

The day was still cold enough that the morning frost had not yet lifted and as we walked along the trail, I marveled at the icy designs on the surrounding vegetation. We walked along a narrow path and across some slippery bog planks along our journey towards Hurds Pond. As we traveled, I realized how each preserve we have hiked has its own unique character. This particular spot of land was punctuated by moss covered rocks scattered around the trail, which created its own challenges for moving around these obstacles. On one rock, I counted at least 3 different types of mosses (actually 2 types of moss and reindeer lichen) and found a 4th on a nearby stone.

As we got closer to the water, we found a number of trees felled by beaver activity. The sharpened stump of the downed trees were all the remained. Of those logs that remained, they were all stripped of their bark and left behind. Walking around this area, we soon arrived at a picnic table overlooking the pond. Directly across from us, we had a wonderful view of a rather larger beaver lodge. We stood admiring the water views for a bit before retracing our steps to another fork that would take us to a stone dam, which according to our guide book could take us to the island across the river. When we arrived at the dam, we looked across at a series of blue blazes but did not feel comfortable crossing the ice covered stones and the beginnings of what appeared to be new beaver construction. I was not sure if this construction raised the water level across the stone dam but it was high enough for me to deem the crossing unsafe. It was interesting to note, that another blogger who had explored the second trail of this preserve, commented that the back end of the loop was difficult to maneuver because the beaver activity in the area had made that portion of the trail very wet. We studied our options for a little bit before deciding to call it a day and turned back towards the preserve entrance and lunch in Belfast.

On the way back I reflected on the frost covered vegetation, the variety of mosses and lichens, the water views and beaver activity and realized that it had been a wonderful, discovery filled morning.

Sagamore Farm

Mid-August we decided to explore a relatively unknown trail system a little closer to home. I knew about Sagamore Farm as a result of an email I received some time back about an organized  walk through the trail system. Unable to attend that walk, I spoke to the person who had led that walk and got directions to the trail head. His instructions included the advice to take a picture of the map at the trailhead before we set out.

The trail was located behind one of the local inns whose owners had generously allowed hikers to park at the far southern end of their property.  We were a bit deceived by the kiosk nearby, thinking that it was where the adventure would begin, but the map informed us that we needed to walk across the property, past the office and behind the lodge before searching for the path. Before setting out to hunt for the trail, we were amused by a chipmunk sitting on a post, eating the local berries nearby. We watched him for some time before moving on.

Once behind the lodge, we walked past the trail and needed to back track to find our starting point and only found it after referring to the map. It was rather hidden to say the least. At the opening that would lead us into the woods, I stopped to study a Queen Anne’s Lace. I had read that there is a dark purple heart-shaped flower in the center of the “lace” and wanted to see it for myself. I did not see the purple-heart on this particular flower but found an equally delightful gift, a ladybug sitting right where the identifying heart would be.

Given the recent town meeting discussions I had read, about the board not wanting to commit to a permanent trail system, I was surprised to find that the paths were clearly marked with blue blazes. Apparently, several years ago, the Midcoast Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association agreed to build and maintain routes throughout this piece of land. Between the blazes and our photographed map we had no problem exploring these woods. Our route did switchback on itself quite a bit but that would be the nature of a mountain bike system. On the other hand, perhaps because the population is considerably smaller than that of my previous home in New York, we did not see the extensive damage that we had witnessed when exploring trails designed for mountain bikers. It was a surprising but pleasurable experience.

We walked through a dark wood of mostly pines and oaks, with plenty of ferns and moss for ground cover. At one point during our adventure, we found some yellow stagshorn fungus partially hidden by the leaf litter. A little further on, we startled a toad that hopped off the path to hide beneath a fern. He was a fairly big fellow, one of three that we found during our walk. It was turning out to be an outing of animal discoveries; first the chipmunk, then the ladybug and finally the toads.

After following the twists and turns of the trail uphill, we soon noticed the path taking a downward trend. Along the way we discovered a tree so littered with pileated woodpecker holes that it was amazing there was anything left. Arriving at a more open area near the end of our journey, we found a Mountain Ash bearing brilliant red berries, its bark mottled with a ring of sapsucker holes the entire length of the tree. We attempted some tree identification at this point, both the Mountain Ash and the Mulberry Tree nearby, but these identities had to wait until we arrived home and could consult our guide books. Done with our hike we returned to our vehicle just as the rain came in.

Seattle Japanese Garden

After finally acquiring a trail map for the Washington Park Arboretum, I meandered a bit more, admiring the different sections of the park before making my way back to the my starting point at the Pacific Connections section of the gardens. I sat there for 20 minutes or so enjoying the scenery while waiting for the Japanese Gardens across the street to open. Nearing admission time, I exited the arboretum and strolled towards the next item on my list of Seattle places to visit.

Typical of Japanese Gardens in most places, I entered a sanctuary that enveloped the visitor with a spirit of tranquility and invited the weary wanderer to leave their worries behind. I walked along structured garden paths admiring everything from the placement of teahouses and pagodas, to the reflecting pool and the pink water lilies. I sat near the lilies just letting the serene atmosphere take over before moving on.

It was a small garden and I spent no more than 45 minutes there but it was enough to recharge my nature senses before having another go at the city. The next day promised rain and it would be a museum day, so I was glad to have this nature moment to carry me through.