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Sears Island 2022

April 23rd was a beautiful, sunny day, though a tad windy. It didn’t take much to convince my husband to come out of his shop and get outside. He had never been to Sears Island so that was our planned destination. After a few minutes of deciding whether we needed lighter winter coats or spring jackets because the wind was a bit chilly, we opted for the spring jackets. And then, we were off!

After about 40 minutes, we parked along the causeway and set out along the Jetty Road. I was still on the lookout for acceptable mud-season trails and the Jetty Road certainly met the requirements. It was a paved road, so there was certainly no mud there. The description online claimed that this avenue, “most of which was paved”, would lead to a jetty. I could not tell you what the unpaved section was like since we went a different route that day. Although the Jetty Road was wide with vegetation on each side, and we enjoyed spotting the leaf buds on the trees, it wasn’t enough.

Not far into our walk, we veered left onto the Cell Tower Road which was a gravel road that led to the cell tower 2 miles from where we turned off. This path took us through a more wooded section with more things to explore. Although the wildflowers were not blooming yet, we still spotted evidence that they were growing. For the most part, the ground here was firm with a few soft spots and minimal mud. Near the tower itself, there were puddles in the tire ruts, and there was indication that the vehicles used to reach the tower had gotten stuck in the mud.

We walked past the Homestead Trail, since one look down that route suggested that it was quite muddy. The next turnoff was the Eastern Ledges Trail, which went a half mile towards an overlook of the water and the beach below. This was a lovely little byway, through an evergreen forest. Along the way we found patches of ferns. When we reached the ledges, we noticed that the trail continued to follow the ledge for a bit. I don’t know if there was an actual point where you could get down to the shore since, after admiring the view, we opted to turn back towards the Cell Tower Road. It was excellent timing, because on our return we passed a group of 15 people heading towards the ledges.

As we got closer to the tower, we made a brief detour on the right to explore the Summer Homestead Trail. What remained of the Homestead were a few foundation blocks, now surrounding a vernal pond with lots of egg casings.

Back on the Cell Tower Road, we found a wet section on the side of the road filled with Skunk Cabbage. This was the first plant we found blooming so far. As we got closer to the tower, we watched an osprey fly towards the tower and land on its nest. We watched the bird for a while and then turned onto the Scenic Outlook Trail. We thought this quarter mile trail would take us down to the beach, where we could have lunch and then walk back along the shore, but the end of this path deposited us on a ledge pretty high up from the shore. We had no choice but to turn around.

As we made our way back up the Cell Tower Road, we figured the Southern Shore Trail (still marked as the Blue Trail on the sign) would take us to our destination. Unfortunately, just as we were getting close to the shore, we lost the blue markers and headed in the wrong direction. We had to backtrack through some muddy sections filled with Skunk Cabbage before we got back to the trail and then found the next blue marker. In less than 2 minutes we were on the beach.

While we enjoyed our lunch, we watched the ospreys flying overhead and 2 men searching for things among the rocks on the beach in front of us. Did I say rocks? After lunch we began making our way back along the beach. This section of beach was all rocks, and not just pebbles. At one point, we were hopping from boulder to boulder. Eventually, this gave away to sand. Having hiked through Pine Barrens, I was familiar with sand, and it was not my favorite ground cover to walk on. At this point, I could not tell you which was worse, hiking on sand or rocks. By the time we reached the stairs leading up to where we parked, I was not sure I would be able to climb the stairs. I was done for the day, but it still had been a wonderful day. We had hiked about 6 miles.

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Main Stream in Spring

It was hard to believe that June 1st was three months into the new normal; everyone trying to figure out what was appropriate behavior for surviving a pandemic, an economy tanking and protests sweeping the country. When my mother passed away 5 years ago, she looked at what was going on in the world and declared that she had lived too long. Thirty years younger than that, I found that I was looking at the world and thinking the same thing. It was definitely time to turn off the news. It was time to find some healing in whatever nature had to offer. It was time to get outside.

When I first visited Main Stream, not far from Stockton Springs, it was winter and there was plenty of snow on the ground for snowshoeing. My friend and I decided it was time to see what this preserve had to offer during this season of late spring. First, I had to meet her at one of the landmarks mentioned in the directions because she could not find the turn off. The directions from the land trust site did not mention distances so she was not aware that the turn was almost across the street. Once I rescued her, we were at the preserve in just a few minutes.

One look down the grassy road leading towards the kiosk and we should have realized that this may not have been a good idea. It was clearly overgrown. When I saw this, I immediately thought of ticks even though I was appropriately dress with all my permethrin treated clothes and gators. There were also a few partially uprooted small trees that were leaning across the lane. Unfortunately, we had to duck under one of these while trying to maneuver across a mud puddle.  I guess we were just stubborn and we decided to continue on. In between these moments, we were able to notice that the area was carpeted with bluets, so there was the first good discovery of our visit.

After reaching the kiosk, we decided to just hike the straight path to the stream and avoid the loop. I had seen comments about ticks along the loop. The trail was narrow with quite a few ups and downs. It was also very rocky, and we found we had to really watch where we were walking so that we would not step into the holes between these boulders. It wasn’t an entirely wasted journey, for along the way, we found areas blanketed with Eastern Starflowers, Canada Mayflowers and Bunchberries, all growing together. This helped to lighten our mood. We were also inspired when my friend found the first blooming Blue-bead Lily of the season. Our final discovery was a cluster of Foam Flowers. This was new to my identification of wildflowers and I was pleased with the find.

When we neared the stream, we noticed the last few yards was very grassy so we opted not to get any closer. Instead, we turned to retrace our steps back to our cars. On the return journey, we had to stop while my friend explored a junk heap with an old abandoned car. For whatever the reason, she is attracted to these things so I waited on the path while she went to explore. It was then that I found the tick on my pants leg. Hoping that it was already feeling the effects of my chemically enhanced clothing, I flicked it off.

Back at our cars, we agreed that we would probably not return to this preserve, at least during the growing season. Winter would probably be best. It was just a bit too overgrown for our tastes. Once home, I threw my clothes in the wash. When I removed them from the dryer I found another tick on the gators. I think it was dead but I gave it an appropriate disposal anyway.

Blue Hill Mountain

By late August my friend and I were ready for a new adventure. She would be busy with new classes in September and would be unavailable while she got acclimated to the new semester, so this would be our only opportunity for exploring new places until later in the fall. Her first suggestion was someplace in Acadia but I informed her there was no way I was going to Acadia until the summer crowds dissipated. With this condition in mind, I sent her some ideas between Bucksport and Ellsworth. We soon settled on Blue Hill Mountain just outside of Blue Hill, with a stop in Bucksport on the way home for the ice cream I had promised her earlier in the year.

I had done this hike almost a dozen years ago, and I remembered it as not being too strenuous. Once on the road that would give us the option of two different trail heads, we thought that we would pull off into the first parking area, for no other reason than it was the first. The decision for the second trail-head was made for us when we drove past the first parking area. No problem, most of the trails were about the same difficulty.

After crossing the road to the Hayes trail, we meandered along a path through a meadow. There were bird boxes throughout the field and we stopped to watch a pair of blue birds flitting from the birdhouse to the vegetation. Further up the field we studied a butterfly resting on a nearby flower.

At the top of the field, we had the choice to continue on the Hayes Trail or turn onto the Service Road Trail. The Hayes Trail would intersect the Service Trail just behind a radio tower. The Service Trail would then continue towards the summit. Since the Hayes trail was described as challenging, with a section where we would  have to climb a steep rocky slope (described as a talus on our map), we opted to take the Service Road towards the summit. This path took us through a beautiful mixed wood forest, which became mostly pine as we neared the top. Most of this road was paved with stone blocks to allow the service vehicles to reach the tower, which made for a relatively easy hike (other than stopping to catch our breath due to the ascent).

As we neared the tower, we found a map at the intersection of the path we were on with the Hayes Trail. We spoke with two men who were studying the map, to get their assessment of the Hayes Trail. After our discussion, we decided to give it a try with the thought that we could turn around if it seemed too difficult. Soon we found ourselves on a large, comfortable area of open ledge with spectacular views of Blue Hill harbor. It was the perfect spot to enjoy our lunch!

It was while we were eating, that my comrade made the observation that she thought that another trail to the summit, Larry’s Trail, continued on the other side of the support wires for the tower. I went over to investigate and found that Larry’s Loop would have us walk along a very narrow open ledge. Nope, that was not happening. I investigated another path behind us, hoping that it would bypass that narrow ledge (especially having just found out that she was more uncomfortable with open ledges than I). This trail did bypass the narrow section of trail but would deposit us on a slightly wider open space. After some discussion, we decided that we already had the best views from where we were, and did not really need to summit, and hey, wasn’t it time for ice cream?

With a stop for ice cream in mind, we opted to make our descent on the Hayes Trail. It wasn’t long before we were scrambling down a boulder field. I slowed down considerably since I am not at all comfortable maneuvering around rocky conditions, not only due to my hip replacement but because I have been known to trip once in a while when hiking. All of a sudden, my friend yelled for me to move and attempted to push past me (I swear she was trying to push me off the mountain). She had found six or seven bees flying around and, since she was allergic to bee stings wanted to get quickly out of their way. I let her zoom past me, while I continued my painfully slow pace down the mountain. Eventually, we reached the field and could safely walk the rest of the way to the parking area.

Our hiking adventures done for the day, we made our way to Bucksport for our much deserved ice cream. After purchasing our sweets, we found a bench along the river with wonderful views of the Penobscot Bridge and Fort Knox. We then  walked the red brick paved walkway along the river to work off some of the ice cream before calling it a day and heading home.

 

Long Cove Preserve

By late August I felt it was time to explore something new, so I pulled out our trail guide for the local land trust and studied our options before deciding that we should visit Long Cove Preserve in Searsport. It was one of the few preserves in the guide that we had yet to investigate. After a few weeks of warm, humid weather, this particular Friday promised lower temperatures and lower humidity; a perfect day for hiking an unknown territory.

When we arrived at the preserve, we studied the trail map and set out our travel plan. Although there were two loops in this park, visitors needed to travel at least part of the blue loop before reaching the orange loop. My initial strategy was that we would traverse both loops in a figure 8, in order to visit most of the area.

I have to say, that the Long Cove Preserve was one of the “wilder” properties owned by the land trust. Then again, the vegetation had all summer to take over sections of the trail. As we walked along the Blue Trail, I noticed that the Asters and Golden Rods were beginning to lean over the trail a bit, making the path a little bit narrow. Not horrible, just a little narrower than what we were used to.

As we walked along, I noticed that the leaves of the Canada Mayflowers and the Eastern Starflowers were beginning to turn yellow, the Wild Sarsaparilla was taken on the yellow or reddish spotted appearance of late summer, and the Bunchberries were displaying a large amount of bright, red berries. The end of summer was certainly making its presence known. I was particularly intrigued by the way the Self-Heal was shedding its petals, leaving a small circle of purple around a green core. It was also in this section that we counted a half dozen frogs in the span of just a few feet.

When we reached an intersection, indicating one direction for the blue loop and another for the orange, I got a little confused. I guess I didn’t realize that we needed to continue on the Blue Trail a little bit longer to carry out my plan of walking a figure 8, and as a result, I made the decision to turn right on to the Orange Trail. This would come back to haunt us.

Walking along the Orange Trail, we discovered how fast things can grow. The Bracken Fern reached our waists and completely obscured the trail in some sections. Fortunately, we could see clear areas beyond the ferns so we never lost the trail. The orange blazes also got us through some of the more overgrown areas.

At one point, the trail became very wet. In fact, we had to work our way around a river that had probably been hard ground not that long ago. Once we successfully maneuvered around this section, we continued on for a little while. After a some period of time, my husband noted that we had not seen any orange blazes for quite some time. We thought we were okay since we still saw the occasional snow mobile sign, but as we continued and still saw no sign of an orange blaze we decided to turn around. Once again we had to work away around the river. It was shortly after this that we came to the last orange marker we had seen, a small branch on the ground with an orange blaze. Looking up, we noticed the two orange paint marks (one over the other) on a nearby tree to our right, and a very clear trail with additional blazes beyond. If we had followed our original plan of that figure 8, we would have come out at this clearly defined intersection and would have found the next obvious marker. We figured we had gone about ½ mile out of our way.

Back on the correct trail, we worked a way through a few more patches of Bracken Fern before we reached the Blue Trail once more. On the Blue Trail the path was a more visible and a little easier, and we completed our hike with no further difficulties.

Main Stream Preserve

Just before the last weekend in February, we finally had an all snow event that was not followed by rain. Hurray! At last there were perfect  conditions for some snowshoeing! That Friday, we threw the snowshoes in the truck and headed up to Stockton Springs to explore Main Stream, a preserve we had not explored before.

Our primary reason for hiking this trail in the winter was that I heard that not only was the area pretty wet, but that the walk to the trailhead was grassy. Those two characteristics brought to mind mosquitoes, black flies and ticks. Even though we used nets during fly season and insect shield clothing to combat the ticks, we also did not believe in tempting fate. When I was informed of certain trails being overly populated by ticks, I knew that would be an off-season hike.

When we arrived at the preserve, our first task was to climb over the snowbank left behind by the plows. Once we crossed over that obstacle we discovered that we were the first to break the snow. Knowing the hard work involved in that task, I let my husband go first to create the trail (generous of me, I know).

As we walked down the long lane before us, I noticed the remains of a variety of golden rod. I also noticed the swelling of a few buds on some of the bushes nearby. Looking up, it seemed the tree tops displayed the reddish hue of spring. The days were getting longer and there were definitely signs of new life if one knew where to look.

Off to one side of the lane, we noticed an open area that we assumed would be wet during the spring and summer. In winter, all we could see was an open expanse of white with terrain that suggested a riverbank. Down the middle of this landscape were animal tracks following the water line. We would find these same prints multiple times during our journey.

The path we were on continued for another .3 mile before reaching the actual preserve property. We stopped long enough to admire a snow covered bridge. I felt privileged to being the first to take in the beauty of the untouched snow blanketing the bridge and the land beyond. Once we crossed the bridge and dislodged the snow, that vision was unfortunately gone for those who would come after us.

The straight alley we had been walking along, ended in an open field. It took us a minute to locate the blue marker that would lead us into the woods. At times we needed to stop during the uphill sections in order to find the next marker, for there were a few areas that switched back up the hill. During the last few explorations, I have noticed that the marker that the lead person cannot see due to some obstruction, the person following can. It gave me something to think about concerning the advantages and disadvantages of hiking solo.

The blue trail ended at the river. Once again we studied the expanse of white field unable to discern the river without the help of the terrain suggesting a riverbank. The animal prints we had seen earlier still continued along the river.

After taking in the view, we turned to locate the orange loop trail. Unlike the blue trail which took us through woods and ended at the river, the orange trail followed the stream until it intersected once more with the blue trail. Here we did not have to work so hard breaking a trail since we could use the prints we had laid down earlier.

On our way back down the lane towards the car, I decided to try out the macro lens attachment for my compact camera that I had received for Christmas. I was quite pleased with the results.

Exploring both trails had been about 1.5 miles but snowshoeing being a bit harder than walking, the journey had taken about 2.5 hours. It had been the best day for some real snowshoeing this year.