The Friendship of the Maine Woods

Spring and Summer ramblings…

Returning to the woods is  like seeing that long lost friend after many years of separation. Perhaps the one you neglected to keep in touch with, forgot to write to, and maybe even lost track of amidst the clutter in your social networking feed. But once you have locked arms and entered the domain of this friend, past secrets are kept, warm remembrances are kindled, and new loves are spoken. You realize that even though distance separated you and maybe time and space, the memories are there, the knowledge is there, and even though there may be new wrinkles and a few extra pounds, your friend remains the same, and the joy you initially found in the friendship is instantly restored.

So it is with the untamed, unfettered wilds of the north Maine Woods. This is indeed a special place. It is unique. With its remote, pristine undeveloped ponds, easy free access through miles of maintained roads, beautiful mountain vistas, and simple pleasures found along the roadsides, the edges of forest glades, or along the well worn trail of a ridgeline path, or on the boggy shore of a undeveloped pond. I believe once you have truly made friends with the Maine woods, it holds a piece of your heart. Whether you are a logger, activist, hunter, fisherman, photographer, artist, or developer, that connection will be there.

The wildlife sightings this year seem to be quite frequent. Lynx, Bear, Moose, fisher, beaver, otter. Guests are seeing it all!. Recent guests in the aptly named “Moose” cabin have seen moose almost every day this spring in the swamp and on the Winter Wren trail. I myself have seen more mothers with babies than I have ever seen before. Even recently saw a large bull with a cow, which struck me as slightly odd.

The bear are also here, and with them and the season of wild berries upon us, we are in direct competition. It is a race to the ripest patches. With  a mere 22000 acres across the East Middlesex Canal Grant township I can only know a few of the best spots but during every walk and scouting trip I am calculating the week, time, even hour the strawberries within a particular location will ripen. For years I spent the month of July censusing the berries on my family’s farm. My knowledge ran deep, I suspect I have as many words for the types of wild strawberries that the Athabascans have for snow. I am now in the infancy of collecting many data points on the wild strawberries of the township. I guess it is the farmer in me I must watch seek the best soil, watch the berries grow, and add to my sparse knowledge which section of woods reveal the largest delight and harvest at the appropriate moment, always with an eye on the weather.  To my delight there is a wealth of new information to be learned as well as perfecting the timing of the harvest. Dana and the girls easily support these forays because they know that at the end of all the hard work, the slow hulling of berries which at this time of year are picked “singleton” there will be a reward, an amazing shortcake, or a batch of wild strawberry rhubarb jam cooked upon the stove.

Autumn musings… 

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Moose? Where are the moose? If only I had a dollar for each time I answer that question. A simple response: they are here you just have to look for them and be patient. My “easy” button does not seem to work to produce moose sightings on demand. Fresh signs abound in the woods, small maples ripped out of the ground, scraped up and gashed, large piles of droppings, mucky murky tracks in the dirt, huge pawings. Moose “Families” congregating together by the road. I look forward to the time of the year where the leaves drop and the moose can be seen easily in the woods. I love the rich earthy smell of autumn in the forest.. the eruptions of turkey tails, treasure troves of black trumpets, and clusters of other lichen that jut out from the sea of multi-colored leaves. As the moon waxes and wanes I think of the ravines, the ridges, and the old roads that criss-cross the township where I will spend my days this fall. Watching pileated woodpeckers, Canada jays, and flickers float gracefully through  the air.  Hopefully catching sight of that elegant white tail in his prime. Each season brings new patterns and old friends that have been away for a time. It is a joy to visit with them, to have a knowledge deep enough to know that even if you have fleeting moments in their presence they are there carrying on… present over time.

Potato-Bean, Hopniss was discovered here in bloom in late summer. It has been here all along, but has become more prolific.  A unique flower, an ever expanding vine. I marveled at its audacity, taking over my sunflowers and fence, casting aside my feeble sweet peas, crawling with exacerbating speed up the side of the windmill. What exotic has someone introduced. Flummoxed I paused and fumbled through pages of books. Then one night I stumbled upon it, the very same week Dana was enlightened by a charismatic guest as to its origin and identity. We both kept this information in our heads, delighted in our find. Until one night we almost burst out in unison and we remembered we had not yet told the other. I somewhat embarrassed I had not known it before and had been perusing horticultural guides trying to find an invasive. The groundnut was used by the Abenaki and others as a  food source. It is reputed to be found in old settlements where they were well established. Around the same time I learned the “rest of the story” regarding the connection the Abenaki and Gluscape had to Kokadjoweemgwasebemsis and our winter home near Cape Rosier. Eerily I pondered the connection. Connected by geology and time  and old legends, two very different places, we inhabit. Our migration reversed.

This season has made me think about patterns, and the forces of nature, and the continuing circle of life we live in. There has been much death in my family personally, it has consumed some of my mental capacity and made it hard to write. At the same time I don’t think I have ever been as connected to the seasons and nature, life and death before, and the patterns of the woods within the township. From the first bloom of coltsfoot, to the newfound joy of lady’s tresses. To old friends trillium, lady slipper, rattlesnake plantain and daisies, I have found simple joys. The silver moonlight across the pond, the arch of the moon as it travels closer to the mountain as the season draws on. The primeval green of the pond in late spring, the golden light on the mountain face in the sunsets of autumn. The fiery fall sunrises. The blooming of water lilies, the beaver and otter swimming by, the marten in the spruce, and the chipmunk on the log. Each moment I have relished. I look forward to snow on the mountain and the biting cold winds of November. Throughout the chaos of hustle of the world I have been able to be grounded here.  Throughout the season I have welcomed old guests, anticipated their arrival, enjoyed the friendship and camaraderie each visit brings. I have been delighted to meet new friends and forge new connections both within the natural world and human world that I know will carry me long into the future. Indeed each day, each moment, each season brings renewed commitment and the realization that it is truly a blessing to be here. I am deeply thankful for the paths that have lead our family to this special spot.

The clear brilliance of each captured moment is at once like a memory and yet has a new twist, as the seasons spin, I have been here before but there are new elements I may have once missed. My only responsibility is to keep my eyes and heart open to the possibilities.

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Link

2013 Spencer Pond Camps photo album – click here to see the photos and cast your vote

2013 Spencer Pond Camps photo album – click here to see the photos and cast your vote

To cast your vote for the winner visit our Facebook album link and “like” the photo you like the best. Voting will close and the winner will be announced on May 1st! Note you must be logged into Facebook as a user to vote

Forays into the woods

ImageThe leaves have blown from the trees, a few last stragglers hold sentry over the north woods. The aspen or “popple” trees as Dana calls them hang tough, their golden coined shaped leaves quaking in the wind a stark contrast to the deep blues of a clear autumn sky.  We have one birch along the road that refuses to let its leaves go but the last have abandoned  The foliage and colors came early and made a hasty departure, ushered by fierce gale force winds and an onslaught of heavy rain. Squirrels rustle through the leaves on the forest floor, jays call in groups through the trees. The freshness and charismatic chill of autumn hangs in the air, leaving frost on the ground and a crunch to the forest floor. The grouse have spent warm days hanging under spruce and now emerge poking around under the beech, clucking along fallen logs and standing still against brown stumps and trees. I have had the pleasure of many autumn walks, some taking me deep into the heart of the forest, others just along old roads in search of new treasures. As the sun sinks I watch the sky colored with rosy tones and orange embers slowly leaving the dusky evening in full swing. A saw-whet owl calls repeatedly in the distance, , at first hard to discern and then as the silence of the darkness grows and I stop my feet I hear him clearly hunting through the woods.

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Sunrises at this time of year are amazing the colors will start each morning with pinking hues, ebbing to purple and then in a dazzle of spectacular brilliance the reds will turn on and light up the sky, it will last maybe 30 seconds sometimes less the peak intensity sometimes 10 seconds and then quickly be gone. This must be attributed to the clean crisp cool air of fall. Anyone who has inhaled the deep draughts of north woods air on a sparkling autumn day will attest to its purity and restorative invigorating splendor. The sunrises are equally rejuvenating and good for the soul. One can not help but be awed by such beauty that can leave you enraptured, speechless, and mystified all at once. Combine that with the scent of a gentle breeze blowing in through the firs and pine, and fish jumping in circles from the pond  and you have a memory seared forever within the mind’s eye that no photo or video can ever truly capture.

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Warm autumn winds gradually merge with the cool wintry breezes that herald the first flurries of snow and the quick early soft love bites of winter’s fiercesome grasp. This is my favorite time to be in the woods. With the leaves and the taunt of snow, so leave the fair weather crowds. In the forest, on the edge of the pond, from the side of the ridge, on a clear cold day with the blue sky above there is absolutely nothing to hear at all except the sound of the wind. Deeply we listen, as I teach my girls the beauty of the simple sound, to savor the sound of nothing but the sound the wind makes as it moves through the boughs of the trees. The birch stand bear the crooked yet delicate branches standing in contrast against the pond, and we watch gray evening clouds move slowly across the sky, colored in gentle bursts by a slowly sinking sun, and a rising venus emerges perfect for little girls to wish upon into the night.

The wood fire hisses in the evening with the sound of a simmering kettle set upon the stove to add moisture to  the air. The early darkness of fall forces one inside, so after children are asleep I find myself sitting in the rocker beside the fire.  This year I have taken up a book written about a hunting family, a clan of famous, maybe near mythical deer hunters, the patriarch who has unfortunately recently departed this world. This is my attempt to see “what’s all the fuss about.” . Of course, my greatest teacher for hunting techniques is my husband. A man of humility, few words  and uncanny knack for stepping into the woods and returning with his quarry. No need for bravado, no need for stories and flashy scent protected camouflaged clothes. Just blue jeans and an old sweatshirt, attention to detail, sharp eyes trained by experience, and ghost like movement in the woods. Compared to his dancing blue eyes and the joy of a day in the woods, the book despite its colorful pictures is dull, to say the least. I am not sure if it’s the male bravado, the endless stream of colorful pictures of scruffy men dressed in flannels with large slain bucks at their side, or the fact that so far it’s a few common sense thoughts that have been dragged into 200 plus pages. I am hopeful to glean useful tidbits and I do. However, I think this was written for a different audience than me. For now most nights the wood fire lulls me into a gentle sleep after only a few pages. Slow and steady, each night the ritual begins, book in hand, tea on the coaster, rocker by the fire, and instant sleep therapy emerges.

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The days are shortening, which makes the vivid blue sky and the wintry silhouette of the mountain seem much more mesmerizing. Cranberries are plentiful and in the cool air we spend time harvesting them as a family. Thus rewarded together under a wheeled kerosene lamp chandelier with evening meals of grouse sautéed in garlic, oil, and thyme with a fresh cranberry sauce delectably placed beside. This year it appears wildlife food is also abundant in the woods and I find myself wondering if I shall stumble across a bear in my frequent late autumn woods forays.  I have encountered several bear in the woods over the years on the township, and never have found it to be a bad thing. Once alerted to a human presence they amble quickly away, 95% of the time before you ever have the chance to see them, and only on one  occasion while cruising some thick fir on mossy ground have I startled one enough to elicit a warning “woof.” I often wonder how many creatures we simply walk by,  senses so dulled, sight and scent so dim, we do not smell, see, or hear their presence. Then there are other times, you just have a “sense” that something is near, and I wonder too how many folks cast this instinctual feeling aside. I have learned to listen to it as a glimmer into my subconscious, replaying details, and asking myself what my subconscious knows, that I did not process, was it the quick musky smell , the torn limb, the upturned pebble on the road, what was little detail that is now nagging at my thoughts and saying “Stop pay attention.” For now on this foray, I pay attention to the still blooming aster, the flush of mushrooms, the bobcat track in the mud, and the boreal chickadees above.

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Great beauty reigns wild within

Within wildness great beauty reigns. So much of our lives is spent reining in that which is wild, yet with each passing season spent in the heart of Maine’s northern forest greater insight illuminates the true magic of the beauty that dwells within the unkempt abode of natures’ forest. Spending an evening on a still pond which fingers of darkness slowly steal across heightens this understanding. The busy flight of a kingfisher who can alight on a branch for only a few moments, the hum of the tree frogs, the feel of the cool summer breeze as it whisks upon one’s face laden with small midges and mosquitos, these are the precious moments of one’s life. Along the edge of the shore cedars lie russet brown as the water’s upheaval has cyclically turned them from a green thriving tree into a rugged upright perch for a cranberry laden bog. Blackbirds and a chorus of green frog song fills the air as we watch a meadowhen gracefully glide along and then with great dollop fertilize the bog. Certainly uncouth, untamed, unscripted, unplanned. We seek moose, and yet we find loons. Loons which are not preoccupied with our presence but more consumed in their quest for food. A plaintive wailing song pierces the still silence, bringing goose bumps to the flesh, and heralding the call of the wild woods. The loons move effortlessly through the water, ballerinas of the pond, providing their own soul stirring spell binding music which could easily outsell the greatest opera upon the solicitation of tickets. The weeds form mats and provide fodder for the wildlife which surges forth into the inlets to find nourishment. On the end of our trip, in search for moose, our hearts filled with the pink hued sunset laced with purples and golds and the sight of kingbirds squabbling in the trees has consumed our thoughts, when the twisted spirals of old wood and trunks heaved upon the shore and illuminated with golden light has cast Alces alces far from our minds eye….we are rewarded. He lurks in the shadows, flat rack spread wide in the darkness, at least four feet across, wary… We hear his slogging retreat as he moves into the trees. We are not breathing, breath inwardly held, excitement coursing through our veins,  we listen in near darkness and then watch as he turns, rack ever so slowly… seconds pass in slow motion, it is catching the last few flecks of the evening sun as it sets perfectly on his outstretched antlers. We stand transfixed as does he, no movement, no sound, an impasse of sorts as we stare each other down. Finally we retreat allowing him to return to his evening ritual free from worry, far from bother, in the untamed sloggy bog, where pitcher plant and sedge grass rules, where frogs dart from shore, where the hum of mosquitoes searching in droves is menacingly audible…within such wildness ..unfettered, unburdened, untamed, here is where the beauty reigns.

This year the roadsides are barren, it has been a poor year for gardens and for wildflowers. Yet within our pathetic patch of tilled earth which I have tried desperately to tame, I find a toad. A huge healthy fat pudgy wudgy toad, feasting upon the bugs and slugs my garden has festooned. So despite the hail, despite the rain, despite my dogged attempts to beat back the persistent weeds in my moments of  “me” time, within wildness beauty reins and so is bestowed in the form of the toad. A symbol of luck of fortune or happiness so believed.  I’ll take it as a precursor to lighter days ahead, signaling the harvest of squash which shall sally forth, into roasting pans and great bowls of bread and cakes, and perhaps a donut or two.
Despite the dearth in the usual locales along the shore rugosa run wild, fragrant blooms defying logic or care, perfection carried beside sheep laurel and rhodora hidden beneath a cloak of cattails somehow they have prevailed.

Along the stream sides blackberries emerge, great cascades of white blooms, which turn into tannish seed pods now burgeoning with heavy black fruit beckoning ones hands to dally and body to stop to pick a quart or so. Within the woods, the fungi spring forth, in random happenstance, and where tree has been felled, new shoots… the pioneers spring forth, bringing forward food and releasing the next generation of trees which will slowly evolve upwards and adorn the ridges and hills. The deer notice this salient enterprise and instinctually comb the vales and hills searching for prime forage.  The days are lit with sun and our wildlife spends this time resting in the woods, at night during the still coolness they become nocturnal, the moose will move to the roadsides the bear will comb the edges, and the raccoons…well they act like raccoons, masked bandits of the woods. Not to be mistaken for Robin Hood they are consistent with the morales of Bonnie and Clyde, marauders of the forest feared by most small citizens and loved by few transients.

Underneath the raspberry brambles, between the hail strewn leaves, across the moss covered fallen limbs, laying askew admidst a pile of moose scat, heeding no attention to proper decorum or attire, rises a blue flag, carelessly out of season, trimmed with red bunchberries at its feet , pitcher plant decaying into the wind, it cares not about the written words of naturalists which call attention to proper soil or temperature, it rises, rebel survivor, purveyor to its own plans, confidence bestowed within its upward growth, and exemplified by its striking violet sea colored blossom, it ascends a symbol of the beauty reigned wildness within.

 

 

 

 

 

 

North Woods Awakening – Beyond seeing…noticing the signs of spring

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One of the positive attributes of a rainy spring is the lush green growth it brings. The forest is now filled with vibrant green vegetation. Walking through the woods goldthread and violets spring up, the last of the Trillium are now unfurled. Canada Mayflower, Lady Slippers, and Starflower are in bloom, and an occasional bunchberry can be found. A new discovery while walking through the woods this year was the ethereal glory of moosewood (also known as Striped Maple Acer pensylvanicum) in bloom. The lovely bell shaped pendulous blossoms wafted gently beneath the leaves and created a light feathery ambience to the woods decorating them subtly as my youngest daughter skipped about over moss covered logs singing delightedly “we are ready for the fairies’ ball.” I stood transfixed, perplexed how I could have been so unobservant never to see this gentle beauty before. For years I have traipsed the woods in spring – never noticing these delicate blooms. Delighted in my find and eager to share I showed my photos of the blooms to my entire extended family. I was exonerated somewhat as other family members (some who had spent lifetimes making their living in the woods) saw the photos and said “we may have seen them before but we have never really noticed them before either.” In those few words I realized the essence of life here at Spencer Pond was captured. Much is seen by folks, our eyes take in and process millions of images but here finally my brain was relaxed and calm enough to actually process this one frame after years of actually seeing it. I was finally ready to absorb its unadorned and true beauty. My daughter’s rapture with the woods this spring day was further heightened with burgeoning magic as we listened to the deep drum of a ruffed grouse as we slowly walked toward a bend in the trail where our earliest guest and longtime family friend had found a not so shy male Ruffed Grouse drumming. This grouse was proud of his magnificence and not at all shy as he stood on his log puffed out, tail spread in a wide fan and calling for his love. A true treasure both girls were amazed his wings could make the beat of a drum. As we explored further up the trail we discussed how he grabs the air to create a vacuum to do so. Children’s minds are like sponges and I chuckled as a flurry of questions ensued… the first of which was “what other birds make noises with their wings? So I abandoned all hope of walking quietly to see “something” and we talked about the whistle of the Goldeneye which they were familiar with as their father always points out the “whistla’s” in his thick DownEast accent as they fly over the pond, or the mourning doves and hummingbirds that visit our feeders. As the girls were listening I took the opportunity to remind them of the song the woodcock sings in the early spring that we witness in the fields near our winter home as he rises into the sky wings twittering and spirals down to then “peent” in his circle. We were all pretty content as we made our return to camp, mom for an enthusiastic audience listening to her “nature babble” kids for the simple wonders they had discovered, and dogs for some time spent sniffing out good scents in the woods. Just another day at camp.

Dana early in the spring had accidentally stumbled upon a woodcock nest on his way to cut some logs for the cabin restoration. The mother woodcock succeeded in her display and quest to draw him away but not before he witnessed three creamy speckled eggs laying perfectly disguised on the forest floor. He was eager to share his discovery with me that night. To which I chuckled “I’ll make a birder out of you yet.” Although he may not readily accept the label, I think he may already be there. He checked the nest like an expectant father over the next few weeks and on May 7th the report came in – the babies had hatched broken egg shell fragments were all that remained. His voice laced with disappointment he had missed the event and more importantly seeing the puffy little chicks. Off into the woods the new family went to enjoy the spring. We are cautiously optimistic regarding the spring chicks as we had a lot of warm and dry weather early in the month of may which hopefully gave broods of young woodcock and grouse a good boost before the spring deluge forced itself upon us.

Among odd sightings this spring was the killdeer that arrived in the campyard one morning and an upside down eagle that Dana caught with a photo near Spencer Stream. The eagle soon freed itself and landed on the ground and we have not seen him since but we are on the lookout for an eagle that is definitely exhibiting odd behavior. Dana and I have been joking that the terns have followed him to Spencer Pond. They love his pink buoys bobbing in Blue Hill Bay and apparently they also find Spencer Pond attractive as we have often seen them whizzing by this spring. We also have had a few juvenille Eagles spending time near the campyard perched high in the pines, calls carrying over the campyard. This of course excites the nesting Merlin’s and really when the birds get acting up it can be quite loud here! Otters keep us entertained after ice out and make occasional appearances throughout the year and as usual the beavers keep their routine, building, building building.

Bald Eagle at Spencer Pond Camps

Bald Eagle at Spencer Pond Camps

 There is always something new to learn here. My grandparents always remarked on how many delightful and wonderful people they met as guests over the years and how much the guests taught them. One thing I have recently learned from a wise old guest is to pay attention to the blooms of the Coltsfoot along the side of the road. Never truly “noticing” this plant I had walked casually by thinking it was slightly different dandelion growing in poor soil. A very interesting plant and cheerful in the very early spring when most of the roadsides are still brown and devoid of wildflowers. This year I had thought I would continue my quest to learn the local ferns. My grandmother was quite proud of her discovery of Braun’s Holly Fern in the area, and I myself know little other than Hay-Scented Fern and the famed “fiddlehead” which is the Ostrich Fern. However I have altered course somewhat and decided to learn more about the rocks and fossils in the area. Dana’s  recent discovery of a huge crystallized quartz has me intrigued. We also have stumbled across fossils and land snails in our travels which has me looking at the ground so much that I am convinced I could have walked past a moose and never seen it. It is better than the year I decided to learn more about lichens and could be found nose up against trees with a small magnifying glass to my eye. Each year there are new areas of the woods to explore and I think if I lived here for a 100 years it will still keep me enticed and yearning for more – it is no mystery to me why one would want to retreat to the woods – there is more here to keep my particular mind entertained than the greatest shows put forth by the most skilled entertainers in the most fantastic cities – and I am thankful for every minute of it. Meanwhile Dana is happy for those fleeting moments when he can dip his fly into the water and keep on fishing.

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2012 Photo Contest Winners!

Overall Best Photo and Grand Prize Winner – Olga Sobko “Majestic and Majesty”

(5 nights for up to two people at Spencer Pond Camps)

Top Photos in Each Category

     
  • Nature as Art :Anne Chapman – Loon
  • Life the way it used to be – Cabin life and Campyard photosBlair Cox – Writing in Camp Journal
  • Out and About – Hiking, Fishing, Paddling,Layne Kaler – “Gone Fishing”
  • Experience Spencer Pond’s magic (light, connections with family, relaxation, be creative!) - Betty Williams – “Campyard Shore”
  • Fish, feathers, fur, scales and tails – creatures of the North Woods -David Cavagnaro – Moose Eating

Top Photo Winner in Each of the Categories will receive $25 gift certificates to be used at Spencer Pond Camps

 

Vote for your favorite photo in the 2012 Spencer Pond Camps Photo Contest

Congratulations to our top five entrants! Now it is time for our loyal fans and followers to make the vote on their favorite photo for the 2012 Spencer Pond Camps photo contest. Winner will be announced by April 15th!

To view the top entrants photos- click on our Facebook Album link below!

https://www.facebook.com/#!/media/set/?set=a.10151105343665318.414159.181235065317&type=3

CAST YOUR VOTE BY CLICKING ONE OPTION BELOW!

Autumn in the Maine Woods: Marten, Moose and Caribou Moss

Swooshing through the woods green ferns are buried beneath piles of yellow beech leaves, the air is alive with the deep rich pungent freshness of autumn. The ruffed grouse have already retreated to the tops of the trees and can be found budding, which is somewhat perplexing this early in the season, because the evidence is also obvious they have been feeding on beech nuts. The fall migrants have arrived in droves, snow buntings can be found easily along the roads, Canada Jays escort some visitors down the driveway, Pine and Evening Grosbeaks along with Crossbills and Waxwings are visiting our feeders. Flocks of Pine Siskins and Gold and Purple finches also descend, the  siskin’s call twisting upwards into the air and filling the camp yard with sound. A northern Shrike arrived at the edge of the camp yard a week ago, luckily for the smaller birds he moved on or has been stealthy in his pursuit of prey as has not been glimpsed since. One of our guests traveling along a road that follows the shore of Northern Moosehead Lake reported Horned Larks in the road, not timid or shy, they remained long enough for a positive identification.

This is my favorite time of year in the North woods, perhaps because most two legged creatures have abandoned it, or maybe because the air is cooler and with the leaves gone you can see forever into the trunks of trees like a forested ocean in the woods. Either way, this is the season for donning the orange and setting off on hikes to see what can be spotted. The choice to bring camera or gun is often fraught with regret because undoubtedly whichever one is chosen the other one shall be needed. The small mobile phone  camera does not do the forest dwellers justice, so most sightings sans camera are etched forever within my mind’s eye. A few evenings ago while hunkered down to sit I heard a soft rustling in the leaves behind me, having experienced this countless times before and thinking perhaps a mouse was about I slowly adjusted my gaze. Peeping out through a pile of leaves was a pure white weasel, his curious and beady eyes perplexed at what this large stinky creature hunched down in a hummock of firs and twisted limbs could be. He ran in amongst the deep earth tunnels and popped up again by my side, then up a branch he went seeing if perhaps an aerial view would provide more clarity. Finally his curiosity subsided and he slipped softly away, tunneling through leaves  several yards below me.  As the sun began its descent, a shrill blood piercing shriek was heard just before the low call of the Barred Owls “who cooks for you, who cooks for you.”  On a purely assumptive basis, I guessed from the shriek the meal “cooked”  by the owl that evening was a snowshoe hare. The woods echoed with the drums and calls of Pileated Woodpeckers. I am not sure what their densities are here, but they are certainly abundant across the township.

Earlier in the day we had hiked to the summit of Eagle Mountain. Following a ravine and a young forest up onto the side of the saddle we emerged into an open cut. This was filled with raspberry thickets and provided perhaps one of the best views back towards Moosehead I have seen. As I plopped down on a pile of old wood chips the sun warmly danced across the ridge, my eyes felt sleepy, and between the warm sun and the fresh air, I was convinced it was the perfect opportunity for a nap (being the mother of two young children I think my last nap was at least five years ago ). My hiking partner full of enthusiasm and also wearing long johns did not share my delight in the warmth of the sun and insisted we retreat back into the forest.  I took a few deep breaths and pointed out the view: Kineo lay before me, to the right I could see Boundary Bald, Moose, and perhaps Burnt Jacket or Sally. So many mountains remaining to explore. Regretfully I got up from this refreshing view and followed an old skidder trail to the summit. A “happy flagger” had been there before us,  we soon picked up the trail of ribbons and saw some old flagging dispersed across competing paths before us. Being a fan of the compass and basic navigational sense we bypassed  the flagging and picked up an old game trail following a worn down path avoiding treading on the dense moss to the summit, the moss beside the trail was thick and the forest itself was a eerily beautiful sight of spruce- fir, lichen was everywhere. Coveted “Caribou” moss created a lacy blanket on top of the rich green carpeted floor. All around me there was a feast for the eyes, countless species of lichen were evident, British soldiers, finger lichens, all different varieties. Positive evidence that the health of this ecosystem is very much intact. I wished for a field guide and more time to leisurely peruse the species I was witnessing. I looked up across the rocky summit and for a moment was caught in a scene from the movie Bambi, where the glorious stag, king of the forest, stands on the mountain top. This surely was where Lightfoot lived, I wondered if the movie creators had been here, so magical and other worldly were my surroundings it was hard not to be caught up in the inspirational beauty of the moment. Redpolls flitted through the trees above me while a few Pine Grosbeaks could be heard calling from the rocks below. We moved onward following the edge of the  dramatically dropping sheer cliffs, pausing for a while to hang our legs over the side and listen to the water roar through a stream at the bottom of a ravine before gradually turning around. We placed another stone on the cairn that was placed on the northern side at the peak of the summit by old camp guest Dick Manson and retreated back down the side following yet another old trail, old stumps from wood cut decades ago lining its sides.

Earlier in the summer a young guest had spotted a pine marten climbing up a tree in front of the Maine Lodge  cabin. Unfortunately it was a spruce tree, so pictures were not obtained easily from this encounter. Much to my surprise we were traveling through the woods this past weekend when I spotted a marten at eye level scaling a tree. We watched with delight as he raced up a limb and then stuck his head (and teeth) out in his adorable stare. He apparently found my husband more threatening as he growled as he grew closer, but relaxed and curled up on the limb when left alone with me. Peeking over the side of the tree branch his fuzzy face softened and I felt  a surge of anthropomorphic feelings I counsel myself against.  With Dana’s repeat appearance he decided to come down the tree (Dana was making kissing noises that did not sound unlike the chatter of a red squirrel… I suggested he might want to be wary with this technique, to which my husband returned a “You are crazy this marten won’t hurt me stare”)  the marten plunged downward and retrieved a closer look and then maneuvered himself up into the limbs and up the trunk of another tree. With each lope up the tree a fearsome little growl shook his body.  We were blessed with probably 20 minutes of viewing time. That evening I recounted the tale to my grandfather, telling him I had advised Dana what a special occurrence that was. Gramp (a retired warden with years of foot travel in the woods) agreed, and I told Dana he wasn’t apt to see something like that again. Someone likes to prove me a fool, because the very next day while walking in a different section of woods, Dana had another marten run quickly in front of his path and scamper away across the forest floor. Three close marten sightings in less than two months, we feel pretty lucky here. Seeing the marten and weasel roaming free and wild in the woods leaves only one resident animal left for me to spot within the wilds of the north woods – the elusive Canadian Lynx. I think we are positioned well for this to occur, we had a group report /document with photos a midday sighting to us last year nearby, so I am hopeful some day with a little luck and a lot of miles the same luck will find me.

Across the township flocks of Boreal chickadees are easily found, they seem to always elude my camera so I have enlisted Dana in the task as well. He reports he had a flock of 20 near him this morning, but as soon as he could focus the little sprites would flit away. So this will be the challenge this fall.

It has been a warm autumn, a few evenings ago, black flies and mosquitoes were about, along with swooping bats preying on them. I am always hopeful if they emerge in the fall that the population will be reduced for spring. Another guest brought to my attention the “Purple Fairies” that float through the trees around camp at this time of year, my guess is that they are a type of fungus gnat, but their iridescent bodies with white flecks catch the sunlight perfectly completing an image of lacy little purple fairies floating through the air. The girls have been entranced with them after being shown how easily they can be caught and allowed to alight on ones hand. We have also spent some time encouraging the chickadees to fly into one’s hand by the office door to grab seed from young hands. This long time camp tradition makes me happy to see coming full circle with my young girls.

On the pond the loons are still calling and various waterfowl and migrating ducks are in abundance. We had a black bear visit the edge of the shore near camp a few weeks ago.  I am told by biologists it is an early hibernation year so I suspect that was the last sighting we will have. One of my biggest delights this time of year is seeing “moose families” we have noticed they are warier and seem a little jumpier than years past with mothers teaching the young to bolt at the sound of a vehicle. Still slipping up the edge of a clearing or beside a pond one can watch from a distance and enjoy the interaction. Bulls have yet to congregate in groups, but soon the icons of the north woods will be seen together in awe inspiring groups. I still believe the third week of October and into November is absolutely the best time of year to see these majestic giants in full regalia.

Inside the cabin the cooler weather has led to revival of fresh homemade donuts on Sunday mornings. The girls delight in mixing and rolling and cutting, and Dad has become an expert at navigating hot oil and frying. So far the favorite is the pumpkin-cranberry with berries fresh from the edge of Spencer Pond. However, my great grandmothers old recipes are getting a workout as molasses, yeast, buttermilk, and chocolate have also been made.  Bringing a piece of the history from my roots at the Shirley farmstead to Spencer is an incredible delight and a joy to share with our visitors and guests. Now if I could only find the perfect piece of old “barn” rope to redo the swing with, things would truly be connected. We have also found the simplistic joy of spending evenings by the fire playing chess or cribbage, relaxing in the company of friends and unwinding from the hectic work day. It’s these simple moments  that define the joy of the life we find here.

Wading white tails and Loon yodels

She was relentless in her endeavor, wings subtly outstretched, graceful lines of her neck arched, patiently waiting, ceaselessly, occasionally switching duties with her mate, the expectant pair. Few things in my life have been marked in my memory so much as that gentle July day when I rounded the corner and unexpectedly captured her on her nest. In the weeks that followed, I felt myself catching my breath each time a guest maneuvered out onto the pond near her domain. But my worry was for naught, for few were sharp enough to notice her abode, and for those few that did, they were equally respectful, joyfully enamored, and like me swept up in the magic and the mystery of Spencer Pond. Loon Magic. The haunting wail piercing the warm summer nights, yodels echoing off the cliffs of the mountain, this was their home, the place they had chosen to raise their young. No better decision had been made. On the nights of the full moon the expectant father would strike out directly in front of the camps, only a few feet from shore, and sing his ancient and distinctive call, echoing around , filling each cabin with sound, we would fall asleep to the melodic notes, sparking the memories of wilderness within, of solitude, of silence, of peace, of Spencer Pond. We waited over the ensuing weeks with bated breath, we had heard reports that there were two eggs, each day we wondered any babies? As rain threatened or we heard a distinctive or agitated tremolo our hearts would waiver, and we would wonder, shouldn’t they have hatched by now? And then sometime in the first week of August between a Sunday night and Tuesday the first reports came in, Mama had been seen toting two fluffy chicks along her back. Adorable little mascots, they instantly captured our hearts and minds. Shortly thereafter the news came in, only one chick was to be seen. Our minds puzzled over the possibilities, eagle? Turtle? In my mind I have settled upon eagle. Their nest is within close proximity of the nursery. So far this little one has survived and we are like proud grandparents overjoyed and anxiously awaiting future reports and remarks on the little one’s progress.

Herons have also been serenading the camp yard this summer in the late evening. We hear the harsh croak of Great Blue’s flying back to the rookery, and it is not uncommon to hear the wail of the loon in answer. Great Horned owls have also been reported this summer, their calls igniting the still summer air, piercing the silence of rustling pine boughs and waves gently lapping against the shore.

Most amusingly we have had a nest of Blue Jays outside our window. I have wondered if the parents actually raised this flock of defiant and precocious chicks or if some poor robin or large finch was suckered into feeding this batch of rambunctious little demons. They enjoy raiding our feeder, and the chickens love it when they visit, soaring down from the tree with raucous calls, eating birdseed like peasants at a medieval banquet. All the chickens have to do is wait and a smorgasbord of black oil seed drops into their path. Symbiotic, perhaps, the relationship seems to work, and it does provide entertainment.

Each passing year something new is revealed for us at Spencer Pond. Sights that will only be captured once in a lifetime appear. So it was when I walked quietly along the trail with two little girls, peeping at emerging fungi, searching for spotted slugs, analyzing bark and trees, hopping streamside to catch frogs. The girls were full of life, giggling, racing, and spotting treasure after treasure. Suddenly the air was pierced with a loud sneeze-like sound. The girls rapidly stopped eyes wide, they wondered and peered round, again it was heard and then the oldest spotted the movement, a white tail, the legs visible as two deer bounded away through tall grass. Hearts pounding they walked silently on, their mother slowly smiling in her pursuit. They drew up near the edge of the water, just in time to witness the pair wading across the water, fording the pond. A sight of ancient beauty, of remoteness, conveying an image that the goddess Diana herself would be proud of, two young girls stopped, transfixed, breathlessly watching, as their mom wordlessly snapped photos capturing the moment for the world to see.

The Merlins like to remind us on occasion that they have not departed, the drama that ensues as they hunt mercilessly across the campyard is the height of entertainment to those of us who are lucky enough to watch. Songbirds are plucked mid-air while the screeching crescendo of the calls is heard as they fly over defending their territory. Summer is passing, days spent idle, soaking up the warm solar rays, and cooling off in the pond are quickly departing. The Moose still frequent the edges of the pond and feed throughout, sticking their heads underwater and emerging with vegetation hanging out of their mouths. Often this summer while providing a tour of the camp yard, or welcoming new guests and orienting them on the pond, moose could be seen browsing along the opposite shore. Soon the cool winds of fall will be blowing in their introductions, the welcome smell of wood smoke will waft on the cool evening air, and yet the days will remain warm and blissful, allowing plenty of time for hiking and new adventures.

Ragged Robin lined roads lead to moose versus squaretail and bouquets of luck

Daisies and lupine line the roadsides and a new flower “Ragged Robin” has also emerged this spring admidst the growing grasses and ripening berries.  It may have been present last year, but caught up in the drifts of vervain, Joe Pye Weed, and Pearly everlasting; I missed its brief yet colorful appearance. The wild turkeys have made their way to the northernmost part of the township and bears and baby ruffed grouse are among the contestants in a race to eat the sweet red  wild strawberries growing alongside the edge of the roads. I confess to also being an entrant, scrambling up and down the greening ditches to find the ripest berries, bucket in hand, hoping for enough to place on a piping hot shortcake laden with cream.

Ladyslippers have almost gone by in the sunny spots, a few still emerge from the deepest locales of shade. The early spring feathers of leaves have expanded converting  the forest into a dense canopy shrouded in a myriad of greens. The wind blows and sends ripples through the billowing limbs and it is almost as if one were out on the middle of the ocean, we are surrounded by a sea of greens of every hue.

Hatches of flies have kept our guests busy this spring, on our pond and others. My favorite fishing tale is from the gentleman who was here visiting us just recently, who decided to try his hand fly fishing one of the more remote ponds. With fly rod in hand he became entranced as a moose strode up beside him, on one side an enormous creature waded peacefully by, on the other side his arm tugged, and the spell was broken as his brother  cajoled to him – “fish fish!!!”  I do believe the fellow almost lost the squaretail tugging at his line, caught in the moment of being that close to one of greatest of the forest denizens, his attention diverted. It is a story that I have enjoyed immensely and plan to share with many others who enjoy such tales over the coming summer days.

Speaking of tales, we were pleased to host Steve Pinkham, author of “Old Tales of the Maine Woods” on a fine summer night, as he shared some of the stories he has assembled into his latest book around our campfire. Victorian drama and culture at its finest, the stories are from another era, a time when TV’s. Iphones, and portable laptops were not readily available. Entertainment was created through words, stories, and the greatest exaggerations of all. Living at camp, without many of the modern inconveniences, these are stories to which I can relate. Some may be flowery and more dramatic than what I would find in a more modern book, yet I find each story compelling and a fine read when heard aloud near a crackling fire, with much voice inflexion, and passion in carrying the tale forward to the audience.

We were lucky enough to have a group of birders visit us recently. They of course compiled a quite a list of species in their short visit: Scarlet Tanager, Yellow Bellied Sapsucker, Ovenbird, Hairy Woodpecker, Flicker, Merlins, Goldfinch, Purple Finch, a pair of Ring Necked Ducks, Mergansers, Downy Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Alder Flycatcher, Solitary and Red-eyed Vireos, Swainsons and Hermit Thrush,Catbird, a variety of Warblers: Parula, Nashville, Black Throated Green, Pine, Chestnut Sided, Redstart, Magnolia, Myrtle, Black and White, Blackburnian, and Yellow. I know their list is much more extensive than my memory, but those were a few, and some of the more common sightings we have each year. Our pair of resident Canada Jays have found a new nesting place this year, and I am diligently on the prowl to find their locale, so far they have eluded me. However the eagles have not, as they have kept us quite occupied with the binoculars as we scan the opposite shore. One of the joys this group left, was pinpointing the exact locale of our nesting and now raucous Flicker fledglings. They squeak incessantly as food draws near, and the birch tree has become quite a lively place and visiting children have stood in wide eyed wonder as they watched the babies peep out of the tree to await the arrival of their mother.

We have also discovered our lawn is polka dotted with four leaf clovers, for those that do not know, Dana has a talent for finding these four pronged shamrocks of sorts. Recently, he showed a young lady one of his hot spots, (him thinking smugly to himself that would allow her to find one to take home) l think he was quite amazed to discover someone else who really had superior talent in her lucky spotting skills.  I believe she left our yard holding a bouquet of close to 15 four leaf clovers, she was finding them in places where Dana could see none. She explained her secret of success to us quite simply “The more you find, the luckier you get, so you get to find more.”

Our guests have enjoyed the early summer heat, basking in the sun spread out on the Adirondack chairs, swimming in the waters of the pond, hiking, or sleeping in the shade of a screened in porch with a gentle breeze cooling them down. The weather this week has turned slightly less friendly, but for us it is a chance to toast our bones beside the wood fire, take a break from watering the garden, read some neglected books, finish crocheting, write and generally tend to inside chores that often get neglected in the summer sun. Our guests have enjoyed this weather with rousing games of cribbage, tic tac toe, and yahtzee, some have used the opportunity to go hiking in the cooler air, or have taken the time to explore the township for wildlife which can be found throughout the day on  the miles of roads. Yesterday, albeit a gray sky  and sporadic rain, children went swimming,  we had three guests summit the mountain, and another  group of guests saw four bear: one adult and three cubs, their fuzzy and black fur eliciting glee from grownups and children alike. Showing that a trip “upta camp” is indeed what you make it, together or alone, active or sedentary, joy can be found.  Others have relished uninterrupted bouts of marathon reading, long talks, and generally remembering what it is like to spend quiet time with one another, parents have focused on their children, completely undistracted and without the stress of being pulled in a variety of directions. To me such mundane simplicity captures the essence of the slices of time and the moments of your life well lived in these rustic old cabins along the shore of Spencer Pond.