Rapidly greening floor in the North Maine Woods

Walking through the beech forest one sees the small pink buds on the trees extending out in their long oval shape rolls, preparing to unfold and raise a green canopy above the forest floor. It is so nice to be out in the fresh air, listening to the black-throated green warblers, ovenbirds, Swainson’s Thrush, and the occasional white-throated sparrow. Each bird that sings I make a mental inventory of, this is the time of year that the woods awakens, but spring comes slowly, especially after such a long winter, the earth is slow to warm, the muddy roads still emitting great big cracks where the frost escapes and those that travel into the sides with heavy vehicles learn all too quickly as they sink down that the middle is the safest place to be. The forest floor is an amazement, despite the fact that two weeks ago we were staring down three feet of snow at the end of our driveway, it has managed to come alive. Small clumps of stinking Benjamin (purple trillium to some) have erupted in bursts wherever the sunlight hits the floor, the green furls of the Canada Mayflower have begun popping out and gently carpeting the forest floor in a delicate hue that no manicured lawn could possible replicate in earthly beauty. To my surprise the painted trillium are growing fast as well, and in some spots one could see the star flower and gold thread begin to emerge. Still I search on in a quest for what I do not know exactly, and there I stumble upon a pile of white violets springing up from the brown carpet of leaves in such an exquisite fashion that I stop enraptured and take a photograph. My husband is of course irritated by my rambling distracted dilly-dallying, we are on a mission, shed hunting to be exact. It’s not often that we take a day to spend together and he wants me to focus on the task at hand. I can still hear my friends chuckling as I told them what my day entailed…”be careful they warned, those sheds can be sneaky” …one friend warns, “I hear you can smell them a mile away” but alas I am not searching for buildings or outhouses as is implied, we are searching for the dropped antlers of the moose. Late each year the majestic giant bull moose drop their antlers, and then they are re-grown anew in the spring. Paying close attention to the locations where the big bulls were spending time in the fall and throughout our early winter sojourns into camp, has proven fortuitous.  Dana has already found several sheds this season.  Pressure off, I am taking myself on an ambling nature walk, thinking that the discovery of a shed will be an added bonus. Despite his persistence I take time to “psshh-psssh” to the small wood warblers I hear above me, trying to entice them close enough to get that dreamed upon picture, the squeaky whine of the black and white warbler has me convinced I might just succeed but he is not coming any closer, then I hear a Parula, he would be a glorious specimen to capture on film, with his jeweled necklace adorning his golden bodice, but he  does not come down from the heights. Thinking again, I add “need big huge telephoto lens” to my mental wish list. I am rewarded by a downy woodpecker, he isn’t shy, for some reason I seem to have a knack for calling in woodpeckers. I have never known why, but soon I have a flock of them around me. My husband shakes his head, yet smiles, for he knows this is me, and this is what I love best, seeing what birds I can call in and walking slow and taking in the wonders of the woods. We stray uphill and I notice the teeth of the moose engraved into the trees, then I pass another and here they have pulled great strips of bark off to munch upon the young sapling. You can almost see the size of the teeth as they make their indentations into the wood. Looking down at my feet I see bear scat, fresh bear scat. It appears to be everywhere, you will see new piles in the road, and certainly it is abundant in the woods, we have seen a lot of black bears on the drive over the 14 miles of roads into camp this spring. Each time I am delighted. Never have I been lucky enough to see a bear in the woods, and I don’t suspect I will today, walking along calling birds in, calling out to Dana each new spring time discovery. But then I don’t intend to. As a child I can remember conquering my fear to walk into the woods around camp alone, amazingly I was never frightened by moose, I always delighted in seeing the huge animals amble through the woods, and would marvel at how quickly they could disappear without a sound. Often I would find they would hide their heads behind a fir tree with their big brown bodies sticking out – as if to say “I can’t see you so you can’t see me.”  But bears, I was always worried about seeing a bear. I must have quizzed my grandfather (a retired game warden who had tramped by foot over half of northern maine) on this subject multiple times. I wanted to know if he had ever seen a bear in the woods, when he said he had, I was not comforted. Then he told me “You will be very very lucky to ever see a bear in the woods. If you do see a bear it will be more scared of you then you are of it and it will run away.” He must have known I would grow up to be a dilly dallying nature lover calling in birds and scaring deer, bear, coyote, and other animals away for miles around. But he was right, even when still hunting in the fall, I still have not been lucky enough to see a bear in all my years of traipsing the woods. My mind wanders and I think back to  years past when at one time I was lucky enough to come face to face with an Eastern Coyote, stealthily moving on an old deer path, I went up a small rise and met his intense eyes in a deep gaze. My heart pounding, I was delighted, they were not the mangy mutts I had been brought up to believe, this one was glorious and I was overcome with admiration. Eventually our eyes unlocked and he moved off first traveling away to the side, it was one of those moments you never quite losein your mind’s eye. Over time  my affection for coyotes has waned, they are ruthless opportunists adjusting litter size and food habits based on the current environment.  But today no bears will be seen, today is a day for exploring the land, looking for sheds, my mind wanders back slowly to my task. I hear Dana call “I found it, I found the other one.” Sure enough  he emerges triumphant, a matched antler pair in his hands, I casually ask “where” and he says “Exactly where I told you to go.” “Hmmph” I think, but I say “That’s great.” But then the competitive spark is awakened and I think, I  can’t let this ocean boy outsmart me, this is my turf. But today is not my day, I cover lots of ground but still can not completely focus, the moss on the log fascinates me, I am looking at an old beech burl, a red bird skims in front of me high in the trees and I lose all concentration and wish I had brought my hefty “cheap” binoculars (as one ever so kind birder pointed out- yeah well I know they are cheap, but I rely on sound more than visual cues, add it to the mental wishlist – light binoculars that I won’t mind traipsing around the woods with.) Spring just has too many distractions. We stop at the bridge, check the suckers running in the brook, I marvel at how high the skunk cabbage and fiddleheads have gotten. Overhead there is an immature bald eagle fishing, at first my heart skips a beat, thinking it might be a golden, but it is not, and I am not dismayed, an eagle is an eagle, and even though they are more common now, I can still remember  the joy and how special it was that they were nesting on the pond years ago, and it hasn’t become any less special as their numbers have increased and they have continued on.

Back at the pond, Dana throws in a line, fresh brook trout are now on the docket, and they are hungry, so hungry we catch them from the edge of the shore at this time of year, a nice supper, the perfect supper you might say, corn meal dredged and pan fried brook trout and fresh fiddleheads fried in bacon grease and garlic. May not be completely healthy for the arteries, but spring only comes once a year, so I am not overly concerned. Purple finches are swarming the feeders this year, intertwined with goldfinches, siskins, redpolls, chickadees and nuthatches, they have become our regular customers. No raiding raccoons have emerged at this point to trash our feeders and we are thankful for that. The merlins have quieted down, I suspect peacefully sitting on their nest, and they have had no marauding eagles or foolish hawks to contend with and defend their territory. Even the loons are back calling sporadically throughout the day and night, I listen for the soulful cry, the deep dark howling call I love so much, and take it all in, as I watch the waves lap up against the shore, and scan the softwood  edging along the bottom of the mountain. Then my eyes trace upwards and I am amazed at how fast the hard woods on  the mountain have sprung to life, the mid-section of the mountain is now tinged with pink and hints of green as the trees begin to open. The raucous call of the jays escort me as I walk around the campyard filling up the hummingbird feeders that were emptied in less than a week. The song sparrow calls from the edge of the pond, and the peepers begin to call, along with ongoing trill of the winter wrens as dusk settles across us like a blanket ..the wind has died down, and yet there still is a gently breeze making its way softly and whispering so sweetly through the branches of the tall pines. I breath in deeply soaking it all in, capturing this moment, and holding it in my mind, for recollection at some distant point in the future when I am far from the beauty of Spencer Pond.

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2 responses to “Rapidly greening floor in the North Maine Woods

  1. I wish that I could be there, but thanks for the great picture of the life around Spencer Pond Camps.
    Hope to see you soon.