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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