(from the wondermyway.com photo blog of GLLT Education director, Leigh Macmillen Hayes)
This afternoon’s goal: To find a Christmas Tree to decorate for the Christmas at Ladies Delight Walk on December 1st. For the reconnaissance mission, I joined the Coombs family at the GLLT’s Chip Stockford Reserve.
The Coombs children are homeschooled by their amazing mother, Juli, and though they learn many lessons at home, they are also well educated in the outdoors. In fact, they are among my favorite naturalists.
And they belong to a 4-H Homeschool group that will decorate a tree(s) with biodegradable ornaments prior to the December 1st walk.
And so we set off on our tour looking for just the right tree. But . . . as is always the case with this family, there was so much more to see.
Since Juli is a Maine Master Naturalist Program student, so are her children. And every topic she studies, they study, so it was no surprise to me that six-year-old Wes picked up stick after stick loaded with various forms of lichens.
Of course, they are children, ranging in age from six to eleven, and puddles are invitations. The family motto is this: No puddle shall remain unsplashed.
But just after the puddle, at the start of an old log landing, we began to notice something else. A mushroom drying on the whorl of a White Pine.
As we stood and looked at the first, someone among us spied a second. And then a third, and so it went. We knew that squirrels dried mushrooms in this manner, but never had we seen so many. It dawned on us that we were standing in a squirrel’s pantry. One squirrel? Two squirrel? Gray Squirrel? Red Squirrel? One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.
For a while we paused by an erratic boulder and looked at the lichens that grew atop it. The kids and their mom also checked the sand under and behind it and I told them that the only critter sign I’d ever noticed was that of a Ruffed Grouse sand bath–and I only recognized it as such because I’d startled the two birds and they startled me as they flew off. In fact, on another hike this morning at the GLLT’s Five Kezar Ponds Reserve, friend Teresa and I had startled a grouse and we talked about how the bird’s explosive behavior makes us feel as if we’ve encountered a moose.
Well, just beyond the boulder, as we all chatted and moved about with quick motion, Caleb spotted something and told us to stop. A Ruffed Grouse!
It threw leaves about as it sorted through them in search of seeds and buds and we all watched in silence.
As we stood or sat still, the bird moved this way and that, making soft clucking sounds the entire time.
Ellie stood in front as the bird moved a few feet ahead of her and crossed the trail. I kept looking back at Juli in wonder. How could this be? Why wasn’t it disturbed by us? I’ve spotted Spruce Grouse in higher elevations and they are much “friendlier” or less wary of people, but I’d never been able to get up close to a Ruffed Grouse.
Our fascination continued and we noted its feathered legs, making us think perhaps it had pulled on some long johns for a cold winter night.
It eyed us and we eyed it back–our minds filled with awe.
Think about this: four children and two adults and we were starting to get fidgety because we’d been still for fifteen or more minutes and we had begun to whisper our questions and still . . . it let us watch.
And it let Ellie be the Grouse Whisperer for she began to follow it off the trail. Eventually, it climbed up a fallen tree and she knelt down beside, taking photos as it stood less than a foot from her. How cool is that?
We were all wowed by the experience, but when Ellie finally turned back, we continued on . . . sometimes running and other times pausing to ride imaginary horses.
Or listen to Birch Polypores! Yes, Juli did listen for it’s part of an assignment for the Maine Master Naturalist class. So what exactly does a Birch Polypore sound like? “I couldn’t hear the ocean,” she said with a smile.
And what does it smell like? “Wood.”
The next moment of glee–poking Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold and watching it ooze.
“It’s cool and gross at the same time,” said Ellie.
Onward and again, more fungi drying in trees as Aidan pointed out.
We even found a few stuck on spiky spruces much like ornaments might be and we reminded ourselves that we were on a mission and still hadn’t found the right tree to decorate.
At last, however, we did. And then we made our way out to the spur and recently opened view of Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay and Cranberry Fen, plus the mountains.
This became our turn-around point as it was getting cooler by the minute and the sun was setting. We promised Wes we’d look only at our feet as we followed the loop trail down, though occasionally we stopped again to admire more fungi tucked onto tree branches and a set of trees that formed a rainbow arched over the trail.
As for the fungi, we wondered if we were seeing so many because last year’s mast crop of pinecones, beech nuts, and acorns didn’t exist this year. And when the 4-H club returns in a couple of weeks to decorate the tree, will the mushrooms still be there? Will there be more? How long do the squirrels wait before consuming them? So many questions and so many lessons still to be learned.
And so many things to spy. We were honored with the opportunity to do just that and my heart smiled with the knowledge that the kids appreciated it as much as their mom and I did.
I spy . . . we spied . . . INDEED!
Oh, and please join the GLLT for Christmas at Ladies Delight. I have the inside word that there will be hot cocoa and cookies somewhere along the trail.
December 1, 9:30 – noon
Christmas at Ladies Delight: The Maine Christmas Tree Hunt is a fun holiday scavenger hunt to find decorated trees in western Maine. We’ll search for the decorated tree along the Bill Sayles Loop at the Chip Stockford Reserve and may add a few of our own biodegradable ornaments along the way.