The Spirits of Long Meadow Brook

(from the wondermyway.com photo blog of GLLT Education director, Leigh Macmillen Hayes)

People often ask me this question: Aren’t you afraid of hiking alone? My response is that I’m more afraid to walk down Main Street than through the woods, the reason being that it’s a rare occasion I encounter another mammal. Oh, I do move more cautiously when I’m alone and today was no different. But . . . there’s something uniquely special about a solo experience.

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Perhaps it’s that my mind wanders with me and I see things I might otherwise miss when I’m distracted by conversations with dear friends and family members. That doesn’t mean I don’t like to travel with them, I just equally enjoy going forth on my own.

Today’s exploration of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Long Meadow Brook Reserve and the adjacent private property protected under a conservation easement with the land trust allowed such a wander, both literally as I only occasionally followed the trail, and figuratively as I was sure that the two-headed tree spirit chuckled with me, not at me. You’ll need to let your own imagination wander to see the spirits within the split tree–believe me . . . they are there.

One of the things I love best about the Long Meadow Brook Reserve is its cathedral of pines–and the route I chose today appeared to lead to infinity. It’s not the blazed route, but someone had obviously been that way before.

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When I reached the first bench, I heard the voices of fellow travelers and the laughter of the Lovell Recreation Summer Campers who often clamber for a seat. For the time being, their good-natured chatter was buried until they return again.

From the bench I moved across the field as many a deer had done, and found my way down to the namesake for this property, Long Meadow Brook. I’ll never forget my first visit several years ago–and the awe when discovering this view in the summer. In every season, I welcome the opportunity to have my breath taken away.

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The view by my feet also garnered my attention, for it was obvious that a red fox had walked this way before me.

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How did I know it was a red fox and not gray? Well, first I measured the print size, straddle, and stride. And then I looked at the foot morphology as presented in the snow. The prints were a bit muffled, which is one aid in identification, for a red fox has hairy feet. And . . . I spied the chevron, a little indented ridge that appears in the foot pad. If you look at David Brown’s Trackard in the previous photograph, you’ll see the chevron as a dark line.

There were other clues as to the maker of the tracks–for some frozen urine by a sapling spelled his name. And its skunky scent added a flourish to his penmanship. It’s mating season and this boy had an announcement to make.

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I suspected his words were heard for it appeared that more than one fox had traveled across the old beaver dam and I found more pee at each little post.

I desperately wanted to cross as others had, but I was alone and knew it was best to stay on the eastern side.

That didn’t stop me from looking and noticing what may have been a recent otter or mink slide in the midst of the fox tracks.

That didn’t stop me from looking and noticing what may have been a recent otter or mink slide in the midst of the fox tracks.

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Looking south, I couldn’t see any action, unless you consider the cattails. But I had to wonder, were the fox and the mink and the otter and any others at the edges keeping watch over me?

I couldn’t be sure, but I did note that the cattails parachuted seeds were eager to set off on the breeze and start their own lives.

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Likewise, the water at the dam added its form of action and color and texture and sound–in as many renditions as possible.

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At last I moved on, followed the blazed trail and climbed to the second bench on the property, along a route the deer know so well. Where were they? Also at the edge, again keeping watch?

Had I startled them from browsing the red maples? Missing buds and long tags represented their mark on the land.

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Before moving on again, I stood behind the second bench where the mountains in Evans Notch looked as if they’d been coated with frosting; and in the way of the winter world, they had.

And then I followed a seldom used trail back down to the brook, where I spied a fox track. Do you see it? It’s about in the lower middle of the photograph.

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I was even more excited when I noticed mature tamaracks growing along the brook’s bank and gave thanks.

For you see, several years ago some young tamaracks that grew along the beaver dam had been inadvertently chopped down to make a pathway for the snowmobiles. I was saddened by the discovery because this is one of the few GLLT properties with this deciduous conifer that looses most of its needles each fall. And that spot had also featured balsam fir, hemlock and white pine, making it the perfect outdoor classroom.

Add to that the pitch pines that grow by the first bench, and voilà! A lesson completed.

That made today’s discovery of the tamarack’s nubby twigs extra special and I knew that the tree spirits weren’t making fun of me, they were smiling upon me.

With that in mind, I was going to follow the trail back, but decided instead to journey for a bit beside the brook, where I found a deer bed in the sunniest of spots.

Eventually, I climbed up a hill and back to the trail, crossed through a stone wall to the neighboring property, continued on to a field and across that to a stump dump. Why go to such effort to reach a stump dump?

Because it’s actually a porcupine condominium hidden among the rocks and decaying tree stumps.

There were several entry ways–all showing the telltale signs of the pigpens of the woods.

Nipped twigs covered with a tad bit of fallen ice made me think the creators were snug inside and not over my head.

I did look up, but I did the same thing last week and didn’t see what others saw from a few feet back. That day, a porcupine was right over my head. Today, I didn’t think so, but the sun was bright and I couldn’t be absolutely certain. One may have been observing my actions from above.

And wondering what my fascination was with its scat. Check out those woody commas.

As I wandered about by the stump dump, something else also caught my eye–a promethea silkmoth cocoon.

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At last I climbed back on to the porcupines’ rooftop and had to watch my step for there were several frosty vent holes and I didn’t want to land inside the humble abode.

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As I stood there, I searched again for any quilled critters, but saw none. What I did see–that only a skeleton of a hemlock remained. It’s a tree the porcupines have spent more than several years denuding.

And in the tree next door, I noticed that they’d not yet reached the tip of one branch. Word has it that porcupines have many broken bones from falling out of trees. I’d love to be present when one returns for this leftover.

At last it was time for me to make my way out. I’d made a silly mistake today and thought that because it was so cold the snow would support me so I hadn’t worn snowshoes. Instead I created post holes with each step I took.

As I started across a five-acre field, my own spirit led the way–encouraging me not to give up despite the fact that I was tired.

And by the edge of the field, I did find a spirit hanging out. What was the cairn thinking? Maybe its expression was one of disgust that I’d ventured forth in its space. Or perhaps it was forlorn that I was now taking my leave.

I chose to believe the latter and gave thanks for the opportunity to wander among the spirits of Long Meadow Brook.