Sweet liberty

“I sent my book to the editor yesterday!”

How long (twenty-one months) I have waited to say those simple words! For a couple of weeks, someone else will meticulously read and reread the manuscript – moving commas, detecting typos, and double-checking the spelling of Caucomgomoc, Seboeis, and Wassataquoik. Meanwhile, I can do the fun stuff, like finalizing the photos.

Snowy Katahdin

Taking off from my house up north, I spent my first day of freedom exploring. Snow still clung to the high peaks. At the greenhouse in Patten, buying cages for the peonies I’ve uncovered in my wild, untamed garden, I asked about the recent freezing temperatures. Local wisdom, it turns out, says frost can be expected until the first full moon of June. For 2020, that will be on June 5th.

Shin Brook Falls

The descent to nearby Shin Brook Falls is made possible by an indispensable system of ropes beside the steep trail.  Climbing above the main 30-foot drop, the trail follows the tumbling stream past a succession of smaller cascades, equally lovely.

Ropes to Shin Brook Falls

Above Shin Brook Falls

My goals for the day included: (1) finally hiking a portion of the Seboeis River Trail, (2) visiting the Christianson family at Matagamon Wilderness, to see how they were faring amid the cautious reopening, and (3) spotting a moose, of course.

The moose spotting took the longest. Pleasantly weary from hiking and pleasantly full from cheeseburger-eating, I drove up to the Francis D. Dunn Wildlife Management Area. So far, I’d seen moose tracks and moose poop, not to mention bear poop, a ruffed grouse, and a garter snake. The marshy Sawtelle Deadwater that comprises this state WMA has always looked moose-y to me and that afternoon it was. A small bull with fuzzy antlers emerging was accompanied by two cows, all looking shaggy and scruffy. Only one caw was brave enough to continue feeding while I watched from afar (too afar for a photo) through my binoculars.

My first day of liberty had been well rewarded.

Fading trillium
Painted trillium on my two-hour Seboeis River Trail hike
IMG_0744
Summer has begun at Matagamon Wilderness, where my friends are “bearing” up well. While I was there, I dropped off a fresh stack of books for the busy months ahead.
Old track
Giant, immensely heavy relic abandoned along an old road

Raw

IMG_0334

I have just come from the lake.

IMG_0326
It was raw – the weather, and more – yet beautiful. The shores were thick with ducks and geese, that erupted in whirls of dismay at my approach. My body remembered the rhythm of the paddle. It was the first merging of boat and woman this year.

IMG_0332

I went into the light wind, for an easier time on the way home. Near the lake’s far end, moss on the bank shone a brilliant green, the most contrast there’d been in the still-wintry landscape. It was enough, in this raw, wild day borrowed from summer. One hour on the water would be my bright moss in the winter landscape of recent days.

Yesterday was not good. To be honest, embracing hope was not working. I couldn’t settle into my writing, and there was not much joy in the busy tasks I thought up to take its place. I soldiered on, though, driving the canoe from its winter resting place down to the lake, stacking firewood, writing to a few old friends. And today is better. Hope is back.

Not long after the moss came the haunting call of a loon. My heart thrilled, as I did not know they had returned to inland waters. A patch of white against the distant shore, though, turned out to a bufflehead, one at first and then two pairs.

When the loon popped up, he was darker than he would be in summer plumage and seemed to be engaged in some sort of acrobatic struggle. My binoculars brought him closer, where I could see he was straining to swallow a large fish, perhaps a bass, far larger than any I’d ever seen a loon tackle. He apparently had a good grip and got it lined up. His neck stretched high and his whole body wiggled. The fish was slowly sliding down, down, down, until even the tail was gone. I watched to see if he could still breathe or float, but with the task over, he looked unfazed. That was very cool.

A chill rain set in as I turned homeward, ready to write by the woodstove once more.

Upwards: The life of an author 3 months out

Three months out from what, you ask? Actually, many of you are deliberately NOT going to ask, as you’ve heard about little else from me for many months!

Just in case, though – three months out from holding Upwards in my hands. That shiny new cover, those color photos, my words in print. Actually, the cover won’t be shiny. One decision firmly made is to have a “Matte/Satin” cover. And color photos? That’s my hope and dream, but I’m waiting anxiously for cost estimates for a center section of photos.

No matter how thrilled I am about publishing, the whirlwind of life goes on. The end of the school year is upon us, bringing field trips and frenzy. This week, we visited the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, Maine. Run by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, the park cares for and exhibits only animals that are unable to live in the wild.

The more natural habitat areas were fascinating, while I struggled to watch two black bears panhandling for treats beneath a machine being fed by an endless stream of quarters, the huge glass window above obscured by a wall of captivated children.

After taking the above photo, I decided that I would learn about the Canada lynx. (That’s Canada lynx, not Canadian lynx, just like the goose). The bobcat, also found in Maine, is a different critter. Similar in size and appearance, there are differences between the two species: Bobcat = shorter legs, smaller ear tufts, smaller paws, more likely to look spotted or striped and Lynx = the opposite. The tip of a lynx’s tail is solid black, the bobcat’s black on top and white below. Plus, in the deep snows of the north woods, a sighting will probably be a lynx, well-adapted for life there.

Somewhat of a picky eater, the lynx dines on snowshoe hares at least 75% of the time, eating 1 to 2 per day. Historically, lynx populations have cycled up and down in rhythm with hare populations. In Maine, however, both have been booming for years, as young spruce-fir forests grow back following devastating waves of spruce budworm mortality. The young-growth timber provides ideal cover for the lynx’s favored prey.

I can’t recall having seen a water snake in Maine, until my visit to the wildlife park. Research seems to indicate they live only in the southern half of the state, so my best chance will be during my excursions close to home.

Out on the pond this week, it was cool and my sightings were all avian. It’s too early in the season to take the leaves for granted and the maples were particularly striking. Vivid red clumps of maple keys jumped out among the shoreline greens and pinks, and I tried to draw in calm as I paddled and let go of some of the excitement that is keeping ME keyed up!

One afternoon, swallows had overtaken the water and swooped in acrobatic dance, surely happy to find many squadrons of mosquitoes on patrol. They can also drink mid-flight, quickly scooping up water from the surface. On shore, a solitary spotted sandpiper winged from stone to log ahead of me, the first time I’d observed this species on McCurdy Pond. Now, today, a quiet Saturday, I rose with the dawn again and hope to squeeze in another paddle among the expense-filing, permission-requesting, photo-choosing tasks of a busy soon-to-be-published author.

IMG_5909

May you find fireplace birds

Fireplace birds

Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.
Dr. Suess

We christened them the “fireplace birds,” but of course they had another name.  In those shortening days toward the end of August 2009, the Allagash was a quiet place.  As Dad and I canoed from Umsaskis Bridge to Michaud Farm, the cool mornings and chilly swimming were more than compensated for by moose heavy with antlers and the beautiful solitude of the river. 

Our cheeky friends first visited us at Lock Dam.  Hopping contentedly among the ashes of the fire pit, focused on pecking who knows what, they were surprisingly tame. The colorful male and his drab partner were a species new to us.  Dad and I love our birds, especially new ones, and felt their presence yet another gift of the late summer wilderness.  Imagine our surprise, the next evening, when we discovered two more in the Outlet campsite on Round Pond.  

Dad and I will never forget those birds, or the midnight stampede of a moose through our campsite and down into the river with a mighty splash, or our first otter family in the Musquacook Deadwater.   A journey is so much more than the destination.  One of my hopes for this summer is to absorb the experience, treasure the moments.  And which parts will live on in my stories, in the memories of my heart?  I don’t know, of course.  But if you ask me why I will live on tuna and granola, portaging in the pouring rain and paddling into the wind, with sweat and bugs my closest friends, I go because of the fireplace birds, whatever they will be. 

Oh, that’s right, you would like to know what those birds were, right?  White-winged Crossbills, Loxia leucoptera, a finch that feeds almost exclusively on spruce and tamarack seeds, eating up to 3,000 in a single day!

Wind and water

“Welcome home,” whispered the gentle waves
Spring still life

Well, I am debating whether I can manage without taking my iPad Mini this summer.  I already know I can’t live without my binoculars and GPS and SPOT and phone and probably my camera, at least for the latter part of the trip.  So here’s my first “phone-only” post!

We’ve been away for the first bit of April vacation, so yesterday morning was my first paddle on the open waters of the lake, totaling 6.6 miles.

Going out, I was headed into the wind, but got quite a push from the current on the usually placid river, about 1.5 mph.  On the way home, thank you wind!  Birds galore: swallows, flickers, buffleheads, an osprey, Canada geese, and a pair of very vocal loons. I thought I heard a kingfisher, but have yet to see one this year.  I may add a couple more photos from the camera after this experimental post works.  More soon on our explorations earlier this week…

042415 buffleheads
Pair of buffleheads on the sparkling lake
042415 Canada goose
“Are you looking at me?”

The world is alive with the sound of music

041215 remnants of ice
Remnants of shrinking ice have a beauty all their own
041215 turtle underwater
A painted turtle meanders slowly across the muddy river bottom, beside the wavering reflection of a birch

This brilliant Monday morning was yet another gem in a string of true spring days.  Lily (my black lab friend) literally bounced along on our early morning walk and I felt like bouncing too! Up she scrambled to the top of one of the few remaining snow mountains, then tore down to explore the mysterious muddy smells emerging from winter’s blanket.

The woodland symphony added some new members this morning.  Joining our old friends the chickadees and woodpeckers were the first thrushes trilling from both sides of the road, between the impossibly deep drumming of not one, but two, pileated woodpeckers.  The soft clucking of a distant turkey might have been lost, had we not stopped to enjoy the thrushes.

Yesterday on the river, the story was the same…life blossoming, spirits released from the rigid ice of winter. I am still paddling my kayak, with the new canoe scheduled to arrive early in May. I paddled the Pemaquid River from the visitor’s center to the bridge and back, about 4 miles.

Thought you would be interested in yesterday’s river wildlife list: wood duck, ruddy ducks, mallards, other yet-to-be-identified ducks, ospreys, great blue heron, swallows, and a painted turtle who was hanging out on the river bottom.  The ducks were again great in number, rising in flocks long before I approached, with sometimes a group of delicate, downy feathers floating to mark where they had been.

Late this afternoon, I paddled the river again, going as far as the lake, where I met an unrelenting barrier of ice, then back to pull the boat out (about 3 miles).  As my dog-sitting stay ends tomorrow, the kayak now waits at home for ice-out, when it will take up residence on a nearby lake.

A moose makes BIG TRACKS

030715 deer tracks
Deer tracks for comparison
030715 moose tracks
Are these moose tracks?
030715 moose track with snowshoe
Same size as my snowshoe!

The warmer weather (upper 20’s) and sunny skies made for sparkling snow and early morning shadows to highlight tracks in the woods out back.  I was out several times this weekend for 1 to 1 1/2 hours each, getting in some cardiac endurance training.  These photos from Saturday morning show what I think are moose tracks.  We do not often see moose here in Lincoln County.  In fact, in the twelve years we have lived here, our family members have only seen one or two or three “local” moose, depending on the individual.  In contrast, 20 is our record for a short Allagash paddling trip of less than a week!  This afternoon I said goodbye to the snowy beauty for a week, as I am off to Virginia to visit Megan.  And take advantage of her graphic design skills to spruce up this blog, I hope.