Laurie’s Adventures blog

Looking and seeing in the winter woods

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.     Marcel Proust

To clarify, I’m all for seeking new landscapes! Like April in Paris, this spring, where we’ve just booked a hotel a block from Notre Dame! In our everyday world, though, there are plenty of new discoveries to be made, if we would just look for them.

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The forest is still criss-crossed with animal tracks. As the snow turned thin and slushy this week, the imprints stood out in greater detail. Tiny “handprints” of red squirrels were everywhere, as were the squirrels themselves. The warmth prompted me to carry along my binoculars and to pause from time to time. The repeated call of a barred owl came from afar, but it was mostly red squirrels that I saw.

One explored an ancient log pile, dark and damp, adorned with scattered piles of demolished pine cones. He moved with fluid energy among the logs, popping out first here, then there, to scold me. Later, another bravely stood his ground atop a stone wall. Only his haunches moved, quivering with indignation, and the shiny blackness of his eye stared me down. He looked fit and well-fed, the subtle gray and rust of his sleek fur elegant in the drab and cloudy light.


Canine tracks still mystify me. The one above was repeated in a single line that roughly followed my old trail for quite a distance. Both coyotes and foxes frequent these woods.

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There’s green stuff out there, too. Not just trees, but much more, if you look closely. This small native plant, whose relatives once dominated primeval swamps, is very common. Somehow, it thrives in the northern forest, surviving months of ice and snow.

Looking a bit like a miniature spruce and often called “running pine,” the club moss is neither a conifer nor a moss. Closely related to ferns, the club mosses are vascular plants, with “veins” of xylem and phloem. Their ancestors were once the most complex plants on Earth. In the Carboniferous period, 350 million years ago, club mosses well over 100 feet tall dominated the forest that was later transformed to vast deposits of coal.

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This species, Lycopodium clavatum, is found in damp woodlands throughout North America. During the asexual part of its rather complex reproductive cycle, it produces spores, which are released from the plant’s erect, yellow-brown strobilus.

The spores are, for me, perhaps the most fascinating part of the story of the club moss. High in oil content, they are water resistant and flammable. Native tribes knew many medicinal uses for the spores, and, according to the Virginia Native Plant Society, medicine men tossed them on the fire during ceremonies to produce a flash of light.

In my reading, I found a host of other historical uses for the powdery spores, including flash photography, magician’s tricks, fingerprinting powder, fireworks, and treating rashes. Good incentive, perhaps, to try collecting some this year!

Upwards receives first book award!

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OK, how humble is it to say “first” book award? Honestly, though, my hopes and dreams for this book continue to grow, as more people read and share their thoughts. The volume of responses is growing and opportunities for the new year are coming in fast.

A few highlights:

  • Four upcoming events in the next three weeks (details on the events page)
  • Just invited to present at the Wilderness Paddlers Gathering in Fairlee, VT in March
  • Planning two events during the Adirondacks’ Celebrate Paddling month in June
  • And, of course, Honorable Mention in the category of Biography/Autobiography from the New England Book Festival.

The Boston-based New England Book Festival, sponsored by JM Northern Media, recognizes the best books of the holiday season in 17 categories. Winners are judged on “general excellence and the author’s passion for telling a good story” and “the potential of the work to reach a wider audience.”

To balance out the many hours devoted to the book, I continue to plan for next summer and enjoy today. A deluge of rain, amid temperatures as high as 55 degrees, has washed away much of our snow. The sight of green grass and brown leaves has been a welcome change. Sunday’s afternoon walk, on boots not snowshoes, felt free and unencumbered.

I tramped, I tromped, the trail more brown than white, looking around at the woods, rather than down at my feet. You know how it feels when you’ve just climbed up, then down, a mountain and hit the flat? The joy of simply swinging along is wonderful.

Gone, though, was the hushed white wonderland of winter. Every step was a loud crunch, either on a couple of inches of frozen remnant snow or, mostly, on frosty ground. Crunching along at a good pace, out to the edge of an old beaver pond.

There, nature had sculpted striking designs in the paper-thin sheet of ice that rimmed the pond. I walked a few feet out to sit on a log, trying not to destroy too much of the beauty, finding an inch or two of air between the ice and solid ground below. The sound of my progress was deafening, all wildlife no doubt well warned of my visit.


When I sat, though, to take in the play of the brilliant sunlight across the ice, the ruckus continued. A vigorous wind, rustling the trees in the pond, gave the ice a tortured voice. The grinding, cracking, and squealing never let up, and the cold soon nudged me to head back home to a cup of hot cocoa and my never-ending to-do list.

As my faithful readers know, I am still learning the ins and outs of social media, and recently discovered that my automatic sharing of posts somehow missed the last one. If you’d like to join me on an earlier walk, here is my January 5th post.

 

Bombogenesis…it even sounds scary!

Winter so far has brought enough bitter cold and snow to make us believe that it’s serious this year. The snowshoeing has been great. I’m thinking of it as the start of training for next summer’s north woods adventure (still in the planning stages).

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Berries at the edge of the swamp shone in a coat of ice last week.

The word “bombogenesis” had somehow escaped my notice for some 56 years…until yesterday. According to NOAA, the term describes the rapid intensification of a mid-latitude cyclone, measured by its drop in central atmospheric pressure. A drop of 24 millibars or more in 24 hours creates a bomb cyclone like Winter Storm Grayson, whose pressure dropped an incredible 59 millibars as it approached New England yesterday. Skies are still dark here, but soon I’ll head out to start shoveling my way to the garage and our snow blower. As of now, school is open with a 2-hour delay. 

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Farewell small spots of bare ground, farewell to tracks and signs of life that laced the winter woods, farewell to quick and easy walking…soon all my trails must be won once more.

Around nine in the morning, the first powdery sprinkling of snow began dusting the ground. As I followed my favorite trail by the swamp to a far hill, I took a last look at the many animal tracks, almost memorized in my traipsing back and forth day after day. Dad had discovered the scene in the photo below, one sunny day last week. “There’s a story!” he exclaimed. Tiny prints of mouse or vole raced for the cover of a hole, the sweep of owl wings marking either the creature’s demise or narrow escape.

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I ventured out again around one o’clock yesterday. The blizzard conditions were just starting, and snow was quickly reclaiming the forest, even a moving person. The particles bombarded me, an audible pelting against my parka. Once, a gust of wind gave a hint of the fury soon to follow and I thought of turning back, but didn’t. I was warm, the temperature thirty degrees warmer than on some recent days. At the same far hill, I turned around, the tracks I’d made already blurring into fluffy whiteness.


Trudging home, I could still faintly see depressions from the ski poles that my daughter Megan had used on Christmas week. Soon, they, too, would be buried, our ramblings just a pleasant memory of a week of family fun. The woods tomorrow will be all new.

Thank you, Aqua-Bound, maker of fine paddles, for writing about Upwards!

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Aqua-Bound, who manufactures quality U.S.-made paddles in Osceola, Wisconsin, recently invited me to collaborate on a blog post about my thru-paddle and book.

A long paddling expedition is built of many components, both within the paddler and without. When it comes to on-the-water equipment, after the boat, the paddle you choose is key. In my case, it was an Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon kayak paddle that brought me safely through to Fort Kent. Here is the blog post, published yesterday. We covered a lot of ground, or should I say water, in 900 or so words!

I was especially pleased that we were able to include a quote from Upwards, in response to one of the more introspective interview questions, about paddling solo. The post also links to two of my favorite websites, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (with an amazing online auction ending Sunday) and the Pemaquid Watershed Association. Thanks again, Aqua-Bound, for introducing the book to a new community of paddlers!

Stretching Upwards (and, believe me, being on the radio is a stretch!)

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Kiah brought his best manners along on our Thanksgiving visit home yesterday

It’s never hard to feel grateful at Thanksgiving time. Beyond the blessings of family, friends, and the start of the Christmas season, there are five days off from school. This year, added in are a mellow black Lab named Kiah sleeping at my feet while I write and the sun washing the frosty fields of the farm where I’m staying for a few days. Soon I will pull on my boots and saunter out to open the chicken door and count 1, 2, 3…10, as the chickens march out in a parade, of white, russet, and speckled black. And they’re even still laying, so I get to gather eggs!

On the book front, there is also a lot happening. This Sunday, Nov. 26, will be my first radio talk show appearance, on “Maine Outdoors” with V. Paul Reynolds. Tune your dial to WVOM FM 101.3/103.9 or AM 1450 around 7:30 p.m. to listen in. Our first book review posts Nov. 27 on “George’s Outdoor News,” a Bangor Daily News blog by George Smith.

We also continue to have new press coverage, including this article about an upcoming book signing with Thomas Jamrog, a new author friend, who wrote In the Path of Young Bulls about his Continental Divide Trail thru-hike. We’ll be at Maine Sport Outfitters in Rockport (where I purchased my canoe) from 1 to 4 PM on Sat., Dec. 2. Love this photo!

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Tom Jamrog stands atop Colorado’s Mount Elbert, the highest summit in the Rockies

In closing, may your blessings be many and your home be warm and filled with a spirit of true thankfulness, not just on Thanksgiving, but every day!

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Gathered with family for Thanksgiving dinner (Kiah was lying hopefully under the table)

 

 

 

One is silver and the other’s gold

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Mike meeting Dad for the first time on the east shore of Maine’s Umbazooksus Stream. That yellow thing is the collapsible sail that he was experimenting with that summer.

The summer of 2014 was Dad’s time for a grand adventure, a 200-mile section paddle from Spencer Rips on the Moose River to the village of Allagash on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. He had started out alone and was planning to meet me, so we could do the Allagash together. Our rendezvous hour at the Umbazooksus Stream bridge came and went, though, with no sign of him out on the water. I decided to go exploring.

It turns out that you can drive into the last campsite on the east shore of that wide stream, really an arm of Chesuncook Lake. Down through the potholes and brush I went, until suddenly emerging right next to an ancient picnic table complete with roof.  Set up next to the table was a roomy canvas cabin tent looking lived in and loved.

It was too late to escape without being seen. I stopped and walked down to the shore to say hello to a friendly-looking man sprawled in a camp chair.  Mike Messick, from Missouri, had many a story to share and a history of long, adventurous road trips following wherever the spirit would lead.

That morning, it had led him to us or, rather, us to him.  After Dad arrived, over a cup of Mike’s freshly brewed coffee, we found ourselves inviting him to join us on the Allagash. This was a bit beyond the boundaries of our usual behavior, but it turned out to be the birth of a strong friendship.

Hastily, knowing the day was moving along, we spread out maps, jotted down the name and number of our favorite outfitter (Tylor Kellys Camps in the village of Allagash), and agreed to meet a few days later at Umsaskis Bridge.

Even though we were a bit late in arriving there, Mike was waiting for us with a campfire crackling…and the rest is history, part of which made it into the pages of my new adventure memoir, Upwards.

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New friends, united by the river.
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Picking blueberries at the campsite that had it all, including two whitetail bucks, a moose, a gray jay, and plenty of sunshine to light up our morning. An evening view from that campsite, Deadwater North, graces the front cover of Upwards.
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There’s nothing better than blueberry pancakes and bacon
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Mike was at home in (or under) a canoe
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Moon over Round Pond
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Until we meet again…saying farewell at Michaud Farm

I’ve been thinking this week that our lives flow along as glistening threads in an almost unfathomable web, their intersections our places of decision or serendipity. My author’s walk, still in its infancy, has been strewn with crossings, some joyful surprises, others the fruit of grasping courage with both hands and making them happen.

I’ve met trail founders, penned prayerful inscriptions for friends and strangers battling cancer, and sent copies of Upwards to stores hundreds of miles away. Through it all, the abiding kindness of people and the strength of their stories has filled me with new energy. On Thursday, I came in from my morning bus ride with the students of Bus #14 to discover that my school was celebrating ME, with snacks and speeches and lots of love! The handmade card below, created by Karen Hight, is one I will always treasure.

I’ve found there is something in those who go to the rivers and forests of the north that reflects those places and their intrinsic character. These are souls who live by the rhythm of the seasons, who know gratitude and peace. Rooted in the land, they love hearty meals and heartier laughs, have simple stuff, but complex thoughts. They are people like Mike, who quickly become dear to the heart. If you have gone there, you know. If you haven’t, I hope you will!