The Poetry of Spring in the Outdoors

In his poem, “Spring Pools,” the iconic New England poet Robert Frost eloquently describes how pools in hardwood forests reflect the spring sky until the very trees cradling these pools suck up the water to grow leaves that then shade the flowery forest floor. Frost, to me at least, is getting at the fleeting nature of moments. He concludes the poem by asking that the trees consider their impact on such a short-lived time of the year:

Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.

With busy schedules, it is easy to miss these natural moments as we chase the day to day requirements of modern life. There is so much at stake, though, if we lose our connection to the cycles of nature. Whether we hear a chorus of wood frogs in a vernal pool or pick fiddleheads along a stream bank, it’s clear that spring is full of ephemeral “mini-seasons.”

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Northern Forest Canoe Trail Video and Burgeoning Spring Inspire Paddling

There’s a short video on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail’s (NFCT) website that does a great job of depicting just some of the wonderful scenery and paddling awaiting on this 740-mile water trail from Old Forge, NY to Fort Kent, ME. It’s a motivating video, especially given that our northern forest waterbodies are beginning to lose their winter mantles of ice and snow.

It’s worthwhile to realize that nearly half of the trail is located in Maine. In total, 347 miles of the NFCT are here in Maine. Of those miles, many pass through Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands properties. Richardson Lake Public Lands, Rangeley Lake State Park, the Bigelow Preserve, Moosehead Lake Public Lands, the Penobscot River Corridor, and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway are the major Bureau properties along the trail.

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Paddlers at the former Long Lake Dam site, Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

The NFCT partners with the Bureau to foster access and enjoyment of these traditional paddle routes stepped in beauty and history. These waters are right now melting away, eventually leaving a blue ribbon well-worth your paddle strokes.

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Maine Poetry Resource Worth a Click

For those who enjoy poetry, particularly Maine poetry that often relates at least indirectly to the natural world, there is a nice resource to explore. Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry  is an initiative between the Maine State Library, the State’s Poet Laureate (Wesley McNair), and the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Each week, McNair adds and introduces a previously published poem by a Maine poet.

Snow on Tumbledown Mt. (Late May 2008)

Snow on Tumbledown Mt. (Late May 2008)

Given the enjoyable but long winter we’re still not out of yet, I’m particularly drawn to several spring-focused poems on the site. If you’re tired of winter, these poems are like that first warm, bare-earth day when the soil emanates a deep, rich smell that almost screams rebirth.

 

 

 

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Winter Looks to Linger Across Maine’s Mountains

It looks like the snow will be around a while this spring. A recent snowshoe foray up Mount Blue (Mount Blue State Park) showed that “calendar” spring and conditions on the ground can be very different things in Maine’s mountains.

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View from Atop Mount Blue

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A Scenic Vista Sign Shows Winter Is Not Letting Go Easily

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Coming Down the Mount Blue Trail

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Forty to One – the Symbolism of Maple Sugaring

Though it’s been a long winter, the maple sap should be flowing – at least on the days above freezing. Maine Maple Sunday is near (March 23rd), and Maine and its northern forest neighbors are collectively celebrating the culture and cuisine that is maple sugar season. And while there is actual sweetness in syrup on pancakes, syrup baked into whoopie pies, sugar-on-snow, and maple candy, the boiling down to an essential core is a tasty and seasonal apropos symbol this writer cannot pass up any easier than another maple whoopie pie.

The thing about syrup and sap is the ratio. Forty to one is often given as the ration of sap to syrup. You collect forty gallons of sap, you boil away thirty-nine gallons of water and are left with one gallon of sap. This ratio may hold true in life as well.

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Powerful Spring Sun at Work in the Outdoors

Author’s Note: this piece of writing originally published in 2009. As of 3/17/2014, we (most of Maine) are not quite to the patch snow phase.

One of the best indicators of the spring’s emergence is sap flowing in trees. While most people generally recognize sap flowing as a signal (or perhaps result) of spring, it is, upon closer inspection, a wonderful gauge of sunlight’s power. Literally tapping maple trees allows you to figuratively tap into an indirect measure of sunlight.  On bright, warm, and still days following cold nights, the sap really surges through the trees. The experience of feeling the warm sunlight against a maple and then hearing the quick drip of sap droplets into metal buckets is incredibly rewarding after a long winter of landscapes frozen in ice.  Even the placement of the sap holes can be a testament to the sun. There is some thought that south-facing holes will fare best in early sap season whereas holes in the north sides of trees may hold out better later into the season.

Sap isn’t the only way to experience the Sun’s influence in early spring. Walking or running through landscapes is like reading a story written by sunlight. Of late, I’ve been running along trails through forests and fields. It is a unique time to run, in that the great variation of snow cover makes a number of uses very difficult, but the running can be fun. Along most of the snowmobile trails in the capital area and south, snowless sections, including open fields, put the sledding season on its last legs. The same could be said for cross-country skiing.  However, there are places within local forests where there is a good amount of snow. So, the hiking and running is a little complicated. Plus, warmth creates mud in bare areas, which isn’t too much fun to run through either.

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Sledding Yet another Maine Tradition

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Sledding at the Bradbury-Pineland Corridor

A recent trip to conserved lands known as the Bradbury –Pineland Corridor (in reference to Bradbury Mountain State Park and Pineland Public Lands) fulfilled what I might call a “mini bucket list” activity. The property is in the Town of Pownal and is owned and managed by the Bureau of Parks and Lands. The “bucket list” activity was sledding down this particular sharp slope between an upper and lower field separated by mature white pines.

I’ve been involved in the management planning and trail development activity on this project for several years. I knew from local conservation partners that the hill west of the Lawrence Rd. has been traditionally used as a sledding hill. This past weekend, I finally got to test it out with my family in tow. It did not disappoint.

The experience reminded me again of the human element of conservation. The same field edge where my little ones hooted and hollered while zipping down the slope may serve as an owl’s hunting grounds. The snows will melt eventually and feed the nearby river as it rambles over stones and boulders sheltering mayflies and brook trout. With thoughtful management and respectful use, human recreation and enjoyment can harmonize with a whole host of other values.

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Sun Setting Over Fields at the
Bradbury-Pineland Corridor

A map of the Corridor property is available from the Royal River Conservation Trust.

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It’s Winter Time – So Dress Well to Stay Warm

(Author’s note: with temperatures across Maine last night ranging 0 to -32, I thought it might be a good time to share some previous writing about staying warm during winter outdoor activities).

If you’re outside in Maine, you’ve got to be prepared for the conditions.  Before talking about clothing and gear, though, it’s worthwhile to understand why protection from the cold and wet matters.

Frozen Frog

Frozen Wood Frog (National Park Service).

Let’s compare us (humans) and wood frogs. Wood frogs spend the summer and fall in forested areas.  In the winter, they remain under stones, buried in leaf litter, or in other protected areas beneath snow cover.  In the spring, they will use vernal pools, which are temporary forest pools without fish, as reproductive sites.

Now, here is the thing: wood frogs spend winter nearly frozen solid!  If we humans freeze solid, well, that’s not good. If you or I have ice in any part of our body, it’s known ass frostbite.  Ice crystals form, and their sharp edges cut blood vessels, causing our cells to “starve” from lack of oxygen.  These cells die and we have problems – like having, let’s say, a “dead” finger cut off.

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Notes Now Available from Moosehead Trails Planning Public Meeting

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Forest View in the Moosehead Lake Region

Meeting notes are now available for the Moosehead Lake Region non-motorized trails planning public informational meeting held 9/11/13 in Greenville. To download the notes, please visit the project web page.

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Notes from Sanders Hill Trail, Kennebec Highlands

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Bear’s Tooth (Hericium americanum)

Over the course of 2013, I’ve popped in occasionally to the Sanders Hill Trail at the Kennebec Highlands to create a trail reroute of a portion of the trail. Though it’s not quite ready to be opened, the new trail route will get the trail off an old logging road/snowmobile trail. It will run instead roughly parallel an attractive stream emptying into Round Pond. The new route includes several views of this tumbling little stream. More to come on this reroute in time.

While in this area recently, two things caught my eye. The first, shown to the right, is bear’s tooth, a tree fungus appearing late in the season most often on dead beech trees. It is a striking fungus to behold (thanks to botanist Don Cameron from the Maine Natural Areas Program for help with identifying this cool fungus).

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“Rock art” along the Sanders Hill Trail. Construction like this can detract from visitor experiences, mislead hikers, and create environmental problems.

The second thing catching my eye was a couple of examples of “rock art” created along the existing trail. Creativity is great, but is best left for art class or home. This type of activity can mislead hikers thinking it is a cairn and it detracts from the experiences of those looking to witness nature’s handiwork, not an amateur sculptor’s. Additionally, removing rocks from streambeds or the the soil can impact fish and insect habitat or, in the case of removing rocks from soil, create erosion and possible stream sedimentation. Please leave the rocks as you find them!

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