Rhythms of Baseball and Outdoor Life Potent in Maine

Author’s Note: Partially in honor of opening day of the 2015 Major League Baseball season and partially in response to a winter that is having a hard time letting go, this piece is written to celebrate the traditions of baseball, seasonal life in Maine, and family bonds. And yes – it does owe a nod to former MLB Commissioner Bart Giamatti’s “The Green Fields of the Mind”.

It seems that as a child, the roots of my development intertwined.  Things cross-pollinated or were grafted. My time went largely into sports and exploring deep pine woods, ever-wilding farmland, and waters ranging from shaded rills to the oft frigid Gulf of Maine. Though hockey was always in the mix, baseball captured my imagination most vividly and matched my developing talents most congruently. These two headwaters, baseball and the natural world, came to a confluence at some point and they’ve always seemed to be imbued with one another since.

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Author’s Father and Grandfather. Rockport, ME. Circa Late 1940s/Early 1950s.

Being the youngest of four kids and the son of a passionate volunteer coach, I grew up at ballparks. I absorbed the rhythms of not just the game but the seasons. Again, my baseball life and my growing sense of nature’s cyclical calendar intertwined.

In Maine, baseball does not start on fresh green grass under blue skies.  It begins in gyms and plowed parking lots.  Preseason baseball involves digging errantly thrown balls out of the wet spring snow hesitant to relinquish its grip on the landscape. Once on the field, the grass is dead and skies often retain the gray steel hue prone to birthing snow showers as late as May.  When the grass does green and warmth kisses the diamond, it’s just about the time mayflies and other insect delicacies present themselves to wild trout and salmon in hauntingly beautiful ponds and pristine streams.  The arrival of true green spring, whether in the verdant outfields of small-town fields or fiddlehead lined brooks pulsing with aquatic life, fills the soul like a fresh breeze into a sail.  Continue reading

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Reflecting on Winter’s Song

Following a long, cold and snowy second half to winter here in Maine, there probably aren’t many people singing the praises of winter. Even I, an avowed winter lover, am ready for spring’s greenery and flowing waters. Still, and in retrospect, I feel compelled to share an appreciation for one element of winter often overlooked. While winter is a prolific Maine artist with remarkable aesthetic prowess, its musicianship can be overlooked.

If winter is a symphony, it has subdued albeit haunting musicians. It lacks spring’s verbose and jubilant birds waking the dawn. It can’t claim summer’s pounding rhythm of downpour and rolling thunder. Further, it doesn’t have the soft grace of fall songs underlain with rustling leaves. No, winter plays a repertoire of sounds imbued with frozen melancholy and eerie beauty. This winter I’ve been reminded of some of these songs.

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Wild Country

The ice on the Kennebec River is forming in its now typical winter fashion – with an irregular surface reminiscent of a roughly frosted cake. It was not always this way. Before Edwards Dam was removed in 1999, the river froze more evenly, like a lake’s surface. With the removal of the dam, frozen chunks from lively waters upstream now careen together and freeze haphazardly. Every year as the river freezes like this, I am brought back to the passing of my wife’s grandfather.

River Ice on the Kennebec in Augusta, Maine

The first year I saw the Kennebec freeze this way in Augusta, my wife’s grandfather lay in the now vacant hospital overlooking the river. Though I’d never known Mr. Pruett when he was truly vigorous, I had heard the stories of fishing trips gone by.  I’d also seen him getting the most out of a cane, wheelchair, garden trowel, or whatever tool he employed. Though slowed by time, he was definitely all there.
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Number Four Mountain Trail Overview

Number Four Mountain Trail

Frenchtown TWP, Piscataquis County, Maine

Location/ Driving Directions:
The Number Four Mountain Trail begins off the privately-owned but publicly accessible Meadow Brook Rd. The trailhead is located at -69.41865°, 45.63181° and is accessed by travelling a little over 4 miles eastward on the Meadow Brook Rd. (unpaved) from the Lily Bay Rd. (paved). At approximately 1.7 miles east of the Lily Bay Rd., bear left and continue straight to the trailhead. Temporary parking for a few cars is possible just across a bridge over Lagoon Brook. To start your hike, walk back along the road a short distance, cross the bridge, and continue about 100 yards  to where the trail enters the woods on the east side of the road.

A new parking lot/trailhead facility is anticipated to be developed in 2015.

Trail Status and Summary:
The Number Four Mountain Trail has its origins in serving as access for a Maine Forest Service fire tower. In 2014, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands obtained a hiking trail easement from the landowner (Plum Creek) to rehabilitate, redesign, and extend the trail. Trail redesign and renovations to the tower site and a vista slightly beyond are largely complete at the close of the 2014 work season. It is roughly 1.75 miles from the start of the trail to the summit area. Another approximately 1.4 miles of new trail corridor extends southward along a gentle ridge towards the saddle between Number Four Mountain, Lily Bay Mt., and Baker Mt. This section of trail is not complete as of 2014 and is slated for continued trail work in 2015.

Trail Description:
[Note: use the map provided below  as a reference to the general photo locations shown in the slideshow. Eleven sample trail photos are shared via the slideshow as well as via clickable links in the trail text].

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The first quarter mile of trail is relatively flat, crossing low wet ground. Photo #1 shows the typical terrain encountered and a sample of the new bog bridging installed. Photo #2 shows where the trail reaches near Lagoon Brook and swings southward at the former site of a Maine Forest Service fire warden’s cabin. Please remember the Leave No Trace principle to “Leave What You Find”.

The next 0.3 to 0.4 miles of trail follow the original route of the trail through fairly young hardwoods dominating the forest following a previous timber harvest. Photo #3 shows a typical view in this section while photo #4 shows a portion of trail rerouted along a portion of cleared pathway (Big and Little Spencer  Mountains are visible in the distance).

Photo # 5 shows where the trail gains steepness and enters into a forest community increasingly made up of coniferous spruce and fir. Several sections of trail in this segment are reroutes off the original trail route. These new trail sections reduce the overall grade by using switchbacks as opposed to heading straight uphill. Photo #6 shows new tread work along one of these sections.

The 0.25 mile summit area stretch runs from a vista of Big Spencer Mt. (Photo # 7) to a vista looking out over Lily Bay and Baker Mts. Along the way, there is a vista point to take in Mount Katahdin (photo #8). Shortly thereafter, hikers encounter the fire tower site (photo #9). The vista point looking over Lily Bay and Baker Mts. (photo # 10) is reached by continuing a short distance beyond the tower. All of this ground is fairly easy hiking in relatively open woods. Spruce and fir dominate here.

As of the close of 2014, the trail beyond the Lily Bay Mt. vista is only partially complete. Photo # 11 shows a sample of this fairly gently undulating trail segment. There are no blazes and the trail tread is not finished (small tree stumps protrude several feet high in some sections). This roughly 1.4 mile extension is slated for completion in 2015. The segment temporarily ends in at a generic spot along a full route anticipated to extend southward to the northeastern summit arm of Baker Mt. in Beaver Cove TWP. By the close of the Moosehead Lake trails project in 2018, there is a strong possibility that the Number Four Mountain Trail will interconnect with new trails to create a north-south link in the Number Four – Baker – Elephant Mountains areas. This, coupled with other trail projects and involving partnerships with adjacent lands owned by the Appalachian Mountain Club, would create new day hiking and backpacking opportunities in the Moosehead Lake Region.

 

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The Snowy Season & Poetry

With fall transitioning into winter, Maine’s landscapes are becoming cloaked in white. Depending upon geography and elevation, varying amounts of snow sit in our woods and on our fields. Some waters are frozen over, though many are still open with deep-blue, almost black water lying open beneath cold skies. Soon, most all freshwater streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes will be locked in ice.

Snow Breaks Out on a Logging Road in the Maine Woods

At this time of snow and open waters, I want to share two striking poems employing the imagery of open water swallowing falling snow. Both, like our salty bays and soon-to-be covered lakes are both dark yet powerfully beautiful.

The first and older of the two poems is by one of 19th century America’s most notable poets, William Cullen Bryant. In one stanza of his poem, The Snow-Shower, he writes:

Here delicate snow-stars, out of the cloud,
Come floating downward in airy play,
Like spangles dropped from the glistening crowd
That whiten by night the milky way;
There broader and burlier masses fall;
The sullen water buries them all–
Flake after flake–
All drowned in the dark and silent lake.

 

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Moosehead Lake Region Trail Development Highlights for 2014

Br’er Rabbit’s feigned request to not be thrown into the briar patch comes to mind when I think about being tasked with developing new and enhanced non-motorized trails in the Moosehead Lake Region. Sure, there are a lot of moving parts, a huge area to evaluate, and a lot of interests and ideas to consider, but that is one nice roughly 400,000-acre briar patch!

Hikers on Eagle Rock

Hikers on Eagle Rock

While there are a lot of project details that could be discussed, I would instead like to take a moment in this writing to share a few experiential highlights from 2014. These brief anecdotes hopefully impart a sense of this region. For those interested in more formal information, please see www.maine.gov/dacf/mooseheadtrails, where project background is shared and updates are available.

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Evolving Landscapes and Maine Poetry

I recently read a wonderful poem by Maine poet Tom Sexton at the Maine State Library’s webpage sharing weekly poems by Maine poets. The poet describes the significance of a now abandoned homestead’s granite stoop. This phenomenon of abandoned homesteads, lost cellar holes, and graveyards hemmed in by forest is not uncommon in Maine. While there are numerous State Parks and Public Lands where this natural and human history can be explored, one that comes quickly to mind is the Androscoggin Riverlands State Park in Turner, Maine.

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Kayakers on the Androscoggin River adjacent to the Androscoggin Riverlands State Park

The Riverlands as it is sometimes referred to is Maine’s newest state park with 2,675-acres and 12 miles of river frontage on the Androscoggin River. It is primarily a trail-based park offering hiking, mountain biking, ATV riding, and winter activities including snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and ungroomed cross-country skiing. Hunting is popular in the park as well. Boat launches outside of the park off the Center Bridge Road in Turner and near Cherry Pond in Green (hand-carry) offer access to the section of the river known as Gulf Island Pond (the river here has been impounded by Gulf Island Dam since 1927).

In addition to providing a notable swath of open space and wildlife habitat just north of the urban communities of Lewiston and Auburn, the park encompasses multiple old homesteads where foundations still exist amidst pleasant woods. The Homestead hiking trail is a great way to discover some of the historic foundations while the Androscoggin Greenway provides a water-based route to explore these same locations.

The homestead foundations along the Androscoggin provide tangible places to experience some of the intangible reverence the poet Tom Sexton writes about is his poem, The Granite Stoop. While the Androscoggin Riverlands State Park is not the only place to experience this history, it is an ideal place to observe and feel the interplay of human and natural history.

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New and Improved Hiking Trails for the Moosehead Lake Region in Progress

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MCC Team Leader Amelia Fogg at Work on the Eagle Rock Trail

Progress is steadily being made by the Maine Conservation Corps (MCC) trail crew working on the trail from the Little Moose Public Lands to Eagle Rock on the far western arm of Big Moose Mt. To date, over two miles of new trail have been cleared and work continues to construct the trail structures such as stone staircases and bog bridging that make trail sustainable. The crew has opened up new trail corridor to the ledge vista a little under a mile shy of Eagle Rock itself. Trail work will continue to open this new route to Eagle Rock.

The trail is not truly open quite yet, as a trailhead parking area is not yet established and the trail is not fully linked to the road (though it is cut open at a point about 75 yards into the woods near the end of the East Moore Bog Rd.). However, work is progressing and we hope to have an opening event this fall (more to come).

Read more about our work in a recent Bangor Daily News story.

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MCC Team Members Working on the #4 Mt. Trail

Additionally, another MCC trail crew is hard at work to redevelop and rehab the Number Four Mt. Trail in Frenchtown, south of First Roach Pond. This work will improve the old fire tower trail and serve as a foundation for extending the trail southward towards Lily Bay Mt. and Baker Mt. Over the next couple of years, it is expected that a trail network will grow in the hulking mountains east of Moosehead Lake. New trails will expand opportunities for lots of outdoor interests; Number Four Mt. is hoped to become not just a great day hike but also a portal to extended hiking in a remote, attractive setting.

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Maine State Parks and Public Lands Full of Diverse Opportunties

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Beach Play at Mt. Blue State Park

This past month, work for me has led to places such as the remote forests around Moosehead Lake, Lily Bay State Park, Little Moose Public Lands, and Seboeis Lake in the Katahdin Region. On the other hand, family play has brought me to the swim beach and playground at Mount Blue State Park and easy trails and ocean frolicking at Ferry Beach State Park. This is what makes Maine in general and the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands in particular so much fun for those of us who love the outdoors. The diversity of recreational opportunity is staggering. Feeling like hiking across wild, rocky trails up and down mountains in some of the country’s moose-iest lands? We’ve got you covered. Munching a lobster roll while strolling along pristine beaches more your speed? No problem. Do you have little kids more into swing sets, slides, and nature programs? OK, we can do that too.

A few weeks back, I had the chance to talk about this diversity as a guest on Spectrum Generation’s Mature Lifestyles show– a show produced by Time Warner Cable Channel 9. Here’s a link to that show.

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Upon Encountering the Moose Carcass

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Moose Carcass: Frenchtown TWP, Maine

The image to the left shows a moose carcass encountered deep in the woods of #4 Mountain in Frenchtown, Maine. It was found while examining soils and hydrology along a possible trail location associated with the Moosehead Lake Region non-motorized trails project.

I can’t say what killed the moose, and frankly, we didn’t linger long as the day was cold and rainy with a good deal of ground to cover. The lingering that did take place has been the moose in my mind.

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