Posts Tagged ‘Stoneham’

Close Call

Evergreen Valley, Stoneham Maine

Evergreen Valley, Stoneham Maine

Yesterday about 11 a.m. I walked down the road and noticed that there were beautiful wildflowers by the abandoned golf course in Evergreen Valley.  I didn’t have my camera with me and planned to come back later in the afternoon so I could take some pictures.  When I returned around 4 pm, the wildflowers petals had closed up completely and the light was all wrong.  So I made sure to return around the same time today and try yet again.

Monarch Butterfly, Stoneham Maine

What a beautiful day!  After suffering from the high heat and humidity of my home town in the month I was away, it is great to be back in Maine with day temperatures in the 70s, nights in the 50s, and low humidity.  The bugs are not too bad.  The conditions were perfect for taking pictures, so I snapped away for about 30 minutes.

As I was packing up my gear, I heard a noise in the distance approaching me.  It was the caretaker of Evergreen Valley on his riding mower!  Within minutes the entire field of wildflowers was gone, and sadly they will not appear again until Spring 2016.

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Blueberry Mountain

Shell Pond Trail

Shell Pond Trail

On Sunday we decided to take a short hike of 2 or 3 miles.  We live very close to Shell Pond in Evans Notch.  We had hiked the easy Shell Pond Trail loop 4 years ago, and to tell you the truth, it wasn’t the most exciting hike in the world, neither visually nor in terms of challenge.  It was interesting, though:  it is home to the Stone House, which is one of the few houses in the area constructed, well over 100 years ago,  with a stone facade  (surprisingly rare since we are surrounded by granite, but in the White Mountains, wood rules) from a quarry dug behind that house.  The land abutting the Stone House and Shell Pond was cleared by colonist settlers, and in the 1940s it was the site of an airstrip, used for practice landings and takeoffs by the military during training exercises during WWII.  Today it is a perfectly flat, grassy meadow.

This newly built home sits adjacent to the old airfield and the Stone House.

This newly built home sits adjacent to the old airfield and the Stone House.  (click to enlarge)

The most popular approach to Shell Pond is via Stone House Road off of Rte. 113 in Evans Notch; but just up the road from us on Deer Hill Rd. there is a small sign indicating a hiking trail that cuts in to Shell Pond, and that’s the route we took.  It’s always thrilling,  knowing that hiking trails, snowmobile trails, colonist history, stories of Indian wars of the 1760s and natural wonders are literally in our backyard.  Incidentally, the entire hike was on private land – – the owners have graciously allowed hikers on their property under the guidance and maintenance of the all-volunteer Chatham Trails Association, provided outdoor enthusiasts  stick to the trail and respect privacy boundaries of the owners.

It was a particularly lovely autumn day, the air cool but the sun kissing our faces; a strong wind the previous night had resulted in a deep carpet of golden leaves covering the trail.  It was a bit of a slog since walking in the leaves was slippery, and necessitated the use of hiking poles to probe the ground to see if the downed foliage was covering up large stones, mud, or deep, hidden puddles.

Shell Pond Trail

Shell Pond Trail

Weird but beautiful fungus growing on a rotten tree trunk

Weird but beautiful fungus growing on a rotten tree trunk

The route was very short and mostly level, and since the day was so nice we decided to continue on an adjacent trail to Rattlesnake Gorge.  A footbridge spanned the narrow granite flume some 30 feet below, fed by a pulsing waterfall.

Before our ascent of Blueberry Hill, this footbridge took us over Rattlesnake Gorge.  My husband, a geek gadgeteer, spent a lot of time consulting his GPS, which he installed with all the trails found in the White Mountains

Before our ascent of Blueberry Hill, this footbridge took us over Rattlesnake Gorge. My husband, a geek gadgeteer, spent a lot of time consulting his GPS, which he loaded with software containing all the trails found in the White Mountains

We continued a few hundred feet up the trail to Rattlesnake Pool.  We almost missed it – the trail marker blended in so well with the woods.

rattlesnakepoolsign

This magnificent swimming hole would provide perfect relief after a hot day of hiking, but we were not in the correct season for dipping in its freezing waters.  Fed by yet another waterfall, the round pool – really a giant glacial pothole – has incredibly green, clear water and is truly magnificent.

This glacial pothole is fed by a rushing waterfall to its left, unfortunately not shown.

Clear, cold Rattlesnake Pool.  This glacial pothole is fed by a rushing waterfall to its left, unfortunately not shown here.

Now we were truly energized, so we kept going.  And going.  We decided to climb to the top of Blueberry Hill, hoping for some nice views.  A couple we met on the trail who were on their way down told us that the climb was well worth the effort.  “And make sure you take the Lookout Loop Trail after you get to the top!” they added.

The climb wasn’t long, but it was extraordinarily steep.  I was huffing and puffing and my heart was beating so hard I thought it would burst out of my chest.  I needed to stop frequently to calm my pulse.  I am up to a challenge, but that nagging little voice inside of me wasn’t so sure.  “It’s going to get dark, and you’re going to be stuck,” it told me.  I was so tired, so winded.  My husband assured me we had plenty of time to complete the hike, but even if in the worst-case scenario it got dark, we could manage with our flashlights.  (We also had appropriate clothing, food, water, and first aid kits in our backpacks.)  “Ok,” I said doubtfully, and continued climbing and resting, climbing and resting.  I tried talking myself out of negative thoughts.  “We can turn around now if you want,” my husband said, and he meant it without any malice, but even though I was filled with doubt, I pushed grimly on. Surely we were so close to the top!  Despite his best intentions, my husband’s constant, cheerful GPS reportage (“1000′ feet to go!  950′ to go!”) was incredibly irritating and got old, fast.  Still, I kept climbing.

Finally, through the dense tree cover:  peeks of blue sky a few feet ahead!  The end really was in sight.  We finally made it to the top.  Blueberry Hill was indeed aptly named.  Although we were long past the July blueberry season, the blueberry leaves had turned a burnished maroon, and the surrounding green lichens were now a frosty white.

blueberrylichens

The view was shrouded by pines, and with the clock ticking, we hurried along the Lookout Loop Trail to a series of clear granite ledges.

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It was then that we were blessed with our reward:  probably one of the all-time nicest views I’ve ever seen on a hike, and that’s saying a lot here in the White Mountains!  We felt like we were on top of the world – literally and figuratively.

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(Click to enlarge) A five-star view:  from Blueberry Hill on the Lookout Loop Trail. Shell Pond lies below, and in the far distance on the left you can see a sliver of Horseshoe Pond and beyond it, Kezar Lake.

Our dog Spencer checks out the view at the top

Our dog Spencer checks out the view at the top

Despite his age (70 in dog years), Spencer still enjoys hiking.

Despite his age (70 in dog years), Spencer still enjoys hiking.  Here he smiles for the camera.

Although we couldn’t linger as long as we might have liked, the arduous climb had been absolutely worthwhile.  The steep, slippery descent was punctuated by my worries (“it’s going to get dark!” and my husband begging me to slow down (‘if you go fast you’re going to take a fall or stress your knees!”)  but soon enough we were indeed down the mountain and walking the last mile of trail.  Never had a soft, grassy, and “boring” flat former airfield been so welcoming to my poor, tired, sore feet!  And indeed, we did make it to the car before dark.

My husband, the gadget geek, was agog with the information spewing from his cellphone apps and GPS.  If you had asked me earlier that day if I was in the mood for a 5.5 hour, 7.2 mile hike climbing 1,870 feet and walking 18,500 steps, I would have said “No way!”  Instead, our spontaneity led to a challenge I wouldn’t have thought I could muster.  Besides being in awe of the incredible beauty we were privileged to see, it was such a positive life lesson.  Go!  Live!  Just do it!  Try!  You might fail, but you can achieve!  Choose happiness!  We had just experienced a taste of heaven, and being a bit tired and sore nevertheless seemed a small price to pay (not to mention the 950 calories my husband’s phone’s app said we burned) – – especially after the hot bath and cold beer that followed 🙂

I was sure HaShem has placed those two people on the trail at the moment I needed the most encouragement, and without the Providence of meeting them we would probably not have attempted the fantastic Lookout Loop Trail since the hour was late.

Since this hike was impetuously conceived, although we could rely on the GPS trail map, we nevertheless had no real information prepared in advance as to what glories awaited us. In the words coined by hiker and author “It’s Not About the Hike” Nancy  Sporborg, we were truly “riding the grace wave.”

To Every Thing, There Is a Higher Purpose

The last days of August were a flurry of activity as we prepared to leave Maine.  We would be returning to our home town for the month of Jewish holidays:  Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.

I realized it was a week of “last chances” – – places to fish and swim; because upon our return in October it would be too cold to take a dip in the lake and fishing season would be over until ice fishing season began on January 1st (something I haven’t yet attempted).

I knew I wouldn’t have much luck fishing at Horseshoe Pond, but my rod and reel anyhow served only as an excuse to paddle my kayak around this beautiful place.  As its name indicates, it is shaped like the letter “U;” I paddled from one end to the other and back again.  I was the only one on the lake, alone in my thoughts on a warm and glorious day.

Horseshoe Pond

Horseshoe Pond (click to enlarge)  My house (not visible)  is just behind the middle hill in background.

I went for a walk with my dog near my house.  The foliage in the woods was so thick; yet despite the warm temperatures the air felt different, truly like the end of summer.  I noticed the sugar maples were just starting to turn, a few giving coy previews of the glories soon to come.

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Soon we passed the old West Stoneham one-room schoolhouse.  It was established in 1860 during Stoneham’s heyday, when the land was settled by farmers and loggers.  Shortly thereafter the population dwindled, victims of poor soil for farming; industrialization in the cities that offered better paying jobs; and the Spanish flu, which decimated entire families in this region.  Even though it was always small – – in 1880 the population was 475 souls – –  it’s hard to imagine our town as once bustling (the 2010 census indicated there are 237 residents, with a density of 7 residents per square mile). Yet in the late 1800s there were five such one-room schoolhouses spread throughout Stoneham.  Today the West Stoneham schoolhouse has been modernized somewhat and is used as someone’s summer cottage.

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The (former) West Stoneham one-room schoolhouse, ca. 1860

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Click to enlarge and see a closeup of W. Stoneham schoolhouse’s commemorative sign

On Friday morning, I decided to go fishing one last time at Virginia Lake.

While I was threading the worm onto the hook, I thought about how we humans tend to think of worms and bugs as the earth’s lowliest creatures.  Yet where would fish and birds (ergo us humans) be without them?  Although they may be an annoyance to humans, worms and insects clearly have a crucial purpose in life as part of the food chain and we would be lost without them.

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(It did not take long before the fish began biting. I caught seven: one was a yellow perch which is not a good eating fish; 2 were too small to keep; but four white perch were just the right size for our upcoming Shabbat dinner and lunch.)

While swatting mosquitoes back at home, the “bugs are beneficial” concept was further driven home by the arrival of the Bee Man.  He was there to harvest this year’s honey crop.  As noted in this article in the Portland Press Herald, this year’s honey crop was one of Maine’s all-time worst.  The Bee Man told me that he averages 1400 lbs of honey per year from his dozens of hives in bee yards spread over a 20 mile radius.  Last year he harvested 1700 lbs.  But this year, he will be lucky to get a meager 500 lbs.  The reason was mostly weather related:  bees prefer hot, sunny days, and 25 days out of 30 in June were rainy, with July and August not faring much better.  The bees were “thin,” he said, and not only could he not harvest whatever little amount of honey they had produced, he would have to add sugar cakes to the hives to feed them supplementally, lest they starve over the winter.

As I stood talking to Bee Man, I was busy swatting the bugs, and I pointed out that his bee suit was covered with gnats and mosquitoes.  “It’s about time!” he said with a smile.  “I’m telling you . . . something is going on.  Yours is the first place I’ve been to today that’s even had bugs!”  I frowned but Bee Man smiled.

“Usually when I empty the hives, I see a lot of ants.  This year I didn’t see any!  And if there aren’t ants, then there are earwigs.  But no earwigs this year, either.  Yep, definitely something is going on, and it’s not good.”  Translation:  pesticides have been introduced to some farms in Bee Man’s area.  True, there are fewer bugs, but the hives are in danger of colony collapse.  For Bee Man, bugs are a measuring stick for the health of his bees . . . and ourselves.

The lowly insect  – – something so small and seemingly insignificant (not to mention annoying) – –  is in fact not inconsequential at all.  Everything, and I do mean everything that was created by G-d has purpose and meaning and is part of a Greater Plan, even if our small minds cannot grasp it.

Seen in this light, even a gnat can inspire us with awe.

It is said there is no such thing as an atheist farmer, because despite his best efforts, he is at the mercy of the forces of Nature, and he recognizes that ultimately his success is up to G-d.  May the New Year reignite our sense of awe and wonder and appreciation of all the good that has been bestowed upon us, and instill us with clarity to recognize Truth.