Posts Tagged ‘White Mountains’

Evans Notch – Spring 2016

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Two weeks ago Truman and I climbed Little Deer Hill and Big Deer Hill, a total of 4 miles round trip.  Short, but sweet, there are some steep parts but it’s not a killer hike.  It had really warmed up — 64 degrees with brilliant sunshine – but the key here is that it was nice and breezy, which means NO BUGS when hiking! Hooray!

When I pulled into the trailhead parking lot, there was only one other car. Up we went to Little Deer Hill. We passed the NH-ME border marker.

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deerhill1During the entire climb up that mountain, we caught the wind coming off of Evans Notch.  The summit views of Mt. Meader, and No. and So. Baldface Mountains were clear and lovely.

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deerhill3After admiring the view from the top (where Truman sat like he was King of the Mountain; he owned it), we went down the other side of that mountain, and then up to Big Deer Hill. The view from the top of Big Deer Hill looks down upon Deer Hill Bog, which is only 3 miles from my house.  Unfortunately on this side of the mountain, there was no breeze, so the blackflies were swarming and I didn’t stay more than a minute.

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We were the only ones on the entire mountain; the only noise was of the breeze and various songbirds.  We got to the dam on the bottom of Little Deer Hill, explored the shoreline, and headed back to the car.  There must have been 20 cars in the parking lot trailhead upon our return!  Now you know where people from Maine and New Hampshire go when they call in sick on a Tuesday morning!  Nature lovers find a beautiful day hard to pass up.

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I really didn’t want the day to end, so I drove to the Basin for some pictures. The wind was gusting and actually blew my scarf right off my head.  It was a gorgeous day and I was back home in time for lunch.

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Happy Sunday

This past Sunday was one of those days when everything went right.  Now that we’re in the midst of blackfly and tick season, hiking gets pretty uncomfortable when the weather is sunny and calm.  Saturday it was a sunny, gorgeous 80 degrees, so I made sure to wear a bug net whenever I took the dog for a walk.  Unless it’s really breezy, the blackflies love to swarm all over you.  For the past two weeks, I’ve been pulling off a minimum of 10 ticks a day from my dog, and 5 ticks from myself, despite the use of repellents.

So I was not disappointed to wake up to a blustery, cloudy Sunday in the 40s.  Although rain threatened, at least it meant that we could go walking unmolested by bugs.

But first, we needed to dump our trash and recyclables at the transfer station.  I was delighted to find several great books at the freecycle station.  When I finish the books I will return them to the freecycle area so someone else can enjoy them.  I also contributed several old garden pots that I had no plans to plant to the giveaway pile.

From the transfer station we continued a few miles up the road to visit our friend Paul’s building site (I guess you could call it tresspassing since he wasn’t there).  Paul is building a new, off-grid home there and is doing everything singlehandedly.  For the past several months he’s been busy grading the area, and raising the site with packed dirt since the house will sit along the river and he has to worry about a flood line.  We were really impressed with the attractive retaining wall he set.  The house will overlook the river, where I’m anxious (with Paul’s permission) to bring my kayak and try a little trout fishing.

By now the skies were looking a bit mean so we thought we’d forget a hike and just take a scenic drive.  We went up the Crooked River Causeway and then drove west on Route 2, taking in the grandeur of the northern White Mountain Peaks.  We turned into a parking area at Rattle River trailhead, which is part of the Appalachian Trail, and decided to walk the gentle 1.8 miles to the shelter erected for the benefit of thru-hikers.  (A thru-hiker is someone who hikes the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine.) We figured a little rain wouldn’t hurt us.

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Fortunately, the weather held, and there were no bugs! The many small flumes and cascades along the Rattle River were incredibly soothing and beautiful.  Although we’ve taken this walk several times before, it never gets old.  The last time I was there I was with our dog Spencer, who died this past September.  Now we were accompanied by Truman, our 7 month-old Standard Poodle puppy, and it was fun to experience the walk through his doggie eyes and nose, as he exuberantly discovered the joys of the Rattle River trail for the first time.  It made the old new again.

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It was also lovely to see trillium, a type of wildflower in purple or white, in bloom.20160515_133817

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From the Rattle River we headed over to Gorham NH to do my week’s worth of food shopping at the Super WalMart (the only major food shopping in that area; it saved me a trip into town later in the week).  I know a lot of people who hate WalMart and won’t shop there out of principle, but ask anyone living in a rural area and they will tell you that WalMart is a blessing.  The one-stop shopping saves rural folks from traveling 100 miles into the closest city to supply their needs, and at reasonable prices.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a large selection of organic produce at this WalMart!

From Gorham we traveled back on Rte 2, but instead of returning the way we had come, we went down the 113, which is Evans Notch; it’s one of my favorite drives in the area.  The views are magnificent, the Notch is filled with dozens of challenging hiking trails, and there is always a chance of seeing a moose.  We didn’t see a moose, but we did see very fresh, recent beaver activity along a river.  The beavers appeared to be decimating the entire shoreline, working on felling several large trees simultaneously along the riverbank.

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Thanks to the longer days, when we got home there was still time to sow some beet seeds in the raised-bed garden.  I’ve also planted garlic, kale, and some winter squash, and last year’s strawberry plants are doing nicely.  My only garden disaster (so far) is the complete failure of my apple orchard.  Although I attended a university extension course on apple growing, fed them, talked to them (and God),  pruned them, and generally babied my apple trees for the past 5 years,  I had yet to see  even a single apple blossom and no apples, despite a proliferation of leaves!  Even putting a beehive next to the trees didn’t help them pollinate. Finally, finally – – four apple blossoms!

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Will they make it?  Who knows.  I’ve been vigilant about removing insect nests that hatch worms and devour young apple leaves on an almost daily basis.  I’m trying to keep the orchard organic, so pesticide is a no-no.   Meanwhile I have 8 organic apple trees that mock me daily, a life lesson and humbling reminder of the fact that despite my best efforts, I am not always the one in control.

 

Spring 2016

There is a saying in Maine:  “If you don’t like the weather, wait a moment.”

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And that pretty much sums up our early Spring.  As of last week, even the most stubborn ice melted from the lakes and ponds as temperatures ramped up to the 50s and 60s.  The woods came alive with sound:  Canada geese and various wood ducks mating and nesting; Spring Peepers; beavers emerging from their dams and whacking the water with their tails; a long, harmless garden snake emerged from the rock in front of me and slithered away; the newspaper warned homeowners to put away their bird feeders as bears emerge from hibernation.  And then, today, a “polar vortex” swooped down and splashed us with violent winds and fierce cold.  After this past week of warmth, tonight’s temperatures will see a low of 4 degrees F.

While still warm, I took the opportunity to empty a year’s worth of discarded fruit and vegetable peels, spent coffee grinds, and crushed eggshells – – now turned into rich, earthy soil – –  from our compost bin.  It filled two huge wheelbarrow loads and I transported it to my orchard, where after aerating ground near the trees’ roots, the compost provided some fertile food for the apple trees and there was even enough left over for the blueberry bushes. It was great to touch the warm earth, and feel the sun on my face, but best of all, it was a pleasure to work the soil and complete all my early gardening needs without the hum and sting of blackflies, deerflies or mosquitoes.

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Inspired by a week of beautiful days, Truman (our new puppy) and I hiked and bushwhacked in the woods near our house.

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On one of these walks I met a new neighbor who built a cabin last year on land that her grandfather had bought when he was in high school, back in the early 20s.  Now all the descendants of this man – a son and daughter, cousins, nieces and nephews, are slowly reclaiming parcels for self-sufficient homes and cabins of their own. It’s a wonderful legacy and I’m sure he’d be thrilled that the extended family remains close, and that it’s his large, remote parcel bought so long ago that brings them together.   All of them see themselves as stewards of the land, ensuring that its natural resources will not be misused, but will provide them with the wealth of clean air, pure water, and fresh produce from the earth to their tables, and a lasting appreciation of the glory, beauty and power of nature in these woods.

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Although I’m not a fan of daylight saving’s time, I did appreciate the ability to take evening walks with my husband after his workday ended at 5.30 pm, knowing it would still be light when we got back, even if we walked 3 or 4 miles.  Away from the city, it’s such a pleasure to be less distracted, live slower, to breathe deeper, and be able to focus more easily on sights, sounds, and the ones we love.

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Wicked Cold

20160213_225428_resized.jpgIn the six years we’ve been in Maine, the coldest it’s ever gotten with wind chill factored in is -45F.  Right now it’s -12 outside, but the wind is blowing with several major gusts.  I recorded -55F.  Then I decided to press the “recall” button on our anemometer to see what I might have missed.  At 10:33 p.m. it was -67F with windchill!  That’s our newest record.  It will be fun to see what tomorrow brings, as the coldest part of a day is usually right before sunrise.

Our woodstove is serving us well, and currently is our only source of heat (we have radiant hydronic PEX heat under the concrete floor that can be used as a backup or boost, but it just hasn’t been necessary) .  Inside it’s a cozy 70F.  The fantastic closed-cell spray-foam insulation we used at the time of construction is proving that it was worth every penny.  Our house is airtight with no leaky drafts, and nice and cozy, easily retaining the heat from the woodstove and in the daytime, from passive solar.  I don’t expect to use more than  1 ½ – 2 cords of wood over the course of the entire winter (1 cord = 4′ x 4′ x 8′ of split and stacked wood). Considering the wood comes from our own land, it’s not a bad deal.

Walking and Rocking

The last few days have been torture.  Not because it was too cold (not that -31 F with wind chill factored in is fun, but you can always dress for cold), but because the unceasing, extremely high winds meant that there were lots of flying debris outside, making it unsafe to walk through the woods.  My very strong, fortress-built home actually shook and rattled for three days nonstop; the wind howled and often woke me up at night.  Lots of trees down (nothing major on our property, thankfully). Fortunately we were unaffected by any power outages since our house is run on batteries and we do have a back-up generator if necessary.

While “housebound,” I used the time to cook, bake and clean.  I did a little strength training with dumbbells but really my body just did not get the necessary amount of exercise and boy, did I feel blah.  My old bones and muscles were stiff; I  needed to move.  Fortunately today the sun came out, the wind died down, and I was able to go for a 4-mile walk (it was a pleasant, sunny 20 degrees F).  Unusual for me, since I prefer listening to the sounds of nature,  I walked with headphones plugged into Adele.   And suddenly, I don’t know, the music just took over.  I started jogging, then skipping, which segued into dancing.  There I was, this grey-haired grandmother, bundled up in Polartec and looking like a penguin, and I’m jumping, twirling, turning, high-stepping, and rocking out on my country road, just me and Adele.  And here is what is great:  I felt totally free. No one was around.  The trees didn’t think I was weird.  Oh, my kids would have thought me ready for the asylum had they seen me.  But it felt great.

In The Blood

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Anything to do with wood – – forestry, conservation, lumber, carpentry, building – – figures prominently in the daily life of many locals here in the White Mountains of Maine.  So when I saw the ad this past summer for “In The Blood,” a documentary about the history of Maine’s lumber industry and the iconic lumberjacks who defined it, I knew I had to go see it at the Deertrees Theatre in Harrison, Maine.

Deertrees Theatre is a story in and of itself.  It was originally built as an opera house in 1936 by Harrison Wiseman (d. 1945), a Jewish architect from Ohio that designed the Yiddish Art Theater and other prominent buildings in New York City.  Even though it resembles a huge country barn, in fact it is technically and acoustically perfect, and its acoustics have been rated the highest of any New England stage by multiple newspapers’ classical music critics.  The list of stars who’ve appeared there over the last 80 years is indeed impressive, as is the drama of the Deertrees Theatre, now designated a historical building, and its fight for survival.  You can read more about the Deertrees Theatre’s fascinating history by clicking here.  (The town of Harrison was incorporated in 1805 and its name is unrelated to Harrison Wiseman.)

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Written, produced, directed and performed by native Mainer Sumner McKane, and using historical footage and interviews with the courageous men whose resilience, feisty independence, strength, skill and drive seem sadly a thing of the past, “In The Blood” explores the typical working day and many hierarchical tasks performed by lumbermen from clearing logging roads, cutting down trees, bringing the trees to the river, controlling the water’s flow, running the logs down the river, clearing the log jams that ensued, fighting the unremitting cold, subsisting on beans, beans and more beans for months at a time, and living in crude camps where 30 men slept under the same enormous quilt and wore the same clothes for 6 months without benefit of laundering nor practicing meaningful personal hygiene.

These days, at the annual country Fryeburg Fair, there are lots of lumberjack contests, and one of them involves balancing on and rolling logs while the logs are floating on an enclosed pool of water.  Usually the contest comes to an end in mere seconds.  By comparison, historical footage from “In The Blood” puts modern lumberjacks to shame.  Perhaps most amazing was the old footage of lumberjacks balancing and walking precariously on logs, hurling together downstream in very rough, freezing water.  They lacked the technical outerwear like neoprene that we have today.  Losing their balance wasn’t just dangerous – it was usually fatal, for if hypothermia or drowning didn’t kill them (and surprisingly, many didn’t even know how to swim), getting crushed by oncoming logs would.    These men of yesteryear were truly Maine’s version of Wild West cowboys, with all their stamina, courage, ability to live in austere conditions and isolation in severe weather, and their addiction to death-defying adrenalin rushes.  The only difference is that instead of herding cattle, Maine lumberjacks herded logs – –  under the most challenging conditions possible.

Sumner McKane, who is behind the film and many other Maine historical movies, is a man on a mission.  He now tours New England with his music and films and especially enjoys getting New England youth excited about their history, appearing at schools throughout the region.

 

More Than Meets The Eye

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The narrow channel opened up into the huge third bay of Kezar Lake

Even though I’ve lived in Maine for several years now, I had never kayaked the bottom section of Kezar Lake, known as Lower Bay.  Unlike the Upper Bay, which is spectacular, the section of Lower Bay visible from the road doesn’t look like much.  But much to my surprise there is more than meets the eye. Starting from the put-out I passed the marina at The Narrows, went under a low, narrow bridge, and continued down an unexciting and rather narrow channel until its end…only to have it open up to the HUGE hidden section of Kezar Lake that I ignorantly didn’t even realize was there (it’s clearly visible on maps so I don’t know why I never bothered to notice this before).  Kezar Lake is 9 miles long but there’s a total of 33.9 miles of shoreline.  I ended up kayaking about 6 miles of it and had a blast. Talk about a good upper body workout!

(This was a great lesson for me metaphorically speaking:  we do not always see the entire picture; we often lack complete information about situations that impede our judgment.  Just sayin’…)

One of the neat things I noticed was a platform built for a loon’s nest. Loons are territorial ducks with haunting cries and beautiful black and white feathers. Their heads are black and they have beady red eyes.  They are famous for their haunting cries and diving skills; they can stay completely submerged under the water for minutes at a time.  Both parents raise 1 or 2 chicks, teaching them how to dive and fish.  They don’t walk well and live mostly on the water.  The problem is that they build their nests at water’s edge on the shoreline.  If heavy rains make the water levels rise too much, then that year’s nest is wiped out. So some conservation groups have been experimenting with different styles of man-made platforms at some of the lakes with great success, and this has helped stabilize or increase the local loon population.  I took this picture in telephoto mode; getting too close to a nest stresses the loons and could make them abandon the nest completely.

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A platform for nesting loons, topped by a spiffy roof