Thursday morning Beth and I drove up to Freeport Maine to attend the Northern New England Conference’s 34th Annual Music Clinic. I think this was Beth’s sixth time going (and my third). In previous years she participated only in piano, but this year she was in the choir as well.

I brought my work laptop with me, found a quiet place to hang out and worked Thursday and Friday while Beth attended her practices. She very much enjoyed the weekend, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t.

I was treated to three concerts – one Friday evening, one Saturday morning, and another Saturday night. We had Saturday afternoon off, so we decided to hike up Hedgehog Mountain, the tallest mountain in all of Freeport. Yeah, at 300 feet above sea level, it’s not quite a mountain.

There was quite a bit less snow on the ground in Freeport compared to our house, but the trail was still covered with it.

The trail is snuggled up alongside several stone walls.

The trail is snuggled up alongside several stone walls.

The view from the top was very nice, but not spectacular. After all, we were only 300 feet up. We still enjoyed the view.

View from the top

View from the top

On the way back down we saw this weird pool.

An odd pool

An odd pool

It took me a little while to put my finger on it – the bottom of it is covered in ice. Ice is less dense than liquid water, so when it freezes it floats to the top. That’s why ponds and such freeze from the top down. They do not freeze from the bottom up. If they did, fish would have a very difficult time surviving New England winters. In fact, it might not be possible for them to survive at all.

And yet here it was, a pool with an ice floor. I’m pretty sure that the way this came about was that the pool was not very deep when it initially froze, and it probably froze solid, gaining a death grip on the ground underneath. Then as spring arrived, the surrounding snow pack melted and flowed in on top of it, burying the ice in a foot of water. It was pretty cool looking, and I was really glad to have seen it.

The hike didn’t take much time, so we headed back to the school. Most people were still gone for the afternoon. Beth decided she had not played enough music yet at the point, so she went up on the stage in the empty auditorium (save me and one other person) and played all the non-clinic songs she had brought. The set was still lit up on the stage, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to get a photo without interfering with a program.

Beth plays during some downtime

Beth plays during some downtime

It wasn’t long after this that Va arrived for the evening concert which was pretty awesome. I had saved us a pair of seats, so we weren’t stuck in the back as in years past.

The concert finished up around 10:00pm, we got in our cars and drove home arriving around 12:30am.

It was a long weekend, but it was sure worth it. I’d do it again.

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)

The vernal pools in my woods are growing larger. It’s getting difficult to navigate back there because there are so many of them. The snow is still a foot deep, except where these pools form. There are many of them covering my trail now, so I do a lot of meandering as I go through. Penny is clearly a more mature dog now (she turns four next month), because she also chooses to go around them, even when chasing sticks. Last year she would plow headlong into the water, but not so this year.

The photo above shows a couple species. The one sporting a red berry is partridge berry (Mitchella repens) which has shown up in this blog on many occasions in the past. But off the the right side I see the leathery leaf of a trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens). These will be among the first plant to flower, and I do look forward to seeing them in bloom again. One thing I know about them this year, that I did not know last year, it that the blossoms are edible. No preparation required – just pop them in your mouth. I will try that as soon as I see some, and will report on my impressions when I have some impressions to report!

I liked this photo because of the way the snow was sparkling. The partridge berry is growing under the water as I have observed them doing in previous years. It seems to not bother them at all.

I still haven’t seen any amphibians, but I have not stopped looking yet either. NH Fish and Game has a new site for reporting amphibian (and insect, and reptile, and mammal, and bird) sightings. I’m looking forward to doing that as well.

Today after work (hooray Daylight Savings Time!) I slipped into my snowshoes and went out to check my sap bucket again. The last time I looked (Friday?) there was only about a quart of sap in the bucket. Today there were six quarts!

I went into the house and grabbed a six gallon jug that I keep filled with water in case we lose power (good for drinking, and for flushing). I poured out the water and then poured the sap into the jug. Then I set it down in a snowbank next to the house. When the snow is gone, I will move it to the freezer in the basement, and when I quit getting sap, or the sap starts to come out yellow, or I start catching moths in my bucket, the season is over. That’s when I’ll get my sap out of the freezer and boil it down into syrup.

It takes 30-40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. All I’m hoping for is a quart of syrup, but I would settle for a pint.

I’ve got huge pockets of melted snow in the woods now, and these pockets form vernal pools.

Vernal Pools

Vernal Pools

I still haven’t seen any salamanders in these pools, but my understanding is that this is the time of year when they breed, and their preferred venue for that is vernal pools.

The other things these pools do besides provide rendezvous points for romantic newts is tell me a little bit about my woods that I did not know. It was once a pasture.

I bought a book a while back – Forest Forensics: A Field Guide to Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels. When I ordered it, I thought it would cover things like animal tracking. I was wrong, but I was not disappointed! Instead, it tells how to tell what the woods had been used for over the past couple hundred years.

My forest has a stone wall in it which indicates that it was used agriculturally at one time. But the vernal pools tell me that it was never used for crops. Also it was never used for growing hay. That leaves pastures.

These pools form in depressions called “cradles”, and next to each cradle is a mound of earth called a “pillow”. The pillows and cradles are formed when a tree topples over and raises a huge rootwad and excavating the cradle. As the tree decays, the soil in its roots falls to the ground forming the pillow. Forests that have never been used agriculturally will also have pillows and cradles, but they won’t have stone walls. Actually, it’s possible that the land on the other side of my stone wall was used for ag, but not my side. I’ll have to wait for the snow to go before I can really tell.

When land was first cleared, the farmers would pile the rocks up and then use them to build stone walls. As fields were plowed annually, they turned up small rocks. These rocks were added to the walls. If the field was used for growing hay, it would not have been plowed except once – and the pillows and cradles would have been severely attenuated, but not obliterated as annual plowing would. Also, they would not have churned up so many small rocks. They plowed hay fields so that they could work them with a scythe – it’s hard to get hay out of a cradle with a pillow in the way. They plowed them only once because that was good enough.

I found all this stuff rather fascinating, and plan to fully investigate my woods this spring. It’s fun doing this kind of detective work!

Today at lunchtime, Dennis and I walked over to Moe’s Deli. We took the long way round because it was about 70 degrees outside, and nothing short of a gorgeous spring day. I kept my eye out for blooms and did see a red maple (Acer Rubrus) in bloom – first one of the year.

When we got to Moe’s, this overly enthusiastic woman came out to meet us saying, “Welcome to MOE’S 50th birthday celebration!” She continued, “We have FREE BIRTHDAY CAKE, and after you make your purchase, you can SPIN THE WHEEL and WIN A PRIZE!” She sounded something like a morning radio host, and indeed, that’s exactly what she was. I never listen to morning radio shows because I find them so annoying. But Dennis does, and recognized her by her voice (the “Morning Buzz” car parked in the lot probably didn’t hurt either).

I looked at the prize wheel. About the only thing on there I really didn’t want was the Whoopie Pie, so of course, that’s where the spinner stopped. Oh well. Then the Morning Buzz girl gave me a scratch-off lottery-style ticket. Scratch off six squares that say “Moe’s” and win $50,000. I didn’t win that. Then there was the consolation prize, which was a free small bag of chips. I took a picture of Dennis with Miss Radio Star and emailed it to him.

I held onto the “lotto” card until I got back to the office, and then a nefarious idea popped irresistibly into my head. I would put the card in the change dish in the kitchen. That’s where we deposit money when we take snacks out of the snack basket (40 cents a pop). The basket has chips in it. I had no intention of using the lotto ticket to pay for chips – I just wanted to make Joan think I had. Of course it’s all fun and games until someone’s blood pressure shoots through the roof and dies of a heart attack.

When I got home I toured the catchment pond. It’s still full of mosquito larvae, water striders, and frog spawn. It may have been my imagination, but the larvae seemed less energetic today. Maybe the dunks are slowing them down already. Or maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part. I checked my frog spawn, and then found another wad of it. This one is most definitely newer than the first. It was under a leaf at the edge of the water, but it had a much greater proportion of jelly in it than the original clutch. Then I found a third one, but it was on the bank. The waterline has been receding rapidly and stranded this clutch. I don’t know if the eggs die if they hatch on the bank, but I’m assuming they will. I almost tossed them back in the water but thought it better to not interfere.

I found four more trailing arbutus plants whose blossoms had opened too, and I took several photos – nothing spectacular. Then I invited Beth to grab her camera so we could walk the trail and see if there was anything to photograph. She took several pictures, but I haven’t looked at them yet. I do know she got one of a shelf fungus colony growing on an oak sapling. I assume that sapling will probably die soon, as I don’t think healthy oaks support huge colonies of fungi. I’ll keep an eye on it.

Penny bathing in a vernal pool

Penny bathing in a vernal pool

While we were in the woods, Penny flopped down in another vernal pool. We’re going to have start scolding her for that in an effort to get her to stop. Because earlier today when she did that, she came in raining mud water all over the linoleum and was headed for the carpet before Va intercepted and ejected her from the house. She had the boys wash her down. They couldn’t get the hose attached to the outside faucet, so instead the carried her up to the bathtub. Didn’t use dog shampoo (or any other form of soap) though. Just water. And they griped about it too. C’mon guys! We don’t want to live in a mud hole! Don’t gripe about that!