Monthly Archives: January 2012

Acadia National Park Bar Harbor Destinations Nature Log

A Walk with Mrs. Peel


Baittrap_Lakewood

Bait trap, Lakewood, Maine

It is a clear January morning, and the temperature outside is three degrees. The ground is white with snow that has crusted over and looks as hard and cold as ice. I feel chill off the windowpane when my hand is still inches from touching it, and the lack of wind and motion makes the world seem frozen into stillness. It is a Sunday, and the winter world beckons me outside to play. It is a day for Mrs. Peel.

Fans of the 1960s television series The Avengers will remember Mrs. Peel, played by Diana Rigg, who was fit and formidable, quick-witted, and always stylish. She was a role model, and a few years ago when I acquired a one-piece Descente snowsuit to take me comfortably into subzero weather I named the suit Mrs. Peel. Metallic gray with silver slashes on the sleeves and back, a red satin lining and space age padded shoulders, it, too, is very sixties. Add a fur hat and fur boots, sure-footed ice creepers, silk underclothing and I become invincible, as ready-for-anything and gutsy as Mrs. Peel herself.

catpawprints_Lakewood

Snow patterns on Lakewood

This was to be just a short adventure, as there were tasks and chores to do before the day was done. A small, sheltered lake a few miles from home has frequently offered tracks and animal sign and I felt like tracking, so I headed to Lakewood, easily reached down an unplowed stretch of road.

Mrs. Peel and I headed out onto the ice. It groaned and snapped, booming as it expanded, making ice as some call it. Most liquids contract as they freeze, but water, forming intricate crystals with space between the branches and spikes of each exquisite structure, expands. When it has nowhere to go it cracks and booms. There is one loud explosive bellow, then, a gentle reply. The sound bounces off the surrounding hills repeating itself more and more softly until silence returns. Lakewood is a small lake, and the booms were modest, not heart-stopping as they can be on bigger waters.

icefrond_Lakewood

Leaf-like ice crystal, Lakewood

The surface of the lake, so perfectly flat and level, was puckered with the imprints of what seemed to be a thousand small cat paws. Kneeling and tracing the outline of one imprint, I could imagine the party of prancing, leaping cats that might have left such patterns in the ice. Standing and looking across the lake I saw the focused unwavering trail of a coyote. I had passed human and dog track on the road in, and the erratic roam and sniff and run back to master trail of the domestic dog is strikingly different from an animal in the wild, for whom conserving energy is a matter of survival.

A frozen tadpole lay on the surface of the ice, apparently tossed out of a bait trap and left as an offering for some fortunate diner. Over an inch wide, the snakelike head would have become a bullfrog’s head in the spring. Life is full of hazards out on the ice.

An even smaller pond is connected to Lakewood, called Fawn Pond. Here a skim of black ice lay over a stream feeding the larger pond below. Black ice. The name is fearsome, implacable, but the underwater scene it reveals is beautiful in its otherworldliness. I lie on my belly and peer through the ice. I can see thin grasses waft slowly in the current. The sunlight pierces through to the bottom, illuminating a few gray and gold speckled rocks, but they are as far away as the moon. I cannot touch them; they are on the other side of that invisible ice wall. The untouchableness makes this world even more compelling. I am on the outside, looking in, and I want to dive down and explore. I run my gloved hand over the ice and it feels astonishing that it has no effect, that a barrier prevents my hand from simply sliding below the surface. Ice crystals form intricate leaf-like shapes and lie on the surface of the ice. A large twig shifts and dips. A caddisfly larva had changed its center of balance and clung, bouncing gently, to the branch. It wore a case it had made of bits of rock and twig and weed, and until it moved seemed part of debris on the stream’s bottom. Confined behind a wall of glass this larva, creeping, barely moving as it goes about its business, seems to have no relation to the swarms of long-antennaed shadflies, or caddisflies, that will be in my face and hair a few months from now.

deadmilksnakeFawnPond_Lakewood

weaselprints_Lakewood

Delicate tracks of a weasel or mink

At the edge of the stream something had dug a hole through the snow to the leaves and earth below. Whatever hunter this was found the prey it had sensed, and the curled remains of the slim milk snake rudely pulled from his winter’s sleep lay discarded nearby. There is no safety even buried in the dirt, below several inches of snow, and a crust of ice.

Fawn Pond was larger than last time I was here. The beavers had been busy, and a long dam kept the water from flowing to the lake. A mound of branches and tree limbs with the tiny teeth marks of the beavers was piled over their underwater retreat. Crystals, formed when the warmth from beavers’ exhalations mingled with the colder air outside, rimmed a few twigs at the top, sure sign there were beaver below. Skirting the edge of the beaver lodge were pairs of small dimpled prints, the bounding gait of either a mink or a weasel. I followed these along the edge of the pond, as they led to Lakewood and the woods road to my car. At the stream where the two ponds joined an otter had left sliding marks on the ice, and a hole where he went below the surface. Clear otter prints and chutes went over the dam, along the stream, and down the ledges back towards Lakewood. It was a steep descent, and the water fell in a series of short falls, framed by long clear cliffs of ice. The otter had cruised around saplings, bounded over small rills, and shot down steep slopes, seemingly having fun, and heading towards home. Mrs. Peel slid and wriggled right behind, leaving larger slide marks and prints for the next tracker to examine.

It was a short adventure, perhaps only two and a half miles, but there was life, and there was death. There were remote worlds and minute details. There were deer, dogs, humans, coyotes, chickadees, a tadpole, snake, caddisfly larva, otter, weasel or mink, mouse, and beaver.

Let me know what tracks you may have seen!

OtterslideFawnPond_Lakewood

Otter slide and hole, Fawn Pond near Lakewood


Otterprint_Lakewood

Otterprint along stream between Fawn Pond and Lakewood

Mrs.Peel and author

Mrs. Peel and author at Lakewood, Acadia National Park

Day trips Destinations Maine Vanities

SLOAF John Doyon

John Doyon at Sugarloaf

John Doyon, loafer

There are 365 days in a year. John Doyon skies one hundred or more of those days, and he skies them at Sugarloaf. His vanity plate is SLOAF1. He lives at the mountain from Labor Day until May, and he skis whenever he can. He skis Early Tracks, that special time before the mountain opens to the public, sometimes starting down before daylight. He skis before work, and he skis every weekend. He skis in the rain, in the wind and in the cold. He is, in short, obsessed.

John was born in Maine, but lived away for many years, returning 15 years ago after watching The Big Chill, and feeling the call to reconnect. College memories of the Carabbasset Valley drew him to Sugarloaf, and here he found his passion. He also found a circle of friends that share this passion, and form a core group of “Loafers.”

“My wife and I have more friends here than through work or family,” John says. “This mountain is a bond.” He mentions the mountaintop dinner parties, complete with china and linens, and parties where everyone shares three of their favorites songs creating a musical timeline of the group from the 70’s to the present. John selected “Stairway to Heaven,” which he used to listen to when he skied here in his college days. This generated groans and good-natured ribbing, according to John. “They said it was too long!” he exclaims, shaking his head and laughing. “But it is a classic, what memories.” Most of this group grew up in the same era as John, and share a lot of similar memories. “The Sugarloaf culture” John calls it, a tight bond of skiers and skiers’ families that have their lives, activities, and social events orbit around the mountain.

John says this group, this friendship circle, is an important reason for choosing to live here, but it clearly takes second place to being on the snow.

John starts his day before full light, taking dog, paper and coffee to the foot of the mountain to assess. He checks the conditions–the weather and the snow, and decides which skis to use. Racing skis, carving skis, skis for powder– there are skis for different conditions, and it makes a difference. So does keeping equipment in shape. “I do a mini-tune every day, and a major tune-up every ten days,” John says casually, blissfully unaware that he is reinforcing his reputation for obsession. He also keeps a chart of which skis he uses on each day, to be sure not to stress them. He keeps meticulous records of the days and hours he skies to be sure he gets his one hundred days in each year, and to push for as many more as possible “One hundred and four is the most I’ve skied” he says, “Maybe this year I can top that.”

But May fourth is the cut off. That is the day the mountain closes. “I start getting bummed out in April,” John says, “It is a dark feeling, I hate to see those first brown spots.”

“Sometimes even in June you can find a patch of snow in the woods,” he says wistfully. But John is upbeat, even the sadness of contemplating summer is momentary. His natural good nature and optimism reassert themselves. May fourth isn’t here yet, and John has skis to tune, and a mountain to ski.

Excerpt from Maine Vanities, a collection of essays about the people and stories behind vanity license plates.

These short portraits capture Maine individuality. There is quirkiness, compassion, and humor. While passions range from skiing to solving Mensa puzzles, and ages from 14 to 91, enthusiasm, curiosity, and delight in sharing the story behind their plate and their bit of Maine is the common thread.