Today was my second visit to a vernal pool in three days. These small empheral pools appear for only a few weeks in the spring (hence the name), typically in shallow depressions that capture snowmelt and early spring rains. They serve as an important breeding ground for frogs, salamanders, and other amphibians… and then disappear for the summer.
Today, as I strolled along the fading skidder trails that lace the patch of forest above my home – an area I tend to explore when under winter’s deep snowpack, as I did back at the beginning of February – I was surprised to see I was not the first to visit this pool today.
Let’s take a closer look. This tree stump was covered in feathers – very fresh feathers. I’m assuming some carnivore – a fox, perhaps? – had used the stump as a dining table for consuming an unlucky member of the local avian population.
I’ve been fortunate to be out skiing five out of the past six days – the exception being the snowshoe day on Pico Peak – because the conditions have been so lovely. Last week the temps hovered around freezing most afternoons, softening the snow surface, but a dusting of fresh powder most nights have freshened-up the trails and skiing surfaces. Here are some photos from today’s ski tour in the outer reaches of Lyme.
Although the mountains still hold fantastic winter conditions, as I found last Thursday on Worcester Mountain, the immediate Hanover-Lyme area has little snow left. Our yard was still covered in an inch or two of old hard snow, but the neighboring woods were becoming largely bare. All that changed today, as a powerful nor’easter swept up the coast. We accumulated 8.5 inches of fresh white stuff, far less than what some saw down east – the coastal regions received a foot or two – but eight or nine inches is quite nice indeed. It was a bit warm here – topping the freezing point for the afternoon – so the snow is a bit wet. At higher elevation I hope to find deeper, lighter powder. Read on and check out the gallery of photos.
One of the cool things about skiing through the remote areas of northeastern Lyme, as I was early this morning after last night dusted the area with an inch or two of fresh powder, is the striking appearance of huge boulders in the middle of an otherwise uneventful patch of lowland forest. These boulders are likely glacial erratics, brought here long ago astride one of the slow-moving glaciers that flowed over this terrain during the last ice age.
Or maybe not; some of my readers have a geology background. Correct me if I’m wrong!
A bit further long the trail this morning was a more contemporary form of wildlife: a domestic dog, complete with matching winter coat, quietly and alertly watching me approach while he waited for his pet human to catch up from around the bend.
I returned to the hillside behind our house for another stroll this afternoon. This time I encountered a group of four deer, leaping off through the forest before I had a chance to capture a photograph. I also passed through an area with extensive deer activity, including two deer beds – shallow impressions in the snow where a deer had clearly slept overnight, leaving an icy patch where the snow had melted under her.
I also returned to the tracks I’d examined yesterday, now armed with the guidebook. It’s now pretty clear these are fox tracks, presumably red fox. Much harder to see in these photos than in the field, I’m afraid.
I try to reserve a bit of daylight, each day, to get out for a walk. When I’m especially busy, or lazy, I walk up the road and back, keeping an eye peeled for that bald eagle I saw over the river last week. But when I have a bit more time and energy, I don my pack and strike out up the steep hill on the other side of the road. These hills were formed several centuries ago when the Connecticut River was formed by the receding waters of the Pleistocene-era Lake Hitchcock, after the glaciers receded from what is now northern New England. The hillside is steep, but it’s a good chance to get my legs moving, to fill my lungs with fresh air, to follow my whims, and to see what I might find. What did I find out there today? read on.
For a few months I’ve been thinking of returning to Lambert Ridge, a ledgy section of the Appalachian Trail up Smarts Mountain, not far from here. The first section is steep, leading up to a series of granite ledges with broad views that belie the relatively low elevation at this point on the trail. The climb to these ledges is a worthwhile dayhike, and brings back memories. Read on!
Lyme is home to many hidden natural treasures. Trout Pond is one: nestled in the hills on the north side of town, at the end of a dirt road followed by a forest road and reached by a footpath, this small pond offers quiet respite from the bustling world outside its little valley. It’s not a long hike, nor a difficult climb, barely clocking in at 2 miles round-trip along a fairly level route, but it’s interesting in every season.
Today, the woods were entirely snow-free after the Christmas rainstorm, but there was a fresh dusting of powder along the exposed rocks and coating the skim of ice across the pond. A canoe and paddles, apparently left for anyone who wishes, rest on the shore where trail meets pond.
As noted by the page on TrailFinder, “The land around Trout Pond has been a working forest for some two centuries, while stone walls, foundations, and barbed wire seemingly swallowed by trees indicate that the western part of the tract had an agricultural history. By 1855, several families homesteaded in the area near the present trailhead. The Piper brothers, who ran a steam-powered sawmill near the outlet of Trout Pond, bought the timber lot in 1891. Two other sawmills on the brook also processed lumber that was probably cut in the Trout Pond Forest. A stack of hemlock bark, found on a ridge south of the pond, suggests this material was gathered for the leather tanning trade. By 1870, the Pliny Allen place had found its future as a cellar hole, and by 1946 so too the Gilbert/Smith place.”
I know little about black & white photography but decided to process these snaps of the pond in black & white because, well, this presentation seemed to fit the monochrome pond, gray sky, and dark forest. In contrast, here’s a photo of the trail along the shoreline:
Recent snow conditions appear to have been ideal for the creation of snow rollers, an extremely cool (but uncommon) phenomenon. I’ve only seen them once before. Yesterday, Andy and I drove past a roadside hill south of Windsor, VT that was decorated with literally hundreds of small snow rollers – a most impressive collection! Unfortunately, that stretch of VT Rt.44 has no safe place to stop, so we were unable to photograph any of those rollers.
Today, I was out for a walk on a neighborhood road along a steep hillside, and came across an old snow roller. In this photo I’ve increased the contrast and texture to help see it a bit better against the snowy background.
You can see the track it made as it rolled down the hill from left to right. This roller is not particularly impressive, about 8-10″ in diameter and somewhat melted from today’s warm temperatures. Below is a tight crop:
On Saturday and Monday (today) we went cross-country skiing, right here in Lyme. One of the wonderful things about our little town is that there are miles of beautiful skiing trails available to the public, thanks to the generosity of the landowners and the hard work of volunteers who maintain the trails in summer and groom the tracks all winter. It really is an incredible resource, especially in the covid era when activities outdoors in the fresh air are more important than ever.
I’m especially grateful to Kevin and the crew who maintain the Stone House Farm trails in downtown Lyme (where I skied today), and to Bob and the extensive network out at the Greens (where Andy skied today).
We went from zero snow to a solid base, in this recent storm. The conditions softened today, with temps exceeding 32ºF (gasp!), but were still a joy to ski. Sadly, the rest of the week will bring more warm temperatures and rain on Christmas Day. Let’s hope for little rain and then a new snowstorm to bring back the skiing soon!