And now I’m a thousand miles north of good ol’ central Virginia. My mother has been having some health problems, so I’ve flown up to Maine for the week to help her shut down our old 19th century farmhouse, pack her belongings, and escape northern New England before winter closes its icy grip (and, of course, do some natural obervatin’ in the north woods).
On Wednesday morning, I flew from Richmond to Portland, and an old friend who I hadn’t seen in far too many years conveyed me the rest of the way up to Athens, two hours due north. This was my first time being in Maine in November since my family moved away when I was six. I have spent many summers here, made a handful of snow-covered mid-winter visits, and come up a couple of times to enjoy the October leaf-fest, but this is the first time I’ve had occasion to experience this season.
Initially, I was somewhat surprised that the temperature, at least in Portland, was not all that different than it had been when I left Louisa. But as we drove north, it was immediately apparent that the season is much farther along than Virginia. There is virtually no hint of fall color left in Maine, just the dark green of the abundant pine and the gray and white of bare deciduous trees. Here’s a shot along the Chapman Ridge on the way to my family’s farmhouse.
The driveway to our farmhouse is located right at the spot where the paved road turns to dirt. It has always felt like we lived right at the precise spot where the mixed farm-and-forest countryside to the south transitions into the great north woods to the north of us. From our 100-acre homestead, it would be possible to walk all the way to Canada–several hundred miles to the north– and cross a single paved road.
For most of my childhood, our farmhouse was equipped for four-season habitation. I spent my first six winters here, and years after my family moved to Florida, my mom and brother came back and spent six more winters in the house. It’s been many years, however, since anyone spent a full winter here. The pine tree in the yard was planted right after I was born, its growth rings matching my own. The lilac on the right, I’ve been told, is one of the most impressive specimens in the county, although I haven’t been around to see it in bloom in many years.
When I was a kid, our 100-acre farm was about half fields and about half forest. In the 40 years we’ve owned the property, most of the fields have gone back to a wild state, and we only maintain a few clearings here and there, a few acres around the house that we have mowed each spring. Over the years, the forest edge has become quite pretty.
On my first day in Maine, I did a little bit of wandering around the woods, I hope to do more while I’m up “in the country.” In the past few years, we’ve been selectively logging a lot of our forested acres, in order to cover property taxes and to provide better growing conditions for some of the more valuable timber. Still, there is a lot of forest land that hasn’t been cut for many years. On this trip, as on many other trips to Maine, I have been surprised at how slowly trees grow in Maine, as opposed to the relatively tropical conditions of Virginia. Many of these trees are older than me, but they’re still less than a foot in diameter, whereas at Twin Oaks, there are 20-30 year old oaks and maples twice their girth.
The weekend before I came up, central Maine had its first snowfall of the year. I was surprised to see that patches of snow and ice remained here and there, especially in places where it didn’t melt in contact with the ground.
During the summer, our swimming hole has provided many hours of fun and relief from the (relative) heat. On this trip, the creek was partially iced over, and the dam had collected a layer of debris and unappealing foam. Not in the least bit enticing.
As soon as I got into central Maine, I started noticing these polypore mushrooms growing on the birch trees. Not surprisingly, they’re called “Birch Polypore”. I did a bit of internet research on this species, and came across this cool blog post about the mushroom.
Here’s another photo from one of our back fields that over the years I’ve tried to keep from being entirely reclaimed by the forest. Most of the meadow plants are dead by this point, with lots of brown milkweed plants still clinging onto scraps of cottony seedhead.
One of the oddest things to get used to about being in Maine is how incredibly early we lose light. Maine is not only about a thousand miles north of Twin Oaks, it’s also at the far eastern edge of the Eastern time zone. Which means that at this time of year, the long slow sunset begins at about 3:30, and it’s pitch dark before 5:00, more than a full hour earlier than in Virginia. Here’s a photo from Thursday afternoon, looking west out to the distant western Maine mountains (I think that it’s Saddleback Mountain right in the center), many miles away. On the right side are the New Vineyard mountains, a little bit closer, and furthest to the right is Mount Blue. I am hoping to get to do a bit of exploring in the north woods while I’m here, but given the shortness of the trip and the amount of packing and preparation I have to do, I’m not sure how much time I’ll have for lengthy excursions.