November 15 – a Maine event, pt. 2

My second full day in Maine, another sunny warm pleasant one.  In the afternoon, I went on a little drive to visit a friend who lives back in the woods between West Athens and Solon.  Compared to central Virginia, this part of Maine is far more sparsely populated, more dirt roads, more distance between homesteads.  The road coming out of West Athens has several old farmhouses, some of which are still working family farms.


The friend I was visiting makes his living as a wood cutter.  His mile-long driveway passes through many acres of forest land that he has been actively managing for several decades. Image

Lots of places where the forest has been partially cleared, leaving behind the most healthy, straight, and valuable timber for future cuttings.  It’s cool to see how a forest that has been managed for long-term economic returns can also be attractive and look ecologically healthy.  All of the bare white birch in the sunlight is also quite pretty.Image

Lots of tall, straight white pine that he cuts one at a time and mills right on the spot to use as needed.


When I was a kid, my father made a living as a central Maine landscape painter.  Many of his paintings were of the bare trees and gray skies of late fall and winter.  This shot reminds me of many of his paintings that I’ve seen over the years.


This long, low, moss-covered boulder looked like some sort of enormous green grazing mammal in the woods.Image

One of my favorite trees that grows in Maine but not in Virginia is the larch, known around here as the Tamarack tree.  It’s a coniferous tree whose needles turn orange and drop off right around the time the deciduous trees lose their leaves.  On this bit of the driveway, the needles of the larch cover the ground like orange snow.


It’s kind of strange to think that the last time I was in Maine, in the summer of 2012, it was before I had started learning to identify mushrooms.  I’ve often wondered how many times I walked right by oysters or other tasty edibles without recognizing them.  I spotted these oysters growing on a tree a couple hundred yards off of the road.  Unfortunately it was a bit too old and frost-damaged to be worth eating, but it’s interesting to see that they are growing in Maine at this season.


I took a slightly roundabout route home, that took me through a few more miles of central Maine forest land.  Lots of acres of trees out in this part of the world, and lots of acres of clearcuts.  The clearcuts are pretty ecologically awful, but they do make for some nice views.


Far off to the northwest, it’s possible to see the long high ridgeline of Bigelow Mountain, the third-tallest mountain in Maine, second second only to Katahdin in bulk.  Bigelow is more of a mini-range than a single mountain– the Appalachian trail traverses its two highest peaks, and there’s a very remote shelter in the saddle between the two where I once spent a chilly damp night many years ago.  Image

Looking north to what I believe is Moxie Bald Mountain, another peak crossed by the AT.


Another view, from a different clearcut.  This is definitely Moxie Bald.


South of West Athens, you see a mix of forest land and farms, lots of hayfields, corn fields, small dairy farms.  In this part of Maine, Athens seems to be the northern limit of farm country.  The homesteads in the ragged forest country north of West Athens definitely have a different character.  Many of the buildings are sporting camps, occupied just for a few weeks during the summer or during hunting season (which is actually going on right now).  The few year-round settlements along the road are fairly hardscrabble affairs, a level of material poverty that I rarely see outside of central Maine.Image

I imagine that this stretch of hardwoods must have been really spectacular a few weeks ago.  Even without their leaves, this line of bare trees is quite beautiful.Image

Although it hasn’t felt uncomfortably cold while I’ve been here, it has been chilly enough that this woods pond, shaded on its south side by a row of pines, remained frozen even on this mild day.Image

An active logging operation.  If you spend any length of time in the Maine woods, you will come across several of these.   When I was younger, it always really bothered me to see all of the ecological and aesthetic impact of the logging.  I guess I still don’t like to see such devastation in the forest, but I’ve got more of an appreciation of the needs of the folks here to make a living, and the needs of everyone for the wood and paper products that come out of these forests.  I still hate to see the big clearcuts, which stink of quick-buck greed and short-sighted mismanagement, but it’s a lot easier to accept selective cutting and smaller-scale operations like this one.


There are lots of big power line cuts in this part of the state.  When I was a kid, I used to go for long walks along the power lines.  I probably absorbed a lot of herbicides and electromagnetic radiation in the process.


The time for wildflowers is long past, but the meadows and clearings are full of old brown milkweed.  Their pods split open months ago, and as the plants dry out they release their cottony seeds into the wind.  The white seed clusters look almost like enormous dandelion heads.


as the sun dropped out of the sky, around 4 in the afternoon, a nearly full moon rose in the east.  Moonrise is one of the trickiest things to photograph without a fancy camera, so this photo gives a poor impression of this dramatic woodland scene.


Just north of my house, there are several low boggy spots in the forest like this.  They always seem like perfect locations to spot moose, and I have indeed seen several in this spot over the years; a few years back I narrowly avoided one that leapt out onto the road as I was driving past.  No moose this afternoon.


Driving directly east as the road climbs a hill right up into the moon.


As I approached my home, I saw tendrils of smoke curling through the trees.  For a moment, I had a wild thought that our old farmhouse had caught fire, but soon discovered it was just thick smoke from a neighbor’s chimney, a true sign of the season ’round here.



3 responses to “November 15 – a Maine event, pt. 2

  1. I always thought that Bob, more than anyone caught the modest beauty of this place with his paintings. I think you did a good job with your words,

  2. Thanks for the journey to a part of the world I’ve never seen.

  3. On my next journey to Maine I’ll spend some time traveling West Athens roads. I spend quite a bit of time passing the area and always think of your homestead when I drive through Norridgewock. I think there is a sign at an intersection that points to Athens. Our 100 acre woods, so close in Maine, yet we are so far apart. I hope to share Maine woodlot walks with you someday. Someday.

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