While many of us are frustrated that our favorite trailheads for hiking are overused right now, fresh options are available.
There has been enough rain that has fallen that streams are swollen and flowing strongly.
Maine is a very wet state. It’s been said that walking here for a straight-line mile in any direction will lead to water of some type, be it a river, stream, pond, lake or at this time of year vernal pool. One of my favorite activities the time of year is to follow streams in my neighborhood to trace their source, as well as walk them until they reach the sea.
I invited my friend Craig to join me in one of these microadventures after a strong rain. We walked out of my driveway and only had to venture a few hundred feet down the road until a large culvert was underneath us, swollen with clear, cold rainwater that came down off the South face of Moody Mountain. We both had on boots and gloves as it was a bit cold. Up we went, beside and in a meandering stream that passed along ancient stone walls, bordered by a lichen and moss encrusted forest floor that was alive with color and textures.
Wild walking is often punctuated by a shocking amount of fallen trees. This was an area where the only other visitors are hunters who venture these parts during deer season. I really enjoy the problem-solving of how to advance uphill, as we weave our way from one side of the stream to the next, moving around fallen giants and avoid thickly grown shrubs that would tear our clothing if we pushed through them.
At one point the stream took a 90 degree right turn as it fell through a gap in an ancient stone wall after the stream ran the length of the wall for fifty or so feet on the uphill side.
As Craig and I went further up, the stream began to peter out as it exited a large bowl-shaped ravine that was covered with a thick mantle of decades-old decomposing deciduous leaves. We couldn’t see it, but we could hear it trickling underneath our boots. There was still higher ground above so we continued up. Eventually, we spotted small pools that punctuated the increasing elusive stream bed, as we reached the high point of the ridge. We walked across an old logging road and then there it was- an actual pool that I thought was the source of the stream.
I was wrong. Craig pointed up to a adjacent massive wild blueberry field that gradually continued uphill to a higher point above the forest. As we walked up to a ledge that was the viewpoint of the expanse of Penobscot Bay, Craig pointed to numerous small depressions filled with rainwater and said, “This blueberry field is the start of the stream!”
The source pool below us was likely filled by water seeping down from under the thin mantle of organic material that was itself atop the igneous granite bedrock, which served as an impermeable layer that funneled it to our tiny pond.
This kind of natural history analysis is a form of forest forensics, a term I picked up from the work of Tom Wessels, from his book, Reading the Forested Landscape.
Also, this stream exploration idea was not mine. It’s actually from a chapter in Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes.
Note: Be sure that you seek permission from landowners to pass through their properties if there is any question at all about possible trespass. And do wear tall rubber boots, as it is often easier to just walk right up a stream rather than stumble along through impassable thickets.
If you decide to explore the source or reach the mouth of a stream, post it up !
In my next post, I’ll explain how the hiker can use heat maps to seek out places where there is more dispersed social distancing.