Tree-lined trail in autumn

Windy Ridge Trail — Fall

Welcome to the Windy Ridge trail. This trail takes you through upland areas of the Penquis Virtual Nature Center. It follows the upper ridgeline for some distance. It is better not to try this trail on cold, windy days. Remember the name. Just follow along and carry out any instructions you may get. Try to decide what you are hearing, smelling, touching, or feeling before going on to get the answer. If you want to test yourself, or play a game with yourself or someone else, keep track of your right answers. Ready to start? Remember, long files may take half a minute or so to download.

The summer is past. We’ve had some cool days and you know the leaves are turning. Your ride has decided to come with you since it’s a nice day. She may regret it by the time she’s walked up to the ridge and back, but, well, it’s her decision.

A strident buzzing (DVG) greets you. Your friend squeeks in alarm, but the yellow jacket has more pressing business in the fall than bothering humans.

Overhead you hear a familiar sound (DVG). It is familiar and somewhat sad. Summer really is over. “Hear that?” you ask. “Geese?” your friend asks. Right. She says, “Oh, I see them. But they’re not heading south. I think that is more westish.” You explain that there is a lot of movement back and forth as the geese follow air currents and seek feeding spots, but that the general direction will be south.

You carry on, the path tending upward. Here’s another your friend will know.

“A black-capped chickadee,” she says. “It’s Maine’s state bird.” You smile at her and let her know you’re pleased.

Another sound stops you. Back in the direction of the nature center you hear a familiar voice. This one everyone knows. You listen for a moment. Your budding naturalist shouts “Crow!”. And a moment later she identifies the crow’s cousin. “Bluejay!”. She really is learning things.

You check the sides of the trail for trees. Here is one. Bark peeling in long sheets. Obviously a birch. But which one? A search locates a small branch, and you scratch it. Wintergreen smell. Must be a yellow birch. You feel for a leaf. Almost palm size and uneven at the base.

“OK, what’s this?” you ask. Your friend puzzles for awhile. “A birch?” she asks, tentatively. You tell her it is and explain how to identify the species. She is back to being impressed with your expertise, so you compliment her on how much she’s learned.

You have now reached the ridge tops. It’s windier here as always, but not too bad today. That one is familiar to you, but not to your friend. You tell her about red-tailed hawks and how this one will probably be heading for the coast or farther south for the winter.

Soon you come to a choice point. This is the end of the short loop of the Windy Ridge Trail. You can head on back to the lobby where it is warm and you can brag a bit, or you can go back to the trail heads. Or you can continue on with this trail. What do you wish to do? Better check with your friend.

You’ve decided to continue with the Trail.

There is a definate sighing of foliage from your right, just off the trail. You feel with your cane and find a branch. Must be a small tree. Your hand closes on it. Hmmm. It is an evergreen with short, stiff four-sided or round needles growing singly. That should tell you.

Stiffish fat needles growing singly. Short. It has to be a spruce. White spruce is uncommon here, but you crush the needles to test. Oops, smell of recently-used cat box. It is a white spruce after all. Maybe the same tree you’ve found before. “Ugh!” your friend says when you let her smell it.

Next your cane locates a tree, and you decide to check it out. The bark is sort of thin flakes. Feels like red pine You reach up, but the bark remains consistent as far up as you can reach. You find several clusters of dry needles on the ground. They are all in twos and finger-lengthy. Definately a red pine. You know there are some up here from previous trips.

From the branches above you comes a song (long)(MIST). Must be the purple finch. They always seem to be right about here. Your friend hasn’t even heard it when you ask. You head on down.

You hear something from the low branches. Cardinal. You remember them as being beautiful, but you scarcely noticed them until you could no longer rely on vision to detect birds. Now there seem to be lots of them. You identify it for your friend and tell her to look for the bird. She finds it and squeals with delight, and then is sad because she scared him away in her excitement.

The drowsy sound (DVG) of bees comes from the garden at the center. Must be a few asters and other things still blooming, and the warm day has brought out the bees. That’s not the only thing it has brought out. “Turtle!” exclaims your friend. “What does it look like?” you ask. “Well, it’s about the size of my hand. The shell looks really rough, and it’s got yellow on its neck and legs.” You were pretty sure you knew what it was this far from water, anyway, and her description confirms it. “Wood turtle,” you tell her.

Back to the starting point. Go inside or take another trail? That is the question. Wish all life’s problems required decisions as painless as that.

Created July 21, 2003

image: Pexels

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