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White pines sprouting along a trail at Pearl Brook

The woods around here have suffered a lot of damage over these past few years – ice storms and windstorms have taken their toll. After the ice storm of 2009, it seemed everywhere I went the woods were hip-high in fallen trees and branches.

I wondered how they would ever recover, and what they would look like in a few years.

Overall, the woods are looking in good shape. Most trails have been cleared or re-routed, in many cases the work of dedicated volunteers.

As for the trees, New England’s forests are resilient. They experience these kinds of damaging storms on the order of once a decade or so. The downed trees and branches have opened up the canopy, letting in the sunlight touching off a burst of new growth.


A sure sign of a bear in the neighborhood

I was out for a walk this morning along my favorite loop through the fields and into the swamp behind my house when I came across an interesting sight.

The trunk of a decaying pine tree had been shredded of its bark all along one side, up to a height of about 7 feet. The top of the tree had broken off in one of our recent wind/ice storms, but this shredding was fresh, and had nothing to do with the weather.

It could only mean one thing. We have a bear in the neighborhood.

Not that this should come as any great surprise. There have been plenty of sightings in the area, thanks to a population boom among black bears here. Just not so close.

The new snow covered up any other signs, but the shredding was evidence enough.

Black bears will tear up a decaying tree for two reasons. First, they’re looking to feed on any bugs that are living under the bark. Second, they may be marking their territory. It could mean he’s not just passing through. On the other hand, it’s unlikely that he’s hiding somewhere ready to jump out and scare me.

Black bears can have a home range of 20 to 175 square miles, and they usually have a number of regular routes they follow as they forage for food. He could be anywhere by this time.

As I continued on my walk, I looked for tracks and other signs, but there weren’t any, so he may have moved on along his way. With these cold temperatures, he may have denned up somewhere to wait until it warms up again. If that happens, maybe I’ll get a chance to track him.

Score one for the Big Guy.

This week the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bigfoot’s right to be filmed on Mount Monadnock.

It all started in September of 2009 when Keene artist and film-maker Jonathan Doyle walked around Monadnock dressed up in a Gorilla suit and some friends filmed hikers’ reactions, and interviewed some of them. It was a You-Tube hit, so they decided to go back to make another film.

This time the Park Rangers stepped in and told them they were regarded as a “special event” and didn’t have the necessary permit. To get it, they would have had to apply 30 days in advance, and post a $2 million bond.

Keep in mind this was just five or six friends, not a Hollywood production company.

Doyle took the matter to court, arguing the regulation infringed on his right of free speech, and Friday, the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed, saying that the regulation was overly broad, and therefore violated several constitutional provisions.

By the way, after last week’s posting I did a little research and found there have been a few Bigfoot sightings in central New England over the past few years. Some snow-mobilers report seeing a Bigfoot-like creature in the woods of Ashburnham. There was also a sighting in Uxbridge, on the Rhode Island-Massachusetts border, and a woman driving through Bear Brook State Forest, New Hampshire, reports seeing a similar creature crossing the road in front of her.

On the west side of Mount Wachusett, I once came across the barefoot-print of a child’s foot in a patch of soft mud. It was in the middle of a trail in fairly rough terrain – rocks, roots, etc. – not along a pond or stream where someone might have been wading… hmmm….

Bigfoot in a classic photo

Today’s Sentinel and Enterprise has a front page story about a local couple who have a plaster cast of a footprint they say came from Bigfoot, or at least a Bigfoot-like creature. They say they were walking in the woods in Leominster State Forest – the same area I wrote about last week – in the summer of 2010 when they heard a crashing in the underbrush.

They thought it was a deer, but when they walked through the area, they came across fresh, sizeable, prints of a humanlike bare foot. With the help of a friend, they returned to the spot and took a plaster cast. Their claim is going to be featured on an Animal Planet program tonight.

Where to go with this?

First, Bigfoot – if he exists – is generally considered to be native to the Pacific Northwest, though sightings occur from time to time elsewhere. Most prove to be hoaxes. Others are at least suspicious. I once read about a study that showed Bigfoot sightings in the northwest coincide with periods of peak liquor sales in the region.

Maybe just a coincidence.

There were Bigfoot sightings on Mount Monadnock a few years ago. This turned out to be a character in a film being shot by a New Hampshire artist and film-maker.

A lot of wildlife experts insist there is no population of mountain lions in New England, but sightings continue, and one that was recently killed in Connecticut has been shown to have traveled more than a thousand miles to get here. And I never would have thought there were wild Russian Boars in the New England woods, but there are – descendants of escapees from a private game preserve.

It’ll be interesting see how this plays out.

ImageAs so often happens, I didn’t find what I was looking for, but I found something better instead. I was in the southwest corner of Leominster near the Princeton line, well past where I had expected to find a trail I wanted to explore. At a sharp curve in the road, there was a gate to what looked like a trail or fire road, and a sign.

I stopped to take a look and found it was an entrance to a part of the Leominster State Forest. There was even a box with trail maps. I couldn’t believe my luck. There’s nothing I like better than exploring a trail I’ve never been on. Just the sort of thing I was in the mood for.

I walked along what was the main path though there were no markers. Several smaller trails branched off to either side. Consulting the map, I found that while the area around Crow Hill Pond was lavishly detailed, the area where I found myself was pretty sketchy. Still I kept following the trail – it was pretty well-worn so it obviously gets a lot of use.

The trail went through a large stand of Red Pine, and I couldn’t decide if these had been planted or if this was a wild stand. Notown Reservoir and another reservoir are nearby, and Red Pine has been commonly planted around reservoirs.

I came to a brook (according to the map it must have been Bartlett Pond Brook), crossed it at a footbridge, and took a trail that seemed to follow the brook. Looking at the map, there are several roads indicated as passing through this section of forest. I eventually came to a wider path, an old wagon or cart path, and decided to use it to loop back toward my car. Again according to the map, this must have been Bartlett Road.

That’s when I came upon the cab of the truck in the picture. That’s all it was, just the cab. No motor, tires, or any other part of the body, just sitting there in the middle of the woods by the side of the path. Continuing on, I found another trail that took me back to where I had started.

I’ll definitely come back another time and go deeper into this part of the forest.



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