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Just outside my door is a mossy forest, scattered with boulders as big as houses. A short walk leads me to a wide, crystal clear brook. It moves swiftly as it snakes through the rocky landscape, diving over granite ledges to form tiny waterfalls and deep pools.
In a dip of the land, I’ve found a swamp filled with towering cedar trees. And atop a nearby ridge is a stand of beech trees, cranking out nuts that feed the resident black bears.
I feel fortunate to have this chunk of wilderness to explore right in my backyard, especially right now. Over the past few weeks, as the world struggles through the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been working at home, exercising at home and entertaining myself at home. This has meant a lot of walks on my road and nearby snowmobile trail. I’ve also gotten into bushwhacking, with the assistance of a GPS device.
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Every day, my husband Derek and I try to get outside. And each time, we see — or hear — something new. Yesterday, we found a small square boulder piled on top of a much larger boulder. How did it get there? Did a glacier drop it off like that?
The day before, we stopped to listen to the haunting call of a barred owl. And earlier that day, I spotted a red-shouldered hawk circling above the lake below our house. I never would have noticed the bird if it hadn’t been squawking so loudly.
As you can imagine, our dog Oreo is over the moon about this change in our lives. By the end of the day, he’s usually coated with mud. He’s already decided it’s swimming season. And if there’s a way to climb a boulder, he finds it, as if he’s a mountain goat.
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So this week, instead of describing a hiking trail or some other public outdoor destination for my weekly column, I thought it was high time I wrote about the wilderness area I enjoy most often — the one right at my home, just a short drive from the booming metropolis of Bangor.
When my husband and I purchased our house a few years ago, several people including our realtor questioned our decision simply because the property is a bit “out there.” But it’s exactly what we want — especially me, if I’m being completely honest. Derek enjoys nature, but not to the caliber that I do.
As an example, this morning I woke to Derek calling to me from downstairs.
“There’s a huge woodpecker in the backyard,” he said.
In an instant, I was up. Bleary-eyed, I quickly changed the lens on my camera, then joined Derek at a window downstairs.
“Where?” I asked, searching in vain. “I don’t have my contacts in.”
He pointed the bird out to me, and I snapped a few photos before dashing outside in my pajamas, boots untied. When I finally came back inside, chilled to the bone, he said: “That’s the only thing that can always get you out of bed.” He knows me so well.
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Perched atop a hill in the woods, without a neighbor in sight, our home in the trees brings me joy every day, whether I wake up to a pileated woodpecker drumming on a tree in our back yard or come across a herd of white-tailed deer wandering down the road. I like that I share my space with songbirds, milk snakes and an incredible variety of moths.
I have never felt more lucky to live where I do, in the Maine woods. While these past few weeks have been difficult, being able to spend time outdoors every day has made this situation much more bearable for me. And observing nature — especially at a time when birds are returning and plants are sprouting — has helped me feel less alone during a time when social distancing is so important.
Because I’m continually exploring the same outdoor space, I’ve been noticing more changes in nature than ever before. So I started writing my observations in a nature notebook, just for fun.
Yesterday, I wrote about the first eastern phoebe I’ve seen this year, perching in the trees near my house. It’s a gray songbird that catches flies from the air. I always notice one or two hanging around the yard during the summer, but I didn’t realize they returned to Maine so early.
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Today, I jotted down a few notes about the pileated woodpecker — Maine’s largest woodpecker — that I photographed in my pajamas. Actually, there were two, drilling big holes in the trunks of dying birch trees. Maybe they were mates? The species is known to build their nests in tree cavities in late March or early April. I’d be overjoyed if the pair selected a tree near my house for that. I’m glad I kept my distance when photographing them, otherwise they may have been spooked off. No one likes a nosy neighbor.
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In the days ahead, I’ll keep an eye out for warblers returning south and clusters of frog eggs in woodland pools. I’ll listen for the call of loons returning to the nearby lake, and the chorus of spring peepers in the bog just down the road. While many things in this world have changed recently, I know I can count on these natural events that happen each spring.
While I love traveling Maine to discover new places, I’ve recently come to the realization that there’s truly no place like home.
For more of Aislinn Sarnacki’s adventures, visit bangordailynews.com/act-out. Follow Aislinn Sarnacki on Twitter: @1minhikegirl, and Instagram: @actoutdoors. Her guidebooks “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine,” “Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path” and “Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine” are available at local bookstores and wherever books are sold.