Clinging to bark, neon green lung lichen glistened with rain from the night before. A thick carpet of emerald moss covered the forest floor and crept up tree trunks. Overhead, the leafy canopy glowed against a white blanket of clouds.
“Everything’s so green,” I said to my friend Lauren as we approached the western slope of Schoodic Mountain in eastern Maine.
My dog Juno led the way, and I’m sure her nose told her all sorts of things about the forest that we humans would never know. A squirrel stash here, a deer trail there.
Colorful mushrooms dotted the forest floor — orange, red and yellow caps and corals. A hermit thrush filled the woods with its eerily beautiful song. Mosquitoes danced. And we hiked on, eager to explore a part of the state-owned Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land.
Sometimes you can’t wait for the perfect weather to go hiking. On that particular Saturday in June, the forecast called for cloudy skies and a potential for afternoon showers. With a steady breeze and temperatures in the 70s, it was gloomy but comfortable. The low cloud cover meant that Lauren and I wouldn’t enjoy any mountaintop views, yet we were determined to cover several miles of trail, breathe some fresh air and exercise our legs.
Lucky for us, the gloomy wilderness had its own special type of beauty.
Filled with giant boulders and twisting tree roots, the woods of Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land — which covers more than 14,000 acres — was like something out of a storybook. As the trail gained elevation, the terrain opened up with stretches of exposed bedrock and big patches of lowbush blueberries. Without the distraction of a view, we were drawn to wonders that were closer at hand — like the delicate yellow and red blossoms of loosestrife and the ghostly flowers of partridgeberry.
Atop the mountain, a communications tower appeared out of the fog — or were we wrapped in clouds? Wind whipped white bands of saturated air past us, and into us, dampening our clothes. For a moment I feared the stormy atmosphere would upset Juno, but she just trotted along, sipping out of bedrock pools.
Descending on a more northerly trail, we visited Schoodic Beach, a sandy stretch of shoreline on Donnell Pond between Schoodic and Black mountains. If it had been a sunny Saturday, I imagine the beach would have been packed. But the clouds and cool weather, I suspect, kept the number of visitors down that day. Still, a group of children played in the water. A camper lounged in a hammock. A family picnicked at a table. And we plopped down in the sand.
As Juno furiously dug a pit in the sand, Lauren and I snacked on trail mix and discussed the rest of our hike. Judging by Juno’s behavior, she had plenty of energy left, so we opted to hike Black Mountain before heading back to the parking lot. “Maybe we’ll get a view,” I offered, encouraged by the clouds parting to reveal a small patch of blue.
So we left the beach behind, using the trail map to guide us to Black Mountain Cliffs Trail. As we gained elevation, fog crept in once more, weaving through the tall, straight trunks of evergreens. In a mossy saddle between two of the mountain’s peaks, dozens of tiny moths rose from the ferns and fluttered about like little ghosts. I’d never experienced anything quite like it.
We didn’t get that view I’d hoped for. As we followed cairns to the East Peak of Black Mountain, clouds surrounded us, cloaking the surrounding mountains and ponds. I admit, it would have been great to enjoy the panorama offered by that peak on a clear day. I’d hiked the mountain twice before, so I knew how wonderful it was. But we still had an amazing hike, peppered with experiences that will stick with me.
It’s funny; sometimes it’s the hikes in less than ideal weather that dazzle us and remain vivid in our memories. I distinctly remember a rainy spring hike along the Little River Trail in Belfast, with my late dog, Oreo. The trail was a hallway of bright green, that special color of new leaves. The canopy sheltered us, and the river raged.
I also recall a rainy hike to the top of Mount Battie in Camden. Standing atop the historic stone tower at the summit, I looked out over the misty forest and the scene for some reason reminded me of the movie “Jurassic Park.” At any moment I expected a brontosaurus reaching its long neck up out of the canopy.
So my point is, don’t let a gloomy day keep you indoors. Keep in mind that rocks, roots and wooden bridges can be extra slippery when wet. Exercise caution. Wear boots with good tread and consider using a walking stick. Don a rain jacket and carry some dry layers of clothing in your pack. Then get outside. Maine’s beautiful, mossy forests await.