Seriously, Leave No Trace

I truly love going into the wilderness. There are few, if any, places left in Maine where someone can say that no one has been, so it’s nice to feel that when you do get a chance to go somewhere new, and wild to you, that it feels as wild and untouched to you, as it did to the person who got to experience it beforehand.

That’s why I get kind of sad, and then really mad, when I see things that shouldn’t be there, like the 40 year old beer cans in our pristine pond where native brook trout reside and that we fish for. Even after all that time, those aluminum beer cans still stand out from the bottom of the pond as a glaring inconsideration for the water, fish, environment, and all the fisherman who’ve had to see it. Back in those days, fisherman would drink their beer, and throw their cans in the water as casual behavior. In this day in age, when adults, for certain know better, I continue to see popular shiny-blue beer cans on the roadside…undoubtably those riding the roads trying to rid the evidence of drinking and driving. Yeah, we’ve seen a few drunk drivers in our time, but up in the wild, law enforcement are seen few and far between. So goes the saying to do as you would as if someone is watching you.

When we first started making the wilderness a regular destination, we hardly ever met a vehicle on our trips, but over the past twenty years, as more urbanites flock to the woods in escape of Covid and the stresses of the world, they also are bringing along some bad behavior.

Now on top of the Appalachian Trail hikers, we have the entire Bigelow Range being hiked and then Maine Huts and Trails also began courting tourists with concierege service while hiking, biking and eating gourmet meals and wine. With this onslaught of urbanites, our “untouched” wilderness is beginning to feel just a bit crowded, which is okay as long as they behave.

We see a lot of hikers because our beloved pond is also part of the Appalachian Trail. One of the biggest messaging campaigns I’ve ever seen regarding protecting our special wild places is “Leave No Trace.”

The Appalachian Trail has posted signs designating approved campsites and asking people to leave the site as if no one has ever been there.

How hard can that be?! After all, it’s basically pack out what you pack in, bury your waste and toilet paper, but most important, leave things undisturbed.

People seem to forget this last one. I am forever seeing stacked rocks in the oddest places. I understand that stacking rocks was originally used as directional guides to mark a trail for hikers, but most of the time, it’s simply someone thinking it’s something cool to leave behind. Some critics have even called this grafitti…and I think they are right.

Stacking rocks, called cairns, is a no-no in my book. And it’s a no-no in a lot of places, and it’s actually illegal in all national parks such as Acadia and Zion National Park.

When we made our first trip out onto the pond this spring, I was more than annoyed when I saw a teepee structure made from driftwood right on the Appalachian Trail, and not far from the actual lean-to that is the designated camping spot. It wasn’t like the person building it needed a place to sleep. And one of the the leave not trace rules are to not expand the campsite.

Even nature knows how to leave no trace.

Last year, we came upon a flock of turkey vultures feasting on a carcass. The carcass turned out to be a young bull moose that had been hit by a car. It had a broken leg and its foot had become tangled in a tree root. The thought of what this moose had to endure in its last minutes of life was sad, and all because someone couldn’t slow down. We had seen the collision signs on the road and the moose hadn’t traveled far before succumbing to its injuries.

The first week we watched as the birds ate the eyes, nose and gut of the moose.

The second week, coyotes and who knows what other predators had a feast leaving just the skull, rib cage, shoulder blades and leg bones with flesh still intact. The stink was incredible and any thoughts of retrieving a scapula for future moose hunts quickly vanished with retching and watery eyes.

The third week there only remained a stain and discoloration on the ground where the moose had been. There were a few scattered bones with no flesh left, and for the most part, the moose and the stink were gone.

A year later and the moose is a mere memory and a couple photos. We were only able to find the few remnants of some vertebrae on the edge of the woods.

If you love the wilderness as much as we love it, I hope you’ll take the time to leave no trace…or at least please don’t litter, stack rocks, or make shelters out of driftwood unless you absolutely need to in order to survive.

I’d like to say, treat it as your own, but let’s face it. It’s not yours, so don’t ruin it for everyone else. Get outdoors and enjoy it, and remember what you love about it, and leave it that way for the next person. With so little wilderness left, let’s all make an effort to keep it at least feeling like wilderness even if there are way more people around than you like.

Happy Summer!

Florida Adventures for a Maine Girl – Part III

Alligators In My Backyard!

Everyone knows Florida has alligators. The last two times we went to Florida, we visited Gatorland in Orlando to see alligators up close. Gatorland is located in the bird corridor which means when it’s spring, the migrating birds lay nests of eggs throughout the property. Gators linger beneath the nests hoping for a quick meal from a fledgling misstep.

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While the alligators were still interesting, the swamp walk was even better. The one thing I can say is that in Maine, you can just go out into the woods with no worries. It’s a lot harder to encourage that in Florida because everywhere around you there is something that wants to eat you, bite you or chase you.

The swamp walk at Gatorland has been the highlight of our trips not because of the swamp, but because of what’s in the swamp. There are species of plants and animals not found in Maine. Geckos galore. The green ones are native and the brown ones invasive; and 90% of the geckos seen are brown.IMG_20160422_134821371_TOP

One animal in particular that makes our adventure an adventure ….is the snake. Lots of snakes…And this Maine girl does not like snakes at all! However, seeing snakes with caution is entirely different than looking at them through a glass partition. I get to challenge my fear while still feeling safe…somewhat. The board walk is roughly four to five feet wide with minimal railings, but the message is clear: Stay on the boardwalk and watch out for snakes and what ever you do. Don’t touch them or try to catch them. They can be nasty and most are poisonous. Duly noted!

I wasn’t that close…thanks to the zoom on my cell phone, they look a lot closer than I really was.¬†

The first time we did the walk in 2011 we found about five snakes. Only one was what I would consider big. It was a copperhead and I still shudder when I remember seeing it because when I finally spotted what everyone was looking at, I was WAY closer than I should have been…and Mr. Snake was looking at me at only about five feet away.

So this time, I used a bit more caution. I would spot a snake, but I was content seeing it NOT move. I made mention that one of them looked dead because there was no movement. Wrong thing to say. The son found great pleasure in watching snakes jolt and scurry from a good blast of air on its back¬† (he’d literally blow a gust of air on them to make them move) and me making my noises short of a scream of “please don’t let it come my way.”

Luckily the snakes were only seen in the swamp walk. Alligators on the other hand were where I least expected them. In the little pond by our hotel where the guests walk their pooches. I laughed when I first saw the sign, but then another guest informed us that not only are there bass, turtles and birds in the water there are gators.

Sure enough, we finally got to see him…uhmmm them….yup two gators showed up daily. I still can’t believe there was an apartment complex on the other side of the pond and it’s obvious kids live there from seeing the power wheels vehicle parked outside. Yet, not one single resident ever showed themselves outside their apartments. So much for spending $79 to see gators at Gatorland. They were free for the looking in our backyard though probably not as entertaining. I’m glad I can say there are no such animals in my backyard in Maine. For more pics of the gators and snakes we’ve seen, go to MyMainelyGirlAdventures Facebook page.