Feathers Over Freeport, Maine

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We had a great time at the Feathers over Freeport birdwatching weekend at Bradbury Mountain State Park today. We got to see some birds close up, learn about an owl that hunts during the day (the snowy owl), make our own binoculars, hike to the summit to spot some broad-winged hawks, and, of course, get some quality time on the playground. It was a day to remember!

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Five of Hearts with her custom-made binoculars.

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The tally board keeping track of all the birds passing by overhead.

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And no visit to Bradbury Mountain State Park is complete without visiting the playground.

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An Epic Earth Day

Three years ago we began the tradition of hiking to a waterfall to celebrate Earth Day. This year we even planned in advance researching a Five Star hike from New England Waterfalls: A Guide to More Than 400 Cascades and Waterfalls. With our Earth Day cookies packed as an after hike treat we drove north to Andover, Maine in anticipation of a fantastic Earth Day adventure exploring Dunn Falls.

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Unfortunately the day, while definitely memorable, wasn’t as fantastic as we had all envisioned  While we were adequately prepared for spring hiking conditions we underestimated the amount of snow that would still be on the ground in northern Maine. In fact the large snowbanks along the road made finding the trailhead virtually impossible and it took several trips up and down the road before we noticed the small sign marking the entrance to the trail.

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Once everyone was outfitted and out of the car  we were so excited to begin the hike that we forged ahead without adequately assessing the snow covered trail or the swollen “stream” that it ran along. We were all having so much fun watching the water cascade and marveling at the ice formations that we were caught off guard when the trail suddenly jumped to the other side of the “stream”. Still caught up in the euphoria of our surroundings we decided to use a downed tree to scoot over the water.

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Once safely on the other side we stopped for a snack break and took the time to reread the trail description and look over the accompanying map. It was then that we started to realize that either the description in the guide was incorrect or the spring conditions were making the trail harder to read then usual. Was the raging water that we were marveling at what the guidebook described as a small stream or was it the Ellis River? Not ready to throw in the towel just yet we decided to keep heading forward on the 2 mile loop trail.

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Then we came to another crossing much wider and deeper before. The guidebook made no mention of these crossings but we were following a blazed trail and were still determined to complete our hike and see the falls. So, this time we stacked rocks across the shallowest parts of water and carried the kids across on our backs. Only to reach the other side somewhat soggy and come face to face with a nearly vertical, snow covered incline that we affectionately named “Moose Slide”. It was at this point that we all began to despair. Was this hike going to get the best of us? Why wasn’t the trail map lining up with what we were seeing? Were we ever going to see the glorious white blazes of the Appalachian Trail that would bring us back to our car? Would our faces end up on the 11 o’clock news?

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Luckily for us the moose who had recently climbed the trail left deep footprints that we could use to pick our way up the trail with the boys on our backs and Five of Hearts scrambling from hoof-print to hoof-print like a true super hero. Finally at the top we were rewarded with views of a gorgeous waterfall and the even more rewarding site of a trail marker which allowed us to get our bearings and confidently head back to our car.

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I would like to say that the 0.7 miles back to the car was smooth and enjoyable. Unfortunately we had to cross two more very swollen bodies of water and help three exhausted young kids through soft spring snow that makes you slip, slide, and fall a lot. However, we all made it back in one piece and enjoyed a picnic in the snow fully appreciating the Earth and all the wonderful surprises that it has in store for us.

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In the end, we definitely underestimated the challenges of this particular spring hike. Stream beds that would normally be dry were raging with water, and the deep snow pack made climbing the hills quite a challenge. While it wasn’t exactly a relaxing or stress-free Earth Day, it is certainly one we will all remember for a long, long time to come.

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Slackline with a View

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Being a family on the fly, we need to be pretty choosy about the toys that travel with us. They need to be compact, fun for the whole family, and something that won’t get tossed aside after a few weeks. We recently discovered such an item through the Sparkling Adventures blog.  Imagine a portable tightrope that can be quickly and easily strung between two sturdy anchor points (i.e. trees) at a height just a foot or two off the ground. Called a slackline, it promises unlimited fun for the young and less-young alike. We got exactly what we bargained for when the Gibbon Classic Slackline we ordered finally arrived.

With our slackline in tow, we soon headed out to find a suitable place to walk the line. We first used the flagpole and laundry line pole in the backyard, and cranking the ratchet a few times it was ready to go in a matter of minutes. The surf was pounding a few blocks away though, and we soon decided to scout for a place right on the beach. A sturdy fence post and jack pine tree were perfectly placed for our next not-quite-high flying trip. Admittedly, we all needed someone nearby to help us balance, and some of us took the the sky more naturally than others, but overall we loved the challenge and couldn’t get enough of our new 49-foot fun rope.

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In the end, the allure of climbing a nearby seawall proved to be too strong to resist for the younger Fives, and they soon were conquering even loftier heights. In addition to climbing and jumping, “Mt. Fiji” had an impressive network of hollow spaces between the rocks that made excellent caves. We soon got used to seeing Five Ball and Five of Hearts disappear for minutes at at time only to pop out at some unexpected place in the wall. And best of all, Five String and Five Spice didn’t need to crawl in after anyone.

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As the tide started to come in, we eventually retreated from our place on the beach. Walking home, we couldn’t help scanning every tree, pole, and post we passed as a potential slàckline anchor. I guess it’s safe to say we’re officially hooked and will probably never look at a fence post the same way ever again.

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Of Buoys and Baseball

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The weather has been climbing into the 60s here in Maine, and we have been trying to take full advantage. We recently ventured out to Vaughn Island in Kennebunk, separated from the mainland by a tidal stream that can be crossed at low tide.

The Crossing

Our Maine Gazetteer assured us that we could easily cross the tidal stream for three hours on either side of low tide, so we were feeling confident as we parked along the shore about an hour before the low water mark. Getting across was not quite the cut and dry trek we had expected. To be specific, the water came up to Five Spice and Five String’s knees, which, to say the least, feels refreshing at the end of October. We ferried the younger fives across to reach our destination, and they were more than eager to lose their wet footwear and go barefoot for the remainder of the day.
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Tidal Pools

The Vaughn Island shoreline offered countless tide pools for us to explore and rocks to climb. We found clusters of sea snails, a bed of oysters stranded by the tide, and even a type of bivalve we’ve never seen before. The variety of the beach itself was impressive as well. We found sand beaches, rocky out-cropings, and pebble shores all within a few steps of one another. In fact, the shore proved so interesting and varied that none of the younger fives were drawn to splashing in the water itself, which is a rare event indeed.
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Buoy Baseball

After lunch we needed a stretch of sorts, so we converted some stranded lobster buoys into a “bat” and “ball.” While the field was not exactly up to regulation, we had a blast sending the buoy flying and rounding the sandy bases. We also discovered that buoys can make fine hobby horses. Who knew there were so versatile?
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Pebble Sledding and Farewell

The highlight of the kids’ day turned out to be getting dragged through pebbles. One part of the beach had a think layer of smooth rounded rocks sloping down to the water, and Five Spice had the inspired idea to pull the younger fives by the feet down the slope. They beach soon looked like a sledding hill, with a deep groove for a sledding run and kids trudging up the hill for another ride. Finally though, with the “ski-lift operator” getting tired and the tide rising, we knew we had to head back ashore. Our fun had made us lose track of time, and we were unprepared for the waist-deep crossing back to the car. Fortunately, the warm October sun worked its magic and we hardly noticed the soggy apparel on the ride home.
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