I don’t know why, but for the last two or three months I’ve had the urge to go places I’ve never been and see things I’ve never seen. Recently I walked into a forest in Winchester, New Hampshire, which lies south of Keene on the way to Northfield, Massachusetts to see a waterfall called Pulpit Falls.
The directions weren’t the best; follow an old logging road until you hear running water, and then bushwack your way upstream until you see a waterfall. In other words, once I left the logging road there was no trail-just me and the woods.
Being so late in the year there was little actual bushwacking to do. What few shrubs grew near the stream were easily skirted. Since there was no trail the meandering stream became the trail.
Mountain Laurels (Kalmia latifolia) grew here and there. These native shrubs often grow in large impenetrable thickets that are always best to walk around rather than through. This place must be beautiful in the summer when the laurels are covered with pink and white blossoms. Native Americans used to make their spoons out of the wood, which is why it is also called spoon wood. This plant was first recorded in this country by the Swedish / Finnish botanist Peter Kalm in 1624.
We’ve had such a dry summer that the falls themselves weren’t much to write home about, if indeed this was them. But, easily seen was evidence that this small stream could become a raging torrent several yards across. I’ve seen pictures of the falls when the stream is running like that and it would be worth the hike to see it. I’ll come back during the spring rains, if we have them.
Upstream from the falls, the stream appears from under these huge pieces of stone. The biggest of them was as big as a delivery truck. I didn’t see anything that looked like a pulpit, so I’m not sure where the name Pulpit Falls came from. Uphill above these boulders was nothing but forest-no stream or any sign of a stream, so it must go underground somewhere uphill and then reappear here. What bothers me is that this area doesn’t look like the pictures I’ve seen. The rocks are much flatter than round in those pictures.
A thin shaft of sunlight fell through the trees and lit up this fern as if it were on a Broadway stage. It was growing on a boulder at the side of the stream and I think it was a polypody fern, also known as rock cap fern. These ferns are evergreen.
The clubmosses here were covered with fruiting “clubs” where spores are produced. I think this is common ground pine (Lycopodium dendroideum) which is native and which the U.S.D.A. lists as rare. The people at the U.S.D.A. have obviously never hiked through the woods of New Hampshire, because this plant is everywhere now. It was once endangered after being over collected for use as Christmas greenery. The dried spores of this plant were also once used in photography as flash powder before flashbulbs were invented.
I found a tree branch on the ground that was covered with lichens, so I put it on this mossy boulder and took a picture. I think the larger hairy examples are bristly beard lichens (Usnea hirta.) The others are foliose lichens that I don’t recognize.
On my way home from the falls I stopped to get a few pictures of a local hill that has had its heart torn out by a construction company, which crushes the rock and sells it. To give you an idea of how massive this really is-the “shrubs” on top of the hill in the upper left hand corner are actually white pine trees (Pinus strobus.) White pines can grow to around 160-190 feet tall are the tallest trees in eastern North America, but the youngsters in the photo were probably closer to 100 feet.
You know it’s cold when stone doesn’t absorb enough heat from the sun to melt the ice that clings to it. But at least we saw some sunshine!
If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere ~Frank A. Clark
Thanks for stopping by.