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As the leaves fall there is much revealed in the forest that was hidden just a short time ago, and lichens are a big part of that revelation. Lichens are all around us but they’re one of those things that are so easy to miss unless we happen to be looking for them. Most people seeing this photo would probably say “Oh yes, I see lichens all over the stones in the stone wall.” But what about the tree? That’s a shagbark hickory tree and they have gray, not white bark. The white is a lichen called, appropriately enough, whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena.) This lichen is usually found on the bark of hardwood trees and is fairly common. It makes the tree look as if it has been painted white, and that’s where its common name comes from. They can be greenish white, silvery, or bright white.

But you wouldn’t have been wrong in pointing out the lichens on the stone wall because it is covered with them, among them rock greenshield lichens (Flavoparmelia baltimorensis.) This lichen always looks like melted candle wax to me. It is very common in this area and is another of those bits of nature that you see so often they no longer register.

Peppered rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) likes to grow on stone in full sun and I find a lot of them on stone walls like the one pictured in that first photo. They’re a good introduction to lichen study because their brown apothecia, where their spores are produced, are large and easy to see without aid. Lichens are made up of a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. Technically apothecia are “fungal reproductive structures, in which the fungus reproduces itself through the production of spores” This is not the only way that lichens reproduce, but it is common and the apothecia are often beautiful and well worth watching for.

Another lichen common to stone walls is the sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s very yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine.

Sulfur dust lichens are kind of granular in texture. If you’re lucky you can sometimes find them with fruiting bodies (apothecia) but more often than not I see them when they aren’t producing spores, like this example.

If you spend time walking along old stone walls eventually you’ll see a stone with a splash of bright orange on it and it will probably be the sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima,) so called because it is a lime lover and grows on concrete sidewalks, which have lime in them. When you see it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it too. This stone looks like granite to me but it is almost completely covered by it.

A closer look at this example of the sidewalk firedot lichen showed it was made up of mostly irregularly shaped fruiting bodies, so it was making plenty of spores. It was raining just a short while before I took this photo so it was also still wet. Lichens are at their best when they are wet because that’s when they’ll show their true colors and size, so that’s when serious lichen hunters look for them. A misty or drizzly day is perfect.

I know of an old stump that has more British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) growing on it than I’ve ever seen in one place. Old rotted logs and stumps are the perfect places to find them and their bright red color makes them relatively easy to spot.

Even I can see this shade of red, and I’m colorblind.

If you see a tree with growths like this on it you really should take a closer look, because there are some amazing things going on here.

One of the things going on in the tree in the previous photo is what is happening on this star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris.) Its apothecia are a good example of how colors can change, even on the same lichen. This lichen has dark brown apothecia that are often pruinose. Pruinose refers to the white, waxy, powdery coating on the apothecia. You’ve no doubt seen examples of this waxy “bloom” on blueberries and plums. I’ve noticed by watching lichens that have pruinose apothecia that the coating can reflect light in different ways, sometimes appearing gray and at other times more blue, and sometimes even black. The apothecia on this lichen show a range of colors, from brown to light blue. The way the sunlight strikes it has a lot to do with its colors, so sometimes you have to visit a lichen more than once to understand it.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) are uncommonly beautiful. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone, in this case slate. It’s a very artistic lichen and I like the patterns that it makes. I see it on gravestones quite often. It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that, at high magnification, the body of the common goldspeck lichen looks like it’s made up of tiny golden specks. The book Lichens of North America describes the body of this lichen as “little cushions of flattened granules.” This lichen is sometimes sterile, with no fruiting bodies present, as this one appeared to be. Crustose lichens form crusts that tightly adhere to the substrate that they grow on and usually can’t be removed without damaging it.

The golden moonglow lichens (Dimelaena oreina) that I see are usually about an inch across but they can get much bigger. They grow in full sun on granite and don’t seem to change color when they dry out like many other lichens do. The bigger one in the photo was producing spores and that’s something I don’t see this lichen do very often. If you spend much time in cemeteries you have probably seen this pretty lichen, because it seems to like growing on smooth, polished stone, especially granite. It is a another crustose lichen, so removing it from a gravestone would be a challenge. When lichens grow on glass the acids in them can actually etch the glass and this is a problem in the big European cathedrals, especially. I would think the same would be true for polished stone.

Bright yellow-orange poplar sunburst (Xanthomendoza hasseana) is a beautiful lichen with its large disc shaped, sucker like fruiting bodies (apothecia) which are almost always showing. It’s found on tree bark and provides a lot of color in winter when there are no flowers to see. The example shown here was about as big as a penny, or about .75 inches across.

Another sunburst lichen, the elegant sunburst (Xanthoria elegans) was exposed to ultraviolet radiation, cosmic radiation, and the vacuum of space for one and a half years and when it was brought back to earth it grew on as if nothing had happened. Many believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore as close to immortal as any earth based life form can be.

Pink earth lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces) closely resembles bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum.) One of the differences between the two is the length of the stalks that the plump pink apothecia sit on. They are longer on bubblegum lichens than they are on pink earth lichens. Both are very beautiful things that are rarely seen in this area. The whitish or grayish thallus, or body of the lichen, grows on soil; usually on dry acidic soil near blueberry and sweet fern plants. It can sometimes have a bluish cast as well.

Here’s a closer look at the apothecia on the pink earth lichen. You can also see the stalks that support them.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) can be quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do. I’ve seen this pretty lichen even on mountain tops.

Some lichens are very easy to identify because there aren’t many others that look like them, and the toadskin lichen is one of those. Toadskin lichens show color changes like many other lichens. When wet it is pliable and pea green and when dry it becomes crisp and ash gray. This example hadn’t completely dried out but it was on its way, even though it had rained that morning. Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them an umbilicate lichen. This toadskin is very special, because it is the only one I’ve ever seen that wasn’t on a hill or mountain top. It grows on a boulder at the very water’s edge of a lake and I’m very happy that I found it now that hill climbing is getting more difficult. Now at least I’ll still be able to see these beautiful little things without having to struggle to reach them, if it comes to that.

Smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) are one of the most beautiful in my opinion, but their beauty is fleeting and it depends on how the light happens to fall on them. If you find one it might not look like this one at all. The pretty golden brown body (thallus) of the lichen is peppered with blue apothecia which again, are colored by the light. Take a look at the next photo to see what a simple change in light can do.

This is the exact same lichen we saw in the previous photo; all that is different is the light, and that’s why if you’re at all interested in lichens you really should visit them at different times of year, as I said when we looked at the star rosette lichen. The previous photo was taken when sunlight was falling on it, and this shot was taken when the lichen was in shade. Not only light but dryness can affect the color of many lichens, so make a note of where you find them and then go back when the weather has changed. I think you’ll be amazed by how much they can change, and also by how beautiful they can be.

There is a low mist in the woods—it is a good day to study lichens. ~Henry David Thoreau

Thanks for coming by.

 

Last Sunday was a beautiful day for a change, with bright sunshine and relatively warm temperatures for November, so I thought I’d hike a rail trail I know of up in Westmoreland. This is the one I travel in May when I want to see the wild columbines in bloom, but I don’t know if I’ve ever come out here in the fall. That’s a shame; I’ve missed a lot of beauty.

I was a little dismayed but not surprised to see water on the trail. We’ve had a deluge of rain over the past few months and there is water everywhere. Usually though, you don’t find it on rail trails because the railroad built drainage ditches along the sides of the rail bed. They never would have put up with seeing this much water here. It’s possible the drainage ditches have failed because of fallen debris in them, but I don’t know for sure.

The forest that the rail trail goes through is mostly hardwoods like beech, oak and maple with few evergreens.

It’s hard to tell from this photo but these ledges are way up on the top of the hillside we saw in that previous shot. With all that stone warmed by the sun it looks like a great place for animals to den up.

Speaking of animals, this is a known bear area. I’m not sure if these marks were done by a bear but they were as big as my hand and they were on several trees.

The glimpses of sunlit beeches were enough to make me just stop and admire them for a while. Beeches are such beautiful trees, from bud break in spring until their leaves finally fall the following spring, they are year round friends.

There is an unusual box culvert out here that had a lot of water running through it due to heavy rain the previous day. I’ve been out here many times but this is the first time I’ve seen this much water here; usually there isn’t any. The box culvert is unusual because its joints are mortared. Almost every other one I’ve seen was laid up dry with no mortar.  The mortar could have been used in a repair years after it was built though, which is what I suspect. You don’t find much mortar in railroad stonework.

I saw some nicely colored turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) decorating a log. There were hundreds of them. I think my favorites are the ones with blue or purple colors in them.

Of course there were stone walls; there are always stone walls in New Hampshire. Property owners almost always built them along railroads to mark the place where their land ended and railroad right of ways began. The walls here are unusual because they were built largely of railroad cast off stone that had been blasted out of the ledges. If the railroad didn’t use it to build with they often simply dumped it in large piles throughout the woods and landowners picked from them. You can tell by the way there is hardly a round corner to be found in a wall.  The stones have square and angular corners and flat faces, though the section in this photo does have more rounded fieldstones than most of the wall did.

If you look closely you can see the hand of man in the stones. These finger size grooves were made by hand with a star drill or possibly a steam drill. You drilled your holes and then tapped small tools called feathers and wedges into them. The pressure exerted by the wedges would break the stone, leaving a flat face with finger shaped grooves. It was a huge amount of work but once the stone was cut the stone masons used it to build culverts, bridges, tunnels, walls and anything else they needed to get the tracks down and moving forward.

And they’re still building walls out here. They recently logged this land and the loggers built a road to where they had to be. The stones are used as a retaining wall to hold the road up and they’re big. They also have that “new” clean look that tells you they haven’t been there long.

We’re almost there. What looks like a dark tunnel up ahead isn’t a tunnel and it isn’t that dark, and that’s where we’re going.

I saw quite a few maple seedlings still hanging on to their colorful leaves.

I think the seedlings were red maples (Acer rubrum) and I think that because larger maples showed target canker which, if I understand what I’ve read correctly, only attacks red maples. It is caused by a fungus which kills the tree’s healthy bark and the patterns of platy bark seen in this photo are the tree’s response to the fungus. It grows new bark each year in the circular patterns seen here to contain the fungus. Usually the fungus will not kill the tree.

More signs of the railroad; a tie plate with a bent spike still in it was beside the trail. You can find a lot of railroad artifacts by walking rail trails.

And here we are at the ledges where the columbines grow, looking back the way we just came. The stone here is very dark but I have a feeling these ledges have limestone in them because of the lime loving plants that live here.

There isn’t much soil on the stones but there is enough to grow columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) and in some cases even trees. I was wishing I could have seen some of the beautiful red and yellow flowers but I’ll have to wait until next May for that.

I did see some asters scattered along the trail, and though I don’t know their name they were a welcome sight. Any flower is welcome in November.

I wasn’t expecting to find columbines blooming out here but I was hoping to find blue cohosh berries (Caulophyllum thalictroides) and there they were. I found this plant when I came out here in May to get photos of the columbines and a chance to see the beautiful blue “berries” is what brought me back on this day. The berries are actually brown seeds with a fleshy blue coating that protects them, and the seeds are what are considered the plant’s true fruit, so the plant is a bit unusual. Now that I’ve seen the foliage, flowers and fruit I need to come here in the spring, in April I’d guess, to see the beautiful dark blue spring shoots. They look like tiny blue hands reaching out of the soil.

Blue cohosh fruit is actually darkly colored like a blueberry and like a blueberry the “bloom” made up of waxy white crystals that cover the berries reflect the light in a way that makes them appear lighter colored. Some describe them as “blueberries dipped in confectioner’s sugar.” This plant is very rare in this area so I’m hoping these fruits will grow new plants, but deer love eating the plant so the odds are against it. I should mention that, though Native Americans used the roots of the plant medicinally and herbalists still use it today, science says that it has “poisonous properties” and the “berries” can make you quite sick.

Here is a photo of a blue cohosh flower that I took on May 12th of this year, so it’s an early bloomer. Each of the yellow green striped sepals of the flower contains a nectar gland to attract insects.  6 yellow stamens form a ring around the center ovary and the true petals are the shiny green parts that ring the center between the sepals and the stamens. The word cohosh is believed to be Native Algonquin name used for several different plants with different color fruit so in this case the blue refers to the fruit color, even though all parts of the plant including the leaves and stems have a bluish cast to them in the spring.

The trail went on, north to Walpole before crossing into Vermont, but I did not. I turned around, happy that I had now seen such a rare plant in three stages of growth. This is only the second time I’ve seen it and the first time all I saw were the blue fruits, so the hike was well worth the effort. I’m really anxious to see the dark blue shoots in spring, and that probably means that winter will pass slowly. But then I suppose that it always does.

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive. ~Eleanora Duse

Thanks for stopping in.

As I write this 3 straight days of November rains have finally stopped but now there’s a howling wind blowing, so I expect the landscape will look very different tomorrow, possibly with more leaves on the ground than in the trees. Will this be the last fall foliage post? It could be, but the oaks and beeches are still in full color and I even saw a few maples that were still hanging on, so maybe not.

Here’s what the maples and birches looked like one recent sunny day.

Oaks have an amazing color range but their colors don’t shout it out quite like the maples.

When you’re in the woods and a beech tree gets between you and the sun it can be amazingly beautiful. They seem to glow under their own power. Luminous is the word, I think.

Many birches and especially gray birches like those shown here are still hanging on to their leaves. Or at least they were before this wind. The weather people say there are 60 mph gusts blowing in parts of New England.

This is a good post to compare foliage colors on cloudy and sunny days. It was drizzling when I took this photo of young maples. I think the color is often more intense on cloudy days. Perhaps it’s the gray background.

But there’s a lot to be said for sunshine too, as this road leading to my workplace shows.

The colors of the oaks along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey looked a little dull on a rainy day, I thought. In fact everything is on the dull side in this photo.

We’ve had large amounts of rainfall since July; 11 inches above average in fact, and the Ashuelot River was flooding in places on this day.

No matter where you go the woods are flooded by large puddles like this one. The ground is completely saturated and the two or three inches of rain falling each week simply has nowhere to go. We need a dry week or two to dry things out but it doesn’t look like that’s in the cards. Many are also hoping for a drier winter. If all this rain was snow we’d all be doing some serious shoveling.

The invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the river seemed to glow on a recent rainy day. Before they drop their leaves they will become a soft pastel pink to almost white. Right now they’re in their loud orange / red / yellow stage. It’s too bad they’re so invasive because they really are beautiful, but as you can see they dominate the understory and create so much shade nothing else can grow.

Here is a closer look at a burning bush. I’ve seen thousands of these shrubs along the river drop their leaves overnight when the weather is cold enough and I’m hoping that doesn’t happen this year so I can show them to you in their pastel pink stage. It really is a beautiful sight.

You can find color in unexpected places. This is the first time I’ve noticed how yellow the foliage of slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) becomes.

I pay attention to lake sedge (Carex lacustris) in the fall because I like the way it seems to flow like the waves of the pond and lake shores it grows on. It is really the wind and its own weak stems that make it bend so, but I think it makes a pretty display. Lake sedge is native to Canada and the northern U.S. and can at times be found growing in water. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds.

The blue of this monkshood (Aconitum napellus) I saw growing at a local bank was a complete surprise. I went looking for this plant at a local children’s butterfly garden earlier and found that it had finally been removed. That’s a good thing, because monkshood is one of the most poisonous plants known. People have died from its sap simply being absorbed through their skin, and in ancient Rome you could be put to death if you were found growing it. That was because to the Romans the only reason you would grow such a thing was to poison your enemies.

Toxic or not monkshood has a beautiful flower. Another name for it is winter aconite because it blooms so late. If you look at the side view of a flower you can see how it resembles the hoods that medieval monks wore, and that’s how it comes by its common name. I’m not sure which insects would pollinate it this late in the season, but there must be some that do.

You might think that this was a big yellow tree but you’d be wrong because it’s actually a big green tree; a white cedar that is covered by invasive Oriental bittersweet vines (Celastrus orbiculatus.) These twining, wire like vines want all the sunshine they can get and they will climb anything to get it. Trees, telephone poles, and even houses aren’t safe from it, and it will most likely pull this tree down eventually. Not only does it block all the light from the host tree, it also wraps around the tree’s trunk and slowly strangles it.

Oriental bittersweet berries are big, plump and showy and birds love them, and that’s why man will never defeat this invader. Even its seeds germinate faster than those of our native American bittersweet.

The hillsides that surround Keene are still showing quite a bit of color thanks to the big old oaks. There could be some beech and maples here and there as well.

We’ve had a beautiful fall season this year and it might not be over yet, but even if it is there is still plenty of color to be seen. I hope you are able see beauty like this wherever you may live.

How beautiful leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days. ~John Burroughs

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

I was finally able to visit Willard Pond in Hancock last week. The weekend forecast was for rain so Friday afternoon off I went to one of the most beautiful places I know. It is here at Willard Pond where in the fall, nature pulls out all the stops.

That’s where we’re going; to that hillside behind the boulder. It is an unusual forest that is made up of mostly beeches and oaks which at this time of year are at their most colorful. I’ve come here on the last weekend in October for a few years now and I haven’t ever been disappointed.

The trail is one person wide and follows the shoreline of the pond close to the water because the hillside comes right down to the pond. It is rocky and full of tree roots, and it is muddy in spots, so you need good stout hiking boots here. This isn’t the place for sneakers or flip flops.

Beeches turn from green to yellow and then as the yellow fades reds, oranges and finally browns appear.

There is color everywhere here, including on the forest floor. This photo shows yellow beech and maple, red-brown oak, and purple maple leaf viburnums.

From a photography point of view this place is difficult because you can’t ever back up for a wide shot. The pond is right there behind you, so you have to do what you can. You’re literally immersed in the forest that you’re trying to take photos of.

This view looks back on the trail we just followed. It comes through the break between the two boulders over there on the left. There is no real climbing unless you chose to climb Bald Mountain, but you do have to climb over stones and possibly an occasional fallen tree to follow the shoreline trail.

Thankfully you don’t have to climb over anything like this. There are a few garage size boulders here and this is one of them. They tumbled down the hillside to the water’s edge at some point in the past or they could have been left right where they are by a melting glacier.

You might be fooled into thinking these were turkey tail fungi but turkey tails are usually several different colors. In spite of its name the multicolor gill polypore (Lenzites betulina) shown here is varying shades of tan and really not that colorful.

Another way to tell the difference between a turkey tail and this fungus is the appearance of gills on the underside. Turkey tails have pores, never gills. There are a few other gilled polypores but this is the only one with white flesh. It also has true gills, which in this case were very dry and wrinkled, in spite of all the rain we’ve had.

No matter what other interesting and beautiful things you might see here at this time of year the real story is the forest itself, and it’s hard to keep your eyes on anything else. I stumbled a few times because I had my head in the trees instead of watching where I was going.

But I didn’t fall into any of the streams that run from the hillside to the pond. There are a few bridges, some just planks and others like this one more elaborate.

I sat here for a while, enjoying the happy sounds the little stream made. I didn’t think anyone would mind; though there were a few cars in the parking lot I only saw one couple the whole time I was here.

Lots of colorful fallen leaves were on the pond bottom. Most looked like maple leaves which had fallen probably a week or more before my visit.

A very determined birch tree was bent completely in half but still kept growing new branches.

Another fallen birch had chaga fungi (Inonotus obliquus) growing all along it. Chaga has been used medicinally in Russia, China, Korea and Japan for many centuries and it is said to be packed with vitamins and minerals. In Siberia it is said to be the secret to long life and it has recently shown promise in cancer research, reducing the size of tumors. The fungi look like burnt, brittle pieces of charcoal.

There was a much larger one on a nearby birch stump. It really does look burnt. Chaga fungi are parasitic and grow on birch and other species. It is black because it contains large amounts of melanin, which is a naturally occurring dark brown to black pigment that colors hair, skin and the irises of the eyes of humans and animals. It is also responsible for the tanning of skin that is exposed to sunlight. I can’t guess what it tastes like.

I’ve never tried very hard to identify these mushrooms but I don’t really need to know their name to enjoy them. They always remind me of puffy soufflés, just out of the oven.

The shadow of a dead bracken fern fell on a stone and reminded me of the humped back skeleton of a triceratops.

The beauty of this place is off the charts and you can’t help being taken up in it; swallowed by it. The towering trees, huge boulders and views of infinity make you feel so small. But feeling small isn’t always such a bad thing. It’s the same feeling that I imagine would come over me if I were in a great cathedral.

Someone had used fallen branches to make a peace sign in the hollow of a tree. I thought it was appropriate, since there is plenty of peace to be found here.

Many times these posts write themselves in my mind as I follow along a trail but this one did not, so I sat here on this wooden bench for a while thinking about what I could write about this place. I quickly realized how hard it would be to explain what a place as beautiful as this can do to a person. I went from amazement to wonder to astonishment, and there was nothing else. It was as if everything else had been stripped away; all the petty worries and cares were gone, and when it comes down to it I suppose that’s why we nature lovers do what we do. These days they call it “being in the moment,” but I never knew “the moment” could be hours long. In any event it was gloriously beautiful and I hope you’ll be able to find a place just like this one.

An autumn forest is such a place that once entered you never look for the exit. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

Thanks for coming by.

 

A bee landed on my windshield recently and, since I can’t remember ever seeing a bee’s belly, I took a photo of it. It’s cold enough now so bees and other insects are moving sluggishly and acting as if they really don’t know what to do with themselves, because there are few flowers to keep them company.

There are some flowers still blooming though and what I think is a hoverfly found this false dandelion blossom. It was tiny but barely moving, so getting a photo was relatively easy.

Here was something I wasn’t happy about seeing; the wind had knocked a bald faced hornet’s nest out of a tree. The nest was as big as a football and was buzzing with angry bald faced hornets. Each nest can house as many as 400 of them and if you get within three feet of the nest they don’t have a problem letting you know how displeased they are. They were flying all around as I took these photos and I’m still surprised that I didn’t get stung.

Bald faced hornets aren’t really hornets at all; though they are black and white they’re classified as yellow jacket wasps because they’re more closely related to wasps than they are hornets. But it doesn’t matter what you call them. This is one insect you don’t want to get stung by because unlike bees they can sting multiple times and it is a painful sting. They rate a 2.0 on the Schmidt Pain Index and the pain is described as “Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.” In case you’re wondering the Schmidt Pain Index goes up to 4.0, which is described as “You don’t want to know.” There is one insect that rates a 4.0 on the index: a Tarantula Hawk, which is another wasp that I hope I never meet.

What I think was a dark eyed Junco landed on a deck where I work and let me walk right up to it. It sat there even as I opened a door and went inside and didn’t fly off until I came back out of the building. Even then it flew just a few feet away and landed in an apple tree. They seem like very tame birds but what I was struck by most when I saw this photo of it was its shadow; it reminded me of something.

This is what the Junco’s shadow reminded me of. There used to be a television show called “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and it always opened with this shadow. It was one of my favorite shows for quite a while and it can still be seen on You Tube today.

Here was another dead birch tree full of golden pholiota mushrooms (Pholiota limonella.) At least I thought that’s what they were but these example had no citrus scent, so I’d say they must be Pholiota aurivella which, except for its smaller spores and the lack of a lemon scent, appears identical.

The frustrating thing about mushroom identification is how for most of them you can never be sure without a microscope, and that’s why I never eat them. There are some that don’t have many lookalikes and though I’m usually fairly confident of a good identification for them I still don’t eat them. It’s just too risky.

I saw a tiny insect on the underside of this mushroom but it wasn’t until I saw the photo that I realized it had been looking up at me. I’m not sure what it was; an ant, maybe? It’s a cute little thing, whatever its name.

I saw what I thought was a strangely colored rock along the Ashuelot River, but when I walked around it and saw the other side I discovered that it wasn’t that strange after all, because that side looked like any other rock. What we see here is the part of the rock that was buried in the soil and that soil apparently contained a lot of iron. How it got out of that iron rich soil I don’t know, but it might have rolled down the river bed. Standing here after heavy rains when the river is raging you can hear the eerie booming sounds of stones rolling along the river bed. It’s a sound that’s hard to forget; you don’t just hear it, you feel it as well.

When the leaves begin to fall lots of things that were previously hidden are revealed, and among them are bird’s nests like this one I saw along the river. It wasn’t very big; a baseball would have fit right in it like it had been made for it, so it was probably about 3 or 4 inches across.

It was made of mud and straw; an ancient recipe for bricks. All its soft interior of lichens, feathers, and soft grasses had disappeared. Or maybe they were never there and the bird was happy to sit on sun baked, hard mud. I’ve seen quite a few eastern phoebes in this area but I don’t know if it was one of them that made the nest.

American mountain ash is a native tree but you’re more likely to find them growing naturally north of this part of the state. I do see them in the wild, but rarely. Their red orange fruit in fall and white flowers in spring have made them a gardener’s favorite and that’s where you’ll see most of them here though they prefer cool, humid air like that found in the 3000 foot elevation range. The berries are said to be low in fat and very acidic, so birds leave them for last. For some reason early settlers thought the tree would keep witches away so they called it witch wood. Native Americans used both the bark and berries medicinally. The Ojibwe tribe made both bows and arrows from its wood, which is unusual. Usually they used wood from different species, or wood from both shrubs and trees.

Our woods are full of ripe Concord and river grapes at this time of year and on a warm, sunny fall day the forest smells like grape jelly. Not for long though because birds and animals snap them up quickly. North America has about 20 native species of wild grape and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so the grapes were used for juice and jelly or cooked and used in various recipes. Grapes were also used to dye baskets with a gray violet dye.

All parts of the yew tree (Taxus) are poisonous except (it is said) the red, fleshy part of the berry. The seed inside the berry, which can be seen in this photo, is the most toxic part of the plant and eating as few as three of them can cause death in just a few hours. In February of 2014 Ben Hines died in Brockdish, Norfolk, England after ingesting parts of yew trees. Nobody has ever figured out why he would do such a thing but the incident illustrated just how toxic the plant is.

Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are said to be one of only three fruits native to North America, along with the concord grape and blueberry, that are commercially grown but I’m not sure of that. Because they float commercial growers flood their fields to harvest them. This has many people thinking that they grow in water but no, they grow near water on dry, peaty, sandy soil. Cultivation began in 1816 and growers discovered that a well-tended cranberry plant can live 150 years. The cranberry was highly important to Native Americans and they used them for everything from food and medicine to dyes. The most important use was in pemmican, which was a highly nutritious mixture of dried fruit, dried meat and fat. The name cranberry comes from crane berry, which the early settlers named them because they thought the flowers looked like sand hill cranes. Once the English brought honeybees over in 1622 honey was used as a sweetener for the tart berries and their use skyrocketed among the settlers. This was very bad news for the Natives and many tribes died out within 100 years of European contact.

I’ve seen lots of galls but I’ve never seen these pea size furry ones before. They grew on an oak leaf and some of them simply rolled off it when I tilted the leaf. They are wooly oak leaf galls I believe, and like most galls do no harm to the host plant. A wasp lays an egg on a leaf and the tree responds by encasing it in a gall. When the egg hatches the wasp larva eats its way out of the gall. Inside the fuzzy wool is a hard brownish kernel that looks like a seed.

Everlastings get their name from the way they can dry and often last for years once they’ve been cut. Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) gets its name from the way that it smells like maple syrup. It’s another of those plants like pineapple weed which will light up a child’s face when they smell it. They know instantly just what it smells like.

Well, here it is Halloween and the only spooky thing I have to show you is this witches hat that I found growing on a witch hazel leaf. It’s actually a gall which the plant created in response to the witch hazel gall aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis.) It’s also called nipple gall and cone head gall. I think it looks like a Hershey’s kiss chocolate candy.

Here’s something that might be much more scary than the witches hat; puddle ice.

And yes that’s snow, and that scares me. We saw a dusting one morning a week or so ago but thankfully none since. Though we average zero inches of snow in October we’ve had over a foot on Halloween in recent memory. Chances are you’ll see more of it here soon. We average about 2 inches in November and just over 11 inches in December.

Nature is what you see plus what you think about it. ~John Sloan

Thanks for coming by. Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Last Sunday I was going to go over to Willard Pond in Hancock to see the beautiful display of beeches and oaks but a lot of the oaks here are still green. Anyhow, according to the blog archives I don’t usually go there until the last weekend of the month, so I decided to visit Yale forest in Swanzey. I chose the part of the forest with the old paved road running through it. Yale University has owned this parcel of land since the 1930s and allows public use. The road was once called Dartmouth Road because that’s where it led, but the state abandoned it when the new Route 10 was built and it has been all but forgotten ever since.

The first thing I noticed on this day were all the downed trees. In some place I had to go off into the woods to get around them. I doubt the folks at Yale even know they’ve fallen.

Three years ago they were logging here and they cut quite a lot of trees. Why this pile was left behind I don’t know.

Yale founded a school of forestry and environmental studies in 1900 and owns parcels of land all over New England. Alumni donated the land in some cases and in others the University bought or traded other land for it, and in time good sized pieces of forest were put together. This particular parcel is 1,930 acres in size.

The forest is recovering well from the logging, as this young maple shows. All those new shoots are coming from one stump and they make good browse for deer and moose.

There are lots of hardwoods out here including oak. This young oak had colored beautifully.

Many beeches had also changed already and they and the oaks made me question my decision not to go to Willard Pond. I’d hate to miss the fall colors there because it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen.

It was a beautiful fall day, but a bit chilly with temps in the 40s F. and a brisk wind. I was wishing that I had worn gloves.

I saw some small fall oyster mushrooms on the end of an old moss covered log. Oysters are very unusual mushrooms, because they exude toxins that stun the nematodes that try to feed on them. Once stunned the mushroom’s mycelium invades the nematode’s body through any orifice and digests the worms. The mushroom also consumes bacteria in order to get nitrogen and proteins from them. What all of that means is the oyster mushrooms are carnivorous.

A ray of sunshine shone a spotlight on a beech tree. When this happens I always pay close attention. It was a sun beam just like this one that had me seeing the true beauty of a red clover blossom for the first time a few years ago.

I didn’t see anything about the beech tree that seemed out of the ordinary or special but I did see some running club moss (Lycopodium clavatum) just behind it in the woods and this was special, because it was producing spores in the long “clubs” that give it part of its common name. This is the first time I’ve ever seen running club moss produce spores. The other part of its common name comes from the way its long stems “run” just under the soil surface.

Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all but they do produce spores in long, club like sporophylls, like those shown here. Clubmoss spores can take as long as 20 years to germinate and then only under ideal conditions. If it’s too warm where the spores fall they will not grow. There was a time about 200 million years ago when there were forests of clubmosses which grew to 100 feet tall. Native Americans used the strong underground stems of clubmosses as twine and also brewed a medicinal tea from them.

Ferns also produce spores and I always like to look at the undersides of their fronds at this time of year to see if there are any sporangia. Evergreen marginal wood ferns (Dryopteris marginalis) like the one seen here should have some, but they won’t be on all the fronds so you have to look carefully.

Sori are tiny clusters of sporangia and there they were, located on the leaf margins just as they should be on a marginal wood fern. The sori are often round or kidney shaped but they can be just about any shape, I think. Before the spores mature the sori are covered with a kind of a tissue cap called an insidium but I can just make out the individual sporangia here so these spore were mature and ready to let the wind catch them.

Here were more fallen trees. If you look closely you can see four of them here. I wonder who will clean this all up. I certainly got tired of climbing over and under them but I always stop to look them over because you can find some interesting lichens on fallen trees.

This was a little scary because I had to walk under it if I wanted to go on. And the wind was blowing. Luckily it stood for as long as I was there.

When you’re close to where the old road meets the new Route 10 a stream cuts its way through. On this day I was able to step / hop across it but I’ve seen it when I couldn’t.

The stream flows out of what was once a beaver pond on the left side of the road but it was abandoned quite a while ago, by the looks. This place is unusual because when the beavers were active there were ponds on both sides of the road, or one large pond with a road running through it. It seems kind of an odd place for them to have built in. Beavers, from what I’ve read, will work an area in what averages thirty year cycles. The first stage is damming a stream and creating a pond. The flooding kills the trees that now stand in water and the beavers will eat these and the other trees that surround the pond. Eventually the pond fills with silt or the beavers move away and the dam fails. Once the land drains it will eventually revert back to forest with a stream running through it and the long cycle will repeat itself. Many other animals, birds, fish, amphibians, waterfowl and even we humans benefit from beaver ponds.

If you know where to look and what to look for you can still see parts of the old beaver dam. This one on this side of the old road is getting quite degraded and no longer holds water, but just three years ago it was still doing its job. You can see all the grassy growth at the top of the photo, which would be behind the dam. This area would have still been under water if the beavers were still here.

I can’t remember ever seeing witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) out here but there it was, in full bloom. I wasn’t really surprised; our woods are full of them. These flowers have a very subtle fragrance I’ve heard described as being like “fresh clean laundry just taken down from the line.” I haven’t taken much laundry down clotheslines so I can’t say one way or the other, but it is a pleasant, clean scent. Native Americans steamed witch hazel twigs over hot stones in sweat lodges to sooth aching muscles and my father always had a bottle of witch hazel lotion in the house.

I hope you liked this walk in the woods. Though I’ve walked here many times it is always changing and never the same. Though I’ve been wandering in the woods since I was just a young boy change isn’t something I’ve focused on, but walking through this particular forest again and again has shown me just how quickly changes can come to a forest, even without any human intervention.

 In a forest of a hundred thousand trees no two leaves are identical, and no two journeys along the same path are alike. ~Paulo Coelho

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rapidly dropping leaves told me if I was going to climb to see the foliage colors from above I’d better get a move on, so on the 14th I drove over to Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard where there is a 360 degree view from the summit. I’ve been having some breathing problems lately and I really didn’t know if I could make it to the summit or not, but I threw caution to the wind and with a good puff on the old inhaler, up I went. Sorry about the lens flare but it was a beautiful sunny day.

There were plenty of opportunities to stop and catch my breath and that was a good thing because if I went by the amount of people coming down as I was going up, it must have been standing room only up there. I’d bet I passed at least twenty people. This photo is of an oak that was already changing into its fall colors.

Beeches are also changing and they along with the changing oaks tell me I had better get over to Willard Pond soon. Willard Pond is especially beautiful at this time of year with its hillsides of yellow beeches and orange, red and purple oaks.

The trail up Pitcher Mountain is short but steep in places and when you feel like you are carrying a weight on your chest it seems even steeper. Pitcher Mountain is named for the Pitcher family who settled here in the mid-1700s. There are still remnants of an apple orchard near the summit, with trees that still bear apples. I doubt they’re from the 1700s but they are quite old.

This is always a stopping place, breathing problems or not. I always feel a great sense of release when I see this view and can imagine I hear a great whooshing sound, as if everything has suddenly been stripped away. There is the earth, the sky, and nothing else but emptiness, and when you’ve lived 60+ years surrounded on all sides by thick forest that emptiness can be very welcoming indeed. I sat on a stone and basked in it and forgot myself for a while.

When I got moving again a blueberry bush on the side of the trail had been caught in a sunbeam, and it was beautiful enough to stop me in my tracks.

While I was admiring the blueberry bush I looked up and saw what I think was a rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora) on a tree. It was full of beautiful rosy brown apothecia and was producing spores to beat the band. If I hadn’t stopped to admire the blueberry I wouldn’t have seen it.

At the base of the tree with the rosy saucer lichen was a log with a peach colored turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) growing on it, so of course I had to get a photo of it. I don’t see many of them this color. One thing leads to another in nature; the blueberry showed me the lichen and the lichen showed me the turkey tails. I wander like this from interesting thing to interesting thing quite regularly. It’s as easy as looking around closely before you leave any given bit of nature. Before you move on down the trail there’s a good chance that you’ll see something else that catches your eye.

Almost there. Enough dilly dallying.

I was high enough now to look out over the forest I had just come through. It’s called the Andorra Forest and it seems to stretch into infinity. Views like this one in the fall let you pick out individual trees because of their varying color and show just how staggering the number of trees here really is; 4.8 million acres of them.

I could just glimpse the fire tower through the glowing blueberries and sumacs.

From here on is the shortest but steepest part of the trail so I stop at the old ranger’s cabin to catch my breath and prepare for it. I don’t know the history of this cabin but it’s certainly big enough to have held at least 4 people at one time. I’m assuming that people lived here when the fire tower was manned daily. The cabin looks like it’s leaning even more to the left, into the mountainside. How it takes the heavy snow load each winter is anyone’s guess.

Just a few more steps and I’d be on the summit. I was happy (and a tiny bit surprised) that I’d made it. I call the fire tower a monument to irony, because in 1940 the original 1915 built wooden tower burned to the ground, along with 27,000 acres of forest and all the trees on the summit. It was one of the worst fires in state history but it is because of that fire that today we have a full 360 degree view from the summit.

The bedrock showing on the summit is covered in lichens.

Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) is a crustose lichen, which means it grows like a crust and probably couldn’t be removed without damaging whatever it is growing on. This lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and was once used to dye wool yellow in Sweden. It must have been very hard work scraping it off the stone and yellow wool must have been very expensive.

One of the first things I look for at the summit is what I call the “near hill.” I was a little disappointed that the colors weren’t brighter and didn’t “pop” more. Capturing fall color from above is a lot harder than one would think. I’ve tried many times, from many different hills and mountains, and I really haven’t ever been completely happy with the results.

It was very beautiful up close but harder to see the colors far away.

I could just see the whirligigs over on Bean Mountain in Lempster. I couldn’t tell but they must have been spinning fast. The wind was brisk to say the least, and the camera had a hard time with them through the haze.

Jerry from the Quiet Solo Pursuits blog thought the fall colors would look better with a blue sky behind them so I conjured a bluish one up and here it is. I told Jerry that I found when the sun is behind me a photo will almost always show blue water, and I wondered if the same might be true with the sky. As you can see from these photos in many the sky is milky white and in some it’s blue, and I think it must have a lot to do with where the sun was when I took the photo. I’m going to have to pay closer attention to see if it really does work that way. By the way, if you’re a nature lover, especially a bird lover, you really should be reading Jerry’s blog. You can find him right over there in the “Favorite Links” section under Quiet Solo Pursuits. His latest post shows the glorious fall colors found in Michigan.

I met some people from Stoddard up on the mountain who told me I had missed the peak colors by just a few days. “Last Tuesday was best,” they said. Oh well, as Forrest Gump’s momma always said: Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.

It had rained the day before my climb so I wasn’t surprised to see the depressions in the stone filled with water. I’ve always called them bird baths and a year or two ago a dark eyed junco let me sit and watch it bathe right here.

There was another oak turning orange and prodding me on to Willard Pond so I don’t miss the show there. We’re not done yet; there is more fall color to come. The oaks there blaze with bright orange and the beeches are lemon yellow and together they often put on an unforgettable show.

Going down was easier on the lungs but harder on the legs and I guess that’s the price you pay for climbing. I had a smile on my face though and I had met a few interesting people and had seen many beautiful things, so I’m not sure I could imagine a better day. I hope you’ll have one just as good real soon.

Nature is so powerful, so strong. Capturing its essence is not easy – your work becomes a dance with light and the weather. It takes you to a place within yourself. ~Annie Leibovitz

Thanks for stopping in.