Archive for March, 2012

A while ago I had the urge to just walk into the forest without following a path, so I took a break from home renovation and followed a small stream near my house. Though this might sound like bushwhacking, once you get through the dense layer of shrubs at the edge of the forest that are all reaching for the sunlight, forests are usually surprisingly open and easy to walk through. A word of warning: if you aren’t familiar with an area then going into the woods alone would be ill advised unless you stay on a well-marked path. I’ve been lost in the woods just once and believe me, that was enough. 

I saw deer tracks in the mud at the edge of the stream and took pictures of them, but they really aren’t recognizable. I’m sure many animals drink here. 

There were plenty of grape vines (Vitis) to get hung up on if you didn’t watch where you were going. I like the way the bark falls in strips from older vines. 

I got hung up on grape vines several times because my eyes were on the forest floor. I was looking for things like this moss, which was very busy producing spores. Each of these stalks has a spore capsule at the end and is called a sporophyte. When ripe they will release the spores needed for a new generation of moss.

What I think is plume moss (Ptilium crista-castrensis), covered the base of this tree. If you compare their size to the maple leaf laying on the ground you can get an idea of how small these are. They look like tiny ferns.

These really are ferns, though it’s too soon to tell what species. The fiddleheads are just breaking through the soil surface.

Lichens and fungi all seemed be reaching for this small pool of sunlight. I’m not sure what the round, flat white fungi are, but they were about half the size of a fingernail. 

Jelly fungi grew on a branch. These looked orange to me in the woods, but now look yellow in the photo and resemble witch’s butter. (Tremella mesenterica) Other names are golden jelly and yellow brain fungus. 

These tiny bracket fungi also look orange to me. I’m not sure what these are but I’ve been seeing them everywhere over the last two or three weeks. They’re smaller than your thumbnail and seem to prefer the shady undersides of dead branches.

These bracket fungi were big enough to photograph without a macro lens. At first I thought they were turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) but now I’m not so sure. I think they might be a type of parchment fungi, but I’m still trying to identify them. 

I’m not sure if these bumps on a log were the egg stage of a mushroom or some type of puffball.  They were smaller than a dime and since they weren’t pear shaped obviously aren’t pear shaped puffballs. Another mystery to add to the countless others in nature.

After a couple hours of roaming through the woods I decided to head home and leave it to the grapevines. I’ll be sure to return though, because there is a lot left to see.

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We had a strange, warm winter here in southwestern New Hampshire and now it appears that spring will be as strange, and even warmer. Temperatures in the 80s caused many flowers and trees to bloom as much as a month ahead of their average time. Now the cold returns and we all wait to see what harm it might do. Anything below 15 degrees will damage fruit tree buds enough so they won’t bear. 

I ran into these strange flower clusters in a local park and though I didn’t know what they were I took a few pictures. Once I had the time I began trying to identify them. At first I thought they might be Sassafras but they weren’t. After several hours of looking in shrub books and online, I now know this to be the Cornelian cherry (Cornus officinalis,) also known as Japanese Cornel Dogwood. It is an unusual member of the dogwood family that can bloom as early as February and isn’t often seen, except in city parks and arboretums.

Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)wasn’t unexpected, but I found them growing in a spot where trout lilies grew last year and I saw no sign of the lilies. Each flower last for only 3 days. 

It’s early for bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis.) Every time I see this flower with its strange stem clasping leaf I think of ancient times when travelers wrapped themselves in cloaks. Behind and to the right of the larger flower a green spike of lily of the valley is just emerging.

 The plant usually blooms in mid-April here and is called bloodroot because of the red sap that flows from the bruised root. One blossom was trying to open. These are among the most beautiful of early spring flowers.

Pussy willow (Salix) bloomed at the edge of a large vernal pool that will have completely disappeared before too long if this dry weather keeps on. 

Box (Buxus sempervirens) is a common shrub often used for hedges, but many don’t realize that its flower is worth waiting for. This is a good example of why shrubs shouldn’t be trimmed too early in spring. 

This tree didn’t look like an American elm (Ulmus americana,) but the flowers certainly looked like they belonged on an elm. The tree could be an elm hybrid, of which there are many. Elms have incomplete flowers lacking petals and sepals that hang at the end of long, thin stems (pedicels.) Three or four of these trees grow along a busy street in Keene, N.H. 

Red maple(Acer rubrum) flowers are easy to find in spring and are very fragrant. The photos above show the male (left) and female flowers. The male flowers have numerous colorful stamens with pollen bearing anthers on the ends and the female flowers have stigma bearing pistils, ready to receive the pollen. The trees can be confusing; some trees have only male flowers, some only female flowers, and some perfect flowers, which have both male and female parts. To make things even more confusing both male and female flowers can appear on the same tree, and flower color can range from yellow to red. The male flowers are responsible for much of the pollen floating about at this time of year. 

I was sorry to find ornamental cherry trees (Prunus) blooming. These blossoms are very susceptible to cold and with 2 or 3 below freezing nights in the forecast, I’m afraid their beauty was short lived this year. 

If you like a plant that is tough to identify, might I recommend one of the over 5000 sedge species? Without fruit a positive identification is close to impossible, but I’m fairly sure that this plant is Pennsylvania sedge, also called common oak sedge (Carex pensylvanica.) Here the pointed, scaly looking spike that is the staminate flower bud rises above the smaller and less noticeable pistillate flower buds on the same stalk. These plants are wind pollinated and native to eastern North America. The fruit holds a single, tiny seed.

Common Chickweed (Stellaria media) has a nice flower that it is only 1/8 of an inch across and easy to miss. Though it looks like the flower has 10 petals, there are really 5 with a deep notch dividing each one nearly in half. The 5 green sepals directly under the flower help to identify this one. Chickweed is very common in lawns. 

Hearts ease (Viola tricolor,) also known as Johnny jump ups. So why is it called tri color when only two colors are visible? Quite often the two uppermost petals will be blue or purple, but not always. The flowers can be white, purple, blue, yellow, or combinations of any or all of them. These were introduced from Europe so long ago that they are thought to be native by many. Today’s garden pansies were developed from this plant. 

A dandelion grew right next to the viola. This is the first one I’ve seen since I took a photo of one on December 21st. What a strange winter and spring!

Thanks for stopping in.

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Note to Readers: I’m sorry if you have been wondering why I didn’t do my regular Saturday morning post this week, but I did and it didn’t “stick.” Did I not press “publish?” Maybe it was because it was 4:00 am and I did it in my sleep-but no-that’s the way they’re all done.  Anyhow, here it is. NHG

It was the third week of March but if I didn’t know better I would have bet it was mid-June. This day was the fifth hot, dry one in a record breaking week. I decided it might be cooler if I took my afternoon walk in the evening instead, but I was wrong. 

The sun was setting fast but it was still hot-over 80 degrees. The failing light formed pools of gold on the stream and throughout the forest. This stream feeds into a large marsh.

On the edge of the marsh speckled alder’s male catkins glowed in the last rays of sunshine. Alders like plenty of water and sunshine and they find it here. 

Alder bushes were silhouetted against the glow on the surface of the pond away from the setting sun. This small pond is near the marsh and holds its overflow. One evening I watched two beavers that live in the marsh swimming here. The red winged blackbirds always put up a fuss when I wander around this area.

I walked around to the sunny side of the pond to get a better view of the marsh, only to find that the sun was almost gone. Still, I thought I might have time for another picture or two. I know shooting into the sun isn’t a good idea, but I wanted to catch the colors before it went down completely.

 Here alder tongue gall grows on the alder’s female seed bearing cones, called Strobiles.  Many galls are caused by insects, but alder tongue gall is caused by a fungus (Taphrina alni). The fungus chemically deforms parts of the female cone-like catkins and causes long tongue shaped galls, known as languets, to grow from them.

I was surprised that the beavers hadn’t bothered the alders, but it didn’t take long to find out why. This was a clump of birch trees just 4 days earlier, and now it’s a clump of stumps. Because of the golden light and bleeding sap you wouldn’t know the bark on these stumps was white.

Soon the buds on the blackberry will break and leaves will hide its thorns. These very spiny canes help keep kids from getting too close to the edges of the pond and marsh.

I thought I might see some Red Winged Blackbirds in one of their favorite dead trees but apparently they only use it when I’m not pointing a camera at them. Once the spring peepers started singing their evening song I knew it was time for me to head home. 

Thanks for visiting.

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Welcome to the first full day of spring.(if you happen to look at spring astronomically rather than meteorologically.) I started this blog a year ago yesterday thinking it would be a good place for local people to come and get their gardening questions answered. But, since nobody asked any questions I wrote 2 posts each week until fall, when the gardening blog then morphed into a nature blog.

Now here it is spring once again and people have the gardening itch, so to celebrate a year of blogging, spring, gardens, and my finally understanding the macro capabilities of my new (used) camera, here is what spring here in southern New Hampshire is looking like so far.

 Forsythia blossoms should be fully opened within a week.


 Also starting to show color is the scilla or Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica). These grow from small bulbs like that of grape hyacinths and have small blue star shaped flowers that nod towards the ground. I planted 50 of them last fall and I’m waiting impatiently for the show.

 By now you’ve probably seen plenty of crocus pictures, but it wouldn’t be spring without them.

 The native honeysuckle is ahead of almost everything else and is already showing small leaves.

It will be a while before we see leaves on the lilacs, but you can see just a hint of color on the flower buds. This French hybrid has very dark purple flowers.


The flowering crabapple won’t show leaves for a while either. This tree has dark pink flowers.

 The Viburnum is showing great promise. This cluster of buds will be a snowball of white, very fragrant flowers in May. Or maybe earlier this year since it is over 70 degrees as I write this. 

You don’t need macro mode for these large PJM Rhododendron buds.  Clusters of purple flowers will cover this shrub slightly after the forsythia blooms. Soon yellow and purple will be everywhere you look.

 In one recent post I showed the blossoms of vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), which blooms in very early spring. There is also a very late fall blooming witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). The above photo shows the bracts that are left behind after the petals fall from the fall blooming plant. If you see these in spring they are not a flower waiting to happen, but a flower gone by.

This is an attempt at macro photography that went very wrong. These maple buds didn’t turn out quite like I had hoped. (I should have used a flash and tripod) The only reason I kept it was because I like the sky colors and blurred clouds in the background.

Thanks for stopping in. If you live in New Hampshire be patient and don’t work the soil just yet-it is still much too wet and you’ll squeeze out all the oxygen and destroy its friability. For now, wait a week or so to plant those peas and just enjoy spring!

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I spent part of last weekend hunting for early spring wildflowers with no success. It’s still very early for this part of the country but because of the mild winter and early warmth I thought I might at least see some skunk cabbage.  If I was real lucky I thought, I might even see some emerging false hellebore or trout lily plants. Since all of these plants like wet soil I planned to visit places that I knew were boggy. One of them was the new Keene peat bog park I wrote about in my last post, and another was a section of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey, NH, which is south of Keene.

The river was running along at a pretty good clip but since there is no melting snow to raise the water level, it’s much lower than normal. In a normal spring with plenty of snow melt I wouldn’t have been able to stand where I did to take this picture. 

If there was rain on top of the usual snow melt large parts of this path would have been underwater. That’s what regularly happens in the spring-the river scrubs its banks clean.

But not everything gets washed down stream. This piece of rusty cast iron looked like it had been here for quite a while. It’s a fancy piece and if I had to guess I’d say it was some type of a motor cover. It didn’t look like it would fit on a stove.

 It’s a sad fact that our ancestors used rivers as dumping grounds. I can remember seeing people dump their trash on the river bank when I was a boy, so it went on for a long time. Thankfully that practice has now stopped but I don’t think it would be possible to ever remove all of the trash from our rivers.  I learned as a boy that it was wise to wear sneakers or some other type of footwear with thick soles when walking in or near this river.  I still have a 5 inch long scar on my ankle that I got from a broken bottle many years ago. 

Making sure tetanus shots are up to date is a good idea as well. This piece of rusty steel would be an awful thing to step on barefoot.

This was the strangest thing I saw. It’s an old army ammo box that was converted into a geocache box. It’s hard to see in the picture but it says geocache on it along with some other writing. The lid has been torn off, so there was nothing inside it. There is no way of knowing how many miles this thing tumbled down the river before coming to rest here. I have a feeling my fellow New Hampshire blogger Jomegat might be interested in this. 

I got tired of taking pictures of rusty metal and broken glass so I took one of this tree that twisted around itself as it grew. It can’t be seen in the picture but it managed to graft itself together at each point the two limbs crossed. This picture also shows the fine gray sand that the rivers deposits here and there along its banks.

I never did find any early wildflowers but it was an interesting weekend nevertheless. Usually college students and other local volunteers will spend a good deal of time cleaning up along the riverbanks each year, but I don’t know if they come this far south. I’m confident that the area will be cleaned up though, because we are a lot more conscious of the importance of clean waterways now than we used to be.

The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it. ~Chinese proverb

I hope all of you Southerners and Midwesterners came through the recent severe weather outbreak unscathed. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

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Recently I heard, by way of our local newspaper The Keene Sentinel, that 2.49 acres of land donated to the city of Keene years ago was going to be turned into a park. This wasn’t the first time a use for the land had been mulled over; at one point it was going to be a ball park for local youngsters but the construction equipment being used to level the lot began sinking into it. After tracing property deeds back to the 1800s, it was found that the land had never been used for anything. That, as it happens, is because it is a peat bog. According to the article, it gets very wet at this time of year. I decided to go and have a look.

 It was wet. Standing water in places and squish, squish sounds when you walk over the quaky ground certainly give the place a boggy feel. It also seems quite desolate and wilderness like, even though it is surrounded on all 4 sides by family homes.  I felt an uncomfortable rather than satisfying solitude, and lonely desolation came to mind with words like moor and heath and tundra. Negotiating the slightly higher, firmer, and irregularly spaced hummocks left little time to ponder that. In my boyhood days a place like this would have been swarming with kids, but I haven’t seen a soul in the two times I’ve been there. In the past local college students used this land as an observation area and counted 12 species of butterflies, 41 species of birds, and 127 species of plants. The birds were enjoying it each time I visited; a flock of them would scatter every time I walked by a tree.

 Most of the trees were “weed trees” like crabapple, elm, cherry, and box elder. The first time I visited the park in February bunches of box elder seed pods were fluttering in the breeze everywhere. By last Saturday, most had fallen. These seed pods look very similar to those on a maple because the box elder is in the maple family. They are known as “samaras,” which are dried fruit with a flattened wing of papery tissue also known as a “winged achene.”

To be honest, there really isn’t much to see in this new park at this time of year. I did see what I think might be an Appalachian barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides) which is considered endangered in New Hampshire. It was thought to be extinct in Connecticut but was recently re-discovered. I’ll have to come back when it has flowers in April to be sure of what it is. Trying to identify plants when they aren’t flowering is kind of like wandering around in the dark-sooner or later you’ll wonder why you did such a foolish thing.

 Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), a biennial originally introduced from Europe, wasn’t wasting any time greening up. This plant is in the poppy family and is considered toxic because it can be very irritating to some people.  It is often mistakenly called mustard because of its yellow sap. I didn’t need to see the flowers on this one because ever since I was a boy I’ve wondered why its sap is yellow. I still can’t answer that question, but I’ve decided to make peace with the fact that it just is and let it be.  

I had a feeling I’d find some turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) here and sure enough, there they were.  These are looking a little ragged compared to some I’ve seen this winter.

 I don’t have any idea what this fungus on this tree was. I’ve tried to find it in books and online, but haven’t had any luck. It is like a bracket fungus but also has many ‘teeth” showing as it spreads.  There are toothed fungi with names like pompom and lion’s mane, but this doesn’t resemble them. Maybe someone who is more knowledgeable about mushrooms will stop in and identify them. A psychologist from New Jersey recently came by and helped identify the Jelly Fungus in this post from January.   

What would a peat bog be without mosses? Here are just two of many that I saw. There are as many as 350 species of moss in the sphagnum genus. They are called peat mosses because they grow in peat bogs, but Sphagnum can mean either the mosses growing on top of the bog or the decaying mosses underneath the surface. Peat forms when plants only partially decompose in the highly acidic, low oxygen water that acts as a preservative. The partially decayed material builds up layer by layer, and I’ve heard that it can take 50 years for 1 inch of peat to form. 

 Here is what a squirrel sees when climbing an oak tree. I’m looking forward to returning to this new park when plants are flowering and butterflies are visiting.  Right now the plan is to have the people of the neighborhood take care of the park with little or no involvement on the part of the city. Since no one has cared for the land in any meaningful way in the past I can see it staying as it is; just a wild, boggy, untouched plot of land in the middle of a small city. If so many different butterflies, plants and birds want to call such a place home, maybe we should just let it be.

Thanks for visiting.

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I wonder if anyone reading this blog remembers the original Andy Griffith show? I mean back in the days when Barney (Don Knotts) was the deputy sheriff, Gomer (Jim Nabors) was the mechanic at Wally’s Service Station, and Opie (Ron Howard) was just a pup.

It’s not that important, but I wonder if anyone remembers an episode called “The Barbershop Quartet?” In it, four of Mayberry’s finest were in a barbershop quartet competition. One of the four has laryngitis and can’t sing, so Andy has to use a prisoner who just happens to have a golden tenor voice. Naturally, Mayberry wins the contest and everybody lives happily ever after.

Everybody that is, except me, because the song that won Mayberry the trophy was called In the Gloaming and I’ve wondered what the “Gloaming” was ever since. Since I’m just a year younger than Opie, I’ve been wondering for a while now.  Well friends, I shall wonder no more because this is the Gloaming: 

Yes, that’s it. No, this isn’t the wrong photo. The Gloaming, as it happens, is the period after sunset and before total darkness. Or, more accurately, it is the Old English term for the end of the day. (Or the Old Scottish term-it is claimed by both Brits and Scots.) In any event, it is the time of day when crickets chirp in the grass and spring peepers sing in the marshes. Evening. Dusk. Twilight.

There is a scientific term for critters that are active at this time of day: Crepuscular, from the Latin crepusculum, meaning “twilight.”

So, if you are ever roaming in the gloaming and happen across an animal, it is crepuscular unless it just happens to be out for an evening stroll. Moose, deer, rabbits, brown bear, most rodents, cats, dogs and some snakes are most active at twilight-either at dawn or dusk. Some birds like the great horned owl are also crepuscular. Birds that soar on thermals like eagles and hawks are diurnal, meaning active during the day.

But it’s not just animals that are crepuscular; sunbeams streaming through gaps in the clouds or through trees in the forest are crepuscular rays.If you’re interested you can read all about them here.

We set the clocks ahead for daylight savings time this weekend, so the gloaming will come an hour later starting tomorrow.

Lyrics to the Song In The Gloaming

In the gloaming, oh my darling
When the lights are soft and low
And the quiet shadows, falling,
Softly come and softly go
When the trees are sobbing faintly
With a gentle unknown woe
Will you think of me and love me,
As you did once, long ago
In the gloaming, oh my darling
Think not bitterly of me
Though I passed away in silence
Left you lonely, set you free
For my heart was tossed with longing
What had been could never be
It was best to leave you thus, dear,
Best for you, and best for me
In the gloaming, oh my darling
When the lights are soft and low
Will you think of me, and love me
As you did once long ago?

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A couple of posts ago I showed some lichens that I found growing on a boulder. I have also seen many different lichens growing on trees and branches, both live and dead.

This hairy looking lichen was on a live tree. I think it might be a beard Lichen, but they are hard to identify so I’m never completely sure. It could also be reindeer lichen or antler lichen.The Apache painted wolf-lichen (Letharia vulpina) crosses on their feet so they could pass their enemies unseen. Wolf lichen is one of the beard lichens and is poisonous. It was used in Europe to poison wolves, but was also the most widely used dye lichen for Native Americans. 

This one looks more like a bunch of antlers to me than the one in the previous photo, so I’m going to assume it’s one of the antler lichens. Lumbermen often develop allergies to this type of lichen because of the acids they contain. Because this one and the one in the previous photo are shrub-like, they are Fruticose lichens.

I love the different colors and shapes of lichens. This one that I see as green my daughter says looks orange-yellow. Since she’s the one with no color blindness, I’ll go with her assessment. One species of yellow lichen (Evernia) which grows on pine and fir trees was used as poison on stone arrow tips by the Achomawi people of California.

This one looks orange or maybe orange-red to me. It was growing on a dead branch.Two species of lichens were recently exposed to open space for over 14 days by the European Space Agency.The lichens not only survived, but were still able to undergo photosynthesis. This means that lichens could be the first earth creatures to colonize another planet. Scientists believe that one day they will be able to transport living organisms to Mars.

These look bright red to me. They were also on a dead branch. I’m not sure which species of lichen they are, but I think they’re one of the leaf lichens.It is estimated that there may be as many as 20,000 known species of lichens, and scientists think that more than half of them contain substances with antibiotic properties.

I think this one is a “hammered shield” lichen, (Parmelia sulcata) so called because each lobe looks as if it had been hammered out of a metal sheet. Some lichens, like Vitricolous lichens will even grow on glass. Vitricolous is from the Latin vitrum (glass) and cola (indicating inhabitant). It literally means “glass inhabiting,” and these lichens have damaged stained glass windows in European cathedrals by etching the glass as they grow.

This one growing on a crabapple tree looks as if it’s made of play dough. It’s possibly one of the leaf lichens. Fruticose lichens are shrub-like, foliose lichens look like leaves, and crustose lichens look like crusts. Some lichens grow only a fraction of an inch in a year. This one seemed to appear overnight, but has probably been on this branch for years.  One odd thing about most lichens is how easy they are to miss unless you are looking for them. Some lichens can be mistaken for other things. The salt lichen is glossy black and grows in large colonies on rocks that are exposed to sea water at high tide. It is often mistaken for spilled crude oil.

 This is one of the most common lichens that I see often, especially on red oaks. It might be “heather rags,” (Hypogymnia physodes) so named because it is ragged and gray and grows among the heather in Scotland. Scottish names for lichens are among the best I think, with names like Sunburn, Rock Hair, Yellow Candles, Golden Pine Lichen, Little Clouds, Oak Moss, Crab’s-eye, Coral Crust and Sea Ivory.

I wasn’t sure if these were even lichens, but I have since found photos and descriptions of lichens known as “common script lichens” (Graphis scripta) which appear very similar. They are said to grow on smooth barked trees, which these were. Lichens are so sensitive to air pollutants that in 1972 school children throughout Britain mapped lichens around their homes, which helped produce the “Mucky air map of Britain.”The map showed where clean and dirty air was to be found in Britain.

I’m not sure what these are either, but I like them. They were growing on a birch branch. If they are “olive-brown, broadly rounded, smooth to slightly wrinkled and sometimes very shiny” it’s possible that they are “lustrous camouflage lichen,” also known as wart lichen. (Melanelia exasperatula) The trouble is, they look kind of maroon colored to me. I wonder if the “exasperatula” part of their scientific name is because people can get so exasperated trying to identify lichens??

No, probably not.

I hope you enjoyed seeing a few more New Hampshire lichens. Thanks for stopping by.

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Last Monday morning I watched as the rising sun touched a few pieces of ice covered stove wood.

When the sunlight fell on the logs and was magnified by the clear ice, they blazed with flameless fire. 

But none of that now-by Friday the early morning sky looked like milk, and had no fire.

 Last weekend, I admired the petals of Vernal Witch Hazel fluttering in the breeze.

Not this weekend. Witch Hazel petals will no doubt stay tucked away until another warm, sunny day.

For nearly all of this winter animals walked over the sandy river banks at night. 

 Now they seek out patches of dry ground under spruces. 

Nature has toyed with us this year, but spring has started and it isn’t likely to stop now.

This was taken a week or so ago, so It shouldn’t be too long before the daffodils are blooming.

I hope all of you and yours are well after the recent severe weather outbreaks. Thanks for visiting.

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