Here in New Hampshire November is always the cloudiest month but I looked out the window one recent morning and saw a beautiful, sunny day. I didn’t want to waste it so I set off for the High Blue trail north of here in Walpole. By the time I parked at the trailhead the sun was just a white smudge on a sky so flat and gray it looked as if it had been painted by a melancholy watercolorist. It would have been a great day for wildflower or foliage photography, but it wasn’t too good for landscapes.
The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests maintains the trail that leads to ledges that, at 1588 feet above sea level, look out over the Connecticut River valley into Vermont. It’s an easy, quick walk to a great view and I come here quite often.
I especially like to come here at this time of year when the bones of the forest are revealed. At any other time of year you could walk right by these mossy ledges without seeing them, but now they really stand out. This is a great place to find many different lichens and mosses.
A closer look shows large boulders covered with rock tripe lichen (Umbilicaria mammulata)
It is said that soldiers stationed at Valley Forge under George Washington ate rock tripe to stay alive. But they also ate their shoes, and rock tripe is considered barely edible even though science has shown that it has a very high nutritional value. On this day it was dry and brittle but when it rains it will become pliable and algae will blossom up to its surface, turning it dark green.
Rain isn’t going to help our beech trees, I’m afraid. This is called beech bark disease and I’m seeing it more and more. Sometime around 1890 a European Beech was imported in Nova Scotia, and it was infected with a scale insect called wooly beech scale. This scale is a sucking insect and it makes holes in the bark to get at the sap. These wounds allow certain types of fungi to begin growing and killing the inner bark of the tree. If there are enough wounds and they circle the tree it is girdled and killed. Since both the scale insect and the various fungi that follow it are wind borne, the future doesn’t look bright for the American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) in this part of the country.
Beech drops (Epifagus virginiana) is a plant that parasitizes the roots of beech trees, but doesn’t do any real damage to them. I usually look for this plant in the fall when it blooms, but this time I found it gone to seed. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, because information on this plant’s seeds and how they are dispersed is just about impossible to find. In fact, I found only one other photo of its seeds, and it was out of focus, so the photo here is something of a rarity, apparently. If only I’d known when I was in the woods! I did find one article that said it is thought that raindrops, landing in the open, cup shaped pod seen in the photo, would disperse the seeds, but nobody really seems to know for sure.
I thought this odd colored toothed fungus was interesting. I think it is a bear head fungus (Hericium americanum) but I’m not sure if that comes in this color. It was a very cold morning though and this and other fungi were frozen solid, so that might have affected the color and changed it from the usual white. The icicle like appearance of this fungus was very appropriate on such a cold morning.
If you like stone walls this is the time of year to look for them. They’re much easier to see now that the leaves have fallen. Here in New Hampshire you don’t have to go very far to find one-any forest will do. Many, if not most, of these old walls still mark property boundaries.
Cellar holes and old stone foundations are also much easier to see. This is the corner of what was once the foundation of someone’s house. We might wonder why someone would be living “out in the middle of nowhere” because it’s easy to forget that just one hundred years ago most of these hills were cleared and used as pasture land.
This is new. When I was up here last August I didn’t see any cairns, but now there are three. I’ve never seen a source of loose stone here either but there must be one nearby. I can’t imagine anyone carrying that much stone all the way up here. Cairns have been built since before recorded history for many different purposes but I’m not sure what, if anything these ones are supposed to mean.
The view of the Green Mountains off to the west from the ledges was blue as it always is, but also hazy. I think the clouds were low enough to limit the viewable distance somewhat. The wind was coming at this spot from right over Stratton Mountain and it was cold.
It’s no wonder the wind coming over the mountain was so cold. According to the Stratton Mountain Ski Area web site, they’ve been making snow and are expecting some natural snow someday this week. If it snows I hope it stays on that side of the Connecticut River and doesn’t make it this far east. I’m not ready for it yet. I wish I had made it up here when the foliage colors were peaking.
As you walk down the trail at this time of year Mount Monadnock can be seen to the south east. It too will be snow covered soon. When there are leaves on the trees this view is mostly blocked.
You never climb the same mountain twice, not even in memory. Memory rebuilds the mountain, changes the weather, retells the jokes, and remakes all the moves. ~Lito Tejada-Flores
Thanks for stopping in.