Canada geese are flying in pairs up and down the Ashuelot River again and the ice that covered it for a while in this spot has melted. The deep snow that has kept me off its banks has melted enough so it is once again possible to explore, and it’s a great feeling because I’ve missed being there. The going can still be difficult though. Just after I snapped the above photo we saw snow squalls, so these shots had to be taken over 2 or 3 days.
One of the first things I saw was a broken grass stem, so I thought I’d see how close I could get with my camera.
Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) still have plenty of seeds on them. With a winter like the one we’ve just had I would expect every food source to be stripped clean but there are still large amounts of natural bird feed out there. I’m not sure what to make of it. Maybe it happens every year and I’ve just never noticed.
Something I haven’t seen here before was a large clump of cord glaze moss (Entodon seductrix). This moss is a sun lover and it was growing on a stone in full sun. It is also called glossy moss because of the way it shines. Its leaves become translucent when wet and a little shinier when dry, but unlike many other mosses its appearance doesn’t change much between its wet and dry states.
Bitter wart lichen (Pertusaria amara) is a rarity here. The only one I know of grows on the limb of an old dead American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) tree that still stands near the river. When I went to visit this lichen I noticed with dismay that all of the bark is falling from the dead limb that it grows on, so this might be that last shot I get of this particular example.
This close up shot of the bitter wart lichen shows the darker gray, deeply fissured body (thallus) and whitish fruiting bodies (apothecia) that erupt from it. The apothecia look like warts and are how this lichen gets its common name. From what I’ve read about this lichen the apothecia are rarely fertile, and that might explain why I’ve only seen just this one. The “bitter” part of the common name comes from its bitter taste. Not that I’ve tasted it-I just take the lichenologist’s word for it.
There is a lot of dead deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) showing in places, all beaten down by the heavy snow load. This grass is tough and it amazes me how this can all just disappear into the soil in just a few short months. This grass gets its common name from the way its leaves resemble a deer’s tongue.
White pines (Pinus strobus) are showing signs of sticky new growth. In his writings Henry David Thoreau mentioned the white pine more than any other tree, and once wrote of being able to see distant hills after climbing to the top of one. The tallest one on record was about 180′ tall.
Staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) grow along the edges of the woods that line the river and their buds are swelling. Up close the hairy, first year branches of this tree look more animal than plant. Another name for staghorn sumac is velvet tree, and that’s exactly what it feels like.
Along this stretch of river is where the inner bark on dead staghorn sumacs is a bright, reddish orange color. I’ve looked at dead sumacs in other locations and have never seen any others with bark this color. I’ve read descriptions that say the inner bark is “light green and sweet to chew on,” but no reference to its changing color when it dries, so it is a mystery to me. If you’re reading this and know something about sumac bark I’d love to hear from you.
Native witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) also line the banks of the Ashuelot in this area. This is a shot of the recently opened seed pods, which explode with force and can throw the seeds as far as 30 feet. I’ve read that you can hear them pop when they open and even though I keep trying to be there at the right time to see and hear it happening, I never am.
There are no man made trails here but there is a very narrow game trail which in places is crowded by poison ivy plants (Toxicodendron radicans) on both sides, so I always wear long pants when I come here. Even with longs pants one early spring I knelt to take a photo of a wildflower and must have landed right on some poison ivy because my knees itched for two weeks afterward. I’m lucky that the rash stays right on the body part that contacted the plant and doesn’t spread like it does on most people. In the above photo are the plant’s berries looking a little winter beaten, but which will also give you a rash if you touch them. This is a good plant to get to know intimately if you plan on spending much time in the woods because every part of it, in winter or summer, will make you itch like you’ve never itched before.
The river seems so happy now that the dam that stood here for more than 250 years is gone. Trout and other fish have returned. Eagles once again fish it, ducks and geese swim in it, and all manner of animals visit its shores.
I can remember when the Ashuelot ran a different color each day because of the dyes that the woolen mills discharged directly into it. I’ve seen it run orange, purple, and everything in between. It was very polluted at one time but thankfully it was cleaned up and today tells a story of not only how we nearly destroyed it, but also how we saved it. Knowing what I do of its history, it’s hard not to be happy when I walk its banks.
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 philosopher
Thanks for stopping in.