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Archive for June, 2014

1. Depot Building

I visited a rail trail recently that I hadn’t been on for many years. This is where we start; at the depot in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and other notables passed this way on their way north out of Fitchburg, Massachusetts to the town of Troy, New Hampshire where they then hiked to Mount Monadnock to climb it.

2. Signal Light

This depot still has its colored glass signals on top of a high pole. The meaning of three of the colors is much the same today as it was then; green meant it was safe to proceed, yellow meant an impending stop or speed reduction, and red meant come to a full stop. Blue meant that another track met the track you were on. Purple was used for derails at one time, but became obsolete. Amber was used in foggy conditions and white or clear meant restricted conditions. These colors are also still used by railroads today. Since I’m color blind I’ll let you sort out which is which on this signal.

3. Lady's Slippers

I was surprised-actually shocked is more accurate-to find pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) still blooming out here, and they were everywhere. These plants have bloomed longer this year than I’ve ever seen. It could be because of the cool, damp weather we’ve had but I don’t really know.

4. Granite Waste Piles

Before you’ve walked too far you come to a pond, and as you look around you see that things aren’t quite right.  Nowhere else in this part of the state that I know of will you see piles of granite lining the shore of a pond like they do here. I wonder what Thoreau thought of them.

5. Bog Laurel

Bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia) grows on the banks of the pond. As I walked toward it to get some photos I startled a young mallard. It couldn’t fly but it sure could swim in circles fast and made quite a racket. I felt bad about scaring it so I took a couple of quick shots of this beautiful laurel and left.

6. Excess Granite

If you know the way to get to it, you can find an old abandoned granite quarry out in these woods. I always wondered what happened to the excess granite in a granite quarry, and now I know. When they weren’t dumping it on the shores of the pond they were stacking it up to make walls. This one was at least 10 feet high and 3 times as long.

Fitzwilliam granite is of very fine grain and has an even color and a very low iron content, which means it doesn’t stain and discolor over time. Some of the buildings that were built with Fitzwilliam granite are the State Capitol of Albany, N.Y., the Public Library at Natick, Mass., the Union Depot and Court House in Worcester, Mass., the Union Station, Washington, D.C., Marshall Field’s, Chicago, Ill., and the City Hall and Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ.

7. Iron Rod in Stone

This bent iron rod in a block of granite was about an inch in diameter and my arm would have fit into the opening it made right up to the shoulder, with room to spare.

8. Carved Granite

I was surprised to find beautifully carved granite out in these woods. In the 1800s this was done with hammers and chisels, but the really remarkable thing about the French cove carving shown here is how it was carved into a curved block of stone. It’s hard to see in the photo but as you look down the length of the carving the far end is lower than in the foreground, so the block was cut into a large radius with a molded edge added. It must have been meant for a building. Too bad to do all that work and then just leave it here.

The granite industry was very important to Fitzwilliam for more than 50 years and many of the stonecutters that settled here were from Scotland. At their peak about 400 men worked the quarries. Stonecutters were paid a minimum of $2.00 per day.

9. Beaver Tree

Beavers miscalculated and felled this tree in the wrong direction so it got hung up on others that were still standing.

10. Quarry View

If the beavers had made their cut on the other side of the tree it would have dropped right into this granite quarry, which is now filled with water. A quarry in an area with a shallow water table begins to fill with groundwater almost as soon as it is started and has to be continually pumped out while the stone is being quarried. In the early 1800s windmills or steam engines often powered the pumps but they could only do so much. As the quarry gets deeper more and more groundwater flows in and when it becomes too difficult or too expensive to pump it out it is abandoned and fills with water. You can see large blocks of granite and trees just under the surface a few feet out from shore. These hidden objects make this a very dangerous place to swim, but I and many others used to do so.

11. Feather and Wedge Holes

For some reason the workmen went to all the trouble of splitting this huge block of granite and then left it here. Lucky for us though, because it illustrates perfectly how feathers and wedges were used to split stone. First, 3-4 inch deep holes were drilled (by hand) in a line where the split was to take place. Then feathers and wedges were placed into each hole and tapped down with a hammer until the stone split.

12. Feathers and Wedges

This photo from Wikipedia shows various sizes of feathers and wedges. The curved pieces are the feathers and the wedge is driven in between them. As happens in splitting wood, the force from the wedges being driven ever deeper splits the stone.

13. Splitting Holes

This photo shows the half holes that remain after the stone is split. Most were about as long as, and the same diameter as my pointing finger. There was once a railroad spur that connected this quarry to the rail line that ran near here but its presence has all but disappeared. Quarries boomed by the mid-1800s, producing paving blocks for previously rutted and mucky city streets. Many millions of 4″ X 8″ X 11” cobblestones were produced in quarries all over New England.

14. Quarry Ledges

During its operation a lot of granite was taken from this quarry. Some of the ledges in this photo are 100 or more feet from the water. To give you some sense of scale-that’s a full size white pine tree leaning against that far wall. Since I fell out of a tree and shattered my spine when young I wasn’t able to jump from anything much higher than the soles of my shoes, but I used to swim here nonetheless and I’ve seen many people jump from those ledges. I remember being told that the water was hundreds of feet deep and that there were cranes and steam shovels and even cars that you would get tangled up in if you swam in the wrong places, and I remember the feeling of apprehension that came over me whenever I swam here. If the truth were told I never really did enjoy it much, but being able to overcome your fears is powerful medicine for a teenage boy.

Recently some professional divers dove here to see what they could find and their report was what you’d expect; silt covered granite under water about 40 feet deep, with some pocket change glistening on the stones. There were no steam shovels, cranes or cars down there.

16. Fallen Tree

Today all of the old ghosts have evaporated from this place and it seems much like any other swimming hole, but no shouts bounced off the granite walls and nobody swam.  As I sat on a sun warmed slab of granite I thought back to an old Twilight Zone episode in which the residents of an old folks’ home became children again by playing the games that they’d played in their youth. But even so, I didn’t swim either.

No matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. ~Haruki Murakami

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1. Flowering Raspberry

Native flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) is in the rose family but they look like roses that didn’t have time to iron their petals before they put them on. Still, they are one of my favorites. Each blossom is an inch and a half to two inches across. Later a red fruit that looks like a large raspberry will form, but the fruits are on the dry side and don’t taste much like raspberries.

2. Crown Vetch 2

Crown vetch (Securigera varia) is terribly invasive but also very beautiful, with its rounded clusters of pea like, purple and white flowers. Native to Africa, Asia and Europe, it was imported in the 1950s to be used for erosion control and almost immediately began to spread until today it is present in every US state except North Dakota, and throughout much of Canada.

3. Mountain Laurel

June is the month when our native mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia) bloom. The wood of this shrub twists and turns and can form dense, almost impenetrable thickets when it grows in suitable locations. An older name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

4. Mountain Laurel Front

The pentagonal flowers of mountain laurel have ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. You can see a flower with relaxed anthers in the upper left part of this photo. Once released from their pockets the anthers don’t return to them. Though related to the blueberry, all parts of this plant are very toxic.

5. Mountain Laurel Side

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom on mountain laurels. This side vies shows the cups that the anthers fit into. The way that these flowers work to make sure that visiting insects get dusted with pollen is really amazing.

 6. Black Eyed Susan

I have mixed feelings about black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) because, even though I like seeing the cheery flowers they remind me of how fast time is passing. It’s as if they mark the half-way point of the warm weather, if only in my mind.

7. Heal All

Heal all has been known for its medicinal value since ancient times and has been said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Its tiny flowers have an upper hood and a lower lip which are fused into a tube. Tucked up under the hood are the four stamens and forked pistil, placed perfectly so any visiting bees have to brush against them. Native Americans believed the plant improved eyesight and drank a tea made from it before a hunt.

There are Botanists who believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America.

8. Yarrow

Another plant that was known well in ancient times for its medicinal qualities is common yarrow (Achillea millefolium.) It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and yarrow has also been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. I think yarrow must be the plant with the most common names, probably because it has been known for so long. Some of them are: Bad man’s plaything, bloodwort, carpenter’s grass, carpenter’s weed, devil’s nettle, devil’s plaything, dog daisy, fern weed, field hoop, herb militaris, knight’s milfoil, little feather, milfoil, nosebleed, old man’s pepper, sanguinary, soldier’s woundwort, squirrel tail, staunch grass, staunch weed, thousand-leaf, thousand-seal, thousand-weed, and yarroway.

 9. Tulip Tree Flower

The tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) gets its common name from the way its flowers resemble tulips, at least from the outside. As the photo shows, the inside looks very different. The fruit is cone shaped and made up of a number of thin, narrow scales which eventually become winged seeds. Another name for this tree is yellow poplar. It is the tallest hardwood tree known in North America, sometimes reaching 200 feet. Native Americans made dugout canoes from tulip tree trunks.

10. Tradescantia

Spiderwort flowers (Tradescantia virginiana) are usually blue or violet blue, but not this one-it looked very purple to me. Since I found it in a local park I wondered if it might not be a cultivar of the native plant. This plant always reminds me of my father who, when I was a young boy, used to wonder why I was “dragging all those damn weeds home.” I often found plants growing along the railroad tracks and transplanted them to our yard. This was one of my favorites, but he didn’t seem to care much for them.

 11. Maple Leaf Viburnum

Maple leaf viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium) have started blooming. The size of the flower heads on this shrub can vary greatly depending on how shaded they are. This one was the size of a golf ball but I’ve seen some as big as a grapefruit. They are valuable plants to wildlife. Many songbirds eat the berries and beavers, rabbits, deer and moose eat the bark, twigs and leaves. What I like most about this plant is the way its leaves change colors in the fall. They can go from deep maroon to orange red to light, pastel pink and can be mottled with several different colors at once.

 12. Sulfur Cinquefoil

If you’ve ever seen sulfur then it will make perfect sense why this plant is called sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta.) The flowers are pale yellow, just like the mineral they were named for. This very hairy plant is a native of Europe and Asia and is considered a noxious weed in many parts of the U.S., especially in states with a lot of pastureland. Sometimes its flowers can be white or deeper yellow.

13. Wild Radish

Another sulfur colored flower is found on wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum), but these blossoms have only four petals instead of five like sulfur cinquefoil. The flowers of wild radish can be white, sulfur yellow, or light purplish pink. The petals often have purple veins, but they weren’t very noticeable on the ones in this photo. I find this plant growing at the edges of cornfields.

 14. Milkweed Flowers

I could spend a lot of time and effort explaining how complicated the process of pollination is for a milkweed blossom, but I won’t do so today. That information is easily found elsewhere and I’d rather readers just appreciate the beauty of these blossoms, found on a plant that so many consider a weed not worth looking at. Sometimes by losing ourselves in the natural beauty of this world we find ourselves, and begin to see that the observer and observed are one and the same.

Little things seem nothing, but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odorless but all together perfume the air. ~George Bernanos

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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1. Trail

A friend of mine who moved to California many years ago came back east for a visit recently and, since it was a beautiful summery day with low humidity we decided to climb Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard, New Hampshire. This mountain was named for the Pitcher family who settled here in the 1700s. The trail is actually a road so the fire wardens, technicians, and others can easily drive almost all the way to the top. Hiking it takes about 15 minutes with no stops.

2. Meadow

Before long you reach the pasture where Scottish highland cattle are kept. They weren’t here this day, but there were plenty of wildflowers to admire.

3. Grass Flowering

Grasses were also flowering. They are beautiful when they bloom.

 4. Trail

Nearer to the top the trail gets steeper and rockier.

5. Ranger Station

Before you know it you’re at the old ranger station. There is a shed and an outhouse out in back.

6. Firetower Anchor

It isn’t hard to imagine the mighty winds that must blow up here. The fire tower is tied down to solid granite in several places so it doesn’t blow off the mountain.

7. Fire Tower

Ironically the original wooden fire tower built here in 1915 was destroyed by fire in April of 1940. 27,000 acres of forest burned, including the fire tower and all of the trees on the summit.  It was the most destructive fire in the region’s history and burned the top of the mountain right down to bare granite. There are 16 active fire towers in the state, but this one is only manned when the fire danger is high. It has microwave transmitters and receivers on it, and I’m never really sure what to think about that.

8. Blueberry

Blueberry bushes have colonized the mountaintop and this is a favorite spot to come and pick them. Sometimes entire families will come and pick buckets full of berries. There are acres of them and there always seems to be enough for everybody.

9. Mountain View

Others come for the views, which on this day were quite good.

10. Lichens

I always have to take a close look at the lichens when I come here, even though they never seem to change. Orangey-yellowish common gold speck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) and black and white tile lichen (Lecidea tessellata) appear here with small spots of pale yellow sulfur fire dot lichen (Caloplaca flavovirescens.)

 11. Cloudscape

I took this shot more for the clouds than anything else. I like the way that they float off into infinity. According to Henry David Thoreau mountain tops were sacred and mysterious places to Native Americans and they never visited them. “Only daring and insolent men go there” he said, but I didn’t feel particularly daring or insolent on this day.

 12. Glacial Striations

Deep striations in the granite are a reminder that this entire region was once under ice. It’s hard to imagine ice thick enough to cover these mountains.

 13. Triangulation Station

Even on mountain tops, trigonometry.

14. Monadnock

As you start back down the path on this, the second highest mountain in the region, you are greeted by a view of Mount Monadnock, which is the highest. The sun coming through the clouds was doing some strange things to the colors of the hills, making them look like a painting.

You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know. ~Rene Daumal

Thanks for coming by. Happy first day of summer!

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1. Yellow Slime Mold

We’ve had some rainy weather here along with enough heat and humidity to get slime molds growing. I think this one might be Physarum polycephalum. This plasmodial slime mold, like many others, moves using cytoplasmic streaming, which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass. From Mushroom Expert. Com : “Slime mold plasmodium is a mass of glistening vein-like material that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil at the rate of as much as an inch per hour, growing and eating.” I think that they are very beautiful things and I always look forward to seeing them after a good summer rain storm.

2. Coral Fungus with Slime Mold

The slime mold had a friend growing nearby on the same log. I think it might be crown coral (Clavicorona pyxidata.) Crown coral branches at right angles like a candelabra and each branch ends in a tiny little crown, just like what is seen here. Black eyed Susans haven’t even blossomed yet so it seems very early to be seeing both slime molds and coral fungi, but there they are. Whether I understand it or not, nature has its way.

3. Brittle Cinder fungus aka Kretzschmaria deusta

Brittle Cinder fungi (Kretzschmaria deusta) in this stage are stunning, in my opinion. I like the powder gray against the bright white. However, since it causes soft rot and will kill a tree, it isn’t something I like to see growing on living, healthy trees. Later on the fruiting bodies will turn into a brittle black crust.

 4. Bug on a Maple Leaf

This crane fly sat still long enough for me to admire its stained glass like wings and get a couple of photos. Many young birds have been raised on these harmless insects that are often mistaken for mosquitos.

5. Gall on Maple Leaf caused by maple bladdergall mite  V. quadripedes 2

I’m colorblind and have a lot of trouble with red and green, but even I could see these bright red galls on this maple leaf. They were the size of the BBs that are used in BB guns and each one sat on a tiny stalk. They were caused by a member of the maple bladder gall mite family called Vasates quadripedes. Galls are unsightly on ornamental trees but they don’t hurt the tree at all.

 6. Beech Seedling with Seed Leaves

Unless you own a nursery or spend a good deal of time in the woods, there’s a good chance that you’ve never seen the seed leaves of an American beech tree (Fagus grandifolia.) Seed leaves are called cotyledons and appear before a plant’s true leaves. If the plant has 2 seed leaves it is called a dicot (dicotyledon), and if only one it is called a monocot (monocotyledon.) The cotyledons are part of the embryo within the seed and contain stored food that the young plant needs to grow. As the food stores are used up the cotyledons might either turn green and photosynthesize, or wither and fall off. That’s the quick botany lesson of the day.  It’s hard to make it any more exciting.

7. Beech Seed Leaves

Seed leaves, as anyone who has ever started vegetables from seed knows, often look nothing like the true leaves.  In the case of American beech they look more like flower petals than leaves and feel tough and leathery. If you know of a beech tree that produces nuts, take a look underneath it in the spring for seedlings that still have their seed leaves. They are a rare sight.

8. Honey Locut Thorn

I once read a story by a Massachusetts man who said he took great delight in running through the forest. Not on a trail-just through the forest-and I shiver a bit when I think of all of the reasons that one shouldn’t do such a thing. One of those reasons is the honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos.) Its thorns grow from the bark of the branches and trunk and can reach up to 8 inches long. They are also very hard and sharp enough to pierce flesh. Thorns on fallen branches could also puncture some shoe soles, so it’s best to be aware of your surroundings when near this tree. Admire it but don’t meet it accidentally.

 9. Shining Bur Sedge aka Carex intumescens

Many sedges, rushes and grasses are flowering now. This is shining bur sedge (Carex intumescens,) which is also called bladder sedge. The tiny white bits are its flowers. Most sedges like moist soil and I usually find them near ponds and streams. When trying to identify something that looks like grass I always feel the stem first. There is an old saying that says “sedges have edges” because of their triangular stems. Grasses have round stems.

10. Porcupine Sedge

Sedges can also have funny names. This one is (I think) called porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina.)

11. Panicled Bulrush aka Scirpus microcarpus

Every summer for the past three years I’ve tried to get a decent photo of panicled bulrush (Scirpus microcarpus) where it didn’t fade into the background. Finally, by using the flash on a bright day, its panicles of flowers and leaf like bracts stand out from the background cattails and silky dogwoods. This plant has a triangular stem, so it is in the sedge family. It is also called small fruited bulrush. Though they aren’t related and don’t even look very much alike these plants always remind me of papyrus, which reminds me of the pyramids of Egypt and what you could see floating down the Nile. Sometimes the mind wanders as you walk along.

 12. Flowering Orchard Grass

According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.” I just like to look at its flowers but it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who thinks grasses are exciting.

 13. Wool Sower Gall Wap Gall on White Oak

I’ve never seen anything quite like this gall on an oak limb. It was createdd by the wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator) and was the size of a ping pong ball but felt like a tennis ball. The gall is caused by secretions from the grubs of the gall wasp, which will only build it on white oak and only in spring. There are small seed like structures inside the gall which contain the wasp larva, and that’s why these galls are also called oak seed galls.

14. Royal Fern

Royal fern (Osmunda spectablis v. regalis) is one of the easiest plants in the forest to identify because nothing else looks quite like it. It has a light and airy appearance and is almost always found growing near water. The Osmunda part of the scientific name is believed to come from Osmunder, which is one of the Saxon names for the Norse god Thor. Royal fern is one of the oldest, largest and most beautiful ferns.

15. Ganoderma tsugae on Hemlock

Nature can show the brightest colors in the oddest places and I always wonder why. What benefit can this stalked bracket fungus called hemlock varnish shelf (Ganoderma tsugae) gain from all of that color? Do the colors relate to the minerals it is absorbing from this old hemlock log? And why do the colors change over time?

These are the kinds of questions that come to me as I wander through the woods, even though I don’t really expect to ever find the answers to them. Maybe there are no answers-maybe the colors are there just so we can admire them for a time and feel grateful to be alive in the midst of all of the natural beauty that surrounds us.

One of the hardest lessons we have to learn in this life, and one that many persons never learn, is to see the divine, the celestial, the pure, in the common, the near at hand – to see that heaven lies about us here in this world. ~John Burroughs

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1. Abandoned Road

Recently I was contacted by Sean Hurley, playwright and frequent contributor to New Hampshire Public Radio. Mr. Hurley had read the blog post that I did last year about an old abandoned road and was interested in also doing a story about it. We talked back and forth for a few days, trying to find a common space where we both would have time to meet on the old road. In the end due to my time constraints and his three day’s hence deadline we never did get to meet face to face, but the telephone solved the problem and he called to interview me late one afternoon. He had a radio voice that was deep and smooth, and his words sounded more like they were being poured than spoken.

2. Beaver Brook Falls

He had explored the old road earlier and had lots of questions so we quickly got down to business. We started by talking about the place in general and what I thought of it. I told him that I thought it was great that it was so close to downtown Keene and so easily accessible. People have a place where they can go to experience nature up close and personal and can also see a great waterfall.

3. Beaver Brook Garnets

Native garnets are good for use in the abrasive industry, but not much else.

We talked about rocks; about what kind there were there. I told him that there was a lot of feldspar in the area and how I used to go there to find garnets colored such a deep blood red that they  looked almost black, and which had formed way back when the molten feldspar slowly cooled. In fact there are so many garnets in places that it looks like they were shot out of a shotgun. And they are just about the size of shotgun shot, too-quite small.

4. No Passing Lines

No Passing Zone

“What about the double yellow lines on the road?” he asked. “The grass growing up through them must mean something.” He was hoping that nature boy would come up with something deep and metaphorical, but all I could think of was how it was sunnier where the lines were, and how nature was doing all it could to fill that sunny spot with leaf surface so not a drop of sunshine was wasted. I told him that nature was slowly healing the scar that man had made. He was less than impressed, I could tell. It was only later that I thought about how ironic it was that the yellow lines meant “no passing” when everything about this place speaks of the passage of time.

5. Beaver Brook  Ice

Beaver Brook in winter

He asked if the road ever changed. Thinking like a photographer I told him about how the light changed from day to day, and even from morning through afternoon. Once again he was looking for something more-something deeper-and it was only later that I thought about how beautiful the place is when the leaves are falling, and how silent it becomes in winter when the brook wears a blanket and the roar of the falls is muffled by gigantic, gleaming columns of ice.

6. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

We talked about the plants that grow there and I told him about trillium and Jack in the pulpit, about dog lichens and Solomon’s seal and red elderberry. He answered yes, he had noticed the poison ivy growing thickly along both sides of the road, and then asked about any rare plants that I’d found there. I told him about rose moss and blue stemmed goldenrod but forgot about several others, like the smoky eye boulder lichens so amazingly blue that it looks like the sky itself has been broken into pieces and sprinkled over the stones.

7. Star Drill Hole Through Feldspar

Hole through feldspar boulder drilled by hand with a star drill sometime in the 1800s.

We talked about history, and I told him how my search for the exact dates of when the old road was closed and when the new highway was built had been frustrated at every turn. Can it really be possible that everyone has forgotten? Aren’t things like that written down somewhere? I told him that I had friends who remember driving on it, and how I could remember traveling on it as a boy with my father.

8. Beaver Brook Bridge 2

As soon as I mentioned my father I found myself wishing he were here, because he’d know all about this old place, and I wondered why he never told me about the waterfall that we passed each time we drove through here. And then I wondered if maybe he had told me and I just didn’t listen. Hearing is different than listening and I was a headstrong youth who often heard but rarely listened.

9. Dad

And that’s how, much like the old road itself with all of its twists and turns, this became a father’s day post-so I could I urge those of you who are lucky enough to still have fathers to listen-really listen-to their stories. I can say with certainty that you won’t regret it if you do, but you might regret it one day if you don’t.

I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom. ~Umberto Eco

If you’d like to listen to Sean Hurley’s radio piece and read a transcript about the abandoned road just click here.

If you’d like to read the 2 part blog post that started all of this, just click here.

Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads out there. Thanks for coming by.

 

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1. Blue Flag Iris

It’s hard to believe that it is iris time already, but here they are. This is a native blue flag (Iris versicolor) that I found growing near a pond. Such beauty, and all to convince the bees that this, more than any other, is the flower that they should visit.

2. Bunchberry Flowers

If, when you look at a bunchberry plant (Cornus canadensis) it reminds you of something else, that’s because it is in the dogwood family. Like a dogwood blossom its large white bracts surround smaller flowers. Even the 2 larger and 4 smaller leaves look like a dogwood. In fact, an old name for the plant is creeping dogwood. They like moist, shady woods.

3. Bunchberry Flowers

A closer look at tiny bunchberry flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a bright red, single seeded drupe, and the plant will then have the bunch of “berries” that give it its common name.

4. Rhodora Blossoms

Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense,) is a small, native rhododendron that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished. On May 17, 1854 Henry David Thoreau wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color,” and that is exactly what this beautiful little plant does.

5. Cow Vetch

Cow vetch (Vicia cracca) is a native of Europe and Asia that loves it here and has spread far and wide. According to the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States the vining plant is present in every U.S. state. Cow vetch can have a taproot nearly a foot long and drops large numbers of seeds, so it is hard to eradicate. It is very similar to hairy vetch, but that plant has hairy stems. I like its color and it’s nice to see it sprinkled here and there among the tall grasses.

6. Ox Eye Daisy

I got married in June and we couldn’t afford flowers from a florist so we picked ox-eye daisy blossoms (Leucanthemum vulgare.) That’s when I discovered that they look much better along a roadside than they do in a vase. This one had a visitor.

7. Yellow Hawkweed

Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head (Hieracium caespitosum) is actually a single, complete flower. The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval leaves at the base of the stem often turn deep purple in winter. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk.

8. White Foxglove

I’ve seen foxglove flowers (Digitalis) in the past which, even though they tried very hard to be white, were more off white or pale yellow, but those pictured were definitely white. Though eye catching, all parts of this plant are toxic and eating even a small amount can be fatal.

9. White Foxglove

Though it is said that the spots on a foxglove flower are elfin finger prints, they are actually a kind of guide or “landing strip” for bees. In many foxglove blossoms the spots are fluorescent at night under black light and, since bees see in ultraviolet light, viewing the flowers under black light gives us an idea of what bees must see.

10. Black Locust Blossoms

I love smelling the flowers of the black locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia.) I think of them as a kind of poor man’s wisteria because their fragrance seems very similar to me. The flowers might also look familiar to vegetable gardeners because the black locust is in the pea family (Fabaceae.) One way to identify the tree is by the pair of short spines at the base of each leaf. Like many other legumes its leaflets fold together at night and when it rains.

11. Purple Robe Black Locust

These flowers also belong to the black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia, ) but I believe that this tree is a cultivar called “purple robe” that has escaped cultivation. I find it in the woods occasionally and have been a little confused about its origin. It lacks the short spines at the base of its leaves and instead has bristly hairs on its stems. It always seems to be growing in small colonies when I see it and I’m hoping that a reader might know more about it. The flowers are very fragrant and bees really love this tree. Every time I find one in bloom it is absolutely covered with bees, which makes getting photos a challenge.

Note: Josh from the Josh’s Journal blog has identified this plant as bristly locust (Robinia hispida,) which is a native, shrubby locust. Thanks to Josh for putting several years of wondering about this plant to rest. This is a great illustration of how long it can take to correctly identify plants in rare cases.

12. Blue Toadflax

I recently found the biggest colony of native blue toadflax plants (Nuttallanthus canadensis) that I’ve ever seen growing alongside a road. This plant seems to like sunny and dry, sandy waste areas because that’s where I always find it growing. It’s always worth getting down on my hands and knees to admire its tiny but beautiful blue / purple flowers.

13. Bowman's Root

Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata) has many other common names, such as Indian physic or American ipecac, both of which tell me that I don’t want to be eating any of it. Native Americans dried the root and used it as an emetic and laxative so some of its common names make sense, but I’ve never been able to find out where the name bowman’s root originated. This two foot tall native plant makes an excellent addition to a partially shaded perennial border.

14. Bowman's Root

An unusual feature of bowman’s root is how the five petals on the beautiful white, star shaped flowers are never quite symmetrical.

Another common name for this plant is fawn’s breath and, though I don’t know its origin, these flowers sway in the gentlest hint of a breeze and I can imagine someone thinking that it didn’t take more than the breath of a fawn to get them dancing.

15. Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) are one of the most beautiful things you’ll see in the woods of New Hampshire in the spring. Their blooming period has nearly ended for this year, so I thought I’d show one more before next spring. This is the darkest colored one that I saw this year.

I often try to take a photo of the darkest flower in a group and then compare them at the end of the blooming period. I do this with many different kinds of flowers and the differences are sometimes quite surprising.

In every man’s heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty. – Christopher Morley

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1. Pink lady's Slippers

As I said in the last post, rail trails are excellent places to find rare and hard to find plants, including pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule.) I know of one trail where they grow all along one side of it. How can you witness something so beautiful and not feel grateful to simply be alive?

2. Ashuelot Depot

This old depot in Ashuelot, New Hampshire, just south of Keene, isn’t as elaborately adorned as some that still stand in this area but it has been taken care of and seems to be fairly complete, except for the wooden platform it surely must have had. The train would have stopped just a few feet out from that red door. This was on the Ashuelot branch of the Cheshire Railroad, which was part of the Boston and Maine Railroad system. The Cheshire Railroad ran from Keene to Brattleboro, Vermont, and from there north into central Vermont or south to Massachusetts.

3. Flying_Yankee 1935

A sister train to the Flying Yankee pictured here would have carried passengers on the Cheshire Railroad from 1935 until its retirement in 1957. The gleaming stainless steel streamliner with “Cheshire” on its nameplate ran over 3 million miles in its history as a state of the art diesel passenger train. Its second car was a combination baggage / mail / buffet dining car and the third car was coach seating and had a rounded end with 270 degrees of glass for observation. It carried 88 passengers. Thanks go to the Troy Cheshire Railroad Depot Commission for providing this information, and to Wikipedia for the photo.

4. Boxcars

I know that a lot of freight was hauled over these rails but I was surprised to find these old boxcars slowly sinking into the earth outside an old abandoned paper mill. There was a lumber yard and warehouses across the tracks from my grandmother’s house and when I was a boy I used to play in and on boxcars just like these. That was back when the trains were running so I also used to get chased out of them frequently.

5. Boxcar Side

These cars were from the Green Mountain Railroad, which still runs as a scenic railway through parts of Vermont.

6. Boxcar Couplings

The old boxcars weren’t coupled correctly, so if you moved one the other wouldn’t follow. Can you see what the problem is?

7. Train Coupling

This is how knuckle couplers should look when coupled to move the cars in tandem. The parts with the holes through them should always front to back as they are in this photo from Wikipedia. Or side to side, depending on how you choose to look at them.

8. Fringed Polygala Colony

I recently found the largest colony of fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) that I’ve ever seen growing out in the middle of nowhere, alongside a rail trail.

9. Fringed Polygala

It’s always a pleasure to see these little winged beauties. It took quite a bike ride to get to them but it was worth the achy knees.

10. Abandoned Paper Mill

New Hampshire used to have a lot of paper mills but many have gone out of business. This one seems to be slowly crumbling. I’ve watched buildings like this crumble before and it always seems to start with an unrepaired leak in the roof. The water coming through the roof rots the roof rafters, floor joists and sills, and finally the rotting building is too weak to handle the snow load and, usually after a heavy snowfall, down it comes.

11. Railroad Artifact

You can find many old rusting railroad artifacts along these rail trails. I took a photo of this object because I didn’t know what it was, and I still don’t. It was about a foot long and quite heavy.

13. Rock Slime

In my 50+ years of being in these woods I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite so strange as this-whatever it is. I call it rock slime because it looked slimy but I was surprised when I poked my finger into it, to find that it felt like cool water and wasn’t slimy or sticky at all. It hung down for about a foot under a rock overhang that constantly dripped water, so that it couldn’t dry out. If you’re reading this and know what it is, or if you’ve seen something like it, I’d love to hear from you.

12. Rock Slime Closeup

This is a close up of the rock slime. The back looked the same as the front. Are those eyes I see in there?

14. Dead End

Sometimes, rarely but sometimes, you run into a dead end on a rail trail. This fallen tree marked the end of the maintained part of this trail and it reminded me that this is what they would all look like if it wasn’t for the dedicated, hardworking volunteers that keep these trails open for the rest of us. Here in New Hampshire it is mostly snowmobile clubs that do this work all summer and they accept donations. If you use the rail trails in your area, why not find out who maintains them and consider making a small donation or volunteering some time? I’m sure it will be greatly appreciated. Just think of what strange, interesting, and beautiful things we’d all be missing if they weren’t kept open.

Go outside and walk a bit, long enough to take in and record new surroundings.  Enjoy the best-kept secret around – the ordinary, everyday landscape that touches any explorer with magic. ~John R. Stilgoe

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1. Rail Trail

I’ve decided that what I like most about rail trails is the same thing I liked about them when the trains were running. Back when I was a boy everything was a mystery and new discoveries waited around every bend. I find that little has changed in that regard on these old paths through the forest. I’ve been walking and biking the rail trails in the area over the past few weeks and this year I decided to look for a little history as well as interesting plants. I found plenty of both.

2. Box Culvert

If you’re on a rail trail and see a stream flowing under it, there’s a good chance that it is flowing through a culvert-possibly a very old culvert. The one in the photo is a box culvert, made up of two side walls, top or lintel stones, and a stone floor. In the mid-1800s railroad stone masons cut these stones from ledges or boulders found in the woods near the rail line. There were certain rules that they had to follow. One regarded the thickness of the lintel stones and by how many inches they had to overlap the side walls, and even how much soil would be packed on top of them. These lintel stones were at least a foot thick and supported the weight of locomotives twice a day for over a century.

3. Trestle

Though I grew up hearing everyone call this type of span a trestle, according to Wikipedia this is a Warren-type through-truss bridge. This type of bridge was made of wood, wrought iron, cast iron, or steel. We have several that cross and re-cross the Ashuelot River but trees and shrubs along the river banks are making them harder to see each year. Last year I could see the river from this spot, but not now.

4. Signal Box

This appears to be an old switch box of the kind that would alert the engineer that the through track had been switched to a side spur. Whatever it was, it was powered by electricity. The rectangular base was bolted to a concrete pad and the warning indicators would have been at the top of the pole, but that part had been broken off.

 5. Forget Me Not Colony

One of the largest stands of forget me nots (Myosotis scorpioides) I’ve ever seen is beside a rail trail. You never know what plants you might find along these trails, and I’ve seen some amazing things.

6. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots are such pretty little things and here they grow happily, way out in the middle of nowhere.

7. Box Culvert

This is another, bigger box culvert. According to a website I found called Historic Stone Highway Culverts in New Hampshire the difference between a bridge and a culvert is the length of the span. (Width of the opening) Anything less than 10 feet is a culvert, and more than that is a bridge. Most culverts are covered by earth fill but the one in the photo surprisingly had very little fill over it. The amount of fill over a culvert plays a huge role in how much weight it can carry.

8. New Culvert

This is an example of a new culvert, recently installed. Will it last for centuries like the box culverts have?

9. Rattlesnake Weed

Rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum), one of the rarest plants that I’ve ever found, grows beside a rail trail. I was very happy to see that it is going to bloom this year. Its flowers look like those of yellow hawkweed and, though they aren’t very spectacular, flowers mean seeds and seeds mean more plants.

 10. Arch Street

Sometimes these old rail trails still cross over roads.

11. Tunnel

Way up at the top of that embankment through a break in the trees is where I was when I took the previous photo. Many of these old granite tunnels have been taken down, but this one still stands. My question is, how did the railroad build it? Did they dig a hole through the hillside and then line it with granite block, or did they build the tunnel and then fill in with soil over the top of it? I’m guessing the latter, but can anyone imagine the amount of soil they had to move? It’s staggering to think of it.

The plants growing in the gaps in the face stones are pushing them away from the arch stones (voussoirs) and they really should be removed.

 12. Early Azalea

In my last post I wrote about finding a native early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) out in the woods, and just as I was taking photos for this post I found another growing beside a rail trail.

13. Early Azalea 2

The fragrance of this azalea is really magnificent and it was my nose as much as my eyes that led me to it.

 14. Arched Culvert

What most impresses me about the railroad is how, even out in the woods, the stone masons displayed their extraordinary craftsmanship. They knew when they built this arched culvert that few if any people would ever see it, but they created a thing of beauty anyway. Each one of those stones was split, faced and fitted by hand, using little more than hammers and chisels. That they have stood and stood well since the mid-1800s is a testament to their mastery of the art of stone masonry. Having built with stone myself I am left in awe of their skill and knowledge. Stone arch culverts are rare in comparison to the box culvert, representing only ten percent of the total culverts in New Hampshire.

In part two of this post we’ll see abandoned mills, old railroad depots, rock slime, rusting boxcars and of course, more flowers.

Sometimes you don’t choose the path, it chooses you. ~Anonymous

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