Last Saturday afternoon the weather cooperated and after 2 or 3 false starts the Pathfinders finally made it to Keene for their tour of the old abandoned road that follows Beaver Brook. Their group was much smaller than what had been originally planned last winter, but I hope that the ones who couldn’t make it can come another day. When I took this photo of them walking up the old road I thought oops, I forgot to tell them to wear long pants. The road is covered with poison ivy along one side and it’ll be a miracle if none of them starts itching.
I was busy showing them the mosses, lichens and liverworts that they had come to see and didn’t take many photos so I went back the following day after it had rained to get more shots of the poison ivy and other things that we saw. That’s why it’s going to look dry in some of these photos and wet in others.
I pointed the poison ivy out to the Pathfinders right away but I didn’t need to because they all knew it well. I forgot that they are called “Pathfinders” for a reason and probably know the woods as well as I do.
Many think that jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) gets its common name from its spotted orange or yellow flowers but the name actually comes from the way the waxy coating on its leaves makes rain water bead up and sparkle like jewels. The pathfinders noted that the plant always seems to grow near poison ivy, and how its sap has been used since before recorded time by Native Americans to alleviate the rash brought on by its toxins. It’s as if nature put the illness and the cure side by side.
Everyone was impressed by how the spore bearing apothecial disks of the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) looked blue gray in certain light but more blue in a photo. They have a waxy coating that reflects light much like the whitish bloom on blueberries and that makes them appear blue in the right light. The black border on each disk makes them really stand out from the body of the lichen but they are still very small.
The Pathfinders needed to find 5 lichens, 5 mosses, and a liverwort (I think) to earn their badges in one of the nature categories, similar to what the Boy Scouts do, by the sounds of it. In the end they found all they needed and more.
I saw some dryad’s saddle (Polyporus squamosus) bracket fungi on a dead elm. I was surprised to see them since May had been such a dry month. These mushrooms get quite large and are fairly common on dead hardwood trees and stumps in the spring and fall. They are often funnel shaped rather than flat and saddle shaped like the example above. The squamosus part of the scientific name means scaly and this mushroom almost always has brown scales on its cap. By the way, a dryad is a tree nymph or female tree spirit from Greek mythology. They were considered very shy creatures but I suppose even shy creatures need somewhere to sit down every now and then.
There were many false Solomon’s seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum) blooming along the roadsides. This common plant grows in every state except Hawaii and is also called treacle berry because its ripe red fruit tastes like molasses. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for the plant including as a cough suppressant and a treatment for sunburn. They say that the young spring shoots taste like asparagus but there are other poisonous plants with shoots the look much the same, so I think I’ll just let them grow.
Each tiny false Solomon’s seal flower is slightly more than an eighth inch across and made up of 6 tepals, 6 stamens, and a central pistil with a short pudgy style. The word tepal is used when a flower’s petals and sepals look enough alike to be nearly indistinguishable, as they do in this case.
The forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria Hübner) is found in hardwood forests across America and is especially abundant here in the east. Though their preferred foods are sugar maple, aspen, cherry, apple, oaks, birch, ash, alder, elm, and basswood this one had been munching on a flowering raspberry leaf (Rubus odoratus.) They hatch near the time of bud break and eat both flower and leaf buds along with mature foliage. If they happen to defoliate the same tree more than 2 years in a row they can kill it. I’m not crazy about it defoliating trees but I love the beautiful sky blue color of its stripe.
I was able to show the pathfinders a few rare mosses including rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum). I think it was their favorite, judging by the amount of photos being taken. It’s a beautiful thing that isn’t often seen in this area. It isn’t normally so shiny; the shininess of it in this photo is because it had rained.
We spent a little time talking about polypody ferns (Polypodium virginanum) and I showed them what the sporangia, where the spores are produced, looked like. They grew on the boulders all around us and explained very nicely why “rock cap fern” is one of their common names.
Polypody ferns are one of our few evergreen ferns. They love to grow on boulders and could be seen topping many of the larger stones. They have a very tough, leathery feel, not delicate at all.
Beaver brook was little more than a trickle in places; so low that I don’t think a beaver could have swam in it without first damming it up. In a normal spring with normal rainfall I would have been swept downstream if I had tried to stand where I was when I took this photo.
All but one of us made the slide / climb down to the falls. The light was all wrong for a good photo but the bright sun brought out the pinks and tans in the microcline feldspar that is so prevalent here. The brook was low enough to walk across so some of the kids crossed over and had some fun splashing around in the small pool at the base of the falls (and almost losing shoes.) I’ve never seen these falls with so little water flowing over them, even in July. It was really surprising and drove home the point that rainfall is down nearly 6 inches from March first. The Pathfinders wanted to know if you could swim here. I told them that people used to but nobody did.
The Pathfinders are polite, well behaved, fun, happy, and all around good kids. I really enjoyed my time with them and I hope we can get together again sometime. Though this old road leads nowhere these days, I have a strong hope that the experiences they had on it will help lead them to a love of nature that will stay with them throughout their lives.
Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives. ~ Thomas Berry
Thanks for coming by.