It has been a while since I last climbed Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard, so I went over recently to see if anything had changed. This mountain gets its name from the Pitcher family, who settled here in the late 1700s.
Even though Pitcher Mountain is, at 2,152 feet (656 m), the second highest mountain in this area after Mount Monadnock, most of the elevation can be gained by driving, so once you park where the Pitcher family’s farmhouse used to be you only have to hike for about 20 minutes. If the gate that the fire warden passes through was open you could drive within a stone’s throw from the top with a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
Some ferns along the trail were taking on their ghostly fall colors.
The meadow was bathed in wall to wall sunshine as I expected because clouds have been a rare commodity this summer. The distant haze told me that this would probably not be the best day for viewing the surrounding landscapes from the top.
Bristly dewberries (Rubus flagellaris) grow along the path and many ripe berries hadn’t been eaten by wildlife. This plant is closely related to the blackberry but instead of standing up straight the prickly vines trail along the ground. The berries look more like black raspberries than blackberries though. I see the red berried swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) far more often than this black version.
It’s no surprise to find these plants grow along the edges of the meadow. Plants with sharp thorns like raspberries and blackberries were often planted with hawthorn trees along boundaries. These thorny, prickly plants can form an impenetrable thicket which nothing much bigger than a rabbit can easily get through. 16th century English poet and farmer Thomas Tusser told how to enclose a field in this poem:
Go plough up, or delve up, advised with skill,
The breadth of a ridge, and in length as ye will,
Then speedily quickset, for a fence ye will draw
To sow in the seed of the bramble and haw.
The trail gets a lot rockier along the meadow and a lot sunnier too. There is something about this photo that really pleases me, but I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of an impressionist’s painting.
A brightly colored leaf caught my eye.
The fire tower comes into view when you least expect it. The 5 acres at the very top of Pitcher Mountain are owned by the New Hampshire Forestry Commission. They first built a wooden fire tower here in 1915 but in April of 1940 the most destructive fire in the region’s history destroyed 27,000 acres of forest, including the fire tower and all of the trees on the summit. The present steel tower is a replacement and, because of the lack of trees, offers a full 360 degree view of the surrounding hills.
The old fire warden’s cabin still stands but doesn’t look like it sees much use even though the tower is staffed from April through October. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it had been taken over by small animals.
The cabin is nestled between the forest on one side and the mountain on the other so it probably doesn’t see much wind, but nothing can protect it from the snow and it sees a lot of it.
The original tower needed wind protection and was chained down to the rock in several places using these stout eye hooks.
The newer tower also has to be anchored against the wind. I’ve seen it blow quite forcefully up here, especially in winter. I wonder how often the tower gets struck by lightning. It bristles with 4 lightning rods, so I’m guessing that it sees plenty.
As I suspected, the views were less than ideal. Mount Monadnock could just be seen through the heavy haze. I’ll remember the summer of 2015 as hazy hot and humid with endless blue, cloudless skies.
No matter which direction you looked the view didn’t improve but it was still nice to be up here catching the breeze on such a hot and humid day.
The view across to the nearest hill wasn’t bad. As you stand on the mountaintop this small hill looks almost near enough to touch, but getting to the top of it from here would probably be quite a hike.
I wonder if 1873 is the date this marker was put here. A 250 dollar fine seems like it would have been an impossible sum to raise in those days.
Every time I come up here I see something I’ve never noticed before and this time it was these deep grooves in the exposed bedrock. Though all of the rock up here is scarred by glacial movement these grooves weren’t made that way. I think they were chiseled into the stone by man, but for what purpose I can’t guess.
Something else I’ve never seen here is a pile of cut brush but of course cutting it must be a constant chore, otherwise trees would quickly obscure the view. I’ve cut a lot of brush in my time and I can imagine what a job it must be to do it here, so I’ll take this opportunity to say thank you to those who work so hard for the rest of us.
In spite of the dry conditions common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitelline) were fruiting. This crustose lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and was once used in Sweden to dye wool yellow. It must have been difficult scraping it off the rocks that it grew on.
This dime gives an idea of how small the goldspeck lichens in the previous photo really are.
Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) were also fruiting. Each disc shaped orange fruiting body (apothecia) grows to about .04 inches (1mm) across. They grow in large colonies on the exposed rock up here.
Sometimes when I sit on these mountaintops I think back to the early settlers and how they must have felt looking out over unbroken forest as far as the eye could see. You had a gun, an axe, and yourself to rely on and that was all. As I was wondering if I would have attempted such a risky undertaking a plane flew over and dragged me back into the 21st century.
As it flew over the near hill and off into the haze I started the climb down, which for some reason is always tougher than the climb up.
When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing – just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park? ~Ralph Marston
Thanks for coming by.