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Archive for February, 2016

1. Ice Climbers

After our below zero cold of Valentine’s day weekend I wondered if the ice in the deep cut rail trail on the way to Westmoreland had grown. When I got there I could see that it really hadn’t grown much since my last visit but I was pleasantly surprised to see a group of ice climbers there. You can just see them in this photo, way down toward the light at the end of the canyon. That’s where the biggest ice grows.

2. Ice  Climber

Last time I did a post about this place that the climbers call the “ice box” several readers said they wished I could find a way to better show the scale of the place, so I broke my own rule and took photos of the climbers. I’ve avoided doing so in the past because I didn’t want to distract them, but since several of them were talking back and forth I didn’t think I’d break anyone’s concentration. These few photos should give you a good idea of the size of the place and the height of the walls that the railroad blasted out of the bedrock nearly 150 years ago.

3. Ice Climber

This climber had nearly made it all the way to the top. It must be exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time.

4. Ice  Climber

Ice climbers wear spikes called crampons on their climbing boots and have a tool called a pick in each hand. They swing a pick into the ice and then swing the other, and when they’re sure the picks will hold them securely they move their feet up until the crampons have found a purchase, and in this way they slowly move up the ice fall. There is always a helper with each climber who keeps the climbing rope taut or slack, depending on what is required at the time. These people must have great concentration.

5. Polished Ice

After our cold snap we’d had some warm days and the melting and re-freezing had given some of the ice columns a high polish.

6. Rotten Ice

Other ice falls looked dull and grayish white and these were rotten. Ice becomes rotten when water, air, and / or dirt get in between the grains of ice and the ice becomes honeycombed and loses its strength. Instead of a sharp crack when it is tapped it sounds more like a dull thud. It would be dangerous ice to try and climb, so you have to be a good judge of ice to be a climber.

7. Trail

There is still a lot of ice here in spite of the warm days we’ve had but as I walked along I noticed that much of it was rotten, and that’s my signal to stay away from this place until it has melted. I’ve seen ice columns as big as tree trunks fallen in the trail in years past, and I don’t want to be anywhere near them when they start falling.

8. Falling Ice

For the first time since I’ve been coming here I saw ice falling in the spot shown above. It wasn’t a huge amount but it was enough to warn me away until spring has taken a solid hold. This entire ice fall was rotten. Note how white it is, and how it has lost its shine and has become dull, even with the sun shining on it.

9. Fallen Ice

These fallen chunks were large enough to kill someone if they ever fell at the wrong time. The biggest was as big as a car tire.

10. Colored Ice

I knew I wouldn’t see sights like this again until next winter, so I took my time and admired the ice. This is a place where you can be immersed in winter’s beauty, and I haven’t found another place like it.

11. Ice Cave

You can just see an evergreen fern inside this ice cave. In summer this place is green and lush with most of the rock faces covered by plants, and I often think of it as the Shangri-La in James Hilton’s book Lost Horizon, but walking through here in winter can be like walking on a distant frozen planet. If there is a place where the difference between the two seasons is more apparent I haven’t found it.

12. Ice Free Wall

One wall in full sunshine had lost all its ice. This is an unusual sight here in February.

13. Liverworts

In one spot the ice had melted enough so the liverworts that grow on the walls could be seen.

14. Liverwort

After checking to see that there was no ice overhead and the ice covering the drainage ditch was solid I inched out across it to get some close ups of the liverworts. I only stayed for a minute; if the ice I was standing on had broken I would have been up to my knees in freezing cold water because I didn’t have my knee high rubber boots on. It would have been a cool walk out of here.

15. Liverwort Closeup

The beautiful reptilian great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) made the risk of cold wet feet worth taking. These liverworts like to grow in places where they are constantly splashed by or dripped on by very clean ground water. Though they like a lot of water they won’t stand being submerged in it and die back if the water level rises. Their common name comes from their scent, because if you squeeze a piece and smell it you smell something so clean and fresh scented you’ll wish it came in a spray bottle.

16. Trail

I always try to take photos that show how high the cliffs can soar, and this one does a fair job of showing that. In this section the trail was very icy. This winter any snow that has been packed down has turned to glare ice and is very difficult to walk on. That’s why I’ve stayed away from hill climbing this winter.

17. Ice Column

This column of ice was about as big as a basketball, or about 9.25 inches across. Though it looked from the trail like it had grown solidly along the rock face this view told a different story.

18. Lineman's Shack

The old lineman’s shack tells me that I’ve reached the end of what I came to see. I really thought that the winter snows would bring it down this year but I don’t think we’ve had more than 4 inches fall in a single storm, and that was the biggest. The other 4 or 5 storms were only 2 or 3 inches.

19. Lineman's Shack

There really isn’t much holding the old place up. It looks like a strong breeze would blow it over.

20. Gaffitti

I’d kind of like the old shack to stay standing. The graffiti inside always reminds me of my father. He would have been 18 in 1925 and lived near here and I always wonder if he came to see the ice like I do. None of the initials match his but he could have easily walked the tracks through here. I’m not sure what NLP! GH means; maybe: No Longer Present! Gone Home.

I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it. ~William Shakespeare

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1. Ashuelot

Last Saturday we were blessed with wall to wall sunshine and a warm breeze out of the southwest that nudged the thermometer up towards 50 degrees. Even though it isn’t spring it was the perfect spring day, so I went off to see if nature was stirring. A week ago we had below zero cold and this stretch of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey had frozen nearly from bank to bank. As I stood looking out at the river on this day with a warm breeze in my face I wondered if I had dreamed the ice and dangerous cold of just seven days ago, so amazing was the difference.

2. Ice

There were still some slabs of ice on the river but they were melting quickly in the warn sunshine.

3. Frozen Stream

Even in the shade of the forest ice was melting, and how the birds did sing!

4. Maple with Sunglasses

Even the trees seemed to be in a spring time frame of mind.

5. Daffodils

I stopped by a local park and saw daffodils out of the ground everywhere I looked.

6. Orange Witch Hazel

I also saw some orange vernal witch hazel that was in full bloom. I’m not sure of its name but it was very fragrant and you could smell its fresh clean scent on the breeze. Someone once described witch hazel as smelling like clean laundry that has just been taken down from the clothesline, and I’d say that’s a fair description. After a long winter such a scent can seem like a small piece of heaven, right here on earth.

7. Yellow Witch Hazel

I hoped to see some yellow witch hazel flowers and I did see some color, but like a swimmer dipping his toe into a cold pond it hesitated, and just couldn’t seem to make up its mind.

8. Island

Speaking of cold ponds; there was still ice on Wilson Pond in Swanzey but it too was melting fast. This is the first winter I can remember when ice fisherman’s huts didn’t dot our lakes and ponds, but this year the ice just never grew thick enough to be safe. If we still lived in the days before refrigeration when ice was harvested from ponds for ice houses and ice boxes, we’d be seeing a meager harvest indeed. Food preservation would be on everyone’s mind right about now, I would think.

9. Skunk Cabbage Swamp

I also visited one of my favorite places to explore in the spring, and that’s the swamp where the skunk cabbages grow.

10. Skunk Cabbage

It seems like I always have to re-train my eyes in spring so it took me a while to find any skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus.) I finally saw this small blue-gray finger poking up out of the snow, which told me that the plants were up. I also stepped on a couple of plants that I didn’t see and they released their scent so I’d know what I had done. It isn’t as overpowering as actual skunk spray but it runs a close second.

11. Skunk Cabbage

The soil of the swamp felt frozen to walk on but even so before long I started seeing skunk cabbages everywhere. They don’t mind frozen soil because they produce their own heat through a process called thermogenesis, and can melt their way even through solid ice. Skunk cabbage is in the arum family and like most arums, inside the spathe is the spadix, which in the case of skunk cabbage is a one inch round, often pink or yellow stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. You can just get a glimpse of them in this photo in the darkest area of the spathe. This is the spathe’s slit-like opening and is the way flies get to the flower’s pollen. The pointed green shoot on the left will become the plant’s foliage.

12. Barberry Berries

I didn’t have any trouble finding the invasive Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) because it was snagging my pants and poking its sharp spines into my legs every now and then. In 1875 seeds of Japanese barberry were sent from Russia to the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1896 plants were planted at the New York Botanic Garden and the plant was promoted as a good substitute for European barberry (Berberis vulgaris,) which was a host for the black stem rust of wheat. These days it’s everywhere, including in our forests, where it tolerates shade and crowds out our much more valuable native plants.

13. Birch Polypore

I saw an interesting television program recently about Ötzi the 5000 year old iceman whose well preserved body was found in the Ötztal Alps in 1991. Among the many things he carried were birch polypores (Piptoporus betulinus,) a fungus that is so common even I rarely write about it. But I’d heard years ago that he carried them when he was found and I assumed that he used them to sharpen tools (They are also called razor strops and their ability to hone a steel edge is well known.) but apparently Ötzi carried them for other purposes; scientists have recently found that Ötzi had several heath issues, among them whipworm, which is an intestinal parasite (Trichuris trichura,) and birch polypores are poisonous to them. The fungus also has antiseptic properties and can be used to heal small wounds, which I’m sure were common 5000 years ago.

14. Birch Polypore Underside

Well, now I’ve done it. While looking into the connection between the 5000 year old iceman and birch polypores I read that as they age both the fungi and the wood they grow on begin to take on an odor similar to green apples, so if you happen to see someone out there with his nose to a birch tree, it’ll be me. The photo above shows the many pores found on the underside of the birch polypore. This is where its spores are produced.

15. LBMs

Ötzi the iceman probably knew the name and medicinal value of every mushroom he saw but I don’t, especially when it comes to the little brown ones, because there are many that look alike. I was surprised to find these examples growing on a log in February. I thought they were probably frozen solid but they were perfectly pliable and felt as tough as shoe leather. I wondered if they had been there all winter or if they had grown recently. Whatever the answer they must have great cold tolerance.

16. Turkey Tails

The snow had melted away from the trunk of this tree revealing turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) that have waited patiently for spring. These fungi are wood degrading and cause white rot, so this rather small tree won’t see old age. Turkey tails have been found on over 70 species of hardwood trees and a few conifers as well. They grow in every state in the U.S. and in most other countries.

17. Turkey Tails

These small turkey tails on a stump looked to be just starting to grow, but what a strange time of year to be doing so.

18. Fern

A fern frond had what looked like flower petals on it, but whatever they were didn’t fall off when the wind blew. I’m guessing that they must have been some kind of insect cocoons but they were very flat and thin.  I can’t remember ever seeing anything like them.

19. Oak Buds

These oak buds appeared to be quite swollen, but that might have been wishful thinking on my part. Still, maple sap is running so the same must be happening to other trees.

20. Pussy Willows

The single bud scales of what I think is the American pussy willow (Salix discolor) have suddenly opened to reveal the fuzzy gray male catkins, but I shouldn’t be surprised because they almost always appear in late winter before the leaves. As these flowers age yellow stamens will appear and will begin releasing pollen. The bees will be buzzing at about that time and they will further cross pollinate the many willow varieties. Henry David Thoreau once said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused,” but I don’t need to study them.  I just enjoy seeing their early flowers because they tell me that nature is stirring and spring is very near.

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. ~ John Galsworthy

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1. Thistle Seed Head

I wondered during our recent severe cold snap how the birds and animals were getting on. There still seems to be plenty of food for them but they use it up fast in weather that is so cold.  A group of bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) had been picked over but still had seeds in the seed heads. This European native is considered invasive here but many birds eat its seeds and a group of plants is a good place to see goldfinches and juncos. When in flower hummingbirds and bees do a lot to pollinate the plant and ensure there will be another seed crop.

2. Thistle Prickles

The leaves of the bull thistle might have passed but the many sharp spines live on. Prickles on the leaf surface are a good identifying feature of this thistle. It is also called spear thistle, for good reason.

3. Aster Seed Heads

What I think were aster seed heads had been picked clean of seeds but the bracts remained. We call them dead at this stage, but to me they are as beautiful now as they are when they’re blossoming. Goldfinches, cardinals, chickadees, evening grosbeaks, finches, titmice and other birds and small animals eat aster seeds. Native American tribes burned the flowers and leaves and used the smoke in sweat lodge ceremonies. They also had many medicinal uses for the plant and included parts of it in a smoking mixture they called kinnickkinnick.

4. Cedar Seed Cones

I’ve known about the woody seed cones on the northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) for a long time but I didn’t know which birds ate them until recently. Robins, common redpolls, pine siskins, and dark-eyed juncos eat the seeds and many small birds use the tree to hide in. The Native American Ojibwe tribe thought it was sacred because of its many uses, and maybe it was. They showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with the leaves of this tree and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He had trees with him when he returned to Europe, and Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

5. Cedar Seed Cone

Each individual seed cone on the northern white cedar looks as if it was carved out of wood and then polished to a satiny shine. Of course to have fruit on a plant, which is what a cone is, you first have to have a flower. This tree flowers in late May to Early June and the small green, egg shaped female flowers have blue tips on their overlapping scales. They grow in clusters and are easy to find.

6. Cattail Seeds

I solved a year old mystery when I pulled a small tuft of cattail seeds from a seed head and took a photo of it against the black of my glove. I first noticed a long white angle hair like filament with a seed on the end last year. The wind had blown it onto a lichen that grew on tree bark and at the time I thought it was a dandelion seed. Now I know it was a cattail seed. In spring after the male red winged blackbird finds a mate he will line the nest he builds from dried cattail leaves with the plant’s soft seed down.  Man must have learned something by watching the bird because the fluffy seed down was used to stuff mattresses for centuries.

7. Poplar Sunburst Lichen

I thought I’d go and visit a couple of lichen friends recently. This poplar sunburst lichen (Xanthomendoza hasseana) grows on a tree at a local shopping mall and is a favorite of mine. I’ve never seen it growing anywhere else. The odd thing about it this year is how few spore bearing apothecia it had. The apothecia are the little cup shaped objects that look like the suckers on an octopus arm and they are usually much bigger and more numerous than what are seen in this photo. Even so it’s still a very beautiful lichen.

8. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

Scattered rock posy is another beautiful lichen that I can thank for showing me how fast lichens can grow. When I met this example it could have sat on a dime (.70 inches) but now, about 5 years later, it would take up most of the real estate of a quarter (.95 inches.) Following what I’ve seen in this example I’m guessing that it gains about an inch in diameter every 20 years, so if you found one that was five inches in diameter it would be about 100 years old. Its frilly orange pads are its apothecia, where its spores are produced. The body (thallus) of this lichen is grayish and brain like. It tends to grow in a mound.

9. Orange Wood

The two orange lichens I showed previously aren’t the only orange things I’m seeing this winter; I’m even seeing orange wood. I’m guessing this might be birch, which can sometimes have yellowish wood and reddish heartwood. What made the wood pictured so orange is a mystery. Brazilian satinwood, also called yellow heart, is orange colored but I doubt very much that pieces of it would be lying around in a New Hampshire forest.

10. Oak Leaves

And then there are orange oak leaves, but I think that they’re caused by the sun shining brightly on their normally brownish surface. I’ve also seen pink oak leaves, but I don’t think that their color has anything to do with light. I think pink is a normal for certain oaks.

11. Gouty Oak Gall

While I was admiring oak leaves I saw this gouty oak gall. I wish I’d gotten a better photo of it but at least this one shows the structure fairly well. Gouty oak gall is caused by a wasp called, not surprisingly, the gouty oak gall wasp (Callirhytis quercuspunctata). In spring the wasp lays its eggs in expanding plant tissue and secretes chemicals that will cause the abnormal growth seen in the photo. The gall grows quickly and once the eggs hatch the larvae feed on its tissue. It can take two years or more for the gall wasps to reach adulthood. One adult exits the gall through each hole.

12. Pine Cone Gall on Willow

The parts of the willow that would have once been leaves were converted into a gall when a fly called a gall gnat midge (Rabdophaga strobiloides) laid an egg on its stem. The resulting larva released a chemical that convinced the willow to produce this gall rather than the leaves that it normally would have. The little pink larva rests inside all winter and emerges as an adult when the air temperature warms up in the spring.

13. Pine Cone Gall on Willow

This close-up of the willow pine cone gall shows its overlapping scales, which remind me of shingles. Even original ideas come from somewhere and I wonder if mankind didn’t come up with the idea for shingles by studying something like this.

14. Crab Apples

I saw a crab apple tree that was loaded with crab apples that were about an inch in diameter. I think they were probably too big for a bird to eat but I was surprised that deer and other animals hadn’t eaten them. They had hung on the tree for so long they were turning purple. Though we think the apples we’re eating are native, crab apples are really the only apples native to North America. The apples we know originated in Central Asia, where its wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, is still found today. Apples are thought to be the first cultivated tree and have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe. North American apple cultivation began 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. Settlers had come prepared with seeds, cuttings, and small plants from the best European stock and the trees grew well here; by the end of the 19th century 14,000 apple varieties were being grown. Many were inferior varieties and for one reason or another fell out of favor and have been lost to the ages. Today 2,500 varieties of apples are grown in the U.S. and 7,500 varieties of apples are grown worldwide.

Thank you to Tim Hensley and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for the article A Curious Tale: The Apple in North America, for some of the information used here.

15. Frost Crystals

It is the light that makes frost crystals appear so three dimensional even though they grow flat on glass, so if I were to try to paint them I’d  have to start with a dark canvas. Artists know that there can be no light without darkness, and wise artists know that the same is true in life.

Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you. ~Freeman Patterson

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1. Winter Woods

After more than 3 months of warmer than average temperatures we’ve finally had a real taste of winter here, with a few inches of snow and a couple of days and nights of bone chilling cold. The cold I could do without but it’s hard to imagine anything more beautiful than freshly fallen snow decorating everything in the forest.

2. Hemlock

Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) branches catch so much snow that there is often bare ground under them a day or two after a storm. That’s why white tailed deer bed down under them. Years ago when I smoked I used to stand under a big old hemlock in the front yard when it rained, and even in a downpour barely a drop of rain reached me.

3. Morning Clouds

I don’t know what it is but there is something about the hill on the far side of Half Moon Pond in Hancock that seems to attract sunshine. I have no way to explain what I’ve seen here but even on cloud covered days the clouds will often part to let the sun shine on it. I hope to climb it one day. Maybe the sun will shine while I take photos for a change.

4. Half Moon Pond at Sunrise

This photo is deceiving because even though the sun had just risen above the hills behind me it looked like it was rising behind the hills in the distance. It’s one more thing I can’t explain about how the light and shadows play on Half Moon Pond and the hills that surround it. Odd things happen here. This photo was taken in January just as the pond had frozen over, and what looks like water in the distance is actually glare ice.

5. Cattails

Wind plays a big part of winter and it can often mean the difference between bearable and unbearable temperatures, but how do you show it in a photo? This is one way; the prevailing winds showed these cattail leaves which way to grow.

6. River

Some see winter as dark and bleak and colorless, but there is much color and beauty to be seen if they’d only look around a little. I love how the white snow makes water look so inky black. If it hadn’t been so cold I could have stood there longer, admiring it.

7. Sunrise

The sun promised a warm day but it was a bitter cold morning when I stopped to get a shot of it with my cell phone. It did turn out to be a warm day in spite of the morning cold, though. In fact most of them have been on the warm side this winter, but not all; we’ve seen night temperatures drop to -15 ° F (-26 ° C.) Interestingly on this, one of the coldest mornings of the season, I heard the sad but beautiful Fee Bee mating call of the male black capped chickadee. Now I’m sure that spring is just around the corner, no matter how much more winter we see.

8. Ice Finger

When the water level of the river dropped it left a skirt of ice around this stone. Then the sun warmed the stone and the ice skirt melted into an icy finger that reached around it from its back side. I’m sure the icy finger had to attach to the stone somewhere, but it wasn’t anywhere that I could see. It must have been on the far side which I couldn’t get to because the river was so close.

9. Ice Finger

Another view of the icy finger, which looks to be just about ready to tickle the stone.

10. Canada Geese

Canada geese don’t seem to mind the cold. They appear to act the same, winter or summer, though I usually see them in flocks rather than pairs.

11. Canada Geese

As usual one stood guard while the other fed.

12. Ashuelot Falls

The stones at the base of Ashuelot Falls in Keene were ice covered, but since it was only about 15° F, I wasn’t surprised.

13. Ice Pancakes

Downriver from the falls ice pancakes were frozen into the ice covered surface. This view also shows the needless cutting of all the shrubs along the riverbank, most of which were silky dogwoods that robins and cedar waxwings enjoyed eating the berries from. The same thing happened last summer along the Ashuelot in Swanzey. I think this is driven more by ignorance than for any other reason, but I didn’t know that this kind of ignorance was so widespread.  I’ve heard that the Army Corps of Engineers has been here studying the dam for possible removal so the bank clearing might have something to do with that, but why they would need to cut everything so far from the actual dam is a mystery.

14. Ice Pancakes

Ice pancakes, according to Wikipedia, can grow to nearly 10 feet in diameter and can have a thickness of nearly 4 inches.  Each pancake has an elevated rim that forms when the frazil ice or slush that it is made from bumps up against other pancakes. Since these one foot diameter examples were frozen into the river ice I think they were done bumping together, at least for now.

15. Ice Formations

Since these formations didn’t have raised rims I’m guessing that they weren’t pancake ice. They looked more like paving stones.

16. Ice on Ice

I saw a kind of ice that I’ve never seen before. What I can only describe as light colored frost feathers grew all over the darker ice of a stream.

17. Ice on Ice

This is a closer look at the frost feathers from a photo taken with my cellphone. I wonder if anyone has ever seen something similar. Many of them stood vertically on the ice of the stream. I can’t imagine what caused them to form unless it was very high humidity on the surface of the stream ice.

18. Stone Frozen in Ice

A stone was trapped in the ice near the formations in the previous shot but since it probably wasn’t going anywhere I doubt that it cared. It’s interesting how the sun seems to warm some stones enough to melt the ice on them but others stay coated in it.

19. Puddle Ice

Nature laid the universe at my feet but I was too blind to see it until I looked at the photo I took of this puddle ice. It was only then that I saw the stars, asteroids, galaxies and distant nebulae, almost as if I was looking at a photo taken by the Hubble telescope. As Edward Abbey once said: There is beauty, heartbreaking beauty, everywhere. To that I’ll add: Even in mud puddles.

20. Sap Bucket

So far this winter has been an upside down one; warm enough to get sap flowing and witch hazel blooming before a bitter below zero cold snap and then 50 degrees and rain yesterday. When spring finally does get here there’s no telling how plants will react to such an overall warm season. My feeling is that they’ll be fine, but we’ll have to wait and see.  The first thing nature teaches is patience.

There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow. It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance. ~William Sharp

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1. Monadnock

Last Sunday morning I woke from a dream of Mount Monadnock and drove to Perkins Pond in Troy to visit it. It might not be the tallest mountain but it is one of the prettiest, especially in winter when wearing a snowy cap. We had just gotten about 5 inches of snow 2 days before so it was a good time for photos.

2. Monadnock Summit

It’s always hard to know how deep the snow is up there. I climbed to the summit in mid-April once and found snow well over waist deep in places. It was very rough going without snowshoes and I shouldn’t have done something so foolish. When I finally got back down I was dripping wet and looked like I had fallen into the pond.

3. Patterns in Ice

There were ripples in the ice showing what you couldn’t see when it was in its liquid state. From here I decided to make the short drive to Dublin to see something I’d wanted to see since last summer.

4. Snowy Road

It would have been a short drive if I had stayed on the highway but I decided to take the back way. I was able to go much more slowly than I could have on the highway and so was able to see more.

5. Stream

When I pulled over to take the previous photo of the road I heard chuckling and giggling and found that I’d parked near a stream that I didn’t know was there.

6. Stream Ice

Ice baubles hung from the stones along its banks.

7. Oracle

Once I’d reached Dublin Lake I saw what I had come to see. Each morning for the last 6 months I’ve seen this fallen tree on the shoreline out of the corner of my eye as I’ve driven past. Though I’ve only seen it for seconds at a time I’ve seen it burning orange from the light of the rising sun, deep indigo blue in the twilight before dawn, and as a black silhouette in fog so thick I could barely see the road. It has become something I look forward to seeing; a half way point on my journey and an oracle that hints at the weather for the coming day. I told myself that one day I’d see it in full daylight, and now I have.

8. Branch River

I stopped at the branch river in Marlborough on my way back from Dublin to see if the melting snow had raised the water level. It didn’t seem any higher than normal and though there was a little snow on its banks there wasn’t a bit of ice on it that I could see.

9. Thin Ice Sign

I’d seen a lake and a pond covered with ice and a river with none, so I decided to visit a popular skating pond in a local Keene park. It told the story of our winter so far; yes, the ice grew but never thickened and it isn’t safe to be on anywhere in the state this. There has been no skating, hockey, ice fishing or much else that needs ice or snow this winter. Though I’m not a great lover of winter I am sorry that the people who enjoy it can’t have their fun. After all, I learned to skate on this very pond when I was a boy and spent many happy hours here.

10. Trail

These days I enjoy the pond more for the path around it rather than for the ice on it. Quite a few of the photos that have appeared on this blog over the years were taken here. It’s a great place to find fungi and slime molds and I saw my first maple dust lichen here. I’ve also seen otters playing, cormorants diving, turtles sunning, great blue heron fishing, and frogs hoping I didn’t see them.

11. Pondside

The ice was thin enough to be nonexistent in many places around the shoreline. It was warm; about 48 degrees F, and it felt like a spring day. This weekend is supposed to be considerably different, with a high of 14 degrees F (-10 C) expected today. If the sun is shining it might be bearable for a short time, but there won’t be any hikes going on. Tonight they say we’ll see a -20 F (-29 C) wind chill and I hope I don’t have to be out in that.

12. Alder Catkins

Alders line the shore but they don’t seem to be in any hurry to produce pollen; there was no green dust to be seen on the catkins. They’re wise to wait, I think.

13. Apple and Broom Moss

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) in the upper left gets its common name from its tiny green, spherical spore capsules which someone thought looked like apples. Broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) in the lower right gets its common name from the way the leaves all point in the same general direction, making it look as if it had been swept by a broom. This photo shows that it would be very difficult to confuse them. Both seemed happy there by the pond.

14. Snowy Tree

The trees told the story of how the wind blew during the last storm.

15. Colored Laef

There is more color to be seen in winter than most of us realize, but sometimes you have to look closely to see it.

16. Swamp Dewberry

Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) looks like a vine but is actually considered a shrub. It likes wet places and is a good indicator of wetlands. It’s also called bristly blackberry because its stem is very prickly and its fruits look like small blackberries. I’ve never tried them but they are said to be bitter or tasteless. What I love most about it is its purple-bronze leaves in winter. They were so beautiful there against the green of the moss.

17. Snowman

This drooping snowman didn’t seem to be enjoying the spring like temperatures, but he might yet have the last laugh.

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

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1. Frost Crystals

The plan was to get out early last Saturday and hike a rail trail since I skipped it last week in favor of a pond, but nature had other plans. We got about 5 inches of snow on Friday and the temperature at 7:00 am on Saturday was barely 17 degrees F. I thought I’d wait for the sun to warm it up a bit and took photos of frost crystals while I waited. They were very feathery.

2. Trail

Eventually I did get out there and found a beautiful warm and sunny day.  Warm was 35 degrees but since last February saw below zero temperatures nearly all month long 35 degrees seemed like a gift.

3. Tire Track

I saw that a bike with balloon tires had gone through the snow. I’ve heard that the tires on them are underinflated, and that these bikes can go just about anywhere. It seems as if it has taken a good part of my lifetime for bikes to get back to where they were when I was a boy. I can remember them with fat balloon tires that always seemed to be underinflated back then, but we just rode them on the streets.

4. Little Bluestem Grass

There is a pasture for horses that runs for a short way along one side of the trail and on the far side of it what I think was little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) glowed beautifully in the sunshine. I love the golden color that some grasses have when they’re “dead.”

5. Poison Ivy Berries

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) can grow as a shrub or a vine. In this case it grew as a vine on a tree trunk and its white berries gave away its identity, even in winter. I’m glad I saw the berries before I touched the tree trunk. You can catch a good case of poison ivy rash even when the plants have no leaves on them and as general rule I try not to touch plants with white berries. Poison ivy hasn’t ever bothered me much but there is always a first time. Some people get it so badly they have to be hospitalized. Over 60 species of birds are known to eat poison ivy berries, so the toxic part of the plant must have no effect on them.

6. Oak Gall

A gall wasp made a perfectly round escape hole in its near perfectly spherical oak gall. It is said that oaks carry more galls than any other tree. This example is a marble gall.

7. Pine Sap

White pines (Pinus strobus) have shown me that I can use their sap as a kind of thermometer in the winter because the colder it gets, the bluer it becomes. This example was sort of a medium blue which kind of parallels our almost cold winter. I’ll have to look at some if the temperature plunges next weekend as forecast.

8. Trestle

Snowmobile clubs have built wooden guardrails along the sides of all of the train trestles in the area to make sure that nobody goes over the side and into the river. That wouldn’t be good, especially if there was ice on the river. Snowmobile clubs work very hard to maintain these trails and all of us who use them owe them a great debt of gratitude, because without their hard work the trails would most likely be overgrown and impassable. I know part of one trail that hasn’t seen any maintenance and it’s like a jungle, so I hope you’ll consider making a small donation to your local club as a thank you.

9. Warning Wires

Years ago before air brakes came along, brakemen had to climb to the top of moving boxcars to manually set each car’s brakes. The job of brakeman was considered one of the most dangerous in the railroad industry because many died from being knocked from the train when it entered a trestle or tunnel. This led to the invention seen in the above photo, called a “tell-tale.” Soft wires about the diameter of a pencil hung from a cross brace, so when the brakeman on top of the train was hit by the wires he knew that he had only seconds to duck down to avoid running into the top of a tunnel, trestle, or other obstruction. Getting hit by the wires at even 10 miles per hour must have hurt some, but I’m sure it was better than the alternative.

I’ve spent over 50 years wondering what these wires were called and was able to find out just recently. I also discovered that though tell-tales were once seen on each side of every trestle and tunnel, today they are rarely seen. The above photo shows the only example I know of and I chose to walk this particular section of rail trail because of it.

10. Ashuelot

There is a nice view of the Ashuelot River from the trestle. It’s very placid here but its banks seem wild and untamed, and it’s easy to imagine that this is what it looked like before colonists came here.

11. Rivets

Though there is surface rust on the ironwork of the trestle they were built to last and I wouldn’t be surprised if it looks the same as it does now after standing for another 150 years. You can see in this photo that the rust is just a very thin coating on the heads of the rivets.

12. Stone Wall

Stone walls marked the property line between landowner and railroad. I’ve tried to find out how wide railroad rights of way are but it seems to vary considerably. I’ve read that the average setback on each side is 25 feet from the center of the nearest rail. Add 10 feet or so for engine width and you have a 60 foot wide rail trail right of way, which seems about right in this region of the country.

13. Snowshoer

On my way back I was passed by a lady on snowshoes who asked me what I was taking photos of. “Anything and everything,” I told her, but I really wasn’t planning on taking her photo until I realized that she might give the place a sense of scale. This photo shows how, though the right of way might be 60 feet wide the sides aren’t often flat, so this might leave an actual trail width of only 20 feet.

14. Lowbush Blueberry

Railroad tracks have always been a great place to go berry picking. Raspberries, blackberries and blueberries can all be found in great abundance along most trails. In this section lowbush blueberry bushes (Vaccinium angustifolium) looked spidery against the snow.

15. Maple Dust Lichen on Beech

On this trip something I had been wondering about for a few years was finally put to rest, and that was the question do maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) only grow on maple trees? The one pictured was growing on a beech tree, so the answer is no. So why are they called maple dust lichens? That question I don’t have an answer for.

16. Amber Jelly

I saw the biggest amber jelly (Exidia recisa) fungus I’ve ever seen out here. It was as big as a toddler’s ear and felt just like an ear lobe. As usual it reminded me of cranberry jelly, which isn’t amber colored at all.

17. Sweet Fern

I saw the sun lighting up the orange brown leaves of this sweet fern from quite a distance away. Sweet fern is a small shrub with incredibly aromatic leaves which release their fragrance on warm summer days. They can be smelled from quite a distance and are part of the summer experience for me.  Though they aren’t ferns their leaves look similar to fern leaves. They are actually a member of the bayberry family and the leaves make a good tasting tea. Native Americans made a kind of spring tonic from them and also used them as an insect repellant. On this day I just admired their beauty, glowing there in the sun.

18. Fungi on a Branch

A fallen branch poked up out of the snow as if it had been waiting for me to come along. It showed off what looked from a distance like little orange flowers, but I knew that couldn’t be.

19. Fungi on a Branch

They weren’t flowers but they might as well have been because they were just as beautiful. I’m not sure but I think they were older examples of milk white toothed polypores, which are known to brown with age. These hadn’t reached the brown stage but they were very orange and very interesting.

Each living thing gives its life to the beauty of all life, and that gift is its prayer. ~Douglas Wood

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1. The Pond

I was going to walk a rail trail in Swanzey one day but as I pulled off the road to park I saw a small pond. Though I’ve seen it many times before it wasn’t until this day that it caught my interest. I started to explore its shores and before I knew it I had a camera full of photos and never did walk the rail trail. Normally this wouldn’t be anything remarkable but the pond is one step above a puddle, so if you put a canoe in it you’d be lucky if you had one stroke of the paddle before you had crossed it.

2. Rail Trail

The unexplored rail trail will still be there for another day; maybe a sunnier one.

3. Barbed Wire

Barbed wire was used in this area in place of the heavy gauge stock fencing that the railroad usually used to keep cows and other animals off the tracks. You have to watch where you’re going in these New Hampshire woods because there are still miles of barbed wire out there and it’s easy to get hung up on.

4. Culvert

A culvert lets the small stream that feeds the pond flow under the road.

5. Outflow

An outflow stream runs into the drainage ditches along the rail bed, ensuring that the pond is always balanced and never floods.

6. Wild Oats Seed Pod (Uvularia sessilifolia)

This 3 part seed pod told me that I can come here in the spring to find the sessile leaved bellwort plant (Uvularia sessilifolia.) The flowers are pale yellow, more or less tubular, and nodding, and often grow in large colonies. The plant is also called wild oats or merry bells. In botany sessile means “resting on the surface” so in the case of sessile leaved bellwort the leave are stalkless and appear to be resting on the surface of the stem.  Since the plant is so good at spreading by underground stems (stolons) it doesn’t often set seed.

7. Sensitive Fern Fertile Frond

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) likes to grow in places that are on the wet side and seeing its clusters of spore bearing sori is a good indication of a wetland.  It is also called bead fern, for obvious reasons. The name sensitive fern comes from its sensitivity to frost, which was first noticed by the early colonials.

8. Winterberries

Another wetland indicator appeared in the form of winterberries (Ilex verticillata.) I often see this native holly growing in standing water but I’ve heard that it will grow in drier soil. Birds love its bright red berries. These shrubs are dioecious, meaning they need both a male and female plant present to produce seed. If you have a yard with wet spots winterberry is a great, easy to grow native plant that won’t mind wet feet.

9. Black Jelly Fungus

Black jelly fungi (Exidia glandulosa) grew on a fallen oak limb. They were a bit dry and had lost some of their volume but they hadn’t shriveled down to the black flakes they could have been. I like their shiny surfaces; sometimes it’s almost as if they had been faceted and polished like a beautiful black gem.

10. Bracket Fungus

I think that this is what was left of a thin maze flat polypore (Daedaleopsis confragosa) but it was hard to tell because its entire upper surface was missing so I could see its gills from above. I’m assuming that it was slowly decomposing from age but I can’t be sure because I’ve never seen another bracket fungus do this. Normally the upper surface of a thin maze flat polypore would be zoned like a turkey tail, but the zones would tend to be tan to brown to cream, rather than brightly colored like a turkey tail.

11. Bracket Fungus Underside

The lower pore bearing surface of the thin maze flat polypore is maze like, as its name suggests. Michael Kuo of Mushroom Expert. com says that this mushroom’s appearance is highly variable, with pores sometimes appearing elongated and sometimes more round. I put my camera against the tree’s trunk under the fungus and snapped this photo without seeing what I was taking a photo of, so it isn’t one of the best I’ve ever done. It does show you the maze-like structure of this fungus though, and that’s the point.

12. Foliose Lichens on a Branch

From a photographic perspective the example above is terrible, but it shows just what I want you to see. These foliose lichens were growing in the white pine branches just over my head, and all I had to do to find them was look up and see their silhouette. If you’d like to find them all you need to do is look up the next time you’re under a tree.

13. Northern Camouflage Lichen

If you see a foliose lichen on a branch and pull it down for a look like I did you might see something similar to the northern camouflage lichen seen (Melanelia septentrionalis) above. Foliose means leaf or foliage like, and this lichen is a beautiful example of that.

14. Northern Camouflage Lichen

The shiny reddish brown discs are apothecia or fruiting bodies, and they help identify this lichen. The stringy black parts are the lichen’s root like structures called rhizines, and they also help identify the lichen. The body (thallus) was very dry and its color had faded from brown to the off whitish gray color seen here. I usually find these on pine or birch limbs.

Note: Canadian Botanist Arold Lavoie tells me that this lichen is in the Tuckermannopsis ciliata group. I’m sorry if my misidentification has caused any confusion. Arold has helped me here before and I’m very grateful. If you’d like to pay him a visit his website can be found at http:www.aroldlavoie.com

15. Maple Dust Lichen

Just to the right of center in the above photo is a maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora) on the bark of a maple. It was about the size of a dime, or .70 inches (17.9 mm.)

16. Maple Dust Lichen

It was a few years ago now that I stumbled onto my first maple dust lichen and though I kept it in the front of my mind I never saw another example until just recently. Now I’m suddenly seeing them everywhere. It’s hard for me to believe but I must have been looking right at them and not seeing them for years. From a distance they resemble script lichens, so maybe that’s why. They’re a beautiful lichen and definitely worth looking for. They can be identified in part by the tiny fringe around their perimeter.

17. Moss on a Log

Of all the things I saw near the pond this moss on a log was my favorite because of its beautiful green color and because it was so full of life. It seemed as if it was sparkling from the light of creation coursing through its trailing arms and I could have sat there with it all day. When the log was a tree a woodpecker might have made the hole that the moss explored. I could see part of an acorn in there, so maybe the woodpecker that made the hole hid the acorn in it for a future meal. I think this moss might be beaked comb moss (Rhynchostegium serrulatum) but I’m not certain. I see it quite often on logs but never quite so full of life as this one was. Even in a photo it glows.

18.Hazelnut Catkins

American hazelnut (Corylus americana) catkins told me that I could come here in April and see the tiny crimson female flowers. The catkins are the male flowers and once they begin to open and shed yellowish green pollen that will be the signal that it’s time to watch for the opening of the female flowers. They are among the smallest flowers that I know of and are hard to get a good photo of, but I try each spring because they’re also among the most beautiful.

Sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take. ~Angela N. Blount

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1. Shagbark Hickory Bud

Each year at around this time I get an urge to start looking at the buds of our trees and shrubs to see if there are any signs of swelling. I could look at a calendar to see when spring begins but I prefer watching the plants in the forest, because they’re rarely wrong. Since I read in a local paper that maple sap had started flowing because of a warm December I had to go see for myself. The terminal buds of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) shown in the above photo are quite large and can fool you into thinking that they are swelling because of spring sap flow but no, they’re this way all winter.

2. Shagbark Hickory Bud Break

Why do I care about watching buds swell? Because beautiful things come from them, like the newly opened bud of the shagbark hickory in the above photo shows. This photo is from a previous blog post of nearly 2 years ago. Unfortunately I won’t get to see this in person again until about mid-May but since it’s one of the most beautiful sights in the spring woods, it’s worth waiting for.

3. Shagbark Hickory Bark

If you’re not sure if what you’re seeing is a shagbark hickory bud just look at the bark. It’s obvious where the name shagbark comes from.

4. Hawthorn Bud

Hickory buds are some of the largest buds I’ve seen but some of the smallest belong to hawthorns (Crataegus) and the cherry red hawthorn bud in the above photo could easily hide behind a pea. There are over 220 species of hawthorn in North America, with at least one native to every state and Canadian province. In New Hampshire we have 17 species, so the chances of my identifying this example are slim to none. The closest I can come is Gray’s hawthorn (Crataegus flabellata.) I know the tree in the photo well so I know that its blossoms will be white.

5. Hawthorn Thorn

If you can’t identify a hawthorn by its buds then its thorns will help. On this example they were about 2 inches long and just as sharp as they look.

6. Lilac Bud

Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some have just one scale called a cap, and some buds are naked, with none at all. Buds that have several scales are called imbricate with scales that overlap like shingles. A gummy resin fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. This is especially important in cold climates because water freezing inside the bud scales would destroy the bud. The lilac bud (Syringa vulgaris) in the above photo is a good example of an imbricate bud.

7. Blueberry Buds

Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) buds are also imbricate buds. It’s interesting that almost everything about the blueberry is red except for its berry. The new twigs are red, the bud scales are red, and the fall foliage is very red.

8. Cornelian Cherry Bud

Buds with just two (sometimes three) scales are called valvate. The scales meet but do not overlap. This Cornelian cherry bud is a great example of a valvate bud. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the scales part to let the bud grow. Some bud scales are hairy and some are covered with sticky resin that further protects the bud.

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts.

9. Nanny Berry Bud

Native nannyberry buds (Viburnum lentago) are also examples of valvate buds. These buds always remind me of great blue herons or cranes. I think I might have misidentified several nannyberry berries as shadbush berries earlier last fall, so I’m counting on the buds to tell me for sure what they are. If they look like the above example they are sure to be nannyberry. If it wasn’t so icy right now I’d go and find out.

10. Magnolia Bud

Magnolia flower buds in botanical terms are “densely pubescent, single-scaled, terminal flower buds.” The hairy single scale is called a cap and it will fall off only when the bud inside has swollen to the point of blossoming.

11. Red Maple Buds

Red maple flower buds (Acer rubrum) are small and round or oval with short stalks and 4 pairs of bud scales. The bud scales are often purple and / or tomato red. They have a fine fringe of pale hairs on their margins. Red maples can be tapped and syrup made from their sap but the sap gatherers have to watch the trees carefully, because the sap can become bitter when the tree flowers.  I didn’t see any sign of these buds swelling but I hope they will soon. Seeing the hillsides awash in a red haze from hundreds of thousands of red maple flowers is a treat that I always look forward to. Unfortunately I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to capture that beauty with a camera.

12. Box Elder Buds

Box elder buds (Acer negundo) and young twigs are often a beautiful blue or purple color due to their being pruinose. Pruinose means a surface is covered in white, powdery, waxy granules that reflect light in ways that often make the surface they are on appear blue. Certain grapes, plums, and blueberries are pruinose fruits. Certain lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen have fruiting bodies (Apothecia) that are often pruinose.

13. Beech Bud

Another bud I’m looking forward to seeing open is the beech (Fagus grandifolia.) There are beautiful silvery downy edges on the new laves that only last for a day or two, so I watch beech trees closely starting in May. Botanically beech buds are described as “narrow conical, highly imbricate, and sharply pointed.”

14. Witch Hazel Buds

I went out to look at buds but never expected to see any of them actually opening on January 30th, so you could have knocked me over with a feather when I found this vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis) with its petals just peeking out of its flower buds. We’ve had above average temperatures every month since November and have been 6 degrees above normal for January, but I think this shrub might be jumping the gun just a bit. It lives in a local park and I don’t know its name, but it’s a real beauty when it’s all in bloom in the spring. Since it’s blooming now the question is will it still bloom in spring?

15. Daffodil Buds

As if the witch hazel blossoms weren’t enough there were daffodils out of the ground a short distance away, and I started feeling like I had fallen down the rabbit hole. Plants can and do get fooled but not often. Right now most of the signs are pointing to an early spring and even Punxsutawney Phil, the weather predicting groundhog in Punxsutawney Pennsylvania, says spring is right around the corner.

16. Winter Tree Finder

I hope this little foray into the world of buds has left you wanting to go out and start looking a little closer at the branches of trees and shrubs in your own neighborhood. I started looking at our local trees years ago; right after the little paperback booklet in the above photo was published in 1968. I carried it in my back pocket and started trying to identify common trees that I already knew something about, like apples and maples. The booklet is still being published today and costs little, especially if you find it in a used bookstore. It is also online in PDF format, and you can find it by clicking on the word HERE.

Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart. ~Victor Hugo

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