July ended much as we’d expect it to; sunny and hot. But after a month or more of hot rainless days everyone, especially farmers, is hoping for rain. The weather people said that rain showers would pass through last Friday night and we did get a little, so on Saturday morning I decided to climb Mount Caesar in Swanzey. I was hoping that a few showers might help some mushrooms grow because it was about this time last year that I saw a beautiful violet coral fungus, easily one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in nature. The above photo shows the start of the trail between two dry stone walls. If I was a farmer in the 1700s and I wanted my cows to follow a certain path I would have built walls on either side of it too.
There was a hole dug recently under one of the walls. It looked plenty big enough for a family of bobcats but I didn’t see any signs of activity.
There is a meadow here, made when the town decided to clear cut a large swath of forest. I find many wildflowers here that I don’t see anywhere else, like slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia) and Canada St. Johnswort (Hypericum canadense.) Two different native lobelias grow here as well, pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata) and Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata.) This spot has seen full sun and 90 degree F weather for quite a while now, and only the toughest can take it.
I keep trying to explain in words how small some of the flowers are that appear in these posts but a picture is worth a thousand words, so I took a photo of a lobelia flower sitting on a penny. It is from an Indian tobacco plant, which is one that appeared in my last post. A penny is about 3/4 of an inch in diameter.
As much as I’d like to I can’t stay in the meadow all day, so up we go.
There will be stops along the way so I can catch my breath and admire things like these fairy stool mushrooms (Coltricia cinnamomea.) They are very tough, leathery little things that seem to have shrugged off the lack of rain. I like their concentric rings. Their cap is usually very flat and with their central stems they remind me of tiny café tables.
Bark full of tell-tale holes from a yellow bellied sapsucker were about all that was left of a birch log. Many other birds, insects and animals sip the sap that runs from these holes and they are an important part of the workings of the forest.
A cluster of young fungi grew on the birch log. I’m not sure of their name but I was surprised to see them. It’s been dry enough to make mushrooms a rare thing this year.
The starflowers (Trientalis borealis) have gone to seed and this tiny seed pod was just opening, as you can see by the hole at the top. These chalky white seedpods are so small that this one would have fit inside the lobelia flower that we saw earlier with room to spare. I like how they look like miniature soccer balls.
Other small things along the way were these red British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) growing with some trumpet like pixie cups (Cladonia pyxidata). Lichens like water so I was surprised to see that these examples looked so fresh.
The trail at the bottom of Mount Caesar starts out as bedrock and that’s also how it ends. This mountain is really just a huge mound of solid granite with a thin coating of soil covering it.
The views were what I expected them to be; hazy on such a hot, humid day. I had hoped there would be a cooling breeze up here but hardly a leaf stirred. Not only that but the lack of shade made it feel even hotter than it did down below.
Off in the distance on another hill I saw a large sand pit that I’ve never noticed before. Swanzey is built on sand and gravel and digging it up to use elsewhere is thriving business. Surely an operation as big as this one has been there for a while, but I’ve never seen it.
Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey could be seen through the haze. At 3, 165 feet its summit rises another 2,203 feet higher than where I was standing. It was much too hot to even think about climbing that one but I’d bet that there was a cool breeze up there.
Everyone in this area has heard of Tippin rock, the forty ton glacial erratic that sits on the top of Hewe’s hill one mile to the south, but I doubt many have heard of the rocking stone that sits on the top of Mount Caesar. I’ve seen this big stone many times but hadn’t really paid much attention to it until a friend sent me a photo from 1895 with a caption calling it the rocking stone. It’s probably about a quarter the size of tippin rock but I didn’t try to rock it.
I was surprised to see a building along with the stone in the old photo with a caption calling it “the pavilion.” I wonder how many teams of horses or oxen were needed to get all that lumber to the summit, and I also wonder why a building was even needed up there. It looked old in 1895 so it must have been there a while. There was no air conditioning then so maybe people climbed to the summit hoping to find relief from the heat by sitting in the shade of the pavilion. Maybe they had picnics up there; picnics were popular then. Or maybe they were tired of getting caught in thunderstorms and built a shelter, I don’t really know. I don’t even know who “they” would have been. I wandered all over the summit, using the shape of the stone as a guide, but I couldn’t find a trace of the building. Not a board, not a nail, nothing. Time has erased it completely.
I’m sure that people must have climbed these hills to pick the blueberries in 1895 as they still do, but I hope they had better luck than I did. It’s so dry up here this year they’re turning into hard, withered stones.
I couldn’t leave without a visit with my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) Their gray color told how dry and potato chip crisp they were but lichens are nothing if not patient, and they will sit here for eons if need be, waiting for rain. Some show an entire solar system on their faces and how fitting that is.; lichens have been flown into space and have survived more than two weeks in the void, leading many to believe that they are immortal.
Toadskin lichens have warts called pustules and on the back of the lichen there is a corresponding pit for every pustule. The black dots are its fruiting bodies (Apothecia) which are tiny black discs with a sunken center that makes them look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) 0f the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. If I could magnify them enough we’d see clear to brown muriform spores in each apothecia. Muriform means they are “wall like” with internal cross walls that make them look as if they were made of brick and mortar. What strange and fascinating things nature will show us if we just take the time to look a little closer.
I never did find the beautiful violet coral fungus that I hoped to see but I saw many other things that made this climb worthwhile, including this fan club moss (Diphasiastrum digitatum) that grew into double hearts.
May your dreams be larger than mountains, and may you have the courage to scale their summits. ~Harley King
Thanks for coming by.