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Archive for December, 2016

1-ice-drop

The first time I did one of these looking back posts was last year and I thought I remembered it being fun, but I found this one a little harder than fun. Picking one photo from 80-100 of them for each of the 12 months isn’t easy, but in the end I decided on the ones that best spoke about the month they were from. Last winter we didn’t have a lot of snow but we always have cold in winter, and that’s why I chose this photo of a tear shaped icicle for the month of January. It is said that January is our coldest month but I’ve seen February earn that title a few times in recent years.

2-maple-dust-lichen-on-beech

Along with cold February can sometimes bring enough snow to cover nearly everything, and this is when tree trunks gain a certain appeal. There are almost always lichens and mosses found on them and last February this maple dust lichen answered a question that I had been asking for some time, which was “Do maple dust lichens only grow on maple trees?” This one growing on a beech tree put the question to rest, and I have since seen them on poplars and young oaks as well. This pretty little lichen averages about an inch in diameter I’d guess, and can be identified by the white fringe around its perimeter. Proof that even when there’s six feet of snow on the ground there is still plenty of beauty to be found.

3-skunk-cabbage

March is when things really begin to stir and one of the first plants I see coming up is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus.) As this photo shows, we didn’t have much snow last March but even if we had the skunk cabbages would have simply melted their way up through it. Through a process called thermogenesis, skunk cabbages raise their internal temperature so it’s above the surrounding air temperature, and this melts any ice or snow that might hinder its progress. The dark color of their blotchy spathes attracts sunlight and that means they are also heated by the sun. This makes a nice cozy warming room inside the spathe where early insects can come and hang out and warm up. While they’re inside if they happen to bump into the spadix full of flowers and get pollen all over themselves, so much the better.

4-spring-beauties

April is when flowers begin to appear in great numbers. Spring bulbs bloom, trees bloom, and the first of our wildflowers bloom, including wild ginger, purple trillium, trout lily and the beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) shown in this photo.  I’m always so excited when I see their first blooms I drop down to my knees and start taking photos, forgetting that there are often leafless poison ivy vines crawling under last year’s fallen leaves. But itchy knees are worth it when beautiful things like these can be seen. There are few sights as breathtaking as a woodland floor carpeted by thousands of them and I’m very anxious to see them again.

5-new-beech-leaves

In May the leaf buds on many of our trees start breaking and king among them is the beech, in my opinion. American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. Once the downy angel wing like leaves begin to show they unfurl quickly, so you have to watch carefully. I check them each day, and it’s always worth the effort to see something so beautiful. It’s too bad that so many people miss such a captivating event.

6-ladys-slippers

In June there are many beautiful wildflowers blooming and I had a very hard time choosing which one to include here. In the end I chose the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) which is New Hampshire’s state wildflower. The wild part of the word is significant, because our official state flower is the lilac, which isn’t native to New Hampshire. In any case the lady’s slipper is a beautiful native orchid and we’re lucky enough to have several different examples of them. Pink are the most common in this area but I’ve heard that there are yellow ones tucked away here and there and I’m always looking out for them.

7-swamp-milkweed

July is when I finally get to see the swamp milkweeds again. In my opinion they are easily one of our most beautiful wildflowers, and one that I’ve lost myself in more than once. If only there were more of them. I know of only two or three smallish clumps and last year one of those was too sick and insect ridden to even blossom, so they’re something I have to search for here, but their rarity and beauty make them worth every minute of searching.

8-cedar-waxwing

August is when the silky dogwood berries ripen and the cedar waxwings appear out of nowhere to eat them up, and isn’t it amazing how nature will teach you such things if you just pay a little closer attention? I love seeing the beautiful blue and white berries that always remind me of Chinese porcelain, and I also love seeing the sleek beautiful birds that feast on them.

9-moldy-mushroom

The fungi and slime molds didn’t do too well this year because of our drought but I saw a few in September, including this bolete with a mycoparasite called Syzygites megalocarpus growing on its cap. A mycoparasite is essentially a fungus that feeds on other fungi. This one has been found on over 65 species of mushroom. It can appear overnight if heat and humidity levels are just right, and that’s exactly what this one did.

10-reflections

No matter how you slice it October has to be about the fall foliage colors because that’s usually when they’re at their peak in this area and that’s when people from all over the world come to see them. This spot at Howe Reservoir in Dublin is always worth a look because it’s a forest of mostly deciduous trees and it is always colorful in the fall. I love the muted, pastel shades that happened on this cloudy day.

11-frozen-pool

We don’t usually get much snow in November but it does get cold enough for ice to form on puddles and small brooks and streams. I found this frozen pool in the woods on a cool walk one November day and I liked the many colors in and around it. The ice was thin enough so one step would have probably shattered it.

12-split-gill-fungus

There are people who seem to think that once the leaves fall there is nothing left to see outside until spring, but nothing could be further from the truth. I chose this photo of a split gill mushroom (Schizophyllum commune) that I took in December to show that there is still a lot of beauty and interest out there. You just have to look a little more carefully, that’s all.  The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds on its underside that split lengthwise when it dries out. The splits close over the fertile surfaces as the mushroom shrivels in dry weather. When rehydrated by rain the splits reopen, the spore-producing surfaces are exposed to the air, and spores are released.

13-purple-fringed-orchid-from-july

I thought I’d make the photo count in this post an even baker’s dozen so I could squeeze in what I thought was an amazing find in July. I walked down an unknown trail through a swamp and found a two foot tall orchid growing right beside it on a mossy hummock. It’s either a purple fringed orchid (Platanthera psycodes) or a greater purple fringed orchid (Platanthera grandiflora.) I’m not sure which but it is definitely one of the most beautiful wildflowers that I’ve seen. The chance of finding something like this is what keeps me wandering through these woods. There are beautiful things around every turn in the trail.

To be able to look back upon one’s life in satisfaction is to live twice. ~Khalil Gibran

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a safe, happy, nature filled New Year!

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1-road-start

When it snows enough to make hiking a little more work I like to follow Beaver Brook in Keene. It’s a popular spot with both nature lovers and dog walkers and it’s rare that someone hasn’t made a path for you to follow. Since the old road that is now a trail essentially ends at a waterfall it’s easy to guess where the trodden snow path will lead.

2-ledges

One of the other reasons I like to come here in winter is because of the easy access to the ledges that are close beside the old road. There are many mosses and lichens that grow on thede ledges and I hoped to see the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that grow here, but unfortunately on this day snow covered them all.

3-blue-lichen

Though I didn’t see any smoky eye boulder lichens I did see one of the lichens that taught me that lichens can change color. This lichen is normally an ashy gray color in summer but as it gets colder it becomes darker and darker blue. This is the darkest I’ve ever seen it and I wonder if that’s because of the below zero nights we’ve had. I haven’t been able to identify it but it’s very granular and scattered, with no definite shape.

4-stairstep-moss

The stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) that I only find in this place is very delicate looking but it can take a lot of winter ice and snow and grows as far north as the arctic tundra. It is also called glittering wood moss and sparkles when the light is right. It grows on stone here and seems to like places when it can hang over an edge.

5-beaver-brook

Another reason I like coming here in winter is to see the often spectacular ice formations that grow along the brook, but this year it has frozen from bank to bank early and the only ice seen was flat and shapeless. Beaver Brook itself had been all but silenced except for a giggle heard here and there where there were small openings in the ice. It’s very strange to walk in a place where you know there is always the sound of running water and then suddenly not hear it. Only ice can silence a stream or river.

6-ice

There wasn’t even that much ice on the ledges, and I finally realized that the ice that grows here must grow from snow melt rather than seeping ground water. If it’s too cold for the snow to melt as it has been recently, ice doesn’t grow. If the ice came from seeping groundwater it would keep growing no matter how cold it got.

7-ice-on-stone

The dribbles of ice on this stone looked ancient, as if they had been here forever.

8-patterns-in-stone

Even without ice on them the stones here are fascinating and speak of the countless eons of tremendous pressure that stretched and folded these hills into what we see today. The stones here were once a mineral stew and today many blood red garnets can be found.

9-fern

Evergreen ferns grow under the ledge overhangs and wait patiently for spring, when this year’s green fronds will finally turn brown and new shoots will appear. It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring, which gives them a head start over the competition.

10-large-boulder

Off in the woods across the brook stands a huge glacial erratic boulder. If it could be hollowed out two people could easily fit inside it with plenty of room to spare. One day an old timer I met here told me that there are people who cross the brook to climb it, but I’ve never seen them do so. He’s the same old timer who told me that he had seen the brook flood and cross the road, which is a very scary thing to think about because not too far from here is downtown Keene.

11-lichens-and-liverworts

There are about 800 species of frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. As it gets colder these liverwort turn color until they become a dark purple; almost black, so they are much more noticeable in winter than in summer when they’re green. Some can get fairly large but this example was smaller than a tennis ball.

12-frullania-liverwort

The tiny leaves of frullania liverworts are strung together like beads. Some frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant but though I finally membered to smell a few they didn’t seem to have any scent at all. This liverwort can cause something called woodcutter’s eczema. This eczema, called phytodermatitis (basically an itchy rash,) has been seen in loggers and others who regularly handle logs or cord wood with it on them. It doesn’t sound like anything serious and usually disappears in two or three weeks once the person stops handling logs with liverworts on them.

13-script-lichens

Script lichens (Graphis) grow on tree bark all along this old road. The dark “script” characters are the lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) There are many script lichen species and each seems to prefer a certain species of tree. This photo shows the clear separation between three species. Though the dark fruiting bodies are all horizontal in these examples, their size and spacing is quite different. Script lichens are another lichen that seems to produce spores only in cold weather. In summer they appear as whitish or grayish splotches on tree bark.

14-script-lichens

I got excited when I saw this script lichen because I thought I had found the rare and beautiful asterisk lichen (Arthonia radiata) that I’ve been searching for, but I think the two fruiting bodies that look like asterisks were just an anomaly in what is a common script lichen (Graphis scripta.)  In a true asterisk lichen all of the fruiting bodies would be star shaped.

15-golden-birch

Many of the trees looked like they wore capes of ermine. Speaking of ermines, I searched for the otter slides that I’ve seen here in the past, but didn’t see any. The old road has steep hillsides along its length and otters come here to slide down them in winter.

16-guard-post

This road was laid out in the 1700s and was abandoned in the early 70s when a new highway was built-literally right across the existing road. Since then nature has slowly been reclaiming the area. Some of the old guard rails still stand but many have been swallowed up by the brook, which over time has eaten away the edge of the road.

17-big-snowball

From a distance I thought that a boulder had rolled down off the hillside and landed in the road but it turned out to be a huge snowball that someone had rolled. It was chest high and must have taken considerable effort to move.

18-fungus

Fall oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) grew on the trunk of a maple but were now frozen solid. These fungi cause white rot and are not a good thing to see on living trees. Oyster mushrooms are also carnivorous. Scientists discovered in 1986 that they “exude extracellular toxins that stun {nematode] worms, whereupon the mycelium invades its body through its orifices.” They also consume bacteria (Pseudomonas and Agrobacterium) in order to get nitrogen and protein.

19-moss-on-tree

We’ve all seen the deep channels in tree bark but what I didn’t know until I started researching mosses and lichens for this blog is how rainwater runs in these channels. They’re like small vertical streams and a frozen one can be seen over on the left in this shot. Mosses and lichens and even some fungi take advantage of these streams and grow beside them on the tree’s bark. By doing so they probably get a little extra water when it rains.

20-oak-leaf

An oak leaf had fallen on the snow. Its dark color will attract sunlight and that will heat it enough to melt the snow, and it will gradually sink in until it eventually disappears under it. Oak leaves are among the most water resistant leaves but being under the snow all winter is enough to waterlog even them.

21-approaching-falls

I made it to the falls which are over on the right out of the photo but I didn’t bother climbing down the embankment to take photos of them because they were frozen and hardly making a sound. It would have been a slippery climb for a shot of a big lump of ice and once I get down in there I’m never sure if I’ll get back out because it’s very steep.

The stripped and shapely maple grieves
The ghosts of her departed leaves.
The ground is hard, as hard as stone.
The year is old, the birds are flown.
~John Updike

Thanks for coming by.

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Merry Christmas

christmas-tree

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE

May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty all the days of your life. ~Apache Blessing

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1-trail

We’ve had two good snowstorms recently about six days apart. The first dropped about six inches and the second about seven inches, so unless we get some rain or warm weather I think it’s safe to say that we’ll have a white Christmas. This view shows a trail around a pond that I follow quite regularly. I wasn’t the first one here on this day.

2-pondside

The pond is frozen but isn’t safe for skating yet. This is a very popular skating place and once the ice is thick enough the City of Keene will plow it so it can be used. Hopefully the ice will be thick enough to plow; the plow truck has ended up on the pond bottom several times over the years. Luckily it isn’t that deep.

3-cattails

Cattails tell you where the solid ground ends and the pond begins. This is a good thing because often unless you know the place well you can’t tell where the land meets water when it’s all covered in snow. That’s especially true along rivers; one year I realized that I was standing on an ice shelf quite a few feet out over a river. Once I stopped shaking I was able to get back on land without getting wet. I’ve made sure never to make that mistake again; people drown by doing such foolish things.

4-pondside

Because it was so cold when it fell the snow was light and fluffy and easy to shovel. Since all it takes is a light breeze to blow such powdery snow around I didn’t think my chances of seeing snowy trees was very good, but thankfully there was no breeze and the trees stayed frosted. In the woods every single thing was covered by a coating of snow.

5-otter

But wait a minute; what is that dark object out there on the ice?  I know this pond well enough to know that there shouldn’t be anything sticking up out of the water in that spot.

6-otter

It was the otter, and this makes the second terrible photo that I’ve taken of it. My camera simply isn’t made for such long shots but I keep trying anyway. Odd that this animal would live here all alone. At least, I’ve never seen more than a single one at a time. I thought they were very social animals and I’m surprised that it hasn’t gone off in search of a mate. It stayed just long enough for a single photo before slipping through a hole. I wondered how it was able to make a hole. Maybe the ice is thin there. The snow plow driver might want to take note.

7-shadows

This view of some blue shadows was taken the day before the latest storm, when the sun was shining.

8-rail-trail

There were snowmobile tracks on this rail trail but snowmobiles must be getting lighter because the snow wasn’t packed down and each step was more of a slide, because there was ice under the snow.

9-snowmobiles

But the snowmobiles weren’t having any trouble. I’m  grateful for snowmobile clubs because if it wasn’t for them many of these trails would have grown over with brush and trees years ago.

10-oak-leaves

I always see pink in certain winter oak leaves and orange in others. My color finding software sees salmon pink in some of these leaves and tan in others.

11-ashuelot-river

I can’t say that I often feel aghast but I felt just that when I saw the Ashuelot River frozen from bank to bank in this spot, because in all the years I’ve been doing this blog it has never frozen here this early. In fact it’s rare for it to freeze here at all, mostly because of the fast current, I think. Apparently below zero temperatures work quickly; we’ve only had one night where they dropped that low.

12-ashuelot-on-12-11-16

This photo was taken just five days before the previous one. Hard to believe I know, but true. As Mark Twain once said: “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

13-snowy-branches

The snow on these oak branches told me that there hadn’t been a puff of wind along the river either.

14-asters

What was left of the asters bent under the weight.

15-river-stones

I like how water turns so dark in the winter. I don’t know if the white of the snow makes it seem darker or if it’s a play of the light.

16-swamp

Sharp eyed longtime readers might notice something missing in this shot. There used to be an old dead white pine in this swamp that I called the heron tree.

17-blue-heron-tree

This was what the heron tree looked like on Thanksgiving Day in 2014.  Later, one day I looked for it and it was gone without a trace, as if someone had plucked it like a flower.

18-gb-heron

And this view of the first snow in December of 2013 shows why I called it the heron tree. Herons sat in it regularly and I wonder if they miss it as much as I do.

19-sunlight

No matter how dark the sky is the sun always shines again and the clouds broke on this day to let it shine for all of about 5 seconds while I was out.

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

Thanks for coming by. Happy winter solstice!

 

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1-window-frost

Anyone who has read this blog for a time knows that I’m not a big fan of winter, but that’s because of all the extra work like shoveling the roof that comes along with it. Winter itself is a season filled with beauty, as this window frost shows so well. It looks like crystal ferns and when I was a boy most of the windows I saw in winter were decorated in this way. The newer double pane windows have pretty much put a stop to that, but car windows still become decorated on cold nights.

2-icy-woods

 

Once the ground freezes surface water has nowhere to go so if it rains or if the snow melts, small ponds form and freeze. This kind of ice makes it hard for animals like deer to get around because they slip on it.

3-monadnock

I paid another visit to Mount Monadnock the other day and found Perkin’s Pond frozen over but little snow on the summit. That has changed since; we had about 6 inches of snow on Monday but I haven’t had a chance to get photos yet.

4-monadnock-summit

On this day there was very little snow up there. It was cold enough so the bright sunshine wasn’t melting what there was though.

5-pond-ice

I’ve wondered for a long time what caused these spidery holes in lake and pond ice. I recently read that when it’s warm enough drain holes can form in the ice. When snow falls on ice the added weight forces the ice sheet to sink somewhat and water can wick up through the drain holes and wet the snow, forming channels that look like rivers. These dark spidery creations are called “ice octopi,” “ice spiders,” or “ice stars” and can sometimes grow to many feet across. This example at Perkin’s Pond was no bigger than a softball, or around 4 inches, with arms that stretched for a foot or more.

6-ashuelot-wave

The Ashuelot River hasn’t frozen and enough rain has fallen to create some waves again. I enjoy seeing if I can catch a wave at just the right curl. I don’t use burst mode on the camera so it isn’t easy, but I’ve found that if you are patient you can tune into the river’s rhythm and catch the waves in full curl. I love the colors of the river water in bright sunshine.

7-ice-bauble

Ice baubles formed on the river’s shore and the stones were completely coated with ice, so I had to watch where I stepped. This ice had formed into a round disc shape around a blade of grass.

8-river-ice

The sunlight on such clear ice is always enough to stop me in my tracks. The colors are so beautiful and the shapes in the formations always mind boggling. Like a thousand prisms bending light.

9-ashuelot-falls

I went to the Ashuelot Falls in Keene to see if they had frozen up but other than some ice from the spray they were flowing normally. I’ve seen them turn into huge blocks of ice but I’m hoping I don’t see that again right away. When the sun is just right they look like golden tinsel.

10-ice-pancakes

The waterfall creates foam on the river and when it’s cold the foam can freeze. The current keeps the frozen foam from forming a flat sheet by spinning the irregular pieces into circles. When the circles of foam bump into each other they form rims and start to look like pancakes. These ranged in size from car tires to cantaloupes, and sometimes smaller.

11-ice-pancakes

In fact they are called pancake ice and from what I’ve read are rare outside of the Arctic, even though I see them at least once every winter. In the Arctic, the pancakes can stick together and form ridges that pile on top of each other and can reach up to 60 feet thick but here on the Ashuelot they just float downstream. Whether or not they make it to the Connecticut River and then to the Atlantic Ocean I don’t know.

12-ice-pancake

This pancake formed around a reed and was stuck. It would probably never join the rest of the pack unless it thawed.

13-island

Wilson Pond in Swanzey has frozen over but not completely. If this ice was thicker it would have been perfect for skating on, but it won’t be thick enough for that for a while yet. The latest storm covered it with snow so unless someone plows or shovels it nobody will be skating here.

14-rime-ice

One of the things I saw when I explored the icy shore of Wilson Pond was rime ice. Rime ice forms when super cooled water droplets in ground fog make contact with something that is at a below freezing temperature. The thicker the fog, the larger the crystals. Rime ice can form on virtually anything, even snow. These examples grew on leaves and pine needles.

15-rime-on-leaf

I tried to pick up a twig with ice crystals on it and they were so fragile they just fell apart. This leaf was resting on the pond ice and I left it where it was.

16-rime-on-pine-needlws

I didn’t touch these ice covered pine needles either. The crystals look sharp but just a touch of a finger or a whisper of breath is enough to destroy them.

17-reflection

This was what sunrise looked like reflected in Half Moon Pond before it froze over. We’re not likely to see this again until March or April. It is beauty that will be missed, but it’s by far not the only beauty to be found.

18-half-moon-pond

This is Half Moon Pond now, with the latest super moon setting behind it. Yes, it was as cold as it looks.

19-rust

From a distance I thought these colorful bits were lichens on a piece of driftwood but it turned out to be rust on a piece of steel. But it’s still a beautiful color.

20-ice-patterns

Nature is so very beautiful at any time of year and these simple pleasures are there for anyone to see, so I really do hope you’re able to get outside and enjoy them.

What is life? It is a flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. ~Crowfoot

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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1-trail

We’ve had some cold nights and a little snow over the last week or so and it seems like winter might be here to stay, so I decided to visit the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland recently. Once the cold settles down inside this man made canyon it’s reluctant to leave, and spectacular ice formations grow here.

2-ice

The ice is fueled by the groundwater that constantly seeps through the bedrock that the railway workers hacked their way through in the mid-1800s, and ice columns as big as tree trunks are commonplace. I’ve seen huge ice columns here many times but I’ve never seen their birth, so that was the object of today’s hike.

3-ice

Ice was forming almost everywhere on the vertical walls of the canyon. It was very cold this day and even in the bright morning sunshine the ice wasn’t melting. That’s the secret of the why the ice grows to such giant proportions here; the temperature seems to stay about 10 degrees cooler in both winter and summer. On a hot July day the natural air conditioning is very welcome, but in December it can be like walking into a freezer so you had better be dressed for it if you plan on spending much time here.

4-ice

The groundwater seems to follow the natural lay of the stone and seeps between the layers winter and summer. The water doesn’t seem to ever stop seeping so when an icicle forms more and more water flows over it, increasing its length and girth drip by drip. There can be enough ice here in February to cover the stone ledges completely in many areas.

5-ice-climber

Unless you’ve seen them the ice formations are hard to imagine, so I’ve used this photo from last February to better illustrate the size of both the ice and the place. Last winter was mild so the ice shown is tame in comparison to previous winters but still, ice climbers came to train. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club holds regular ice climbing clinics here and seeing climbers on the ice is fairly common on weekends. I expect that I’ll see a few this winter.

6-waterfall

There is almost always the sound of water dripping here. Usually it comes from the seeping groundwater but in at least one spot water gushes through a rift in the wall with enough force to be called a stream. I wonder if a stream on the hillside above somehow changed course, because I doubt that the railroad engineers would have left it this way.

7-drainage-ditch

All that water has to go somewhere so the railroad built drainage ditches on either side of the railbed to direct it where they wanted it to go. The ditches have kept the railbed dry for over 150 years but I saw that a rockslide further down the trail had dammed up one side and now water is washing away the railbed. With no railroad to maintain these rail trails it’s now up to private groups like snowmobile clubs to do all the work. They do a great job but it they might not be aware of the washout.

8-rock-fall

This is a shot of where the rocks have fallen across the drainage ditch and dammed it up. What isn’t seen in this photo is how all the water in the ditch has been forced into the railbed, washing it away. The rocks are big and I’m sure are very heavy but I would think that two men with crowbars could at least slide them over enough to let the water through.

9-ledges

There are many mosses, liverworts, and other interesting things growing on these walls that I don’t see anywhere else so I put on rubber boots and walk across the drainage ditches to get close to them. I’ve seen large stones that have fallen into the railbed and in the winter falling ice is always a possibility, so I have to be very aware of what’s going on around me. I always look up before I cross a ditch to get to a section of wall to make sure that I’m not going to be standing under overhanging ledge like that seen in this photo. I’ve never seen one fall but fallen stones litter both sides of the trail all down its length.

10-liverworts

For me this is what makes coming here worth any small amount of risk involved; I can get close to so many plants that I’ve never seen before, like the great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) seen here. They are very particular about where they grow, insisting on just the right amount of light, humidity and temperature and they have found the perfect spot here, where they grow in great numbers. Though they are said to be common I never see them anywhere else.

11-liverwort-close

The great scented liverwort is also called the snakeskin liverwort, and with good reason. I love its reptilian skin and its scent, which is so clean and fresh it always makes me wish it came in a spray bottle when I smell it. Each more or less hexagonal leaf cell has a central pore over the top of an air chamber. On the floor of the air chamber are photosynthetic filaments called chloroplasts, and the pores through its skin let in enough light for the chloroplasts to do their work, which is photosynthesis. It’s quite amazing, as is all of life.

12-liverworts

Though the liverworts might seem fragile they are actually very tough as all of the plants that grow here have to be, because they are often completely encased in ice throughout the winter months. From what I’ve seen it doesn’t seem to bother them.

13-ferns

Any thoughts I had about the delicacy of our evergreen ferns went right out the window when I saw them growing here. They too are often covered in ice through the winter, but still green.

14-moss

Mosses also have to be able to withstand the ice. Curiously, though this one was surrounded by ice it was quite dry, as its twisted leaves show. I think it might be tall tornado moss (Tortella tortuosa) which has leaves that twist and contort when it dries out. It grows in the thin soil that forms on boulders and on rock ledges, and likes limestone.

15-algae

One of the strangest things that grow here  is a green algae called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll. It’s very hairy and produces spores which, when produced in high enough concentrations, can even color rain. I was just reading about a blood red rain that fell in parts of Spain in 2014. Many worried that it was a bad omen or extraterrestrial in origin, or a plague worthy of the Bible, but it was actually caused by the algae Haematococcus pluvialis. The same thing happened in Texas in 2013, in Sri Lanka in 2012, and in India in 2001, each seemingly caused by different algae. Yellow, green, and black rain has also been reported. It seems that colored rain can happen just about anywhere on earth when conditions are right. The blue in this photo is the sky reflected in ice.

16-mineral-staining

I’ve never seen colored rain falling in this place but I have seen plenty of colored ice, and I think at least some of the ice colors are caused by minerals in the groundwater, like the iron staining shown on the stone in this photo.  The ice here can be blue, green, red, orange, yellow, brown, and even black.

17-mineral-staining

Another example of mineral staining on the stone, this time in a sandy, orangey brown color.

18-colored-ice

And this photo from last year shows what the minerals can do to the ice. At least that’s my assumption. Neither I nor readers of this blog have been able to come up with any other theories except in the case of blue ice, which can become blue simply because of its own density.

19-linemans-shack

It takes a while to get used to this kind of cold again and by the time I had reached what’s left of the old lineman’s shack I couldn’t feel my toes any longer, so I thought I’d better do a little less lollygagging and more walking, and I trudged back down the trail at a high rate of speed (for me.)

20-ice

Watching ice melt might not be very exciting but watching it grow is, so I’ll be coming back here often throughout winter.

He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter. ~John Burroughs

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1-tree-club-moss

I see by the number of views that posts like this get that not everyone is interested in native evergreens but they make up a large part of the outdoors and are a pleasure to see at this time of year. I hope posts like these will show those who believe that there is nothing to see in the winter that there is indeed still a lot of nature out there to see. I thought I’d start with clubmosses, which aren’t mosses at all. They are vascular plants that don’t flower; they produce spores instead of seeds and are considered fern allies. Fossils have been found that show the lowly clubmosses once grew to 100 feet tall. But that was a very long time ago; the tree clubmoss (Lycopodium dendroideum) in the above photo is barely 3 inches high. It shows the upright yellow spore bearing strobili, sometimes called candles or clubs that give the plants their common names. The plant is also called ground-pine because of its resemblance to the pine tree.

2-club-moss-club

This clubmoss strobilus is still tightly closed and hasn’t released its spores yet.

3-club-moss-club

They look a bit ragged after they’ve released their spores.

4-club-moss-flash-powder

Clubmoss spores have been collected and dried to make flash powder for many years. They are high in fat content and when mixed with air become highly flammable. They’ve been used in fireworks and explosives for years, and also as camera flashes before flash bulbs were invented. These days they are still used in magic acts and chemistry classes. They also repel water, so if dip your finger in a glass of water that has spores floating on it, your finger will come out dry. This photo is from the Chemical Store.

5-running-ground-pine-lycopodium-clavatum

Running ground pine (Lycopodium clavatum) is another clubmoss that someone once thought looked like the tree. The “running” part of the common name comes from the way its underground stems spread (run)  under the leaf mold. Other names include lamb’s tail, fox tail, wolfs claw, stag’s horn and witch meal. Native Americans used clubmosses medicinally to cure headaches and to treat urinary tract problems and diarrhea. They were also used to treat wounds and to dye fabrics. The Lycopodium part of the scientific name comes from the Greek lycos, ‘wolf’, and podus, ‘foot’, because whoever named it thought it looked like a wolf’s paw.

6-fan-club-moss

Fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum) is one of my favorites. The plant gets its common name from the way its branches fan out in a 180 degree arc at the top of the stem. Another common name is ground cedar because of its resemblance to the cedar tree. At one time this and other clubmosses were used to make Christmas wreaths and were collected almost into oblivion, but they seem to be making a fairly good comeback. A single plant can take 20 years or more to grow from spore to maturity, so they should never be disturbed.

7-marginal-wood-fern

I don’t think many people associate ferns with winter hardiness but we do have a few that stay green all winter, like the eastern wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) seen here. It is also called the marginal wood fern because of where its spore clusters lay in relation to the pinnule (leaf division) margins. Intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia,) Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides,) and polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) are some of our other evergreen ferns.

8-partridge-berry

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but do not climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. The 4 petaled, pinkish, fringed, fragrant, half inch long flowers appear in June and July. The berries remain on the plant for long periods unless eaten, and can often still be found the following spring. I’ve never seen a partridge eating them but I know that wild turkeys love them.

9-checkerberry

American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is also called teaberry or checkerberry and its small white flowers resemble those of the blueberry. It is probably the easiest of all wintergreens to identify because of the strong minty scent that comes from its crushed leaves. If you have ever tasted teaberry gum then you know exactly what it smells and tastes like. The plant contains compounds that are very similar to those found in aspirin and Native Americans used it much like we use aspirin. This photo was taken after a recent snowstorm and shows how wintergreens got their name. The small white object in front of the middle leaf is a starflower seed pod (Trientalis borealis.)

10-checkerberries

American wintergreen was the first plant my grandmother taught me to identify. Because she had trouble getting up from a kneeling position she would have me crawl around and gather up handfuls of the bright red, minty berries, which we would then share. She always called them checkerberries, but nobody seems to know where that name or the several others it has originated. The name teaberry comes from a pleasing tea that can be made from the leaves. Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, grouse, partridges, bobwhites, turkeys, fox, deer and bears eat the berries.

11-striped-wintergreen

Though I showed it in a recent post striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) has my favorite wintergreen foliage so I’m going to show it again. In winter it turns deep purple where the darker green is on the leaf. This plant is rare here, though I’m finding more and more spots where 1 or 2 plants grow. In all I probably know of a dozen widely scattered plants. It’s hard to tell from a photo but these plants are so well camouflaged that I have walked right by them and not seen them.

12-shinleaf

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica,) another of our native wintergreens, gets its common name from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds; especially shin wounds, apparently. Like several other wintergreens it contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used for many of the same ailments. Its nodding white, waxy flowers are fragrant and usually appear near the end of June. I find them in sandy soiled forests under pines.

13-pipsissewa

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) grows in large colonies and is easy to find because of its shiny green leaves that shine winter and summer and last up to 4 years. Like other wintergreens it likes dry, sandy, undisturbed soil in pine forests. Pipsissewa was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer. Its name is fun to say. It’s a Native American Cree word meaning “It-breaks-into-small-pieces.” This is because it was used as a treatment for kidney stones and was thought to break them into pieces.

14-pipsissewa-leaf

Pipsissewa and some other native wintergreens form a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and are partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like native orchids. If looking for this plant look for the teeth on the outer margins of the shiny leaves.

15-trailing-arbutus

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear.  Its oval evergreen leaves are tough and leathery and hug the ground but though it looks like a groundcover botanically speaking it has a persistent woody stem, so it is classified as a shrub. This was one of my grandmother’s favorite flowers and she would walk in the woods to find and smell it rather than dig it up to plant in her yard.  It’s too bad everybody didn’t do the same because this plant was once collected into near oblivion. These days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. That’s true of most of these plants, in fact.

16-goldthread

New goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will often be very dark green. They’ll hold their color under the snow all winter and look similar to wild strawberries until late April or early May when new leaves and small white flowers will appear. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its being nearly collected into oblivion. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant, probably by its other common name: canker root. Luckily it has made a good comeback and I see lots of it.

17-swamp-dewberry

Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing vine blooms with white flowers that look a lot like strawberry flowers. The fruit looks more like a black raspberry than anything else and is said to be very sour. Its leaves live under the snow all winter. It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring so they get a head start over the competition.

18-swamp-dewberry

But though swamp dewberry leaves live under the snow all winter they aren’t always green. These beautiful beet purple plants grew just a few feet away from the green ones in the previous photo. Swamp dewberry 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.

19-downy-rattlesnake-plantain

Some native orchids have flowers and foliage that look tender and fragile, but as downy plantain orchids  (Goodyera pubescens) show, looks can be deceiving. Its leaves are covered by soft downy hairs and this little orchid can stand being buried under snow all winter without being damaged. It’ll look just as it does now when the snow melts. I hope you’ll take some time to look at the evergreens in your own area. Don’t forget the mosses and lichens!

There is no end to wonder once one starts really looking. ~Marty Rubin

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1-trail-start

Ever since a friend of mine and I tipped Tippin Rock back in August something has been nagging at me. I’ve lived long enough to know that ignoring something that is nagging at you isn’t going to make it go away, so I decided to confront it head on. To do that I had to climb Mount Caesar in Swanzey, which is a huge mound of granite with a thin covering of soil. The above photo shows the start of the trail, which is bedrock. I’m not sure if shoe soles or the weather has removed what little soil there was there.

2-reindeer-lichen

Mount Caesar has the biggest drifts of reindeer lichens (Cladonia rangiferina) of anyplace I’ve seen.  I’ve read that they grow very slowly, so the colonies here are most likely hundreds of years old.  It is said that Mount Caesar was used as a lookout by Native Americans when settlers began moving in, and both settlers and natives probably saw these very same lichens. If damaged they can take decades to restore themselves, so I hope they’ll be treated kindly.

3-looped-white-pine

A young white pine (Pinus strobus) grew itself into a corkscrew. Trees often grow into strange shapes when another tree falls on them and makes them lean or pins them to the ground. That would explain this tree’s strange shape, but where is the tree that fell on it? There wasn’t a fallen tree anywhere near it.

4-trail

The trail goes steadily uphill and is bordered by stone walls for most of its length.

5-jelly-fungi

I’m seeing a lot of jelly fungi this year. This fallen tree was covered with them.

6-red-maple

I’ve seen a lot of target canker on red maples but this tree was covered almost top to bottom with it, and it was very pronounced.  Target canker doesn’t usually harm the tree but in this case I had to wonder if maybe the maple wasn’t losing the battle. Target canker is caused by a fungus which kills the healthy bark and the patterns of platy bark seen here are the tree’s response to the fungus; it grows new bark each year.

7-turkey-tails

I’ve been waiting all summer to find some turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) that had some colors other than shades of brown, and here they were the whole time. Hundreds of them crowded a fallen log.

8-turkey-tail

These turkey tails grew on a nearby stump. I also saw many bracket fungi that looked like turkey tails but their gills gave them away as impostors. Turkey tails always have tiny round holes called pores on their undersides, never gills.  If I find bracket fungi with gills I start looking up gilled polypores to try to identify them.

9-trail-end

Though you walk on soil for much of its length the trail ends just as it began; on solid granite.

10-view

The views were what I would expect on a cloudy day, but at least the clouds were high enough to be able to see the surrounding hills.

11-view

And the miles and miles of forest; 4.8 million acres in New Hampshire alone. It is why many of us still carry maps and compasses.

12-monadnock

To the east the clouds parted long enough for a good look at Mount Monadnock, which is the highest point in these parts; 2,203 feet higher than where I was standing on top of Mount Caesar.

13-monadnock

It must have been very cold up there but I could still see people on the summit. Unfortunately none of the shots showing them up close came out good enough to show. When he climbed it in 1860 Henry David Thoreau complained about the number of people on the summit of Monadnock. Nothing has changed since, and that’s one reason that I don’t climb it. Thoreau also said ”Those who climb to the peak of Monadnock have seen but little of the mountain. I came not to look off from it, but to look at it.” I feel the same way he did. It’s very beautiful when seen from a distance.

14-erratic

The glacial erratic called “the rocking stone” in a photo from 1895 was the object of this climb. I wanted to see if it rocked like Tippin Rock over on Hewe’s Hill did. I pushed on it from every side and watched the stone carefully to see any movement but I couldn’t get it to budge. You always have to wonder about these old stories, but the one about Tippin Rock proved true so this one probably is too. Maybe the next time my friend Dave flies in from California I’ll have him take a crack at it since he was able to rock Tippin Rock.

15-old-stump

An old weathered stump is all that remains of a tree that once grew on the summit. I’m guessing it was an eastern hemlock since they’re the only tree that I know of with stumps that decay from the inside out.

16-old-stump

Can you see the face? I’ll have to remember this when I do the next Halloween post.

17-blueberry

The blueberry bushes were beautifully colored. Since we’ve had several freezes I was surprised to see leaves still on them, but the temperature in the valleys is not always the same as it is on the hilltops. Cold air will flow down hillsides and pool in the valleys, just like water.

18-goldenrod

Even more of a surprise than the blueberry leaves was this blooming goldenrod. It was only about as big as my thumb but any flowers blooming at the end of November are special and I was happy to see them.

19-going-down

Going down a mountain always seems harder than going up but this time it was tough. Oak leaves are slippery anyway, but this time they had thousands of acorns under them, so I had to pick my way down the steepest parts very carefully. My calf muscles reminded me of the climb for a few days after.

It is always the same with mountains. Once you have lived with them for any length of time, you belong to them. There is no escape. ~Ruskin Bond

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1-the-ashuelotEvery single time I walk the banks of the Ashuelot River without fail I see something new or unexpected, and this rainy day I spent exploring its banks in Swanzey was no exception. I hope you won’t mind the dreariness of some of these photos. I had to take what nature gave me and after such a long drought a little rain was very welcome.  Ashuelot is pronounced ash-wee-lot or ash-will-lot depending on who you ask. It is thought to mean “ the place between” by Native American Pennacook or Natick tribes.

2-multiflora-rose-hips

Raindrops on multiflora rose hips (Rosa multiflora) told the story of the day. The many hips on this single plant show why it’s so invasive. It originally came from China and, as the old familiar story goes, almost immediately escaped and started to spread rapidly. It grows over the tops of shrubs and smothers them by hogging all the available sunshine and I’ve seen it grow 30 feet into a tree. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was imported more for its scent than any other reason, because to smell it is like smelling a bit of heaven on earth.

3-pumpkin

A pumpkin floated downriver. In October 2010 close to 100,000 pumpkins were washed into the Connecticut River during flooding in Bradford, Vermont. This one will probably go to the Atlantic, just like they did.

4-milkweed-seed

What I thought was a feather in the sand turned out to be a milkweed seed. Though many insects feed on milkweed and birds use the fluffy down from its seed pods for nest building, I’ve never found any reference to birds or animals eating any part of the plant.

5-juniper-haircap-moss

Juniper haircap moss plants (Polytrichum juniperinum) look like tiny green starbursts there among the river stones.

6-badge-moss

Badge moss (Plagiomnium insigne) is a pretty little moss that loves to grow in shady moist places and along stream banks. This was the first time I had ever seen it growing here though I’ve walked this river bank countless times. The long oval leaves have a border of tiny sharp teeth and become dull and shriveled looking when they’re dry. It looked like something had been eating them.

7-beech-leaves

Beech leaves have gone pale and dry, and rustle in the wind. They’re very pretty at all stages of their life, I think. One of the things I look forward to most each spring is beech buds unfurling. Just for a short time they look like silver angel wings.

8-split-gill-fungus

Split gill mushrooms (Schizophyllum commune) had their winter coats on, as usual. These are “winter” mushrooms that are usually about the size of a dime but can occasionally get bigger than that. They grow on every continent except Antarctica and because of that are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. Their wooly coats make them very easy to identify.

9-split-gill-fungus

The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds on its underside that split lengthwise when it dries out. The splits close over the fertile surfaces as the mushroom shrivels in dry weather. When rehydrated by rain the splits reopen, the spore-producing surfaces are exposed to the air, and spores are released. These beautiful little mushrooms are very tough and leathery. I don’t see them that often and I’ve never seen two growing together as they are in this photo.

10-orange-crust-fungus

Orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) grew on the underside of a branch, in excellent form and color because of the rain. This small fungus has a smooth whitish underside with no pores. The complicatum part of the scientific name means “folded back on itself” and the above photo shows these examples just starting that folding. It also likes to grow on the logs of deciduous trees.

11-musclewood

The muscle wood tree (Carpinus caroliniana) is also known as American hornbeam and ironwood. It’s very hard and dense and its common name comes from the way that it looks like it has muscles undulating under its bark much like our muscles appear under our skin. This tree is a smallish understory tree that is usually found on flood plains and other areas that may be wet for part of the year.  It’s hard to find one of any great size because they have a short lifespan.

12-woodpecker-hole

A woodpecker had drilled a perfectly  conical hole through this piece of wood. It looked like a funnel.

13-barberry-fruit

These small red berries are what make Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) so invasive. The shrub grows into nearly impenetrable thickets here along the river and fruits prolifically. It crowds out native plants and can prevent all but the smallest animals getting through. The berries are rich in vitamin C and are sometimes used to make jams and jellies.

14-barberry-thorn

Its sharp spines will tell you which variety of barberry you have. European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and American barberry (Berberis canadensis) both have clusters of 3 or more spines but since American barberry doesn’t grow in New England it comes down to European or Japanese here, and only Japanese barberry has single spines. They’re numerous and very sharp. I had to walk through them to get several of these photos and my legs got a bit scratched up.

15-barberry

Barberry has yellow inner bark that glows with just the scrape of a thumbnail. A bright yellow dye can be made from chipped barberry stems and roots, and the Chinese have used barberry medicinally for about 3000 years.

16-the-ashuelot

It is common enough to love a place but have you ever loved a thing, like a river? I first dipped my toes into the waters of the Ashuelot River so long ago I can’t even remember how old I was. I’ve swam it, paddled it, explored it and lived near its banks for the greater part of my lifetime. Though readers might get tired of hearing about the Ashuelot it means home to me and is something I love, and I’m very grateful for what it has taught me over the years. In fact if it wasn’t for the river this blog probably wouldn’t exist.

17-raindrops-in-sand

I often visit the sandy area in the previous photo because there are usually animal tracks there, but on this day all I saw were the tracks of raindrops. I think this is the first time I haven’t seen animal tracks there. Raccoons come to feed on the many river mussels, deer come to drink, and beaver and muskrats live here.

18-witchs-butter

It must be a good year for jelly fungi because I’m seeing more than I ever have. Or maybe it’s just the rain that’s bringing them out. In any case they’re another winter fungi and I expect to see them at this time of year. I almost always find them on stumps and logs; often on oak. After a rain is the best time to look for them, so this day was perfect. The above example of witch’s butter (Tremella mesenterica) grew on a fallen branch and looked plump and happy.

19-beggars-tick

Purple stemmed beggar ticks (Bidens connata) grow well in the wet soil at the edges of ponds and rivers and there are plenty of plants here along the Ashuelot. It has curious little yellow orange ray-less disc flowers that never seem to fully open and dark, purple-black stems. The name beggar ticks comes from its seeds, which are heavily barbed as the example in the above photo shows. They stick to fur and clothing like ticks and I had them all over me by the time I left the river. They don’t brush off; they have to be picked off one by one.

The first river you paddle runs through the rest of your life. It bubbles up in pools and eddies to remind you who you are. ~ Lynn Noel

Thanks for stopping in.

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