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Archive for December, 2017

Though this is only the third one I’ve done I’ve come to like these “looking back” posts. They make me  have another look at the past year in photos and I always seem to stumble on things I’ve forgotten. These tiny fungi I saw last January are a good example of that. When I saw them I didn’t know what they were and thought they must be some type of winter slime mold, but then I moved the hand that was holding the branch and felt something cold and jelly like.

And that’s when I discovered what very young milk white toothed polypores (Irpex lacteus) look like. These crust fungi are common in winter but it was the first time I had ever seen the “birth” of a fungus.

February can be a strange month, sometimes spring like and sometimes wintery. This year it was wintery, and this is what Half Moon Pond in Hancock looked like on February 4th. The relatively warm air combined with the cold ice of the pond produced lots of fog and I thought it made for a very beautiful scene.

March is the month when the ground finally begins to thaw and things begin to stir. First the skunk cabbages blossom early in the month and then by the end of the month other early plants like coltsfoot can be seen. Many of our trees and shrubs also begin to bloom toward the end of the month. This shot of female American hazelnut blossoms (Corylus americana) was taken on March 25th. They may not look like much but after a long cold winter they are a true pleasure to see. Just think, March is only 60 days away!

April is the month when many of our most beautiful spring ephemeral wildflowers appear and one of those I am always most anxious to see is the spring beauty (Claytonia virginica.) Each flower is very small; maybe as large as a standard aspirin, but the place they grow in often has many hundreds of flowers blooming at the same time so it can be a beautiful sight. These beautiful little flowers often appear at just the same time maple trees begin to flower. I saw the ones in the photo on April 26th.

Another small but beautiful spring flower that I look forward to seeing is the little fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia.) These plants often grow and flower in pairs as those shown were doing and often form mats that carpet the ground in places where they like to grow. The flowers need a heavy insect like a bumblebee landing on their little fringed third petal, which is mostly hidden. This opens their third sepal and lets the insect crawl into the tubular blossom, where it is dusted with pollen.  They often start blooming in mid-May but this photo is from May 31st. Because of their color at a glance fringed polygalas can sometimes look like violets so I have to look carefully to find them.

Also blooming in May is the beautiful soft pink, very fragrant roseshell azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum.)  It is also called the early azalea, even though there are those that bloom earlier. It has a fragrance that is delicate and spicy sweet and the fragrance comes from the many hairs that grow along the outsides of the blossoms. This native shrub grows to about 8 feet tall in a shaded area of a mostly evergreen forest. I found it blooming on May 26th.

One of my favorite finds of 2017 was a colony of ragged robin plants (Lychnis flos-cuculi.) I’d been searching for this plant for many years but hadn’t found it until logging kept a small lawn from being mowed last summer. After a month or two of logging operations the unmown grass had gotten tall, but it was also full of ragged robin plants, and that was a great surprise. I don’t know their status in the rest of the state but they are fairly rare in this corner of New Hampshire. This type of ragged robin is not native; it was introduced from Europe sometime in the 1800s but that doesn’t diminish its beauty. I found these plants blooming on June 28.

Two years ago I was walking through a swamp and lo and behold, right there beside the trail was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen; a two foot tall greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) in full bloom. It was beautiful; like a bush full of purple butterflies. I went back again and again this year to keep track of its progress and on July 12 there it was in full bloom again. I can’t explain what joy such a thing brings to me, but I do hope that everyone reading this will experience the same joy in their lives. It’s a true gift.

August was an unusually cold month; cold enough to actually run the furnace for a couple of days, so I didn’t see many mushrooms in what is usually the best month to find them. I did see these little butter wax caps (Hygrocybe ceracea) one day but all in all it wasn’t a good year for mushrooms and slime molds in this area. Some were held back by the cold and appeared much later than they usually do.

The cool August didn’t seem to discourage the wildflowers any, as this view from August 12th shows. In fact we had a great year for wildflowers, even though some bloomed quite a lot later than what I would consider average. I think the abnormal cold had something to do with that, too.

It was also an odd year for fall foliage, with our cold August tricking many trees into turning early, as this photo from September30th shows. Our peak foliage season is usually about the second week of October and some trees had turned color in mid-September. After that it got very hot and the heat stopped all the changing leaves in their tracks, and nobody knew what foliage season would be like at that point.  Some thought it might be ruined, but all we could do was wait and see.

After seeing few to no monarch butterflies for the past 3 years suddenly in September they appeared. First one or two every few days, then more and more until I was seeing at least two each day. This one posed on some Joe Pye weed on September 16th. I can’t say if they’re making a comeback or not but it was a pleasure to see them again. I didn’t realize how much I had taken them for granted until they weren’t there anymore, and that made seeing them again very special. Not only did their reappearance teach me something about myself, it also taught me that monarchs fly like no other butterfly that I’ve seen.

By mid-October, right on schedule for our peak foliage season, all the leaves were aflame and that put a lot of worries to rest. New Hampshire relies heavily on tourism and millions of people come here from all over the world to see the trees, so a disappointing foliage season can have quite a financial impact on businesses. This view from Howe Reservoir in Dublin with Mount Monadnock in the background is one of my favorite foliage views. It was in the October 14th post and reminds me now how truly lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place.

By November 22 Mount Monadnock had its first dusting of snow, which would melt quickly and show no trace just 3 days later. For those new to the blog, Mount Monadnock is one of the most climbed mountains on earth, second only to Mount Fuji in Japan. Even Henry David Thoreau found too many people on the summit when he climbed it in the 1800s. He, like myself, found the view of the mountain much more pleasing than the view from it. He 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. The view of the pinnacle itself surpasses any view which you get from the summit.” I agree.

I thought I’d end this post with something I just found recently on a rail trail; the prettiest bunch of turkey tail fungi that I’ve ever seen. It’s a perfect example of why I spend so much time in the woods; you just never know what beautiful things you might see. I found these beauties on December 2nd.

Laughter from yesterday that makes the heart giggle today brightens the perspective for tomorrow. ~Evinda Lepins

I hope everyone has a very happy and healthy new year! Thanks for stopping in.

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After posting the 2 part blog post just before Christmas about searching a new rail trail to find ledges where huge icicles might grow I realized that many readers might have no idea why I would be looking for such things, so I visited one of my favorite rail trails in Westmoreland. This is a deep cut that was blasted through a hillside in the mid-1800s so the Cheshire Railroad could get to Vermont. Groundwater constantly seeps through fissures in the stone and in winter it freezes into huge ice columns as big as tree trunks.

The size of the ice columns can be quite amazing but sometimes the minerals in the groundwater color them and make them even more amazing. The walls of this man made canyon soar up to 50 feet high in places so the ice columns also get very tall. They must be perfect for climbing because the New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club comes here to hold ice climbing clinics.

As luck would have it they were there climbing the ice on this day. Though I didn’t ask I’m assuming that the climber in this photo was relatively new to climbing, because he was on ice that wasn’t very tall. I met climbers here last year who described this kind of climb as a “baby climb.” Just to get used to it, I would think. I try not to be too intrusive or distracting when I see climbers so I don’t ask to many questions for fear of breaking their concentration.

If you are wondering what became of all that blasted stone, in this case the railroad used it to build mighty retaining walls along the sides of the cut where there was hillside soil that had to be held back.

This view is of the opposite end of the canyon from where the ice climbers climb. Though the ice here is nearly as big as on the other end I’ve never seen them climb here, and it wasn’t until this year that I finally figured out why.

At least I think I know why they don’t climb here. The drainage ditches are full of water on this end of the canyon and there is no water in them where the climbers climb. These ditches are almost knee deep in places and I’d hate to climb down an icicle and find my feet in frigid water. This is the section where most of the interesting plants grow though, so when I need to get close to the walls I put on rubber boots and walk in the ditches. I don’t do it often because of the danger of falling ice and stone, but I’ve done it a few times.

These drainage ditches were designed to carry water out of and away from the rail bed, so the water is always flowing like a stream, and the movement keeps the ice columns from growing any further than the surface of the water. It looks like they have been cut off right at the water’s surface all the way down the ditches.

It’s always cold here in winter and it often gets cold enough to freeze the surface of the drainage ditches, and that’s what happened in a few spots on this day. Where they had frozen over long feathers of hoar frost had grown. Without thinking I hold my breath when I’m taking photos of these beautiful, fragile things because all it takes is the warmth of a stray breath to destroy them.

In some places the hoar frost had grown into sharp looking needles. It’s odd to think of frost growing on ice but it happens quite frequently when conditions are right. Humidity seems to play a large part in it.

I’ve learned much from this man made canyon and one of the chief things among them is how cold can change the appearance of stone. It brings out colors in the stone for instance, that aren’t seen when it’s warmer. Colored stains from over a hundred years of seeping, mineral laden groundwater appear as if by magic when it gets cold.

But do the minerals color the ice? I think they do, because I can’t think of any other thing that would. And the color doesn’t come in just green; I’ve also seen orange, blue, brown, and even black ice here. The blue ice is colored by its own density and clarity and by the way it reflects light, but the other colors must come from some foreign material. Brown ice for example, might simply be colored by soil. Orange ice could be colored by the iron in the stone. There’s a lot of it here.

You can see in places how the mineral laden water colors the snow as well as the ice.

Ice isn’t the only reason I come here. There are many unusual plants here that I don’t see anywhere else, and one of them is the green algae called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it’s called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta-carotene color them orange. It’s the same pigment found in carrots, but in this instance it hides the green chlorophyll in the algae. I couldn’t get close enough to show it but these algae are very hairy. Though I’ve seen orange ice here it wasn’t where the few colonies of algae grow so I doubt they have anything to do with coloring ice. I keep hoping to see the algae producing spores, but so far I haven’t had any luck. In certain parts of the world algae have produced enough spores to color the rain. If you ever hear of red rain falling chances are it’s because of algae spores.

Another plant that I come here to see is the beautiful, reptilian, great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum.) This liverwort gets its common name from its clean, fresh scent. It is the only liverwort with this reptilian appearance, so it’s easy to identify. They grow on these ledges by the thousand, constantly watered by splashing groundwater. They like a lot of water but it has to be absolutely clean and unpolluted, so finding this liverwort is a good indicator of very clean water.

White tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata) also grew in an area where it was constantly splashed by dripping groundwater, and the tiny water droplets made it even more beautiful. One of the first things you notice here in this icy canyon is the sound of dripping water. It seeps and drips year round, winter and summer, through the entire length of the canyon and the sound can be very pleasing or very annoying, depending on your mood. I’ve met people here who described it both ways. There are those who feel that the sound of water intrudes on the peacefulness of a place I suppose, but to me it is like a musical gift from the earth.

Can Ice be beautiful? Oh yes it can, and these windblown icicles looked every bit as beautiful as Lalique crystal to me. For those who may not know, Rene Lalique was a French glass designer who practiced his art in the Art Noveau period (1890-1910.) He is known today for his opaque, matte finish glass, which can look much like these icicles. He was completion for Louis Comfort Tiffany, so if you received a piece of Lalique crystal for Christmas you are very lucky indeed.

Unfortunately, though the opaque finish on Lalique crystal means good things, on ice it does not; especially if you happen to be an ice climber, because ice that looks like this is rotten and unsafe. Ice becomes rotten when water, air bubbles, and/or dirt get in between the grains of ice and cause it to honeycomb and lose its strength. Instead of a sharp ringing crack when it is struck it produces more of a dull thud. The grayish white color and matte finish are a sure sign of rotten ice, and a good sign that you should stay away from it when it’s hanging over your head.

Each winter I come here and stand in awe of the old lineman’s shack, which still stands against the weight of the snow even though it lacks half its roof, a wall and a half, and most of its floor. It has stood here for well over a century and is the very definition of well built. If it wasn’t for people slowly pulling it apart I have no doubt it would still look just as it did when it was built.

The sun was getting lower and a single ray fell on a green icicle. Though it lit up the icicle it had no heat to melt it, and this reminded me how very cold it was here on this day. This canyon usually runs about 10 degrees cooler than it is on the outside and it was 27 degrees F when I came in, so it was no wonder that my toes were cold. I always have to be careful that I don’t wander too far out of myself and get lost in this winter beauty because frostbite is always close by.

With a last look at some beautiful little frost feathers back out into the world I went, hoping that it would be just a bit warmer there. I’ll have to return in a month or two when the icicles should be as big as trees.

In the winter the world gets sharp. Beautiful things happen. ~Peter Fiore

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. Thanks for coming by.

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Merry Christmas

I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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

Thanks for coming by.

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Yes, I know I’ve shown photos of snow here already this season, but those were of conversational snow that didn’t really count. We often start the season with small snowfalls that cause a lot of talk but no action and the last one was one of those. This time though, the snow piled up to about 8-11 inches in two back to back storms and required considerable effort with plows and shovels to get it out of the way. This photo shows what I saw last Sunday morning in my own back yard.

A local trail that I follow sometimes was as snowy as it ever gets. It’s no secret to readers of this blog that I’m not a great lover of winter because of all the added work it heaps upon me, but I can’t deny its beauty, and when I’m not working because of it I love being out in it.

The breeze picked up and snow fell from the trees, creating what I call snow smoke. It’s like seeing through a veil of snowflakes and if you’re walking the trail when they fall it feels the same as being caught in a snowstorm. There was so much falling from the trees that day I had to put my camera in a plastic bag. I always carry one in winter and summer.

The skies were changeable; one minute sunny and the next cloudy. The bane of photography, because you have to keep changing your settings according to the amount of light coming through the lens, and if you don’t pay attention your photos will come out too dark like this one did.

The horses in the pasture in the previous photo pawed at the snow to get at any green shoots and ignored the skies above them.

I love how water looks so dark when surrounded by white but just when I didn’t want the sun to come out it did and kind of spoiled the blackness of the stream.

Photos of white snow on red fruit have become common enough to be a cliché, but I was there and the rose hips were there and I had a camera, so there you are. But my thoughts were not of red fruit in white snow. I wondered why the birds never seem to eat these native Alberta rose hips (Rosa acicularis)  even though they’ve taken every hip off the invasive multi flora roses (Rosa multiflora.) It could come down to size, since these rose hips are much larger than those of the multiflora rose.

Snow covered every single thing, including these beech leaves.

A small pond was slushing over, and I saw more snow smoke coming from the trees over on the left.

The red wing blackbirds will have plenty of nesting material in the spring. These birds are very defensive of their nesting sites and have no problem letting you know when you’re too close. They’ll fly right in your face and hover there. They also chase hawks and eagles, so they have no fear.

The trees told me which way the wind had blown during the storm.

The trail around the pond was very snowy but it wasn’t too deep to manage. When it is deep I let snowshoers and cross country skiers break the trail and then I follow. If I’m lucky a snowmobile will have gone through first, but they aren’t allowed on this trail.

Sometimes without warning you can be sent off into a dream by nature and that’s what happened on this day when I saw this stone surrounded by the pristine white snow. I’ve walked this trail hundreds of times and I’d be willing to bet that I’ve tripped over this stone and have probably even cursed it, but on this day it sang to me and I loved it enough to take over 30 photos of it from different angles. It was so dark and perfect surrounded by such whiteness, and I’ve purposely over exposed this photo so you can see what I saw. It looked as ancient as the earth itself, and was beautiful.

There was fun to be had and people of all ages were having it. There was a lot of sledding going on, some on snow shovels.

I walk by this exposed bit of bedrock quite often but only in winter do I notice all its folds and wrinkles. For the geology nerds among you, the bedrock in this area consists of medium-grained light to dark-gray granodiorite and quartz diorite. (Basically granite) This is composed of oligoclase-andesine, quartz, biotite, muscovite and potash feldspar. The bedrock is fractured and has areas that have been split by the shearing motion of moving rock. This information comes from a natural resources inventory completed in 2009 by our local university.

A couple of our evergreen wood ferns grow out of cracks in the bedrock but they must be starved for nutrients because I’ve known them for years and they never get any bigger. But they are always green and any green thing is welcome in winter.

Icicles hanging from the stone outcrop told the story of the cold the evergreen ferns were experiencing.

Brooding. That’s what this scene says to me. A brooding landscape means that it’s “darkly somber,” and that’s how it looked to me when the clouds began to fill in. Winter it seems, might be here to stay.

Snow or not this is where I’ll be, every chance I have. I hope you have something every bit as wonderful in your life.

The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found? ~ J. B. Priestley

Thanks for coming by.

 

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Last Saturday in part one of this post I headed south out of Swanzey on a quest to find ledges and deep cuts on the old Cheshire Railroad that once ran from Keene to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and then on to Boston. Now, in part two of this post I’ve driven south just a short bit and I’m heading north to Keene, simply to cut down on the walking mileage. At this point I haven’t found the deep cut but I’ve seen many other interesting things, like this granite railroad bridge on the southern branch of the Ashuelot River. Built in place with granite hacked out of the nearby hills by railroad stone masons nearly 170 years ago, it’s as solid now as it was then and every bit as impressive too. Most of these arched railroad bridges were laid up dry with no mortar, and that’s quite a feat.

Near the railroad bridge are ruins of old bridge abutments which probably held a wooden or iron highway bridge at one time. Ruins like this are common here because our rivers and streams occasionally rise to “100 year flood” levels and wash everything in their path downstream. In reality it seems like the term 100 year flood should be revised to “10 year flood,” because we’ve had several bad ones in just a few years.

I picked up the trail head just off Route 12 south to Troy but this view looks north into Keene, and that’s where I’m going.

A sign told me exactly where I was but it urged me to go south into Troy and that wasn’t in today’s plan. It reminded me though, that Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harrison Blake and other transcendentalists rode on the railroad to Troy from Fitchburg, Massachusetts and then hiked to Mount Monadnock to climb it. Thoreau did this four times and wrote extensively of his journeys by rail and his climbs afterwards. He loved Mount Monadnock but even in his day complained that there were too many people on the summit. He would be shocked if he could see it today; some days it’s standing room only up there, and that’s why you never see views from the summit of Monadnock on this blog.

I saw a lot of trailing arbutus growing right along the sides of the trail. This was surprising because the plant was once over collected and is notoriously hard to find. We call it Mayflower and its sweet, spicy scent is unmatched. It was one of my grandmothers favorite flowers, so she was with me along this stretch of trail. I’m going to have to come back in May when it must perfume the air all through here.

I didn’t have to walk too long before I finally found some ledges. I had previously checked out the satellite views of this section of trail and this looked like an area that would have ledges, but even a satellite view isn’t a guarantee because of the heavy tree cover.

The ledges were probably about 20 or 30 feet high; not hugely impressive compared to some I’ve seen. I was a little disappointed by the lack of dripping groundwater. I doubt very much that anything like the tree trunk size ice columns that I see in the Westmoreland deep cut would grow here because it takes a lot of constantly dripping groundwater to create them. They are simply gigantic icicles, after all.

But there must be groundwater seeping in from somewhere because the usual drainage channels along the sides of the rail bed had water in them. Sometimes the color of the rocks makes it hard to tell how wet they are.

We have three or four evergreen ferns here in New Hampshire and the spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris spinulose) seen here is one of them. This lacy fern looks fragile but is actually very tough and will still be green in spring after its long sleep under the snow. I saw many examples of this pretty fern along the trail.

Many ferns release their spores in the fall and if you look at the underside of a fertile frond at that time you will often see small dots called sori. The sori are clusters of spore producing sporangia and they can be naked (uncovered) or capped by a cover called an indusium, as they are on the spinulose wood fern. When the spores are ready to be released thicker cell walls on one side of each sorus will age and dry out, and this creates a tension which causes the cover (indusium) to burst open and release its spores.

This photo shows a single sorus with its cover (indusium) burst, revealing the almost microscopic spherical sporangia. This is as close as I’ve ever gotten to this event. Each sorus is tiny and I can’t even guess the size of the sporangia. I do know that I can’t see them without a macro lens. What I could see if I had a microscope!

At one point on the trail I looked down to the left to the road I had been driving on just a short time before and saw that I was probably what must have been about a hundred feet above it, and it was then that I realized that I was walking on fill. Many thousands of cubic yards of soil must have had to have been used to fill in what was once a small valley between hills. The railroad engineers were smart though and used all the blasted rock from the deep cuts to fill in the low spots. This method is still in use today when a road is built; you bulldoze the top of a hill into a valley to make the roadbed level.

Here is a look down at the aforementioned road. I was almost in the tree tops and had to marvel at such an engineering feat. How they did all this in the mid-1800s is beyond me. It must have been very hard work indeed.

I was surprised to find running ground pine (Lycopodium clavatum) out here because in my experience it is relatively rare in this region. Though it is called running ground pine the plant is a clubmoss and has nothing to do with pines. The “running” part of the common name comes from  the way its horizontal underground stems spread or run under the leaf litter. Other names include lamb’s tail, fox tail, wolf’s claw, stag’s horn and witch meal. Native Americans used clubmosses medicinally to treat a variety of ailments including headaches and urinary problems. They were also used to treat wounds and dye fabrics. The Lycopodium part of the scientific names comes from the Greek Lycos, meaning wolf, and podus, meaning foot.  Whoever named them obviously thought clubmosses looked like wolf paws, but I don’t really see that.

It wasn’t too long before I saw more ledges, and these looked to be much higher than the first ones.

In fact these were some of the highest I’ve seen in this area. They might have been 60 feet or more at their highest point I’d guess, and I couldn’t back up enough to get all of them in view. Like the first set of ledges I saw these were quite dry with little groundwater seepage, so I’m guessing that I won’t be seeing many of those huge ice columns out here.

This tree was a fallen white pine that fell when it was young. I’d guess 30-40 years old maybe. It’s hard to say how tall it was but it had some height.

Some parts of the ledges were absolutely covered by what at first I thought was moss but which turned out to be liverworts. Many thousands of them.

This isn’t a very good photo because of the shiny wet leaves but I believe that these liverworts were the same greater featherwort (Plagiochila asplenioides) liverworts I saw at 40 foot falls in Surry back in November. These were very wet while the ones at 40 foot falls were on the dry side. They look quite different when wet like these but that’s when they’re at their best. They’re very small.

Again, this is a poor photo but it shows a closer look at the liverwort that I think is greater featherwort. This is only the second time I’ve ever seen them though, so I could be wrong.

Part of the ledge had collapsed and a large rock slide had dammed up the drainage ditch. This isn’t good because the water will eventually flow out into the rail bed and wash it away. I’ve seen the same thing happen on other rail trails, so I hope one of the snowmobile clubs will repair it. It is they who keep these trails open and we who use them owe them a big thank you. If it wasn’t for them in many cases there would be no rail trails. They work very hard to keep them open using their free time and often their own tools, so I’m sure a donation would be welcomed too if you feel so inclined.

The prize for the prettiest thing I saw on this trail has to go to these turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) They were as beautiful as flowers and some of the most colorful I’ve seen this year.

Well, I didn’t find the great scented liverworts and potential ice columns out here like I hoped I would but I certainly found plenty of other interesting things. I hope you thought so too and I hope this post inspires you to explore the rail trails in your own area.

Our minds, as well as our bodies, have need of the out-of-doors. Our spirits, too, need simple things, elemental things, the sun and the wind and the rain, moonlight and starlight, sunrise and mist and mossy forest trails, the perfumes of dawn and the smell of fresh-turned earth and the ancient music of wind among the trees.~ Edwin Way Teale

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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I thought I had better visit some of the mosses I know before the snows came and covered them all up and it’s a good thing I did because we’ve gotten several inches over the last few days. You’ll notice in the above photo that mosses grow on soil, on tree bark, and on stone and we’ll look at some of all three in this post.

I thought I’d start with rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum,) which grows on stone and is one of my favorites. This pretty little moss likes limestone so when you see it you know you’re in an area where you might find other lime loving plants, like many of our native orchids. This moss forms dense mats and gets its common name for the aspirin size rosettes of leaves that terminate each stalk. They look like tiny flowers. This is the only example of rose moss that I’ve ever seen and I think it’s probably quite old.

Many mosses will grow on wood, stone or soil and delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) is one of them. This large stone was covered with delicate fern moss when branches fell on it. That didn’t stop the moss; it just grew right over the branches in its seeming mission to cover all the bare spaces it can find.

Delicate fern moss is a beautiful little thing that isnt as delicate as its name implies, but it certainly is fern like. Here it is crawling up and over one of those branches in the previous photo. The leaves of this moss are often bright yellow green in fall and are dull rather than shiny. It is fairly common and easy to find because it often forms very large mats.

Juniper haircap moss plants (Polytrichum juniperinum) look like tiny green starbursts. This moss grows on soil and is also very common in this area. I see them just about everywhere I go. Wet or dry, they always seem to look the same, even though many mosses change their appearance when they dry out.

When young the female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra, which protects the spore capsule and the spores within. It is very hairy, and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually, as the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position before the calyptra falls off.  The spore capsule continues to ripen and when the time is right it will open and release the spores. I’m guessing that at this stage the capsule is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti. When it’s time to release the spores the end cap (operculum) of the now reddish brown, 4 cornered but not square spore capsule will fall off and the spores will be borne on the wind.

I don’t see splash cups on juniper haircap moss very often in this area but these plants had some of last season’s cups on them. Mosses in the Polytrichum genus have male and female reproductive organs on separate plants, so when you see these little cups you know you’ve found a male plant that is ready to reproduce, or already has. The male moss produces sperm in these splash cups and when a raindrop falls into the cup the sperm is splashed out. If there is enough rain water to swim in, the sperm will then swim to the female plant and fertilize the eggs. Each cup, about half the diameter of a pencil eraser, looks like a tiny flower with its rosettes of tiny leaves surrounding the reproductive parts.

Sometimes when you think you’re seeing moss you’re actually seeing a liverwort. The greater whipwort liverwort (Bazzania trilobata) lives happily on stones right along with mosses so you have to look carefully to be sure of what you’re seeing. A close look shows that it looks almost if it has been braided. Each leaf on this leafy liverwort is only about an eighth of an inch wide and has three triangular notches at its base. This is where the trilobata part of the scientific name comes from. It means “having three lobes.”

Tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates) does just what its name sounds like it would; it grows at the base of trees and makes them look like they’re wearing green stockings. It can also grow on soil or stone and can form extensive mats.

Tree skirt moss looks like it’s made up of tiny braided ropes when it’s dry. It is normally deep green but sometimes dryness can affect its color and shape. After a rain each tiny leaflet will pull away from the stem, giving the moss a slightly fluffier appearance than what we see here.

You might see dark green or purple spots on the bark of smooth barked trees like maple and beech and think you are seeing moss but this is another liverwort. 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 they 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 these examples were smaller than a tennis ball.

The tiny leaves of frullania liverworts are strung together like beads. Some frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant but the few that I have remembered to smell 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 on 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.

The name medusa moss (Hedwigia ciliata) comes from the way this moss looks like a bunch of tangled worms when it dries out. It is also called white tipped moss, because its branch tips are often bright white. This moss is fairly common and I find it mostly growing on stones in sunny spots. It always seems to be very happy and healthy.

Believe it or not this is the same Hedwigia ciliata moss we saw in the previous photo but this example was very dry. This is where the name “Medusa moss” comes from.

Stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is a very beautiful moss that grows on stones and looks quite fragile, but I’ve seen it with icicles hanging from it so I can say with certainty that it’s a lot tougher than it looks. That is most likely why it grows as far north as the arctic tundra. It seems fairly rare here; this is the only example that I’ve seen.

When dry stair step moss has a slight satiny sheen to it, and that’s probably how it came by its other common name of glittering wood-moss. The name stair step moss comes from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. It is said that you can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps, and from what I saw this branch that I found in 2014 would have been at least 5 years old.

White cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) gets its common name from the way it turns a whitish color when it dries out. When wet though, it can be dark green so it’s another moss that changes color.  This moss doesn’t reproduce by spores very often so it relies on vegetative reproduction. It grows on soil and turkeys and other animals that scratch at the soil help spread its pieces to other areas. I often see it scattered around some areas so it seems to happen regularly.

What this photo also shows are some fuzzy white growths on the white cushion moss that I’ve seen before but have never been able to identify. My gut feeling tells me that they have something to do with reproduction, but that’s little more than a guess. If you happen to know I’d love to hear from you. My moss books don’t mention them.

I found this pretty clump of what I think is flat glaze moss (Entodon cladorrhizans) growing on a dry ledge where soil had built up. This moss has shiny yellow green, overlapping leaves on stems that creep along whatever they grow on.  It also grows on rotting logs and tree trunk bases, mimicking the tree skirt moss we saw previously.

You can see some of the upright spore capsules (sporophytes) in this closer view of flat glaze moss. They are long and pointed when young and appear in late fall or winter. When mature they can be yellowish to reddish brown and will have a blunt, beaked end cap (operculum.) They are one of the things I used to help identify this moss, but I could still be wrong.

I hope you enjoyed meeting a few of the mosses I know. The next time you find yourself in a place like this with mosses all around I hope you’ll take the time to look a little closer. At this time of year anything green is welcome, and you might just see something beautiful enough to make you want to see more.

Moss grows where nothing else can grow. It grows on bricks. It grows on tree bark and roofing slate. It grows in the Arctic Circle and in the balmiest tropics; it also grows on the fur of sloths, on the backs of snails, on decaying human bones. It is a resurrection engine. A single clump of mosses can lie dormant and dry for forty years at a stretch, and then vault back again into life with a mere soaking of water. ~Elizabeth Gilbert

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Actually, it isn’t the rail trail that’s new; it has been here since about 1850, but it’s new to me. I’ve wanted to follow it because for years I’ve been hearing about a deep cut through ledges on this rail trail leading from Swanzey south to Massachusetts, so one day I finally decided to follow it.

There was plenty to see out here, including this box culvert. Box culverts are simple things, usually with two upright side walls and massive stone slabs on top, and then huge amounts of gravel on top of that. But this one was different;  it was built of granite blocks, probably cut right on sight out of boulders or ledge. It was still letting a small stream pass unimpeded under the railbed after nearly 170 years.

But there were problems. Some of the stones on the sidewalls had shifted and this let the cap stones overhead begin to sag a bit. This was most likely caused by the freezing and thawing of the soil and pressure from tree roots. In any event it should be repaired because if it goes so does the rail bed above it. The question is, now that there is no railroad, who is responsible for making repairs?

The stone for the culvert might have come from this big boulder. It still shows drill marks from when the rail line was put in. There was a lot of drilling and blasting of stone going on in these woods in those days.

There were signs of the railroad everywhere, including this old signal box. I’ve been told that these often had asbestos in them, so they’re best left alone.

There were some nice birches out here too.

But some had fallen. Birch polypores (Piptoporus  betulina) are parasitic on dead or weakened birch trees and cause brown rot. Both the fungus and the decayed wood have a sort of green apple smell. Birch polypores are annual fungi that grow only on birch trees and live for only one season.

Further down the trail a huge old oak had fallen and had taken several other trees with it. I don’t think four grown men could have linked hands around this monster when it was standing. What a shame to let all that firewood go to waste.

This was a day to see fallen things, apparently. A granite mile marker had fallen across a drainage ditch.

It’s hard to read but I think the message on the fallen mile marker said B (for Boston) 88. According to Google maps Boston is just about 88 miles from Swanzey if you follow route 119.

Cushions of what was probably a species of Dicranum moss glowed a beautiful bright green in what little sunlight there was. I was surprised to read that people are now buying this moss to create moss gardens. They call it “mood moss,” though I’m not sure why. I have to say that seeing it made me smile, so maybe that’s where the name comes from.

As I said in the last lichen post I did, pixie cup lichens (Cladonia pyxidata) are squamulose lichens, and squamules are the small leafy, lobed growths that are at the base of the tiny golf tee like podetia in this photo. The podetia support the lichen’s fruiting bodies called apothecia, which is where the lichen’s spores are produced. It’s all about continuation of the species.

I was a little dismayed but not surprised to find invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) out here. There weren’t many; I only saw two or three, but all but a few of their berries were gone and that means the birds ate them. And that means more bushes in the future. Burning bushes don’t have a problem with making sure new generations will follow.

In some places the rail trail passed very close to private property. I thought I grew up close to the tracks at a few yards but this trail was just a few feet away from this building.

The closeness reminded me of this sign that I saw on another rail trail. It’s important to remember that you’re very near private property when on rail trails so you shouldn’t wander too far off the trail. Imagine what it would be like to find strangers wandering through your yard every now and then like they did when I was a boy growing up beside the tracks. It can be a little unnerving. The message is important enough for this sign to have been printed by the State of New Hampshire Bureau of Trails.

Something I’ve never seen on a rail trail before is a bent rail, but there it was. I don’t know if it was bent on purpose to follow a curve when it was originally installed or if it was bent after the rails were taken up. I can’t imagine anyone taking the time and effort it would have taken to bend it for a lark but it can be done. During General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march to Atlanta during the Civil War he had his troops heat up sections of track until they were red hot and then bend them around trees. These bent rails came to be known as “Sherman’s bowties.” Since the south had limited supplies of iron this pretty well finished the southern railroads but soon the rebels followed suit and destroyed northern rails in the same way. These bent rails were known as “Mr. Lincoln’s hair pins.”

The bent rail had me scratching my head, because there were no curves to be seen on any nearby part of the rail bed. Would someone really take the time to heat a rail and bend it, I wondered as I walked along.

Here was another strange thing. A two inch galvanized steel conduit came up out of the ground and passed under the rail bed before continuing out the other side and into the forest.

The laying of the conduit looked to be well done and I was fairly certain that it had some electrical purpose but I couldn’t guess who would have the money or the inclination to lay it way out here.

Off it went, up the hill. It wasn’t until later when I was telling friends about it that I remembered how close I had been to the airport. This entire area sits in a bowl which is surrounded by hills and each hill has to have a tower with a flashing red light so planes flying at night don’t run into the hills. This conduit must have been put here to power one of those lights. What a lot of work and what a cost it must have been, but if it saves lives it’s worth it. We’ve had our share of plane crashes here.

By now you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t shown any ledges or “deep cuts” through hillsides. That’s because I didn’t find any, at least not on this section of trail. And that’s why there has to be a part two to this story. I walked too far and took far too many photos for them all to be squeezed into one post, so if you’re at all interested I hope you’ll stay tuned for part two, coming up next week.

Heaven on earth is a choice you must make, not a place you must find. ~ Wayne Dyer

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Though almost all the leaves have fallen from the trees the various brambles have hung on to theirs as the usually do. This blackberry plant’s leaves were a pleasing reddish bronze / brown. Some brambles like dewberry turn a beautiful deep purple color and hold onto their leaves all winter but blackberries and raspberries will lose theirs.

When I first found this odd little thing I wasn’t even sure if it was a fungus or a lichen. It grew on soil (I thought) so I guessed right when I guessed fungus but I still had a hard time identifying it. It turned out to be the pinecone tooth (Auriscalpium vulgare,) which is a little mushroom that grows on pinecones. Since the pinecone this one grew on was buried in the soil, I thought it was growing in soil.

The underside of the cap on the pinecone tooth fungus is toothed, and that’s where that part of its common name comes from. The cap is about the size of an M&M candy (.53”) and is off center so in this view it looks heart shaped. On young examples the teeth are white. They darken to brown with age so this example was somewhere in between.

A good identifying feature of the pinecone tooth is its hairy cap and stem. I can’t think of another mushroom like it. This mushroom grows only on white pine (Pinus strobus) and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) cones.

Brittle cinder fungus (Kretzschmaria deusta) looks like a shiny lump of coal someone stuck to a tree. Though I’ve only seen this fungus on standing dead trees and logs it will attack live trees and is said to be aggressive. Once it gets into a wound on the tree’s roots or trunk it begins to break down the cellulose and lignin and causes soft rot. The tree is then doomed, though it may live on for a few to even several more years.

The shiny, hard outer coating on brittle cinder fungus is indeed brittle. I just touched this example with my finger and the hard outer shell fell off, exposing the spore mass within. These spores will ride the wind to other trees and if conditions are right, will infect them as well. It’s a silent unseen drama that goes on day after day, year after year.

It’s hard to believe that the brittle cinder fungus we saw in the two previous photos started life as a beautiful gray and white crust-like fungus in the spring, but that’s how they begin. You can see the lumpiness already starting in this example, which I found on a log on a rainy day in June of 2014.

I’m still seeing lots of colorful turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) These examples had a lot of orange in them.

For years I’ve tried to find an answer to why turkey tails have so many different colors. Is it the minerals in the soil? The type of wood they grow on? From what I’ve read, there is no answer to why this or any other mushroom displays the colors it does. It seems that they’re colorful simply to be beautiful, and that’s fine with me because I enjoy seeing them. They brighten a gray winter day.

The dry husks of American hazelnuts (Corylus americana) have a cavern in them where the nut was and this makes a good winter home for spiders and other insects. It’s hard to see but the opening of this one had spider webs across it, as many do. I like to see the colors and movement in these empty husks.

There were still hazel nuts in these husks. In 1995 a large shallow pit in Scotland was found to be full of the remains of thousands of burned hazelnut shells and was estimated to be 9,000 years old, so man has been eating this nut for a very long time. In this country Native Americans used them to flavor soups, and also ground them into flour, most likely for thousands of years as well.

A young maple was healing a long frost crack; at about 6 feet one of the longest I’ve seen.  On sunny winter days the sun warms the tree’s bark and the cells in the wood just under the bark expand. If the nighttime temperature falls into the bitterly cold range the bark can cool and contract rapidly, but when the wood beneath the bark doesn’t cool as quickly this stress on the bark can cause it to crack.  On cold winter nights you can often hear what sounds like rifle shots off in the woods, but the sounds are really those made by cracking trees. They can be quite loud and often echo through the forest.

One day I received an email from a man in Europe who asked me if I could look at a detail of a 15th century painting and tell him if I thought the mark on a tree trunk was a frost crack. He had seen frost crack examples on this blog and was curious to know if that was what the artist had painted. The first thing I had to know was if the temperature dropped below freezing in the region that the painting was supposed to represent and he said yes, it got cold there. I then looked at the detail of the painting closely and noticed that flowers grew on the side of the tree with the scar. This told me that since most flowers need sunshine the sun most likely shined on that side of the tree, so you had cold winter nights and sunshine on the tree’s bark during the day; the two things needed to produce a frost crack. I told the man that if I had to bet on it, I’d bet that the scar was indeed a healed frost crack. You can see it there just above the most vertical white flower. What you see here is just a very small detail of the painting, enlarged several times. It had roads and medieval peasant farmers and castles and all kinds of interesting things in it.

At this time of year when the sun is low in the sky it makes things glow, like it did to these virgin’s bower seed heads (Clematis virginiana) one recent sunny day.

The seed head was in silhouette in the midst of shining, feathery sunshine.

Virgin’s bower seeds (achenes) are also hairy with a long hairy tail called a style. This native clematis has panicles of small white flowers in the fall. The foliage is toxic so it isn’t eaten by animals, but early settlers used parts of the vines as a pepper substitute. Native Americans used it to treat migraine headaches and nervous disorders, and herbalists still use it to treat those same illnesses today.

Staghorn sumac stems (Rhus typhina) also glowed in the sunshine, and so did the buds. These buds are naked with no bud scales, so it is up to the hairs to protect them from the cold. Grinding the berries of staghorn sumac produces a purple colored, lemon flavored spice that is very popular in some countries. Another name for this native shrub is not surprisingly, velvet tree.

I’m forever seeing things that make me wonder how I could have possibly walked through these woods for 50 years and not seen them, and this is one of those. It was cone shaped, about two feet in diameter, made of soft sand, and stood about shin high. At first I thought it was some kind of termite mound but a little research showed it was made by ants. Specifically, field ants, which I’ve never heard of.

There were many of these mounds along the sunny side of a road, some quite big. I’ve read that the most likely builder is an ant named Formica exsectoides, also called wood ant, mound ant, thatching ant, and Allegheny field ant. These ants secrete formic acid and can squirt the acid several feet when alarmed. They use the acid to kill tree seedlings and any other plants that would grow around the mound and shade it from the sun. They do this because the mound acts as a solar collector for incubating eggs and larvae. In winter workers and queens move deep into the mounds to hibernate.

A deer walked through this ant mound, showing how soft the course sand and thatch material is. Thousands of ants can live in a single mound, so there were many hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of them in what was quite a large area. The mounds take many years and many ants to build, so the larger ones can apparently be quite old. It’s amazing what nature will teach you if you’re open to learning.

One recent day during the fall leaf cleanup I was blowing leaves and something caught my eye. I thought it was an earth worm at first but it turned out to be a small salamander, stuck to a leaf and frozen solid. Or so I thought; salamanders have a kind of sugar syrup antifreeze in them that keep their tissues and organs safe in the cold. It also keeps their cells from dehydrating as they stop breathing and their heart stops beating. They survive in this suspended animation state all winter long until the warm spring rains revive them. I put this one back where it had come from to sleep on until spring.

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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After putting together a post like the last one I did on lichens I needed to free up my mind a bit so I headed into the woods of Walpole to climb the High Blue trail. I had just been here in October but it wasn’t that cold then. My mission on this day was to see if the ski areas had started making snow.

It was definitely cold enough here to make snow. This shot is of some of the many bubbles I saw in the ice of a mud puddle.

Intermediate wood ferns (Dryopteris intermedia) were still nice and green but that was no surprise because it is one of our native evergreen ferns. It is thought that evergreen ferns get a jump on the competition in spring by starting photosynthesis earlier than their cousins.

A large tinder polypore (Fomes fomentarius) grew on a trail side tree. These bracket fungi produce spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that they can produce as many as 800 million spores in a single hour. Its common name comes from its usefulness as tinder for starting fires. The 5000 year old “iceman” found preserved in ice and snow in the Italian Alps carried pieces of this fungus with him. It is also useful medicinally and is known to stop bleeding, so he might have used it both ways.

The small reflectors put on the trees by hunters reminded me that I probably wasn’t the only one in these woods. I was glad that I remembered to wear my bright orange hat and vest.

There are people who think that plants grow their buds when it warms up in the spring but most plants actually plan ahead and grow their spring buds in the fall. This hobblebush bud (Viburnum lantanoides) already has all it needs to produce a pair of new leaves and a beautiful head of white flowers next spring. Hobblebush buds are naked, meaning they have no bud scales to protect them from the cold, and that’s why they are furry. Hobblebushes are one of our most beautiful native viburnums and there are many of them in these woods.

Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) also have their spring buds at the ready. They’re small now but they’ll grow bigger when it starts to warm up. When they break in spring beech buds are one of the most beautiful things you’ll find in a New England forest.

The farmer has cut all his corn for silage. This was a meadow for many years and it’s always a bit surprising for me to find a cornfield here now. The corn attracts bears and last year I saw several piles of their dung, but this year I didn’t see any. I’m hoping they found a different corn field.

There are game trails that lead from the meadow / cornfield into the woods. Do you see this one? It’s just a narrow trail but it is used regularly, especially by deer. When I come here in winter there are deer tracks everywhere up here.

I followed the game trail into the forest to see what I’d see and found a huge quartz boulder sitting on top of an old stone wall. How anyone ever lifted it up there is beyond me. It was at least 4 feet long and must have been very heavy.

There were also a lot of ears of corn along the game trail and even entire corn stalks pulled up by the roots. This is obviously where the animals come to eat it after they take it from the cornfield. I don’t know if a deer could pull up a cornstalk but a bear certainly could. I was hoping it was cold enough for them to be sleeping by now.

Back on the main trail the sun was shining brightly but not providing much warmth. It was probably about 40 degrees F. and that isn’t bad for the end of November but it still felt cold. November is said to be the cloudiest month but we’ve been lucky this year and have had quite a few sunny days.

One of the things I like about this time of year is how you can see so deeply into the forest now that there is no foliage to block the view. One of the things that is much easier to see now is the old stone wall that snakes through the woods. It’s a “tossed wall,” meaning that the stones were literally tossed or thrown on top of one another. Stones were not nice to plows and farmers wanted to get them out of their fields as quickly and efficiently as possible, and ringing the fields with them was the easiest way. In 1872 there were an estimated 270,000 miles of stone walls in New England. It’s hard to hike through a piece of forest these days without seeing at least one wall.

Walpole is famous among stone wall builders for its ledges which, with little effort, break into nice, flat slabs. The fractures happen naturally, as can be seen on this outcrop. This is very easy stone to build with and it makes a great looking wall.

This stone was taken from the ledge in the previous photo at some point in the past. It hasn’t been cut; this is how it comes right out of the ledge, and that’s what makes it so special. Building a wall with stone like this is a real pleasure but it doesn’t happen often. Usually the stones are rounded, so it takes much more time and effort to build with them.

The small pond on the summit was frozen over as I thought it would be. I used to think that the animals would suffer when the pond froze but there are many small streams nearby that run year round so they always have a place to get a drink.

The sign at the granite overlook tells you that you’ve arrived. High means the spot is higher than the surrounding terrain and blue means the view is very blue, and it always is.

It was a bit humid on this day and as it did the last time I was up here a haze blanketed the landscape, so even though the view across the Connecticut River Valley into Vermont was blue it wasn’t that good. Still, you could see Stratton Mountain so I couldn’t complain. The question was, would my camera be able to cut through the haze so I could see the ski area?

So far so good. Sometimes the camera really goes bonkers up here and I’m shocked by what I see when I get home, so I was hoping this wouldn’t be one of those days. I put it on “auto” for a few shots just to give it a chance to do what it wanted. It seems to have a mind of its own sometimes when capturing landscapes.

Though it is a blotchy photo it showed me that there was indeed snow on the ski trails, so after sitting and admiring the view for a bit, down I went. Before long this entire landscape will be snow covered and there won’t be any snowmaking required, so I was happy that I was still walking in crunchy leaves rather than squeaky snow. You know it’s cold when the snow squeaks underfoot.

Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood. Andy Goldsworthy

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