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Archive for September, 2019

Our warmer seasons always end beautifully, with wildflowers along most roadsides and a backdrop of colorful fall foliage. This year is no exception; I saw this scene along a roadside recently. I liked the drift of dark purple New England  asters. 

As I’ve said here before, we do love our asters, and we love them enough to devote considerable amounts of garden space to them. When you think about it, to grow asters you need to have large amounts of garden space taken up by a plant that is green all season and then has only a short burst of bloom in the fall. But as this beautiful plant that I found in a local park shows, it’s worth it.

The flowers on the garden aster are about half the size of a New England aster blossom and bees love them. There were hundreds of bees buzzing this plant on this day.

Though native black cohosh (Actaea racemose) is also called bugbane I saw plenty of bees on it as well. Another name for it is black snakeroot and though it is native to the forests of this country I’ve never seen it in the wild. Some insects are repelled by its odor and it was once used to keep bedbugs away. Black cohosh root was used by Native Americans to treat colds, coughs, rheumatism, kidney disorders, malaria, and other ailments.

I see wild mint (Mentha arvensis) occasionally but I wouldn’t call it common. I found this one at the edge of the woods in bright sunshine. There is some speculation that the North American species came by way of ancient hybridization of European species but there is a long history of its use by Native Americans, who used it as an insect repellant and also used it to treat colds and flu. They also used it in their pemmican and soups, and to add flavor to cooked meats.

As many as 20 flowers can surround the stem in the leaf axils, blooming from the bottom up. Each tiny tubular flower is only about 1/8 inch long. They can be pink to pale lavender to white, with darker spots on the inside. They’re hard to get a good photo of and I had to try several times for this one. Even so I failed to show the darker spots on the inside so you’ll have to trust me that they were there.

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) is a plant that won’t be finished until we have a freeze. The plant’s common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. Usually the plant has many buds rather than open flowers, as this example shows. An odd name for it is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. They apparently decided to try smoking it too because it was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people. I’ve never seen a rabbit near it.

It’s hard to tell when a sweet everlasting blossom is actually fully opened but the papery bracts that show when the flowers have opened to release their seeds look like small flowers. If you crush a few blossoms and smell them, they smell like maple syrup. I find it growing in sunny, sandy waste areas and on roadsides.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) has a very long blooming period. I see them in early June blooming profusely and then sporadically through the following months, sometimes into November. I’ve noticed that when it gets cold the small, normally white daisy fleabane blossoms take on a hint of purple. We’ve had a few cool nights so that explains these purple blossoms. I’ve seen other white flowers do the same, so it isn’t unusual.  Many white chrysanthemums for example will turn purple when it gets cold. Fleabanes get their name from the way the dried plants repel fleas.

I was very surprised to see a violet blooming. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one this late in the year.

What I first thought was zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) grew on the banks of the Ashuelot River in Gilsum but the leaves were wrong for zigzag goldenrod, so I think it must have been blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia,) which has longer narrower leaves. I didn’t see any sign of blue stems but the blue isn’t a reliable identification feature because the wax coating which cause the color can wash or melt off in hot or rainy weather, and it has been hot. Both plants grow in wooded areas instead of out in the open and prefer shade and moist soil.

More roadside flowers for your viewing pleasure.

I wish I could put a name to this aster because I see lots of it, often all the way along the sunny sides of rail trails, especially.

The numerous flowers are small at about a 1/2 inch across and light blue. It might be the blue wood aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) because it does grow at the edge of the woods. I’ll have to pay closer attention to the leaves. The leaves in this photo are no help; they’re from the raspberry plant that was propping the aster up.

Lady’s thumb (Persicaria vulgaris) gets its common name from a black / brown smudge on its leaves, supposedly left there by a mysterious lady we’ll never know. Small pink flowers crowd the flower stalks (Racemes) on this plant in the knotweed family. Each flower has 5 sepals but no petals. Flowers can be pink, red, greenish white, or purple. All of these colors sometimes appear on the same raceme. This plant is native to Europe and Asia.

The “lady’s thumb print” on Persicaria vulgaris leaves.

A plant I’ve only seen once before is this nightshade, which I think is black nightshade. There is an American black nightshade (Solanum americanum) but it is native only to the southwest of the country, so I’d say this example might be the European invasive black nightshade (Solanum nigrum.) Solanum nigrum has been recorded in deposits of the Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras of ancient Britain, so it has been around for a very long time. It was used medicinally as mankind grew and learned and was even mentioned by Pliny the Elder in the first century AD.

But is this plant Solanum nigrum? It doesn’t look hairy enough to me but it does have pea size green berries that turn black. There is another that I’ve read about called Solanum L. section Solanum which is nearly hairless but otherwise has the same features. And then there is still another plant called eastern black nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum) but there seems to be much confusion over which plant is which. Though they have been used medicinally for thousands of years Solanum berries contain powerful alkaloids. They are considered toxic and have killed children who have eaten the unripe green berries. A few people do eat the ripe black berries but I think I’ll pass.

This will probably be the last beautiful blossom from this clematis that lives in the garden of friends.

Sunflowers are still going strong in the same garden.

Including this unusual but very sunny example. It was grown from seed.

Still more roadside flowers, just because they’re so beautiful.

Beauty waits until the patience and depth of a gaze are refined enough to engage and discover it. In this sense, beauty is not a quality externally present in something. It emerges at that threshold where reverence of mind engages the subtle presence of the other person, place or object. ~ John O’ Donohue

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I had an unusual thing happen last Saturday; I wanted to walk a favorite rail trail to see what I could find for fall color, but when I got there I found that I had forgotten to put the fully charged battery in the camera where it belonged. It was the “big camera” too, the one I use for landscape photos, so I was a bit perplexed for a moment or two.

But coincidentally a friend had given me one of his old Apple i phones just the day before and I had watched You tube videos the night before on how to use it. To make a long story shorter; many of the photos in this post were taken with that phone. I had never used an Apple product before this day but I was in a sink or swim position and I would have to learn quickly. In the end I found the hardest part of using it was keeping my finger from in front of the lens. They are very easy to use; at least as a camera.

The phone camera seemed to hold true to the color of this trailside maple.

As well as the color of this black birch.

Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is terribly invasive but it can be very beautiful in the fall.

A lily seedpod told me I should have been here in June. It might have been a red wood lily, which I rarely see.

Wild grapes grew thickly in spots along the trail.

It’s a good year for grapes. I think these were river grapes (Vitis riparia.)

Once you know both plants it would be hard to mistake the berries of the smooth carrion flower vine (Smilax herbacea) for wild grapes but they are the same color and sometimes grow side by side. Carrion flower gets its name from the strong odor of its flowers, which smell like rotting meat. The vine can reach 8 feet long, with golf ball size flower heads all along it. The female flower clusters when pollinated become globular clusters of dark blue fruit like those seen here. The berries are said to be a favorite of song and game birds so I was surprised to find several clusters of them. Raccoons and black bears also eat the fruit. Native Americans and early colonists ate the roots, spring shoots and berries of the vine but after smelling its flowers I think I’d have a hard time eating any part of it.

The i phone did a fine job on these New England Asters, even though they were partially shaded.

I took the photo of this plum colored New England aster with my “little camera.” It’s the Olympus Stylus camera that I use for macros and, though it still does a good job I think it’s on its way to being worn out after taking many thousands of photos.

Here is another i phone shot.

Seeing these turning elm leaves was like stepping into a time machine because I was immediately transported back to my boyhood, when Keene was called the Elm City because of all the beautiful 200 year old elms that grew along almost every street. I grew up on a street that had huge old elms on it; so big 4 or 5 of us boys couldn’t link hands around them. Elms are beautiful but messy trees and in the fall the streets were covered with bright yellow elm leaves and fallen twigs and branches.

Unfortunately Dutch elm disease wiped out most of the elms on every street in the city and they were replaced by others of various species. This elm tree died young; I doubt it was even 20 years old.

Eventually on this rail trail you come to a trestle, as you do on many of the rail trails in this area. The wooden parts were added by local snowmobile clubs and we who use these trails owe them a debt of gratitude.

I’m older than all of the trees in this photo and I know that because I used to walk here as a boy. They’re almost all red maple trees and they were one of the reasons I wanted to walk this trail. I thought they’d all have flaming red leaves but I was too early and they were all still green. I like the park like feel of this place; there are virtually no shrubs to make up an understory, and I think that is because the Ashuelot River floods badly through here in most years.

Sensitive ferns make up most of the green on the forest floor in that previous shot. Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) is a good wetland indicator and they grow all alongside streams and rivers in the almost always wet soil. Their shin high, spore bearing fronds full of round black spore cases make them very easy to see in winter. Early colonists noticed that this fern was very sensitive to frost and they gave it its common name. It has toxic properties and animals rarely eat it, but some Native American tribes used its root medicinally. I did see a beaver swimming down the river once with a huge bundle of these ferns in its mouth but I don’t know if they were for food or bedding.

I spent a lot of time under these old trestles when I was a boy so of course I had to see under this one again. I couldn’t get a good shot of it with camera or phone because of it being in deep shade but I saw one of the biggest hornet’s nest I’ve ever seen hanging from a tree branch under the trestle on this day. Luckily they left me alone.

I’ve always wondered how these old steel trestles were built but I never have been able to find out. I don’t know if they were built in factories and shipped to the site to be assembled or if they were built right in place. Either way I’m sure there was an awful lot of rivet hammering going on. I do know that the stones for the granite abutments that these trestles rest on were taken from boulders and outcroppings in the immediate area, but I think they must have had to ship them from somewhere else in this case because there is little granite of any size to be found here.

I used to think these old trestles were indestructible until I saw this photo by Lisa Dahill DeBartolomao in Heritage Railway Magazine. It took a hurricane to do this to this bridge in Chester, Vermont, but Yikes! Were there really only 4 bolts holding that leg of the trestle to its abutment?

The brook that the trestle crosses was lower than I’ve ever seen it and it shows how dry we’ve been. Hurricane brook starts up in the northern part of Keene near a place called Stearns Hill. Then it becomes White Brook for a while before emptying into Black Brook. Black Brook in turn empties into Ash Swamp and the outflow from the swamp becomes Ash Swamp Brook. Finally it all meets the Ashuelot River right at this spot. It has taken me about 50 years to figure all of that out. Why so many name changes? I don’t know, but I’m guessing that the settlers in the northern part of Keene and the settlers here in the southern part didn’t realize that they were both looking at the same brook. I always wonder if anyone has ever followed it from here to its source. It would be quite a hike.

The brook and river flood regularly here and the brush against the tree trunks shows the force and direction of the water flow. I’ve seen the water close to the underside of a few trestles and that’s a scary thing. I grew up on the Ashuelot River and seeing it at bank full each spring is something I doubt I’ll ever forget. Often one more good rainstorm would have probably meant a flood but I guess we were lucky because we never had one. I see by this photo that the i phone found high water marks on the trees, which I didn’t see when I was there.

I tried for a photo of a forget me not with the i phone and it did a fine job, I thought. It did take eight or ten tries to get one good photo of the tiny flower, but that was due to my not knowing the phone rather than the phone itself. If you took a hammer and pounded your thumb with it you wouldn’t blame the hammer, so I can’t blame the phone for my own inexperience and ineptitude. Before long it will most likely become second nature. That’s what happens with most cameras.

I saw some big orange mushrooms growing on a mossy log. Each was probably about 3 inches across. Due to the dryness I’m seeing very few fungi this year.

I saw a beautiful Virginia creeper vine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) on my way back. It was wearing its bright red fall color. No blue berries on it though. Maybe the birds had already eaten them all.

Since I wasn’t paying attention on my walk I got to pick hundreds of sticky tick trefoil seeds from my clothes. They stick using tiny barbs and you can’t just brush them off. You have to pick them off and it can be a chore. But that was alright; I was happy with the i phone camera and I got to feel like a boy again for a while, so this day was darn near perfect.

Boyhood, like measles, is one of those complaints which a man should catch young and have done with, for when it comes in middle life it is apt to be serious. ~P.G. Wodehouse

Thanks for coming by.

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This field of goldenrod shows that most of the purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) has now gone by.

But now the loosestrife is being replaced by asters. In this case New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae,) so the goldenrods will still have company as they slowly go to seed.

Though most purple loosestrife plants have stopped blooming I still see them here and there. This is an invasive perennial that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows but will grow just about anywhere. It’s hard to deny its beauty, especially when you see a meadow full of it growing alongside yellow goldenrods, but the plant chokes out natives including goldenrod and creates monocultures.

I saw quite a few New England asters growing on the banks of a small stream. What was remarkable about them was their height. The small stream goes under the road I stood on but the asters were still at almost eye level, so I’d guess they were at least 7 feet tall.

Some plants were so top heavy they fell and hung out over the water.

I’m seeing lots more of my personal favorite, the dark purple asters. They’re loved by others as well and are grown in many parks and public gardens.

I saw the tallest red clover plant I’ve ever seen recently. The blossom, supported by surrounding shrubbery, had reached about waist high on me and it was perfect and untouched. I have an affinity for these little flowers because they quite literally helped me see the light; the light of creation that shines out of them and many other flowers. In fact I think all flowers have this light but it’s harder to see in some than it is in others. It is not hard to see here.

I thought that Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) was just about finished for this year more than a month ago but I’m still seeing lots of it in bloom. Strangely though, I’ve seen very few of its cousin steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) this year.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) is still blooming in lawns everywhere I go. This plant is also called self-heal and has been used medicinally for centuries. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Native Americans drank tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed it improved their eyesight. The tiny orchid like flowers always look like a bunch of little mouths, cheering on life.

I got a little anxious when I found that a clump of pink turtleheads  (Chelone obliqua ) in a local park had leaves that were black and crisp, but these examples in my garden are blooming well and the plants look healthy. It is usually the last plant to bloom in my yard but not this year.

I haven’t seen any insects on these plants yet but they’re ready if they should happen by. This pretty plant was given to me by a friend many years ago so it has a lot of memories attached and I’d hate to lose it.

I’m still seeing quite a lot of Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) but I’m not finding any with the tiny red / purple flowers in the center. The flower heads seem to get smaller as the season passes, so maybe that has something to do with it. When freshly cut, Queen Anne’s lace flowers will change color depending on the color of the water in which they are placed, so if you put a bouquet into purple water you’ll have purple Queen Anne’s lace. 

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) is a rather common flower at this time of year but there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding it. People don’t know if it’s a hibiscus or a mallow or a hollyhock, and that’s because all of those plants are in the mallow family (Malvaceae) and have similar flowers. The easiest way to identify a rose of Sharon is by looking at the plant the flowers are on. If the flower is on an upright, often tall woody shrub it is a rose of Sharon. Mallow and hollyhocks are perennials and / or biennials and will usually die back to the ground each year. Hibiscus resembles rose of Sharon but you’ll only find it growing outside year round in the southern states because it is very tender. I think of rose of Sharon as a hardy hibiscus.

I keep going to a bed of zinnias at the local college hoping to see painted lady butterflies, but I haven’t seen a single one this year, there or anywhere else.

The last of the tall garden phlox at my house.

I saw a very loud sedum in a local park. My color finding software sees orchid, plum and hot pink. I would have called it purple but since I’m color blind I trust such hard to fathom colors to the color finding software.

My first thought was that this insect probably really didn’t care what color the sedum was, but then I wondered if maybe the color wasn’t precisely what had attracted it. I think it was a hoverfly but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

Cow vetch (Vicia cracca) is a native of Europe and Asia that loves it here and has spread far and wide. According to the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States the vining plant is present in every U.S. state. Cow vetch can have a taproot nearly a foot long and drops large numbers of seeds, so it is hard to eradicate. It is very similar to hairy vetch, but that plant has hairy stems. I like its color and it’s nice to see it sprinkled here and there among the tall grasses.

Sand jointweed (Polygonum articulatum) is a curious little plant that gets its common name from the way it that grows in pure sand, and from its many jointed stems. I know of only two places where it grows but each year there are many new plants. It is an annual so each year’s plants have to produce plenty of seed. They grow to about knee high and this year there are plenty of tiny white blooms, so hopefully strong seed production will continue. As this photo shows they can be hard to see among the surrounding plants.

The flowers are among the smallest that I try to photograph and each year I tell myself that I have no hope of getting a good photo of them, but each year I try again. One of these times I’ll get it right. This shot does show the strange jointed stem, for those who have never seen the plant.

I can’t say that this plant is the hardest to photograph that I’ve ever seen, but it has to be right up there in the top five. It’s a beautiful little thing though, and worth the effort.

How small are sand jointweed blossoms? This shot from 2016 shows that they’re about 1/8 of an inch across, or nearly the same size as Abraham Lincoln’s ear on a penny.

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul. ~Luther Burbank.

Thanks for stopping in.

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Fall has slowly been making its presence known here in this part of New Hampshire and Half Moon Pond in Hancock is one of the best places to see it happen, because it always comes here before anywhere else that I know of. I’m not sure what the trees on the other side of the pond are but they always turn very early. The trees on this side of the pond are mostly maples.

And maples are changing too. I found this one in Swanzey.

Not only are leaves changing, they’re dropping as well.

River grapes (Vitis riparia) have ripened and hang in great bunches from the vines. If they aren’t all eaten they will begin to over-ripen and on warm fall days they make the forest smell just like grape jelly. River grapes are known for their ability to withstand cold and have been known to survive -57 degrees F. That makes them a favorite choice for the rootstock of many well-known grape varieties. We have about 20 native species of wild grape in the U.S. and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so they mostly made juice and jelly from them. They were also used to dye baskets a violet gray color.

Virginia creeper vines (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) climb high in the trees to reach as much sunshine as they can. They aren’t noticed for most of the year but when their leaves start to turn they can’t be ignored. Virginia creeper berries are poisonous to humans but many birds and small animals eat them. My mother loved this vine enough to grow it on the side of the house I grew up in. It shaded the porch all summer long.

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is another vine that climbs to the top of trees for sunlight but unlike our native vines this one is highly invasive and damages the trees it climbs on. It is the yellow leaved vine in this photo and it is slowly strangling an ash tree.

Black locusts (Robinia pseudoacacia) are trees that often change early. In June these trees are loaded with white, very fragrant blooms that hang down like wisteria blossoms. Black locusts were prized by colonial Americans for their tough, rot resistant wood. In 1610 colonists found black locust trees planted beside Native American dwellings and thought the Natives were using the tree as an ornamental, so they decided to use it that way as well .They also used the wood for ship building, forts and fence posts while the Natives used it to make bows and blow darts. It was once said to be the toughest wood in all the world and was one of the first North American trees exported to Europe.

The invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the Ashuelot River will go from green to red, and then will finally become a soft pastel pink to almost white. Right now they’re in their loud orange / red / yellow stage. It’s too bad they’re so invasive because they really are beautiful, but they dominate the understory and create so much shade nothing else can grow.

A few burning bush leaves had already changed to pastel pink. I’ve seen thousands of these shrubs along the river drop their leaves overnight when the weather is cold enough and I’m hoping that doesn’t happen this year so I can show them to you in their pastel pink stage. When hundreds of them are this color it really is a beautiful sight.

I chose a swamp in Swanzey to show you what happens to white pines (Pinus strobus) in the fall. Many evergreens change color in the fall and many lose their needles. The row of pines are the taller trees in the distance in this photo, looking somewhat yellow brown.

These examples of fall color grew right at the edge of the swamp.

Dogwoods also grow in the swamp, and along with blueberries they often make up most of the red you see.

Native little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) catches the sunlight and glows in what are usually luminous pink ribbons but every now and then you see patches of deep purple, as this example was. This common grass grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington and is beautiful enough to be grown in many gardens. After a frost it often takes on a darker reddish purple hue, but we haven’t had a frost yet.

It’s the way its seed heads capture and reflect sunlight that makes little bluestem glow like it does.

Here is the same view from a different angle. I’ve learned that if you want to have blue river water in your photos you should photograph it with the sun behind you, and now I’m wondering if the same isn’t true with some grasses.

Virgin’s bower seed heads (Clematis virginiana) light up shady spots at this time of year and sometimes you can see hundreds of them together. Virgin’s bower is a native clematis that has small white flowers in late summer. An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic (and dangerous) and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth if eaten.

Pokeweed berries (Phytolacca americana) are beautiful when they ripen to their deep purple-black. I love seeing the little purple “flowers” on the back of pokeweed berries. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

Why it is that in a field of thousands of goldenrod plants one or two will turn deep purple while the rest remain green is a question I can’t answer, but that’s often what happens. The plants somehow just decide to stop photosynthesizing earlier than all of their cousins.

We have several different varieties of sumac here and from what I’ve seen all are very colorful in the fall. This is smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) At least I think so; I didn’t pay real close attention when I took the photo. It could also be shining sumac (Rhus copallinum.)

Most staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) are still green but this one had already gone to red. Sumacs are one of our most colorful shrubs in the fall. They can range from lemon yellow to pumpkin orange to tomato red, and anything in between. Once fall starts there is no stopping it and soon people from all over the world will come to enjoy it. I’ll do my best show you all of this incredible beauty that I can.

Why is it that so many of us persist in thinking that autumn is a sad season? Nature has merely fallen asleep, and her dreams must be beautiful if we are to judge by her countenance. ~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Thanks for coming by.

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Our biggest and showiest aster, the New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae,) has just started blooming this week and I’m seeing lots of my favorite one, which is of the deepest purple. They come in much paler shades of purple and the paler ones are easier to find, but I always search for the dark ones.

They’re a very beautiful flower and as asters go they’re the easiest to identify because of the big blossoms and tall plants. You can easily spot them across a field. Native Americans burned both flowers and leaves of many aster species in their sweat lodges. The smoke was said to revive the unconscious and was used to treat mental illness, nosebleeds, and headaches.

Here is a paler example.

Monarch butterflies certainly like New England asters, as do bumblebees.

A cabbage white butterfly liked this particular aster, which I haven’t been able to identify. There are over 100 species of aster and as I tried to identify this one I found one site where even botanists were throwing up their hands in defeat. I decided a long time ago that life was simply too short to try to identify all the asters, goldenrods, and small yellow flowers out there, so I just enjoy them.

The cabbage white obligingly opened its wings for me.

As I was searching for dark purple asters I found a new place where there were hundreds of slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia) plants growing, and still blooming. The tiny purple flowers would be easy to miss if it weren’t for the large numbers of them on each willow leaved plant. It has the odd habit of dropping all its flowers each afternoon and opening a new crop the next morning, so you have to catch it before noon if you want to see unblemished blooms.

This nodding bur marigold plant (Bidens tripartita) grew along the river’s edge It’s a plant that likes wet feet and often grows in standing water.

This nodding bur marigold blossom was unusual with its smooth petals. They’re usually quite deeply pleated. The flowers usually look something like a miniature sunflower and are supposed to be good for honey production. The plants usually grow to about knee high, but I have seen them waist high as well. I find them  at the edges of rivers and ponds, sometimes in quite large numbers.

I often find purple stemmed beggar’s ticks (Bidens connata) growing in the wet soil at the edges of ponds and rivers too. They’re a close relative of the nodding bur marigold in the previous photos and I often find them growing side by side.

Purple stemmed beggar’s ticks have curious little yellow orange ray-less disc flowers that never seem to fully open and dark, purple-black stems. It is also called water hemp because of the leaf shape. The name beggar’s tick comes from its barbed seeds that stick to fur and clothing like ticks. It is an annual that grows new from seed each year.

This is what the purple stem of purple stemmed beggar’s ticks looks like. The name fits.

I usually find wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) in the spring or early summer, so I was surprised when I found about twenty plants all in bloom. The plants I find always have pale yellow flowers similar in color to those of the sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) but they can also be white or pink. I almost always find it growing at the edges of corn fields, not because it likes growing with corn but because it likes to grow in disturbed soil. Everyone seems to agree that this is a non-native plant but nobody seems to know exactly where it came from or how it got here.

Blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) appears early on in summer but waits until September to bloom. Its stems grow vertically until the flowers begin to open and then they fall over into a more horizontal position, as if to show off the yellow blooms that grow in tufts all along the stem. This plant isn’t considered rare but I know of only one or two places where it grows. It is also called wreath goldenrod.

The stems of blue stemmed goldenrod get their blue color from the same natural wax coating that is found on grapes, plums, blueberries and other plants. The coating is called a bloom and plants use it as a form of protection against moisture loss. It’s made up of tiny powdery, whitish crystals which reflect and scatter light in ways that can make the surface that they cover appear very blue. I couldn’t find a stem that was blue this year because the wax crystals can be washed off by rain or melted by the sun, and we’ve had some very hot weather this summer. All of the stems were green this time, so I used this photo from 2015 to show you what the stems would normally look like.

Downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula) plants reach about a foot and a half tall on a good day, but some books say they will reach 3 feet. The narrow, stalked flower heads (panicles) grow on (usually) unbranched plants that live at the edges of forests in dry sandy soil. Though still small the bright yellow 1/4 inch flowers of downy goldenrod seem big when compared to other goldenrod flowers. 9-16 ray petals surround the central disc. Native Americans used goldenrod for treating colds and toothaches and it has been used for centuries in to treat kidney stones and urinary tract infections. In colonial times goldenrod growing naturally by the cottage door meant good fortune.

The white heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) is a plant that is so loaded with small white flowers along its stems that it doesn’t look as if you could fit one more on it. For that reason it has another common name; the many flowered aster. It is also called small white aster, smooth white aster, and old field aster. 

There are many asters that look alike and to complicate matters they cross breed and create natural hybrids. One of the features that help with the identity of the heath aster is how it has nearly every inch of free stem covered by a blossom, all of them on the sunny side of the stem. The shrubby little plants are about knee high and I find them growing in unmown fields and pastures. The blossoms are fairly small; 1/4 to 1/2 inch across at best.

Friends of mine grew this red sunflower in their garden. I think it’s the first completely red one I’ve seen.

I don’t see too many mallow plants but I saw what I think was a musk mallow (Malva moschata) growing on a roadside. Since it’s another plant that is originally from Europe it was probably a garden escapee, but you could hardly call mallows invasive. I see them once in a blue moon. They’re quite big and pretty flowers.

I think it must be time to say goodbye to pretty little forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum.) These little beauties get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun. I was surprised to see them blooming this late.

Lots of people see forked blue curl flowers but what they don’t see are the tiny seed pods, all decked out in their fall colors. Each seed pod has four tiny round, dimpled seeds. Since the plant is an annual it relies heavily on these seeds to germinate the following year.

Out in the open field of flowers I could feel the sun and see how every golden blossom faced the light… I knew that if I stayed there long enough, the flowers would follow the path of the sun across the sky. It seemed like they knew what they were doing, and at least for a little while, I wanted to be part of that.
~Kimberly Sabatini

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By this time last year I had done two mushroom posts but this year I haven’t done any and that’s because it has been so dry from June on. Things are just starting to change and were getting some beneficial rain each week, and that means fungi of all kinds are just starting to show. Though the Indian pipes above are not fungi they grow in the same places and when I see them I know that I should start looking for mushrooms.

One of the first mushrooms to show in the late summer are purple cort mushrooms (Cortinarius iodeoides.) Young examples are very purple and lighten as they age. Squirrels and chipmunks won’t touch this one, possibly because it’s covered with a very bitter slime. This slime often makes the young examples look wet. Slugs don’t have a problem eating it and I often see white trails on the caps where they have eaten through the purple coating to the white flesh below.

I’ve known for a long time that purple cort caps lightened as they aged but I didn’t know they started at the center and worked outward. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a darker ring like this.

If they’re small, sticky and orange with bell shaped caps and grow on a cluster on a log they must be orange mycena mushrooms (Mycena leaiana.) These little (less than an inch across) mushrooms fruit from June through September and are fairly common. If you touch them the orange color will stain your fingers. Mycena mushrooms also come in bright red, pink and purple. Some also bleed a blood colored latex when cut.

I love this orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) and look for it every year at this time. It’s color is so bright it’s like a beacon in the woods and it can be seen from quite far away on fallen branches. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself” and that is often just what it does.

Though there are bolete mushrooms with gills most have pores. I think these examples were the flaming gold bolete (Pulveroboletus auriflammeus,) which have a mycorrhizal association with oaks. I think the white spots are slug damage which have molded over. Some boletes are edible but many are not so if you plan on eating mushrooms of any kind you should know them well. You get know them well by going on mushroom hunts with qualified mushroom foragers or, if you’re very lucky, by knowing a mycologist.

Violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis) looks a little like the turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor,) and I’m fairly certain that I have misidentified it as such here on this blog. Once you get to know the two though, it’s obvious that the purple edges on these are not found on turkey tails.

The undersides of violet toothed polypores are a beautiful lilac purple color, and it’s easy to see where the “toothed”  part of the common name comes from. The teeth on toothed fungi are usually simply folds of tissue that hang like teeth. With mushrooms its all about increasing the spore bearing surface, be it by gill, pore or folded tissue because more spores mean a better likelihood of the continuation of the species.

I saw a log that had beautiful burl markings on it and when I got close enough to take a photo a frog jumped off it and landed in the leaves. The frog had blended into the burl so well that I hadn’t even seen it, and I suppose that was its point. I was so fascinated I forgot to get a photo of the burl, but I did get a frog portrait. It had hemlock needles stuck all over itself from being in the woods instead of in the water where its webbed feet told me it belonged.

A monarch butterfly chrysalis dangled from a blackberry cane like a jewel. I wish I could have stayed and watched as the butterfly emerged. The life cycle of this butterfly starts with egg, which hatches into the caterpillar. The caterpillar becomes the pupa (chrysalis), and the adult butterfly emerges from the chrysalis to start the cycle over again. Monarch butterflies can go through four life cycles per year.

This is the caterpillar of the American dagger moth, named for the dagger like markings on their wings. Dagger moths usually live in swampy woodlands and eat the leaves of many different tree species. When they can’t eat an entire leaf they cut it from the branch so it doesn’t give away its presence to birds. It is said that seeing half eaten leaves under a tree is a sign that one of these caterpillars might be above you.

Friends of mine have an invasion of Mexican bean beetles on their string beans. Though it looks like a ladybug it’s an orange yellow color. According to what I’ve read “The newly emerged adult is of a straw or cream-yellow color. Shortly after emergence, eight black spots of variable size appear on each wing cover, arranged in three longitudinal rows on each wing cover. The adults darken with age until they become an orange-brown with a bronze tinge, at which time the black spots are less conspicuous.”

Larva of the Mexican bean beetle is spiky and yellow. A few hours after molting, the tips of the spines become darker, so I’m guessing this one had gone through a recent molt; one of four molts during its development. It was found on the underside of a bean leaf. Both larva and adult beetles will feed on leaves, flowers and bean pods. One sign you may have them is having bean leaves with a lace like appearance.

This grasshopper that I haven’t been able to identify is at least the third one from this particular family of grasshoppers to live at my house and I see them every year at about this time on various pieces of wood. I’ve shown one of them before on this blog, saying at the time that I thought it was stuck in a crack in a 2 X 4. But it wasn’t stuck; it put its ovipositor in the crack to lay its eggs. Everything I’ve read about grasshoppers says that they lay their eggs in soil, but apparently the grasshoppers that live here  didn’t get the memo because they’ve been doing what you see this one doing for years.

Here is a better shot of its ovipositor buried in a wooden post. The first time I saw this I thought that grasshopper was stuck in a crack and when I tried to help it out it actually fought me and wriggled its ovipositor back in the crack. Do you see all the wood chips around it? I can’t find any information about grasshoppers being able to drill holes in wood, but scroll on.

Here is the hole the grasshopper drilled into the post. The thing that fascinates me about this is how they’ve returned to the same spot for at least three years now to lay their eggs at my house. Do they return to the same place each year to spawn like salmon? I can’t find answers to any of the questions I have about this but I can say that they have no fear of me and will sometimes even let me touch them without hopping off. The other day when it rained the one in these photos (I think) was sitting under the eaves so it wouldn’t get wet, and still sat there as I walked by it. It seems like very strange behavior for an insect, but what do I know? If you’ve ever heard of anything like this I hope you’ll let me know.

There isn’t anything strange about a great blue heron pretending to be a statue. They do it all the time and they have taught me a lot about patience. They have also shown me that they have far more patience than I do because I usually give up waiting for them to do something interesting and move on.

The berries of silky dogwood are turning from green to white to blue, and in the middle of that ripening process some of the berries are white and blue at the same time, as these berries show. I’ve always wondered if that’s where the ancient Chinese got the idea for their beautiful blue and white porcelain. That’s a question that will most likely never be answered but I’d say that it is a fair bet that most if not all ancient innovations came from studying nature. One need only to look at the spiral as an example; it is found in everything from the center of a sunflower to the shape of a hurricane to the Archimedes screw, and spirals have fascinated mathematicians, scientists, and artists for thousands of years.

The pretty little berries of bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) always remind me of tiny roma tomatoes, but you don’t want them in your spaghetti sauce because the plant is toxic. It contains solanine, which is the same toxic substance found in many members of the nightshade family including deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna.) Ripe berries are usually less toxic than the leaves and unripe berries, but even ripe berries can be poisonous. Though ancients used certain nightshades to poison each other not all nightshades are poisonous; tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant are also in that family.

A blue flag iris seed pod (Iris versicolor) had just opened when I stumbled across it. It looked like it had rows of menacing teeth and that might be a good thing considering this is another plant which, though very beautiful, carries names like dagger flower, dragon flower, and poison flag. Those who gather the roots of cattails have to be very careful not to gather the roots of blue flags along with them because this plant, like all irises, is toxic.

I think, even as a boy walking along the railroad tracks, that the startlingly beautiful blue of black raspberry canes always brought me a certain amount of joy. They were one of the things that taught me to just stop for a moment to enjoy what I saw, and I still have that habit today. As I’ve said here before, if you can find joy in the simple things in this life you’ll be full of joy no matter where you go, and I hope everyone has time to experience the joy and wonder that such simple things can bring.

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. ~John Muir

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We’re almost at that point of peak flower production now as this view across a stream shows. Goldenrod, tall asters, Joe Pye weed, boneset, and purple loosestrife can all be seen here. We’re still waiting on New England asters but it shouldn’t be long.

The funny little plants called false dandelion (Hypochaeris radicata) have appeared in force and I’m seeing them everywhere. This plant gets its name from its resemblance to the dandelion, but it would be hard to mistake one for the other. The flowers are about half the size of a true dandelion and they bob around on long, wiry stems. At a glance you might think you were seeing a hawkweed flower when you look at a false dandelion flower because they’re close to the same size. One look at the leaves however, will show you that you’re seeing something entirely different because they resemble those of the dandelion more than hawkweed foliage. Hawkweed and false dandelion also bloom at different times, which helps when trying to identify them.

False dandelion leaves look like miniature versions of dandelion leaves and are nowhere near as wide or as long.

White wood asters (Aster divaricatus) lined a woodland path and made a pretty walk even prettier.

I always find silverrod in dry, gravelly places at the edge of the woods near the end of August. It’s hard to get a photo of because it’s usually surrounded by other plants and rarely grows alone. It grows about knee high and isn’t seen anywhere near as often as the yellow goldenrods.

I think almost everyone knows what goldenrod looks like but not everyone has seen silverrod. Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) is in the goldenrod family and is also called white goldenrod. It is the only native white flowered goldenrod found in the northeast. The small flowers spiral up the stem and open from the top down.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries, even grown in the herb gardens of Charlemagne. It was brought from England by early colonists and by 1785 it had naturalized in New England. The flat flower heads are made up of many button like disc flowers; almost like a daisy without the white ray flowers that we call petals. Tansy is a natural insect repellent and has historically been used as such. Dried tansy added to the straw in mattresses was said to keep bedbugs away. I rarely see it in nature but it can still be occasionally found growing along roadsides. It’s a good plant to use in vegetable gardens for pest control. The ancient Greeks grew tansy for medicinal use but modern science has found it to be toxic.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) can be tough to identify because even plants growing side by side can have differently shaped leaves, but once they bloom identification becomes much easier. I can’t think of another plant that has small, drooping white, lily like blossoms at this time of year. The half inch flowers appear in clusters at the end of branched stems that can reach 5 or 6 feet in some cases, and have forked stamens that are longer than the petals. The plant gets its common name from the Native American belief that it could cure rattlesnake bites.

I saw a hosta recently in a park that was just another plain green unremarkable plant, but the reason I’m showing it here is because of its huge white flowers.

This hosta had the biggest flowers I’ve ever seen; at least three times the size of a “normal” flower.

I decided to visit Meetinghouse Pond in Marlborough one day to see what was growing there this year. Last year I found some really interesting plants there.

One of the first things I noticed at the pond was a big bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare,) all in bloom. I don’t usually see them bloom like this. They usually have two or three flowers and many closed buds waiting in the wings. You can see a bee loving the flower over in the upper left quadrant.

Asters grew in standing water at the shoreline. For that reason and the fact that the small, sword shaped leaves had no stems (petioles) I think they were bog asters (Oclemena nemoralis.) Each unbranched stem grew to about a foot tall and  had a single, light purple flower at its tip.

No matter what their name the flowers were beautiful. Because the plant usually grows in thickets in wet, swampy areas many people never see them.

This pond is the only place I know of to find native sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale.) I’ve never seen it anywhere else in the wild and I don’t know how it got here, but it was worth the drive to see it.

Sneezeweed’s common name comes from its dried leaves being used as snuff. It was inhaled to cause sneezing  because sneezing was thought to rid the body of evil spirits and both men and women used it. The Helenium part of the scientific name comes from Helen of Troy. One  legend regarding the plant says that it grew wherever her tears fell.

Sneezeweed has curious winged stems and this is a good way to identify them. It is a poisonous plant and no part of it should be eaten. It also contains compounds that have been shown effective in the treatment of tumors. The Native American Cherokee tribe used the plant medicinally to induce sneezing and as an aid in childbirth.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) still blooms here and there but it’s pretty well finished for this year. Its final act will be to drop millions of seeds before it dies back completely until spring. This plant was brought to Europe from Japan sometime around 1829. It was taken to Holland and grown in nurseries that sold it as an ornamental. From there it found its way across the Atlantic where we still do battle with it today. It is one of the most invasive plants known and the only plant I have ever seen overtake it is purple loosestrife, which is also an invasive weed. Japanese knotweed is also a tough plant that is very hard to eradicate once it has become established.

Pink turtleheads (Chelone lyonii) still bloomed in a local park and though the flowers seemed fine the plants themselves looked terrible; all black and crisp leaves. My plants haven’t even showed color on the buds yet, but I hope they do better than these. I don’t know the origin of this plant and have never known if it was a native or a cultivar but it does very well in my yard and asks for nothing. Pink turtleheads are native to the southeastern U.S. and don’t seem to mind dryness in spite of naturally growing near water.

I always like to see if I can get a shot looking down the throat of the turtle. It’s very hairy in there but it doesn’t bother bumblebees. They were swarming over these plants on this day but I didn’t see any honeybees on these or any other flowers in the park.  

This little plant was hard to identify. I think I’ve tried for about three weeks off and on but I finally settled on catchfly (Silene armeria,) which is originally from Europe and which is also called sweet William catchfly. It is said to be an old fashioned garden plant in Europe. I’ve never seen it here but it is supposed to be a “casual weed” in New Hampshire. The name catchfly comes from the sticky sap it produces along its stem. Small insects are said to get caught in it but I didn’t see any on this single plant. Its leaves and stems were a smooth blue grayish color and along with the small pinkish purple flowers they made for a very pretty little plant that I’m hoping to see more of.

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. ~Miguel Angel Ruiz

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I know of only three places to find gentians and only one place to find bottle or closed gentians, and that place is along the Ashuelot River in Keene. Last year I got upset when I went looking for them and found that the Keene Parks and Recreation Department had sent someone out here with a weed wacker, and that person had cut down countless beautiful wildflowers all along the trail, including the gentians. I didn’t know what I would find this year but last Saturday down the trail I went.

One of the first things I noticed was how ripe the false Solomon’s seal fruit (Maianthemum racemosum) was getting. It goes from mottled to solid red and many of these were red. They’re very pretty berries that are said to taste like molasses.

Virginia bugleweed (Lycopus virginicus) bloomed all along the trail. This is a close relative of water horehound (Lycopus americanus) and looks much like it except for its purple tinged leaves.

It was a beautiful day for a walk in the woods and I petted dogs, talked to strangers, and was happy to be in a place I’ve known since I was about 10 years old. To think I was walking a trail which was, in high probability, a Native American fishing trail which has probably changed little in thousands of years. Remains of settlements dating back 12,000 years have been found very near here and it boggles the mind to think about all that might have gone on in this place.

I always seem to see something I haven’t seen before out here, even though I’ve walked this trail for over 50 years. On this day it was a nice colony of one of our prettiest native orchids, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule.) I wonder if I’ll remember where they are next June when they’re in bloom.  

One of the lady’s slippers still had last year’s seed pod on it, and on that was a spider’s egg sac.

The branches of this fallen tree always make me think of the ribs of an ancient sunken ship. Indeed, at one time sections of this river were dredged so that river boats could navigate it, but the railroad coming to town put a stop to that.

Other trees might add to the hazards in the river; I could see right through this hollow red maple (Acer rubrum.)

There was lots of duckweed on the backwaters where the current is almost nonexistent.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia) grew on the sunny parts of the riverbank. The skullcap part of the common name comes from the calyx at the base of the flower, which is said to look like a medieval skull cap. The plant was once thought to cure rabies, and that is where the “mad dog” part of the common name comes from. There is powerful medicine in many skullcap species and when Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose. The small blue and white flowers always grow in pairs in the leaf axils on mad dog skullcap but you have to look closely because sometimes one bloom will fall off before the other, which is what has happened with this example.

The seed pods of fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) are unusual and hard to confuse with any other plant. I saw hundreds of seedpods but only one flower left, growing out of reach down the river bank.

Royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) hasn’t changed into its fall yellow yet. When they are near a water source royal ferns can grow quite large and appear to be a shrub, but this one was young and on dry ground so it wasn’t very big. The royal fern is found on every continent except Australia, making it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are believed to be able to live for over 100 years. Cinnamon and interrupted ferns are also in the Osmundaceae family and also grow here. It is thought that the genus might have been named after King Osmund, who ruled in the British Isles in the eighth century. Royal ferns are one of my favorites because they are so unlike any other fern.

I think, in the eight years I’ve been doing this blog, that I’ve only show beech nuts (Fagus grandifolia) one other time and that’s because I rarely see them. But on this day I stumbled onto hundreds of them that must have just fallen, because many of the kernels were still inside the prickly looking husks seen here. If you harvest beechnuts and then leave them alone for a day or two they will open and out will drop two kernels. Like many trees and other plants, beech trees will have a year of heavy production, known as a mast year, and then produce very few nuts for a few years afterwards.

I put a kernel on a penny so you could get a sense of scale. A penny is 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Chipmunks and squirrels and even bears love the kernels, so you usually find more empty husks than anything else.

As I’ve said so many times, spring and fall really begin on the forest floor, much earlier than many of us realize. This wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is a good example of that. It might be leafless before many of the trees it grows under have even started to turn color. The roots of the plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

There was a single blossom on what looked like an all but dead St. John’s wort plant (Hypericum perforatum.) I haven’t seen these blossoms for a few weeks now so I’m going to say this may be the last one I see this year. It’s a beautiful thing. This plant has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It likes to grow in open meadows in full sun but will stand some shade as it did here.

Wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) climbed up over the shrubs along the trail. It likes to grow in sandy soil and prefers a bit of shade over full sun. The flower spikes (Racemes) grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem.

When those maples on the other side of the river turn scarlet in the fall this is an awesome view, but it isn’t really so bad in green either.

I saw a single New England aster blossom (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae.) As I’ve said in previous posts, they are our biggest, most showy aster. Some tower up over my head but this one had bent down to about knee level.

I was very surprised to see turtleheads (Chelone glabra linifolia) blooming out here. I’ve never seen them here before this day.

And there they were; one of my favorite shades of blue is found on bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) but I don’t see many because they are quite rare here. This is the only place I can find them so you can imagine my delight when I found that they hadn’t been cut down again. When they start to go by theses flowers become even more beautiful by turning very dark blue and then a kind of purple. They closely resemble narrow leaved gentian (Gentiana linearis) but that plant has much narrower leaves. Why anyone would cut such a rare and beautiful thing is beyond me.

I’ve been here enough times to know that the only thing beyond this bridge is a highway, so this is where I turn and go back. As I chose what photos to use for this post I was amazed that I saw so much on what is a relatively short walk of only an hour or so, and once again I was thankful that it hadn’t all been cut down again, because it’s a beautiful walk.

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring- these are some of the rewards of the simple life. ~ John Burroughs

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