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Archive for March, 2021

We’ve had a week of record breaking warmth and things are happening fast now. The willows are starting to bloom even though when I checked three days prior to this photo there was no sign of them.

Poplars too are blooming, and their fuzzy catkins are getting longer quickly.

If you look closely you can see, in this case, the reddish brown male anthers on a poplar catkin. Once pollinated the female flowers will release their cottony seeds into the air and they will settle on everything. If you leave your car windows open near one you’ll have a fuzzy surprise inside. Male catkins will simply fall from the trees. By the thousands.

The alders seemed to have bloomed overnight. One day the catkins had no color and the next day, this beauty. One of my favorite sights in spring is seeing alder catkins dangling from the bushes like jewels.

Each stalked reddish-purple bud scale on a male speckled alder catkin (Alnus incana) opens in spring to reveal three male flowers beneath, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers covered in yellow pollen. The flower parts are clearly visible in this photo but they are tiny.

The female alder flowers were showing as well. Each of what look like tiny hairs poking out of the catkin is a single female flower. They will become the alder’s cones (strobiles) that I think most of us are familiar with. The whitish material is the “glue” the plant produces to seal each shingle like bud scale against the wet and cold winter weather. If water got under the bud scale and froze it would kill the female blossoms.

When I see this happening on American hazelnuts (Corylus americana); their male catkins hanging golden in the low evening sunlight, I know that it’s time to start looking for the tiny female flowers.

And there they were. I’m surprised that the male and female blooming period have happened together this year. Last year the female hazelnut flowers bloomed for weeks before the male catkins released their pollen. For those who don’t know, the bud that the scarlet stigmas come out of is usually about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti. I have to look for a hint of red and led the camera do the rest, because they’re too small to see.

Female red maple (Acer rubrum) flowers are also ready to accept pollen. What you see here are sticky, petal-less stigmas. Though it’s hard to tell with so many blooming at once each one is Y shaped, and each upper leg of the Y will become one of a pair of seeds. Once they ripen they will helicopter their way to earth by the millions, if not billions.

The female red maple blossoms might be ready for spring but the male blossoms are still sleeping; just barely poking their anthers out of the buds. I could almost imagine them asking is it spring already?

Yes, it’s time to wake up.

I was quite surprised to find elm flowers already. This tree had a tag on it that identified it as a Liberty American Elm, which was developed by the Elm Research Institute here in Keene. I once worked in the greenhouses there, almost 40 years ago I’d guess, when they were in Harrisville. My job was to take rooted cuttings and repot them into larger pots. The Liberty elm is resistant to Dutch elm disease, which wiped out most of the trees here in what was once known as “The Elm City.”

I saw lots of henbit flowers over the weekend but no ground ivy yet.

I’m seeing lots of dandelion blossoms now too.

How incredibly beautiful a lowly weed can be.

I saw the first snowdrops of the season up in Hancock, which is quite a lot cooler than Keene.

This is the first daffodil I saw. There were many more coming along. It’s odd to see them in March. I hope we don’t get a cold snap now.

The Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas) seem to be blooming early this year as well. This shrub is in the dogwood family and gets its common name from its red fruit. Man has had a relationship with this now little known shrub for about 7000 years; in northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included cornelian cherry fruit. Cornelian cherry often blooms at just about the same time as forsythias do but it has beaten them this year. Its yellow flowers are very small; the bud they come out of is about the size of a pea, but there are enough of them to put on a good show.

I saw my first scillas of the season as well. They are one of my favorite spring flowering bulbs.

I saw the first bleeding heart shoots up out of the ground. They’re as pretty at this stage as when they’re flowering, I think. I also saw hellebore shoots and buds ready to go.

We’re supposed to have cooler temps this week but just in case I thought I’d show the flowers of a vernal witch hazel once more. I don’t know how long they or any of the spring flowering bulbs will tolerate the early heat.

Reticulated iris are finally going strong and I’m seeing more of them now. They are also called “netted iris” due to the net like formations on the rhizomes.

I’m seeing large drifts of crocuses but I’ve also seen quite a few wilted ones, so they’re going by quickly in the heat.

For those who are interested, the Google Lens app I discovered on my new phone correctly identified all of the spring flowers I tried it on. It tripped up on lichens and fungi a bit but so far it has done well on flowers. I’ve read that it’s a stand-alone app, which means that anyone can get it for their phone, whether Apple or Android. And plants aren’t all it will identify; I’ve heard you can use it on just about anything.

The spring came suddenly, bursting upon the world as a child bursts into a room, with a laugh and a shout and hands full of flowers. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thanks for coming by.

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Last Sunday I went to Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard for a climb but it was still far too icy for me so I turned around and instead went to Beaver Brook, which is something I haven’t done since January. There was ice there too, but I didn’t have to climb on it. There was also abundant springtime sunshine, as you can see.

The plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) that grows there was looking good and it won’t be long before it blossoms. This is the largest sedge I know of and this is the only place I’ve seen it. I like its crepe paper like leaves.

I brushed the leaves carefully away from where the Solomon’s seal plants (Polygonatum biflorum) grow and sure enough, there were pink shoots up out of the soil. By the time the purple trilliums bloom these shoots will be 6-8 inches tall and just starting to leaf out.

The pink buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are swelling and elongating. It happens fast and it won’t be long before bud break in April.

Native hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) blooms in May bud its buds don’t show any signs of movement yet. This plant’s buds have no bud scales so they’re considered naked buds. Instead of bud scales they use thick, wooly hair for protection.

The buds of mountain maple (Acer spicatum) are much smaller than those of striped maple, and very red and hairy. Striped maple buds are smooth. Those red bud scales will open in April to reveal a bright orange bud.

I was glad I wore my micros spikes. There was ice here and there on the road and it would have been nearly impossible to walk on without spikes. I’ve fallen on ice twice since December so I won’t be sorry to see it all melt away.

A branch fell from an oak before its acorns had time to mature so they were no bigger than your shirt buttons. The cap forms first, as we can see here.

I’ve discovered an app called “Google Lens” on my phone that I didn’t know it had. According to the blurb “Google Lens is an image recognition technology developed by Google, designed to bring up relevant information related to objects it identifies using visual analysis based on a neural network. In other words it will help you identify plants and other things. I thought I’d put it through its paces and see what it could do, and I started with stairstep moss (Hylocomium splendens), which it correctly identified. I was impressed; this is the only example of this moss that I’ve ever seen.

It did not identify delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) correctly. It thought it was more stairstep moss.

Google lens identified this dog lichen as the membranous dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea), which I believe is incorrect. If I remember correctly an expert told me it was the scaly pelt lichen (Peltigera praetextata.) Still, the fact that it knew it was a dog lichen is impressive. Dog or pelt lichens will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was.

There is a huge boulder fall just above where the dog lichen lives so I didn’t want to dilly dally. This is the kind of place where you find yourself hoping there won’t be an earthquake. We do have them here in New Hampshire.

The Google lens couldn’t identify the smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) but it did know it was a lichen after a misstep or two. Though I tried several times it kept saying that it was a Lecanora lichen. I think the blue color of the apothecia led it astray because once it thought it was seeing a cobalt crust fungus.

The Google lens was right on the mark with script lichen (Graphis scripta) but it’s a relatively easy lichen to identify.

There was a large ice fall in the woods on the other side of the brook. It’s hard to tell in a photo but that would be quite a climb.

It’s interesting to note how the brook on the right is always in the shade while the hillside to the left is always in full sun. That’s why all the ice is over on the right and there isn’t any to be seen on the left hillside. Not surprisingly, all the spring ephemeral flowers that grow here are found over on the left. Where the snow and ice melt first, that’s where to look for the earliest spring flowers, but you have to study a place to know that. That’s one reason I visit the same places over and over.

There were still fingers of ice in the brook. Most of the ice that covered the brook this year looked to be about a foot thick; less than half what it usually is. Since it rarely sees sunshine the brook can be so covered by ice you can’t hear it any longer. It’s quite an eerie thing to walk here when that happens.

I admired the exposed roots of a golden birch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that it had fallen before long.

Both Google lens and I failed to identify this strange, hard button on a log. It was obviously some type of fungus. The lens said it was a birch polypore which, since it was growing on an oak log and the wrong form, was incorrect. I think it was the button stage of some other kind of bracket fungus.

There were two of them on the log and you could see old bracket fungi between them but there wasn’t much there to help with identification. In the end on this day Google Lens was right about 50% of the time but I had given it the hardest things to identify that I could find, so I have to be fair and say that I think it has great potential, especially with flowers. I’m anxious to try it on spring ephemerals.

I saw another huge icefall even bigger than the first. It was very impressive, but it will be gone soon.

Last time I was here in January I told myself I wouldn’t climb down the steep embankment to the falls but I did. This time I told myself I might but I didn’t. I was able to see them through the trees though, and I could certainly hear their roar.

Nature is light, and by looking at Nature in her own light we will understand her. Visible Nature can be seen in her visible light; invisible Nature will become visible if we acquire the power to perceive her inner light. ~Paracelsus

Thanks for stopping in.

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Have you ever gone outside on a spring morning and found the day so beautiful you wanted to throw out your arms and shout thank you? That’s what this day started like, with a beautiful blue sky and wall to wall sunshine. And with all of the red maples so full of red buds; I knew I had to go and find some flowers.

But it was still a little cool and I was afraid most flowers wouldn’t have opened yet, so I went to the river. I found ice baubles had grown over night on the shrubs that line the riverbank, so it had gotten colder than I thought.

The ice baubles form when river water splashes onto a twig or anything else and freezes. Slowly, splash by splash often a round ice ball will form. They’re usually as clear as crystal but these seemed to have a lot of bubbles in them.

There were waves on the river so I thought I’d practice catching one with my camera. I don’t use burst mode; when each wave comes I click the shutter, but it isn’t quite as easy as it sounds because there can be three or four small waves between big ones, so you have to sync yourself to the rhythm of the river. Sometimes you get a miss like this shot was. Just a bit too early for a really good curl but I love the colors.

And sometimes you’re a little too late. I find that there are times when I can “give myself” to the river and get shot after shot of breaking waves. I can’t really describe what giving myself to the river is, but your mind clears and you shoot each wave almost without really trying. I sometimes call it stepping out of myself or losing myself, and it’s always wonderful when it happens. You find that you can do things you didn’t know you could do, like reading waves.

As I was leaving the river I saw a bit of ice in a depression in a boulder. It looked like it had a face in it. Was it an elf? It was wearing a stocking cap, whatever it was.

Wildflowers are coming along and I saw my first dandelion. Since I found one blooming in February last year I’ve now seen dandelions blooming in every month of the year. Believe it or not I have more trouble finding them in summer these days than I do in the colder months. I know many people think of dandelions as weeds but to me all flowers are beautiful and there’s nothing cheerier than a field of dandelion blossoms in March. In fact one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen was a field of dandelions and violets all blooming together. My grandmother used to cook dandelion greens like spinach for me, so I suppose they’re part of me.

I also saw henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) blooming. Henbit gets its common name from the way chickens peck at it. The plant is in the mint family and apparently chickens like it. The amplexicaule part of the scientific name means “clasping” and describes the way the hairy leaves clasp the stem. The plant is a very early bloomer and blooms throughout winter in warmer areas. It’s from Europe and Asia, but I can’t say that it’s invasive because I rarely see it. I’ve read that the leaves, stem, and flowers are edible and have a slightly sweet and peppery flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked.

Here is what the foliage of henbit looks like for those who have never seen it. I find growing along with ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), which the foliage resembles in shape but not in habit. Henbit stands taller than ground ivy and the leaves are a different shade of green in early spring. Those of ground ivy lean more toward dark purple in early spring.

I also saw what I think were some very crinkly hollyhock leaves. I don’t know if they appear very early or if they live under the snow all winter.

We who live in New England have a fifth season called “mud season” and it is upon us now. Sometimes it can really be brutal; in the old days schools were often closed for a month because of it.

Here is a view, courtesy of the Cheshire County Historical Society, of what mud season can do. This was taken in Westmoreland, New Hampshire sometime in the 1940s. Gravel roads become a sea of mud and very little in the way of motorized transport can get through it. It begins when the upper foot or two of soil thaws but anything under that stays frozen. Water can’t penetrate the frozen soil so it sits on top of it, mixing with the thawed soil and making dirt roads a muddy quagmire. It’s like quicksand and it’s hellish trying to drive through it because you’re usually stuck in it before you realize how deep it is.

Snowdrops were living up to their name up in Hancock where there is still snow. When I was gardening professionally not a single client grew snowdrops and as far as I know nobody in my family did either, so I don’t know them well. I do know that they’re scarce in this area; I see small clumps of 4 or 5 flowers here and there every spring but not the huge drifts of them that I’ve seen online. They simply don’t seem to like it here and that could be because they aren’t used to our kind of below zero cold. I’ve read that they’re in the amaryllis family so maybe that’s why.  

I went to see the budded daffodils that I saw last week. I was sure they’d be blooming but not yet. We’ve had a coolish week so maybe they’re waiting for that silent signal. I have a feeling these will be white daffodils because of the bud shape. Of course they might not open at all; I once worked for an English lady who complained about bud blast in her white daffodils. Most springs they would start to open and then, just as they were showing a little color they would die off. Either a freeze or a hot spell can cause it and these have been through both. White varieties appear to be much more susceptible to bud blast than the yellows.

Tulips are growing fast. These had doubled in size in a week.

One of my favorite spring bulbs, the reticulated iris, doesn’t seem to be doing well this year. Or maybe they’re just Petering out. I’ve never grown any myself but I’ve heard they just fade out after awhile.

I went to see if the skunk cabbages were showing any foliage growth yet but didn’t see a single leaf. The ground had thawed in their swamp so rather than kneel down it wet mud I sat on a hummock beside them to get this shot with my phone. I thought about that silent signal as I sat there; the one that calls the red winged blackbirds back and makes the spring peepers peep and the turtles come up out of the mud. It’s doubtful that the signal is heard by the critters, I thought, so it must be felt. But if that is so, why can’t I feel it? But then I thought about how I wanted to throw out my arms and shout my joy that morning and wondered if maybe I did feel it and just didn’t know it. The things that come to mind when you’re sitting on a hummock in a swamp.

I would have bet breakfast that the willows would be in bloom but they held back like the daffodils. In fact many things are holding back but this week is supposed to be in the 50s and 60s, so that should coax all the plants that haven’t dared to dip their toes into spring to finally jump in with a splash.

The violas were still blooming just the way they were a week previous, so the weather doesn’t bother them at all. The pansy family is made up of cool weather lovers anyhow, so I wasn’t surprised.

The witch hazels were still going strong too. What a glorious fragrance!

Crocuses certainly aren’t holding back. Blue (purple?) ones have joined the yellows I saw last week. The gardener is going to wish he’d raked those leaves before the flowers came up. Now he or she is going to have to hand pick them.

This one is certainly purple, and very beautiful as well. The first crocuses of the year just do something to you. They let you know that yes, spring really is here despite the forecast.

These crocuses grow under redbud trees and don’t see sunlight until the afternoon so they hadn’t opened yet. I was disappointed until I saw how beautiful the unopened blossoms were, and then I didn’t care. How lucky we are to have such beauty in our lives. And everywhere you look, too. It really is a wonder we can get anything done.

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! ~Sitting Bull

Thanks for coming by.

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Ten years ago when I started this blog on the first day of spring in 2011, I remember thinking that I’d be lucky to keep it going for six months. After nearly a year with no real feedback or interest I decided to let it go when the year was up. And then the post below wrote itself; quite literally. People seemed to like it and two things happened: I started to concentrate on nature writing, and I started to use quotations by other nature writers regularly. The quotations seemed to say things I couldn’t and people enjoyed them; I have had more questions about them than any other part of this blog. I also realized that if I was going to write about nature, photos would help illustrate what I was saying, and that’s how the photos came about. So what you see here these days really came about because of the following post. Some of you have been here long enough to have already read it and I thank you for that, but you can skip it if you like. For the more recent readers, I hope you’ll like it.

Time Flowed Past Like The Water Of The River

My recent trip back in time to my boyhood haunts along the Ashuelot River in Keene, New Hampshire reminded me how lucky I was to grow up on a river. A river can teach a boy a lot about both nature and himself.

I learned how to identify skunk cabbage, cattails, pond lilies and much more along the river. I built a raft and set out for the Atlantic, but never even made it to the town line. (That was how I learned to recognize a foolish idea.) I learned how to read the tracks of muskrat, raccoon and deer, and how to be as still as a stone when they came to the river’s edge.

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. ~ John Lubbock

My first kiss came to me on the river’s banks and somewhere, the date is recorded on the trunk of a maple. My grandmother explained puppy love to me then, but her time would have been better spent explaining why the first broken heart is so much more painful than all of those that follow.

One day I walked south down river-farther than I had explored before-and found that an old oak had fallen and made a natural bridge out to a small, shaded island covered with soft mosses and ferns. One end was pointed like a boat, so the island became an imaginary ship that would take me anywhere I wanted to go. I never told my friends about the island; it became the place I went when I needed some alone time.

“Brooding” was what my grandmother said I did during the times I spent alone, but she mistook my occasional need of solitude and silence, when the low hum of a dragonfly’s wings could be heard from 10 yards off, for unhappiness. They were actually some of the happiest times I had known until one very wet spring when the high water washed away the oak tree bridge. I don’t think I have ever again experienced such a complete absence of humanity as I did on that island, and rare since has been the peace I found within that absence. Later on I learned that Henry David Thoreau once said “I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.” He, I thought, was a man who understood.

Who hears the rippling of rivers will not utterly despair of anything. ~Henry David Thoreau

The old Boston and Maine Railroad crossed the river many times on its way south and long before my time these crossings were popular hangouts for men who liked to drink. My grandmother called them hobos, but people were drinking under those train trestles before the word hobo even came into being. I know that because they used to throw their bottles in the river-and then I came along a hundred or so years later and found them.

Digging antique bottles along a river bank is hard and sometimes dangerous work, but it can pay well. Since the river taught me that hard work earns money, off I went to earn more. Of course, work is habit forming-or at least the paycheck is-so there was no longer any time for lolling on its banks. The river and I grew apart.

But not entirely; though time has flowed past much like the water of the river, my return visit showed me that little had really changed-with either the river or myself. As I followed the trails along its banks I found that I still had the curiosity that used to spur me on to always want to see what was around the next bend. Before I realized it I had walked for miles. Maybe the curiosity that rivers instill in us is what keeps us young even as we age.


Be like a rock in the middle of a river, let all of the water flow around and past you
. ~ Zen Saying

So now you know what started all of this.  Will it go on for another ten years? That I can’t say, but with retirement now months rather than years away things will surely change. For years I’ve wondered why when I was a boy summer seemed to go on forever, and then I realized it was because there were no clocks in my life then. When school wasn’t in session I was free of time and life was simple; I woke when I woke and ate when I was hungry. I still saw friends and did chores, but nothing had to be done at any given time. So my first thing to do after I retire is to step out of time and be free of it again. Of course I’ll have appointments and things to do but mostly I’ll be free like that boy was. Suddenly there will be no hurry and summers will once again last forever.

Live this life in wonder, in wonder of the beauty, the magic, the true magnificence that surrounds you. It is all so beautiful, so wonderful. Let yourself wonder. ~Avina Celeste

Thanks for stopping in.

The photos of the train trestle and covered bridge are from the Cheshire County Historical Society.

The photo of Tree Bridge is by the U.S. National Park Service.

The photographer and date of the boy on a raft are unknown.

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After a warmer than average week in which records were broken, plants are responding. These red maple buds (Acer rubrum) were in the process of opening when I went to see them, and I knew that by the way the bud scales were no longer tightly clasping the buds. Sap flow to the buds causes them to swell up and this forces the bud scales open. It’s a beautiful thing if you happen to be a lover of spring.

Box elder buds (Acer negundo) on the other hand, showed little signs of movement. They usually open a week or so after red maples, so I wasn’t surprised.

This particular box elder still had seeds from last year. They are bigger than the seeds of other trees in the maple family and a single tree can produce many thousands of them.  

The alder catkin (Alnus incana) over on the right looked like it was showing a little green. That’s what they do before they start to open; become multi-colored for a short time.

I went to see if I could find some female American hazelnut catkins (Corylus americana) again but all I saw were last year’s hazelnuts.

Big, shiny, and sometimes sticky poplar buds have released their fuzzy catkins. At this stage they resemble willow catkins somewhat but they will stay gray and will lengthen to sometimes 5 or 6 inches. These bud scales were not sticky and that tells me this was a quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), because that is the only member of the poplar family with catkins like these that doesn’t have sticky bud scales. Balsam poplar catkins (Populus balsamifera) look much the same but their brown bud scales are very sticky to the touch.

The willows (Salix) are now fully out and just about to flower.

If you look closely at a willow catkin and blow gently on the gray hairs you can see the structure of the flowers inside. I’d guess, depending on the weather, that these will be flowering next weekend.

Most of the snow has melted now and it has all run into the Ashuelot River. The forecast for the coming week is for more average temps in the 40s F., so any further melting will be gentle. There is still ice on the trails but it won’t be there for much longer.

The tiny white flowers of what I think are hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) have opened. These flowers are so tiny you could hide this entire bouquet behind a pea. I spent a while on my knees and elbows with my nose almost in the dirt getting this shot.

I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw buds on these daffodils. They must be an early variety.

Hyacinths are budded up and ready to go.

Tulips are gathering sunshine with their leaves but I haven’t seen any buds yet.

I did see crocus buds, and this one was very beautiful. It will open pure white inside.

There were also crocus flowers.

Lots of crocus flowers.

Johnny jump ups were adding their special sweetness to spring.

They’re such pretty little things. It’s no wonder some call them “heart’s ease”. Kneeling there beside them certainly did my heart good.

And I finally saw a reticulated iris blossom. They’re late this year; they usually blossom about a week before the crocuses do. I’ve even taken photos of them covered in snow.

As I thought they would be the spring blooming witch hazels were in nearly full bloom. I wish you could smell them. Their fragrance can be detected a block away and it’s wonderful. Someone once described them as smelling like clean laundry that had just been taken off the line but it’s a little spicier than that, I think.

In any event they’re a beautiful thing to find on a blustery March day.

I thought I’d give you a bee’s eye view, even though it may not be bees that pollinate these flowers. Owlet moths pollinate fall blooming witch hazels.

This one was over the top. With its long, bright yellow petals it was just a joy to see.

Witch hazel is one of only a handful of plants that have flowers, buds and seed pods all showing at the same time. In fact the name Hamamelis comes from the Greek words “hama” which means “at same time” and “mêlon”, meaning “fruit”.

I checked a flower bed the day before and saw three yellow crocus buds. On this day I found many clusters just like this one. Hundreds of blossoms had appeared in less than 24 hours. When spring is determined to happen It can happen quickly.

And spring will be beautiful; we can always count on that.

It’s spring fever, that’s what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

Thanks for coming by.

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Last Sunday I decided to go looking for the tiny female flowers of the American Hazelnut (Corylus americana), and I could think of no better place to find them than a rail trail. They usually grow all along rail trails and I knew I wouldn’t have to look very hard to find them on this trail in Keene.

Part of the trail was muddy, I was surprised to see.

But other parts were icy. Packed down snow from lots of foot traffic turns to ice quickly.

But luckily I had my micro spikes on. I once slid down an icy hillside with Yaktrax on, so I switched to micro spikes at a friend’s prodding. You don’t slip with these on, so if you’re a winter hiker you might want to look into them.

I found the hazelnuts easily. Some of the male catkins were deformed like these, which seems common, but they had taken on a look of more yellow than green and were getting pliable, so I was encouraged that they knew spring was happening.

I looked at hazelnut branches until my eyes crossed but I couldn’t find a single bud with female blossoms. This photo from a previous year shows the female flowers in relation to a paperclip so you can see how small they really are. I’m not sure why they aren’t blooming yet. I’ve seen skunk cabbages flowering and that’s usually a sign that the hazels are too. Oh well, when they’re ready I’ll find them. I’m sure they know what they’re doing better than I do.

Small white, downy feathers fluttered in the breeze on one of the hazel stems.

Hazels will quite often hang onto their leaves well into winter but this was the only one I saw on this day. It was a warm, orangey brown but it didn’t do much to warm me in the wind that always seems to blow along this trail. It comes out of the west and it howls sometimes.

I looked off to the west and saw, miles away, that there was still snow on the hillsides. The wind comes roaring over these hills sometimes so maybe that’s why the wind I was in felt cold. I’m not sure why this photo came out so strangely colored. Maybe there was a haze I couldn’t see.

I saw three large animal burrows that had been freshly dug but this was the only one I could get close to. Judging by the large mound of soil this one was deep.

The side view shows the soil mound a little better. I was surprised to see that it was really nothing but sand; I wouldn’t have thought the railroad would have used sand as a rail bed. These holes were big enough to be woodchuck holes. Since woodchucks are burrowing animals and are common here I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. I tried to find tracks but saw none.

The other two burrows were well protected by multiflora rose canes so I couldn’t get near them without shredding my clothes.

One of our Covid vaccination sites is near this trail and I saw this big army truck over across the way, so the shots are probably being administered by National Guard volunteers. It seemed to be parked so it would block the road. My turn comes soon so I’ll find out.

Last year I came out here and was surprised to find hundreds of willows, so I thought I’d check them for catkins. Though many of our willows are golden yellow these were very red.

Willows play host to many galls and if you like galls this is the time of year to look for them. This one was caused by a tiny midge called the willow beaked gall midge (Rabdophaga rididae). The gall started life as a bud until the midge caused the tissues to form a hard gall instead. These galls often come to a point which looks like a beak, hence the name. This one shows how red this particular species of willow is.

Here was another pretty gall that forms on the very tip of willow branches. It’s called a terminal rosette gall, which is also known as a camellia or rose gall. It is caused by another midge (Rabdophaga rosaria) which turns the terminal bud into what looks like a beautiful flower. This midge will choose any of at least 6 different species of willow so it’s hard to identify the willow by the gall. In fact willows are notoriously hard to identify because they cross breed so readily. As Henry David Thoreau said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused.”

Gray, furry willow pine cone galls appear on the very tips of willow branches, because that’s where a midge called (Rabdophaga strobiloides) lays its egg. Once the eggs hatch the larvae burrow into the branch tip and the willow reacts by forming a gall around them. These galls are about as big as the tip of your thumb. Galls might seem unsightly but they do not harm the plant.

I saw two or three small bird’s nests in the willows. I would think the birds would eat the midges that cause the galls but I don’t suppose they can catch them all. This nest appeared to be made mostly of grasses.

Young poplars were glowing in the sunshine and dancing in the wind. The poplars and the willows will be forever young because the power company cuts them to the ground every few years.

Soon these willow catkins will be bright yellow flowers. Since last Sunday when I took these photos we’ve had a week of record breaking warmth so they may even be blooming today. I’ll have to go and see. I hope you’ll see flowers in your travels too; I think we all need some flowers.

The snow in winter, the flowers in spring. There is no deeper reality. ~Marty Rubin

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In typical March fashion the first week of the month was cold and very windy, so it came in like a lion. Everyone I know is hoping it goes out like a lamb but meanwhile the snow is still melting, and with sixty degree temperatures expected in the near future I’d guess that this scene will be snow free by the weekend. I’ve been itching to climb again but with all the ice that came with February I haven’t done it.  Instead last weekend I went wandering, just to see what I could see.

I wondered if the red winged blackbirds had returned so I went to a place I knew they’d be if they had, but I didn’t hear them. I did see that ice had re-formed on the stream though.

There are plenty of cattails for them to build nests with when they do come back. There is a pond I go to where I can walk right along the edge, just where the cattails grow, and I often scare the female red winged blackbirds when I do, so I know that the nests are tucked down in the stems, quite close to the water. I’ve seen females picking large grubs out of the previous year’s decomposing stems as well, so nature has provided everything they need in a cattail stand; both food and nesting material. They’ll be back before long.

 I saw a group of mallards and as usual they were rushing away as fast as they could go. Usually when I get shots of mallards I see more tailfeathers than anything else. They’re very skittish in these parts.

I believe these were willows but they grew on the far side of another stream so I couldn’t get close to them, but many of the willows that grow here have yellow or yellowish branches in spring. I thought their color was very spring like and beautiful whatever they were, so I was happy to see them. They made an impressionistic scene, I thought. Or maybe post-impressionistic; I can see Van Gogh painting it.

I went to the river thinking I might see some interesting ice formations but I think the water was too high for them. Instead I admired the beautiful texture and colors of the water. It really is amazing how the appearance of river water changes. It’s very dependent on the quality of the light.

Closer to shore the sunlit ripples were hypnotizing.

A fallen tree had washed downriver and become stuck on the rocks, and it showed just how cold it was.

This ice is so clear it can’t be seen, but those bubbles were trapped under it.

This ice was anything but clear. I couldn’t tell if the patterns I saw were part of the ice itself or what was under it, but I liked them.

Much like beech and oak leaves do, black locust seed pods (Robinia pseudoacacia) often fall in spring and this one had landed in an icy footprint. You often see these pods with one side gone and the seeds open to the elements, just as these were.

The tiny brown seeds of a black locust look like miniature beans and that’s because they are in the same legume family. Their coating is very tough and they can remain viable for many years. They’re also very toxic and should never be eaten.

There is a stone in a local park that has what appear to be paw prints in it. Not on it; they’re actually depressions in the stone. They’re small like a housecat’s paw and I can’t imagine what might have made them or even if they really are animal prints, but seeing them always gets me wondering. Maybe they were just gas bubbles that popped as the magma that the stone came from was cooling, or maybe they’re impressions from ancient leaves that fell in mud that hardened. I didn’t bother to try to figure out if the stone was sedimentary or igneous but maybe one day.

Speaking of stones, here is a well made stone wall to contrast all the “thrown” and “tossed” walls I’ve shown on this blog. This is just the kind of wall I used to build; a puzzle made of stone, and I miss being able to do it.

I saw a beech tree, large and fairly old, with buds on it that are quite different from our native beech buds. Instead of thin, long and pointed like a native beech it was short and more round, so I think it must be a European beech (Fagus sylvatica). I’ve read that they can escape cultivation but this one lives on the grounds of the local college, so I can’t say it has done that. I’ll have to get a look at its leaves later on.

Native nannyberry buds (Viburnum lentago) with their two bud scales are good examples of valvate buds. These buds always remind me of great blue herons or cranes. Nannyberry is another of our native viburnums but unlike many of them this shrub produces edible fruit. Native Americans ate them fresh or dried and used the bark and leaves medicinally.

While I was thinking of buds I thought I’d check on the red maple buds (Acer rubrum). I didn’t see any open yet but the outer bud scales are definitely pulling back.

I saw a skunk cabbage spathe (Symplocarpus foetidus) that had opened so of course I had to look inside at the spadix.

There were plenty of flowers on the spadix and they were releasing pollen already. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. The male stamens grow up through the sepals and release their pollen before the female style and pistil grow out of the flower’s center to catch any pollen that visiting insects might carry from other plants. The spadix carries most of the skunk like odor at this stage of the plant’s life, and it is thought that it uses the odor to attract flies and other early spring insects.

Lots of animals have been waiting all winter for anything green so I’m sure they’ll be happy to see green grass again. I’ve seen both porcupines and muskrats eating dead grass in winter.

I went back to see how the cold had affected the spring blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) and found that all of the petals had rolled themselves back into the wooly buds so they didn’t get damaged. With 60 degrees right around the corner I’m guessing that they’ll be in full bloom by the weekend.

The thing that surprised me most was finding crocuses showing color. Though this flower bed isn’t in my yard I know it well enough to know that it has quite a few reticulated irises in it and they have always bloomed before the crocuses. Maybe the gardener pulled up all the irises? I don’t know.

Wandering souls discover sleepless dreams. ~Paul Sachudhanandam

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There is an old stone wall in Swanzey that I like to follow in winter because it has a southern exposure, and that coupled with evergreen branches overhead usually means that very little snow is on the ground. This year though, I got there to find that all the pine trees along the wall had been cut so there was snow right up to the wall. It’s still a great place to explore, so the bit of snow I got in my hiking boots didn’t really bother me. The reason the stones look like they do in this photo is because they are almost completely covered by rock greenshield lichens (Flavoparmelia baltimorensis).

Rock greenshield lichens are very common in this area and are another of those bits of nature that you see so often they no longer register, but when you take the time to look closer you find that they are quite pretty. They must like it here because they cover entire lengths of this wall. It had rained all day the day before so all the lichens I saw were at peak beauty.

The bushy rock lichen (Ramalina intermedia) I first found here a couple of years ago has grown quite a lot and there are even smaller ones growing under it now. Lichen communities grow in succession with many varieties of crustose lichens as pioneers. Foliose lichens come next as intermediary species and finally fruticose lichens like this one are considered climax species. What I don’t know is, how much time is between pioneer and climax? Climax communities of lichens are considered “old growth” communities.

The sun tried to come out but the clouds won the battle.

I believe there must have been animals kept here in the past because holes were drilled into stones and steel rods inserted into them to increase the wall height by about a foot and a half. Each rod has a flattened tip with a hole in it and the hole most likely had wire passed through it. It was fairly common practice in New England.  Stone walls were usually too low to be effective and cows and other farm animals often jumped right over them, so their height was increased by adding wire or other materials. You had to pay a fine if your animals escaped and were caught roaming free. They were brought to the town pound and the owner had to pay to get them back plus the cost of feeding them.

As the steel ground against the granite over the years the holes were made bigger so cut nails were driven in beside the rods to keep them straight. The cut nails seen here date the steel rods to sometime between 1800 and 1900, but the wall itself has been here I think since the mid-1700s.

Because it’s so warm near stone walls in the winter plants like to grow along them. Common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) thrives here. This European native is common here and has been used medicinally for centuries. Its leaves have also been used as a tea substitute and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the early settlers brought it with them.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) also does well here along the wall. In fact there is an amazing variety of plants growing on or near this wall. Native Americans used tea made from mullein’s large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

This is a shot of one of the roots of a very old pine stump. They looked to be slowly rotting away but the wave pattern in this one caught my eye. You don’t see things like this every day.

Pixie cup lichens (Cladonia asahinae) grow all along the wall. The tiny little golf tee shaped parts are the fruiting bodies of this lichen. Spores produced in them will be splashed out of the cup by raindrops.  Pixie cups almost always produce large groups of fruiting bodies like these.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) grow all along the wall in sunnier spots. They are quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun.

All of the sudden I’m seeing lots of chipmunks, and here was a chipmunk burrow. These little rodents, bigger than a mouse but smaller than a squirrel, store food for winter in underground chambers and stay underground until spring. In spring they’re usually very hungry, hence all the activity. They love to run along stone walls as well and often follow me through the woods that way, chirping and chucking the whole way.

Some of the stones here are like quilts with such a patchwork of lichens on them.

The most common stone walls in this area are “tossed walls.” Farmers worked from dawn to dusk in Colonial New England and tossed walls required the least amount of time and effort because smaller stones were literally tossed or thrown on top of one another. In the early years getting rid of the plentiful stones quickly and efficiently was more important than enclosing the fields, but this farmer took the time to build a seat into this wall. It’s at the perfect height to sit on (I tried it) and wide enough for two people.

Near the stone seat is an iron ring in the wall where a horse could be hitched. Both the stone seat and hitching ring are in the shadiest part of this property so it makes perfect sense that this would be the place to sit and have lunch.

The farmer could even have had black raspberries for lunch, in season. They grow in several places along the wall.

As time passed barbed wire was often added to stone walls to keep animals in or out. This wire grew out of the very center of a pine tree, so it was tacked onto the tree quite a while ago. Running their saw into steel wire is one of a wood cutter’s worst nightmares come true but many things have been found inside trees, from axe heads to gravestones to even bicycles.

This chain hook is one of my favorite bits of antique iron work that I find here. A link from a chain would have been hooked over it and then another link hooked over a similar hook a certain distance away. Chains were (and are) often hung across roads or driveways as a way to say “no admittance.”  What I like about this example is the way the blacksmith tapered the hook over its length and finally ended it in what looks like a dragon’s tail. You can still see the marks of the hammer all along its length. It’s a beautiful thing and if I owned it, especially since my grandfather was a blacksmith, it would be considered a work of art.

Even in silhouette pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) can be readily identified by the long stalks that held its berries. What surprised me by these plants is how they were still standing. Pokeweed stems weaken quickly at ground level and it doesn’t usually take much snow to bring them down. 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.

A small oak tree hung on to its fall color and was beautiful on this cloudy, wet day. I loved seeing its bright cheery colors.

The truth is not in the touch of a stone, but in what the stone tells you. ~Rene Denfeld

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For this post I’m going to try to take you through February, starting with the photo of puddle ice above. February was a cold and icy month but beautiful too. The average February temperature usually runs between 16.5°F (-8.6°C) and 31.5°F (-0.3°C) so ice doesn’t come as a surprise.

February was also a snowy month with storm after storm coming through. According to state records in Concord, the state capital, on average snow falls for 10.2 days in February and typically adds up to about 7.36 inches. We’ve had all of that, as the waist high snowbanks on the side of the road I travel to work on show.

The snow and ice might have built up but the finger of open water in Half Moon Pond reached further out into the pond each day. In February days have the least amount sunshine with an average of only about 4 hours per day, so things like this take time. The clouds seen in this shot are typical on an average February day.

But the sun does shine and slowly, the days get longer.

I’ve read that the reflection of sunlight from snow can nearly double the intensity of the Sun’s UV radiation. This photo of a fertile sensitive fern frond was taken in natural light that was reflecting off the snow and it looks like I used a flash.  

Here is another sensitive fern fertile frond which has released its spores. This was another attempt at catching sunlight on snow. It isn’t easy to do because it’s so very bright. If you stare at it too long you can experience snow blindness, which thankfully is usually only temporary. Still, bright sunlight on snow isn’t good for the eyes especially if you have glaucoma, so I try to always wear sunglasses.

Animals like turkeys, deer and squirrels have been digging up the snow looking for acorns.

And then one day the sunshine was different; it felt like a warm breath, and the melting began in earnest. That’s how spring always begins, but it is something that can never be proven to those who don’t believe. It doesn’t matter if it is February, March or April, spring always begins with that sense; the knowing that something has changed. You feel it and you know it but you can’t explain it, even though you know that from this point on there will be other, more visible signs.

Anything dark colored like this white cedar branch absorbed warmth from the sun and melted down into the snow.

Here a basswood tree limb was doing the same.

At this time of year each tree in the forest may have a melt ring around it as the basswood in the above shot does. A study done by Emeritus Professor of Botany Lawrence J. Winship of Hampshire College, where he used an infrared thermometer to measure heat radiated by tree trunks, found that the sunny side of a red oak was 54 degrees F. while the shaded side was just 29 degrees F. And the ground temperature was also 29 degrees, which means it was frozen. This shows that trees really absorb a lot of heat from the sun and it must be that when the heat is radiated back into the surroundings it melts the snow. The professor found that the same was true on fence posts and stumps so the subject being alive had nothing to do with it, even though a living tree should have much more heat absorbing water in it.

As the snow melts things that fell on it months ago reappear, like these basswood berries (actually nutlets). That bract is a modified leaf, called a tongue by some, which helps the berries fly on the winds. These didn’t make it very far from the tree however. Native Americans used many parts of the basswood tree, including the berries, as food and also boiled its sweet sap. The fibers found in the tree’s bark were used to make twine and cordage used for everything from sewing to snowshoes. In fact the word “bass” is a mispronunciation of the Native word “bast”, which is their word for one of the types of fiber made from the tree.

No longer moistened by snow melt, this moss growing on a stone was looking quite dry. From here on out it will have to depend on rain.

As the sun warms stones many times you’ll see the frost coming out of them. That’s what the white was in this shot. It doesn’t usually last long so it’s one of those being in the right place at the right time things.

Maple syrup makers hung their sap buckets about the third week of February as usual. Nobody knows when or where sap gathering started but most agree that it was learned from Native Americans. They used to cut a V notch into the bark of a tree and then put a wedge at the bottom of the cut. The sap would drip from the wedge into buckets made of bark or woven reeds, or sometimes into wooden bowls. They would then boil it down until it thickened and became syrup. Since it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup sap gathering was and still is a lot of work.

Winter dark fireflies (Ellychnia corrusca) have appeared on trees. According to Bugguide.net, these fireflies can be a pest in sap buckets in the spring because they like maple sap, and they will also drink from wounds in maple trees. They like to sun themselves on the sunny side of trees or buildings, and this one was happy to do so on an old oak. Most fireflies live as larvae in rotting wood and forest litter near water and stay in the area they were born in, even as adults. They like it warm and humid but they weren’t getting much of either on this February day. They don’t seem to be afraid of people at all; I’ve gotten quite close to them several times.

Buoyed by sap flow and insect activity I thought I’d visit the swamp where the skunk cabbages grow and see if they were up yet.

They were up and that tells me the hazelnuts will most likely be flowering before long. Inside the skunk cabbage’s mottled spathe is the spadix, which is a one inch round, often pink or yellow, stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. I’d say it’ll be another week or so before I see them. The spathes seem extremely red this year. They’re usually a deep maroon color. Alder catkins, which are also a maroon / purple color, are also red this year, from here to Scotland. I can’t even guess why.

Of course I had to check the bulb beds, and there were indeed shoots up out of the soil. I’m not positive but I think these were crocus. Since I don’t own the bulb bed I can never be 100 percent sure.

Reticulated irises are usually the first bulb to bloom and they were up and looking good, but no buds yet.

In one bed daffodils seemed to be rushing up out of the ground.

These daffodils were about four inches tall, I’d guess. They looked a little blanched from coming up under the snow but they’ll be fine. They won’t bloom for a while though.

The willows are showing their silvery catkins so it won’t be long before the bushes are full of beautiful yellow flowers.

I hoped I’d be able to show you flowers at the end of this post and the spring blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) came through. I was beside myself with joy when I turned a corner and saw them blooming. We might see cold and we might see more snow but there is no turning back now. Spring, my favorite season, has begun in this part of the world. I might have to tie myself to a rock to keep from floating away.

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

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