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Archive for the ‘Fungi’ Category

Toward the end of November I decided to take a walk up the old abandoned road that leads through the Beaver Brook natural area in Keene. I hadn’t been there in a while and since I had just tangled with Covid I thought the slight gradient of the old road would let me gently test my lungs and make sure they were still working as they should. Surprisingly I didn’t get winded at all; good news I thought, considering all I had heard about Covid.

I saw many beautiful things there that day but I would have been happy just seeing the mosses. They always seem so much greener and more vibrant in colder weather.

The brook was rushing along, not quite as high as I had imagined it would be but still with a bit of a roar to it. It has many voices, this little brook. In summer it becomes tame and moves slowly, giggling and chuckling shyly as it spills over the rocks in its bed. In winter it often becomes nearly mute, its voice muffled by a covering of thick ice. It can still be heard, but as if from a distance. In spring and fall, due to snow melt or excessive rain it swells up and shouts, sometimes with a deafening roar. Only one thing about it never changes, and that is its beauty.

There are a few pretty views along the brook and this is one of my favorites. I hadn’t gone there that day with a blog post in mind but I had a cell phone camera and the small Olympus I use for macro photos and in the end, I was glad I had brought them.

Of course, I had to stop and see my old friend the smoky eye boulder lichen that lives here because it is a beautiful thing. Both the way the light falls on it and the color of the thallus or body of the lichen make it stand out from other examples I’ve seen. Why it has this golden, orangey brown color I don’t know, and I also don’t know why the fruiting bodies always seem so blue or lavender when they are usually gray. It has to be the special way the light falls on it in this particular spot. Seeing it again is always like finding a jewel.

The squiggly black apothecia have appeared on the script lichens, as they always seem to do in the cold weather. If you look at them extremely closely, they look like the body of the lichen has been torn or cut open, and they erupt from it rather than sitting on it. But whatever happens when they appear, they leave no trace when they disappear. If you come here in warmer months all you will find are the white / gray body of these lichens, like spots on the tree’s bark.

I stopped at what I call the boulder fall. I’ve found mosses here that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

And one of those mosses is the pretty little rose moss. This moss likes limestone and since this area isn’t rich in limestone it always leaves me guessing. Somehow two or three of the boulders must have at least some limestone in them. I first found this moss on just one stone years ago and now it is on at least three of them, so it must be happy here.

Another rare moss that grows here is the glittering wood moss, also called stair step moss because of the way new growth comes up out of the midrib of the previous year’s growth. It looks delicate but I’ve seen it encased in ice in winter and still looking fine in spring. Not surprising since it can withstand conditions in the Arctic tundra. It sparkles in the light so “glittering” is a good description.

For years I’ve thought that snow load was what made our evergreen ferns splay out on the ground but this year we have no snow and they are still hugging the ground, so that theory has to be let go of. I recently read this on Westborough Massachusetts Community Land Trust page: “When the green fronds are on the ground, warmth from the earth keeps them warmer than they would be if they stood up in the wind and cold air. The fern’s stems weaken near the ground in autumn, helping the fronds to fall over.” That does make sense but I wonder where that information originally came from. I believe the fern in the photo is a marginal wood fern, but I didn’t check for spore cases.

A big old red maple tree had fallen and someone had come along and cut off all its branches. This tree had target canker but that doesn’t kill trees, as far as I know.

Target canker won’t kill a tree but it can certainly keep one busy by causing its bark to grow in circular patterns of new, thin bark plates, which helps protect it from the canker. According to Cornell university: “A fungus invades healthy bark, killing it. During the following growing season, the tree responds with a new layer of bark and undifferentiated wood (callus) to contain the pathogen. However, in the next dormant season the pathogen breaches that barrier and kills additional bark. Over the years, this seasonal alternation of pathogen invasion and host defense response leads to development of a ‘canker’ with concentric ridges of callus tissue—a ‘target canker.’” You can see the pattern of new, thin bark plates the tree grew each year in this photo. I count at least ten, so that means this tree fought off the invader for at least ten years. There are some things which once seen can never be forgotten, and target canker is one of those.

I saw what I think was a white cheese polypore on a fallen branch. It grows on hardwood logs and causes white rot, and gets its common name from its scientific one (Tyromyces chioneus). Tyromyces means “with a cheesy consistency,” and chioneus means “snow white.” These mushrooms are big enough to be seen from a distance and when they are fresh, they have a pleasing fragrance that some think is like cheesecake. Mushroom Expert. com says it is “just about the most boring mushroom going,” but it is a winter mushroom and I’m always happy to see mushrooms in winter. There is also a blue cheese polypore and a green cheese polypore.

From boring to beautiful; this must be the most colorful display of turkey tail fungi that I’ve seen. It was beautiful, with its many different colors all in the same growth. No matter how many times I come here I always see something I’ve never seen before, and that is why it pays to revisit the same places again and again.

I was surprised to find a little ice on the ledges. It has been cold some nights but all in all this has been a very mild winter so far. I doubt there is any ice to speak of in the deep cut rail trail where ice climbers usually practice.

This is one of my favorite reasons to visit Beaver Brook; to see what I call the “disappearing waterfall,” because it only appears when we’ve had enough rain to get it going. It’s a beautiful thing and in the spring, I’ve seen people standing in line waiting to get to the spot where you can get the best photo of it.

I saw two splotches of color on the end of a log and I thought I recognized them.

As I thought, they were wrinkled crust fungi (Phlebia radiata) but they weren’t quite as colorful as others I had seen. I suspected they were young examples which might change as they aged, so I decided to return in a week to see if they had. These winter fungi are rare in my experience and well worth a second look.

This photo of a wrinkled crust fungus I took years ago shows what I was hoping to find upon my return but no, the fungi in the previous photos hadn’t changed at all. A quick online search showed that they can be very beautiful like this example or rather plain like the previous example. Like many things in nature, finding them is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and paying attention. Unlike some fungi it’s hard to predict where or when they’ll choose to grow, though they do seem to like cold weather.

And speaking of being in the right place at the right time; as I was leaving Beaver Brook after my second look at the wrinkled crust fungi the afternoon sun decided to shine right up the brook. It was something I had never seen happen before and it seemed like a final, beautiful exclamation point to mark the end of my journey through a place filled with beauty.

Look at places no one looks at, so you can see the things no one sees.
~
Mehmet Murat ildan

Thanks for coming by.

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We’re having another one of those strange, almost snowless winters so far this season but even though it hasn’t been snowy it has been cold enough for ice to form, so in early December I decided to visit a stream near my neighborhood. Last year I found beautiful lacy ice all along it but this time as you can see, there was no ice.

There was frost on the lawns, so I thought for sure there would be ice on the stream.

A little neighborhood pond had a thin film of ice on it.

But there was little to no ice to be found here at the stream. No matter; there are always interesting things to see, like this pronounced meander in the stream. When I first started coming here it was nothing like this but over the years flooding has dumped a lot of sand and gravel in a pile over there on the left, forcing the stream to move more and more to the right. As it moves it washes soil away from tree roots and many trees have fallen.

I stopped to admire some beech leaves. The beech is a tree that gives beauty to the forest all year long.

I also saw some colorful turkey tail fungi on a stump. Part of their scientific name is versicolor, and it’s a good one. I’ve seen these come in pink, orange, blue, purple, and everything in between. They’re one of the most colorful fungi I know of and winter is a good time to find them. As far as I know no one has ever discovered what causes their many variations in color.

I looked back to where I had come from and saw how the stream meander is slowly cutting into the hillside and washing it away; a mountain slowly turning to sand. I thought the low sun falling on the green plants was a beautiful scene. It showed how, around every corner, there is the very real possibility of finding staggering beauty of the kind we’ve never seen. We need to learn to stop and let the beauty of life seep into us until it fills every part of our being; until the word Hallelujah comes to us naturally, without a thought.

One of the things I come here to see are the tree mosses. When I first started coming here there was a group of maybe ten plants right at the water line but now, they have grown away from the stream and there are hundreds of them. They must like wet ground because this place floods regularly and they often spend part of their life underwater. They’re beautiful little things and I’d like to see them in more places but so far this is the only place I’ve ever found them.

This unknown creature grew on a tree and though I was sure I had seen it before I couldn’t remember its name. It looks almost like a crustose lichen with an area of something else growing through it but I can’t imagine what that something else would be. In the end I decided it didn’t matter. Memories are like dogs that come when you call them but otherwise lie silent and still. Sometimes they don’t come at all, and seem so far off I can’t tell if they are even there anymore. The effort it takes to recall them doesn’t seem worth whatever limited value they may have. They are like things stored in the attic; not worth climbing the stairs to see, but seemingly still too precious to throw away. They sit gathering dust but one day they will have to go, so why bother adding to the pile by gathering up more of them? Let each day start fresh and shining brightly, unobscured by the film of dust that is yesterday.

This is a two-part post; what you’ve seen so far happened one day and what you will see from here on happened on another. Luckily the sun was shining brightly on both days. I would have loved to have been able to see it the way this NASA photo shows it.

On the second day I went to the stream, about three weeks later, there was ice. Strangely though, at nearly 40 degrees F. this day was warmer than the first.

Last winter when I came here, I found beautiful, lacy ice covering the surface of the stream but this year I saw mostly splash ice. Splash ice forms when running water splashes droplets up on cold surfaces, where they freeze almost immediately. It can be beautiful; all of what we see here is splash ice.

Ice curtains along the banks showed how the water level had dropped, with ribbons of ice forming at each different level.

This view is looking down on ice similar to that in the previous photos.

This ice sculpture grew on a twig that hung out over the stream.

This very thin, clear pane of ice had water droplets hanging from its underside.

This ice reminded me of the bullseye glass windowpanes you can still see in very old houses. Before modern glass making came along glass windowpanes were blown from a gob of molten glass that was spun at the end of the blowpipe until it formed a large disc. Rectangular windowpanes were cut from the disc with the outer, thinner, clearer panes sold to the wealthy and the inner, thick, wavy panes with the pontil mark bullseye in the center sold to the poor. You couldn’t see anything out of them but they did let in light and that was what was important. I can’t even guess how this ice would have formed to look just like them.

Neither can I explain why this bit of dead grass had a ray of sunlight falling on it.

I’ve heard that very white ice is white because it has a lot of oxygen in it, so maybe all the bubbles in this piece go along with that theory. It must have gotten very cold very quickly to freeze bubbles in place.

The only thing you can expect from ice is the unexpected, because no two pieces will ever be alike. Ice helps teach us that we should go into nature with no expectations and just enjoy what we see.

On the way home this scene looked more like March than December. Now into January without plowable snow in my yard, it looks to be another unusual winter. I hope you enjoyed coming along through the snowless woods. In a normal winter we wouldn’t have been able to go without snowshoes.

The wise man knows that it is better to sit on the banks of a remote mountain stream than to be emperor of the whole world. ~ Zhuangzi (c. 369 BC – c. 286 BC)

Thanks for coming by.

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It had been about six years since I followed an old class 6 road in Swanzey and something brought it to mind the other day, so I thought I’d give it a go. I remembered it being very shaded and since it was a hot, humid day shade was called for. Here in New Hampshire a class 6 designation means that a road isn’t maintained by either the state or the town so traveling it could be rough going. Though they are public ways they are roads that are more or less forgotten except by hikers and snowmobilers. This one dates from the mid-1800s and if you walked it for maybe 2 days, you would eventually come out on the road to Chesterfield, which is now route 9.

The road follows along a brook which is named California Brook, for reasons I’ve never been able to uncover. It has its start in the town of Chesterfield and runs southeast to the Ashuelot River in Swanzey. There were at least two mills on the brook in the early 1800s, and it was said to be the only waterway in Swanzey where beavers could be found in the 1700s. They’re still here, almost 300 years later.

The forest is made up of young trees, mostly hemlock but some maple and birch as well.

Stone walls tell the story of why the forest is young. This land was all cleared at one time and I’ve read that at least three families lived out here. Most likely in the 1800s. It might have been sheep pasture, which was a common use for this stone filled land.

But the road was very different than it was the last time I was out here, and I wondered who would go to all of the expense of making an old abandoned road useable.

The road had been hardened with 1-inch crushed stone, which is terrible stuff to walk on if it hasn’t been compacted. This hadn’t been compacted so in places it was almost like walking on marbles.

Even the old rotted bridge had been replaced. There is only one reason someone would go to all this trouble and expense to get out here.

And the reason is logging, just as I suspected. It looked like they were taking the softwood and leaving the hardwood to grow. In any event, it certainly wasn’t the first time this land had been logged off and I couldn’t worry about what was being done on someone else’s land.

Colonies of heal all (Prunella lanceolata) grew on both sides of the road and I was happy to see them. They are also called self-heal and have been used medicinally since ancient times. They are said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how the plant got its common name. In fact the plants were once thought to be a holy herb sent by God to cure man’s ills. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

Maybe happiness is a large part of the cure that heal all brings to man. Seeing them certainly brightens my day. Their happy faces and wide-open mouths always seem to be cheering life on. I can almost hear them shouting yay! As I’ve said before, I think all flowers are happy simply because they’re alive; they exist. All of nature is in a state of ecstasy because it simply is. We could learn a lot from its example.

Hobblebushes have set fruit. The berries will go from green to bright red and then deep, purple black as they grow and ripen. They won’t last long once ripe.

I saw a big, soccer ball size burl on a red maple. It would have been the perfect size to make a bowl out of. They’re valuable to woodworkers because just about anything made from burl is beautiful and commands top dollar. A burl is an abnormal growth on a tree that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage. Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and/or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. That’s the theory, anyhow.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) grew all along the roadside in large numbers. This one still had a raindrop on it.

Coltsfoot also grew in great numbers out here and if I can remember that, next spring I’ll come back and find some of the earliest blooming flowers.

My find of the day was this many headed slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) I saw growing on a log beside the road. It was in its plasmodium stage and was quite big.  When slime molds are in this state, they are usually moving-very slowly. Slime molds are super sensitive to drying out so they usually move at night but they can be found on cloudy, humid days as well. It was a hot and humid day and this particular spot was very shaded, so it was just right for slime mold activity.

Through a process called cytoplasmic streaming slime molds can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Scarcity of food is what drives them on, always searching for bacteria and yeasts to feed on. As this photo shows, slime mold plasmodium is a mass of glistening vein-like material (actually a single-celled amoeba) that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil. They are fascinating beings that behave like a flock of birds or a school of fish, and science just can’t seem to figure them out.

I was hoping that I might also see some fungi out here but all I saw were these tinder polypores (Fomes fomentarius) on a very dead beech. They do like beech trees. I see them more on beech than any other tree. This one was so old its bark was flaking off but the fungi were still able to get what they were after from it. Since woodpeckers had been at it too, I’m sure it was full of insects. Most likely carpenter ants. Tinder polypores produce huge amounts of spores; measurements in the field have shown that they release as many as 800 million spores per hour in the spring and summer.

The first time I came out here I saw the biggest beaver dam I’ve ever seen. It was high enough to be over my head in height, but the last time I came out here it was gone. I thought that if the dam had let go there had certainly been some serious flooding somewhere, but I’ve never seen any signs of it.  Anyhow, here was another beaver pond. I couldn’t see the dam but they’re at it again.

I should say that I’m not happy with many of the photos that I took with my new cell phone. I went into a phone store hoping they could fix a small issue I was having with an app on my Google Pixel 4A phone and the person behind the counter noticed that I had a 3G sim card in the phone. “You really should have a 5G sim card,” he said. “This is a 5G phone.” To make a long story short the 5G sim card he put in apparently destroyed the Pixel’s ability to connect to the internet, so they had to give me a new phone of “equal or greater value.” Well, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE they gave me as a replacement is indeed of greater value because it cost $200.00 more than I paid for the Pixel, but the Samsung’s camera can’t touch the Pixel’s camera, and for that reason it has little value to me. In my opinion it’s okay for making phone calls, but not much else.

There are ditches alongside the road and since it had rained that morning they had water in them, and they also had northern water horehound (Lycopus uniflorus) growing beside them. This plant is in the mint family and has a square stem as so many of the plants in that family do. Soon the plants will have tiny white flowers blooming where the leaves meet the stem. The foliage is said to be very bitter and possibly toxic, but Native Americans used the tuberous roots for food. I don’t know what birds or animals eat the seeds, but muskrats love the roots. Another name for the plant is northern bugleweed and I almost always find it near water.

I saw lots of mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) and I ran my hands through it hoping for lucid mugwort dreams, but I can’t remember anything special. Mugwort is supposed to make dreams much more vivid and also increases the chances that the dreamer will rmember their dreams. A year or two ago I ran my hands through it a few times and really did have some wild dreams, so there must be something to it. The plant has mild hallucinogenic properties and is considered a “magic herb.” It has been used by man for thousands of years; the earliest writings regarding it are from 3 BC. in China. It is also one of the herbs recorded in the Anglo-Saxon nine herbs charm from the tenth century and by all accounts was and still is considered a very important plant. If you enjoy reading about plants mugwort lore could easily fill an entire book. When you have a spare hour or two just Google “mugwort.”

Purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) grew in the shadiest places because the big, hand size, light gathering leaves lets it do so. Its common name comes from its fruit, which looks like a raspberry but is about as big as the tip of your thumb. I tasted one once and tasted nothing but there are people who say they’re delicious.

I was happy to see this cave at the side of a still pool in the stream again. From a distance it looks big enough to walk into by ducking a little, but not small enough to have to crawl into. Every time I see it, it calls loudly to the hermit in me, but it also looks big enough to easily hold a bear or two so I haven’t ever dared go near it while out here alone. Maybe if someone was with me to get me back if anything happened, or maybe if I had a rifle and a strong flashlight, but not alone. It’s too bad; I wouldn’t mind spending some time here. It’s an idyllic spot with the stream running just outside the entrance and a mossy bank to lounge on, and a cave to stay dry in. Inside myself I know living here for a while wouldn’t be a hard choice to make but this is known bear country, so I suppose you would always wonder what was going to come through that entrance, and that might be a hard way to live. I’ll just have to live it in a dream, I guess. Maybe a mugwort dream.

I was surprised to see that branch still sticking out of the tree on the right. It has been that way for many years, but when I first came out here the branch was still attached to the tree on the left. I think the tree with the wound grew up through the branches of the tree on the left and the wind made the wounded tree rub against the other’s branch. Over time the tree grew and its wound got deeper until now it has partially healed over the offending branch. When I first saw it, I thought that one day it would heal over completely but now I doubt it. It’s an unusual thing to see and this is the only time I’ve seen it happen.

I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected to everything. ~Alan watts

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a happy 4th!

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I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog lately that I’ve been doing a lot of walking, so I thought I’d show you some of the things I see on these walks. If I choose to go this way, I can see a pond full of water plants like burr reed and yellow pond lilies. The big circular plant colonies are all yellow pond lilies, and they appear to be trying to take over the pond.

I’ve seen lots of hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) on an old hemlock stump and the pile of logs beside it. For the first time I’ve had a chance to see these mushrooms grow day by day and I can now understand that they grow quite fast. This one went from looking like a piece of dough to what we see here in less than two weeks. It’s about the size of a salad plate; less diameter than a dinner plate but more than a saucer. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom, and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

Swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) burned brightly in roadside ditches. This is our first yellow loosestrife to bloom each year and I sometimes see them in great numbers. They like wet places and often grow right where the water meets the shore. In fact my knees were getting wet so this isn’t a very good shot.

Soft or common rush (Juncus effusus) also grew in a ditch alongside the road. Ditches are always a good place to find a variety of plants that like wet feet, like rushes and sedges. Soft rush can form large clumps and are easy to grow. They’re interesting if placed here and there around garden ponds.

Sedge stems are triangular and have edges but soft rush stems are smooth and cylindrical, with a light pith inside. They feel soft if you pinch them, not sharp. The flower head, shown in the above photo, looks like it grows from one side of the stem but the stem actually ends at the flowers. Anything appearing above the flowers is a bract, not part of the stem. The flowers are tiny and not showy, but overall the plant is pleasing to the eye.

Gray’s sedge (Carex grayi) always reminds me of the spiky mace weapons that knights used in the Middle Ages. A botanist would say this about that: each spikelet consists of a globoid cluster of perigynia that radiate in all directions. A perigynium is a fleshy cup or tube, which in this case comes to a point or beak. Coming out of each beak are the flowers, which are what look like threads in this photo. They start out white and brown as they age. Gray’s sedge is named after Asa Gray, who wrote Grays Manual of Botany in 1848. I read my copy about 50 years ago and have used it many times since that initial reading. If you have trouble sleeping at night just read Asa’s manual for a half our or so before bedtime. You’ll sleep like a stone.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) had recently flowered and I knew that because the tiny threads at the ends of the perigynia were still white. This common sedge is also called bottlebrush sedge. Waterfowl and other birds love its seeds.

Curly dock (Rumex crispus) has flowered and is now producing its tiny winged seeds, which look a bit like stalks full of flakes.

If you look closely, you will see that each flake, which is more like a wing, has a tiny seed on it. It looks like a seed pearl at this stage but as they ripen and age the seed and its wing will turn brownish. Finally they will fall from the plant and the wind will catch the tiny wings and blow them to new places to grow. They will often persist through winter and fall the following spring. Since March is the windiest month, it is a sensible strategy for a plant that depends on the wind to get around.

Marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris) is another ditch loving plant that likes full sun and wet feet. This one had a fern ball on its tip. Fern balls appear at the tip of a fern frond and look like what the photo shows. Inside the ball is a caterpillar, which has pulled the tip of the fern into a ball shape and tied it up with silk. Once inside the shelter they feed on the fern leaflets and live completely in the fern ball until they are ready to become a moth. Emily Dickinson once wrote “To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else,” and I wonder if she didn’t see a fern ball just before she wrote it.  

Native Americans called blueberries star berries, and now you know why; the blossom end of each berry forms a five-pointed star. They used blueberries, and also the plant’s leaves and roots, medicinally as well as for food. They cultivated the bushes and made a pudding out of corn meal and water and added the blueberries to it. They then baked it, and it saved the life of many a European settler, as did their pemmican.

I see several native catalpa trees (Catalpa speciosa) on my walks and right now they’re in full bloom and very beautiful. It’s like looking at a tree full of orchids.

Catalpa flowers are big; your index finger will fit right in there. The trees they grow on are also very big and a mistake I see people make over and over again is planting them too close to their house. Catalpa, for all its beauty, is also a messy tree. First the spent flowers fall by the thousands in early summer, and then in fall the giant heart shaped leaves turn yellow and fall. In the spring the seedpods come down. These are like two-foot-long string beans and they make quite a mess. It is a tree that creates a lot of work if planted where everything that falls from it has to be raked up but in spite of all of this if someone asked me if they should plant a catalpa I’d say absolutely, just keep it away from the house. Plant it at the edge of the property, or by a pond if you have one.

I saw a bittersweet nightshade plant (Solanum dulcamara) coming up out of the center of a yew, and it was loaded with its pretty blue and yellow flowers. It might be pretty but it’s a real stinker, and if you break the stems, you’ll smell something unusual. It produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic, so that might account for the smell. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. It’s originally from Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes. The fruit is a red berry, which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. I wouldn’t eat one though.

I like the flowers when they’re fully open like this one but you have to be quick to catch them this way because the petals recurve quickly. You can see that most of them have done so in the previous photo. Cranberry flowers do the same thing.

A button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) was budding up and preparing to flower. It will have a perfectly spherical flower head that looks a lot like a pincushion before it is through. I’ve seen lots of button bush flowers but apparently, I’ve never paid any attention to the buds. These reminded me of the game Jacks that we used to play long ago.

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) flowers open in rings as they circle their way up the flower stalk, starting at the bottom and working towards the top. Though an invasive from Europe and Asia English plantain prefers growing in soil that has been disturbed, so it isn’t often seen in natural areas where there is little activity. I see it in lawns more than anywhere else but I see more of it each year.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) has just started blooming. This now common plant wasn’t always common in this area. When I was a boy, I had a transistor radio and at night I used to fall asleep listening to it. One of the songs I could count on hearing every night was Polk Salad Annie by Tony Joe White. It was about a poor southern girl who had only pokeweed to eat because her mother was on a chain gang and her grandmother was eaten by an alligator. Her father and brothers were lazy, so all they had were the poke greens. Of course all of us school kids talked about both the song and the plant, but when we asked our parents what pokeweed was, they didn’t know. They just said it must be a southern plant, but no more; now it’s an everywhere plant, and it is big and noticeable.

Pokeweed flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and have 5 petal-like, rounded sepals. In the center of the flower are green carpels that come together and will form the purple black berry. Native Americans called the plant pocon and used the juice from the berries to decorate their horses. People still use it to dye wool today. If you’d like to hear the song about Polk Salad Annie that I used to hear in 1969, just click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCSsVvlj6YA

Pokeweed is toxic unless you get the early spring shoots and I’ve read that it can make you kind of crazy if you eat too much of it, so that might account for all the grunting and oohing you hear from Tony Joe White.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is having an amazing year and the plants are huge. It starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again. This plant was once so highly valued that it was traded among all the people of the earth, but now we hardly give it a glance. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and it was found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and its value was most likely due to its ability to staunch the flow of blood. The Achillea part of the scientific name comes from the Greek god Achilles, whose soldiers it is said, used the plant to treat their wounds. Because of its being so freely traded it is one of just a few plants that now grow on every continent except Antarctica. I see it everywhere I go.

Poplar seeds fall from the female trees and often find each other in the wind, and then roll into a ball of what looks like cotton. This is the reason the trees are also called cottonwoods. A tree 100 feet high and five feet across can grow from a seed just 5/32 of an inch long. For a certain amount of time in spring the air is filled with them.

Back when I was a boy everyone said that when the wind blew hard enough to show the bottoms of the leaves on trees like silver maple, it meant that it was going to rain. I have since learned that what it really means is that the wind is blowing, and nothing more. The strong wind might be caused by a front passing through, but that doesn’t always mean rain. On this day all the leaves were showing silver but we didn’t see a drop fall.

I like to watch grasses flower and turn purple, and one of the most purple of them all is Timothy, named after farmer Timothy Hanson, who began to cultivate and promote it in 1720. Each tiny flower on Timothy grass has three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas. I spent a lot of time when I was a boy chewing on a piece of this grass hanging while I walked the railroad tracks and as I’ve mentioned before, it is the grass I think of when I hear the opening line of the song Ventura Highway by the band America, which starts Chewing on a piece of grass, walking down the road… I just listened to it and it still sounds as good as it did in 1972. It reminds me of simpler times.

These are the leaves of staghorn sumac, which I see just about everywhere I walk and which in spring remind me of bamboo. Later on they’ll remind me of palm trees. If I’m lucky I’ll see them wearing bright red in the fall.

I hope you enjoyed this walk, just one of several that I do. There is nothing easier than walking; you don’t even have to choose where to go because the paths are just there and going right or left really doesn’t matter. I’ve always been more of a walker than a driver but until now I never really paid attention to the health benefits. I’m losing weight, my legs and knees feel better and I can breathe much easier than I could just a few months ago. I don’t think of distance or destination or anything else. I just walk until I’m ready to stop. If you’re healthy and interested open your door and start walking, and just see what you see. Give yourself the time and freedom to wander. You might be surprised by what you find.

The only way to understand a land is to walk it. The only way to drink in its real meaning is to keep it firmly beneath one’s feet. Only the walker can form the wider view. ~Sinclair McKay

Thanks for stopping in.

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I thought I’d take a break from flower posts this week, not because I’m tired of flowers but because my California friend Dave asked when he would see photos of shagbark hickory buds breaking. They’re easily as beautiful as a flower, but to see them I had to go to the banks of the Ashuelot River. This was no hardship because I started playing on the banks of this river when I was a boy and have loved doing so ever since.

It was beautiful along the river with all the new spring green leaves, but the water level has dropped considerably since the last time it rained. I think it has been close to two weeks since the last substantial rain, and many smaller streams are starting to dry up.

I saw lots of what I think were muskrat tracks in the mud along the shore.

And there were the new shagbark hickory leaves. I couldn’t catch the color I wanted on the bud scales (actually inner scales) in the bright sunshine so I went back the following day when it was cloudy. On this day the beautiful pinks, reds and oranges were easier to capture. It’s not just the light though; some inner bud scales are a single color and others are multi colored like these were. They also lose color quickly as they age so you just have to walk along the river bank and look until you find the one that speaks to you. Fortunately a lot of shagbark hickory buds usually break at the same time so they aren’t hard to find. They’re worth looking for because in my opinion, they’re one of the most beautiful things you’ll find in a spring forest.

This is what they look like when they have spread out to unfurl their leaves. It’s unusual to be able to see this because it usually happens far up in the tree tops, but for some reason in this area the beavers keep cutting the trees. New shoots regrow from the stump and the beavers leave them alone for a while before coming back and cutting them again. Thanks to the beavers there is always a good supply of buds at eye level.

The oaks have also broken their buds, and more new leaves appear each day. Oaks are one of the last buds to break.

Like the maples, oaks can have very colorful new leaves. I’ve seen them in white, pink, red, and just about every shade of green imaginable.

Some new oak leaves even have stripes, as these did. I saw a lot of these leaves in all stages of growth and they appeared to be changing from white to red, which accounted for the stripe. New oak leaves are always velvety and soft.

Some oaks are even showing flower buds already.

Here was a young oak that had barely unfolded its leaves and it was already being eaten by something. It also had three or four oak apple galls on it. They’re caused by a wasp (Amphibolips confluenta) called the oak apple gall wasp. Galls that form on leaves don’t harm the tree so they can be left alone. They’re always interesting to see.

Striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) are also flowering, with their green bell-shaped flowers all in a string. Sometimes they dangle under the big leaves and other times the wind blows them up and over the leaves as these were. There is only one maple in this region that flowers later, and that is the mountain maple (Acer spicatum).

If you want to see a beautiful, non-flowering plant called the woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) you’ll have to leave the trail and go into the forest, but it will be worth the effort to see the delicate, lacy foliage of what is considered the most beautiful of all the horsetails. I was happy to see that they had grown from what was a single plant a few years ago to ten or more now, so they like it here. I originally found them by following a beaver pond outflow stream into the woods.

Woodland horsetails like to grow in bright sunshine in very wet ground. Here they grow right along the water’s edge by this stream. They blend in easily with the foliage of other plants, so you have to walk slowly and look carefully. The sylvaticum part of the scientific name is Latin for “of the forest”, and that’s where you have to search for them.

I found what was left of a wild turkey egg shell by the stream where the woodland horsetail grows. Turkeys nest directly on the ground but I didn’t see any signs of a nest so I wonder if a predator didn’t carry the egg here to eat it. According to the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game turkeys lay an average of a dozen eggs in early to mid-May, only one per day, and they hatch after about 28 days, so either this hen laid her eggs early or this egg didn’t hatch. If a predator gets to her eggs she’ll lay another clutch in July or August, but normally they lay only once per year. This egg was tan colored, about the size of a hen’s egg I think, with brownish speckles all over it. New Hampshire has an estimated population of 45,000 turkeys. I see them everywhere but they’re almost always running into the woods as I drive by.

If I’m lucky I might see one beech seedling with its seed leaves still intact each year. Here is this year’s seedling. Seed leaves often look nothing like the true leaves. In the case of American beech they look more like flower petals than leaves but feel tough and leathery. On a beech seedling they will photosynthesize until the true leaves appear, and then once they are no longer needed, they will wither and fall off. In my experience they are a rare sight.

Each spring I look for the shoots of the white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda), and each spring they look absolutely identical to the ones I found the spring before. They always look to me like a small hand is holding the plant’s flower buds while an older “parent” gazes down lovingly at them. It always seems like a tender moment has been caught and frozen in time, and it’s always as if I’m seeing the exact same thing I saw the year before. I’ve seen lots of new spring shoots but these are the only ones I know of that never seem to change. They’re like an old friend who comes around once a year to remind me that some things never really change, even though it may seem as if they do.

Mr. robin wondered just what it was I was doing and hopped over to get a better look. Though most robins will hop or fly away if you get too close there are some that are very curious. If you let them come to you they’ll often get quite close, as this one did. I was on my knees taking photos so maybe he wondered why this human’s eyes were so close to the ground while others were not. I didn’t realize what eye movements could do to animals until I watched a show on PBS television that showed border collies herding sheep by using only their eyes. They never bark; it’s all done with eye movements. I’m hoping I remember never to stare into a bear’s eyes again.

I don’t know if this was two trees or one tree that split and grew this way but either way, I’m not sure what would have made it do this. Trees do some strange things.

A big dead white pine fell into a pond and stretched two thirds of the way across it. White pine (Pinus strobus) is New Hampshire’s tallest tree but you often don’t realize how tall they really are until they fall.  

A painted turtle looked like it was practicing its yoga exercises on a log, but really it was just releasing heat. I read that when they raise their feet like that it cools them off. Sometimes they look as if they’re trying to fly.

I went to the skunk cabbage swamp and not surprisingly, found it full of skunk cabbages. But that’s not the only reason I come here. Nearby, higher up on drier ground, our beautiful native azaleas (Rhododendron prinophyllum) bloom so I wanted to check their progress. It’ll be another week or so before we see the flowers, depending on the weather.

I saw something bright yellow in a drainage ditch and when I looked a little closer, I saw that the color was coming from swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans). Swamp beacons are interesting “aquatic” fungi and I find them in seeps and ditches where ground water stays on the surface year-round. They will be my first fungal find of the season.

Swamp beacons use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low-oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue, they aren’t found on twigs or bark. I almost always find them growing out of saturated oak leaves, as these were. They are small; about the size of a wooden match, and another name for them is matchstick fungus. These were some of the brightest colored examples that I’ve seen.

Treasures are hidden away in quiet places. They speak in soft tones and often become silenced as we approach. They don’t beg to be found, but embrace us if we do happen to find them. They are the product of completely ordinary circumstances unfolding in wonderfully extraordinary ways. They are found hidden in the nooks and crannies of our existence; all around us if we quit allowing our attention to be captivated by that which is noisy and listen for that which is quiet and still. ~Craig D. Lounsbrough

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I’ve been walking each day since the day after I retired and it has made my lungs feel so much better, so I thought I’d tackle climbing Mount Caesar in Swanzey. It was a beautiful spring day of the kind where it really doesn’t matter where you are or where you go, as long as you are outside.

I didn’t know it at the time I started the climb but this would be a day of firsts, and the first first was seeing goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) growing beside the trail. I can’t remember seeing it here before, though I’ve come here countless times. Any time now I should be seeing its tiny but very pretty white flowers. Once collected almost to the point of extinction, it has made a good comeback and I was happy to see that it had found its way here.

I’ve never seen a striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) here before either but here was a small tree, quietly lengthening its velvety buds. Those buds are one of the most beautiful sights in the forest in the early spring, in my opinion.

I don’t remember why I took this photo. Maybe to show what a beautiful day it was.

I stopped along the trail for a moment and happened to glance down and saw some small, hard black, cup shaped fungi that I’ve since found are called ebony cup fungi (Pseudoplectania nigrella.) The smallest one was about the size of a pencil eraser and the biggest maybe a half inch across. According to Wikipedia they like to grow in groups on soil, often amongst pine needles and short grass near coniferous trees, and that was the situation here except for mosses instead of grass. Wikipedia also says that they have a worldwide distribution, but are hard to see because of their small size and dark color. I wondered how many times I had walked by them without seeing them. It was just luck that I saw them on this day.

I’ve read that jays, nuthatches and even chickadees stash acorns in holes in trees. This wasn’t a hole but I guess it was good enough for stashing acorns in.

This trail is steadily uphill but it isn’t steep until you near the summit. I think most people could go up and down in an hour or less, as long as they didn’t stop to see anything. Since I stop to see everything, it takes me twice as long.

Here was something I’ll probably never see again. This branch fell from one of those maples and got stuck just as it is. I looked it over and there were no nails or screws, just fate and branch forks in the right places. All it needed was a sign hanging from it.

I was happy to see trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) growing along the trail. It wasn’t showing any flower buds but this wasn’t a very big plant, so they’ll come along in the future. This is another plant that is making a comeback after being collected almost into oblivion.

A huge tree fell long ago and I always stop here to catch my breath before I reach the steepest part of the trail. I didn’t see them at the time but now that I see the photo my question is, how did those stones get inside the log?

This isn’t just any old log; it has lots of interesting things to see on it no matter where you look, and one of those things is a fungus called ceramic parchment fungus (Xylobolus frustulatus.) Apparently it prefers shade because it only grows on the shaded surfaces of the log, like under that branch stub.

Here is a closer look at the fungus. I’ve never seen anything else like it but a helpful reader identified it the last time I showed it here. Its common name comes from the way it resembles broken ceramic tiles, put back together with black grout. I’ve read that it is found on the dry, well-decayed wood of oaks, so this must be an oak log. What a gigantic tree it must have been.

Here was the steepest part of the trail. I didn’t fly up it but I have to say that all the walking I’m doing has improved my lung power greatly over what it was just a short time ago. I didn’t have to take anywhere near as many breaks as I did the last time I climbed here.  

And here was the granite bedrock of the summit itself, where you realize that you’ve been climbing a huge granite dome covered by just a thin skin of soil.

I thought that I might see the red haze caused by millions of red maple flowers from up here but I couldn’t see any at all.

Instead I saw red maple flowers right here on the summit. Some of them can be seen on that tree on the right in this photo I took of clouds.

There weren’t a lot of red maple flowers up here but what were here seemed well balanced between male and female flowers.

The male red maple flowers had that beautiful light, what I call the light of creation, shining out of them. I’ve come to believe that everything created has that light. Sometimes it is dim and other times it shines brightly as it did here, but everything (and everyone) has it.

Staghorn sumac also grew on the summit. They seem to be slow to get going this year, or maybe it is just impatience on my part. They have nice red new leaves coming out of the buds in spring that I’d like to see.

If, when you’re in nature, something catches your eye, just sit with it for a while. While you’re sitting with the thing that interests you, be it a flower or a leaf or a stone or a toadskin lichen, study it. Get to know it. Study it as if you were going to have to write a paper describing it. See every little nuance, its color and shape, feel its texture, hear it whisper or see the movement it makes when the wind blows over it. Just let yourself fall into it. Forget about naming it, forget about missing the game yesterday or going to work tomorrow and just be there with it, without a thought of anything but what is there in front of you.

Take some photos or take some notes, and when you get home look them over. If you do this, before long you’ll know the thing that caught your attention better than you ever thought possible, and doing this regularly will mean the end of your looking but not seeing. Before long you’ll see with new eyes, and you’ll want to see more. Fortunately there is always plenty more to see.

I once met two college age girls coming off a trail. When I asked them if they had seen any wildflowers both said they hadn’t seen a single one. As soon as I had followed the trail for just a few yards I started seeing flowers everywhere. They were small but they were there, and I realized that day that even though some people look, they just don’t see. Don’t be one of them. You’ll miss so much of the beauty in this world.

I took the trail east from the summit for a few yards to see Mount Monadnock. I hope I wasn’t as close to the edge of that cliff as it appears when I took this photo, because it’s a long way down.

That’s better. I cropped the cliff out because heights give me the heebie jeebies and also, we can see the mountain a little better now. Henry David Thoreau said he’d rather see Mount Monadnock from a distance rather than see out from its summit because it was far more beautiful from a distance, and I agree. Once you’re up there it doesn’t look much different than right here does, and this is a much easier climb.

As I started back down the trail three mourning cloak butterflies spun in a whirlwind above my head and then disappeared. Or so I thought; this one landed on a fallen branch just out ahead of me. It sat there with its wings folded, so I waited for them to unfold. They would unfold and then quickly fold back together, and I would miss the shot. I tried and missed several times-anyone who has ever tried to photograph a butterfly knows what I mean-but then finally the beautiful wings opened and stayed open, just long enough to get what you see here.

A little further down the trail there was another one sunning itself on an outcrop. I’ve read that these butterflies mate in spring, which might account for the whirlwind behavior that I saw happening several times. They’re very pretty and I was happy to have seen them. Usually the way it works with me is, once I see something I begin to see it everywhere, so hopefully I’ll see more of these beautiful creatures.

I thought I’d leave you with some good advice I found on the summit. I find these painted stones just about everywhere I go these days.

Butterflies can’t see their wings. They can’t see how truly beautiful they are, but everyone else can. People are like that as well. ~Naya Rivera

Thanks for stopping in.

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I find the most satisfying times I spend in nature are when I go with no expectations. When I just go and see what I can see without any preconceived notions, I get the most out of it. So with that thought in mind I went to the Ashuelot River in Swanzey on one recent showery day. It was a good choice because I knew if it rained, I could get back to the car without getting too wet. The way the clouds looked I doubted that I would be there long.

The river was tame and had nothing much to say. Surprising, since the last time I came here to get photos of waves, it roared. It was out of its banks here for part of the winter and flooded parts of the area that I’d be visiting, so there was no telling what I’d see on this day.

The first thing I saw was a beautiful mussel shell tangled in the weeds. All the colors of a rainbow were in it and as I see it in the photo, I wish I had brought it home. There are lots of mussels in this section of river and the raccoons come down to the shore at night to enjoy them.

There was another shell, but what I was really taking this photo of were the interesting patterns in the sand. I’d guess that the lighter sand was drier than the darker but why it wasn’t all drying at the same rate was a mystery. What was not a mystery is why the sand was here. The river seems to flood more area each year in this spot and the silt gets deposited higher on its banks.

The water had just receded from this spot and here already were green spring shoots.

The wind had blown all the stuffing out of a bird’s nest. It was some type of fabric and I wondered where the bird had found it all.

The mosses were in many shades of green.

And the oak leaves were in many shades of brown. They were beautiful, as if they had been sculpted. I thought, if I could make a mold by carving an oak leaf into a block of wood, and then get a thin sheet of copper and hammer it into the mold, I would have a copper oak leaf. Then if I curled it and painted it just so, I could have a fair representation of what I see here, and I could see it every day. But then I thought, maybe what makes things like this so special is that we can’t see them every day. We just happen to run into them now and then and that’s why we stop and see, and admire and learn.

This was a bit unnerving. Silt on the trail meant that the river came up over the land here; the first time I’ve seen it happen. This bit of land is a small peninsula that juts out into the river and points like a finger downriver.

There is a huge old maple tree here that first lost one trunk and now it has lost the other. Woodpecker holes and lots of fungi tell the story.

I saw quite a few maple dust lichens growing on a muscle wood tree (Carpinus caroliniana.) Muscle wood is also called American hornbeam, and its wood is very dense and hard. It loves to grow by rivers and streams but it is short lived. I rarely see trees that are much bigger around than my leg, in fact. This one was just about that size but was leaning badly and will probably fall soon. You can see how its “tendons” ripple beneath its “skin” to give it its common name. It is also called blue beech and I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) growing on one.

The rough looking seedpods of witch hazel are everywhere out here. Something I’ve always wanted to see (or hear) is witch hazel seed pods exploding. They explode with force and can throw the seeds as far as 30 feet. I’ve read that you can hear them pop when they open and even though I keep trying to be there at the right time to see and hear it happening, I never have been.

A burl on a tree reminded me of all the beautiful things that can made from them. Anything made from a burl will be beautiful but also quite pricey. I’ve seen huge antique burl bowls that were just amazing but they were also valued in the thousands of dollars. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage. Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and/or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. I don’t know how that could follow with this young maple though. I suppose it might have been stressed but I didn’t see any damage.

Slowly, the river is cutting off the tip of the finger. From here on I’ve seen this entire tip of the peninsula under water a few times but there was a time not so long ago when I could walk right through here all the way to the point. Over across the water where all the silt is now thousands of violets used to bloom, and it was a shaded, beautiful spot where people liked to fish. Now as the river slowly erodes it away, it looks more waste land than the idyllic spot it once was.

Here is a view of the end of the peninsula completely under water after heavy rain in 2019. Each time this happens more of it goes.

The beavers had been busy, as they always are. They keep wounding this tree but have never cut it down. You can see this same tree to the far left in the previous photo. The beavers had chewed on it then, too.

There were either blue flag iris or cattails growing in the mud. Since I didn’t see any of what looked like last year’s cattail stems, I’m going to assume they’re irises.

A branch split away from this tree and revealed that it was completely hollow. It is just a shell with nothing inside so it won’t take much of a wind to blow it down. It’s amazing how many standing trees are completely hollow.

A large fugus lay on the ground by the hollow tree but I couldn’t see anywhere on the tree that it might have come from, so that was another mystery for this day.

The river had carved the sand in strange ways here. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like that.

This walk I thought, was like walking through an art gallery. The muscle shell, the patterns in this stone, and the way the river carved the sand were all beautiful, and I was grateful to have seen them. I can see a day in the not-too-distant future though, when the river will probably swallow all of it.

Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour. ~Walt Whitman

Thanks for coming by. Have a happy Easter!

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In spring it doesn’t matter where you walk because everything is fresh and new and beautiful, but there were some things I wanted to see that I couldn’t see anywhere else, so I chose the old rail trail up in Westmoreland where the wild columbines grow. It’s the only spot I’ve ever found them in.

The first thing I saw was a stream running perpendicular to the trail, and when you’re on a railbed that can mean only one thing; a box culvert.

Box culverts carry the water under the railbed and have a roof made of thick slabs of granite, sturdy enough to carry the weight of a train. This is an odd one though, because one of the side walls is less than 90 degrees; not parallel to the other side wall. Also, if you look at the horizontal piece of granite you see there is a piece of track propping it up. These are things I’ve never seen on any other box culvert, and I’ve seen a few.  Another very odd thing about this setup is, the stream never comes out on the other side of the trail. Somehow, it goes underground or into a well. There are two huge pieces of granite slab on the opposite side of the trail covering something big.

But the strange box culvert wasn’t what I came here to see. One of the things I wanted to find out was if the red elderberry buds (Sambucus racemosa) had broken. Not only had they broken, they were already showing small clusters of flower buds. They remind me somewhat of lilac flower buds at this stage.

When red elderberry leaf buds break several (usually) purple leaflets come up out of the bud. Each “finger” of the tiny purple leaflet is rolled into a tube when it comes out of the bud, but will quickly unfurl and turn green in the sunshine.

And here was another stem that had leaves unfurling. It doesn’t look like much until you consider that just a month ago, all of this was packed inside of a bud just slightly larger than a pea. Once the buds break things happen quickly.

There are a few railroad artifacts along this trail, including this old signal base.

The place where the columbines grow isn’t far, about a mile out, and it’s an easy walk. There is a lot to see here, and there are always lots of birds to hear. I like places like this, especially on a beautiful spring day.

But you’ve got to stay awake and aware out here, because this is where I ran into the biggest bear I ever hope to meet up with.

I’ve thought about that encounter, and I think the bear just happened to be in this spot because one of the biggest beech trees I’ve even seen stood here, and I think the bear was probably just gobbling up all the fallen beechnuts from it. With a tree that size there must have been thousands of them. But then a storm blew through and the tree must have been weaker than it looked, because one trunk fell here, across the trail, and the other fell the opposite way. That stump and part of the trunk is all that’s left. Someone came out and cut it all up, but left the parts that were too big and heavy to move behind.

There are also wild grapes growing here. Something else for birds and animals to eat.

Marks from the big steam drills the railroad used are everywhere. Drill a hole, pack it with black powder, light the fuse and run as fast as you can go. I have a cannon that my father gave me that I use black powder in and I found that you had better run and hide behind a tree after you light the fuse because it has no carriage, and once the charge goes off it will fly through the air. It will fire a ball the size of a pinball machine ball, and it will bury that ball so deep in a chunk of maple you can’t dig it out. When they blew these ledges, the sound must have been deafening because that cannon can be heard from a long way off.

There was a lot of stone to take care of on this section and once they had the ledges cut back away from the rails they left them as they were, and now 150 years later they are home to some rarely seen plants.

Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is one of those plants, rare enough in this area so that I’ve never seen it anywhere else. It should bloom around the first of May or the last week of April, depending on the weather.

You’ve got to watch for loose stone above you near these ledges, though. This pile of stone had fallen not too long ago, and I think it landed right where the only blue cohosh plant I’ve ever seen grew.  

I’ve never gone very far beyond the ledges but this was a beautiful day and I had time so I decided to explore a little.

I saw a little brown mushroom growing on a very rotten black birch (Betula lenta) branch.

I think it might have been in the suillus clan. They only grow in soil from what I’ve read, but this branch had rotted down to very near soil. The only thing holding it together was the bark.

I saw an old road leading into the woods.

There were gate posts on either side, far enough apart for even a car to drive through. There was also a stone wall with a built-in break in it at this spot, so this road has been here for quite some time.

The road went into the woods for a short way and then turned sharply to the left, going downhill. The woods, mostly pine and hemlock, were thick and dark. Someday I’ll have to follow that old road, but not on this day. It’s too dark in that forest for sun lovers I think, but there could be a lot of pink lady’s slippers, as well as goldthread and other shade tolerant plants, but it’s too early to find any of them now.

I turned back and once again stopped at the ledges, at the place where a large clump of purple trillium grows. It was too early for trillium too, but it’ll be along in a week or two, probably. It grows fast and usually blooms when the columbines do so I’ll have to come out here again soon. I noticed that a lot of young trees had found enough soil to grow in on the ledges.

One of the trees growing on the ledges was striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum,) and most of the buds I saw on them showed cracks in the bud scales, just like those seen here. That means bud break will happen before too long and that gets me excited.

Striped maple buds are among the most colorful in the forest and quite different looking than other buds I’ve seen. They can be pink, orange, yellow or any combination of those colors and they are always velvety soft. This shot from last year shows them in all their glory.

This tiny moss grew on a section of ledge where water dripped constantly but didn’t look at all wet. It caught my eye because it was so bright, but it was so small I had to use full microscope mode on my camera to get just a poor shot of it. After 3 or 4 days of trying off and on to identify it, I haven’t had any luck so far. If you happen to know what it is I’m sure other readers would be happy to know.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
 ~Robert Frost

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The last time I visited the High Blue trail in Walpole was last October. It was a cool day then and I hadn’t dressed for it, so the only thing that kept me warm was walking. Here was another cool day but this time I had sense enough to dress for it, so I could dilly dally without freezing. It was a beautiful spring day but another 10 degrees would have been welcome.

In the shade there was ice on the puddles, and many fallen beech leaves. When they finally let go and fall spring can’t be far off.

In spring and fall you often see stones that appear to have sunken into the soil, but what really happens is the saturated soil freezes and heaves up around the stone, which doesn’t move. The hole always has the very same shape as the stone.

I saw an old gray birch which was slowly dying. One trunk was covered with fungi and the other full of woodpecker holes. Woodpecker activity means there are insects in the trunk and they, along with the fungi, mean death.

A fallen tree had an excellent example of a branch collar. If you do any tree pruning you would do well to read all you can find about branch collars, because if you prune off a branch while ignoring the branch collar you could be slowing down the healing process and inviting any number of diseases to come and visit your trees. This shot shows what happens naturally; the branch dies and falls off and the branch collar is left intact. A tree should look similar after it has been pruned. Of course it won’t have a hole where the branch was, but the branch collar should be intact.

Where the sunshine reached the road there was no more ice.

Instead there was water. A small stream runs alongside the road year-round, probably from a natural spring. There is a lot of groundwater in this area.

The breeze made ripples in the stream.

The ripples passing over sunken beech leaves in the sunshine were beautiful.

And here was the trail head. I remembered the winter I stood in this spot looking at waist deep snowdrifts that covered the trail. The snow was so deep I gave up and turned back. That memory made me grateful that there was no snow now.

When I was up here in October the corn still stood in what was once a meadow but I saw that the farmer finally cut it. I miss the meadow / hayfield that was here when I first started coming. There was orange hawkweed, buttercups, pale spike lobelia, asters, and many other wildflowers here, and many bees and butterflies to go with them.

The farmer got most of the corn but what he didn’t get birds and animals did. But not all of it. Nobody ever seems to get all of it. For years I watched flocks of Canada geese scouring the cornfields in Keene in spring before the fields were tilled, but even they never got all of it.

There are lots of ledges up here and when there aren’t leaves on the trees, they’re easy to see. They’re mostly covered with rock tripe lichen, as these were. It makes them look ragged.

I thought it was a one in a million chance that two stones could fall and end up like these did.

I know of a huge piece of milky quartz up here; the biggest I’ve seen. It’s hard to tell in the photo but it’s big enough so I doubt four men could lift it. We don’t see much quartz down in the lowlands.

The small pond on the summit was still frozen over. It’s fairly well shaded and there is a cool breeze at this time of year.

Running club moss (Lycopodium clavatum) seems to be spreading up here.This plant gets its name from the way it sends out long, horizontal stems. All along the horizontal stem erect stems form at intervals and roots form where it touches the ground. The bright sunlight showed a different side of it than I have seen in the past and showed why clubmosses are often associated with pines, even though they have no relationship.

I always feel that I have to get a shot of the old sign that marks the lookout spot but I’m not sure why. There have been times when it was a very hard shot to get because of the light and on this day a hemlock branch blowing in the breeze kept trying to shade it out.

But on this day the light was right and the view was good. The bench is a good place to sit and admire it when the wind isn’t blowing too hard. This view looks toward the west, so there is almost always some wind. In January it can be brutal.

The view across the Connecticut River valley was very blue but I expected it would be; I’ve never seen it when it wasn’t. That’s where the name comes from. Some puffy white clouds floating by would have been nice but I was happy with the clear blue sky. The clouds came to mind because ever since I was a boy, I’ve loved to watch the clouds float by and cast purple shadows on the hills. There are those who believe that, if you can see the thoughts in your mind as clouds, and can watch them floating by as you would clouds, you will find the path to inner peace. As a lifelong cloud watcher I believe there is a lot of truth in that, but I also believe there is always more than one path to any destination.

The ski slopes on Stratton Mountain over in Vermont still had snow on them but I’d guess that they would be closing soon. Nights are mostly staying above freezing now so they no longer have the weather they need to make snow. Hopefully those trails didn’t get as icy as the trails I tried to walk this winter.

Always be thankful for the little things… even the smallest mountains can hide the most breathtaking views. ~Nyki Mack

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I drove north out of Keene Wednesday, thinking I’d do a climb but I saw that there was still a lot of ice and snow in the woods so I decided against climbing that day. Instead I went to Yale Forest in Swanzey, where there is always something interesting to see.

There was ice here as well, but not enough to matter.

Off in the woods I saw a mossy log. Since I was still looking for a chance to see what my new camera could do with a spore capsule, I decided to take a look.

But this log was as smooth as if it had been shaved. It wore a velvet coat of moss that didn’t have a single spore capsule in it.

Even the haircap mosses (Polytrichum) were capsule free.

A big red pine had fallen and that was a surprise because I hadn’t realized that they grew out here. I thought that any red pines found in this area had been planted but I wasn’t sure of that, so I went to the Yale University Forestry website and found that they were indeed planted here after the 1938 hurricane blew down much of the original natural growth. Thousands of trees were lost in that storm in Keene and surrounding towns. My grandmother told of driving from Marlborough to Keene in what she thought was a rain storm until she started seeing trees falling in her rear-view mirror. Luckily, she made it without a scratch.

It wasn’t a hurricane that took this tree, however. There was lots of bark beetle damage on it. They can girdle a tree just under its bark and once girdled, it dies. These particular beetle runs were much larger in width than those found on white pines.

Lots of bush clover grew along the road in sunny spots. These are last year’s seed heads.

What ice there was on this trail was rotten, as could be seen by its milky, opaque appearance. When I walked on it instead of being slippery it just crushed into pieces and I’d guess by the next day it was gone.

I saw these strange tracks further on and wondered who would be hauling what looked like a cart through here. Then later on I met up with a lady who was pushing her grandson (?) in a three wheeled baby stroller. It seemed that it would be very hard work pushing it over ice and through snow but she was smiling and mentioned what a great day it was, so she must have been doing okay with it. I hoped  I’d never meet up with her in an arm-wrestling contest.

I found a pencil size branch with some split gill fungi (Schizophyllum commune) on it. These tough, wooly coated bracket fungi are true winter mushrooms that appear in late fall. Split gills grow on every continent except Antarctica and are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. It is known for its medicinal properties, which include antifungal and antiviral qualities. These examples were maybe three quarters of an inch across and that’s about as big as I’ve ever seen them get.

The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds of tissue on its underside that split lengthwise when the mushroom dries out. The splits close over the fertile spore producing surfaces in dry weather and open to release the spores when they’re rehydrated by rain. As is all life, this little mushroom is driven to to ensure the continuation of the species, and that’s why it has increased its spore bearing surfaces with these folds of tissue. It’s an unusual strategy that makes this little mushroom very pretty.

A young red maple had fallen across the trail but luckily it rested high enough to walk under. I’d guess fungi weakened it and the wind did the rest.

Soon enough I was at the outflow stream from the beaver pond, which I was going to have to jump. Since the stream is getting wider all the time it gets harder to jump each time, but I just made it without getting wet. Apparently, my shadow decided to stay put while I looked for a suitable jumping spot. I can’t explain it; I was the only one there and I didn’t notice it until I saw the photo. Either there must be a human shaped tree out there somewhere or I had a very quiet companion.

The beavers hadn’t repaired their dam yet and by the looks of the ice on their pond they wouldn’t be doing anything any time soon. I’m sure the unlucky people who had to take it apart are happy about that. Taking beavers dams apart is hard work.

I thought this was a beautiful scene with the bright sunshine and all the colorful beeches.

This was my attempt to get a shot of beech leaves backlighted by the sun. When I could see again, I returned to the trail.

I saw some turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) with a little blue in them, which just happens to be my favorite color, so I was pleased. I’ve searched for many years now trying to find out what determines what colors a turkey tail will be but apparently nobody knows.

There was quite a large vernal pool thawing in the woods and I wondered how I missed it on the way in. I’d guess that it won’t be long before it’s full of tadpoles.

The last thing I noticed on the way back was a long beaked bird’s head on a log. The last time I was out here last fall I saw an old man’s face in a branch, so this place seems full of interesting “wood spirits.” Seeing faces and other objects where there are none is called Pareidolia and it is said to be a normal human tendency.

One of the best examples of Pareidolia that I can think of is the “Old Man of the Mountain.” The profile could be seen in the White Mountains of New Hampshire until it fell on May 3, 2003. This photo by Jeffery Joseph was taken just seven days before the event. Many thousands of people traveled from all over the world to see the “Great Stone Face” (actually a series of 5 granite ledges) so I suppose it might have been called mass Pareidolia.

One who returns to a place sees it with new eyes. Although the place may not have changed, the viewer inevitably has. For the first time things invisible before become suddenly visible. ~Louis L’Amour

Thanks for coming by. And Happy Spring! (Tomorrow)

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