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Archive for the ‘Fungi’ Category

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

Thanks for coming by.

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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

Thanks for stopping in.

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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

Thanks for stopping in.

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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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We’re coming back into the time of light, when the long dark nights of winter shorten and the days lengthen minute by minute each day. Dawn comes earlier now, and I just happened to be there one day when it did. As I watched I saw its beautiful light spill over the wind sculpted snow, and I forgot how cold it was. Can you love light? When you’ve spent a lot of time in darkness, yes you can.

I’ve seen films that showed the sun coming up over high mountain peaks like those in the Himalayas, so it was easy to imagine that I was there among the highest mountains when I looked at this scene but no, it was just plowed up snow.

Where I work enough snow fell to plow but where I live we barely saw three inches, so there was quite a difference over just 25 miles. On these -10 degree F. mornings when the snow squeaks underfoot and an intake of breath has sharp edges to it I don’t go out and play for long. In fact I just jumped out of the truck I was driving and took this quick photo with my phone. Plowing made the snow look deeper than the 6 or so inches that it was.

The long tree shadows were a beautiful shade of blue and I can see that now because of a wonderful art teacher who, with the help of color wheels and oil paints showed me that they were not the gray color that I saw, but the beautiful blue seen here. Ever since, for all of my life, every time I’ve seen blue shadows in winter I’ve immediately thought of Norma Safford. She was a patient, caring teacher who showed a colorblind boy how to really see, and she was so well loved that she even has a road named after her. We should never believe that those little, off hand things that we do for each other don’t have the power to grow into very big, life changing things.

I can’t show you the wind but I can show you what it does, so here is another look at the wind sculpted snow. If you’re interested, the wind came from the left.

The wind can fool you. In this instance it came from the back of the tree.

And here it came from the left side of the stone.

Beech leaves shivered and whispered in the wind, and they were beautiful. We’re so fortunate to have a tree that is beautiful at all times of year.

I know I just did a post on lichens but I hope you’ll bear with me, because the next few shots are actually more about trees than the lichens that grow on them. The green web like pattern on this old white pine is caused by lichens, and the reason they grew this way is because between the plates that make up the bark there are channels that help shed water away from the bark of the tree. These channels can be thought of as streams, and just like when a stream runs through a desert the growth of mosses and lichens on tree bark often appears on the “banks” of these vertical streams.

Here is a closer look. If you stand in the rain and watch, you’ll find that the water that runs down this tree will follow almost exactly where the growth is.

And here are the “shrubs” that grow on the banks of the “streams” on this particular tree; beard lichens. You can see one of the deep channels in the bark in this shot.

So, the next time you happen to see mosses or lichens growing in a more or less vertical row on a tree you’ll know where the water runs off in a rain. If you’re actually out in a rain look also at the base of the tree. You might see what look like soap bubbles, which are caused by the rain washing off all of the salts, acids and other particles from the air that coat the bark surface. It’s a kind of soap.

Fine, powdery snow will sometimes also find those same channels.

If you look at a female white pine seed cone aerodynamically you would guess that they would always land in the snow just like this one has, but they don’t. Many land with their smaller tip down, buried in the snow. Since I’ve never seen one actually falling through the air I can’t say why that would be. Pine cone scales open in dry weather and close in wet weather to protect the seeds inside,  so maybe the ones that fall point down are closed at the time. That would reduce drag. You can actually watch the scales open and close if you put a cone in a bowl of water. While in the bowl it will slowly close, and then when you take it out and let it dry it will open again, just like a flower. White pine cones are the state flower of Maine, by the way.

A wound on a white pine looked like someone had hung a medallion on the tree. I counted the rings on the wound and the closest I could come with any real accuracy was 80, so if the limb that was cut off was 80 years old I’d guess the tree it was on has to be at least twice that, based on size alone. It’s a big tree. What I found interesting was how most of the growth on the limb had formed down toward the ground, so its growth was off center.

One of my earliest memories is of watching the buds on the lilac that grew at the corner of the house. I’ve always been drawn to buds, especially in late winter, but I’ve never really known why. Then I bought a new camera and of course one of the first photos I took with it was of buds; the beautiful red elderberry flower buds seen here, each about as big as a pea. A day or so later I opened this photo on my computer and my first thought was “the miracle of life.” Now I might have a clue about why I was drawn to buds as a boy; I wanted to see the miracle of life, and if you watch the same buds over the course of a few weeks you can indeed see the miracle of life unfold right before your eyes when the bud scales open to reveal the tiny flower or leaf buds within. So I’ve put this photo here so you too could see the miracle. Maybe with breakfast on this day, maybe before bed; just see how beautiful life is. Just gaze at the miracle of life for a bit. See every little nuance; see how perfect it is. See that all of life is a miracle.

Of course once I got started with the new camera I couldn’t stop, so I found some male sweet gale catkins, with their pretty triangular bud scales. For anyone who wants to know, the new camera is an Olympus TG-6. It is a field camera that many scientists use in the field because it is so tough. It is water, dust and shock resistant, heat and cold resistant, and it takes incredible photos, either on land or under water. I use it almost exclusively for macro photos like the one above. Each catkin seen here is about a quarter inch long and I can see details in them that I’ve never seen. Leading off from the bottom of a catkin for instance you see one bud scale and then two, and then one and two again all the way up, overlapping just like roof shingles to keep the rain out.

When jelly fungi dry out, they can look like a little dry flake of color on a tree branch. This branch was about the diameter of a pencil, so that should give you an idea of how small the jelly fungus was. You can find them on branches on the ground under trees, especially oaks, in winter on top of the snow. Sometimes, rather than dried out they’ll be frozen solid as this one was. Whether frozen or dry though, they can be revived.

This is that same jelly fungus after I put it in a cup of tepid water for about 15 minutes. At this stage it was back to its normal self and felt just like your ear lobe. It had also swollen to maybe half again the size it was in the previous photo. This is a fun, simple experiment for children to do.

Chipmunks seemed to be trying to make figure eights in the snow. I can’t even guess why. Maybe they were just so happy that spring is near, they had to come out and play.

I like to stop at this place on my way to work each day to just take a few moments to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature before the day begins. While there I’ll often take a photo or two but since I’m retiring soon, this will probably be one of the last times we get to see it. I’ve shown it to you in all four seasons, and I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing what has been a special place for me for the past 7 years. The next “big thing” on Halfmoon Pond will be ice out, which usually happens in April but has been happening earlier over the past few years. I have a feeling it’ll happen in March this year.

One of the reasons I feel that ice out on the pond might happen in March this year is because those are daffodil shoots coming up through the snow. Or more accurately, they came up and then it snowed. No, this doesn’t mean that I’ll be showing daffodil blossoms here soon, because these shoots have made a mistake and they will surely die. But what this does mean is spring is stirring. If it wasn’t these daffodils wouldn’t have come up. We’ve had two or three days in the 40s F. and I’d guess that must be when they came up. I do know for sure that they weren’t there in mid January.

Here is something that will warm the heart of any New Englander. On Thursday February 2 the temperature was 42 degrees F. so I snapped a twig on a sugar maple tree just to see what would happen. I went back about a half hour later and lo and behold, there was sap dripping from it. And so it begins; spring is right around the corner.

When I am nowhere, casually wandering about, I feel I am where I need to be. ~Marty Rubin

Thanks for coming by.

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I was in the mood to just wander with no particular place to go, so I started off up the road from my house and walked until I came to a familiar little stream that chuckles and giggles its way through the woods. Little that is, when it’s in a good mood. I’ve seen it turn in to a roaring, road eating monster a few times since I’ve lived here but on this day it was gentle. It also had some interesting looking ice on it and that was enough to get me to abandon my walk and follow the stream instead.

The ice was beautiful and feathery in spots. In fact there were all kinds of ice here in all shapes and forms, all in a small sheltered dell. The section that can be easily followed can’t be more than 50 yards deep into the woods.

Last year I had a calendar and each month had an image of deep space taken by the Hubble space telescope, and that’s what this ice reminded me of. It was beautiful and very easy to imagine it in the night sky rather than on this stream.

This bit of ice looked like the surface of the moon, or would have if some little bushy tailed tree dweller hadn’t knocked down a bunch of hemlock cones. They’ll be stuck there until the ice melts now.

I saw fungi, frozen solid.

I believe these might have been oyster mushrooms but they had seen better days so it was hard to tell.

I’m not sure if the white spots one their undersides were frost or slug damage from back when it was warm enough for them to be roaming around. Slugs crawl underground where it’s warmer in winter but studies have shown that they can stand some ice formation in their bodies for short periods of time.

And here was an old friend. Milk white toothed polypores (Irpex lacteus) appear very late in the year and are considered “winter mushrooms.” I Look for them on the undersides of fallen tree branches. The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore bearing tissue. They start life as tubes or pores and break apart and turn brown as they age.

The stream wasn’t frozen over in very many places and this photo shows that it wasn’t very deep either. The ice that had formed between the stones was pretty like quicksilver. It held memories of the current.

About this time of year our evergreen ferns are still green but they look as if they don’t have much fight left in them. Winter worn and flattened low, they still grab any little bit of sunshine they can.

This one was a marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) and I know that because its spore cases grew on the margins of its sub leaflets.

As I watched it looked like dark fish were swimming under this ice, but they were bubbles, large and small.

When the dark bubbles swam under the ice it looked like windows had opened in it, but it happened fast and I had to have a quick finger on the shutter to catch it.

I liked the reflections in the stream as well as the ice. It was all quite beautiful.

The ice had me wondering about currents and flow. You can see in this shot that the water level had dropped since the ice formed and I find that to be common where there is moving water. I’ve seen it happen on ponds too but not usually. The stream’s deepest point is in the center but I doubt even that is more than knee deep. I know it’s an important spot for animals to come and drink because there were animal tracks everywhere, including turkeys, deer, and what looked like bobcat tracks, so I was glad to see that it hadn’t completely frozen over. It is their lifeline to spring.

We’re very fortunate to still have clear water in our streams. Clear enough to see the gravel bed, which is what tickles the belly of the water and makes it chuckle and giggle.

There were endless shapes and forms and colors, all abstract and beautiful. Who could despise winter after seeing such beauty? Don’t sit and wait for winter to end; get out and see the beauty of the season.

The interesting shapes were not just in the ice. I picked up a fallen pine branch that had been wounded and then had tried to heal itself. It was as if a window had opened to show its heart.

I had come to the end of my walk. From here the land to the right turns to hillside and is hard to follow even in dry summer weather. It was a short walk but I had seen so much already, I wasn’t disappointed. As it turned out this was the perfect time to have visited the stream because a dusting of snow that night covered up all the beauty of the ice.

Walking back I saw a rock that I’d guess must be full of iron. Rocks can contain minerals like hematite and magnetite and those minerals can oxidize and become rust, turning the rocks red. This one looked fine grained and sedimentary.

The low sun showed that it would be getting hard to see soon so I knew it was time to leave.

I admired the sun’s glow inside the aging snow along the road. It looked like a campfire burning in a cave.

All of nature waits patiently, knowing that spring will come. The cattails stand with their fluffy seed heads in the air and soon the redwing blackbirds will use this fluff to line their nests. They will also dig plump, protein rich grubs out of the decaying stems. It will be just the boost they need before starting their new brood.

Alder catkins hanging in the afternoon sunlight reminded me that the incredible rush of growth that is spring isn’t that far off. Not calendar spring; alder spring, hazelnut spring, skunk cabbage spring. They know that spring is here long before the calendar says so.

Before too long a warm breeze will come out of the south and it will look like someone has snuck out at night and strung the bushes with jewels. I’m waiting impatiently this year for that soft, sweet season that is my very favorite. The ice was beautiful to see but so will be the flowers.

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod

Thanks for coming by.

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I had plans for last Friday; I took the day off from work to use up vacation time before I retire, and I was going to spend the whole day in the woods taking photos of interesting things for you to see, but nature had other plans. It started snowing at about 5 that morning and the roads were treacherous. I went out once (above) but quickly came home again, glad I didn’t have to drive for an hour. On Saturday I went to Beaver Brook and on Sunday we had pouring down freezing rain almost all day. So since I wasn’t able to get enough time outside, for the first time in almost 11 years I’m going to repost something I did a couple of years ago. It was quite a popular post then and I hope new readers will enjoy it. I also hope that regular readers won’t be bored by the repeat. I called it Nature Study 101.

Over the nearly nine years I’ve been doing this blog the question I’ve been asked more than any other is “How do you find these things?” So this post will be about how I find them; I’ll tell you all the secrets, starting with the jelly baby mushrooms above. Do you see how small they are? They’re growing in an acorn cap. The first time I saw them I was feeling winded and when I sat on a rock to rest, I looked down and there was a tiny clump of jelly babies, just like this one. That day a side of nature that I never knew existed was revealed and from then on, I started seeing smaller and smaller things everywhere I went. 

You have to learn to see small by seeking out small things and training your eyes, and your brain somewhat, to see them. It also helps to know your subject. For instance I know that slime molds like the many headed slime mold above appear most often in summer when it’s hot and humid, and usually a day or two after a good rain. They don’t like sunshine so they’re almost always found in the shade. I’ve learned all of this from the slime molds themselves; by finding one and, not knowing what it was, looking it up to find out. I’ve learned most of what I know about nature in much the same way. If you want to truly study nature you have to be willing to do the legwork and research what you see.

Another secret of nature study is walking slowly. Find yourself a toddler, maybe a grandchild or a friend with one, or maybe you’re lucky enough to have one yourself. No older than two years though; they start to run after that and they’re hard to keep up with. Anyhow, watch a two-year-old on a trail and see how slowly they walk. See how they wander from thing to thing. They do that because everything is new and they need to see and experience it. You need to be the same way to study nature; become a toddler. Slowly cross and crisscross your line of progress. See, rather than look. Why is that group of leaves humped up higher than all the others? Is there something under them making them do that? Move them and see. You might find some beautiful orange mycena mushrooms like these under them.

So you need to train yourself to see small, to toddle and think like a toddler, and then you need to know your subject. All that comes together in something like this female American hazelnut blossom. I first saw them when I had toddled over to a bush to see the hanging male catkins, which are very beautiful, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red.

But all I could see was a flash of color because female hazelnut blossoms are almost microscopic. That’s a paperclip behind these blossoms. Even with eye problems I can find them though, because I know they’re tiny. I know they bloom in mid-April and I know they’re red and I know what shape the buds they grow out of are. All I need do is find one and the camera does the rest, allowing me to see its Lilliputian beauty.

That’s how I start the growing season each spring; by re-training my eyes to see small again. Most of what I see in winter is big so I need to get used to small again. Spring beauties like those above are as small as an aspirin, so they’re a good subject to start with. They’re also very beautiful and a forest floor carpeted with them is something you don’t soon forget.

Sometimes I’ll see something like this larch flower in a book or on another blog and I’ll want to see it in person. That’s what happened when I first found one, and I was surprised by how small they were. This is another example of my being able to only see a flash of color and then having to see with a camera. They’re just too small for me to see with my eyes but they’re beautiful and worth the extra effort it takes to get a photo of them.

I spend a lot of time looking at tree branches, especially in spring when the buds break. I’ve learned what time of month each tree usually blossoms and I make sure I’m there to see it happen. This photo shows male red maple flowers. Each flower cluster is full of pollen and the wind will be sure the pollen finds the female blossoms. When you see tulips and magnolias blooming it’s time to look at red maples. One of the extraordinary things about these blossoms was their scent. I smelled them long before I saw them.

Lichens aren’t easy to identify but there are easy to find because they grow virtually everywhere; on soil, on trees, on stone, even on buildings. But most are quite small, so walking slowly and looking closely are what it takes to find them. This mealy firedot lichen was growing on wet stone and that’s why the background looks like it does. You could spend a lifetime studying just lichens alone but it would be worth it; many are very beautiful.

Countless insects make galls for their young to grow in and the size and shape of them is beyond my ability to show or explain, so I’ll just say that I always make a point of looking for them because they’re endlessly fascinating, and you can match the gall to the insect with a little research. This one looked like a tiny fist coming up out of a leaf. Something else I like about them is that you don’t have to kneel down to see them. That isn’t getting any easier as time goes on. 

When young the female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra, which protects the spore capsule and the spores within. It is very hairy, and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually, as the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position before the calyptra falls off.  The spore capsule continues to ripen and when the time is right it will open and release the spores. When it’s time to release the spores the end cap (operculum) of the now reddish brown, 4 cornered but not square spore capsule will fall off and the spores will be borne on the wind. I learned all of that by studying the moss and reading about what I saw going on, and you can too. And you can do it with virtually anything you find in nature. To me, that is exciting.

A good memory isn’t strictly necessary for nature study but it can come in handy if you wish to see a plant in all stages of its life cycle. I knew where some rare dwarf ginseng plants grew in this area and I knew when they blossomed but I had never seen their seedpods, so I had to remember to go back to see what you see here. It might not look like much but it’s a rare sight and I doubt more than just a few have seen it. I often can’t remember my own phone number or where I parked my car but I can lead you right to the exact spot where this plant grows, so I seem to have two memories; one for every day and one for just nature. The one for nature works much better than the everyday one.

Develop an eye for beauty. Give yourself time to simply stand and look, and before long you’ll find that you don’t just see beauty, you feel it as well, all through your being. This is just tree pollen on water; something I’ve seen a thousand times, but not like this. On this day it was different; it usually looks like dust on the surface but this pollen had formed strings that rode on the current. I wasn’t looking for it; I just happened upon it, and that shows that a lot of what you see on this blog is just dumb luck. But I wouldn’t happen upon it if I wasn’t out there. That’s another secret; you have to be out there to see it. You’ll never see it by staring at a phone or television.

This is another rarity that I just happened upon; a mushroom releasing its spores. Mushroom spores are carried by the wind so it is unusual to see them dropping to the forest floor like they have in this photo. I’ve only seen this happen three times and twice it was on a still, hot, humid day. Once it was on a cooler but still humid day, without a hint of a breeze to blow the spores away. This is why it’s so important to walk slowly and look carefully. You could easily pass this without seeing it.

Something else that is rare to see is a mushroom with another fungus feeding on it, like this bolete with a mycoparasite called Syzygites megalocarpus growing on its cap. A mycoparasite is essentially a fungus that feeds on other fungi. This one has been found on over 65 species of mushroom. It can appear overnight if heat and humidity levels are just right, and that’s exactly what this one did. You can’t plan to see something like this, you simply have to be there when it happens.

Do you know how many puddles there are with ice on them in winter? I don’t either, but I do take the time to look at them and I almost always see something interesting when I do. I’ve never seen another one like this.

Sometimes if you just sit quietly unusual things will happen. I was on my hands and knees looking at something one day and I looked up and there was a fly, sitting on a leaf. I slowly brought my camera up and this is the result. By the way, much of what I see comes about because I spend a lot of time on my hands and knees. If you want to see the very small, you have to. And before I get back on my feet, I always try to look around to see if there’s anything interesting that I’ve missed.

I was crawling around the forest floor looking for I don’t remember what one day and saw something jump right in front of me. It was a little spring peeper. It sat for a minute and let me take a few photos and then hopped off. Another secret of nature study is to expect the unexpected. If you want to document what you see always have your camera ready. I have one around my neck, one on my belt and another in my pocket, and I still miss a lot.

I was in a meadow in Walpole climbing the High Blue trail when I saw a blackish something moving through the grass on the other side. Apparently, it saw me because it turned and came straight for me. When it got close I could see that it was a cute porcupine. I thought it must have poor eyesight and would run away when it got close enough but then it did something I never would have expected; it came up to me and sat right at my feet. I took quite a few photos and then walked on after telling it goodbye. I still wonder what it was all about and what the animal might have wanted. I’ve never forgotten how we seemed to know one another. It’s another example of why you have to expect the unexpected in nature. You just never know.

Sometimes all you need to do is look up. When was the last time you saw mare’s tails in the sky? There’s a lot of beauty out there for you to see, and you don’t really have to study anything.

So, what you’ve read here isn’t the only way to study nature. It’s simply my way; what I’ve learned by doing. I had no one to guide me, so this is what and how I’ve learned on my own. I thought that it might help you in your own study of nature, or you might find your own way. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re out there having fun and enjoying this beautiful world we live in. I’ll leave you with a simple summary that I hope will help:

  1. To see small think small. There is an entire tiny world right there in plain sight but there’s a good chance you haven’t seen it. Nothing is hidden from the person who truly sees.
  2. Don’t just look, see; and not just with your eyes. Use all your senses. I’ve smelled certain plants and fungi before I’ve seen them many times. I also feel almost everything I find.
  3. Walk at a toddler’s pace. Cross and crisscross your path.
  4. Know your subject. You probably won’t find what you hope to unless you know when and where it grows, or its habits. When you see something you’ve never seen if you want to know more about it research it.
  5. Be interested in everything. If you’re convinced that you’ve seen it all then you’ll see nothing new. Run your eye down a branch. Roll over a log. Study the ice on a puddle.
  6. Expect the unexpected. I’ve heard trees fall in the forest but I’ve never seen it happen. Tomorrow may be the day.
  7. Develop an eye for beauty; it’s truly everywhere you look. Allow yourself to see and feel it. Appreciate it and be grateful for it and before long you too will see it everywhere you go.  
  8. Let nature lead. Nature will teach you far more than you’ve ever imagined. It will also heal you if you let it, but none of this can happen if you spend all your time indoors.
  9. None of the things you’ve read here are really secrets. Nature is there for everyone and you can study it and take pleasure in it just as easily as I can.
  10. Have fun and enjoy nature and you’ll be surprised how quickly your cares melt away. Problems that once might have seemed insurmountable will suddenly seem much easier to solve.

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long. 
~John Moffitt

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We’ve had more ice than snow here so far this winter and if there is one thing that will strike fear into the most winter hardened New Englander, it is an ice storm. Trees, weighed down by ice, fall and take wires down with them, and there have been times here when the power has been out for weeks. No power when it’s cold means you move, unless you happen to have a non electric heat source or a generator. In any event I wanted to take a walk after a recent ice storm because though terrible, on a sunny day ice can also be beautiful.

The trouble was, there wasn’t much sunshine to make the ice sparkle like prisms, and instead of clear and beautiful some of the ice was kind of slushy, as the ice on this beaver cut tree shows.

This clear, hard ice covered every exposed twig and branch but luckily, I saw only a few that had fallen. There was no sunlight to make it sparkle.

Even the beech leaves had a coating of ice, and that made them even more beautiful. Simple, everyday natural beauty is available to everyone at any time but we can’t just look. We need to see.

That’s ice, not a water droplet. Sometimes it seemed like every living thing must be coated in ice on this day.

This puddle ice was unusual. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a puddle do that.

The sun and clouds just couldn’t decide who would win out and I found that trying to time my shutter clicks to when the sun did shine was fighting a losing battle so I just enjoyed the day, sun or clouds.

Pretty little goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) leaves grew in a crook made by pine roots. You wouldn’t think such a tender looking plant would be evergreen but they are. In spring the leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will often be very dark green. They’ll hold their color under the snow all winter and look similar to wild strawberries until late April or early May when new leaves and small white flowers will appear. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots.

I saw a single small jelly crep growing on a log. Jelly creps (Crepidotus mollis) are small, quarter sized “winter mushrooms” that like to grow on hardwood logs. They are also called soft slipper mushrooms and feel kind of spongy and flabby, much like your ear lobe. When they grow in groups, they grow with an overlapping shelving habit like shingles.

Here are the jelly crep’s gills. This mushroom was only about half an inch across so this was a tough shot to get.

A small bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) somehow remained ice free. Determination, I thought.

There was sunlight at the end of this tree tunnel.

If you follow the trail long enough you find the closeness of the forest opens up into quite a large expanse of wetland, which is home to fish, frogs, beavers, herons and other critters. I’ve seen some beautiful sunsets right here in this spot as well. I’m glad there are laws that prevent the filling in of wetlands now. When I was a boy, I saw load after load of concrete rubble and just about anything else you can think of dumped into wetlands to fill them so they could be built on.

The stream in the previous photo goes under a road and though it looked like spring on that side of the road I found winter on this side. It seemed odd to have such a change happen over such a short distance.

This is the only gray birch I’ve ever seen with inner bark that color. It is beautiful and so bright, the first time I saw it I thought it was a plastic marker. I was glad that it wasn’t.

There was quite a large clear spot under some pine trees and I knew what that meant.

The pine’s branches had taken on the weight of the ice. This is why limbs break off and take down power lines. Ice can be very destructive.

I looked at the gray birches (Betula alba var. populifolia) in a small grove to see if all the seeds had been eaten yet.

There were quite a few left but they were being eaten. Ripe female catkin-like strobiles like the one seen here resemble small cones. Fruit (seeds) are blown about by the wind in late fall and winter. Unless that is, birds get to them. Many songbirds love them. You can often find the snow under a gray birch littered with hundreds of tiny winged seeds. Seeds can persist for years in the soil and will grow if the soil is disturbed.

I wanted to show you a gray birch seed so I brought home a strobile and put a single seed on a white background. They are very small and I couldn’t think of anything to compare them to, so I put a period on the paper with a blue pen. Each tree must produce hundreds of thousands of these seeds, which are technically called nutlets.

This is a gray birch catkin. A true catkin is really just a long string of small flowers spiraling around a central stem, and these will open in May.

I saw what looked like a stream through the woods but it was actually a giant puddle. Quite a beautiful reflecting pool, I thought.

Their deep warm color, the shine of their icy coating, and the the way that the soft light falling on them seemed to caress them made these oak leaves a thing of great beauty. As I’ve said before; if you can find joy in the simple things in life, joy will follow you wherever you go. These beautiful leaves certainly put a smile on my face on such an icy day.

By walking in a snowy forest you can really forget about this world, and every time you forget about this world you leave this world, and every time you leave this world you gain a very special wisdom that does not exist in this world. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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