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Archive for the ‘Lichens’ Category

I saw hobblebushes blooming in the woods along the roadsides so I knew it was time to visit the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene. It’s a place where I know I can get close to the hobblebushes and many other plants. I start off by following the old abandoned road that used to be the route to Concord, which is the state capitol, from Keene. The road was abandoned in the 1970s when the new Route 9 north was built, and nature has been doing its best to reclaim it ever since.

The old road is full of cracks, which are filled in immediately by green, growing life. This of course makes the cracks even wider so more plants can move in. Its a slow but inexorable process that will go on until the forest takes back what was carved out of it.

Cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) unfurled by one of the vernal pools found along the old road.

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) grew near another pool. These pretty white flowered plants like wet feet so when you kneel for a photo you usually get wet knees. They have hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks, and small, bright white flowers. Their leaves are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with maroon or brown.

The “Foam” part of the name comes from the many stamens on the flowers, which give large colonies a kind of frothy look. Each flower has 5 white petals, 5 white sepals, and 10 stamens. Foam flowers are popular in garden centers and are grown in gardens as much for their foliage as the flowers. Native Americans used the leaves and roots medicinally as a mouthwash for mouth sores. The plant is also called “cool wort” because the leaves were once used on scalds and burns to relieve the pain.

New maple leaves are still wearing their bright colors.

I’ve seen this spot when all the green you see to the right was underwater, but the brook was tame on this day. Maybe a little higher than average but not too bad.

I’m surprised flooding hadn’t washed all of this away, or maybe it was flooding that carried it here. This is just upstream from where I was in the previous shot.

There were an amazing number of trees in the brook so it will take quite a flood to wash them downstream. I’d cut them up if I was in charge because “downstream” from here means right through the heart of Keene. There must be a thousand places further on where a mess like this could get hung up. Waiting until high summer when the water was at its lowest and then having two men wade in with a battery-operated chainsaw would be the way to go.

But I was glad I wasn’t in charge because clearing that log jam will be worse than pulling apart a beaver dam by a longshot. How lucky I was; all I had to do was keep walking and enjoying a beautiful day.

I stopped to see the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that live here. It always looks like someone has spilled jewels on the stone.

Not too far up the old road from the smoky eye boulder lichens are the hobblebushes, and that’s the amazing thing about this place; just walk a few steps and there is another beautiful thing to stop and see. This is why, though it is less than a mile’s walk to Beaver Brook Falls, it often takes me two hours or more. I don’t come here for exercise, I come for the beauty of the place.

And there is little that is more beautiful than the flowers of our native hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides). The large, sterile flowers around the perimeter are there just to attract insects to the smaller, fertile flowers. The outer flowers are delicate, and a strong wind or heavy rain can strip them from the flower head.

Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) were bright yellow among last year’s leaves. They like wet, sunny meadows and open woodlands and there are a lot of them here.

There were no flowers on them yet though, just buds. The plant is said to be important to a number of short-tongued insects that are able to easily reach the nectar in the small yellow flowers. Each flower will be only about an eighth of an inch long with five sepals, five petals, and five stamens.

There were lots of blue marsh violets (Viola cucullata) (I think) blooming along the roadsides on this day. The long flower stems held the flowers high above the leaves and I believe the blue marsh violet is the only one that does this.

Jack in the pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum) still hadn’t unfurled their leaves but they had nice color on their spathes.

The old road goes uphill the entire way but it’s an easy climb and there are many interesting things to see along with all the plants and trees, like the old guard posts still guarding against accidents that will never happen. The electric lines seen here run through the area on their way to elsewhere. There are no houses along the road.

The disappearing stream that runs down the hillside had done just that. It was too bad because it can be beautiful in spring.

Here it was in March while there was still ice melting. The stream ran then.

There aren’t many places where you can get right down to the brook but there are two or three and this is one of them. All the stone along the embankment was put there to prevent washouts and it’s hard to walk on, so you have to be careful.

The stone didn’t prevent all washouts. This old culvert washed into the brook years ago. The brook slowly eats away at the road and in the end it will most likely win.

All the walking and hiking I’ve been doing has improved my legs and lungs so much I thought I could just skip down the embankment to see Beaver Brook Falls. It didn’t work out quite that way but I made it without breaking my neck. The amount of water going over the falls was perfect. There’s a huge stone that juts out right in the middle and when there is too little water it splits the falls in two, so the scene isn’t quite as photogenic in my opinion.

The only trouble was, I took the wrong trail down to the brook so I was even further away from the falls than this. I was glad I had a zoom lens. There used to be just one trail down to the brook but now somehow there are three, all looking equally worn. Since I took this one, I would have had to wade in the brook to get any closer. I wasn’t interested in getting wet but it could have been done. People used to swim here all the time, rocks and all.

This shot shows the climb back to the road, or half of it anyway. About half way up I leaned my back against a tree and took a photo to show what you’re up against if you decide to do this. The small trees kept me from getting too much forward momentum on the way down, and then they helped me climb back up. That big rock will slide right down the hill if you put too much weight on it but the others were pretty firm.

Just to the right, out of camera range in that previous photo, there was a colony of what must have been twenty trilliums or more. I saw them along the road all the way up and saw those I had missed on the way down. In fact I saw more trilliums here than I’ve ever seen in one place before, so if you live in the area and it is wildflowers you want to see, this is a great place to start looking. Those I’ve shown in this post are really just a small part of what can be found here.

There is a serene and settled majesty to woodland scenery that enters into the soul and delights and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations. ~Washington Irving.

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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

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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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Last Friday the 18th was a beautiful day, already warm when I got to Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard at about 11:00 am. I could see spots of ice on the trail so I wore a coat and had my micro-spikes in my pocket, just in case. I couldn’t find any recent information on trail conditions so I didn’t know what to expect but I knew it would be nice to be climbing again after the terrible ice had kept me on level ground all winter.

I looked at the hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) along the way and though I saw plenty of leaf buds I didn’t see a single flower bud.

There are lots of dead trees in the forest along this trail. A standing dead tree like this one is called a snag, and snags play an important part of the overall health of the forest. This tree is probably full of insects and I could see where woodpeckers had been at work. Fungal spores will also find their way to it and eventually it will fall and provide nutrients to the surrounding soil for years to come. This one looked almost like it had a bear platform in it.

Beech leaves are quickly going white. Strong March winds usually clean them off the trees and I’m seeing as many on the ground as I am on the trees lately.

I think of this stop at the meadow as the great breathing space. I can catch my breath and think about absolutely nothing here. It’s just earth, myself, and sky. And silence. I often find a nice rock and just sit for a while.

It paid to rest up a bit for this stretch. I was expecting a little ice on the trails here but instead I got thick mud, which on a hill is almost as bad.  

Mud and stones for the rest of the way.

And roots; lots of roots. They were useful to stop yourself if you were slipping backwards in the mud, which I did a couple of times. You really want to wear good, sturdy hiking boots with some ankle support here if you can.

The bright orange-red witches’ brooms on blueberry bushes burned like fire in the woods. They may seem unsightly to some and if you have a blueberry plantation you would surely want to remove them, but I worked around a blueberry bush that had one for many years, and it bore fruit just as well as the other bushes that didn’t. I left it as an experiment, just to see what would happen and it really didn’t seem to bother the bush at all.  

If you turn around in the right spot as you climb the leg of the trail beside the meadow you can see Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey. On this day it showed me that it would not be a good day for views. It was strange because I saw no signs of haze as I drove from Keene.

As I neared the summit, I saw that the old ranger cabin’s broken windows had finally been boarded up. It had been broken into and vandalized last year so better late than never, I suppose. It would be tough getting the tools and materials up here to do the job, I would think.

The only mountain ash (Sorbus americana) I’ve ever found in the wild lives up here and it looked to be doing well.

Big, black and pointed mountain ash buds often look like they have a single cap like bud scale but they actually have several overlapping scales which are quite sticky. They should be swelling any time now if this warm weather keeps up.

As I looked up at the fire tower on the summit I was grateful, because I remembered the winter I had to crawl up those last few rocky yards on my hands and knees because of the ice. I doubt I’ll ever do it again, even though being up here in January can be pretty special.

This really was not a day for views but I was able to get a fuzzy shot of the wind turbines over in Antrim. It really is amazing how big they are.

When I saw these three trees, I thought of the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

There was plenty of water on the summit for the birds to drink, and that meant plenty of mud as well. There was no escaping the mud on this day. It was over 70 degrees F. and everything had melted quickly, including any frost in the ground. By this point I was wishing that I had left my coat in the car.

Deep striations in the granite are a reminder that this entire region was once under ice. It’s hard to imagine ice thick enough to cover these mountains. It is estimated that the ice that covered New England in the last ice age was 2 Km (6,562 Ft.) thick. That means that 2,153-foot-high pitcher mountain was buried under more than 4000 feet of ice.

The near hill looked a bit drab on this day but I’ve known it in all seasons and soon it will be beautifully green with new spring leaves, because it is covered with mostly deciduous trees. In the fall it will be even more beautiful when those leaves begin to turn.

The summit is covered with many different lichens, like the yellowish goldspeck and the black and white tile lichens seen here. There are 136 species of tile lichens so identification is difficult without a microscope. I just like the colors in this scene.

I don’t know if the Pitcher family who settled here planted apple trees but there are apple trees here, and the sapsuckers love them. Their trunks are full of small holes.

I got to see a staghorn sumac bud just beginning to open.

And then there was the trail down. I picked my way carefully avoiding what mud I could, and I made it just fine, and that made a beautiful spring day seem even better.

Since there were no summit views to be had I thought I’d stop and get a shot of the Congregational Church in Stoddard on my way home so those of you who have never been to New England could see what a fairly traditional New England church looks like. The town was named after Colonel Sampson Stoddard of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, the charter being granted to him and others on May 10, 1752. The population has fluctuated over the years, falling to as low as 100 people in 1900 to around 1000 today. According to the town’s website the Congregational Church was organized in 1787, but the building in the photo wasn’t built until 1836.

A mountaintop is not simply an elevation, but an island, a world within a world, a place out of place. ~Paul Gruchow

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We’ve had two or three warm days in the mid 50s F. and the ice that has covered everything is finally starting to melt. The ice is everywhere you go and it has kept me from climbing, and even off the trails. Even with spikes on it is difficult to negotiate so I went to a small pond where I thought most of the ice would be on the pond where it belongs.  

I was wrong. There was ice covering the land as well so I had to think about each step and plan my route. If you’re traveling very far it can be exhausting but fortunately I move at a toddler’s pace so I can see the wonders.

Despite the ice I was able to get to the pond and I saw that the ice on it was melting. It was like a booster shot of joy into my arm.

Another shot came when I looked up at all the buds on a big red maple.

And the willows that showed their soft catkins.

There were lots of sensitive fern spore bearing fronds here and they, along with the willows and the big red maple told me that I was in a damp, or even wet place. All three plants like lots of water.

I love to see the color of last year’s grasses against the white snow but even there, there was ice.

This shot is for those who have never seen how a white or gray birch changes from brown to white. It’s always kind of a ragged looking process. White and gray birches can split easily in what are often extreme temperature changes in winter, where the outer bark warms or cools faster than the inner wood. A tree can tear itself apart with the stresses, so the relatively weak white colored birches use the color to reflect, rather than absorb sunlight. By doing so they’re less prone to frost cracks.

I ran into a blackberry, which is always a memorable experience. At least until your torn flesh heals.

What, I’m wondering, is going on with the mallards? A few days before this encounter mallards just stood and ignored me as if they didn’t see me, even though I was just feet away, and on this day these two swam toward me as fast as their webbed feet would take them and then just sat, as if expecting me to do something. This is very odd behavior for New Hampshire mallards, which are usually so skittish they have flown or paddled away long before you can get near them. They must be from the city where people feed them bread. That’s the only answer I can come up with.

The male just swam in circles as if waiting impatiently.

And his lovely mate just sat in a state of bliss while I took her portrait. I hope they learned from the experience that not all humans mean to harm them. I hope they also learned that not all humans walk around with a pocket full of bread.

The mallards were in the sheltered outflow of the pond, which had already thawed. Out here near the frozen pond itself the wind tore through the place with enough force to blow even the tough cattails back and forth. I’m surprised this shot came out at all because that wooly head was all over the place when I snapped the shutter. I think the wind was actually blowing the fluffy seeds right off the plant, which is part of The Plan.

Another plant that relies on the wind is the vine called virgin’s bower, which is a wild clematis also called traveler’s joy or woodbine. Its tadpole like seeds have long, feathery tails (styles) which the wind catches and blows to a new growing spot. I know that it’s a successful strategy because I see this plant wherever I go.

The long feathery style attaches the female stigma to the ovary. Once pollen finds the stigma a pollen tube grows down through the style to fertilize the eggs in the ovary, which is where the seeds form. I’ve looked at these seed heads a thousand times since I was a boy and I’ve never seen the finger like growths that show here. Are they what is left of the pollen tubes? It will take someone more knowledgeable in botany than I am to answer that question, but it any event they were small enough to be almost microscopic, and I’d guess that’s why I’ve never seen them.

I stopped to admire some tongue galls on these alder cones (strobiles.) These long, tongue like galls are caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus chemically deforms part of the ovarian tissue of the developing strobile and causes long, strap shaped galls called languets to grow from them. These galls, like most galls, don’t seem to bring any harm to their host. I do wish I knew how they benefited from growing in such unusual forms. Maybe to present more surface area to the wind?

Under the alder were all of last year’s leaves. Once they begin to decompose, they will become compost that feeds the plant they came from.

There were lots of galls on the goldenrods out here. This type of gall, called an apple gall, is caused when a tiny fly lays its eggs on the plant. When they hatch the gall fly larvae (Eurosta solidaginis) eat holes into the plant’s stem, and this makes the goldenrod grow a ball shaped gall around them. The larva will start to produce an antifreeze in its blood in the fall and will grow inside the gall all winter. These galls have thick walls to discourage wasps and birds from reaching the larva, but I have seen birds, including chickadees, pecking their way into the center.

Here was a double gall, which I don’t see that often.

This pretty lichen grew on a fallen tree. I believe it is one of the sunburst lichens (Xanthomendoza.) One of the best places to go to study nature is near water because water is so important to all life. Many lichens for instance, like high the humidity found near water. You will find a good cross section of all the various forms of life that live in an area near water, even by a small pond like this one, and that is why most of the posts found on this blog have water in some form in them. It is of course also a great place for children to start exploring nature.

When you gaze out on a quiet, peaceful meadow, next to a still pond, under a motionless blue sky, you wonder how the noisy, busy cacophony of life could have arisen from such silent, motionless beginning.
~ Anonymous

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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

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To open this post I should let newer readers know that I’m not a lichen expert. Though I do make mistakes I try hard to be accurate when identifying them. I started doing lichen posts because I enjoyed seeing them and I thought you would, too. They’re easy to find because they grow virtually everywhere, and it’s nice to see their bright colors and unusual shapes in winter. Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) for instance, is a beautiful bright yellow, cheery lichen that grows on stone.

Many lichens produce spores as a means of reproduction and that’s what this one was doing when I saw it. The little round bits that sometimes look like the suckers on an octopus are called apothecia, and that’s where the action is. Many lichens, for reasons I don’t know, like to produce spores in winter, so this is a good time to look for them. This lichen in my experience doesn’t often have them, so I got lucky.

Peppered rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) also likes to grow on stone in full sun and I find a lot of them on old stone walls. They’re a good introduction to lichen study because their brown apothecia are large and easy to see without aid. Lichens are made up of a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. Technically their apothecia are “fungal reproductive structures, in which the fungus reproduces itself through the production of spores.”

My original thoughts for this post included finding lichens I hadn’t seen before, but then I thought no, I don’t want readers to have to find specific tree species or to have to climb a mountain to see these lichens so I stayed with more easily found lichens, like these pebbled pixie cups (Cladonia pyxidata) I saw growing right beside the road I was walking on. They like to grow on soil or rotting stumps and logs and though very small they grow in groups, so that makes them easier to see.

Though pixie cup lichens are squamulose they have fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are its podetia. “Podetia” describes a stalk like growth which bears the apothecia, or fruiting bodies. Some examples might have some almost microscopic reddish dots around the rim of the tiny cup, which are its apothecia. Finally, frucitose means a lichen has a bushy, vertical growth. Since this example has squamules even growing inside the tiny cups it must be a pebbled pixie cup lichen.

You might notice that some of these photos aren’t as sharp as they could be and that’s because I think I’ve worn out another camera. My little Olympus Stylus TG-870 has just about given up the ghost I think, so I’ve had to order a new camera. I hope you’ll bear with me while this issue irons itself out. I think this must be the fourth or fifth camera I’ve gone through in the nearly eleven years of doing this blog, but they have a rough time of it in the woods.

I reminded myself, by taking this photo of a candle flame lichen (Candelaria concolor,) that it is not a great idea to shoot the color yellow in full sun.  But you can see the details, and that’s what matters. You should look for this lichen on the trees next time you go to a shopping center, because it is found on the bark of deciduous trees in open areas. From what I’ve seen it doesn’t mind car exhaust, which is unusual because most lichens are sensitive to poor air quality. Look for the bright color rather than size first. The example seen here was growing on an ash tree and was smaller than a penny.

I find what I believe are rosy saucer lichens (Ochrolechia trochophore) growing on smooth barked trees like maples, and I see them everywhere I go, winter and summer. In fact it’s safe to say that I probably see more of this pretty little lichen than any other. Its apothecia are not subject to cold or dryness, apparently, because they never seem to change. This particular lichen must produce huge amounts of spores.

Script lichens are a good example of how lichens can change according to the season. When I see them in summer, they look like barely noticeable gray spots on trees but in winter their apothecia start to show. The blackish lines are its apothecia, and long apothecia that look like a pair of lips are called lirellae. The grayish part is the body or thallus. This one is very common and easy to find in this area and I believe it is the common script lichen (Graphis scripta.)

Golden moonglow lichens (Dimelaena oreina) fooled me this year. I always thought they would only grow on smooth surfaces like stone benches or gravestones but this year I found them on some very rough stone. This is a pretty lichen that I’ve read can get quite large but I’ve never seen one more than an inch or two across. They don’t seem to change color when they dry out like many other lichens do. This one was producing spores and that’s something I don’t see this lichen do very often.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) like to grow on old stone walls in full sun, but I’ve also found them on mountain tops. Years ago I found a beautiful example on a gravestone and never found another anywhere else. Now I see them everywhere I go so it shows me that I have to train my eyes to see the very small.  

And this example was very small indeed. The orange pad like structures are its apothecia and the roundish gray bits are its body, which in this case are called squamules. What you see here would have easily fit on a penny with plenty of room to spare. Next time you’re near a stone wall take a close look. You might be surprised by what you see.

Sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima) is a pretty, bright colored lichen that gets its common name from the way it grows on concrete sidewalks. It is a lime lover and concrete sidewalks have lime in them, so when you find it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it too. This stone, my favorite “go to” stone to see this lichen, is almost completely covered by it. What is a bit odd about it is how this is the only stone in this wall like it.

A closer look at the sidewalk firedot lichen showed how it is another lichen made up of tiny specks, some of which are its dry apothecia. They are very small so you really need a loupe or a macro lens to see them clearly.

Another of my favorite lichens is the star rosette (Physcia stellaris) because when you look at it you often find that it appears to be looking back, with its big, dark apothecia. But they aren’t always dark; sometimes they’re gray and sometimes they appear more blue than gray. That’s because though they are actually dark brown, they have a powdery wax coating that can cause their color to change depending on the light. Plant parts with this powdery waxy coating are said to be pruinose and a good example of it is the “bloom” on blueberries, grapes, plums, and other fruit. On this day this example’s apothecia didn’t appear to have any pruinose coating at all.

Here was an example that illustrates how a lichen can change due to weather or even over time. That’s why it’s best, when you find some that interest you, to look at them every now and then in different weather conditions to see how they change. Some might not change at all but many do.

The tufted ramalina lichen (Ramalina americana) has a green body (thallus) with flattened strap like branches and white fruiting bodies (apothecia.) They are very susceptible to air pollution and many have died off but oddly, I find them growing in a parking lot surrounded by cars. I’m not sure what that means but generally lichens are a good indicator of air quality. If you see a lot of them in your area that most likely means that your air quality is good.

If you see a tree that looks as if someone threw a bucket of white paint at it you could be seeing a whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena.) On the other hand, you could be seeing a white fungus called the white stain fungus (Julella fallaciosa.) That’s where looking closely comes in; if you see what look like small black dots or rings in the white field, it is most likely the fungus. Neither the fungus or the lichen will hurt the tree. Just think of them as birds that have found a good place to perch, because that’s all they’re doing.

This tree had me baffled. I thought it was covered with some kind of lichen but I had never seen one this color envelops an entire tree before, so I had to send the photos to my friend who wrote a book on lichens. Not surprisingly he knew right off what it was.

A photo of the tiny, almost invisible apothecia helped with his identification.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when he said that it was my old friend the maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora,) because every one I had seen previously looked like the one in this photo. He said that the individual thalli (the bodies) of these lichens can grow together to cover large swaths of a smooth tree trunk. This is especially true on young maple trees with very smooth bark, which of course is what this young tree was. Lichens always find a way to amaze me, no matter how many of them I see.

This lichen was going to appear here as a mystery lichen but at the last moment I sent photos to my lichen identifying friend and he came back with Ropalospora viridis which has no common name. Since that was the one I had chosen out of his book I was happy to have the confirmation. Lichens can be tough to identify but as I’ve said here so many times before, you don’t have to know its name or even that it is a lichen to appreciate its beauty. That is the most important part; just being aware of and enjoying the beauty that is all around you.

This lichen doesn’t have apothecia. Instead it has bright, lime green soredia, which are tiny balls of cells that break off and start new lichens. Many lichens have asexual means of reproduction and this is one of those. It’s a pretty little thing that I’m sure will be hard to miss now that I’ve seen it.

There is always at least one unknown in my lichen folder and this is today’s example. At first I thought the ghostly white circle on a tree was the fringe of a maple dust lichen, but where was the rest of the lichen? Then I thought it might be slime flux, which is a weeping wound on a tree also called bacterial wet wood. It looks like a wet stain running down the bark and can be white, black, orange, brown and other colors. I’ve been aware of it and have seen it on various trees throughout my life but I’ve never seen what it looks like when it just starts, and I wondered if that was what I was seeing here. In any event both I and my lichenologist friend are baffled by this one, so if you happen to know what it is, we’d really love to hear about it.

I hope you’ll look at and enjoy the lichens in your area. You won’t have to look hard because they are literally everywhere.

For anyone interested here is the ordering information for the lichen book I’ve been speaking of throughout this post. I’m sorry that I couldn’t get it to you in the original post.

From the tiniest grain of sand to the large sun in the sky, all are here to teach us. ~Pam Torres

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This post won’t be as cold as the last one from the Westmoreland deep cut but you might still want to keep your sweater on. It’s -10 F. as I start this post but the above photo of the outlet on Half Moon Pond in Hancock was taken on a balmier 20-degree morning just after an ice storm. We’ve had a few of those as well.

I think I’ll remember this winter as one of near constant ice. It is everywhere and seems to cover everything, as this poor lowbush blueberry shows. The ice is keeping me from climbing any hills and making me check to see if I have my micro spikes any time I go outside.

I took a few steps out onto the ice of Half Moon Pond without spikes on and found it so slippery I thought I’d have to drop to my knees and crawl back to shore. It was all I could do just to stand still but the skaters loved it. One even had a sail, so the wind did all the work. If you need wind, this is the place to come. Sometimes the wind will scream across the pond with enough force to nearly tear a half open door right off its hinges. It howls through here and makes a howling sound, just like in the movies. I always wonder if Native Americans were afraid of places with howling winds and twanging ice like this place has. When that ice starts in with its creaking, twanging and pinging it can sound downright eerie, but you do get used to it.

I decided to stay on shore where I could stand upright and marvel at the designs in the ice. I can’t imagine what would have made such strange shapes.

Before the pond froze over as each wave reached the frozen sand on shore its leading edge would freeze and over time all the frozen wave edges intertwined and created these rope-like structures. This was the first time I had ever seen this happen.

I tried a few times to show the way the ice on the trees reflected the light in colors, as if millions of tiny prisms lined the branches, but though it’s an easy thing to see making the camera see it is not quite so easy. That’s too bad because it can be one of the most beautiful scenes found in nature in the winter.

In a recent post I did on buds I told how the bud’s scales protected the bud from water and ice infiltration, but after seeing something like this it always amazes me that the buds can survive at all. The new leaves and flowers that appear in the spring though, show that they’re a lot tougher than we might think.

Not a single bud or branch can escape ice like this. Anything over a quarter inch in ice thickness starts bringing down branches, and the branches bring down power lines. That’s why an ice storm can be such a terrible and beautiful thing.

The ice I could get close to looked quite thick but I didn’t see too much damage from this storm. I saw just a few smaller limbs down.

I saw a long-necked dinosaur eating an oak leaf in a frozen puddle.

This was the scene in another puddle. I can’t imagine how such things happen. It’s as if the skin of the ice is disappearing and leaving behind its skeleton.

Little bluestem grass looks so fragile, but here it took a plow full of heavy wet snow and didn’t flinch. I love to see a field full of little bluestem in the snow.

This is another failed attempt at showing you all of the colors that shine out at you from an icy forest. One day I hope to capture it because it’s a very beautiful thing to see. It’s one of those things in nature that make you just want to stand and look and marvel at the incredible beauty that surrounds us.

But most times, rather than just standing and looking into the woods I like to go into them, because things like this are much easier to see. This is one of the reddest examples of red bark phenomenon that I’ve ever seen. The color is caused by algae growing on the tree bark, and it being studied by scientists all over New England. It isn’t always red; it can be orange as well. It affects all kinds of trees, both conifers and deciduous, and many different species. It can also appear on stones and is even present in many lichens. So if you see a tree with red bark there isn’t anything wrong. It’s just algae looking for a place to perch. What might be wrong I’ve read, is what is causing the algae to want to perch on tree bark in the first place. It is a relatively recent phenomenon, happening within the last 20 years. Some think climate change, others simply don’t know. I notice it more and more, especially on eastern hemlock trees.

NOTE: A knowledgeable friend tells me that this red bark could also be the tree’s “under bark” which can become exposed when woodpeckers go probing for larvae on a tree. I’ve never heard of this so I’ll have to look more closely next time I see it. If this was done by a woodpecker that was a determined bird, because it was a very large area on the tree.

Here was something I had never seen; a large hemlock scar had healed nicely but it was covered with white frost, while frost couldn’t be seen on any other part of the tree. It’s something I can’t explain. Maybe the bark of the healed wound was moister than the older, thicker bark that surrounded it. Somehow, something attracted the frost.

One of the many things I see in winter is how the sun has heated a leaf or a twig enough so it melts itself down into the snow. This was a hemlock twig, which was barely larger in diameter than a piece of cooked spaghetti. How so much heat can be absorbed by what is a relatively small area is unknown to me, but I see it happen all the time.

I saw a strange something or other on a tree and though I had a feeling that it must be a lichen, I wasn’t sure. I had never seen anything like it so since I have a friend who has literally written the book about the lichens in his area, I sent him photos. He almost immediately identified it as Trypethelium virens, which I later found out is called the beech sucker or the speckled blister lichen. They grow on beech trees and the best time to spot them is in the winter, so that’s another good reason to go into the woods in winter. It’s a pretty lichen that was quite large and easily seen; maybe 2 inches across.

I found a curious little forest sprite face peeking out from the fringe of this example. From what I’ve seen online the appearance of this lichen can vary by quite a lot.

I went to the Ashuelot falls to get some shots of ice pancakes but I was too late. The river had frozen over and all I saw were icebergs at the floor of the falls. It was still a worthwhile trip though, because the water going over the falls looked like honey in the sunlight.

While at the river I saw black locust seed pods blowing around on top of the snow. They always seem to fall from the trees in the winter so there was nothing remarkable about that. What is remarkable is how such a big tree can come from such a small seed. They can’t be much more than a quarter of an inch long. They are obviously in the legume family along with beans, peas and so many other plants.

I’ve always loved how the white snow makes water look so dark in winter, so I hung by the side of this dark pool long enough to almost make me late for work. Of course I tried to get that perfect photo, and never did.

This last shot is from nearly the same spot as the first one in this post. It shows the difference over the course of almost a month and surprisingly, except for the addition of a little snow in this last shot, it didn’t change that much. Since we’re supposed to be in for a good old fashioned nor ‘easter today, it may change quite a lot. Stay warm and stay safe, wherever you happen to be.

Nearness to nature keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt, and in touch with the unseen powers. ~Charles Eastman

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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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Half Moon Pond in Hancock iced over but then it warmed up and the ice melted quickly. All that was left early one morning was the mist that was left from the melting. I wanted to get a shot of it but all I had was my cell phone. I decided to try it anyway, and this is what the phone’s camera saw. What I saw was not quite so much bright sunlight up in the clouds, though dawn was just breaking over the hills behind me. I liked what the phone camera saw though, and I hope you will too.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked quite far into the woods after seeing what I thought was a beautiful flower, only to find instead that it was a feather. But I’m never disappointed because feathers can often be as beautiful as flowers. These “blossomed” on a hazelnut twig and changed shape contantly in the wind. They were very fine and soft, like goose down.

I know these are bird tracks and I know the middle longer toe points in the direction the bird was facing but I don’t know why they were so long or what the lines behind them were about. It looked to me like the bird went into a skid when it tried to land. Their feet weren’t very big but there were many prints around the area and I’m guessing dark eyed juncos made them. You can often see flocks of sometimes twenty or more juncos along roadsides in winter, presumably looking for small seeds.

At work one morning I spotted a dark colored animal a little bigger than a house cat running from one of the buildings. It ran with a kind of loping gait like a mink but quite fast. One of the paw prints we found afterwards is in the above photo but we can’t know if it belongs to the animal we saw. There are lots of animals in these woods. But judging by the animal’s size and the way it ran like a big mink, we think it must have been a fisher cat. Fisher cats aren’t cats, they are members of the weasel family, and they don’t eat fish. They were hunted for their fur almost to extinction in times past and though they are making a comeback they’re very wary of man and aren’t often seen. They’re usually active at night so seeing this one in daylight was a rare thing.

I believe these turkey feathers tell the story of the fisher cat and why it was near one of the buildings. They were found near the spot it ran from. Fishers eat small to medium sized animals and birds, and will also eat beechnuts, acorns, apples and berries. They will also eat porcupines, leaving nothing but the hide and a few bones behind. In fact they’ll eat just about anything and I’ve heard they have a blood curdling scream when they’re on the hunt. Just for fun (?) I went to You Tube and listened to a fisher cat scream, and now I understand how some people have been scared half to death by them at night in the woods. It’s an eerie sound, and that’s putting it mildly.

A huge old oak tree died where I work and when it was cut down the butt end showed purple staining, meaning it has steel or iron objects like screws or nails in it. Sawmills look for this kind of thing when logging trucks bring in a load of logs and they’ll reject the whole load if they see it. This log was easily four feet across but it will never be sawed into boards.

I used to feel comfortable in the knowledge that any time I saw this platy bark in the shape of a target on a tree, I was looking at a red maple. But then last fall I saw a very old yellow birch with target canker that looked just like the example in the above photo. Now, I thought, I can’t be quite so sure of what I’m seeing, so I returned to the book Bark; a Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast, by Michael Wojtech. In it he does indeed say that red maple is the only tree in the northeast that develops target canker, so what of that birch? I don’t know every tree in the forest but if I can’t tell the difference between a red maple and a yellow birch, I’d better give up nature blogging. The answer I think, is to go back and find that birch and better document its bark.

Here is the only photo I took of the yellow birch I saw with target canker, which can be clearly seen on the tree. I can remember how surprised I was and thought that I must be mistaken but no, I’ve never seen maple bark peel and curl like that. The trick will be to find this tree again in a forest full of trees.

I had to go to the local car dealership to have my car serviced and while I was waiting, I noticed this piece of tree bark sitting on a counter. I was happy to find it there, not so much because of the bark itself, but because someone thought it was beautiful enough to show in the waiting room like an art object. It grabbed someone’s attention, as it did mine.

Because of all the rain we had this summer fruits, seeds and nuts are everywhere, including the poison ivy berries (Toxicodendron radicans) seen here. I’ve never seen so many of the small fruits on poison ivy vines. Though I like to get photos of them when they’ve turned white and are fully ripe, the birds eat them so fast I usually can’t find any. All parts of this plant can give you quite a rash if touched, so I try not to get too close. Even inhaling the smoke from a fire where it is being burned can cause severe throat issues.

I finally found some ice needles that really looked like needles. Usually they have been stepped on and look stubby, with squared off ends. A lot has to happen for them to form but they’re fairy common once you know what to look for. And what to listen for; the soil they grow in will crunch when it’s walked on. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape and that needles 16 inches long have been found, but most of the ones I see are less than 5 inches long. These might have been closer to 6 inches long.

I saw this feature in some puddle ice. It looked like the disc or lens shape froze and the water moving around it created waves. But how could this be? Wouldn’t all of the puddle surface have frozen at the same time? I don’t expect anyone to answer this; I’m just thinking out loud. Puddle ice is an endless source of fascination for me because it’s amazing what you can see in it.

I think weevils must have killed the terminal leader of this hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) and then two of its branches became new leaders, giving it a U-shaped appearance. I usually see this on white pine, not hemlock. White pine weevils do attack lots of other evergreen species like spruce and fir but I haven’t heard of them attacking hemlocks, so I can’t say what might have caused it.

Speaking of eastern hemlocks, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to look out a window at work to see gray squirrels trying to get at the seed cones. They’ll hang from the branch by their back feet and tail and grab the small cones with their front paws. I’ve seen four or five squirrels working a single tree, and one day I saw an eagle flying over the tree they were in. The squirrels disappeared in a hurry that day. When I look at this photo of a cone I wonder if man thought up roof shingles by looking at something like this.

The white stripes on the undersides of the flat hemlock needles come from four rows of breathing pores (stomata) which are far too small to be seen without extreme magnification. The stripes make the tree very easy to identify.

I found these squirrel tracks in my yard and I wasn’t surprised because there are also lots of hemlock trees here. I’ve seen chickadees eating the seeds but until this year I’ve never seen squirrels eating them.

Northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) also grows in my yard. There are many seed pods on the cedars and robins, common redpolls, pine siskins, and dark-eyed juncos eat the seeds. Many small birds use the trees to hide in and robins nest in them each spring. The open seed pods always look like beautiful carved wooden flowers to me. The Native American Ojibwe tribe thought the trees were sacred because of their many medicinal uses, and maybe they were. They cured scurvy for many a European.

A few years ago I started noticing what I thought looked like teeth marks on lichens and wrote and showed photos of it here. Now I’m seeing those same marks on certain fungi, like this tinder fungus. The squiggly lines in the top bluish portion are what I’m talking about.

I finally found out when a knowledgeable reader wrote in, that these lines and squiggles are not chipmunk or mouse teeth marks. He measured the marks and found that no American mammal had teeth that small. Instead they’re caused by algae eating land snails. Accoding to what I’ve read “squiggly lines or tiny fan patterns on rock or tree bark show where a snail has scraped off algae or fungi, leaving a paler spot. Smooth-barked red maple or American beech are good trees to check for snail or slug feeding tracks. You can look closely at mushrooms to see if a chewed area is found along with a slime trail.” The top of this mushroom did indeed look chewed. Snail mouths (radula) are raspy and are said to feel like a licking cat’s toungue if you hold one in your hand. That’s another mystery solved.

Just before dawn one morning the full moon hung over Half Moon Pond and reflected in the new ice. This was after the ice I mentioned in that first photo had melted. I think the pond has frozen over and melted three times now, which shows what roller coaster temperatures we’re seeing so far this winter. It’s beautiful but a little unusual as well.

As children, we are very sensitive to nature’s beauty, finding miracles and interesting things everywhere. As we grow up, we tend to forget how beautiful and magnificent the world is. There is magic and wonder for eyes who know how to look with curiosity and love. ~ Ansel Adams

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