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Archive for the ‘Mosses & Liverworts’ Category

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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Last Saturday I woke up to not only the snow that fell on Friday but a temperature of 9 degrees F. That told me we wouldn’t be seeing any melting going on. By 11 am it was 22 degrees, but with the wind the feel-like temperature was more like 18 degrees, so I opted for a place where I knew I could be out of the wind. Beaver Brook and the abandoned road that follows it lie at the bottom of a natural canyon sheltered by hills on 3 sides, so there usually isn’t much wind there.

It was still cold though.

I have a friend in California who grew up here and is very fond of this place, so I like to come here at least once in each of the four seasons so he can see what it’s looking like. The place itself doesn’t change much but the weather sure does. I’ve seen waist deep snow on the old road.

There is a small cave here that I’ve always thought looked like a perfect spot for an animal den and sure enough I could see tracks in the snow that looked like they might have been bobcat tracks, but since we’d had a little more snow overnight it was hard to tell. The cave goes much further back into the hillside than what it looks like here.

Stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is a pretty moss that I only find in this place. It’s very delicate looking but it can take a lot of winter ice and snow and grows as far north as the arctic tundra. It is also called glittering wood moss because it sparkles when the light is right. It grows on the stone that caps the cave and seems to like places where it can hang over an edge.

The seep hadn’t frozen, but it rarely does. When you see this frozen over you know it is extremely cold. Hydrologically speaking a seep is a wet place where water reaches the surface from an underground aquifer, and this one stays just like this winter and summer. I saw it freeze one winter but I’ve never seen it dry up. It’s a good place for birds and animals to come and drink.

Near the seep is a boulder fall, and on some of the stones in the boulder fall dog lichens grow. I hoped to see them on this day but they were covered by snow. The sky was a beautiful blue though, and that more than made up for their lack.

Also near the seep is a tree that I’ve been watching. It died at some point and has been sloughing off its bark for at least two years now. When you find a tree in the woods that is completely without bark, this is why. Sometimes you can even find a bunched-up pile of shed bark at a tree’s base. It is normal for live, healthy trees to lose some bark, but not like this.

A goldenrod held out its seeds for birds that didn’t seem interested. There seems to be a lot of that going on here. Many fruits and seeds are not being eaten like they were a few years ago.

I love to see the sunlight falling on golden birches. It shows how they come by their name. They are also called yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) but to me they’re golden. Swamp birch is another name for this tree that is the largest and most valuable birch. They can live to 100 years regularly but at least one was found that was over 200 years old.

I was lucky to find a fallen golden birch branch that had the female seed heads (strobili) attached. They are quite big on this birch; about the size of bush clover seed heads, or the tip of your thumb.

And here was a single fallen golden birch seed, which is about twice the size of the gray birch seed I showed in a recent post. I’ve read that redpolls, pine siskins, chickadees, and other songbirds eat these seeds. Ruffed grouse eat the seeds, catkins, and buds, and red squirrels like the seeds and sap.

Golden and paper birches both have bark that peels like this. As any camper knows, it’s great for starting a campfire. That’s because it contains betulin, which is highly flammable. It is also water repelling, and that’s probably why Native Americans used birch bark for their canoes.

There was lots of ice on the ledges. These ledges don’t see a lot of sunshine; I’d guess maybe two or three hours per day, so the ice grows slowly. It is clear and hard.

The sunshine that falls here in winter comes over the hillside to the right, out of this view. In winter it takes its time reaching the other hillside on the left, so much of the road is shaded. It can be a cold walk. The overhead electric wires just follow this handy corridor. There are no houses here.

I met and old timer up here once who told me that rock climbers used to practice on that erratic over on the other side of the brook. It is big; maybe twice the size of the 40-ton Tippin Rock in Swanzey.

I loved the way the reflected light fell on the water in this spot. So much beauty, everywhere you look.

In the place where the brook becomes wide and calm it had iced over. I’ve seen Beaver Brook with ice three or four feet thick on it, so thick that the brook lost its singing voice.  I’m hoping I don’t see that this year.

The icicles hanging from the stones in the brook have large “feet” and I think that is because they grew in length as far as the water surface and then, once they couldn’t grow any longer, they grew wider instead. I’ve watched the ice in the Westmoreland deep cut and when it reaches the surface of the drainage channels it widens, just like this. If that is what is happening here then the water level has dropped about a foot since the icicles grew.

Ice hung from every stone. Anywhere water splashes is a good place to look for ice formations.

The seed pods of Indian pipe plants (Monotropa uniflora) look like small, carved wooden melons. This one had split to release the tiny, winged seeds. They split into five parts and each segment will eventually fall off, leaving the hard, dried central style behind. I had to take my gloves off to get this shot so it is a bit rushed. I wanted to show more of the top so we could see the funnel shaped hole in the stigma, but it was cold. The wiry looking bits are what is left of its ten dried stamens which, when the plant is flowering are inside the petals. You can see one of the dried petals behind the seed pod there in the lower right. It really is fascinating how much of the flower’s structure is still there in the dead plants. I always like to stop and take a closer look when I see them.

I stopped to look at the chubby purple buds of red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa). Buds with many bud scales that overlap like shingles are called imbricate buds. A gummy resin often fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. If ice should form inside the bud scales it could kill the bud. I’ve seen these buds in the past with purple and green stipes and they were beautiful. The colors reminded me of drawings of court jesters that I’ve seen. I can’t say why some buds are striped and others are not but I have a feeling that temperature might have something to do with it. Many plants like American wintergreen, turn purple in winter and I’ve noticed that the color is darker when it is cold.

As is often the case these days I didn’t dare to climb down the embankment to get a good view of the falls, but this shot from 2015 is a good representation of what I saw by peeking through the brush on this day. There was a good roar but I’ve seen even the falls covered by ice in the past, quieted by the cold.

As I was leaving, I noticed that the sun was higher in the sky and its light had reached the brook. There wasn’t much warmth but there was light. This shot also shows how treacherous climbing down to the water would be, and this spot would be much easier than at the falls. You’ve got to be careful up here because you’d wait quite a little while for any help to come and in this cold that wouldn’t be good.

The sunshine had also reached the icicles on the ledges but I’d be surprised if it had enough time to do any real melting. It won’t be long though. There is a little more daylight each day and it will be March before we know it.

In the winter, the world gets sharp. Beautiful things happen. ~Peter Fiore

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Finding ice baubles along the shore of the Ashuelot River last week made me wonder if the ice was growing at the deep railroad cut called the “icebox” up in Westmoreland, so last Saturday I decided to go and have a look. There was ice on the man-made canyon walls but it was too early for the ice climbers who named the place to be here.

Broken ice at the base of the ice falls told me that the icicles had formed and melted a few times. It takes a good cold period to get them going but once they start growing in earnest, they can reach the size of tree trunks in just a few weeks.

The groundwater that seeps through the fractures in the stone never stops. Winter or summer, it still flows. The reason the ice grows so well is because, the walls are shaded in this part of the canyon. The canyon rim is 50 feet high in some places, so sunshine might kiss the canyon floor for an hour each day. That’s also why you find no plants growing here.

In this photo from a few years ago you can see the scale of the place and you can also see that the ice climbers don’t wait long to start climbing. These are very focused, intent people and I don’t like to bother them when they’re up there.

In places water pours from the walls in streams but in most places it just seeps slowly, drip by drip.

Never was moss so green as it was on this day.

As you can imagine it is cold here, usually made colder by the breeze that blows through, so the 28 degrees F. I started with was probably more like 18 or 20 when I finally turned south to find some sunshine.

The railroad engineers had a lot of stone to get rid of once the canyon had been blasted through the hillside and one of the ways they got rid of it was to build massive retaining walls along sections of railbed. For the most part they’re still in perfect shape after 150 years.

The southern canyon’s walls aren’t quite so high so more sunshine pours in, and that means more plants grow here on the southern end. At this time of year it seems kind of empty but in summer the growth here is lush, with every vertical and horizontal surface covered by growing things, and it always reminds me of the Shangri-La that James Hilton described in Lost Horizon.

Last summer I discovered ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) growing here and here was the evidence; their feather like fertile fronds, covered with spore capsules. There will most likely be more of them here in the future. They’re a beautiful fern so I hope so.

There are lots of blackberries growing here as well and most still had leaves to show off.

But just because the sun shines brighter here in the southern canyon, that doesn’t mean that ice doesn’t grow here. The cold wins out over the weak winter sunshine and these walls are often trapped under ice that is feet thick until spring.

To give you a sense of what I’m talking about, here is the southern canyon in March of 2015. The ice columns, stained various colors by minerals in the groundwater, were thicker than tree trunks. It’s a good idea to wear warm clothes if you come here in winter.

Until and unless the drainage channels freeze over the ice, no matter how big it might get, is cutoff by the flowing water.

You can see how easily the groundwater can flow through the cracks and fissures in the stone. That’s what makes this place so special. I’ve been in other deep cuts but none have had ice like I find here. Everything has come together perfectly to create a land of water, stone and ice.

Here was new mineral staining that I hadn’t seen before. If an ice column grows in this spot, it will most likely be orange.

An evergreen fern grows in a grotto, set back from the face of the wall and each year icicles, like prison bars, surround it until spring.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of nature, because in other places the ice was rotten. Ice becomes rotten when water, air bubbles, and/or dirt get in between the grains of ice and cause it to honeycomb and lose its strength. Instead of a sharp ringing crack when it is struck it produces more of a dull thud. The grayish white color and matte finish are a sure sign that you should stay away from it when it’s hanging over your head. Compare the ice in this shot with that in the previous shot and the difference will be obvious.

There was puddle ice to see. Do you see the fish?

In one spot on the wall of the southern canyon a green alga called Trentepohlia aurea grows. Though it is considered green algae the same pigment that colors carrots orange makes green algae orange. It’s is very hairy, but with the drainage channels filled with water I couldn’t get close enough to show you.

Reptilian great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) also grow on the southern canyon walls. This beautiful liverwort gets its common name from its fresh, clean scent. It will only grow near water that is very clean and it grows here just above the drainage ditches. Groundwater constantly splashes them and keeps them wet in warm months. In winter they are often encased in ice, and they will stay that way until spring. It doesn’t seem to hurt them any because there are thousands of them growing here.

The saddest thing I saw on this day was how the trail had flooded over half the length of the southern end. Nobody has maintained the drainage channels enough to keep them fully open and with all the rain we had over last summer they failed and flooded the trail. Snowmobile clubs try to keep up but there is only so much they can do with hand tools. To fix this properly now you’d have to bring in truck loads of gravel and heavy equipment to restore the drainage channels to the condition they once were in. It won’t be easy or cheap but I hope someone will do it because it would be a shame to lose this one-of-a-kind place. There is simply nothing else like it in this area.

All of the water in the drainage channels becomes a stream that runs off into the woods under that old bridge, and I was shocked to see how much soil had washed away from its banks. What was once a little surface stream is now about two feet below the surface.

I don’t know what this old bridge was used for but there was a lot of stone to be moved out of the canyons and I’m guessing that it was wheeled across this bridge and dumped in the woods. The railroad did that a lot and you can find piles of blasted stone all over this area. If I could find a way out there I’d go and see, but nobody is crossing this bridge unless they’re a tightrope walker.

And then there was the old lineman’s shack which, with its ridge beam broken, can no longer support its own weight. It now tilts at about 30 degrees, and if we have any mentionable amount of snow this winter I think it will surely come down.

It looks to me like the heavy slate roof is actually pulling what’s left of the building apart. It’s a shame that something so well built has to give itself up in this way but with absolutely no maintenance over a century or more, it has put up a good fight.

Though the old shack is beyond repair I hope the townspeople will somehow vote to find the funds to repair the damage to the trail itself one day. Other parts of the rail trails that surround Keene have had extensive work done to them, but they’re closer to town so more people use them. Meanwhile I’ll continue enjoying the place for as long as I’m able. I hope you enjoy seeing it as well. It’s a rare and special place that should be appreciated more than it is.

It’s amazing how quickly nature consumes human places after we turn our backs on them. Life is a hungry thing. ~Scott Westerfeld

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Anyone who has read this blog for very long knows I like to play on the banks of the Ashuelot River, which meanders through several local towns. Though when I was a boy it was terribly polluted, now people fish for trout along its banks and eagles can sometimes be seen flying over it. That’s why a few years ago I was disturbed when I saw an oily sheen on the water that filled my footprint on the shore. It looked much like the puddle I found on the shore in the photo above and I posted it on this blog, saying how I was hoping I’d never see such a thing on these riverbanks again. Then happily, thanks to several knowledgeable readers, I found out that this sheen might easily have come from natural sources. Iron rich ferrous hydroxide that occurs naturally in soil can cause the oil like sheen on water, as can bacteria which generate hydrocarbons in oxygen depleted soil. I was very happy to hear that because though I don’t want to see this river polluted, I do think that this film on the water is beautiful. Just look at those colors.

While I was at the river, I spotted trees that had grape vines loaded with grapes growing in them. Wild river grapes (Vitis riparia) like a lot of rain, and I know that because we’ve had a lot of rain and I’m seeing more grapes than I’ve ever seen before. The odd thing about it though, is how the birds don’t seem to be eating them. These grapes are a favorite of many birds and they are often gone even before I can get a photo of them, but on this day I didn’t see that a single one had been picked. That’s a little disturbing.

Also disturbing is how none of the Oriental bittersweet berries (Celastrus orbiculatus) have been eaten. They are another favorite of the birds and they disappear as quickly as the grapes, so why aren’t they? This vine is very invasive and can strangle trees to death so I don’t want it to spread, but I do wonder about the birds.

While I was there wandering along the river, I took a shot of the Thompson covered bridge, named after playwright Denmon Thompson, who was a native son, and built in 1832. The bridge design is known as “Town lattice,” patented by Connecticut architect Ithiel Town in the early 1800s. The open lattice work lets a lot of light into the bridge and this is unusual because many covered bridges are dark and cave like. In the 1800s being able to see daylight inside a covered bridge would have been the talk of the town. The Thompson Bridge is considered by many to be the most beautiful covered bridge in New England but the person who ran the wires must not have known that.

This bridge is known as the Cresson Bridge, also in Swanzey and also crossing the Ashuelot River. It was opened to traffic in 1859 and I wanted you to see it so you could get an idea of how dark it was inside these old covered bridges. The tiny square windows didn’t let in much light, and that’s why Town truss bridges like that in the previous photo were such an innovation, and why they were so welcomed by the traveling public. By the way, back in those day traveling was done by sleigh in winter, so snow had to be shoveled onto the plank floors of covered bridges so sleigh runners would have something to slide on. What a job that must have been.

I finally found a blue bead lily plant (Clintonia borealis) with a ripe berry on it and now you know why I call it “electric blue.” That might sound like the title of a Jimmy Hendrix song but it is a very unusual shade of blue, to these eyes at least. It seems to sparkle in the right light and it is a deer magnet. From seed to berry can take 14 years, with two of those years taken up by seed germination. This is not a fast-growing plant.

I went to see Baily Brook Falls up in Stoddard and was surprised to see how little water was actually falling. With all of the rain we’ve had I thought they would be roaring. I have a feeling that beavers are involved and if I walked upstream, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that they’ve dammed up the stream.

Since Bailey Brook Falls werent roaring I went to where I knew I’d hear the roar of water; the outflow dam at Swanzey Lake.

I’m always amazed by what I see when the leaves start falling. Here was a wasp nest as big as a soccer ball up in a maple tree, and I had been walking under it several times each day all summer long without seeing it. I’d bet its residents saw me though, and I’m glad they decided we could coexist. I was pruning a large rhododendron once that had a similar nest in the center of it. By the time I was able to stop running I had been stung on the back several times.

When the leaves fall from the trees the wind has greater force as it whistles through the bare branches and inevitably, small bird nests like these get blown out. I don’t know what bird made this one but you could barely have fit a hen’s egg in it. It was as light as a feather and very well made of grass.

I saw a spider web on a lawn and it reminded me of the synapses in my own brain. One of the questions that has been nagging at that brain for quite a long time is why nature uses the same shapes over and over again.

I looked down into the heart of a yucca plant and thought of the Native Americans who used every single part of this plant. They pounded the leaves and used the strong fibers inside them to weave sandals, cords, belts and baskets. They also ate the flowers and fruit of the plant. The sharp points at the tips of the leaves were used as sewing needles and the roots were peeled and ground and mixed with water to make soap for washing their hair and treating dandruff.  Sap from the leaves was used medicinally to stop bleeding and heal sores. Not a bit of it was wasted.

I found this colony of wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) on an alder limb in a swamp one recent day. Wooly alder aphids grow a white, filamentous waxy covering that looks like it’s made up of tiny white ribbons. A colony of them looks like white fuzz on the alder’s branches and this white fuzz helps protect them from the eyes of predators. They are sap sucking insects which secrete a sweet honeydew on the leaves and branches of plants. This honeydew attracts a fungus called black sooty mold, but since the mold grows only on the honeydew and not the plant, it doesn’t harm plants. The aphids themselves will do far more harm because they can literally suck the life out of a plant.

I’m not sure if the aphids with dots in this photo I took previously always look that way, if they haven’t grown the white waxy covering yet, or if they’ve lost the covering for some reason. They are very small; not even half the size of a house fly. I find them usually on the undersides of alder branches. If you are lucky enough to catch these insects in flight, they look like tiny white fairies. In fact another name for them is “fairy flies.” This is the best time of year to find them.

Here is something quite rare, unfortunately. American chestnuts were one of the most important forest trees, supplying both food and lumber. An Asian bark fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) was introduced into North America on imported Asiatic chestnut trees and the disease all but wiped out over three billion American chestnut trees. New shoots often sprout from chestnut roots when the main trunk dies so they haven’t yet become extinct. Unfortunately the stump sprouts are almost always infected by the Asian fungus by the time they reach 20 feet tall but since some trees do bloom maybe these particular examples are growing from chestnuts. I found these three or four young trees a few years ago and have watched them get bigger over the years. They look very healthy so far. Though the leaves resemble beech leaves they are much bigger with very serrated margins. Many botanists and other scientists are working on finding and breeding disease resistant trees and maybe these trees will one day fit the bill. If you happen to find any you might want to keep an eye on them.

A tree “marriage” happens when two trees of the same species rub together in the wind. When the outer bark is rubbed off, the inner cambium layer of the trees can become naturally grafted together and they will be married from then on. The process is called inosculation and isn’t as rare as we might think. This example is special because it looks like the very tip of a branch on one trunk grew directly into the other trunk. It must have taken many years of strong winds and bark rubbing before they could grow together as they did.

Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night. If you’re in or near the woods at night in winter you can often hear the trees splitting and cracking, and sometimes it’s as loud as a rifle shot. Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter. When this repeated healing and cracking happens over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen in the photo. I’ve seen them on several different species, so I don’t think any one species is more or less susceptible to cracking than others. It’s more a matter of how the sunlight falls on a tree’s trunk. Wrapping an ornamental tree’s trunk loosely in burlap in winter can help prevent the bark splitting.

If you grow stone fruits like peaches, apricots, plums or cherries then you should know the disease called black knot. It is caused by a fungus called Apiosporina morbosa. This fungus grows in the wild and its spores can be spread by rain or wind. The spores will typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like that in the above photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring. Black cherry seems particularly susceptible to the disease.

I saw a hollowed-out stump that was slowly filling with fallen leaves beside a trail. From what I’ve read in the book Bark; a Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast, by Michael Wojtech, eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) are the only trees with stumps that will rot away from the inside out. It’s an interesting thing that I don’t see that often.

You would think that with all the rain we’ve had I’d be seeing slime molds everywhere, but actually I’ve seen very few this year. I believe the orangey brown material in this photo was once an active slime mold but by the time I found it, it was dry and hard. There are many different orange slime molds so it’s impossible to tell which one it is but it was still interesting. It shows how a slime mold will spread over its immediate surroundings, looking for food. Slime molds “eat” tiny unseen organisms such as bacteria and yeasts, and they are also said to help decompose leaves and rotting logs.

I’ve seen many thousands of pixie cup lichens (Cladonia pyxidata.) They’re the ones that look like tiny golf tees, but I’ve always wondered what they looked like when they first started forming. Did they always look like golf tees? I didn’t think so but I couldn’t say why. Then one day I thought I had found the answer. As you can see in this photo the little golf tees start life looking like simple pegs. You can see a few with tiny “cups” just starting to form. Pixie cup lichens are squamulose lichens with fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. Squamulose means they have scale like lleafy obes that often overlap like shingles. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are called podetia. Podetia means a stalk like growth which bears the spore bearing fruiting bodies. Finally, frucitose means a lichen with bushy, vertical growth. It is thought that some colonies of pixie cup lichens might be as old as 4,500 years. It’s good I think, to know a little more about these tiny life forms that see everywhere I go.

A boulder on the side of the road was covered by moss and though that might not seem surprising or earthshaking, it caught my attention.

Picture yourself in a small, single engine plane flying low over the treetops in the Amazon jungle, and you’ll understand why I was fascinated by this mossy boulder. I imagined that scene would look a lot like this.

Here’s a little hint of what’s to come. We finally had a frost, more than a month after our average first frost date and the second latest since such things have been recorded. But we haven’t had a freeze, and that means we still have colorful leaves on some of the trees.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

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As I always do at this time of year, I went to visit Pitcher Mountain over in Stoddard. I got there so early in the morning the mist was still in the trees. The mountain was named after the Pitcher family who settled here in the 1700s, and from the treeless summit you have a full 360-degree view. The views are almost always good but when the trees have changed into their fall colors it can be beyond beautiful.

I was surprised to see that the oaks had already turned.

And the beeches as well. This was not what I expected. Obviously fall was moving faster up here than it was down in the lower elevations.

The trail was thick with fallen maple leaves, and all of these signs told me that I was probably too late to see peak color on the summit but no matter; up we go.

It was early morning and the sun was shining, the birds were singing, the forest was beautiful and I had nowhere to be, so what I might find on the summit didn’t concern me.

I had to stop at one point and say hello to a pretty little haircap moss growing beside the trail.

I wanted to see if the moss had produced any spore capsules and it had, as this photo shows. When young the female spore capsule of a haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra which protects it. You can’t see it in this photo because it has fallen off already, but it is very hairy and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually as the capsule ages it moves from vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra falls off. The spore capsule continues to ripen after the calyptra comes off and when the time is right the beaked end cap or lid called the operculum will fall off and release the spores to the wind. As it ages the spore capsule changes from round to four cornered but not quite square, as seen here. I would guess by looking at it that the end cap was nearly ready to fall off. I’ve taken them off before so I could see the tiny, dust like spores. There were so many I wondered why every bit of ground on this planet wasn’t covered in haircap moss.

An Indian cucumber root plant (Medeola virginiana) surprised me by still having berries. They are usually snapped up quickly, by turkeys I believe, since I have accidentally scared the birds away from them when trudging through the woods.

There were lots of clouds in the sky but it was still a beautiful, if cool fall day.

When I turned around and looked back at the way I had come, I could see lots of color.

There was plenty of color along the trail as well. The many bright red blueberry bushes were beautiful.

And so were the blackberry bushes.

And there was the ranger cabin. I wondered who it was that carried all the materials up here to build it years ago. If you unlock the gate down below you can drive to a point but the last few hundred yards would have required hand carrying because of all the rocks and the steepness of the grade. The trail is only one person wide too, so it must have been quite a job. It’s a shame that it isn’t being maintained.

It has always looked to me that there used to be an apple orchard up here and though the trees no longer bear they’re still here. I was surprised to find spring beauties, one of our most beautiful spring wildflowers, growing under this tree one year.

I’ve read that the fire tower is manned when the fire danger is high and I’ve seen people in it but normally it is empty. One day when I was up here they let all the families go up into it, but I kept my feet on the ground. I don’t get along well with heights and I would imagine it must sway a bit in the wind.

Once I reached the summit I saw that I had indeed waited too long to make this pilgrimage, because almost all of the blueberries and other bushes had lost their leaves. They add a lot to the beauty of the place but they aren’t all there is to see. I like cloud shadows, and I had plenty of them to watch. I also had the whole place to myself for a time.

The quality of color depended on which direction you turned. There was quite a lot of close color looking this way. If the blueberries still had their leaves though, it would have been even better.

All the leafless bushes seen here are blueberries and that’s why Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberry picking. Entire families come from all over to pick. I’ve sat here during blueberry picking season and heard voices coming from out there among the bushes without ever seeing a soul. You hear voices saying things like “This bush is loaded!” or “I need another bucket!” and you wonder, where are they?

I wanted to show you what I call the near hill but it was completely under a cloud shadow, so I sat and waited. At one point, and I think that moment is in this photo, every part of the landscape all around the hill was in full sunshine, but the hill remained dark. I like a challenge so I thought I’d just wander around and wait. By that time the summit was crowded with families. I was happy to see lots of children up here.

While I waited, I wandered over to the bird baths. Since it had rained the night before I wasn’t surprised to see them full. In fact I’ve never seen the biggest one dry, even in drought. I have seen birds bathing in it though.

Something I’ve never seen is a puddle on this part of the summit, but here was a big one. Big enough for the wind to ripple it in fact, and how the wind did blow. It actually moaned and howled through the stairs on the fire tower and two or three of the smallest children cried, afraid the wind would blow them off the mountain. Though I didn’t say anything to the parents their fear was justified; I’ve been almost blown over by big gusts a few times while up here. I was glad their parents were there to comfort them and I was also glad that that I had worn a jacket.

I discovered that mountain cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata) turns yellow in the fall. If you’re patient all the answers will come.

I returned to view of the near hill several times but all I got was an occasional glimpse before the clouds closed in again. I played this game for over an hour and each time i took a look the break in the clouds quickly closed in again. I became determined that I would get a photo of the hill in full sunshine, so I waited and did some more wandering.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) looked like someone had spilled egg yolk all over the rocks. They and other lichens grow profusely up here.

This crustose lichen is very granular and is often busy producing spores, but I didn’t see any of its fruiting bodies (apothecia) on this day. These lichens were once used to dye wool in Sweden but I still wonder how they got them off the rocks. Crustose lichens usually can’t be removed from the substrate they grow on without damaging it in some way, so maybe a chisel was used. It must have been quite a job.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) also grow in great numbers here. The pale orange pad shaped parts are its fruiting bodies (Apothecia,) and the grayish, broken looking part is the body (thallus) of this relatively common lichen. A few years ago I thought they were rare until I started finding them on rocks almost everywhere I went.

Finally the clouds parted and I was able to see what I had been waiting for. There was a surprising amount of color still on the near hil but also a lot of bare trees. My guess would be that all the color comes from oaks and beeches rather than maples. In any event I’m happy that I am able to show it to you. Now that I had the shot, I could go back down to a less windy, flatter place.

You don’t have to wait until you get to the top of a mountain to enjoy the view. ~ Eleanor Brownn

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Some of you who came here expecting to find flowers might be a little disappointed but I’ve been taking a lot of fall foliage photos and I need to put them in a blog post, otherwise I’ll still be showing them in December and everyone will be confused. On this day I wanted to take just a short walk by the Ashuelot River to see if the cinnamon ferns had changed into their beautiful fall pumpkin orange color yet, but everything was so beautiful, what started as a short walk turned into a complete blog post. Sometimes it seems as if nature just throws itself at you and this was one of those days.

Not only was the forest beautiful, the weather was as well. So far we’ve had a very warm October and that has meant that the leaves are changing later than they usually do, so this might be an extended fall foliage year.

I saw a few orange cinnamon ferns but most hadn’t turned yet, which is unusual.

Turtles were even out, still soaking up as much of the weakened autumn sunshine as they could. These were painted turtles, I think. It’s unusual to see them in October.

Other creatures were active as well. Do you see the great blue heron walking along the far shore? It’s over on the far left, just by the last tree on the left side.

The big bird was hungry and on the move. Here it approaches a fallen tree from the left. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to watch the heron or the trees so I stopped to get shots of both.

But then it saw me and froze. I thought it would stay that way but it continued on, very slowly.

I hoped it would see a fish or a frog but it didn’t catch a thing while I was there. I know there are still frogs to catch because I scared a few into the water while getting these photos.

I’ve watched enough blue herons stalking food to know that this wouldn’t be over soon, so I moved on.

When I left it was watching what I was doing rather than looking for food.

I had leaves to see, so I left the bird alone. I didn’t come here looking for colorful foliage but since the trees surprised me by being so beautiful already, I stayed. My color finding software even sees salmon pink in this view.

They were beautiful no matter if you looked forward or back.

I liked this view but it might have been better if if duckweed hadn’t covered the blue of the water.

It was hard to watch where I was going instead of looking up.

The branches on the old sunken tree still looked more like the ribs of a a sunken ship.

The way these polypores were spaced on this tree made me think of squirrel steps.

The forest glowed and beckoned, so I had to go and see. I love walking into scenes like this that have such soft, beautiful light.

I found a fine old American hornbeam, also known as iron wood or muscle wood (Carpinus caroliniana.) The latter name comes from the way it looks like tendons are rippling under its bark. It is common along our rivers but seeing one this big is not common because these trees don’t seem to live long. Low down on its trunk I can see a good example of a maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora) in this shot that I didn’t see in person. It’s that light grayish spot. The tree also had lots of spidery Frullania liverworts on it. They are the darker blotches. They like places where the humidity is high, like here along the river.

New England asters bloomed here and there but they won’t last too much longer.

Many asters looked more like these.

Well there wasn’t peak color here yet, but when leaves start turning they can do it quickly and most of these have started. Sometimes in just a day or two a tree, especially a red maple, can change from green to red or orange so you’ve got to be on your toes if you want to catch them at thier most colorful. I hope you have plenty of color where you live, if not from leaves then maybe flowers. I’m still seeing flowers here so there should be at least one more flower post soon.

The fallen leaves in the forest seemed to make even the ground glow and burn with light. ~Malcolm Lowry

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Two Sundays ago I decided to visit the High Blue Trail up in Walpole. It’s an easy climb with plenty to see and it was a beautiful fall day. Once I hit the trail I wished I had dressed a little more sensibly though. I had worn a short-sleeved summer shirt so I did a little shivering at the outset.

Hobblebush leaves (Viburnum lantanoides) were already changing into their beautiful, deep maroon fall color.

Hobblebush berries go from green to bright shiny red, and then to deep, purple black. You can see a single ripe berry here. The berries are said to taste like spicy raisins or dates and are eaten by cardinals, turkeys, cedar waxwings and even pileated woodpeckers. Bears, foxes, skunks and squirrels are among the animals that eat them. They go fast; I rarely find them fully ripe.

A New England Aster grew in a low spot so wet I couldn’t get to it, so I had to take a long shot. One thing I’ve learned this year is that New England asters like wet places.

Blue wood asters bloomed in sunnier (and drier) spots all along the trail.

Sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis) got that name from colonials who noticed that they turned white at the slightest hint of frost. We haven’t had a frost but it is definitely cooling off, and this fern showed it.

Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) also turn white early. Lady and sensitive ferns make up a large part of the growth found on the floors of many of our forests, so it won’t be long before they seem a little barren. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Once the leaves fall off the trees and shrubs you can see the bones of the forest; the hardscape of stony ridges, glacial erratics, fallen logs and patches of beautiful green mosses bigger than you ever thought they could get.

Speaking of beautiful green moss, here was a quartz stone covered in delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum.) This is a color changing moss and in cold weather it turns bright, lime green. Color blindness usually means that I see it as bright orange but on this day, it was still green to these eyes.

This sign marks the trail to the overlook. So far, we’ve been following an old logging road.

There is magic in a forest and I know it has found me when these blog posts write themselves right there on the trail. I feel as if I’m on autopilot when it happens; all I have to do is take photos and then come home and type the words that have written themselves in my mind.

The corn in the cornfield was short and stunted looking, which was surprising considering all the rain we’ve had. You shouldn’t be able to see over the top of a cornfield like I could here; corn usually towers far over my head but these stalks might have been 5-6 feet tall. Each stalk had ears on it though, so it will help feed the cows this winter.

If there’s any of it left, that is. I saw signs of animals feeding on it.

White crested coral fungus (Clavulina cristata) grew just off the trail. This fungus is not as common as the yellow spindle corals that I see so often. As I was looking this up, I saw sea corals that looked identical to this example. It’s amazing how nature seems to use the same shapes again and again.

What I think might be a goat cheese webcap mushroom (Cortinarius camphoratus) grew just off the trail. Though it’s hard to see in this photo the cap surface has matted fibers on it, and that’s one of the identifiers, as are the lilac color and rather large size. Unfortunately I didn’t smell it, because that would have been the clincher. This mushroom is said to have a powerful odor of “old goat cheese or sweaty feet.” Some also think it smells like camphor, so maybe I should be glad I didn’t smell it. It’s a pretty thing though, and is a fall / late summer mushroom found usually in coniferous forests.

Years ago a hunter put small reflectors on the trees along the trail and they’re still there. I know there are bears up here and I’m fairly sure there must be lots of deer as well, because there are game trails here and there. I followed one once and discovered a lot of cornstalks that had been taken into the woods.

Running club moss (Lycopodium clavatum) grows near the summit. The name comes 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. All of this happens under the fallen leaves so it can be difficult sometimes to tell this club moss from others. I can’t say that these plants are rare here, but I don’t see them too often. It is also called stag’s horn clubmoss because of its shape.

Wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) grew on a log. This slime mold starts out as tiny pink globules (aethalia) but as they age they become darker, like those seen on the lower part of the log. Once they darken the globules look more like small puffballs, so it is easy to be fooled.

If you pop a young one (and they do pop) an orange-pink liquid drips out. As they age this liquid takes on a toothpaste consistency before finally becoming a mass of dark colored, dust like spores. If you see one with liquid like that shown here oozing out of it, you’ll know they aren’t very old. Another name is toothpaste slime mold.

I reached what is left of the old stone foundation. It and the stone walls that snake through these woods are reminders of the days when these hillsides were pastures, and not forests. I don’t know who lived up here but I do know that they were hardy souls. I came here one winter and followed snowmobile tracks as far as I could before running into waist deep snowdrifts that stopped me cold. Up here, living with that kind of snow, miles from anywhere, you would have to be hardy indeed. But it wasn’t just the snow; there were bears and wolves as well, and you don’t run very well with snow shoes on. I just read that the last known wolf in the region was taken in the winter of 1819-1820.

Since there is a small pond here on the summit the people would have had water and food as well if they farmed this land. With food, water and plenty of wood for a fire they most likely just waited out the weather until spring. What long, dark and cold winters they must have seen.

At 1588 feet you aren’t exactly on top of the world but you are on the summit of the highest hill in Walpole New Hampshire.

And as always, the view was very blue. But hazy too.

This view is hazy most of the time when I come here but I could make out Stratton Mountain, off across the Connecticut River valley in Vermont. I don’t how far it is as the crow flies but it’s about 50 miles from here to the mountain if you’re driving.

I’m sure the sharp eyed among you saw signs of fall all through this post, like ripe corn, fall mushrooms, and ghostly ferns. This Indian cucumber root is another sign; it has lost all its green but hasn’t lost that beautiful crimson splash on its top tier of leaves. It’s a beautiful color but the trees are putting on their beautiful fall colors too now, so it won’t be long before you see some very colorful foliage.

The summer sun is fading as the year grows old. ~The Moody Blues

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John Burroughs said “To find new things, take the path you took yesterday,” and that was to prove very true last Sunday. I followed a rail trail in Swanzey that I’ve followed more times than I can count but saw many things that I’ve never seen here before.

Male American Hazelnut catkins swayed lazily in the slight breeze. They had lengthened to three times their winter length and were still heavy with pollen.

The tiny female flowers were waiting for a good dose of that pollen so they could become the hazelnuts that so many birds and animals eat.

There is a nice little box culvert out here that I always like to stop and see. There was quite a lot of water in the stream it carries safely under the railbed on this day. It’s amazing to think these culverts are still keeping railbeds from washing away 150 years after they were built, and without any real maintenance.

The stream rushes off to the Ashuelot River, which is out there in the distance.

The first thing I saw that I had never seen here were trout lily leaves (Erythronium americanum). I didn’t see any flowers but I found the leaves growing all along the trail, and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t ever seen them.

You can get a glimpse of the Ashuelot River here and there along the trail. This was where I was to get another surprise. I saw something swimming quickly toward me from those fallen trees you see in this photo. I thought it was ducks but I couldn’t see anything except ripples.

And then up popped a muskrat. At least I’m fairly certain it was a muskrat. Though it never showed me its tail it was much smaller than a beaver and nowhere near as skittish. It saw me up on the embankment but still just sat and fed on what looked like grasses. It probably knew I was far enough away; this photo isn’t very good because my camera was at the limit of its zoom capability. At least you can see the critter, and that matters more to me than a technically perfect shot.

I knew that apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) grew here and I was able to find it. Its reproduction begins in the late fall and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warm rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes that always look like pearls to me, but someone thought they looked like apples and the name stuck.

Beech buds (Fagus grandifolia) are beginning to lose their straightness and that means the beautiful new spring leaves will be appearing before long. Beech bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the new leaves can emerge. The buds literally “break” and at the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud.

New maple leaves were everywhere but every one I saw was green. That was unusual because young maple leaves are often red for a while.  

Raspberry plants were also showing their new leaves but blackberry buds had barely broken.

I saw native cherries in all stages of growth. Cherries usually leaf out and blossom quite early.

Some of the willows along the trail had thrown in the towel and were finished for this year.

This is what the flower buds of a shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) look like. After shadbushes come the cherries, closely followed by the crab apples and apples, and then the peaches and plums. Shadbushes bloom earlier than the other shrubs and trees but are often still in bloom when the others bloom. The flowers appear before the leaves, unlike apples and some native cherries. Small, reddish purple to purple, apple shaped fruits follow in June. The fruit is a berry similar in size to a blueberry and has from 5-10 seeds. They taste best when they are more purple than red. Shadbush flowers are pretty but their fragrance isn’t very appealing. I can’t remember ever seeing them bloom along this trail but there they were.

Forsythia has escaped someone’s garden and was blooming happily beside the trail. Another surprise.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear, but here they were blooming beside the trail. This is another plant I can’t remember ever seeing out here before. Trailing arbutus was once collected into near oblivion but these days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. The reason it was collected so much was because its small pink to white, very fragrant flowers were used in nosegays.

I reached the trestle and found that someone, most likely a snowmobile club, had overlaid the flooring, which was starting to rot out. This was a another welcome surprise because that little square that juts out to the right was a hole right through the boards. It’s quite a drop down to the river.

This trestle is the last one I know of with its tell tales still in place. These are pencil size pieces of soft wire that hang down low enough to hit the head of anyone standing on top of a freight car. They would warn the person, or “tell the tale” of an upcoming trestle. I can walk from the trestle to this one in under a minute, so whoever was on top of the train wouldn’t have had much time to duck before they’d hit the trestle, and that would have been too bad. Tell tales used to hang on each end of every trestle in the area, but this is the last one I know of.

The river has come up some since the recent snowfall and a few rain showers. I was surprised I didn’t see any kayakers. They like to paddle the river in spring when the water is high because in that way they can float over all the submerged fallen trees.

It still has to gain more run off before it reaches its average height, by the looks. We’re still in a drought according to the weather people.

I was surprised to find a small colony of bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) as I was leaving. This is another plant I’ve never seen growing here, so this day was packed full of surprises.

Bloodroot flowers don’t usually open on cloudy days and I couldn’t tell if this one was opening or closing, but I was happy to get at least a glimpse of its beautiful inside. These flowers aren’t with us long.

In a forest of a hundred thousand trees no two leaves are identical, and no two journeys along the same path are alike. ~Paulo Coelho

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I think it had been a year or more since I had climbed the High Blue trail in Walpole so last Saturday that’s where I went. It’s more of a walk than a climb but still, it’s enough to get someone with tired lungs huffing and puffing. It was another beautiful spring day and there is a lot to see there, so I was looking forward to it.

There are a lot of ruts in the old logging road that starts the climb and many of them still had rain water in them. Salamanders took advantage of the small ponds, swimming in them as these two did. New Hampshire has eight native salamanders including the red-spotted newt, and I think that’s what these were. The larva are aquatic and so are the adults, but the juveniles are called red efts and live on land.  They eat just about anything that is small enough, including earthworms and insects. As I walked on I heard the quacking of wood frogs and the trilling of spring peepers, so there is a lot of water in the area.

Coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) were blooming by the dozens.

Striped maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum) are getting bigger each time I see them. They’ll be opening soon.

Hobblebush buds (Viburnum lantanoides) are going to bloom early this year, I think. Normally they wouldn’t open until May but these warm days are accelerating everything.

The early warmth has wreaked havoc on the maple syrup industry. The last article I read said one of the larger local producers was down more than 10,000 gallons below average. This shot shows how most of the big producers collect sap these days; with food grade plastic tubing.

It’s very simple really. The tapper drills a hole in the tree and the black piece seen above is inserted into the hole. The syrup flows through the blue tubing to the green tubing and from there to the collection tanks. Vacuum pumps are sometimes used to pull the sap through the tubing.

It’s nearly impossible to get lost up here with signs like these directing you.

It isn’t far to the summit but as slow as I walk, it takes a little while. I walk slow purposely as I’ve said many times before. Adopt a toddler’s pace and then you begin to see all the things in nature that you’ve been rushing past all these years.

Black knot grew on a young cherry tree. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those seen here. They will eventually become serious wounds and will eventually kill the tree, so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring.

Woodpeckers had been gouging out the wood of a dead birch.

This pile of shavings at the base of the tree showed that they had been working hard.

I saw that they were still growing corn here. When I first started hiking here this was a meadow full of wildflowers including orange hawkweed, which is hard to find.

I always wonder who gets the most corn, the farmer of the animals. I think that bears eat a lot of it. I’ve followed game trails away from the cornfield and have found whole stalks that have been dragged off. It takes strength to pull up a corn stalk and I doubt deer could do it.

Willows bloomed off in the distance across the cornfield.

Two or three red maples, all male flowered, bloomed along the trail side of the cornfield.

This is very stony ground up here with ledge outcrops like this one fairly common. I’ve always thought of features like these the bones of the forest.

This outcrop was mostly quartz and rock tripe lichen grew all over it. Rock tripe lichen (Umbilicaria mammulata) gets brownish and curls up when it is dry like these were. You can see the back of it , which is black and pebble textured in this photo. The Umbilicaria part of the scientific name comes from the Latin umbilicus, meaning navel, because of the way they attach themselves to stone with a single attachment point that looks like a navel. It sticks itself to stone by way of this single, navel like attachment point and the rest of the lichen hangs from this central point, much like a rag hanging from a peg. Rock tripe is edible and eating it has saved the lives of people who were lost and starving in the past. Though I imagine they must taste like old rubber, these lichens were a source of emergency food for Native Americans and saved the lives of many an early settler. Even George Washington’s troops are said to have eaten rock tripe to survive the brutal winter at Valley Forge in 1777.

Running club moss (Lycopodium clavatum) is also called stag’s horn clubmoss. 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. All of this happens under the leaves so it can be difficult to tell this club moss from others. I can’t say that these plants are rare here, but I don’t see them too often. For you people who have the app, Google lens identifies it as stag’s horn clubmoss.

The remains of an old foundation always make me wonder about the people who once lived up here. It’s easy to forget that just one hundred years ago most of these hills were cleared and used as pasture land. Once the industrial revolution happened people left the farms to work in the mills and ever since the land has been going back to forest.

These people worked hard, whoever they were. This stone wall runs off into the distance as far as the eye can see.

The pond that lives up here already had duckweed growing on it. And it was full of singing frogs.

I’ve seen these what I think are insect egg cases before but I’ve never been able to identify them. If you’ve ever seen a Tic-Tac candy mint, these are the same size and shape that they are. In other words, quite small. Google lens kept trying to identify the shrub instead of them. Apparently it couldn’t see the egg cases.

The sign at the overlook lets you know how high up you are…

…and the view is always blue, hence the name High Blue. The view was a little hazy but I could see the ski trails over on Stratton Mountain in Vermont, which is just across the Connecticut River Valley. I was surprised to see snow on them, because where I was sitting it was about 74 degrees. Far too warm for this early in spring but as anyone who spends much time in nature knows, you have to be at peace with what nature gives.

A beautiful life is not a place at which you arrive, but the experience you create moment by moment. ~Lebo Grand

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On Easter Sunday I thought, since it was such a beautiful day, that I’d head up to Westmoreland to see if I could find some of the beautiful blue spring shoots of the blue cohosh plant that grows here. I found them last year but I was about two weeks late because they had already started turning green.

Right off I saw a red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) with flower buds. This was a surprise since the others I’ve seen haven’t even broken bud yet. Had I been earlier the finger like leaves would have been deep purple. The purple flower buds will quickly turn green before blooming into a head of small, white flowers, and if pollinated they will become bright red berries.

I saw lots of railroad artifacts here on this day, including this old signal base.

I was shocked to find the buds of striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) showing. I think this is the earliest I’ve seen this happen. As the buds grow they will become beautifully colored in pink and orange.

There are lots of beech trees up here but the buds didn’t show any sign of swelling or lengthening. They will become one of the most beautiful things found in a spring forest when the buds break and the leaves start to show. It won’t be long!

Last year’s beech leaves have turned white and become thinner than paper, and the wind easily strips them from the branches at this stage. There are lots of theories about why beech leaves keep their leaves all winter, including to discourage deer from eating their buds, but nobody really knows for sure.

This pile of old railroad ties brought back memories. I grew up just a few yards from railroad tracks and seeing all the rails and ties torn up after the trains stopped running hit me almost like a death in the family would have. For many years I didn’t go near a rail trail but then, after some gentle prodding by an old friend, I started walking them. I’ve been glad ever since that they are here to enjoy; they’re much easier to hike than the tracks were.

I saw a tie plate lying beside the trail.

Someone had found an old rail anchor and placed it on a stone. Rail anchors were used, as you would guess, to keep the rails from moving. Eight were used on each 39 foot length of track but their numbers were increased as the grade steepened. Four of them in original as found condition will cost you $36.00 online.

There are a few old box culverts out here, still doing their job of keeping streams from washing the railbed away. This stream had dried up but I think it only runs in heavy rains or when the snow melts.

I was a little apprehensive when I reached this point because this is very near where I met up with the biggest bear I ever want to meet in the woods. That happened a couple of years ago on just about this date but on this day the bear had apparently gone over the mountain.

In case you missed it the first time, here is the bear I saw that day. It was big and it just stared, and that was a bit unnerving. Thankfully it let me leave and didn’t follow. I doubt that I’ll ever forget it.

Grapevines were hanging on to any branch they could grab. This is how they climb trees to get into the crown where there is more sunshine.

I was getting close to where the cohosh grows when I stopped to take this shot. There was bright sunshine when I started out but high thin clouds had made the light flat and strange by this time.

Finally I reached the ledges, cut through the hillside by the railroad, and the mosses glowed.

Marks from the old steam drills can be seen here and there. These holes would have been filled with black powder. You basically lit the fuse and ran, and then you cleaned up all the blasted rock.

I was surprised to find icicles on the ledges but it had been a cold night. They were falling fast after a the sun reached them though, so I had to make sure there were none above me when I got close to the ledges. You can just see a wild columbine to the left of the icicle, and that’s why I wanted to get close to the ledges.

I’m beginning to wonder if they aren’t evergreen. I used Google lens on this plant to see if it could identify it and it came back with Aquilegia canadensis, which of course is correct.

Unfortunately it couldn’t identify this moss that you see covering the ledges because it is so tiny I couldn’t get a shot of it with my phone. I’m still looking through my moss books for it. It forms huge mats here on the stones.

I tried Google lens on this fern and it came back with evergreen woodfern (Dryopteris intermedia), which I think is correct.

Its stalk (stipe) was very scaly and I was surprised that I had never noticed this. I’ve seen scales on lady ferns but there are actually three ferns with scales; spinulose ferns also have them. I haven’t seen any fern fiddleheads yet.

I never did find the blue cohosh but trying to remember where a one inch tall shoot once was in such a large area can be difficult, even though I recognized the stone and log it had been growing near. I’m sure I’ll see the plant with its leaves when I come back to see the wild columbines blooming in early May. Purple trillium, Jack in the pulpit, herb Robert, and many other plants also grow here.

Baby tooth moss (Plagiomnium cuspidatum) lit up a bit of ledge. I can’t think of another moss with so many spore capsules. They start off straight up and pointed like toothpicks and then begin to swell and turn downward. I have it growing in my yard and it’s cheering to see how it glows in the afternoon sunshine.

Cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) reminded me of little Miss Muffet’s tuffet. This moss can appear silvery, white, bluish green or grayish green but it always forms a thick cushion and stands out from the mosses that might surround it. It likes plenty of water and shade and grows on rotting logs or on stone when there is enough soil. It is probably the easiest of all the mosses to identify.

How soft and sweet the breeze was, and how warm the sun. I could easily imagine it being an early summer day but anyone who has grown up in New Hampshire knows what a changeable month April can be, and he knows what might seem a soft caress one day could quite likely seem a hard slap the next. Best not to be daydreaming about the coming summer I reminded myself, there was plenty to love about this day.

Landscapes have the power to teach, if you query them carefully. And remote landscapes teach the rarest, quietest lessons.” –David Quammen

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