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Archive for the ‘Mosses & Liverworts’ Category

Last Saturday was cold but clear with wall to wall sunshine. I decided to take a walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene to see if it had frozen over and was surprised to find that it had frozen over the whole length of the distance I walked.

It looked more like a pasture than a river.

I saw some strange animal tracks on the ice but I couldn’t get close enough to find out what animal they were from. They might have been from a rabbit or squirrel.

Wool grass (Scirpus cyperinus) likes wet places and grows here and there on the riverbank. Though its common name points to a grass this plant is actually in the sedge family. It is also called bulrush. Its seeds are eaten by waterfowl and muskrats will eat its roots. Native Americans used this plant to weave mats, bags and other utilitarian objects. I like its drooping habit.

Something that sets my blood racing at this time of year is bare ground, and I’m seeing more of it wherever I go. The sun gets stronger each day and no matter how many storms we have or how cold it is the snow will melt, starting on southern exposures. You can also see in this shot how the snow on the trail had been packed down by many feet. The going was easy as long as I stayed on the trail.

There were strange looking ice formations on the surface of the river.

There was some snow built up on the bent tree that lives out here. This tree never seems to get any larger.

I thought the beavers might have finished the job they started last fall on this huge oak tree but they’ve abandoned it. Girdling means that the bark has been removed around the entire tree and since the inner bark (cambium) is what carries nutrients and moisture to the crown, a tree cannot survive without it. Anything above the girdling will die.

It really is amazing what beavers can do with their sharp teeth. From what I’ve seen no wood is too hard for them.

I saw a girdled smaller tree and I can say for certain that this was not done by a beaver. I don’t know why anyone would do this unless it was the Keene Parks and Recreation Department wanting to remove trees along the trail. Girdling has been used to remove trees for thousands of years and the Native Americans who once lived and fished in this area surely used it to clear land. Once the trees died and fell on a piece of land the brush and trunks would be burned and the resulting wood ash and whatever rotting wood was left helped to fertilize the land for farming. Girdling is still used by foresters, horticulturalists and land owners today.

I saw many trees that had fallen naturally out here. In fact I see them wherever I go and most of them are white pines and red maples.

I was stopped by the bright, orange-brown color of a blueberry branch in the sunlight. I should have gotten a shot of its small red buds as well.

The sunlight was also caught in the trees and it was so beautifully golden against the deep blue of the sky.

I saw lots of oriental bittersweet berries (Celastrus orbiculatus) still on plants, and that’s a good thing. It means the birds aren’t spreading its seeds around.

Oriental bittersweet vines are as strong as wire and don’t expand as whatever they wrap themselves around grows larger. The alder with bittersweet wrapped around it in this photo will eventually be strangled to death unless something is done.

When it gets cold dark, almost black spots appear on the bark of trees. They are really there all the time but are kind of a lighter reddish color and not quite so noticeable at other times of year when there are so many other things to see. Those who think they’ve never seen a liverwort might want to stop and take a closer look at these dark, lacy blotches because they are Frullania liverworts, one of the few liverworts that can thrive in dry places.

There are about 800 species of Frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. Its leaves are very small and hard to get a good photo of.

Something not quite so pretty as the frullania liverwort is the beech scale (Cryptococcus fagisuga) seen here. Excessive feeding by this scale insect causes two different fungi, Neonectria faginata and Neonectria ditissima, to produce annual cankers or blisters on the bark of the tree. The continuous formation of lesions around the tree eventually girdles it, resulting in canopy death.

You know it’s cold when pine sap turns blue, and we’ve had a cold February. It was about 25° F. (-4° C) on this day.

Yes it was cold but it was also a beautiful sunny day so I stood on the bridge for a while listening to the silence, which was broken only by birdsong and the occasional cracking of river ice. It would have been easy to lose myself and stand here for longer than I did but you have to watch that in winter because frostbite can be a possibility and once you stop moving you cool off fast.

On the way back I thought a contrail looked much like what smoke from a campfire might have looked like long ago. It wasn’t hard to imagine Native lodgings out there somewhere; archeological digs have shown Native Americans were here at least 12,000 years ago.

I decided to check on Ashuelot falls before leaving. They were all splash and foam and remained thawed for the most part.

There were some huge ice formations here and there though. This one looked like the arm and paw of a gigantic polar bear.

Above the falls I saw these strange tracks on the ice. They were big, easily as big as my hand, and I wondered if they might be moose tracks. Moose are occasionally seen in this area. They have even walked through Keene neighborhoods and down city streets. They also occasionally fall through the ice and it’s quite a job getting them back on dry land. An adult male moose can weigh over a thousand pounds.

The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first; be not discouraged – keep on – there are divine things, well envelop’d; I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell. ~Walt Whitman

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There is a little stream that I pass each day that I like to visit up close every now and then, just to see what changes have taken place and to see all the things I missed on my previous visits.

It was cold enough for there to be ice.

Here an ice bauble had formed around a stick that was sticking up out of the water.

This stream is called a meandering stream because of its sinuous, snake like curves. This shot shows how gravel has built up on the inside, slower part of the curve (left) which is called a point bar, and how this forces the water to eat away at the embankment on the faster outside part of the curve (right). In this way the stream swings from side to side over the length of its course and this is known as a meander belt. According to what I’ve read the length of the meander belt is typically from 15 to 18 times the width of the stream or river. But wait a minute I say, because this is a view of the stream when it is calm. After we’ve had a lot of rain I’ve seen it swell to 10 times this width, enough to cover all of the ground in these photos and more, so I wonder how that affects its meander.

A squirrel had a fine meal of white pine seeds if I am to judge by this large pile of scales at the base of the tree. Squirrels like to sit on something when they eat and I’ve seen these piles at the base of stumps, rocks, and even fence posts. They don’t like to eat while on the ground and I’ve always thought it was because they could spot predators better up a little higher.

I spotted a fine crop of what I believe were mock or orange oyster (Phyllotopsis nidulans) mushrooms. Since they were frozen solid and I couldn’t get above them I can’t really be sure but they were a touch of woodland beauty nevertheless. I didn’t see it at the time but you can see how the underside of the large example just above center has been gnawed on. I’ve seen squirrels eat mushrooms but I can’t say for sure what animal did it.

One of the bracket fungi that sort of mimic the common turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) is the thin-maze flat polypore (Daedaleopsis confragosa). (There are a few others) Since turkey tails have pores and these have what appear to be gills they are hard to confuse. Thin maze flat polypores start life very white but turn gray as they age. They have some zoning like turkey tails and are often covered with green algae.

The pores on this bracket fungus are elongated and can resemble gills but in any event they are very different than the “pin hole” pores found on the underside of turkey tails.

I did see some turkey tails but there were only two or three and they were so beautiful I couldn’t bear to pick one and show you its pores. Turkey tails are sabprobic fungi, meaning they decompose dead or decaying organic material. Though they do occasionally grow on live trees, if you find them on a standing tree it is most likely dead. Turkey tails cause white rot of the sapwood. They also show great promise in cancer research.

Last year at work I was lucky enough to find some chicken of the woods mushrooms (Laetiporus sulphureus) that I could watch every day, and toward the end of their time they looked exactly like the dead, white examples seen here. Too bad I didn’t see them when they were alive; they’re a big beautiful, very colorful mushroom.

One of the reasons I wanted to come here was to visit my friends the tree mosses (Climacium dendroides). This is the only spot I’ve ever found them so they aren’t common in this area, but they are spreading here along the little stream. On this day some of them looked a little brown but I hope they’ll come back. They must not mind being under water for a time because when the stream floods they get very drenched, growing as they do right on its bank.

They are cheery mosses that remind me of little palm trees, and they always glow with a beautiful inner light.

I’ve spoken about frost cracks many times on this blog but I read recently in the excellent book Woods Whys by Michael Snyder that though frost cracks are indeed caused by cold that isn’t all of the story. Frost cracks usually appear where there is previous damage to the tree, such as the scar on this young maple. I have a feeling that this was caused by a male white tail deer rubbing its antlers on the tree.

I can’t guess what other animal would peel bark in strips like this. Porcupines eat bark but to my knowledge they don’t peel it and leave it like this. And I didn’t see any teeth marks.

By the way; though the book Woods Whys would be a great addition to any nature library I was told that it was out of print. Luckily though my local bookstore was able to find a copy after two weeks of searching, so if you’d like a copy don’t give up because they are out there.

This tree stand told me that my thoughts about buck rubs might be accurate. It’s a simple thing; a hunter would climb the ladder and sit at the top, waiting for a deer. But sitting up there in November waiting all day for a deer to wander by would take something that I apparently don’t have in me.

This natural trail leads into a swamp that the stream feeds into. I believe this trail was made by beavers. When the stream floods this entire area is under water.

There were animal tracks leading into the swamp.

This shows that even animals slip on the ice. I think there are the tracks of two animals here; the one in the upper left has nails like a fox or a small dog and the others look more like a cat, possibly a bobcat. In any event there was a lot of traffic going into the swamp.

This stump and quite a few others showed plenty of fairly recent beaver activity. By the way that stump is iron wood, which isn’t called that for nothing. I’ve also seen beavers chew through elm, which is another very tough species.

By looking at the black knot damage on this old cherry it was easy to see where the stories of ogres living in the woods came from. Black knot disease is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. If not pruned off and burned as soon as possible when the tree is young it will kill the tree, and I don’t think this one has far to go.

Even in what appears to be a dry area these fertile, spore bearing fronds of sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) tell a different story. Sensitive fern is an indicator species and it indicates that you’re in a wetland, so you had better have your boots on.

Sensitive fern fertile fronds are pretty things to stop and admire in winter. In this case the typically round spore capsules had opened, and this is something few people see. It isn’t a rare sight though in my experience; I think people simply don’t look.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little meander by a meandering stream. I had a great time and as is often the case, I had to pull myself away.

The waters of the stream played the part of the orchestra, and the sunlight provided the dancers. Every now and then a crescendo of wind highlighted the symphony in the clearing by the creek.
~Edward Mooney Jr.

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Last Sunday the weather people said it would be windy and cold with possibilities of snow squalls but I wanted to be in the woods, so I headed for a rail trail in Swanzey that I hadn’t been on since last year sometime. When I left the house it wasn’t bad; 36 degrees F. and cloudy, with a slight breeze. I was hoping the snow squalls wouldn’t happen because they can take you into white out conditions in an instant. When they happen you can’t see very well so I made a plan to just stand under a pine or hemlock tree until it passed. Luckily, I didn’t need a plan.

The trail was icy because we’d had rain all day the day before and then it froze up at night, but someone still had their bike out. You wouldn’t catch me doing that.

Though the trail was iced over the forest along the trail was mostly clear. Pines and hemlocks keep a lot of snow from hitting the ground.

The old whistle post wasn’t covered by forest debris yet. The W stands for whistle and the post is called a whistle post because it marks the spot where the locomotive engineer was to blow the train’s whistle. When there is a crossing very nearby, where the railbed crosses a road, the whistle would have alerted wagon or auto drivers that a train was coming. Some whistle posts were marked – – o -, which meant “two longs and a short” on the whistle. I grew up hearing these whistles (actually horns) daily as the old Boston and Maine diesel freights went by our house.

There are houses not too far from this rail trail and years ago someone planted a privet hedge and let it go. Now it has fruit.

I saw lots of big red stem moss (Pleurozium schreberi) out here. This is a common moss that I often see growing in very large mats, sometimes even overrunning and choking out other mosses. In fact I’ve never seen a moss grow as fast as this one. A few years ago I hardly saw it and now I see it just about everywhere I go. I’ve read that it is native but it seems bent on taking over the earth.

There are lots of small oak trees out here that have been cut again and again by the people who maintain these trails, and this is one of them. It stopped me when I noticed all the various colors in its leaves. Beautiful warm browns, orange, and even pink.

Many of the oak leaves were covered with small spots, which I think were some type of fungus.

One of the oaks had galls on it and a bird had pecked them open to get at the galls inside. Years ago I thought at first it was woodpeckers that did this but I’ve seen blue jays and even chickadees pecking at them.

High up in the branches of many oaks jelly fungi grow on the limbs, and when these limbs fall we get a good chance to see them. I think that the most common of all jelly fungi is this one; the amber jelly (Exidia recisa,) because I see it all the time, especially after a rain. This one always reminds me of jellied cranberry sauce. Jelly fungi dry out when it’s dry and appear as tiny colored flakes that you’d hardly believe could grow as much as they do, but they absorb water like a sponge and can grow to 60 times bigger than they were when dry. Jelly fungi have a shiny side and a kind of matte finish side and their spores are produced on their shiny sides. After a good rain look closely at those fallen limbs, big or small, and you’re sure to find jelly fungi.

One side of this trail is bordered by Yale forest and there is plenty to see there. Yale University has a hands on forestry school in this forest so you can occasionally see it being selectively logged.

It’s easy to see how white tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata) got its common name. This is a fairly common moss that seems to like to hang from the sides of boulders and ledges. Another name for it is Medusa moss, because when dry its leaves press close to the stem and it takes on a very wiry, string like appearance. Its ball shaped orange spore capsules (sporophytes) are hidden among the leaves on very short stalks, so they’re hard to see. This moss will even grow on asphalt roofs, so it is a perfect choice for green roof projects.

Due to the rain of the day before this particular moss looked happy and beautiful.

Before I knew it I was at the trestle.

There are good views of the river from these old trestles so I’m glad they’re still here.

Many trees topple into the river each year and that’s why you usually only see kayaks or canoes on it when the water is high in spring. I have a feeling that leaning maple will be in the water before too long.

I’ve been out here when the leaves were on the trees so I know they’re silver and red maples, but even if I hadn’t seen the leaves, those buds would tell the story.

I walked on past the trestle and saw a few stones with drill marks but I didn’t see any ledges or boulders that they might have come from. Usually you can tell right where they are from.

It was nice to see green leaves in January. I think the overhanging evergreens must have helped protect these blackberry leaves from the cold.

I saw a few partridgeberry plants with the berries still on them. Usually turkeys and other birds snap them up quickly so they can be hard to find. Partridgeberry is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but do not climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. The berries will remain on the plant for long periods unless eaten, and can sometimes still be found the following spring.

Partridgeberry flowers come in pairs that are fused at the base. Once pollinated, the ovaries of these flowers will join and form one berry with 8 seeds. Partridgeberry plants can always be easily identified by the two indentations on the berries that show where the flowers were, and these can be seen in the photo above.  Other names for this plant include twinberry and two-eyed berry. The berries are edible, but mostly tasteless.

I saw a stone that was shot full of mica. I’ve had a hard time getting a good shot of mica in the past but this one came out reasonably well.

After a time I saw the river again and I knew it was time to turn around, because from here it is just a short walk to the other end of this leg of the trail where several roads meet. I was glad the snow squalls held off until later in the day.

Forests, lakes, and rivers, clouds and winds, stars and flowers, stupendous glaciers and crystal snowflakes – every form of animate or inanimate existence, leaves its impress upon the soul of man. ~Orison Swett Marden

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I’ve seen some really stunning photos coming from smartphones lately so since it was time for me to get a new one I spent quite a lot of time researching which one had the best camera for the money. By the end of this post I hope you’ll agree that I made a good choice; the tiny mushroom in the photo above was hardly bigger than a pea. Yes this phone does macro photography, and it does it well.

Tiny bird’s nest fungi weren’t much of a challenge for the phone but depth of field was slightly off. I think that was my fault more than the phone’s though.

I was splitting wood at work and there, deep inside a piece of oak, was this mushroom mycelium. I was lucky I had a phone with me that could see it and get a half way decent photo of it. I always love finding mycelium because I never know what my imagination will have me see in it. You might see a river delta. Or a tree. Or bird feathers. Or you might see the vast one-ness from which all life arises. Whatever you see in it let it be beautiful; let it reflect the beauty that is inside you.

One of the haircap mosses, either mountain or juniper haircap moss I believe, peeked out from under a dome of paper thin ice. This is a male moss and you can tell that by its color and by the tiny male reproductive structures called antheridia, which look like tiny flowers scattered here and there.

And here was a female haircap moss with its spore capsules almost ready to release their spores. There was a breeze this day and the phone camera didn’t freeze the movement of the capsules as much as I would have hoped but something about this photo grabs me so I’ve added it here, slightly blurred capsules and all. It’s a mouse eye view of the landscape with a certain minimalistic Japanese feel to it, and maybe that’s why I like it.

This bristly beard lichen growing on a white pine is another photo where the depth of field was slightly off and I think it’s happening because I’m getting too close. In fact the phone has told me to “back up for better focus”. But I’ll learn; I’m used to taking photos with my Olympus macro camera, where I can be almost touching the subject. A bristly beard lichen has isidia, which appear as little bumps along its branches. An isidium is a reproductive structure common to some lichens and their presence is a good identifier.

This liverwort, called flat-leaved scalewort (Radula complanata) was about 3/4 of an inch across and grew on a tree, and I thought the phone handled it well. I’ve read that this liverwort is common on trees and shrubs but I rarely see it. Plants are usually flattened, either forming patches like the one seen above or single stems creeping among mosses. It has round, flattened, overlapping leaves which are quite small. Each one is no more than 1/16  of an inch across. This liverwort is said to like sunny, sheltered, moist conditions and will sometimes grow on streamside rocks. Liverworts are epiphytes that take nothing from the trees and shrubs they grow on. ­­They simply perch on them, like birds.

Color reproduction seems to be quite accurate with this phone but beware that this is coming from one who is colorblind. Still, even someone colorblind can see the difference between the hemlock in the foreground and the one beside it, because the one in the foreground is “artificially” colored by Trentepohlia algae. I don’t think I’ve seen this much algae on a single tree before. I wonder how it chooses which trees to grow on and I wonder why, in this case, it hasn’t spread to other trees.

Here is a phone camera macro look at algae on a different tree.

Tiny lichens are a big part of the content on this blog so of course I had to see what the phone could do with them. Again, I think I was a bit too close to this one but I was impressed with the camera. This lichen was only about a half inch across.

In this photo I backed the phone away from the subject lichen and the shot came out much better. This lichen was about half the size of the previous one but it came out much sharper so I’ve got to watch out for getting too close.

Compared to the lichens these alder catkins were huge but the phone camera handled them well, even in a breeze.

I wanted to show something that everyone reading this would know the size of, so for that I chose lilac buds. This is an excellent example of what this phone can do.

The bud of a Norway maple is not something everyone will recognize but they are slightly smaller than the lilac buds.

If you’ve ever wondered why woodpeckers spend so much time drilling into trees, this is why. This yellow insect larva was deep inside a red oak log, seen only when I split it. The tiny creature was about the diameter of a piece of spaghetti and maybe an inch long.

This is just simple stream ice but it was beautiful, I thought.

Of course I had to try plants with the phone camera and it did well on this trailing arbutus. I didn’t want to kneel in the snow so I just bent down and clicked. This phone is said to use a kind of artificial intelligence chip that I don’t fully understand, and it said to be able to compute very fast. In fact I’ve read that some phones can do 5 trillion operations per second.  Speed is one thing, but this phone seems to know or sense what you want before you tell it what you want and I find that a bit odd, if not unsettling. It’s almost like having an assistant who does all the work for you.

Here were the dried flower heads of sweet everlasting. There was a breeze on this day and once again the phone handled it well.

The color red is a challenge for any camera so I thought I’d try some holly berries. The phone camera once again did well, I thought. I like the detail that came through on the leaves as well.

Boston ivy berries (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) are about as big as a small pea, so while I was walking past them while going in for a haircut I thought I’d see what the phone could do with them. I was happy with the shot. Boston ivy isn’t a true ivy and it isn’t from Boston but it is pretty on buildings, especially in the fall when its leaves turn bright red. True ivy belongs to the genus Hedera but Boston ivy is the ivy that lends its name to ivy league universities.

The phone camera seems to do well on landscapes as well. It also has a “night vision mode” but I didn’t use it for this shot of a stream I pass on my way to work early each morning.

The phone tells me I was 11 meters (36 feet) from this tree when I took it’s photo. Why it thinks I need to know that is a mystery. I would have fumbled around with my camera settings for several minutes for this shot, trying to keep the trees light and the clouds dark, but the camera phone did it in two shots without my changing any settings.

This shot looking up a pine tree was taken in almost full darkness, well after sundown and with twilight almost gone. When you push the shutter button on the phone you can hear the shutter click twice when it’s in night vision mode and the photo comes out like this. How it does this is unknown to me as yet. I wanted to show you a dark sky full of bright stars but it has been cloudy every night since I bought the phone.

This shot, taken before sunup early in the morning, was the first shot I ever took with the new phone. I suppose I should give you the name of this phone after putting you through all of this, shouldn’t I? It’s a Google Pixel 4A, 5G and for the same money, according to the reviews I’ve read, no other phone camera can touch it. I find that it is especially useful in low light situations but I also find it a bit awkward to hold a phone while taking photos. I’m certainly happy with it but I think I need more practice. I’m guessing that when the newness wears off it will become just another tool in my tool kit; a camera I can speak into.

We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.
~Marshall McLuhan

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Last Sunday I decided to visit Beaver Brook in Keene. It’s been so long since I’ve been there I didn’t remember when the last time was, so I thought it was time. There is a lot here to see and I wanted to check on a few things.

One of the things I wanted to see was the plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea). This is the only place I’ve ever seen it. Not only does it seem happy here but there are 5 or 6 new plants near it. The leaves on this plant are about 3/4 of an inch wide I’d guess, and they look like crepe paper. It will bloom in late April / early May when the purple trilliums bloom.

I also wanted to see the hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) that grow here. They are one of our most beautiful native viburnums when they bloom with hand size white flower heads in May. Luckily our woods are full of them. This photo shows the flower bud in the center and a new leaf on each side. Their buds are naked, meaning they have no bud scales to protect them, so they have wooly hair instead.

I was a little surprised that Beaver Brook wasn’t frozen over. It has been cold for the past couple of weeks, especially at night. There was still plenty of ice to see though.

Here was some foam that turned to ice, shaped like turkey tail fungi. This is the same kind of foam that forms ice pancakes in the river.

I liked the lacy patterns in this bit of ice. Ice comes in so many shapes and even in different colors, and it can be beautiful.

Here, ice baubles hung off a stone. When it’s cold like this ice will form on any surface that gets wet and with all the splashing going on here there are lots of wet surfaces.

Here were more ice baubles. Some can get quite long but I’d guess these were 5 or 6 inches.

The seep that is here wasn’t frozen but that didn’t surprise me. 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. It rarely freezes solid and it never dries out. 

There are many trees around the seep and all had script lichens (Graphis) on them. Once you get to know a place and know the trees you begin to better understand the things that grow on them. By coming here and watching I’ve learned that the script lichens that grow here only show their apothecia (the dark squiggles) in the cold months. In the summer all you see are whitish growths on the bark. It really is amazing to me that all of this can disappear and reappear each year. Especially because when you look at them closely they look like scars or knife cuts in the body of the lichen. There are at least two different types here, and maybe three. They’re beautiful forms.

I think the greater whipwort liverworts (Bazzania trilobata) were frozen solid. Each one of these tiny worm like beings is about half the diameter of a pencil. A close look shows that they look almost if they had been braided. Each leaf on this leafy liverwort is only about an eighth of an inch wide and has three triangular notches at its base. This is where the trilobata part of the scientific name comes from. It means “having three lobes.” It’s very easy to mistake this common liverwort for moss so you have to look closely. I almost always find them on stone.

When young the female spore capsule (Sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra which protects it. 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 but something must have gone wrong here because out of hundreds of capsules this is the only one I saw with the calyptra still in place. When everything goes well 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.

I had to stop and check on the stairstep moss (Hylocomium splendens). It is also called glittering wood moss and it’s easy to see why. It’s a beautiful moss that grows on stones as far north as the arctic tundra. It seems fairly rare here; this is the only example that I’ve seen, and it doesn’t seem to be spreading. The name stair step moss comes from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. It is said that you can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps.

The brook, on the right, was in deep shade most of the way. That made getting shots of ice a challenge.

But the ice on the ledges was at least partially sun lit.

An evergreen fern was on ice, waiting patiently for spring.

One of the best examples of a frost crack that I know of can be found here on a golden birch. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree and its cells just under the bark expand. If nighttime temperatures are cold enough the bark will cool and contract rapidly, quicker than the wood underneath, and this stress on the bark can cause it to crack.  It’s fairly common to hear trees cracking with a sound like a rifle shot on cold nights.

A fallen golden birch dripped icy fingers.

Everything within 10 feet of the brook was covered in ice.

And it still has a month or so to grow even more.

I told myself all the way up here that I wouldn’t do it but then I met a man and woman who told me how beautiful Beaver Brook falls was, so I knew I had to see it. It’s quite a climb down here but I had micro spikes on so I wasn’t worried about slipping. You do have to worry about falling though because the path down is very steep and momentum will get you moving fast if you aren’t careful. Luckily there are trees to hang on to so I made it down without incident. Once there I found a very icy waterfall.

The sun just happened to be falling right on the falls, which helped with photos. It can be quite dark down in this natural canyon.

I remembered the year the falls was sheathed in ice, which almost completely deadened the sound. It was a bit eerie. Not today though; they fell with a roar and were a beautiful thing to behold. There was also a strong breeze coming up the brook toward the falls, so it was a bit chilly here.

Looking up from the brook I thought this might have to be the last time I climb down here. My trick knee seems to get a little trickier each time I do it.

But for now I didn’t want to think of such things because the sun was shining and there was beauty everywhere; even in a piece of icicle someone had dropped.

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

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I’ve heard stories about a deep cut rail trail up in Hancock New Hampshire for a couple of years now so last Saturday I decide to see what it was about. This railroad was different than the ones that I’m familiar with because it went out of business before the second world war and all of the steel, including the rails, bridges and trestles were sold off during the second world war to help the war effort. The original railroad, built in 1878, was called the Manchester and Keene Railroad. It was taken over by the Boston and Maine Railroad in 1893 and used until flooding damaged many of the trestles. Since replacing the trestles would have been extremely costly, the line was simply abandoned.

What I thought was a drainage channel was actually a stream. It was nice to have its music with me as I walked along.

The water was crystal clear.

Just as I was thinking that it was strange that the stream wasn’t frozen I ran into ice on the trail. I had my micro spikes on so I wasn’t worried about ice.

I like looking at the patterns in ice.

Ice can do amazing things and it can also be very beautiful.

I saw some unusual things out here and this was one of them. This wall is not holding back anything so it isn’t a retaining wall. It looks more like a loading dock but it’s too far away from where the rail cars would have been, so it’s original use is a mystery. Someone went through a lot of time and effort to build it though so it had some importance in its day.

Ice needles grew here and there by the thousands.

I saw the seed heads of heal all (Prunella lanceolata) so I know there are flowers out here. Heal all has been known for its medicinal value since ancient times and has been said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Native Americans believed the plant improved eyesight and drank a tea made from it before a hunt. There are Botanists who believe that there are two varieties of heal all; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America.

I saw the tracks of wild turkeys that had come out of the woods. Turkeys have a “toe” at the rear of their foot that leaves a little dot in the snow and though it’s hard to see in this photo, they are there.

There are whitetail deer out here as well.

The land sloped away on my right and an old stone wall marked what was once pastureland. Many of what are today forests were cleared pasture lands in the past. Most stone walls dates from the late 1700s to early 1800s. Many farmers went off to work in factories in the mid-1800s after the industrial revolution and gave up farming and their pastures slowly returned to forest, but I have a feeling this land was still being used for pasture when the railroad came through in 1878.

The original stock fencing, so common along these old railbeds, wouldn’t have been needed if the land wasn’t being used to keep animals on. You didn’t want animals on the tracks so many miles of this fencing was strung up along the railways.

And then there was this; a tunnel under the railbed. I doubted it was a culvert because there wasn’t a stream nearby so I think it was a passage for animals. A way to get them from one side of the tracks to the other without them having to cross the tracks.

It was all concrete. Concrete has been around since Roman times so it wasn’t a clue to age but I’d guess it had to have been built while the original railbed was being built. The roof wasn’t high enough to let a horse, cow or tractor through but it was plenty high enough for sheep. Sheep farming was very big in New Hampshire’s rocky ground in the 1800s so a passage under the railbed would make perfect sense. You wouldn’t want your flock on the tracks when a train was coming.

And here was the deep cut, snowier than I had hoped. I like to see what grows on these old exposed walls and that isn’t an easy thing to do when they’re snow covered.

It was easy to see what they did with all the stone from the cut. There are several of these big piles in the woods.

I wondered if they had blasted the stone and sure enough, there were the marks of a steam drill. The railroad workers cut through solid rock by drilling holes into the stone and then blasting. Holes like these were often drilled by steam power and are evidence that black powder rather than dynamite was used. Packing these holes with black powder and lighting a fuse was a very dangerous business and many were killed doing it. Dynamite wasn’t invented until 1866 so it was either black powder or brute force before that. Since this railroad was built in 1878 they might have used dynamite but I doubt it. It would have been far more expensive and harder to get than black powder. After the wall face was blasted away someone had to clean up tons of stone, and that’s how all the stone piles came to be in the woods.

There were signs of groundwater seeping through the stone and the staining on the snow pointed to minerals in the groundwater.

All in all though I didn’t see that this would be a good location for great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) because of the lack of water. They like to grow on stone that hangs over water. That way they get plenty of the humidity that they need.

But there were liverworts here; or at least I think so. I believe this example might be ciliated fringewort (Ptilidium ciliare). Wikipedia says the Ptilidium part of the scientific name comes from the Greek word ptilidion, meaning “small feather”. According to what I’ve read it is widespread in Canada, Alaska, the northeastern United States, Greenland, Iceland, and northern Europe. I’ve never seen it before, so if you know that I’ve given it an incorrect identification I hope you’ll let me know. I suppose it could be a very dry moss but I don’t get a moss feeling from it.

NOTE: A lichenologist friend told me that this liverwort is actually called  grove earwort or (Scapania nemorosa) . It’s great to have helpers.

I also saw an old friend; a single smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens), and the light was just right to show off some of its beautiful blue spore producing apothecia. Like jewels sprinkled on the stone; that’s what they always remind me of.

Broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) peeked out from under the ice.

I was surprised to find a red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) out here. These shrubs are on the rare side in this area so I hope nobody cuts it. From its purple buds in winter to its pretty white flowers in spring to its bright red berries in fall this is a beautiful native shrub. We had a beautiful well shaped example where I work until someone who thought they knew what they were doing hacked at it. Now there is a lot of dead wood on it and I’m not sure it is going to make it.

It looked like a mouse or chipmunk had done some house cleaning. Acorns keep a lot of birds and animals alive in these cold winters.

No matter how much fun you’re having it can’t last forever so I finally headed back down the trail, promising myself that I’d come back in the spring. I have a feeling this might be a good place to find some spring wildflowers. Because of all the deciduous trees a lot of sunlight must reach the ground in early spring and that’s what they like.

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

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When I thought about the title of this post I wondered if anyone would really want to look back at the last year, but then I thought that these “looking back” posts are as much about looking forward as they are looking back, because in nature it’s a pretty fair bet that what happened last year will happen this year. To a point anyway; I hope the drought will ease this year so I can see mushrooms and slime molds again. The above shot is from last January, when I was stunned by the beauty of fresh snow.

I was also stunned by pussy willows. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in January before.

In February the first skunk cabbages appeared from under the snow. A welcome sign of spring in February, which can sometimes be the coldest and snowiest month of all.

It was in February that I also saw the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) blossoming. Very small but beautiful, and with a fragrance that you can smell from two blocks away.

In March I saw the first of the American hazelnut blossoms; truly the first wildflowers of the year.

Things start happening in gardens in March as well. That’s usually when reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) appear. They are one of the earliest bulbs to show growth. They’re very cheery after a long winter without flowers.

April is when our spring ephemerals start to appear, and one of the largest and showiest is the purple trillium (Trillium erectum).These flowers are often an inch and a half or more across and very visible because of their color. Trilliums are all about the number three, with three red petals and three green sepals. In fact the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, which means three. The three leaves are actually bracts which the flowers nod under for a short time before finally facing outward. Inside the flowers are six stamens and three stigmas, and if pollinated they will become a red, three chambered berry. 

With so many flowers appearing in spring it’s very hard to choose the ones to put into these posts but one I felt I had to choose for April is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and I chose it because most people never see it. They aren’t with us long but luckily colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. They will for the most part bloom only when the sun shines on them but you can occasionally find them on a cloudy day. Their common name comes from the bright red or orange sap in their roots.

One of my personal favorites among the spring ephemerals is the spring beauty (Claytonia carolinana.) Though they sometimes appear in April, May seems to be the month I can really count on seeing them. I know where a colony of many thousands of plants grow and I have happily knelt in last year’s leaf litter taking photos of them for years now. I love their aspirin size, pink striped blossoms.  

Around the end of May is when I start seeing the beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia). Their color and the fact that they sometimes grow beside violets make them easy to miss so you have to pay attention. The small 3 inch tall by inch and a half wide plants usually bloom in quite large colonies but not always. They are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. Once you’ve found some you can go back to see them year after year. They seem quite long lived.

June is when our most well known orchid, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) blooms. Once collected into near oblivion by people who thought they could just dig them up and plant them in their gardens, they have made a strong comeback and I see quite a few now. They’re beautiful and unusual, and should be left alone so we can all admire them. If transplanted they will not live long.

June was also when I found some larch flowers (Larix laricina). These tiny but beautiful things are so small all I can see is their color. I have to point the camera at the color and “shoot blind” until I get a shot. They can appear in mid May but I usually expect them in late May to early June. If you know a larch tree you might want to have a look. These tiny things will become the cones that hold the tree’s seeds, so if you look for the cones first that will give you an idea of which branches the flowers are most likely to appear on.  

Around the end of June and the first week of July I start looking for one of the most beautiful wildflowers I’ve seen; the purple fringed orchid (Platanthera grandiflora). The big, two foot tall plant looks like a bush full of purple butterflies. They are quite rare in this area and that’s most likely because they grow in swamps. I can usually expect to have wet ankles after taking photos of this one.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) blossoms right at the same time every year; just in time for the 4th of July, and its flowerheads just happen to look like fireworks. Flowers on both male and female plants lack petals and have only anthers (male) or pistils (female). These are male flowers in this photo.

One of our prettiest and smallest wildflowers bloom in early August. Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun. One unusual thing about the flower, other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. You can see the tiny white pollen grains at the end of the anthers on this example.

In my last post I described how colorblindness prevented my ever seeing a cardinal. It works the same way for cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) unfortunately, so I was elated last August when a coworker and I stumbled upon a group of them. I knew what they looked like, and once I was right on top of them I could see their color, which was beautiful. Note how this much larger flower with its arching stamens uses the same strategy as the tiny forked blue curl we saw previously. The chief difference is, these stamens dust hummingbirds with pollen instead of bees.

It wouldn’t be September without New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and this one just happens to be my favorite color aster. Unfortunately it’s also the hardest color to find so each year I have to go hunting for them. I can’t complain though; hunting for flowers is a pleasure, not a chore.

I could have shown a fragrant white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) in any month following May but this is the only photo from last year that showed the center of the flower, where a golden flame burns. I remember standing on the shore of a pond full of hundreds of these beautiful flowers last summer and being able to smell their glorious scent on the breeze. It was one the most amazing things, and I suspect that it wall last in my memory until I no longer have one.

I did see things other than flowers last year; things like this beautiful cedar waxwing I saw eating the berries of silky dogwoods at the river one September evening.

In October I went to see if the old stone staircase was still standing; all that’s left of Madame Sherri’s “castle” in Chesterfield. The castle was actually more of a chalet but it had quite a lot of elaborate stonework. It also had trees growing through the roof. How they kept the rain out is a mystery. Though I didn’t mention it in the original post I walked to the spot I had chosen and promptly tripped over a tree root and fell flat on my face in front of about 15 people who were all jostling to get a shot of the stairway. The camera was unscathed and I got my shot. The fall foliage was beautiful that day and the weather was perfect but the stairway was in need of some immediate help from a mason.

I also went to Willard Pond in October and walked through one of the most beautiful hardwood forests I’ve ever seen.

In November witch hazels bloomed. Also in December, but I doubt I’ll see any in January.

Also in November I was looking at lichens, including the smoky eye boulder lichen seen here. It’s one of the most beautiful in my opinion and I’ve put it here as an answer to the question “What is there to see in winter?” There is as much beauty to be seen in winter as there is at any other time of year. You just have to look a little closer, that’s all.

What could be more beautiful that this mossy hillside? It was like a green carpet covering the earth. What I like most about the colder months is how you can see the bones of the forest. There is no foliage to block your view in December.

One thing I’ll remember about the past year is how it was too dry for fungi. I saw very few until December, when I saw these mock oyster mushrooms (Phyllotopsis nidulans). They were big and beautiful, and looked as if they had been covered in orange velvet. They were well worth the wait but I hope to see more in 2021.

I hope this look back at 2020 wasn’t as bad as what you might have imagined. I’d rather have this blog be an island of calm in a sea of chaos than a running commentary on current events. Current events come and go like the tides and have no permanence, so about all you’re ever going to find here is nature, which is timeless. I do hope that’s why you come.

You live life looking forward, you understand life looking backward. ~Soren Kierkegaard

Thanks for stopping in. I hope you’ll all have a happy, heathy new year.

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Last weekend warm air moved over the cold snow and created a fog which was quite thick in places, including here in the man-made railroad canyon in Westmoreland. Ice climbers call it the icebox and there was plenty of ice to see on this day.

Once cold settles in here, which in places is as much as 50 feet below surface level, it usually stays for the winter. There is also a lot of groundwater trickling out of the rock walls, and that coupled with the cold creates ice columns which are often as big as tree trunks. So big that the Appalachian Mountain Club comes here to train ice climbers.

There were some impressive Ice falls here on this day but I don’t know if they were ready to be climbed.

There are many signs to tell you what goes on here, like this metal tie off. Ice climbers call these “screws.”

I’ve included this shot from last year to give you a sense of scale of the place. It doesn’t take much ice to get them climbing but on this day they admitted that they were doing as much rock climbing as they were ice climbing. I don’t usually speak to these people out of fear of breaking their concentration. It could be the climber’s first climb and they need to be able to hear and concentrate on the instructions coming from below. Sometimes if I hear them say they need a rest I’ll speak to them but I never stay long. They’re a gutsy bunch. With my paralyzing fear of heights they’d have to pry me from that wall one finger at a time.

In places water quite literally pours from the rock walls. Until I came here I never knew how much ground water could be moving just below the surface.

Water pours and trickles from every crack in the stone, in winter and summer.

The ice falls can be very beautiful.

In places the groundwater sometimes doesn’t flow and even in winter the place reminds me of the Shangri-La James Hilton described in his book Lost Horizon. Being here is like walking back in time to an unspoiled place, even though it was actually created by man. It’s easy to lose yourself in the beauty of it and it’s common for me to have no idea how long I’ve spent here.

Of course all that water has to be taken out of the canyon somehow, so the railroad built drainage channels along each side of the trail. When they are maintained they still work as they were designed to 150 years ago.

As I always do I headed south out of the deep canyon to the southern part of the trail. On the way you pass an excellent example of how a retaining wall should be built; tilted back into the hillside at about 10 degrees. This adds a lot of strength to the wall. You can’t see it in this shot but what’s left of a signal box is on top of the wall about half way down.

And before long I saw this; the entire southern canyon was flooded. Trees and tree limbs fall regularly here and they often land in the drainage channels. With regular maintenance this isn’t a problem but if nobody removes the trees and branches leaves build up and plug the channels. That’s exactly what has happened and since the water had nowhere else to go it ran into the rail bed and washed it out in several places. I went along and pulled out what branches I could but this will take two strong backs with a chainsaw and a stone rake to do it properly. Coincidentally I met a man on a 4 wheeler who was trying to clean things up but he had no real tools and his ability was limited, but he did say that there are many committees and commissions that know about this problem, so hopefully it won’t be long before this is taken care of. This place is after all one of a kind. There is nothing like it that I know of anywhere else on this rail trail circuit.

I’ve noticed that the green alga (Trentepohlia aurea) that grows here and there on the walls seems to  be spreading, so the conditions must be right for it. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll. Someday, maybe after I retire, I’m going to come here regularly so I can better understand its life cycle. I know it produces spores but it’s something I’ve never seen happen. Since you have to walk through the drainage channel to get to it I don’t see it up close very often.

There was some colored ice already forming. I believe the color comes from various minerals in the groundwater. Due to the rise and fall of the water in the drainage channel the ice is always cut off in a very straight line as you can see here.

Every year this evergreen fern is encased in an icy prison, but every year it just shrugs it off.

A blackberry still had some color.

Here was more colored ice. Blue is the most dense but I didn’t see any of that. In fact much of the ice was rotten, which is what happens if it gets too warm. Rotten ice is soft and opaque and makes a dull thud when you strike it. New clear ice is quite hard and rings a bit when you strike it.

Here is one of the mineral seeps found along the trail. I believe it is iron, possibly oxidized by bacteria. Certain types of bacteria can take iron dissolved in groundwater and oxidize it. Oxidation prevents iron from dissolving in the water and produces either an orange colored slime as is seen here, or an oily sheen. I think this must play a large part in why there is so much colored ice found here.

Here was a bit more colored ice. Location seems to be random because it doesn’t always happen in the same place year after year.

The beautiful reptilian great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) like to grow in places where they are constantly splashed by or dripped on by very clean ground water. Though they like a lot of water they won’t stand being submerged in it and die back if the water level rises. Ice doesn’t seem to bother them because they are often totally encased it all winter in this place. This is the only place I know of to find them.

Since I wasn’t wearing my rubber boots I couldn’t get close to the liverworts but I wished I could smell them. If you squeeze a small piece and smell it you’ll immediately smell one of the cleanest scents found in nature that I know of. In general liverworts are a sign of very clean water, so that says a lot about the quality of the groundwater in this place. There are also small brook trout swimming in the drainage channels, and that’s another sign of very clean water.

Orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) is also called crowded parchment but no matter what you call it, it’s a beautiful fungus that can be seen from quite a distance. It loves moisture so this place brings out its best.

How appropriate I thought, to find one of the fungi that Ötzi, the 5000 year old “iceman” whose well preserved body was found in the Ötztal Alps in 1991 carried. From what I’ve read he carried two types of fungi; birch polypores (Piptoporus betulinus) and the one shown here, which is the tinder polypore (Fomes fomentarius.) There are lots of different theories of why he would have carried these two particular fungi but I don’t think anyone will ever know for certain. What is known is birch polypores have antiseptic properties and tinder fungi are good for starting fires, and both would have been valuable to someone who walked 5000 years ago.

This stream carries all the water from the drainage channels off into the woods to some unknown body of water. It could flow into Tenant swamp in Keene, which isn’t too far downhill from here. The “hills” you see on either side are actually made of much of the blasted stone that came from the deep cut canyons.

Off in the distance a bridge goes over the stream. It’s a narrow thing, possibly 8-10 feet wide, and I’ve always thought it must have been used as a way for ore carts to get all the stone away from the railbed, but now I wonder if it might have been used for one of those pump handle carts they used to use. Somehow men had to get into the canyon and move a lot of snow after every storm and I’ve wondered for years how they did it. There were plows fitted to the front of some locomotives but I think there still would have been a lot of cleaning up to do afterwards. The canyons are only about 4-6 feet wider than a train so there wouldn’t have been a lot of room for snow.

I think all the snow removal tools would have been kept in the old lineman’s shack, which may or may not make it through another winter. Ever so slowly it leans in on itself. Since we just got 16 inches of snow on the day I’m finishing this post I wonder if it isn’t just a pile of boards now.

One moment the world is as it is. The next, it is something entirely different. Something it has never been before. ~Anne Rice

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These days, at least where I work, you don’t actually rake leaves very often. We have leaf vacuums and leaf blowers that take care of what by the end of the season is a huge mountain of leaves. If I were to do it all with a rake I’d still be raking when the leaves started falling next year but there are always little corners and such where only a rake will do, and this post is about one of those. I had one little corner left to do to finish the season but when I started to rake I saw the plant shoots seen above, so I put down the rake and raked with my fingers, gently. I believe the shoots are from the Stella d’ Oro daylily (Hemerocallis) that grows here, but snowdrops grow here as well so they could be those. 

This seed pod is definitely from the daylily and it has been eaten by an unknown insect. Stella d’ Oro daylilies are popular because it was one of the first “ever blooming” day lilies. The dwarf plant has flowers that only last a day like any daylily but there are so many of them that it blooms for months and will often be the latest blooming daylily in a flower bed. This plant was developed in 1975 and is still seen all along city streets and in commercial parking lots.

Pulling the leaves away also revealed a tiny fern fiddlehead, no bigger in diameter than a pencil eraser. I believe it was a sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis). Several of them grow in this spot because it is shaded and damp.

The spore casings (sori) of the sensitive fern are unmistakable so you don’t need leaves to identify it. It’s leaves had long since gone because, as the early settlers who gave its common name noticed, it is extremely sensitive to frost. I’ve read that turkeys will peck at and eat the sori, and that is why sometimes you find the fern’s spores lying on the snow around the plant.

I found a tiny seedling under the leaves, hardly bigger than a pea. It might pay for its hurry to grow.

Beside where I was working false dandelions (Hypochaeris radicata) grew. This plant gets its name from its resemblance to the dandelion, but it would be hard to mistake one for the other. The flowers are about half the size of a true dandelion and they bob around on long, wiry stems. At a glance you might think you were seeing a hawkweed flower when you look at a false dandelion flower because they’re close to the same size. One look at the leaves however, will show you that you’re seeing something entirely different because they resemble those of the dandelion more than hawkweed foliage. Hawkweed and false dandelion also bloom at different times, which helps when trying to identify them.

Once I had raked all the leaves I had to wander a bit and see what I could see. A blackberry grew nearby and it had leaves that started to show their purple / red fall color. At least that’s how I see them; my color finding software sees only gray, green and a bit of orange, which seems odd.

Mouse ear hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella) does well here and there are literally thousands of plants blooming in June and July. Their yellow flowers resemble those of false dandelion but that plant has longer, more wiry flower stems. The basal rosettes of leaves on this plant often turn very deep purple in the fall.

It isn’t hard to see where the name mouse ear came from.

I’m not sure what they’re finding to eat but there are large flocks of yellow shafted flickers here. I find their feathers all the time.

They’re very pretty feathers that you don’t often recognize when they’re still on the bird.

There is a small stream near where I was working so of course I had to explore it. That’s something I’ve never bothered to do in all the time I’ve worked here but on this day nature was calling to me louder than usual.

A gray birch had fallen and the rectangular tear in its bark reminded me of the rectangular hole in a cloud I had seen earlier in the week.

For the first time ever I saw a lichen growing on the bark of a white birch. Lichens normally don’t seem to like white birch but they will grow on the branches of gray birch. This was a beard lichen and it grew on the side of the tree towards the stream. Lichens like lots of humidity and I’d bet that it gets it here.

River grapes grew by the stream. I like to look at grape tendrils because they always seem to remind me of something. In this one I could see the strand-like hypha of a fungus. Two or more hypha are hyphae, and two or more hyphae are mycelium, and mycelium are like the “roots” of a fungus and the above ground parts are the “fruit.” Mycelia are always searching, either for food or for other mycelia. I might have seen all of this in this tendril because I happen to be reading one of the best books on fungi I’ve ever read. It’s called Entangled Life and is written by Merlin Sheldrake. If you know someone with a fungal fascination, they would love this book.

Most of the leaves I was raking were oak and thanks to decomposers like fungi and bacteria many were already on their way to becoming humus. I’ve often wondered what the forest would be like without the decomposers. I  think we’d be up to our eyeballs in sticks, logs, leaves and all the other litter that gathers on the forest floor.

I admired the color and intricacies of yarrow leaves.

I found a log by the stream that was covered by brocade moss (Hypnum imponens). This is a moss I don’t see that often. Brocade moss gets its common name from the way it looks as if it has been embroidered on whatever it happens to be growing on.  It is easily confused with knight’s plume moss (Ptilium crista-castrensis,) but the spore capsules on knights plume moss are elbow macaroni shaped and horizontal, while those of brocade moss are cylindrical and stand vertically.

I saw the reddest alder catkins I’ve ever seen along the stream. They’re often purple, but not usually red in my experience.

Tongue gall licked at the female alder cones, which are called 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 wish I knew how they benefit from growing in such unusual forms.

Here was a leaf I didn’t recognize. It was big at about a foot long, and very wrinkled. I’d guess dock, simply because it grows nearby.

But then suddenly, there was no longer any reason to think about leaves. The day after I took the photos you’ve seen here it snowed, so the decision has been made; leaf raking season is over. At least for now. Now leaf removal will turn to snow removal, and before long I’ll be cutting grass again.

A fallen leaf is nothing more than a summer’s wave goodbye. ~Anonymous

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There is a power that comes when you’re in nature; sometimes it can come from gazing into the unrippled surface of a pond. Sometimes it comes when you sit with your back against an old tree. It is a kind of internal power that comes from the stillness, but sometimes I’d rather feel a different kind of power; an external power. Sometimes I want to just take life by the horns and hang on for what may be a wild ride, and I can find that here at forty foot falls.

Wet oak leaves and acorns can be almost as slippery as ice and I have fallen here a few times, but with your full attention and a bit of planning it can be done without mishap. I also go a bit slower these days. I always wear a bright orange hat and vest here because there are deer in these woods, and there are also deer hunters in these woods. The night after I came here I dreamed that I saw a beautiful white tail buck with a huge rack of antlers just standing at the edge of the woods. I also dreamed that I didn’t have a camera with me, which is usually the case when I see such things.

I saw what I think were more late fall oyster mushrooms (Panellus serotinus) on a log.

The gills looked right.

I made it up to what I call the middle falls easily enough. This is a good place to rest a bit, but don’t expect quiet. Though there wasn’t as much water as I’ve seen in the past the roar was the same.

I usually wait until this time of year after the leaves fall to visit here because this forest is very dark. I thought I’d have enough light for photos on this day but clouds rolled in and it was still quite dark. If the light appears different in one photo to the next that’s why.

I’ve known for a long time that what we call beech bark blister disease is caused by both an insect and a fungus but I had never seen it until now. The white cottony substance seen on this tree is the insect called beech scale (Cryptococcus fagisuga). According to Wikipedia science doesn’t fully understand how it works but it is known that excessive feeding by this insect causes two different fungi, Neonectria faginata and Neonectria ditissima, to produce annual cankers or blisters on the bark of the tree. The continuous formation of lesions around the tree eventually girdles it, resulting in canopy death. I would say in this instance we could call this excessive feeding by the scale. I’ve read in the past that each insect pierces the bark to feed, and that tiny hole is enough to let fungal spores in.

Here are the cankers or lesions, also called blisters. Some trees are covered with them as high up as you can see and I see dead beeches just about wherever I go. It’s really too bad because beech is one of our most beautiful trees.

A few years ago there was a terrible flood that came through here and washed away roads and structures, and one of the things it washed away was a bridge, and I believe this steel cable was part of that bridge.

In any event the cable is here and is easy to get tangled up in, so I always watch for it. On this day I used it to help pull myself up the hill.

Soon it will have become part of several trees. A woodcutter’s nightmare.

Once you’ve made it up the hill you get a first glimpse of what I call the canyon.

It’s a tumbled, jumbled place with huge boulders tossed here and there, and trees torn up by their roots. The power of water is incredible, and it shows here.

But it’s also a beautiful place; well worth the effort it takes to get here. I’ve used this view as the opening shot in posts I’ve done on mosses a couple of times.

It’s a beautiful, green place. You can see how vibrant and full of life the mosses are.

And you want to touch them; to pet them, almost. Broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) gets its common name from the way the leaves all point in the same general direction, making it look as if it had been swept by a broom. It’s a fairly common moss that grows in large tufts or mats on logs and tree bases, soil or stone.

The water, or the objects in the water, have stripped the bark off several trees.

Whatever sat on that tree for years and bent it like that has been washed away. Only the memory of it remains.

I made it all the way to the upper falls without a problem this time. The upper falls are a bit anticlimactic; it’s hard to believe all the water and destruction we’ve seen comes from what appears to be a trickle, but I wouldn’t want to be standing here after two days of heavy rain. One odd thing I noticed that I never have before is how everything, the boulder faces and even the waterfall itself, is tilted at about 10 degrees off vertical.

Now we go back down, and going back down this hill is harder than most. Some of it is so steep I have to sit down and slide on the leaves. Not very dignified perhaps, but it beats breaking a leg.

As I was driving off I saw a bright spot in the woods. At first I thought these fungi must be chicken of the woods but they couldn’t be because they had gills and chicken of the woods is a polypore with pores, so it was off to the mushroom books. I’m fairly sure now that they were the mock oyster or orange oyster (Phyllotopsis nidulans) mushrooms. They can be very hairy or fuzzy at first but smoother later. These were more like velvet. They are supposed to be very stinky but I got quite close and smelled nothing unusual. They can be found clustered on both hardwood and conifer logs from fall to late winter. They are said to cause a white, stringy rot in the log. They’re quite pretty and this is the first time I’ve seen them.

Leisure is a form of silence, not noiselessness. It is the silence of contemplation such as occurs when we let our minds rest on a rosebud, a child at play, a Divine mystery, or a waterfall. ~Fulton J. Sheen

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