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On a recent hot, humid day I thought a rail trail might be a rather effortless walk so I chose one I knew well. When I started walking here some 50+ years ago trains ran through what now looks like a jungle. The railroad would never have put up with so much growth on the sides of the railbed of course, but I kind of like it this way. I was to find out that a little bit of everything grows here now, and the time spent here was full of discovery. This trail has become popular with bicyclists and I was passed by quite a few.

I saw lots of hazelnuts (Corylus americana.) Hazelnuts are a common sight along our rail trails but they have good years and bad years and more often than not there are no nuts on the bushes. On this day though, they were everywhere.

If you turn the nut cluster and look at the back you can see and feel the unripe nuts inside. There were four in this cluster.

Fringed loosestrife grew in shaded places along the trail. Note how virtually every flower nods toward the ground. As far as I know this is the only one of our yellow loosestrifes with this habit. Whorled loosestrife looks identical at a glance, but its flowers face outward.

A vine I never saw when I was a boy and saw only in one spot just a few years ago is spreading enough so now I’m seeing it almost everywhere I go. It is the smooth carrion flower vine (Smilax herbacea.) This native, non woody vine gets its common name from the strong odor of its flowers. There are both male and female plants, and they usually grow near each other.

The flowers of the smooth carrion flower vine become dark blue berries that birds love and I would guess that accounts for it quickly spreading from place to place as it has. The berries on this vine were still green but I would guess that they’ll be ripe by the end of July.   

Common mullein surprised me by growing along the trail. I’ve always wondered if the railroad didn’t spray some type of herbicide along the tracks because you never would have found plants like mullein growing here back when the trains ran. There were an awful lot of raspberries and blackberries back then though, but now all I see are canes with no berries. Raspberries and blackberries bear fruit only on second year canes so I’m guessing the young canes I’ve seen here are being cut. Possibly by a snowmobile trail improvement crew.

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) grew all along the trail and had large flower heads all ready to bloom. You can see how smooth and hairless its stems are in this photo. They are also a bluish color when young. This is another plant I don’t remember ever seeing here when I was a boy.

Here is a smooth sumac flower, just opened. They are so small I really doubted that I’d be able to get a useable photo of them. They look quite complicated for such a small thing.

While smooth sumac was just starting to bloom staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) had already formed fruit. I didn’t know that sumac berries went from green to pink before they became red.

Some of the things I remember most about this place when I was a boy are the cornfields, most of which are still here. More or less; last years drought killed off the young corn plants and for the first time that I can remember there was no corn growing here. This year in spring I came out here and found wheat growing in this field, as far as the eye could see. Wheat? I didn’t know what that was all about but they’ve cut all the wheat and are leaving this part of the field fallow, apparently. Off in the distance you can just make out corn growing, about a third of the way up in this photo. Why they didn’t plant the whole field I don’t know but the corn that is there was knee high by the fourth of July, and that’s perfect.

Here is the wheat I found a couple of months ago. It is actually triticale according to Google lens, which is a hybrid of wheat (Triticum) and rye (​Secale) first developed in laboratories during the late 19th century in Scotland and Germany. If the word triticale (trit-ih-KAY-lee) rings a bell you might have seen an original Star Trek episode called “The Trouble with Tribbles.” Everyone knew what triticale was except captain Kirk, and the tribbles ate all the poisoned triticale and saved the day.

I kept taking photos of the trail because I couldn’t believe how jungle like it has become. I dreamed of being a plant hunter in the world’s jungles when I was young, so I would have loved this. Back then though, this corridor was at least twice as wide.

There are things to watch out for in any jungle and on this day it was stinging nettle (Urtica dioica.) The Urtica part of the scientific name comes from the Latin uro, which means “I burn.” The hollow stinging hairs on the leaves and stems are called trichomes and act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that cause the stinging.

Buttery little sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) likes waste places and disturbed ground so I wasn’t really too surprised to see it here. I was surprised that it got enough sunlight to bloom though.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) bloomed weakly. Since it starts blooming in June I was surprised to see any flowers at all. I took this shot this way specifically so you could see the plant’s leaves. In early spring a lot of people confuse this plant with wild columbine, though the leaves are quite different.

What surprised me more than anything else I saw was a Canada lily (Lilium canadense) blooming beside the trail. This is something I would have remembered had I seen them here years ago. These plants are one of our biggest wildflowers. They can reach 7 feet tall and have as many as 10 flowers dangling chandelier like from long petioles. This plant only had 2 blossoms and I think it was because it didn’t get enough sun and grew in dry, sandy soil. I’ve seen woodchucks burrow into this ground and all they’ve brought up from under the railbed is pure sand.

Canada lily flowers are big, and can be yellow, orange or red, or a combination. They have purple spotted throats that aren’t always seen because the flowers almost always face downwards. If you’re very gentle though, you can bend a stem back enough to see into a blossom without breaking it. This plant is unusual because it prefers wet places. Most lilies, and in fact most plants that grow from bulbs, do not like soil that stays wet. They prefer sandy, well-drained soil. I almost always find Canada lilies growing along rivers and streams, and that’s why I was so surprised to see it here in this dry soil.

A tiny golden metallic bee landed on a leaf beside me.

The green berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are now speckled with red. Eventually they’ll become all red and will disappear quickly.

I was surprised to see tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) blooming out here. Though it can reach 10 feet tall its flowers are very small; no more than a 1/4 inch across, and appear in loose clusters at the top of wiry stalks. Native Americans used the plant for pain relief, as a stimulant, and for calming the nerves. The milky white sap contains a compound called lactucarium, which has narcotic and sedative properties. It is still used in medicines today but should be used with caution because overdoses can cause death.

There was the trestle over ash brook, where the brook meets the Ashuelot River after it snakes its way through Keene. I usually like to go under it and see what flowers are blooming along the banks of the brook but we’ve had several inches of rain and the water was far too high.

Of course the river was high as well. Not too far from this spot there used to be a small island in the river just off shore, and an oak tree had fallen from the river bank to the island and made a bridge. I used to spend many happy hours on that island but high water like that which we see here first washed away the oak tree bridge and then over the years the island disappeared as well. Water is a powerful thing.

This is a magical place for me. It’s a place where I can see, better than anywhere else, how the world has changed. Or at least this small part of it. The land in this view for instance was a cornfield when I was a boy. Now it’s just silver and red maples and a lot of sensitive ferns; all plants that don’t mind wet feet. If you walk through here you find that the surface soil is pure silt, as fine as sifted flour, and that makes me think they probably stopped farming this piece of land because of flooding. Both the brook and the river still flood in this area and since as I write this on July 11 there are rain or showers predicted every day for the coming week, it’s liable to flood again.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. ~John Lubbock

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An eastern cottontail hiding in the tall grass saw me as soon as I saw it and we both froze. I was able to turn my camera on and slowly raise it up to eye level, and finally get a couple of not so hot shots.

The rabbit was fine with me being there for a while because it munched on grass, but then it turned and hopped off, and I saw its fluffy cotton tail.

What I believe is a band winged meadowhawk dragonfly landed on an old garage door at work early one morning. The light was low and the photos weren’t that good so I was going to discard them, but then I saw something odd going on. This dragonfly had what appeared to be tiny eggs all over it.

Here is a closer look at the “eggs” on the dragonfly. I’ve searched for dragonfly diseases and dragonfly parasites but have had no luck finding anything out. If you happen to know what this is about I’d really love to hear from you. I know dragonflies lay eggs but I’ve never heard of them laying them on each other.

Note: A helpful reader has identified these as immature water mites. What is happening in these photos is called “Phoresy,” which a symbiotic relationship where one organism transports another organism of a different species. The red mites are parasites in the tick family and they do suck the dragonfly’s bodily fluids. When the dragonfly lands or hovers near water they will fall / jump off. Thanks go to Ginger Wells Kay, to the folks at BugGuide.net and to Kathy Keatley Garvey and the bug squad from the University of California for this information.  

This dragonfly looked fine but I haven’t been able to identify it. One of the club tails, maybe?

A grasshopper seemed very interested in what I was doing. In fact as I was taking its photo it turned to get a better look. Or maybe to give me a better look.

I expect to see leaves in colors other than green in the spring or fall but not in summer, so these ash leaves seemed confused to me. It is thought that plants might do this to prevent the leaves getting too much sunlight, but it doesn’t seem like anyone really knows for sure.

I can’t explain why some plants do this but it can often be beautiful, as this Joe Pye weed shows.

For years now I’ve meant to check our native alder bushes in the spring for new tongue gall growth and each year I’ve forgotten. But then I was taking photos of a Deptford pink that grew under an alder and I stood up and there they were. And they really do look like tongues, especially at this stage. Some were even bright red.

I went back on a rainy day and got this shot of another tongue like gall. Instead of being caused by an insect like many galls, alder (Alnus incana) tongue gall is caused by a fungus (Taphrina alni.) The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the female cone-like catkins (strobiles) and causes long, tongue shaped galls known as languets to grow from them. These galls seem to like high humidity so are usually found on alders that grow near swamps, ponds and streams. 

Once they’ve reached their limit of growth the tongue galls dry and blacken, and look like this. I think this is something most of us have seen.

Azalea Exobasidium gall is another leaf and flower gall that is caused by a fungus instead of an insect. It can cause swollen shoots, stem galls, witches’ brooms and red leaf spots, but more often than not it causes white galls like that seen in the above photo. The white color comes from the spores of the fungus, which are spread by wind and rain. I found this and many other examples growing on some wild roseshell azaleas.

While I’ve been working on this post we’ve had two days of rain, so I hoped to see some mushrooms. I didn’t have to look too hard; this yellow fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) grew in the middle of a trail. I used to do 2 or 3 mushroom posts each year but last year I didn’t find enough to do any, so I was happy to see this one. The name fly agaric comes from the practice of putting pieces of the mushroom in a dish of milk. The story says that when flies drank the milk they died, but it’s something I’ve never tried. Fly agaric is said to have the ability to “turn off” fear in humans and is considered toxic. Some Vikings, called “berserkers”  are said to have used it for that very reason.

I also saw a white slime mold on an oak leaf. Some slime molds can be very small and others quite large. This one in its plasmodium stage was average, I’d say; about as big as the leaf itself. When slime molds are in this state they are usually moving, but very slowly. Slime molds are very sensitive to drying out so they usually move at night, but they can be found on cloudy, humid days as well. I haven’t been able to identify it so for now all I can say is that it is a white slime mold, possibly a Physarum, in the plasmodium stage. Slime molds, even though sometimes covering a large area, are actually made up of hundreds or thousands of single entities. These entities move through the forest looking for food or a suitable place to fruit and eventually come together in a mass. They move with the single mindedness of a school of fish or a flock of birds. So far science can tell us what they aren’t, but not what they are.

And there were Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora,) which are not fungi but often appear at the same time. Each plant has a single flower and each flower nods toward the ground until it is pollinated. Once pollinated they turn and point straight at the sky, and in that position they will turn brown and become hard like wood, and finally the seed pods will split open and release the tiny seeds. They are dust like and are borne on the wind.

Blueberries seem to be having a great year. The bushes I’ve looked at have been loaded with berries, so the bears and birds will eat well.

Invasive Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) berries ripen from green to orange to red and for the first time I caught all the stages in one photo. This shrub is native to Siberia and is very tough. Birds love its berries and that’s why it has been so successful. In this area there are very few places where it doesn’t grow. Tatarian honeysuckle was introduced as an ornamental shrub in the 1750s. It has deep pink, very fragrant flowers in spring. Though it is invasive it has been here so long that it’s hard to imagine life without it.

Black elderberry fruit has just started to form. In this stage the big flower heads always remind me of star charts.

Fern balls are created by an insect called either a fern leaf tier or a leaf roller, depending on who you listen to. They appear at the tip of a fern frond and look like a ball. Inside the ball are caterpillars of a moth, possibly in the herpetogramma family. The caterpillars pull the tip of the fern into a ball shape and tie it up with silk. Once inside the shelter they feed on the leaflets.

These are busy moths; I’m seeing a lot of these balled up leaves this year.

The fern that had the fern balls on it was either an interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana,) shown above, or a cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum,) shown in the next photo. Since it had no spore cases on it, it was hard to tell. Interrupted fern gets its common name from the way the fertile fronds look as if they’ve been “interrupted” by spore cases, which are the dark areas on this fern.

Cinnamon fern spore bearing fronds are reddish and whoever named the fern thought they looked like cinnamon sticks. If you saw both ferns growing side by side and neither was producing spores most of us would think they were identical.

Timothy grass has just started to flower. Each flower head is filled with tiny florets, each with three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas. Timothy grass makes an excellent hay crop and gets its common name from Timothy Hanson, a farmer who began to cultivate and promote it in 1720, a few years after its introduction into colonial America in 1711. It should be cut for hay before it reaches this stage but it’s quite beautiful when it blossoms. When you see someone chewing a stalk of grass in a photo or painting it is usually Timothy. I chewed many myself as a boy, and I just thought of the opening line of Ventura Highway by the band America: Chewing on a piece of grass, walking down the road

The oddest thing I’ve seen lately is this piece of cantaloupe i found on a lawn. I once worked with someone who made pens as a hobby, and he told me that he knew some people who used the netting from cantaloupes to decorate the pens they made. I can’t imagine how it was done but I’d bet they were beautiful pens.

This view says summer to me. I grew up lazing on the banks of a river, seeing views just like this one every day. May every child be so lucky.

Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.
~Lao Tzu

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Last Sunday I felt like it was time to climb again, so I chose Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. It was supposed to be a hot, humid day so I made sure I got there earlier than I usually do. In fact I had never been on the mountain that early in the day, so the quality of the light was surprising all the way up.

I saw lots of blackberries, in bloom and forming berries.

I also saw lots of unripe blueberries and I was going to show you some but this fly landed on a blueberry leaf and instead of getting shots of the blueberries I got a mediocre shot of the fly just before it flew off. And I forgot about the blueberries.

As its common name implies Indian cucumber root’s (Medeola virginiana) small root looks and tastes a lot like a mini cucumber, and Native Americans used it for food. The plant is easy to identify because of its tiers of whorled leaves and unusual flowers. It likes to grow under trees in dappled light, probably getting no more than an hour or two of direct sunlight each day.

The flowers of Indian cucumber root dangle under the leaves and usually have 6 yellowish green tepals, 6 reddish stamens topped by greenish anthers, and 3 reddish purple to brown styles. These large styles are bright red- brown but I think they darken as they age. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry. I had to lift one of the leaves to get this shot, so you have to look carefully to see them.

Halfway up the mountain I found the meadow ready to be cut for hay. That’s Mount Monadnock in the background.

It looked like the meadow was full of orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata,) which I’m sure the Scottish Highland cattle that live here appreciate. George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.” As this photo shows, it’s also beautiful when it flowers.

Orange hawkweed bloomed profusely in the meadow and what I believe were great spangled fritillary butterflies enjoyed them. I hoped to get a shot of their pretty silver spotted underwings but I never did. I did see them once or twice though.

This one turned around on the flower head so I could look into its eyes.

And what eyes it had. Amazingly beautiful. I’d love to be able to see through eyes like that, just once.

The fire tower looked unmanned and I wasn’t surprised. The fire danger isn’t very high now, thankfully.

Staghorn sumacs were soaking up the sun and doing their best palm tree impersonation.

Mountain white cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata) is also called three toothed cinquefoil because of the three large teeth at the end of each leaf. The white 5 petaled flowers are small; maybe a half inch across on a good day. They are said to bloom for 2 or 3 months and make an excellent choice for a sunny rock garden that doesn’t get too hot, because they don’t like heat. I would think that they must struggle a bit up here in full sun all summer but they’re spreading all over the summit.

This shot perfectly illustrates why I always say I don’t climb for the views. I like to see the views as much as anyone but if I was disappointed every time the views weren’t good I’d spend a lot of time being disappointed. I see so many interesting and beautiful things while I’m climbing a hill or mountain by the time I reach the summit the view is secondary; just icing on the cake.

Despite the haze I tried to get a few good shots because I know people like to see them. This view of Mount Monadnock wasn’t too bad.

I love the blue shading on the distant hills and I could just sit and look at them the entire time I spent here. Every peak is followed by a valley, like waves on the sea.

Reaching what I call the near hill would still be a long walk.

The bushes seen flowering in some of these shots are smooth arrow wood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum.) the shrub has yellowish white, mounded flower clusters and it can be seen blooming just about everywhere right now. Later on the flowers will become dark blue drupes that birds love. It is said that this plant’s common name comes from Native Americans using the straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used the shrub medicinally and its fruit for food.

It took all the zoom my camera had in it to get this shot of the wind turbines over in Antrim.

Since I’ve said enough about the old ranger’s cabin in previous posts I thought I’d skip it this time and I did, until I was coming down off the summit. It was then that I saw a window open that was boarded up the last time I was here.

The first time this happened I thought it was probably a bear, but bears don’t usually sit in white plastic lawn chairs and there were now several of them on the front porch. I could see one inside as well, so I had a good idea where the ones on the porch came from.

The inside looked trashed, and American flags were on the floor among the litter. Some may feel that a flag is just a piece of cloth but a flag, any flag, always stands for something, and both it and what it stands for deserve respect. It’s hard to see old places like this vandalized but it looks like that’s what has happened. Hopefully someone from the Forest Service or someone else in charge will board the window back up.

Just inside the window there was a table and it had an Audubon magazine on it. It was from 1988 and it cost three dollars. That seems like a lot for back then.

I could have gone back down the mountain fretting about the vandalism I saw but since there is little I could do about it other than making it known by showing it here, I chose instead to marvel at the smallness of a creature that can live between the upper and lower surface of a sarsaparilla leaf. I sometimes feel like I’m just bouncing from one astonishment to another.

Certain things catch your eye, but pursue only those that capture your heart. ~Native American saying.

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Last Sunday I decided, for no particular reason, to visit Goose Pond in Keene. This was my favorite view from that outing.

Goose pond is part of a five hundred acre wilderness area that isn’t that far from downtown Keene. It  was called Crystal Lake and / or Sylvan Lake in the early 1900s. The pond was artificially enlarged to 42 acres in 1865 so the town of Keene would have a water supply to fight fires with. Wooden pipe fed 48 hydrants by 1869 but the town stopped using the pond as a water supply in the 1930s, and in 1984 it was designated a wilderness area. The vast forest tract surrounding the pond has been left virtually untouched since the mid-1800s, and it is indeed wilderness.

This is one of many approaches to the pond. It’s the one I usually take, which is steadily uphill but not too exhausting.

I was surprised to see shining sumac (Rhus copallinum) here. I’ve only seen this plant in two or three other places so it seems to be on the rare side in this area. It is also called flame leaf sumac, dwarf sumac, or winged sumac. This example had been cut and was only knee high but I’ve read that they can reach about 8-10 feet. The foliage turns a beautiful, brilliant orange-red in fall.

I thought this witch hazel was rushing the season just a bit.

I saw one of the biggest pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) I’ve ever seen on this day. The plant was probably twice the size of my hand with its big leaves when usually they are barely as big as your hand. There was no flower of course but there was a seed pod.

And here is the seed pod, with what is left of what appears to be a very large flower dangling from its end. These seed pods contain between 10,000 and 20,00 tiny, dust like seeds. According to the U.S. Forest Service “The seeds require threads of a fungus  in the Rhizoctonia genus to break them open and attach them to it. The fungus will pass on food and nutrients to the pink lady’s slipper seed. When the lady’s slipper plant is older and producing most of its own nutrients, the fungus will extract nutrients from the orchid roots. This mutually beneficial relationship between the orchid and the fungus is known as “symbiosis” and is typical of almost all orchid species.” This is why it is waste of time to collect orchids or orchid seed from the wild and expect them to grow in your yard.

The various views of the water from along the trail were very pleasing on this day. This is a not very good shot of the island that I took with my phone. I wanted to keep it because I camped on islands in a few different area lakes when I was younger, but never this one. There was a chance of thunderstorms on this day and the island reminded me that there’s nothing quite like riding out a thunderstorm on an island in the middle of a lake. There’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide but when it’s over you feel more alive than you’ve ever felt.

This old tree stump showed that the water level had dropped about an inch, despite recent rains. The photo made it look almost as if the scene were floating in the sky.

For the first time ever I saw new spring, purple colored seed cones on an eastern hemlock. I was stunned, since my house is virtually surrounded by the trees. I think I’m always more amazed by what I don’t see than what I do. I can’t explain how I’ve missed them all these years, but they are the smallest cones of any conifer in this region.

Goose pond is unusual because it has a wide trail that goes all the way around it. This part of the trail is really much darker than my cell phone made it look.

There are two or three bridges here to help one across inflowing streams but there are also other crossings that have wet stones instead of bridges, so sturdy waterproof hiking boots are a good idea here. Walking poles too if your balance isn’t what it once was.

Most of the streams aren’t that deep but if you step in the right spot you might find water pouring into your boot.  

Brittle cinder fungus (Kretzschmaria deusta) starts life as a beautiful gray and white crust-like fungus in the spring, but before long it grows into something quite different.

As this photo taken a few years ago shows, a brittle cinder fungus like that shown in the previous photo becomes what looks like a shiny lump of coal. Though I’ve only seen this fungus on standing dead trees and logs it will attack live trees and is said to be aggressive. Once it gets into a wound on the tree’s roots or trunk it begins to break down the cellulose and lignin and causes soft rot. The tree is then doomed, though it may live on for a few to even several more years.

Blue flags (Iris versicolor) bloomed here and there at the edge of the water.

They were just about at the end of their run and looked a bit ragged, but still beautifully colored.

This is a time of year when we see heavy pollen production, especially from white pine trees. A lot of that pollen falls onto the water of ponds and lakes and will collect in the shallows. This frog didn’t look too happy about it.

Northern bush honeysuckles (Diervilla lonicera) were showing their tubular, pale yellow flowers. This low growing shrub is interesting because of its orange inner bark. It isn’t a true honeysuckle, but gets its common name from its opposite leaves that resemble honeysuckles. It’s a pretty little thing that is native to eastern North America.

What I think was a red spotted purple butterfly ( Limenitis arthemis astyanax) landed on a log a few feet away but it didn’t turn to give me a chance for a good shot. It wanted to look rather than to be looked at, so I didn’t bother it and let it look. I hope one of its cousins will be more willing to have its photo shown here in the future.

There are quite a few stands of hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) here and, though most had been heavily browsed by deer or moose, this one had produced berries. They’ll go from green to red to finally a deep purple. In this photo you can see the dark wire-like stems of hobblebush, which gets its name from the way it can “hobble” or trip up a horse. (Or a man.) Viburnums have been used by man in many ways since before recorded history. The 5,000 year old “Iceman” found frozen in the Alps was carrying arrow shafts made from a European Viburnum wood.

I though this clubmoss was beautiful with its ring of lighter new spring growth.

This is just another of far too many photos of the pond that I took. It’s hard not to admire such a beautiful, pristine place.

I usually go clockwise around the pond and when I do that, this odd stone is one of the last things I see before arriving back where I started. The soil has finally washed away from the far end enough so I could see that it’s only about a foot and a half long. It has been cut, and is faced of all four sides with sharp, 90 degree corners. It’s far too short to be a fence post but in the 1800s people didn’t spend hours of their time working on something like this for no reason, so it was used for something. How it ended up out here partially buried in the middle of the trail will always be a mystery.

Goose pond is a great place to have a hike, especially in the morning. It can get quite warm even in a forest and this day was like that even though I was there by 9:30 am. It takes me about two hours to hike all the way around the pond but I can see a teenager doing it in maybe 30 minutes. It depends on how many things you stop to admire. There are people fishing and swimming and dog walking and even bike riding but all in all it’s a quiet, enjoyable place for a walk or for even simply sitting and enjoying nature. Beside the stream in this photo would be a great place for that.

Go slow, my life, go slow. Let me enjoy the beauty of silence, serenity, and solitude. ~Debasish Mridha

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In how many forms can the softness of life appear? A mother holding her newborn child comes to mind. Or the feathers on a song bird’s breast. Freshly fallen snow. A favorite pet’s fur. On this day it was new spring leaves. Actually it was more the view across Half Moon Pond and the reflection in it that was so very soft. It made me feel soft, or maybe gentle is a better word. Or tender. But words don’t matter. Nature will bring you softness in its many forms.

When I looked down at my feet instead of across the pond I saw ripples in the sand. But this isn’t the view of a beach; this photo looks through about a foot of water to see these ripples. Nature also brings clarity.

I found what I thought was the dry husk, called an exoskeleton, of a dragonfly on the stem of a pond plant. I’m seeing a lot of them lately and they signal dragonfly emergence from the water. A dragonfly crawls up a leaf or stick as a nymph and once the exoskeleton has dried a bit the dragonfly emerges from it to unfold and dry its wings. When its wings are dry it simply flies away and leaves the exoskeleton behind and that’s what the strange husks are, but this one was different. I believe those are eyes that I see. I can’t explain what look like threads. It’s as if the dragonfly were laced into a costume.

If what I see are eyes this was a dragonfly in the process of emerging from its exoskeleton, and that is something I would have liked to have seen. Unfortunately I didn’t see the eyes until I looked at the photo. The entire creature was barely an inch long.

An old hemlock tree that grew right at the edge of the pond fell and over the years weather has washed every bit of soil from its roots. I thought what was left was as beautiful as a sculpture. I could look at it all day.

Our big snapping turtles are up out of the swamps and looking for suitable places to lay their eggs. They often choose the soft sand around the pond, sometimes right of the edge of the road. They’re right on time; they usually appear during the first week of June. Snapping turtles dig rather shallow holes with their hind legs and lay anywhere from 25-80 eggs each year. Incubation time is 9-18 weeks but many eggs don’t make it anywhere near that long. Foxes, minks, skunks, crows and raccoons dig them up and eat them and destroyed nests are a common sight along sandy roadsides. These big turtles eat plants, fish, frogs, snakes, ducklings, and just about anything else they can catch. Oddly, when in the water they are rather placid and don’t bother humans. This one didn’t pick a very good spot. You can probably see all the tire track in the sand around her.

This mother turtle seemed to have lost her way, or maybe she was just crossing the road. In any event I hope she made it. Some don’t; I’ve seen turtles that have been run over by cars.

Pretty little rosy maple moths almost always show up at about the same time as the snapping turtles start laying their eggs, and that is always fascinating to me. These moths lay their tiny eggs on the undersides of maple leaves and that’s how they come by their common name. Adult moths do not eat but the caterpillars are able to eat a few leaves each. They are called green striped maple worms.

We have a grove of crabapples where I work and they were just coming into bloom when I took this photo. They’re in part of the 13 acre meadow that I mow.

I thought this view of the Ashuelot River might make you think I had caught a tree falling, but actually that dead white pine on the left is falling in very slow motion and has looked like that for a while now. When it finally does fall I think it might almost stretch across the entire river. It’s very tall.

A painted turtle family rested on a log in the waning sunshine. Mother seemed to be more concerned with the littlest one scampering away than with her twins. Or at least that was the story that came to mind as I watched.

Red maple seeds (samaras) are always beautiful. In fact there is little about a red maple that isn’t beautiful.

Silver maple samaras are not as colorful as red maple samaras at this stage but are still beautiful in their way. When they’re young they’re bright red topped off with a white wooly coating and are very beautiful.

You don’t need to live on the seashore to see waves. When the water level in the Ashuelot River is just right waves like these form and people can see this section of river when it is most alive and at its most beautiful. I always try to capture the waves in my camera so I can show you what I saw. I’ve known this river all of my life and it has taught me much, including how to photograph waves.

I find some of the plants and flowers you see on this blog in places like this. Many plants like skunk cabbages like boggy ground and they can find it in these swampy areas. All of this water finds its way into the river in the previous photo, and it helps make the waves that I enjoy watching so much. The streams that flow down from the hills in the distance, the swamp seen here, the river; they are all connected, just as all of life is connected.

The skunk cabbages are having a good year, despite it being so dry last year. Though many plants are flowering like I’ve never seen there are a few that seem to be having a tough time of it.

Someone nailed what looked like a lumberjack cutout to a tree. I can’t even guess why.

Royal ferns (Osmunda spectabilis) have started producing spores. Another name for this fern is “flowering fern,” because someone once thought that the fertile, fruiting fronds looked like bunches of flowers. Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are thought to be able to live 100 years or more. I always like to show this fern because a lot of people don’t know that it’s a fern. This one lives next to a stream.

I went to Beaver Brook in Keene hoping to see the beautiful trilliums that grow there but instead saw how beautiful the brook itself was. In spring before the leaves are fully unfurled is one of the few times you can see this view. Just up around that corner in the distance grow trilliums, Solomon’s seal, rose moss, dog lichen, blue stemmed goldenrod, purple flowering raspberry and many of the other beautiful plants that you often see on this blog.

I’ve included this photo, taken just after a shower, so you would know that it isn’t always sunny here in New Hampshire. It was taken when droplets were still falling from the trees above, and I heard the steady pat…..pat…..pat of drops as they landed on an oak leaf. When you focus on such a sound you might find that your mind becomes quiet and free of thought. You might also find that the cares and problems that you carried into the woods with you seem smaller somehow, and much less important. Serenity is just one of many gifts that nature has to offer.

Unfortunately, though we have had enough rain lately to nearly end the abnormally dry conditions I’m still not seeing many mushrooms. I did find this one growing on a pine stump. Google lens thinks it’s a scaly sawgill mushroom (Neolentinus lepideus) but I wouldn’t bet the farm on that.

I can’t explain why these oak leaves were so beautifully red in June but I was happy to see them. They felt as silky as they looked.

Grasses like this orchard grass have started to flower and they’re always worth looking at a little more closely because they can be as beautiful as any other flower. Orchard grass seed heads are composed of spikelets that bear two to eight flowers which dangle from thin filaments (pedicels) and shimmer in the breeze, which of course blows the pollen to other grass plants.

Sweet vernal grass is a short, knee high grass that flowers in spring. The white “strings” you see in the photo are its flowers and since this grass doesn’t mind light shade the white is usually very easy to see. One of the most interesting things about this grass is how it smells like fresh cut hay with a bit of vanilla spilled on it, and it is for that reason it is called vanilla grass. I’ve read that the scent comes from the same substance that gives sweet woodruff its fragrance.

Ho hum, just another fallen tree in the forest, right? Not exactly. I like to see what mosses, lichens and / or fungi are growing on fallen trees so I usually look them over. This one was certainly mossy but that isn’t what caught my eye. It was the wound on the log, where enough of the bark had gone to show the beautiful, swirling grain pattern of the wood underneath. What furniture maker, I thought as I admired it, wouldn’t give his eye teeth for a log like this one? I’d love to have a table top made from it. Or even a cane. Which I hope I won’t need right away.

I should explain for the more recent readers how these “Things I’ve Seen” posts began. Years ago I realized that I had a lot of leftover photos after a blog post had been put together. They weren’t bad photos; it was just that they didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. It’s hard to fit a photo of a snapping turtle into a flower post for instance, so instead I used them in this kind of post. Pretty much everything you’ve seen here was just something I stumbled into. That’s also what makes these posts the hardest ones to do, because I sometimes stumble onto something I’ve never seen. But that is fine; the best way to study nature in my experience is to not think about how things should be or how you hope they will be; instead just experience and accept what is, and enjoy it as it comes.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

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The last time I visited the deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland I mentioned in the resulting blog post the violets that grow here in spring, and several people’s ears pricked up. They said they’d like to see them so that’s what this visit is all about. I had been seeing lots of violets blooming in Keene so I felt confident that I’d see some here, but not in the part of the deep cut that you see above. I think of this as the “sterile” part of the canyon because few plants besides mosses grow there. The walls are close to 50 feet high in places I’ve been told by people who climb them, and though it is sunny in the photo it’s in deep shade for most of the day.

Instead we go south to where all the growth is.

And there is a lot of growth. Every surface, whether it is vertical or horizontal has something growing on it. When I was a boy I dreamed of being a plant explorer, travelling all over the world to find beautiful plants for botanic gardens, and one of the books I read back then was James Hilton’s Lost Horizons. I never became a plant hunter but I did find my own Shangri-La, right here in Westmoreland New Hampshire. The beauty and lushness found here are like nothing I’ve seen anywhere else.

By the way, for those new to this blog; this is what the canyon looks like in winter. All of the dripping groundwater you hear at other times of the year becomes ice, and in February you wonder how anything could ever grow here.

But things do grow here, and if anything it seems like it must be the ice helping them do so well. Foamflowers for instance, grow as well or better here than I’ve ever seen them grow anywhere else.

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) are always beautiful no matter where they grow but the ones that grow here seem healthier and more robust.

The Jack in the pulpit flowers (Arisaema triphyllum) I’ve seen here get bigger than they are anywhere else I go, so I’d guess that they like all the extra water as well. I usually lift the hood of the striped spathe so I can see the spadix inside but this time I didn’t have to; a side view shows how Jack lives in his pulpit.

I’ve seen Jack in the pulpit plants reach waist high here while in other places they barely reach knee high. The leaves on this plant were huge and I wanted you to see them because they are sometimes mistaken for trillium leaves.

Here were two red trillium plants, also with huge leaves. If you compare them with the Jack in the pulpit leaves in the previous photo you’ll see that there are differences. The overall shape of the trillium plant from above is round while with Jack in the pulpit it is more triangular. The trillium leaves are more rounded as well, but the main difference is in how the trillium flower stalk rises out of the center where the three leaves meet. In a Jack in the pulpit the flower is on its own stalk that rises directly from the ground.

And here were the violets; thousands of them, doing better this year than I think I’ve ever seen. In years past I decided that they were marsh blue violets (Viola cucullata) because the long flower stem (peduncle) gets the flowers high above the leaves. These violets aren’t shy; they shout here we are!

They’re very beautiful, even when they peek out of grasses and sedges. Though my color finding software sees lavender highlights here and there it tells me that most of these violets are cornflower blue.

Small waterfalls occasionally pour from the walls as they were on this day, and I think that’s why all of these plants can do so well here. The ice that forms here in winter is almost always colored in various colors and I think that is because this ground water is mineral rich. Those same minerals that color the ice are most likely taken up and used by all of these plants.

The tinkling, dripping sounds of water are constant no matter where in the canyon you may be.

All of that dripping, splashing water means that plants like violets can grow right on the stone. This shot shows how the flower stem on the marsh blue violet gets the flowers high above the leaves. If I understand what I’ve read correctly it is the only violet that does this. (And this is probably the only violet that can handle all of this water.)

Even dandelions, which have a tap root like a carrot, can grow on stone here. Note how wet the surrounding stone is. Even trees grow on stone here, but they usually fall before they get very old.

Kidney leaved buttercups (Ranunculus abortivus) grew here and there along the trail. They’re always a challenge to photograph because their wiry stems sprawl and move in the wind.

Each tiny flower is only about a quarter inch in diameter with five yellow petals and ten or more yellow stamens surrounding a shiny green center that resembles a raspberry in shape. This plant is also called little leaf buttercup or small flowered buttercup. Like other plants in the buttercup family it is toxic.

I saw a few groups of ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) here and I’ve got to try to remember they’re here because their spring fiddleheads look like no other that I know of and I’d like to come back next spring to get photos of them. Another name for this fern is the shuttlecock fern and that’s a good description, because that’s exactly the shape they have. Though I’ve read that they can reach seven feet tall under optimum conditions the examples I saw were about three and a half feet tall.

The leaf stalk of an ostrich fern is deeply grooved as seen here, and if you are going to forage for fern fiddleheads to eat you would do well to remember this. Other ferns like the interrupted fern and cinnamon fern have grooved leaf stalks but their grooves are much more shallow than these.

As this shot from 2015 shows. ostrich fern spring fiddleheads are smooth and bright, pea green. Even at this stage they have that deep groove in the stalks, and no wooly coating. They like to grow in shady places where the soil is consistently damp. Ostrich fern fiddleheads are considered a great delicacy by many and many restaurants are happy to pay premium prices for them in spring. I’ve always heard that ostrich fern is the only one of our native ferns that is safe to eat.

Unfortunately there was a lot of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolate) here. This plant is very invasive and can form large monocultures of nothing but garlic mustard. The plant was originally brought from Europe in the 1800s as an herb, and to be used for erosion control. Of course it immediately escaped and is now trying to take over the world. By the time native plants come up in spring garlic mustard has already grown enough to shade them out and that’s how it outcompetes our native species. It is edible in spring when young but increases in toxicity (Cyanide) as it ages. It has a taproot but it can be pulled, preferably before it sets seed. In the U.K. it is called Jack-by-the-hedge and we kind of wish it had stayed there. By the hedge, I mean.

I like the fern like leaves of wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris) which grows along the drainage channels here. Wild chervil is thought to have come over from Europe in wildflower seed mixes. It has been growing in this area since the early 1900s and is considered a noxious weed in places. It isn’t the same as the cultivated chervil used to flavor soups and it shouldn’t be eaten. In many places it is called cow parsley and resembles many plants that are very poisonous, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

I realized when I was here that I’ve never shown you what happens when you exit the canyon, so here you are. You can just see the roofline of the old lineman’s shack behind those trees to the left.

And here is what’s left of the lineman’s shack. The front wall is leaning back quite severely now and that most likely means the ridgepole has snapped, so the old place can’t be long for this world. The ridgepole is what the rafters attach to and without it, it all comes tumbling down. I’ll be sorry to see that. I’ve been coming here for so many years it seems like an old friend.

I hope all of you violet lovers out there enjoyed seeing how they grow in nature, and the beauty of this place. This violet was my favorite. My color finding software tells me it’s steel blue.

The superstition still survives in widely scattered countries that to dream of the violet is good luck. ~Cora Linn Daniels

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Last spring when I visited Yale Forest in Swanzey I stumbled upon one of the prettiest horsetails I had ever seen, the woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum.) I have since read that it is indeed considered the most beautiful of all the horsetails and I wanted to see it again, so on a recent beautiful spring day off I went, back into Yale Forest. My chances of finding a single plant in such a huge forest might seem slim but I knew this horsetail liked wet feet, and I knew where the water was. 

An old road winds through this part of the forest and there is still plenty of pavement to be seen. Yale University has owned this parcel of land since the 1930s and allows public use. The old road was once called Dartmouth Road because that’s where it led, but the state abandoned it when the new Route 10 was built and it has been all but forgotten ever since.

Cheery little bluets (Houstonia caerulea) grew along the sides of the old road.

Many thousands of violets also grow alongside the old road. They reminded me that I have to get up to the Deep Cut rail trail in Westmoreland to see all the violets that grow there. It’s a beautiful sight.

Fern fiddleheads were beautiful, as always.

New oak leaves were everywhere, and they were also beautiful. New leaves are one of the things I love most about spring.

New oak leaves are multi colored and soft, like felt.

Beeches were also opening up for spring. This one showed how all of the current season’s leaves and branches grow out of a single small bud. The miracle that is life, right here for everyone to see.

There are lots of striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) out here and many were showing off their new spring flowers. They’re pretty, the way they dangle and move with the breeze.

It was such a beautiful day to be in the woods. The only sounds were the bird songs, and they came from every direction.

Sarsaparilla leaves (Aralia nudicaulis) still wore their spring reds and purples when I was here. At this stage they are often mistaken for poison ivy and that’s another reason to know what poison ivy looks like. From what I’ve read the color protects young leaves from strong sunlight. After a time as they become more used to the light they slowly turn green.

Sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) grew here and there in small groups and I would guess if it were left alone it might one day carpet the forest floor as I’ve seen it do in other places.

I saw an old dead tree, or what was left of it.

As I’ve said here before; you can find beauty even in death.

I was hoping I’d find some mallards in the beaver pond but instead I found that someone had taken apart the beaver dam. I’ve done it and it’s hard work but sometimes it is very necessary.

It was certainly necessary in this instance; the beavers had miscalculated and built the dam too high and the water finally spilled over the banks of the small pond and into the old road. If something hadn’t been done this whole area could have flooded. I’m all for letting animals live in peace without being disturbed but there are times when you have to do something to persuade them that maybe they haven’t made the best choice.

Shadbushes ( Amelanchier canadensis) grew by the beaver pond but they were about done flowering and their fruits, called June berries, were beginning to form.

It looked like the beavers had built their lodge partially on land, which I don’t see them do very often. I have a feeling this might be a young male beaver just starting out on its own, hoping a mate will come swimming upstream.

But I couldn’t concern myself with what the beavers were doing. It isn’t my land so I have to let them and Yale University straighten it out. I headed off into the woods, following the outflow stream from the pond. Right off I saw hundreds of goldthread plants (Coptis groenlandicum,) most still in in flower.

What pretty little things they are, just sitting and waiting for an insect to stop by and sip their nectar. Which they can’t do without getting poked by one of those long anthers. A dusting of pollen for a sip of nectar sounds like a fair trade.

Water plantain (Alisma subcordatum) grew by the outflow stream. I’ve read that it is also called mud plantain and its seeds are eaten by waterfowl. Something also must eat the leaves because they looked fairly chewed up. Maybe deer or bear. Native Americans cooked and ate its roots but I haven’t found any information about them eating the foliage. Though it is a native plant I rarely see it.

NOTE: I was thinking of another plant I’ve seen with huge leaves like this one when I wrote this; swamp saxifrage, but this is not that plant and neither is it water plantain. The swamp saxifrage I’ve seen had leaves that were chewed just like these but these leaves are very different when I compare the two photos. This could be skunk cabbage but I’ve never seen it out here and I’ve never seen its leaves get this big. I’m sorry for any confusion this might have caused.

And then there it was; the woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum.) Its foliage is very lacy; different somehow than that of other horsetails, and it is this laciness that makes it so beautiful. In the garden horsetails can be a real pest but out here where they grow naturally they’re enchanting.

I got my knees and pant legs soaking wet taking these photos but it was worth it to see such a rare and beautiful thing. Or I should say, rare in my experience. I’ve never seen it anywhere else but it is said to grow in the U.K and Europe. The sylvaticum part of the scientific name is Latin for “of the forests,” and that’s where the title of this post comes from.

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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I wanted to see if the wild columbines were blooming so on a recent sunny day I walked the rail trail up in Westmoreland to the ledges they grow on. There are lots of other wildflowers here as well so you always find something blooming along this trail in spring.

I was surprised to find coltsfoot still blooming. I haven’t seen any in Keene for two weeks.

I should say that I saw a single coltsfoot blossom; most looked like this.

Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) had started blooming, but the flowers hadn’t opened completely.

Each greenish white red elderberry flower is tiny at about 1/8 inch across, but has a lot going on. They have five petals which are called “petaloid lobes” and which curve sharply backwards. Five stamens have white filaments and are tipped with pale yellow anthers. The flower is completed by a center pistil with three tiny stigmata. If pollinated each flower will become a small, bright red berry. Though the plant is toxic Native Americans knew how to cook the berries to remove their toxicity. They are said to be very bitter unless prepared correctly. Birds love them and each year they disappear quickly.

False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) grew here and there and was already budded. Native Americans inhaled the fumes from this plant’s burning roots to treat headache and body pain. They also used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas.

The tiny flowers will be part of a large terminal flower head and will become bright white. The berries will form quickly and will turn bright red but before they do they are speckled red and green for a time. The plant is also called treacle berry because the berries taste like treacle or bitter molasses. They’re rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy, but large quantities of uncooked berries are said to act like a laxative so moderation is called for.

True Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) also grew along the trail. This is a fast growing plant once it gets started and it won’t be long before it blooms. It already had buds on it.

The Solomon’s seal flowers will dangle from the stem under the leaves and will be hard to see, so you have to look for them. They will eventually become small dark blue berries.

Ferns were yawning and stretching, happy to be awake and greening up once again.

Though the trail looks long in photos it doesn’t take that long to get to where the columbines grow.

Algae grew on the stone ledge you can see just to the right in that previous photo.

I believe it was spirogyra algae which always seems to have lots of bubbles. Looking at it is almost like being able to see through the skin of a frog. Spirogyra has common names that include water silk and mermaid’s tresses. It is described as a “filamentous charophyte green algae of the order Zygnematales.” I’ve read that they grow in nutrient rich places. They’re always interesting and they don’t feel slimy at all. They feel like cool water.

The trees are getting very green. All shades of green.

Some of that green came from the new leaves of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum). The road seen far below is route 12 north. It lets you know how high up this rail trail is; this part of the rail bed was cut into the side of a steep hillside.

New red maple leaves lived up to their name and were tomato red. The same pigments that color them in the fall color them in the spring.

Here we are at the ledges. What is left of the hillside after the railroad cut its way through is home to a large variety of plants.

Spring shoots of Jack in the pulpit grew up out of the moss. If you know anything about Jack in the pulpit you know that it grows from a bulb like root called a corm, much like a gladiolus corm. That’s fine until you start wondering how such a root works on stone. I’ve also seen dandelions growing on these ledges and they have a long tap root. Again, how does that work on stone? There are lots of questions here that I can’t answer but that’s okay; nature knows what its doing.

When I first found this place a few years ago there was a single group of red trilliums (Trillium erectum) growing here. Now that small group is much larger and there re trilliums all along the base of the ledges so they’re obviously happy here.

They’re very pretty flowers but they won’t be with us much longer. Once the tree leaves come out that’s pretty much it for these plants.

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) grows in abundance here. I’ve never seen so much of it in any other place. It is named after a French monk who lived in the year 1000 AD and is said to have cured many people’s illnesses with it. 

And then there they were, the wild columbine blossoms (Aquilegia canadensis) I haven’t seen since last year. They are beautiful things; well worth the hike. Each red and yellow blossom is about an inch and a half long and dances in the slightest breeze at the end of a long stalk. The Aquilegia part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Aquila, which means “eagle” and refers to the spurred petals that Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus thought resembled an eagle’s talons. Some think they resemble pigeons around a dish and the name Columbine comes from the Latin Columbinus, which means “pertaining to doves or pigeons.” It is said that Native American men rubbed the crushed seeds on themselves to be more attractive to women. Whether they did it for color or scent, I don’t know.

Wild columbine flowers have 5 petals and 5 sepals. Each petal is yellow with a rounded tip, and forms a long, funnel shaped nectar spur that shades to red. The oval sepals are also red, and the anthers are bright yellow. When they grow on ledges some of them are up overhead, so you can see the nodding flowers in a way you never could if they were growing at ground level. 5 funnel shaped holes lead to nectar spurs and long tongued insects and hummingbirds probe these holes for nectar. Some say that these holes look like dovecotes, which is another reference to birds. We’re so very lucky to have such beautiful things in these woods.

This shot of a the back of a white garden columbine blossom that I took several years ago shows what I think is a good example of why columbines have always been associated with birds. As soon as I saw this shot I thought of five beautiful white swans with outstretched wings, come together to discuss whatever it is that swans discuss.

This shot is for those who have never seen how and where columbines grow naturally. When it rains all that moss soaks up water like a sponge and then releases it slowly, and I think that is why the columbines and all of the other plants do so well here.

The woods were ringed with a color so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a color at all. It was more the idea of a color – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts. ~Susanna Clarke

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I haven’t been seeing many trout lilies blooming in the usual places that I find them so last Saturday I decided to take a walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene to a colony of a few hundred plants that grow there. It was a beautiful spring day but the river was quite high. The Thursday before we had an inch and a half of rain and that brought all the rivers and streams up.

I thought I might be in for a solitary stroll but by the time I got back I had seen a dozen or more people.

The water had covered the base of a leatherleaf shrub (Chamaedaphne calyculata) but it didn’t seem to mind. I think I can also see some sweet gale catkins (Myrica gale) mixed in, and that’s a surprise because I didn’t know it grew here. I see it up in Hancock 25 miles to the north east regularly but never here that I can remember.

Blueberry buds were just about ready to open. The river bank is lined with native bushes.

Dandelions bloomed happily along the trail.

Cinnamon fern fiddleheads (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) were still surprisingly a week or more behind their cousins the interrupted ferns (Osmundastrum claytoniana).

Canada mayflowers (Maianthemum canadense) are up and bent on taking over the world. Thought they’re a native plant they can be very invasive and are almost impossible to get out of a garden. If you try to pull the plant the leaf stem just beaks away from the root system and it lives on. This plant is sometimes called two leaved Solomon’s seal or false lily of the valley. The “May” part of the name refers to its flowering time. Native Americans used the plant to treat headache and sore throats.

Canada mayflower can form monocultures and I’ve seen large swaths of forest floor with nothing but Canada mayflowers, as the above photo shows. 

The tiny flower buds were already showing on many of the plants. They’ll be followed by speckled red berries that birds and small animals love.

I saw a very hairy fiddlehead of a fern I can’t name but if I had to guess I’d say bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum).

Canoeists were paddling upstream, probably thinking about how easy returning downstream would be. There are lots of underwater hazards in this river, mostly fallen trees, so canoeists and kayakers wait until high water in spring to navigate the river.

I always wonder what is over on the other side of the river. It’s a sizeable piece of land and is posted no trespassing so maybe it will remain in its natural state.

In the backwaters where the current doesn’t interfere, duckweed grows. If the ducks aren’t eating it yet they will be soon.

I saw a dozen turtles sunning themselves on a log. I told a man and his wife I met on the trail about how I’ll often tell small children that I meet out here about the turtles they always seem to miss. I’ll ask them “did you see the turtles?” “No”, they’ll say, getting excited. “They’re right there on the log. See them?” Then a parent will lift them up and they’ll spot the turtles and squeal with delight and all the turtles will slide into the water with a plop. The man’s wife thought it was a hilarious story, apparently, but it has happened again and again in just that way. The delightful squeal of a child is not something a turtle can appreciate, so if you have a little one you might want to warn them to just squeal on the inside.

These two obviously weren’t speaking. They didn’t even want to see each other. I didn’t ask.

A willow was golden against the sky.

And an old apple tree bloomed off in the woods.

And the red maples were so very red. Even I can see their color, and that’s always a surprise.

And there were the trout lilies, in shade so deep they thought it was evening and so had all closed up. It was only just after noon but they know more about when their day is done than I do. At least I got to see some that were actually blooming. I still wonder what is going on with them, because they seem to be blooming much later these days.

They’re a flower pretty enough to seek out and admire, so my walk wasn’t wasted. Far from it.

The trout lilies grow right near the bridge, which is always my turning point because there is a highway up ahead.

I had the radio on in my car when I was driving here and the song that was playing when I arrived was Grazing In The Grass, by The Friends of Distinction. I remembered it as I walked back:

Flowers with colors for takin’
The sun beaming down between the leaves
And the birds dartin’ in and out of the trees
Everything here is so clear, you can see it
And everything here is so real, you can feel it
And it’s real, so real, so real, so real, so real, so real
Can you dig it?

I could, and I did.

Your deepest roots are in nature.  No matter who you are, where you live, or what kind of life you lead, you remain irrevocably linked with the rest of creation.  ~Charles Cook

Thanks for stopping in. Happy Mother’s day to all you moms out there!

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On Friday, April 16th nature decided to surprise us. This photo shows what I saw on my way to work that day. Parts of the state ended up with a foot of heavy wet snow but it was too warm for it to last..

…and in a day or two it was all gone.

It did get cold for a while but that didn’t slow things down for too long. Ferns like this lady fern  (Athyrium filix-femina) still showed off their stamina with their naked spring fiddleheads. Lady fern is the only fern I know of with brown / black scales on its stalk in the fiddlehead stage. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams and rivers. They don’t like windy places, so if you find a shaded dell where a grove of lady fern grows it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t ever get very windy there.

Interrupted fern (Osmundastrum claytoniana) fiddleheads wore fur and huddled together to keep warm.

Red maple (Acer rubrum) seeds (samaras) are growing by the many millions. These are one of the smallest seeds in the maple family. It is estimated that a single tree 12 inches in diameter can produce nearly a million seeds, and if the tree is fertilized for 2 years seed production can increase by 10 times. It’s no wonder that red maple is getting a reputation for being a weed tree.

For a short time between when they appear and when they ripen and fall American elm (Ulmus americana) seeds have a white fringe. When they ripen they’ll become dry and papery and finally fall to the wind. I grew up on a street that had huge 200 year old elms on it and those trees put out seeds in the many millions. Elm seeds contain 45% protein and 7% fiber and in the great famine of 1812 they were used as food in Norway.

As I write this the large, infertile white blossoms of hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) have most likely fully formed, but when I last went to see them this is what they looked like; almost there. Hobblebush flower heads are made up of small fertile flowers in the center and large infertile flowers around the perimeter. The infertile flowers are there to attract insects to the much less showy fertile ones and it’s a strategy that must work well because I see plenty of berries in the fall. They start out green and go to a beautiful bright red before ripening to a deep purple color.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) can be quite beautiful when it starts to unfurl its leaves in spring but Americans have no love affair with it because it is an invasive weed that is nearly impossible to eradicate once it becomes established. I’ve seen it killed back to the ground by frost and in less than 3 weeks it had grown right back. I’ve heard that the new spring shoots taste much like rhubarb. If we ate them maybe they wouldn’t be such a bother. Maybe in pies?

This mullein plant was one of the biggest I’ve seen; as big as a car tire. I loved the pattern the leaves made. Native Americans used tea made from its large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. They also used the roots to treat coughs, and it is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid. The Cherokee tribe are said to have rubbed mullein leaves in their armpits to treat prickly rash and the Navaho tribe made an infusion of the leaves and rubbed it on the bodies of their hunters to give them strength. Clearly this plant has been used for many thousands of years. It is considered one of the “oldest herbs’ and recent research has shown that mullein does indeed have strong anti-inflammatory properties.

Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum), also called ramps, are up. They look like scallions and taste somewhere between onions and garlic. They are considered a great delicacy and are a favorite spring vegetable in many parts of the world, but they’ve been over collected so harvesting has been banned in many parts of the U.S. and Canada. They’re slow growers from seed and a 10 percent harvest of a colony can take 10 years to grow back. They take 18 months to germinate from seed and 5 to 7 years to become mature enough to harvest. That’s why, when people write in and ask me where to find them, I can’t tell them. The two small colonies I’ve found have less than 300 plants combined.

This photo is from a few years ago when I foolishly pulled up a couple of ramps, not knowing how rare they were. It shows their resemblance to scallions though, and that’s what I wanted you to see. They are said to be strongly flavored with a pungent odor, but they’ve been prized by mankind since the ancient Egyptians ate them. Each spring there are ramp festivals all over the world and in some places they’re called the “King of stink.” The name ramp comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum,) which is a cousin of the North American wild leek.

In one of the spots I go to find ramps I find false hellebore (Veratrum viride) growing right beside them. There is a lesson in that, and it is know your plants well if you’re going to eat them. Ramps are one of the most delicious wild plants and false hellebore one of the deadliest. As you can see from the photos they look nothing alike but people do still confuse them. As recently as 2019 a physics professor and his wife wanted some spring greens for breakfast at their cabin in Vermont. The greens they chose, instead of the ramps they thought they were picking, were actually false hellebore. They spent 2 weeks in the hospital and almost died. From 2014 to 2019 in Vermont 18 people were poisoned by false hellebore so again; know your plants. In this case it is simple: ramps smell like onions and false hellebore does not.

And then there is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus,) which is also up at the same time as ramps and false hellebore. Though I haven’t heard of anyone mistaking skunk cabbage for ramps,. when the leaves of skunk cabbage just come up and start to unfurl I could imagine some thinking they were ramps. In any event skunk cabbage won’t kill a person but after smelling it I can picture it giving a person a good tummy ache.

There are is magic in the woods; beautiful things that many never see, and the glowing spring buds of the striped maples are one of them. Velvety soft and colored in pink and orange, they are one of the things I most look forward to seeing in spring.

But you have to be quick and pay close attention if you’re going to watch spring buds unfold, because it can happen quickly. This striped maple bud was all ready to break.

I saw a porcupine in a tree where I work. This porcupine, if it is the same one, had a baby with her last year. This year she doesn’t look well but since you could fit what I know about porcupines in a thimble and have room to spare, I can’t be sure. I do know that three or four of us thought she looked as if something was wrong.

I felt as if I was being watched one day when I was taking photos of violets and turned to find a very suspicious robin wondering just what it was I was up to. I said hello and it hopped even closer. It looked very well fed and I wondered if it was hopping in the grass because it was too heavy to get off the ground. Of course I didn’t ask. Instead I stood and walked across the lawn and when I turned to look again I saw that it was still watching me. Probably making sure I wasn’t making off with any of its worms.

I don’t see many wooly bear caterpillars in spring but here it was. Folklore says that the wider the orangey brown band on a wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. We did indeed have a mild winter but I doubt the wooly bear cared either way because wooly bears produce their own antifreeze and can freeze solid. Once the temperature rises into the 40s F in spring they thaw out and begin feeding on dandelion and other early spring greens. Eventually they spin a cocoon and emerge as a beautiful tiger moth. From that point on it has only two weeks to live. Since this one was on a step I’m guessing that it was looking for a place to make a cocoon.

The new shoots of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) are up and leafing out. Usually even plants this small will have tiny flower buds on them but I didn’t see any on this one. Each year the above ground stem leaves a scar, or “seal” on the underground stem, which is called a rhizome. Counting these scars will reveal the age of the plant but of course you have to dig it up to do that and I never have.

I finally found the female flowers of sweet gale (Myrica gale.) They’re bushy little things that remind me of female alder catkins. Sweet gale is also called bog rosemary and likes to grow on the banks of acidic lakes, bogs and streams. Touching the foliage releases a sweet, pleasant scent from its resinous leaves which have been used for centuries as a natural insect repellent.

These are the male catkins of sweet gale. They’re much larger than the female catkins and much easier to spot.

If there is anything that holds more promise than new spring leaves I’ve never experienced it.

Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud.” It’s happening right now to a lot of trees like this sugar maple. I love the veining on sugar maple leaves just before they unfurl.

I complained in an earlier post how, though maple leaves often come out of the bud colored red, all I was seeing this year were green. Of course as soon as I say something like that nature throws me a curve ball and on this day all I saw were young red leaves. Actually my color finding software calls them salmon pink and orange.

All of the snow in that first photo ended up like this; spring runoff. That means of course that I get to enjoy the moisture in its two forms; first when it clothes every branch and twig and second when it becomes a beautiful waterfall. This is one of my favorite spring scenes. I call this the “disappearing waterfall” because it comes and goes depending on the weather. It was in fine form on this day but it could be gone completely the next time I go to see it.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

Thanks for stopping in.

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