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Archive for the ‘Scenery / Landscapes’ Category

Last Friday I cut wood for most of the afternoon at work and come Saturday morning I wasn’t feeling very agile, so I decided to take an easy, gentle and very beautiful walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene. I think I must have been about 10 years old the first time I walked this trail and it has been one of my favorite places to go ever since. You really never know what you’ll see here and I think 9 times out of 10 I come back surprised at what I’ve seen.

The biggest surprise of this day was a few clumps of yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) growing on the river bank. I’ve searched for this plant for many years and found it only in one other spot in the woods by a pond that was very difficult to get to, but now here it is, right out in the open. This iris is a native of Europe and was introduced in the mid-1800s as a garden plant. Of course it escaped and began to naturalize and was reported near Poughkeepsie, New York in 1868 and in Concord, Massachusetts in 1884. Today it considered highly invasive and its sale and distribution is banned in New Hampshire, though in my experience it is a rarity in this part of the state. It’s a beautiful flower but now I do wonder what the banks of the river might look like 50 years from now if the plants are left alone.

In places the riverside trail is about 4 people wide but most of it is more like 2 people wide. Though I have no proof I believe the original trail is thousands of years old; once used by the Native Americans who used to fish, hunt and camp here. Natives were known to populate the Keene area and a little further upriver a school was built a few years ago and many Native artifacts estimated to be somewhere near 12,000 years old were found.

American water horehound (Lycopus americanus,) with its purple leaves, grew along the bank of the river. An interesting fact about this plant is how the Native American Iroquois tribe considered it poisonous, but the Cherokees used it to treat snakebite in both people and dogs. Usually I find that a plant used medicinally by one tribe was used in much the same way by other tribes, but not this one. In modern times it is used by herbalists to treat a variety of ailments including anxiety and insomnia.

A hoverfly found an ox-eye daisy very inviting. One of its wings seemed a little skewed but it looked like it could fly with no problems.

Like the ribs of an ancient sunken ship the branches of a fallen tree rose up out of the river. I read recently that in June 24, 1819 the New Hampshire legislature granted permission for the river, from this point south to where it meets the Connecticut River, to be dredged for steamboat travel. A toll on the steamers would be no more than 50 cents per ton of weight. Locks were built and in November of 1819 the first steamer 60 feet long and capable of carrying 15 to 20 tons, arrived in Keene. The venture seemed promising for a few years but the arrival of the railroad finally dashed the hopes of those wanting to see steamboats traveling the Ashuelot. Thanks goes to Alan Rumrill, director of the Cheshire County Historical Society, for this interesting bit of historical knowledge. If I saw a riverboat floating on the Ashuelot today I think I’d have to be revived.

Recent rains and high humidity helped a slime mold to grow on a well-rotted log. This slime mold is called coral slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. porioides) and it loves to grow on rotted logs after a rain.

Coral slime mold is a plasmodial slime, which means that it moves using cytoplasmic streaming, which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass. They then shift from the growth stage to the fruiting stage. Slime molds die if they dry out, so most of this usually occurs at night or on damp, humid days after a rain. One of the most fascinating things about slime molds is how they move. They are thought of as a giant single cell with multiple nuclei which can all move together as one at speeds of up to an inch per hour. According to Wikipedia “A plasmodial slime mold is enclosed within a single membrane without walls and is one large cell. This super cell (a syncytium) is essentially a bag of cytoplasm containing thousands of individual nuclei.” Slime molds aren’t plants and they aren’t fungi. They come closer to being amoebas than anything else and are believed by some to have simple brains. My question is how they know what the others are “thinking?” They seem to have the same “group think” abilities as a school of fish or a flock of birds, and that is really quite amazing.

My daughter was with me on this day and she found a broken robin’s egg, so I’m guessing that mom and dad are keeping very busy these days. If what I’ve read is accurate they will feed the young until they learn how to feed themselves. That could take as long as a month.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) blossomed along the river. You can just see the tiny, almost microscopic wisps of whitish flowers at the pointed ends of some of the upper spiky protrusions (perigynia.) This plant is also called bottlebrush sedge, for obvious reasons. It’s very common near water and waterfowl and some songbirds love its seeds.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) started blooming a while ago. This plant has a very long blooming period; I see them in early June blooming profusely and then sporadically through the following months, even into November. I usually find more of them in waste places but I see them just about everywhere I go. It is considered a pioneer species, meaning it is one of the first plants to grow in unused pastures, or cleared or burned areas. Woodchucks and rabbits will eat the leaves and stems. Native Americans made a tea from the plant which was used as medicine for digestive ailments. Fleabanes get their name from the way the dried plants repel fleas.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) was getting ready to blossom in sunnier spots. I don’t suppose many people have seen a deer’s tongue but I have and the leaves of this grass really do look like one, so it’s a perfect name for the plant. This is a very course, tough grass that is common in waste areas, roadsides and forest edges. It can be very beautiful when its leaves change in the fall; sometimes maroon, deep purple or yellow, and sometimes multiple colors on one leaf.

Invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) grew everywhere out here and in this shot it is growing up a dead tree. I just featured this rose in my last flower post so I won’t say much about it, other than its fragrance was astounding.

Insects love multiflora rose and that is the problem with its invasiveness, because birds love the rose hips that pollinated flowers produce. But just try to stop it; the genie is out of the bottle and there is no stopping it or any of the other invasive plants that are in this country.

Luckily invasive plants haven’t choked out all of our natives. Here was a large colony of Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana,) all in bloom.

The 3 large styles of Indian cucumber root darken as they age. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry. Native Americans used Indian cucumber roots as food. As its common name implies, this plant’s small root looks and tastes a lot like a mini cucumber.

It was a beautiful day to be on the river, but the big puffy clouds in the distance reminded me that there was a chance of a real old fashioned thunderstorm. When I was a boy our house had a covered porch and I used to love sitting on it and watching thunderstorms as they rumbled by. I don’t have a porch now but I still love a good summer thunderstorm.

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes. There were quite a few growing in this part of the river where the water was so still it hardly moved at all.

The little red bridge is my signal to turn and go back because not too far after it is a highway full of cars. Both my daughter and I were surprised by the time. What seemed like a relatively short walk had taken us hours, but that’s what happens when you become lost in the beauty of nature and start discovering things that you’ve never seen before; time is a very easy thing to forget.

My favorite photo of this day was of what I think is American eelgrass (Vallisneria Americana.) I love the hypnotizing way it moves and undulates in the current of the river. It is also called tape grass and water celery, and it is an important food for turtles and other aquatic wildlife.

The song of the river ends not at her banks, but in the hearts of those who have loved her.
~ Buffalo Joe

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My daughter had never been to Goose Pond in Keene so last Saturday we went and hiked around it. The pond is part of a five hundred acre wilderness area that isn’t that far from downtown Keene.  Goose Pond 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. 

Goose pond is unusual because it has a wide trail that goes all the way around it.

You’ll notice that I didn’t say the pond had a good trail all the way around it. There are lots of roots, rocks and mud, so anyone coming here should wear good hiking shoes or boots. It’s tough on the legs and knees. Or maybe I’m just getting older.

The start of the trail gets quite a lot of sun in places and it’s enough to make blackberries bloom well. Wild blackberries are twice the size of raspberries and very flavorful.

Yellow hawkweed also bloomed along the trail. This plant is having a very good year; I’ve never seen it bloom so well. Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head (Hieracium caespitosum) is actually a single, complete flower. The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval leaves at the base of the stem often turn deep purple in winter. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk.

Northern bush honeysuckles (Diervilla lonicera) were showing their tubular, pale yellow flowers very early, I thought. 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.

Blue flags (Iris versicolor) bloomed here and there at the edge of the water. I thought I might see a lot of other aquatics like pipewort or water lobelia blooming here but I think I might have been too early.

People come here to swim, fish, bike ride, kayak or simply hike as I do. Though I’ve seen people kayaking here you have to walk up some steep hills to get to the pond, so you get a good workout for your efforts. It might be called goose pond but I’ve never seen a goose here. On this day we heard a loon calling but we never did see it.

The trail gets darker as you go along because more pines and hemlocks keep it in shade. In places it also trails away from the pondside and gets very dark.

Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) grew all along the trail in huge numbers like I’ve never seen. Like its common name implies, this plant’s small root looks and tastes a lot like a mini cucumber.  It’s 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. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry.

There are many streams flowing down off the surrounding hills to the pond and in three spots there are bridges, but in many places you have to cross by hopping from stone to stone or simply walking through the water. I always wear good water proof hiking boots when I come here.

This bridge is chained to a nearby tree, not against theft but flooding. There has been severe flooding here in the past. It would be an awful lot of work hand carrying enough lumber to build a bridge all the way out here so I don’t blame them for not wanting to have it washed away and smashed on the rocks.

Royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) 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. They like wet feet and grow along stream and river banks in low, damp areas. Another name for this fern is “flowering fern,” because someone once thought that the purple, fertile, fruiting fronds looked like bunches of flowers.

There, swimming among last year’s leaves on the pond bottom were many salamanders; more than I’ve ever seen at one time and in one place before. You can just see this one swimming underwater just to the left of center in this photo.  Salamanders spend their lives near water because they lay their eggs in water, like all amphibians. When the eggs hatch, the larvae breathe with gills and swim. As they mature, they develop lungs for breathing air and go out onto the land, but will always try to stay near water.

What I think were chalk fronted corporal dragonflies flew all around us in sunny spots. This dragonfly gets its name from the chalky look of its white parts and the two bars near its head, which look like a US Army corporal’s insignia. It’s hard to see its wings in this photo because of the busy background.

A turtle sunned itself on a log. The day started out cool with a refreshing breeze but by this time it was starting to get warm on what the weathermen said would be an 80 degree day, so I thought the turtle would probably be plopping into the water soon.

Fringed sedge (Carex crinite) grew in wet spots along the trail, and sometimes right in the water. It’s a large sedge that grows in big, 2 foot tall clumps. I like its drooping habit and I’m not the only one, because it has become a popular garden plant. Many animals and waterfowl eat different parts of sedge plants, especially the seeds. Other names for this plant are drooping sedge and long-haired sedge.

In my teen years I used to visit many of the islands we have in our lakes using an easy to carry blow up raft. I even camped on many of them, so the island here in Goose pond always looks very inviting. I’d love to visit it someday but I doubt I still have the lung power to blow up one of those rafts. They used to get me dizzy and winded even when I was 16.

No matter if you choose to go clockwise or counter clockwise around the pond, you’ll eventually come to a stone in the middle of the trail that you’ll immediately know doesn’t belong here. I’ve never bben able to figure out what kind of rock it was made from but a lot of work went into making it square, with perfect 90 degree corners and very smooth faces. It’s about 5-6 inches on a side and dark colored like basalt which makes it even more of an enigma. It’s 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 a lark, so it was used for something. How it ended up partially buried in the trail is a mystery.

I was hoping to see a few mushrooms and a slime mold or two at the pond, but all I saw were some swamp beacons. Swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans) are interesting fungi that grow in water and I find them in seeps where water runs year round. They are classified as “amphibious fungi” and use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low-oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue they aren’t found on twigs or bark and this photo shows how they are growing out of saturated leaves. Another common name for swamp beacons is “matchstick fungus” and that’s exactly what they remind me of because they are just about the size of a wooden match. If you want to get shots of this fungus be prepared to get your knees wet. Mine always end up soaked.

When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing – just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park? ~Ralph Marston

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Some coworkers of mine like to rock climb and they asked me if I knew any good places to do so, so I immediately thought of Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. People have climbed there for many years I’ve heard, but until this day I had never seen anyone doing so. To get to the trailhead you have to cross this meadow. It was about 70 degrees F. with wall to wall sunshine; not great for photography but perfect for climbing, I was told.

Meadow anemone (Anemone canadensis) grew at the edge of the meadow. It’s an old fashioned garden favorite that has much larger flowers than our other native wood anemone. Though it seems to spread out in a garden it’s easy to control. It’s also called crowfoot because of the foliage and it is also known as Canada anemone. Native Americans used this plant medicinally and its root and leaves were one of the most highly regarded medicines of the Omaha and Ponca tribes. It was used as an eye wash, an antiseptic, and to treat headaches and dizziness. The root was chewed to clear the throat so a person could sing better.

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) also grew in the meadow and some of them were very blue indeed. I always enjoy seeing these cheery little flowers.

At one point a tree had fallen across the trail. I was surprised because you don’t usually see this here. The hill is privately owned and well maintained. But it must be a lot of work; I saw two other fallen trees that had been cut out of the trail with an axe.

Delicate hay scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) grew on the shaded sides of the trail. This fern gets its name from the way that it smells like fresh mown hay when you brush against it. The Native American Cherokee tribe used this fern medicinally to treat chills.

Raspberries (Rubus idaeus) bloomed along the sunnier sides of the trail. This plant has just started blooming but it looks like it will be a great year for them, and blueberries too.

Do you look at roots when you hike a trail? I do and I see many that so many feet have touched they look as if they’ve been sanded and polished. They can be very beautiful things, especially the roots of eastern hemlock like those seen here.

The bright harsh sunlight made photography a challenge, especially with a new camera that I don’t fully know (or like) yet, but this is a relatively accurate view of what the forest looked like from the inside.

Big, teardrop shaped leaves told me that Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) grew here. In fact they grew in large numbers. Botanically speaking a whorl is an “arrangement of sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point and surround or wrap around the stem,” and nothing illustrates this better than Indian cucumber root. Its leaves wrap around the stem arranged in a single flat plane, so if you saw them from the side theoretically you would see an edge, much like looking at the edge of a dinner plate. If any leaf or leaves in the arrangement are above or below others it’s not a true whorl.

Native Americans used this plant as food because like its common name implies, its small root looks and tastes a lot like a mini cucumber. It’s 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 have 6 yellowish green tepals, 6 reddish stamens topped by greenish anthers, and 3 reddish purple to brown styles. These large styles are sometimes bright red- brown but I think they darken as they age. These appeared to be kind of orangey. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry.

I had warned my co-climbers that it would be a slow climb, what with me having to take photos of every living thing and stopping to catch my breath frequently, but we made it to Tippin Rock in good time. I had a good chance to catch my breath while my friends tried to tip the glacial erratic. They each took a turn while I watched, and each of them had the big 40 ton behemoth rocking like a baby cradle. It’s a very subtle movement and you have to watch the edge of the boulder against the background to see it. So far everyone I know who has made something this big move so easily has been amazed. When you think about all that had to happen for a perfectly balanced boulder to be sitting on the bedrock of this summit it boggles the mind.

After the rock there are the views and they weren’t bad on this day. Some decorative puffy white clouds would have made the scene a little more photogenic but you can’t have everything.

For years I’ve heard that New Hampshire has 4.8 million acres of forested land but it’s hard to wrap your head around a number like that until you’ve see something like this. Seemingly unbroken forest stretches to infinity. Or at least to the horizon.

I often wonder, when I’m in places like this, what I would have done in the 1700s if I had looked out over something like this, carrying only a gun and an axe. Would I have had the strength and courage to go on into the unknown or would I have turned back to relative safety? Of course it’s an impossible question to answer, but that’s the way wilderness makes you think. Back then there were bears, wolves, and very unhappy natives down there.

The friends I was with were all about hanging off ropes after crawling over the cliff edge but I was not. I had the heebie jeebies just looking at the edge shown in this photo from 10 feet back, so since I don’t have the stomach for such things I left them to their fun (?) and headed back down the hill. Now that they know where the spot is they can come and climb anytime they like. I made sure that they knew, and I think others who might be reading this and thinking about coming here should know; this is private land and permission has graciously been granted by the owners to the public for recreational use. Nothing but your footprints should be left behind when you leave.

Of course I couldn’t leave without saying hello to my little friends the toadstool lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) They’re very rare down below in my experience but up here they’re plentiful and that’s good because it makes me climb up to see them. Since I’ve met climbers in their 80s on these hills and haven’t been able to keep up with them I’m assuming that climbing must be good for you. In any event some of the lichens were dry, as shown by their ashy gray state. They are also crisp like a potato chip at this stage.

Some lichens found a spot near seeping groundwater on the cliffs and wore their happy pea green color. In this state they’re soft and rubbery and feel like your earlobe. They aren’t big; this one was about an inch across.

Some lichens were on the fence, part green and part gray, but they dry out quickly. I’ve seen them ashy and crisp two days after a pouring rain. I like their warty look, which always reminds me of distant solar systems. They’re another one of those bits of nature that can take me out of myself for a while.

I saw a blister, which I took to be some type of gall, on a blueberry leaf. It caught my attention because blueberries don’t seem to be attacked by many pests or diseases other than witch’s broom.

A dead branch looked purple in the forest but my color finding software sees blue. Either way, you don’t expect to find blue or purple on fallen branches. I have no way of knowing what caused the strange color but I would guess spalting. Spalting is any discoloration of wood caused by fungal hyphae growing along the softer sapwood. Though spalting usually happens on dead wood it can sometimes be found on live trees, which isn’t good for the tree. It can be very beautiful and spalted wood is highly prized by woodworkers.

A man does not climb a mountain without bringing some of it away with him, and leaving something of himself upon it. ~Martin Conway

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It got to be sunny and hot for a change last Saturday so I sought out the natural cooling of the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland. It’s usually about ten degrees cooler in there with almost always a bit of a breeze. After I spent some time in the man made canyon in the above photo I was wishing I had worn something a little warmer, so the natural air conditioner was working. Out there it was 80 degrees F. but in here it felt more like 60.

But that was in the deepest, darkest part of the trail. Once I found some sunlight it warmed to a more pleasant temperature.

I come here quite often at all times of year and each season has much beauty to offer. In spring there is an explosion of growth on the stone walls of the man made canyon, and it always reminds me of the Shangri-La described in the book Lost Horizons by James Hilton. When I was a boy I dreamed of being a world traveling plant hunter who brought back exotic plants from far away places, and in my imagination many of those places looked a lot like this.

Groundwater drips constantly down the stone walls of the canyon and many hundreds of species of plants, mosses, ferns, grasses, liverworts and even trees grow on the stone walls, among them the marsh blue violets (Viola cucullata) seen here.

The violets also grow thickly all along the sides of the trail.

For every thousand blue violets there is a white one. Actually I can’t guess the numbers but white violets are scarce here.

Heart leaf foam flowers (Tiarella cordifolia) also grow here by the thousands. They’re one of our prettiest late spring flowers and I always find them near water or growing in wet ground along rail trails. They’re easy to spot because of their hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks, and a colony as big as the ones found here are a beautiful sight. Native plants have leaves that are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with maroon or brown. Many hybrids have been created and foam flowers are now popular in garden centers and are grown in gardens as much for their striking foliage as the flowers. They are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

The strangest thing I saw on this trip was this dandelion stem, which had split in half and curled tightly on either side of the split. I can’t even guess how it might have happened.

I saw a very pretty white moth on a leaf. It had fringe on its wings and that fringe made it easy to identify as the white spring moth (Lomographa vestaliata,) which has a range from Newfoundland west to south-eastern British Columbia and south to Florida and Texas. It likes forest edges.

I saw an unusual flat, antler like fungus growing on a log. The log was down in one of the drainage ditches so I couldn’t get close to it. I haven’t been able to identify it and I wonder if it isn’t a badly degraded bracket fungus from last year. It looked relatively fresh but without touching it, it’s hard to tell.

One of the most unusual things growing here are these green algae, called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the algal cells called hematochrome or beta-carotene color the algae orange by hiding their green chlorophyll. It is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color.

Something else unusual is a dandelion growing on stone. I think everyone knows that dandelions have taproots, so how does that work on stone? Maybe there is an unseen crack in the stone that the 4-6 inch long root grew into, I don’t know. Maybe the constant watering means the dandelion doesn’t need a taproot.

I like the fern like leaves of wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris) which grows along the trail. 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. Wild chervil contains chemical compounds which have been shown to have anti-tumor and anti-viral properties. It isn’t the same plant as cultivated chervil used to flavor soups though, so it shouldn’t be eaten. In many places it is called cow parsley.

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) also grows along the trail and there are lots of them here, now gone to seed. Coltsfoot is native to Europe and Asia and was brought here by early settlers. It has been used medicinally for centuries and another name for it is coughwort.

So many plants, so little time. The lushness of this place is really quite amazing. Except for the narrow trail nearly every square inch, be it horizontal or vertical, is covered with some type of growth.

One of the plants that grow here are the great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) that grow on the stones by the thousands. This is the only place I’ve ever seen them and I think that’s because the conditions here are perfect for them. They like to grow in places where they never dry out and the constant drip of the groundwater makes that possible. They like to be wet but they can’t stand being submerged for any length of time so growing on the vertical walls above the drainage channels is ideal.

Scientists say that liverworts are like “a canary in a coal mine” because they are very vulnerable to environmental changes and will be one of the first organisms to show the effects of climate change. On this day most of them looked good and healthy. The lighter shade of green signifies new growth, and there was lots of it.

This is one of the most beautiful liverworts in my opinion because of its reptilian appearance, which is caused by the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surface. It is the only liverwort with this feature so it is very easy to identify. And, 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.

One of the plants growing here that I wasn’t happy to see was garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata.) It’s an invasive plant once used as an edible pot herb. This plant forms large colonies and chokes out natives by poisoning the soil with compounds called glucosinolates that leach into the soil and kill off many soil fungi that native species depend on to survive. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed. Garlic Mustard spreads quickly and prefers growing in shaded forests. It isn’t uncommon to find areas where no growing thing can be seen on the forest floor but this plant. It is considered one of the worst invasive species because of its ability to spread rapidly and is found in all but 14 U.S. states, including Alaska and large parts of Canada. Maybe if we all decided to eat it, it would prove to be less of a problem. According to an article I read in the New York Times a few years ago, it’s delicious.

Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) like wet, sunny meadows and open woodlands so it was no surprise to see them growing in drifts as I left the canyon and moved into open meadows. It is said to be an important plant to a number of short-tongued insects that are able to easily reach the nectar in the small yellow flowers. Each flower is only about an eighth of an inch long and has five sepals, five petals, and five stamens. They’re also very difficult to get a good photo of, for some reason.

If I could walk through the canyon with my eyes closed it wouldn’t take too long to reach the old lineman’s shack but since I dilly dally and stop to look at anything that seems interesting and / or beautiful it usually takes a good two hours, so I’ve made what’s left of the shack my turn around point. Picked apart board by board over the years by those wanting to bridge the drainage ditches, it has become a symbol of strength and longevity for me, still standing and bearing heavy snow loads with only two walls left. It was certainly built to last; the the railroad came through here in the mid 1800s.

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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A cool damp spring like the one we’ve had can make New Englanders out of sorts sometimes and downright grumpy at other times, but a snowstorm in May can seem like a real slap in the face. Just as we were raking all the leaves we couldn’t get raked last fall because of November snows, along comes more snow on May 14th. Luckily this time we only saw about an inch but one year we saw about a foot of snow fall after the leaves had come out on the trees, and it caused an unbelievable amount of tree damage. I was still picking up fallen branches in July.

Luckily most of the leaves appeared after the snow had melted, so it was little bother.

Of course I watched the leaves appear. Beech leaves especially, are very beautiful in the spring. They look like little angel wings.

This photo shows how bud break progresses on a beech tree. Many people think one leaf comes out of each beech bud but in fact all of the current year’s growth for that branch is contained in a single bud. Here you can see at least 4 leaves coming from this bud. The branch will grow and elongate so the leaves are separated just enough so one doesn’t block the sunlight falling on another; just one of the many miracles of nature that so many never see.

A new beech leaf retains its silvery hairs for just a very short time so you have to watch closely to catch it. I try not to offer much advice to the readers of this blog but I know that what works for me might work for others so as I have said before; try to find joy in the simple things in life, because if you do joy will follow you wherever you go. When you find yourself passing up just about anything else to watch the unfurling of a leaf or to sit beside a giggling stream you’ll know you are there. And you’ll want to stay.

Beech isn’t the only tree growing leaves in spring of course. Oak leaves usually start life in some color other than green like red or purple, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen them wearing white.

Maple trees also have leaves that open to something other than green; usually red or orange if it’s a red maple (Acer rubrum.) If it’s cold or cloudy as the new leaves emerge they’ll stay in their non green state but sunlight and warmth will eventually coax the tree into producing chlorophyll and they green up quickly so they can start photosynthesizing and making food.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) can be beautiful in the spring; beautiful enough so you want to touch it, but if you do you’ll be sorry. I know the plant well and would never intentionally touch it but I got into it somehow and I’ve been itching for a week. You can get the rash even from the leafless stems and that’s usually where I get it.

There are a few evergreen trees in a local park that produce beautiful purple cones in spring and this is one of them. It’s a spruce tree but I don’t know its name. It’s needles are very stiff and sharp and I actually drove one of them into my finger when I was trying to get this photo.

Many plant parts are purple in spring, including flowers like those on what I believe is sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum.) Grasses can be very beautiful and I hope everyone reading this walks a little slower and looks a little closer so they can see them.

I thought these new tall meadow rue leaves (Thalictrum pubescens) edged in purple were very pretty. This is a fast growing plant which will tower over my head and be blooming on the fourth of July with little orange tipped white flowers that look like bombs bursting in air.

Right after I told Jerry at the Quiet Solo Pursuits blog that I hadn’t seen any butterflies I started seeing them, and that’s the way this blogging thing always seems to work. I don’t dare tell you it will be sunny tomorrow because if I did it would surely rain. Anyhow, this eastern swallowtail landed in a bare spot in a lawn I was standing on and I noticed that it had a large piece of its left wing missing. It was a close call because whatever took its wing just barely missed its body. I’m guessing a bird got it.

By the way, you can find Jerry’s blog over there on the right in the “favorite links” section and you should, because it’s a great nature blog that I’ve enjoyed for many years.

An ant was on a dandelion blossom but when I went to take its photo it crawled off onto a nearby leaf. I never knew they were so hairy.

This swamp is where I find many of the spring ephemeral flowers that you see on this blog. Goldthread, trillium, bloodroot, wild ginger, dwarf ginseng and others grow here. Great blue herons nest here and many types of ducks visit, but they’re very wary and almost impossible to get a good shot of.

Many ferns also grow around the swamp in the previous photo. This cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) was unfurling beautifully one recent day. It’s hard to believe this little thing will be waist high in just a short time.

I find chanterelle wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe cantharellus) growing in clusters on well-rotted logs, but I don’t think I’ve ever found them in May. This is a pretty little orange mushroom with a cap that might get as big as a nickel, but that’s probably stretching it. These mushrooms show themselves for quite a long time and I often still see them in September.

Fuzzy foot mushrooms (Xeromphalina campanella) are easy to confuse with chanterelle wax caps but they have a dense tuft of orange brown hairs at the base of the stem and these mushrooms didn’t have that. Chanterelle wax caps have pale yellow gills that run down the stem. They also have occasional short gills, which means they stop short of the stem. Both features can be seen in this photo.

The skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) swamp is green with new leaves. Many thousands of plants grow here as they have for who knows how many hundreds or even thousands of years.

I love the spring green of the forest floor seen here. It’s hard to tell but the green comes from many thousands of wildflowers, including sessile leaved bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia.) This forest along the Ashuelot river is where I come to find them each spring.

I also visit the Ashuelot River to watch the buds of shagbark hickories (Carya ovata) break each spring. They’re one of the most beautiful things seen in a New England forest in spring in my opinion, and I wouldn’t miss their opening. I’ve always thought this tree liked lowlands but I recently saw them growing high on a hillside in a hardwood forest.

Indescribable, endless beauty and deep, immense joy. These are what nature offers to those willing to receive them, and all it costs is a little time. I hope you’ll take that time, if you can.

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

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John Muir once said “The mountains are calling and I must go.” To be honest I never paid much attention to that statement until the mountains started calling me. And as anyone who has climbed them knows, they do call; they kind of get under your skin and won’t stop calling until you answer them, so last Saturday I drove north to Stoddard to climb Pitcher Mountain. Pitcher Mountain gets its name from the Pitcher family, who settled this land in the 1700s. As mountains go it’s a relatively easy climb, even for someone who uses inhalers as I do. The last time I climbed here was in January. On this day the weather was considerably better and the spring greens and singing birds reminded me what a wonderful thing this life is.

Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberry bushes; thousand of them grow here and people come from all over to pick them. On this day the buds hadn’t even opened yet, showing what a difference elevation makes. Down in Keene they’re in full bloom.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) grew beside the trail and how very beautiful they were. Though like blueberries they’re also in full bloom in Keene, up here the fertile center flowers hadn’t shown yet. Only the much larger infertile outer flowers had opened.

One of the reasons I wanted to come here was to become more familiar with my new camera. Anyone who knows their way around a camera should be able to use just about any camera handed to them, but they all have their little quirks that take time to learn and iron out. This one doesn’t have image stabilization but the lenses do and that’s something I’ve never encountered. On this day the sun was bright and the contrast high, and that’s a challenge for any camera but I thought this one performed reasonably well as this shot of a wild sarsaparilla plant (Aralia nudicaulis) and its shadow shows. The light green oval leaves belong to Canada mayflower, which will be blooming soon.

My first stop along the trail is always the meadow, where if you look behind you, you can often find a good view of Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey. It was fairly good on this day, I thought.

The meadow is also where you get your first inkling of how high up you are. The views seem to go on forever.

The meadow is large and sometimes you can find it filled with beautiful Scottish highland cattle. I’ve often thought that they must have the best views of anybody who comes here.

The trail is in a U shape and you take 2 left turns to reach the summit. After the meadow the trail, which is actually a road used by the forest rangers, gets very rocky. There are also lots of exposed roots so if you come here you would do well to wear good hiking boots with plenty of ankle support.

I was stunned to see spring beauties blooming (Claytonia virginica) up here because I’ve climbed this mountain more times than I can remember and I’ve never seen them before. My timing was off, that’s all, and I might have missed them by a day or a week. There was a nice little colony of them in this spot just below the summit. Tucked in snug they were protected from the worst of the wind.

Violets and strawberries grew along the trail and even down the center of it, where many had been stepped on.

The fire tower, manned on occasion, loomed at the summit. This is the second tower on this spot; the first burned in one of the largest forest fires this region has ever seen. That’s why I call it a monument to irony.

The old fire warden’s cabin still stood solidly but there was something different about it.

The difference was a gaping black hole where the last time I was here a board covered the window. It looked like vandals had been here but with so many people climbing this mountain I can’t imagine them getting away with it.

I don’t condone vandalism but realistically bears have been known to break into cabins countless times in this area so it’s anyone’s guess as to how this happened. I wasn’t about to pass up what was probably an only chance to see inside a ranger’s cabin though, so I turned on the flash and took a couple of photos. It looked like it had been furnished in the 1940s, and that was no surprise. I’m assuming there was no running water here because there is a privy in the back, but there was electricity.

If when you reach the tower you turn almost 180 degrees you’ll see another decent view of Mount Monadnock. You can also see the meadow in this view. On this day it was so gusty up here I could hardly stand still. I wanted to crouch on the ground so the wind couldn’t catch me.

But in a way the wind was welcome because it blew away all the black flies that had plagued me all the way up the trail. For those unfamiliar with them black flies are very small biting insects that appear for a few weeks in spring, hatching out of clean running water unlike the mosquito, which hatches out of still, stagnant water. Black flies feed on the blood of mammals for nourishment and they usually come in swarms. Bug spray helps keep them away.

What I call the birdbaths are natural depressions in the stone. With all the rain we’ve had I doubt they’ve been dry a day in the past two months. I once sat and watched a dark eyed junco take a bath here, and I was able to get a few shots of it splashing around. The blue of the sky deepens as it is reflected in these pools and it makes a simple puddle as beautiful as any jewel.

There are lots of lichens growing on the rocks of the summit and one of my favorites is the scattered rock posy (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans.) They can be quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do.

I always tell myself that I’m going to come up here with a compass and a topographical map so I can name all of the surrounding mountains but I never do. I don’t suppose it’s that important anyway. I’d rather just sit and look around, especially when I have the whole mountain to myself as I did on this day. I expected it to be crowded up here but there wasn’t a soul in sight. I wondered if the flies kept people away.

It’s hard to tell from these photos but there is still snow on the ski slopes over there in Vermont.

I stayed on the summit for awhile trying different things with the new camera until my legs felt less rubbery and then I hit the trail again. I don’t know why going down always seems harder than going up, but my legs usually let me know that they aren’t thrilled by it.

The meadow is just to the left of the trail in that previous shot and as I looked out into it I thought a highland cattle calf had somehow gotten loose and was in the meadow eating grass but then wait a minute; that wasn’t a calf. As soon as it looked at me and sniffed the air with its snout I knew it was a black bear. And it was another big one. Though it might look far away in this photo it could have reached me in seconds. Black bears can move incredibly fast; 50 feet per second in fact, so running from one is pointless.

I’ll be the first to say that this is one of the worst photos I’ve ever shown on this blog but you can clearly see the roundish ears and long tan snout of a bear. You don’t have much time to fiddle around with a camera when a bear is staring at you like this and I didn’t have the zoom lens with me anyway, so I just took a couple of quick shots. I just went through this with another bear in Westmoreland and that one didn’t scare any more than this one did. It stood and stared and sniffed, just like this one. And just like that time once again I was the only human around, carrying no bear spray and with only one way out. Luckily this one turned into the forest while I wondered what I was going do if it started toward me, so I hoofed it back down the mountain somewhat faster than I usually do, slipping on loose stones and tripping over roots the whole way. It’s hard to walk downhill when you’re looking back over your shoulder I’ve discovered, and I don’t recommend it.

Nature, even in the act of satisfying anticipation, often provides a surprise. Alfred North Whitehead

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Last Saturday was a beautiful spring day so I decided to walk a rail trail in Winchester, which is south of Keene. This particular section of trail has an abundance of wildflowers and native flowering shrubs all along it and I wanted to see what was blooming. Out and back the hike I usually do through here is 6 miles but on this day I cheated and only did about three miles. It was enough to see plenty of flowers.

The trail follows along the southern stretch of the Ashuelot River after it leaves Keene. In this area the river is at its widest. Not too far from where this photo was taken, in Hinsdale New Hampshire it meets up with the Connecticut River, and from there it will flow south to the Atlantic.

The railroad engineers had to hack their way through some serious ledges out here but nothing too deep, so plenty of light gets in. I think that must be why so many flowers grow here.

One of the first flowers I saw were these very small white violets and I wondered if they could be northern white violets (Viola pallens.) From what I’ve read it’s an early white violet that prefers damp woodlands, and it is certainly damp here.

The flowers sat atop long stems but they were half the size of the violets that I usually see. In fact they were so small that I couldn’t even tell they were violets from five feet away. They’re pretty little things and there were lots of them.

I think every shade of green I’ve ever seen was represented here on this day. The forest was amazingly beautiful and I felt like I was being bathed in chlorophyll.

Some trees like this cherry couldn’t have fit another blossom on its limbs.

Oaks were in the business of flowering too, but this one’s buds hadn’t opened yet. I think this was a northern red oak (Quercus rubra.) We have other oak species but red oaks are the most common in this part of the state.

I thought that these tiny oak leaves, just opened and velvety soft, were very beautiful.

I saw the first Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) plants of the year and I was surprised to see them blooming. This plant is also called cemetery weed because it’s often found in them. It was introduced from Europe in the mid-1800s as an ornamental. Of course, it immediately escaped the gardens of the day and is now seen in just about any vacant lot or other area with poor, dry soil. This plant forms explosive seed pods that can fling its seeds several feet.

All parts of spurge plants contain a toxic milky white sap which may cause a rash when the sap on the skin is exposed to sunlight. In fact the sap is considered carcinogenic if handled enough. Medicinally the sap is used externally on warts or internally as a purgative, but large doses can kill. Foraging on the plant has proven deadly to livestock. Cypress spurge has very unusual flowers. There were tiny insects flying all over this group of plants but I couldn’t tell what they were.

I was hoping the hobblebushes would be blooming and wow, were they ever. Winter must have been kind to these native shrubs because I’ve never seen them bloom as heavily as they are this year. Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is one of our most beautiful native shrubs in my opinion, and they have just started blooming. The large white, flat flower heads are very noticeable as they bloom on hillsides along our roads.

Botanically speaking the flower head is called a corymb, which is a flat topped disc shaped flower cluster. 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 bright red before ripening to a deep purple color. The outer infertile flowers are about three quarters of an inch across and a single fertile flower could hide behind a pea. All flowers in a hobblebush flower head have 5 petals, whether fertile or infertile.

These beautiful shrubs bloom all along this trail and when they’re finished native azaleas will take their place. The azaleas will be followed by native mountain laurels, so this place will be blooming for quite some time.

For the first time I decided to get off the rail trail and follow this old road, which leads to the site of a ruined factory which stood out here years ago. Undergrowth and trees grew close to the road, making it narrow and hard to see what was going on very far up ahead. I talked to a man a few years ago who told me that a black bear had followed him and his wife when they were hiking out here once, so this closed in place made me want to be super aware of every sound. I heard lots of beautiful birdsong and what sounded like a fawn calling for its mother, but I didn’t hear anything that sounded like a bear. I’d guess this place must be a bear’s dream come true though, because all these flowers will eventually become fruit. Rose-hips, hobblebush berries, blueberries, apples, crab apples, grapes, raspberries and blackberries are just a small sampling of what could be on a bear’s menu here. When all that fruit ripens it could literally eat its way over six miles of trail.

Rubble piles are all that’s left of the factory, which I believe was a paper mill. I think someone told me that it burned down quite a few years ago. There were a lot of bricks but little wood, so it seems plausible.

You can’t see it because of all of the growth on the far side of the river but there is a road behind the trees. At one time a bridge crossed the river here and led directly to this factory from that road. This pier in the middle of the river is all that’s left of the bridge, which was probably taken by a flood.

! was surprised to see trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) blooming out here because I’ve been here several times and have never noticed it, but a colony like this one has obviously been here for years. It grew almost vertically on moss covered stone.

This will probably be the last time I see these flowers this year. The brown spots on them is a good sign that they’re just about done.

There was a Boston and Maine railroad siding near my grandmother’s house and there were always boxcars parked there so I used to climb all over them when I was a boy. These tired old boxcars are slowly sinking into the ground they sit on but I like to come and see them. They bring back some happy memories.

These cars were originally from the Green Mountain Railroad, which still runs as a scenic railway through parts of Vermont. Why they were put out here I don’t know, but I’m sure they must have once served the paper mills in the area.

I saw quite a few forget-me-nots near the old boxcars. They weren’t really a surprise because I’ve seen them along this rail trail before. Only Myosotis scorpioides, native to Europe and Asia, is called the true forget me not. The plant was introduced into North America, most likely by early European settlers, and now grows in 40 of the lower 48 states. In some states it is considered a noxious weed though I can’t understand why. I hardly ever see it.

The big surprise on this day was seeing white forget-me-nots. I’ve never seen them before and didn’t know they came in white. They were pretty enough but I think I like the blue ones more.

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

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone is seeing plenty of spring wonders!

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