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It’s blueberry picking time here in New Hampshire and one of the best local places I know of to do that is on Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. Wild blueberry season in New Hampshire usually starts around the end of July and people come from all over to pick them. I like to come here at this time not to pick blueberries but to meet the people who do.

The trail, as mountains go, is relatively easy to climb even for me and I often meet elderly people climbing here.

Hay scented ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) line the trail and they were starting to turn white, here and there. Another signal that fall is in the air. This fern likes shade and will tolerate extreme dryness as well. Its common name comes from the way it smells like hay when it is bruised. It does well in gardens but gardeners want to make absolutely sure they want it because once they have it they’ll most likely have it for a long time. It’s very difficult to eradicate.

A young mountain ash tree was covered with wooly aphids, almost from the soil to its tip. These sucking insects can be winged or unwinged. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of trees and in spring nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage. I’m guessing that this young tree will be severely weakened by such large numbers of aphids. The drops of liquid are their waste, which is called “honeydew.” It’s very sticky and often leads to sooty black mold.

Someone left a small stone on top of a larger one. I used to collect rocks and minerals and I could see that it wasn’t anything special. I almost tossed it into the woods but then I thought that it might have been special to the person, possibly a child, who left it there, so I put it back. Speaking of children I saw a few here on this day, and that made my heart glad. There’s no such thing as too many kids in the woods, and one of the greatest gifts we can give them is introducing them to nature.

There were lots of white whorled wood asters (Oclemena acuminata) growing along the trail but many hadn’t bloomed yet. This plant can take quite a lot of shade.

The leaves were all mottled on this wood aster. I’ve never seen this before and I’m not sure what would have caused it. It didn’t look like leaf miners.

Before I knew it I was at the meadow. The white puffy clouds though unexpected, were fun to see.

The clouds were unexpected because the weatherman said wall to wall sunshine for the day. Instead it looked like the clouds might be on their way to becoming wall to wall and some were huge. That dark area out there is a cloud shadow.

Theses hay rolls (?) were placed near where I saw the big black bear in May on my last trip up the mountain. I’ve thrown hay bales up onto wagons before but I was very thankful that I never had to roll these big things around. They must be for the Scottish highland cattle that live up here.

Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) dangled red and ripe from the trees. The Native American Ojibwe tribe called them Asasaweminagaawanzh. They crushed them with stones and then heated them in a pan with lard and sugar. The berries were used in pemmican, in cakes, or cooked in stews after they had been crushed and dried. Pemmican was a meat, lard and fruit mixture which was stored as a high energy emergency winter food that kept people from starving if food became scarce. It saved the life of many a European as well. The Ojibwe still make and sell chokecherry syrup and chokecherry jelly. They say that they are one of the “sweetest tastes of white earth.”

Unfortunately most of the cherries in this area have black knot disease. It is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus can be spread by rain or wind and typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those in the above photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring.

Flocks of these little gray and black birds flew along the trial beside me. I think they were dark eyed juncos. They were very quiet and didn’t seem frightened of me at all. In fact they were as inquisitive as chipmunks and watched me the whole way.

The old ranger cabin told me I was just a few yards from the summit.

The ranger cabin had me wondering just how often the people in charge come up here, because the boards someone ripped off one of the windows were still missing since at least May. There was also an alarm sounding on the generator that powers the fire tower, but nobody around to silence it.

I’m not sure what would happen if the power was cut to the fire tower. There sure are a lot of antennas on it. You find people on most mountaintops in this area and popular ones like Mount Monadnock can at times seem as busy as a Manhattan sidewalk. There were a few up here on this day and I even saw a woman wearing flipflops, which I wouldn’t recommend. I call the fire tower on Pitcher Mountain a monument to irony because the original wooden tower built in 1915 burned in April of 1940, in the most destructive forest fire to ever strike this part of the state. Twenty seven thousand acres burned, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit.

I met a man with a German (?) accent who was very interested in blueberries. I told him that there were plenty of bushes right here on the summit and he should just help himself. The highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is a native plant that you can quite literally find just about anywhere in this part of the state. There are areas where they are more concentrated though, and Pitcher Mountain is one of those areas. This is what the man was after and though they grow in great numbers near the summit he wasn’t having much luck finding any berries. I saw people carrying containers around and I saw ripe berries, so I’m not sure why he wasn’t finding any.

Native black highbush blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum) has smaller fruit than that of the Vaccinium corymbosum highbush blueberry in the previous photo and also grows on the summit. Some say they are sweeter while some say the other highbush blueberries are sweeter. Though I told him that they are both native berries the man with the German accent said he didn’t want these berries because they must be “some kind of strange hybrid.” He wanted native berries he said again, so I finally had to say good hunting and move on. Clearly someone has given him erroneous information about blueberries but it can’t be just him, because most of these berries go untouched by the pickers. When I come up here in January I find them mummified by the thousands, still on the bushes. I’ve eaten many of both kinds and in my experience one isn’t any better or worse than the other, in my opinion. I wish I could have convinced the visitor of that.

It’s been quite dry lately so I was surprised to see water in what I call “the birdbath.” I saw a dark eyed junco taking a bath in it once but they didn’t follow me all the way to the summit to bathe on this day. I did see a black Labrador retriever roll in it though.

There was a certain haziness to the atmosphere so I couldn’t see much detail on  Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey.

Before long the clouds had almost fully come together and they seemed almost low enough to touch. I began to wonder if wall to wall sunshine was going to turn into wall to wall rain.

So off I went back down the trail, wondering about the woman climbing a mountain in flip flops and the poor man who couldn’t find a blueberry even though he was surrounded by thousands of them. I’ve always found it easier to understand plants than people, and sometimes human nature really does baffle me.

Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ~Anatoli Boukreev

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This past weekend was an uncharacteristically busy one for me, with the car having to be looked at and modems and routers to change, so I lost a lot of time to the busyness. Because of that I decided to take a simple walk around the neighborhood. This is something I enjoy but I’ve been putting it off, so it was time. The view above is of a small pond in the neighborhood where turtles, frogs, beavers and muskrats live. Ducks, geese, and an occasional great blue heron will also stop in now and then. The strange green stuff on the far end is tree pollen, and it shows that it hasn’t rained for a while.

The water in the pond is so low cattails (Typha latifolia) are almost growing on dry land. It’s hard to believe that we actually need rain after the non-stop rains of spring. Cattails can grow faster than fertilized corn and can create monocultures by shading out other plants with their dense foliage and debris from old growth. They are very beneficial to many animals and birds though, and even help the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them. Scientists have recorded cattail marshes travel up to 17 feet in a year with prime conditions just by sending out new shoots. Of course, that doesn’t account for all the new plants that grow from seed. Cattail flowers are very prolific; one stalk can produce an estimated 220,000 seeds. Cattails were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They had uses for every part of this plant; even the pollen was harvested and used in bread.

A drift of black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) grows beside the pond. I like their cheeriness but not their message of the approaching fall. Summer will end sooner for me than for them; they’ll bloom right up until a hard freeze in October.

Yellow pond lilies (Nuphar lutea) grew in curious islands in the pond. I’ve never seen them do this, but I can picture them doing it to the entire pond. The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant 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 is a small grove of gray birch (Betula populifolia) near the pond and I often search their branches to see if any new lichens have moved in. Gray birch doesn’t have the same bright white bark that paper birches do, but lichens seem to love growing on their limbs.

The largest birch in the previous photo had a split in its bark that made it look as if someone had unzipped it. I can’t imagine what might have caused it but it can’t be good.

One of the reasons I wanted to take this walk was to see if there were any berries on the bunchberry plants that grow in the V made by these two trees. The white dogwood like flowers become a bunch of bright red berries, and that gives the plant its common name. Native Americans used the berries as food and made a tea from the ground root to treat colic in infants. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

But I didn’t see any bunchberry berries today and I wasn’t really surprised; I see maybe one plant with berries for every twenty without. Apparently pollination isn’t very successful among bunchberry plants.

The blueberries crop doesn’t look too bad this year though. I think there will be enough to keep both bears and humans happy. One of the best places to pick blueberries that I’ve seen is from a boat, canoe or kayak, because blueberries grow on the shores of our lakes and ponds in great profusion and the bushes often hang out over the water. You can fill a small bucket in no time.

It looks like we might have a good blackberry harvest as well. Easy to pick blackberries can be found along virtually any rail trail and many woodland trails. Blackberries have been eaten by man for thousands of years. The discovery of the remains of an Iron Age woman called the Haraldskær Woman showed that she ate blackberries about 2500 years ago. The Haraldskær Woman is the body of a woman found naturally preserved in a peat bog in Jutland, Denmark in 1835. Native Americans made a strong twine from fibers found in blackberry canes, and they used piles of dead canes as barricades around villages. I’m guessing that anyone who had ever been caught on blackberry thorns wouldn’t have tried to make it through such a barricade.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) is a common late summer sight in wet meadows and on river banks. There are several species of this plant including hollow Joe-Pye-weed (E. fistulosum,) sweet Joe-Pye-weed (E. purpureum,) three-nerved Joe-Pye-weed (E. dubium,) and spotted Joe-Pye-weed (E. maculatum.) Hollow Joe-Pye weed is the most common species in this area. There are also cultivated varieties sold in nurseries.

Eventually if you go the way I did you come to a wooded trail that really doesn’t lead anywhere. It simply connects two roads. I don’t know its history but it makes for an enjoyable walk through the woods.

It’s close to impossible to get a photo of a forest when you’re inside it, but I keep trying. This view shows that these trees are not that old and that means this land was cleared not that long ago.

There are some big white pines (Pinus strobus) out here though. I’d guess many of them are close to 100 years old.

Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) berries start out green and then turn orange before finally ripening to red. They are pretty things but they can be mildly toxic to adults and more so to children, though I’ve never heard of anyone eating them. Tatarian honeysuckle is considered an invasive shrub. Birds eat the berries and the plant spreads quickly, with an estimated seedling density of 459,000 per acre. Once grown their dense canopy shades the forest floor enough so native plants can’t grow, so the land around dense colonies is often barren.

Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) winds itself among the tall stems of any plant it can find. It is said that bindweed purifies and cleanses the body and calms the mind. Native Americans used the plant medicinally for several ailments, including as an antidote to spider bites.

Meadow sweet (Spirea alba) is just about finished for this year. This plant likes moist ground and I have found it near water more often than not but lately I’ve been seeing it in drier spots as well, like I did on this day.

The small pond that I showed a photo of previously eventually empties into a large swamp, which is called a wetland these days. I’m guessing that beavers and muskrats keep the water way open through it; it has been this way for as long as I’ve lived in the area.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) gets its common name from the way its leaves resemble a deer’s tongue. It’s one of the earliest denizens of the forest floor to start showing its fall colors. Purples, yellows, oranges, and other colors can be found in its leaves.

There are enough different goldenrods (over a hundred it is said) which look enough alike to convince me that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to identify them all, but some are quite easy to identify.  One of the easiest is gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).  It’s one of the first to bloom and its flower heads always look like they have been in a strong wind that blew them over to one side of the stem.

There was a very strange beetle (I think) with a big nose on that goldenrod in the previous photo. I haven’t been able to identify it.

Our minds, as well as our bodies, have need of the out-of-doors. Our spirits, too, need simple things, elemental things, the sun and the wind and the rain, moonlight and starlight, sunrise and mist and mossy forest trails, the perfumes of dawn and the smell of fresh-turned earth and the ancient music of wind among the trees.~ Edwin Way Teale

Thanks for coming by.

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Last Saturday the heat and humidity were supposed to return so I set off for one of my favorite rail trails. Since it was morning and the trail is mostly shaded I thought I’d be fine, but by the time I got back I was hot enough to complain about it.  The heat has kept me indoors just once since I’ve been doing this blog and that was the weekend before this walk when the heat index reached 104 degrees F. The humidity level was so high it made it very close to unbearable, so I spent my time next to an air conditioner. At least on this day the humidity wasn’t bad.

Right off I started seeing flowers, including this aster. I decided long ago that life is too short to spend days or weeks trying to identify asters and goldenrods, so I don’t know its name.

Steeplebush I do know and I was happy to see it. It’s a cousin of meadowsweet and is in the spirea family (Spirea tomentose) like that shrub is. Sometimes it gets confused with meadowsweet (Spirea alba) but that plant is a very woody shrub with white flowers in flower heads that aren’t as long and pointed as these are. A dense coat of white wooly hairs covers the stem and the leaf undersides of steeple bush, and that’s where the tomentose part of the scientific name comes from. It means “covered with densely matted woolly hairs.” Five petaled, pink steeplebush flowers are about 1/16 of an inch wide and loaded with 5 pistils and many stamens, which is what often gives flowers in the spirea family a fuzzy appearance. Many different butterflies love these flowers. Native Americans used the plant medicinally in much the same way that we would use aspirin. I almost always find this plant at the water’s edge and this one grew by the drainage ditch alongside the trail.

Cattails also grew in the drainage ditch and I liked the way the sunlight played on this one’s leaves. Darkish green is their natural color and the light green / yellow parts are caused by sunlight. When a ray of sunshine falls on a single plant or other bit of nature I always pay attention, and I’ve seen some beautiful things by doing so.

To some people sweet fern (Comptonia peregrine) isn’t a very exciting plant and I have to say that I haven’t had much to say about it over the course of this blog, but it is interesting. Sweet ferns are usually found growing in gravel at the edge of roads or in waste areas. They are small; about 3 feet tall-and have a mounding growth habit. The leaves are very aromatic and the scent can travel quite a distance on a hot summer day. It is said that crushing the leaves and rubbing them on your skin will keep insects away, and you can also make sweet fern tea from the foliage like Native Americans did.

The leaves of sweet fern do look sort of fern like and that’s how it gets its common name. I often run my hands over the leaves to release the fragrance that is held in tiny resin dots. The fragrance is what it is named for; some compare it to soap, others to spices or fresh mown hay. It is a very unusual scent that smells clean and a bit spicy to me. Sweet fern comes from the same family (Myricaceae) as the bay laurel, which is where bay leaves come from.

Once the spiky bur like husk opens the seed of the sweet fern, called a nutlet, appears.  Though the nutlets usually appear in clusters this example had just one. They’re very small at less than a quarter inch. Scientists have documented germination in seeds which had been in the soil for over 70 years and it is thought that seeds could still grow after lying in the soil for 100 years or more.

Hay scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) can grow in shade or full sun, so it was right at home along 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.

Stone walls are common along rail trails. It was a land owners way of telling the railroad where their right of way ended. Most of the walls along rail trails are very old.

This stretch of rail trail like many others in this area follows the Ashuelot river and you can get a glimpse of it every now and then. The embankment down to it is very high and steep though so actually getting near the river is all but impossible for me.

Some lucky homeowner has built a bridge right from his back yard to the rail trail. It’s easy to forget that these trails run so close to people’s homes but we shouldn’t forget. Just think how you’d feel if you had an endless procession of hikers, joggers, and bicyclists passing your house all day every day. It has to be annoying, so I don’t get upset when I see the occasional no trespassing sign.

In places the water in the drainage ditches had dried up, leaving multicolored mineral deposits behind.

You might have seen an acorn in the previous photo. All along the trail I heard the pfffft of them falling through the tree foliage. If I go by all the nuts and berries I’ve seen I’d guess that the animals will eat well this year.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) slowly turn their heads to the sky. Once they’re looking straight up at the sky that is the sign that they’ve been pollinated. They are also called ghost or corpse plants. Fresh stems contain a gel that Native Americans used to treat eye problems. The common name comes from the plant’s shape, which is said to resemble the pipes that the Natives smoked and the uniflora part of the scientific name means a single flower, which is all each plant has.

Here is a rarely seen (on this blog) view into an Indian pipe flower. At the tips of the 10 stamens surrounding the center stigma are the anthers, colored yellow, which contain pollen. The anthers are open and shedding pollen at this stage.  In the center of the flower is the pollen-collecting stigma, which looks like a funnel between the yellowish stamens. Once pollinated each flower will eventually become a brown seed capsule. These capsules always look like beautiful little carved wooden flowers to me. Once they ripen they will split open into 5 separate parts to release tens of thousands of seeds to the wind. Each individual seed is only ten cells thick. Indian pipes are parasitic on certain fungi, which in turn are often parasitic on the roots of trees so in a roundabout way they get their food from trees.

Pretty little fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliate) is the last of the native yellow loosestrifes to bloom in this area. Great colonies of the knee high plant can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. It might be confused with whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) if the two plants bloomed at the same time, but in this area fringed loosestrife blooms later. The flowers on fringed loosestrife are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground. On whorled loosestrife they face outward. The leaf arrangements on the two plants are also very different.

Fringed loosestrife gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, but sometimes the flower petals are also fringed like they are on this example. It’s a cheery, pretty plant that often gets overlooked because there is just so much in bloom at this time of year.

The prize for the strangest thing I saw out here on this day goes to this golf ball.  I can’t imagine how anyone could play golf in a forest but maybe an animal stole it off someone’s lawn, I don’t know. It looked to be in new condition.

Before long I reached the trestle, where I stood for awhile thinking about how lucky I was to have a trail into the woods like this. It lets me see things that I’d never be able to see otherwise, like this stretch of river. If it wasn’t for the trail I’d have to bushwack my way through the woods or paddle upriver to get here. Thanks be to the snowmobilers who keep these trails open. They’re also the ones who add the wooden bits to the trestles so nobody drives their machines off them. That wouldn’t be good.

In this shot it doesn’t look like it would be much of a drop from the trestle to the river below.

But looks can be deceiving, and when I add some people in kayaks to the mix you can see that it would indeed be quite a drop. When I was a boy a friend of mine fell from the top of a trestle, which he had climbed, into the river. He lived to tell about it but I never saw him climb to the top of another one. The kayakers by the way were still,  pondering what to do about that big pine tree you can see up ahead that has fallen all the way across the river.

As the river bank showed, the water level is way down, but I’ve grown up on this river and I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. If you want to walk across the Ashuelot River August is the time to do it in this area. I used to walk in the river when I was a boy, looking for old bottles. I found a lot of them too, and sold them to local bottle collecting clubs. That was when I learned what it was like to have money in my pocket and it was what led me to work at proper jobs, and that was how I lost my connection to nature for many years. Thankfully I was able to get it back.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds.
~Edgar A. Guest

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

 

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Anyone who has been to an outdoor drive in theater has probably heard the “It’s showtime folks!” announcement coming through the speaker that hung on their car window. It came right after the film clip showing all the delicacies found at the snack bar, I think.

Keene had a drive in theater and though this isn’t a photo of that screen it’s very much how I remember it. The drive in held 400 cars and once you paid the entrance fee you parked wherever you wanted. Each of the poles seen in this photo would have held 2 speakers. You parked beside a pole, rolled the window down about half way and hung the speaker on it. I don’t know how many people drove off after the film with the speaker still on their window but I’d be there were a few.

This is what the Keene drive in looks like today; an open meadow full of flowers, birds and insects. I decided to explore it last weekend just to see if I could find anything interesting. There is a gate that is locked but since there is a big missing part of the fence right next to the gate it was easy to walk right in. There were no signs telling me not to.

I found these few photos of Keene Drive In memorabilia, apparently uploaded by Charles Dean, online. I couldn’t find the date the drive in opened but it must have been in the 1940s after the war ended. That was a popular time for drive ins and that’s when many of them opened.  The prices on this menu are certainly from a few years ago. I can’t remember ever paying as little as 35 cents for a hamburger.

But I was here to see nature doing its thing and I wasn’t disappointed. St. Johnswort plants grew here and there. I think these grew somewhere near where the projection booth originally was.

Drive ins did their best to keep people from sneaking in without paying but it was a right of passage for a teenage boy and I went through the main gate in the trunk of a car more than once. Many others did the same and I don’t think I ever heard of anyone climbing the fence. That’s a good thing, by the looks of all the barbed wire.

The grasses were waist high. Even yarrow couldn’t out grow them.

In this spot something had flattened the grass just like a bedding deer would, but it could have been a human. As few as 10 years ago this piece of land had grown up to be almost completely forested and a sizeable homeless population lived in here. I came through once a few years ago just to explore and found a small town of tents and tee-pees tucked into a back corner. The town (I think) came in and cut all the trees and brush and evicted the homeless and now the place is mown once each year. It’s a shame that anyone has to be homeless in this, the richest country on earth, but the reality is almost every town in America has a homeless population.

I could see the old crushed gravel parking surface in places.

But mostly all I saw were grasses and flowers, like this ox-eye daisy. I also saw more blue toadflax here than I’ve ever seen in one place.

Can you see the little hoverfly on the extreme right of the hawkweed blossom on the right? I saw lots of insects here including dragonflies, which seemed odd since there isn’t any water close by.

I saw my first mullein (Verbascum thapsus) blossoms of the year here. Native Americans used tea made from its large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

I saw a paved area but I couldn’t figure out if it was part of the original entrance road or if it was where the screen stood. It’s hard to navigate when there are no landmarks to go by but I think I remember the screen being on this end of the lot.

There was just a single light pole left, with its light still on top. These lights used to ring the lot and when they were turned on you knew the show was over and it was time to go. There used to be 2 films shown but I can’t remember if the lights were turned on during intermission or not. I do remember some dark walks to the snack bar and then trying to find the car in the dark afterwards.

There were lots of bristly dewberry plants (Rubus hispidus) growing here. Bristly or swamp dewberry is a trailing vine blooms with white flowers that look a lot like strawberry flowers. The fruit looks more like a black raspberry than anything else and is said to be very sour. Its leaves live under the snow all winter. It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring so they get a head start over the competition, and this plant certainly seems to benefit from it. Swamp dewberry looks like a vine but is actually considered a shrub. It likes wet places and is a good indicator of wetlands, but I’ve seen it growing in dry waste areas many times. It’s also called bristly blackberry because its stem is very prickly.

I was surprised that there wasn’t more vetch growing here. I saw just a few plants. Hairy vetch (Vicia vilosa) was originally imported from Europe and Asia to be used as a cover crop and for livestock forage. It’s now found in just about every meadow in New Hampshire. This might have also been cow vetch (Vicia cracca,) but I didn’t check the stems for hairs. Cow vetch is also invasive.

There was lots of rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense.) You have to look closely to see the almost microscopic white flowers poking out of the feathery, grayish-pink sepals on these flower heads. These feathery sepals are much larger than the petals and make up most of the flower head. This plant is in the pea family and is used to improve soil quality. It is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered an invasive weed. It gets its name from the fuzzy flower heads, which are said to look like a rabbit’s foot. 

You can see the tiny white flowers in this shot. This bee (I think) was gathering a lot of yellow pollen from the clover plants. Its pollen sacs looked to be full of it.

Other clovers attracted other insects. I saw this little skipper on a red clover but I haven’t been able to identify it.

This program is from the year I was born but I don’t remember ever seeing any of these films. The only drive in movie I remember seeing at the Keene Drive In was the original Star Wars. Since it came out in December of 1976 I’m guessing it must have been the summer of 1977 when I saw it. For its time it was an amazing movie. I think I was driving a Volkswagen Beetle at the time. I like the way the program says “Air conditioned by nature,” which was a good thing since my Volkswagen didn’t have air conditioning. Unfortunately it didn’t have heat either so winters were a little more exciting than usual.

In the 1950s, there were around 4,000 drive-in theaters around the United States. Today, there are only an estimated 300 left, and only two or three are in New Hampshire. Most closed because film companies went digital and stopped delivering the films on 35mm reels.  Digital film projectors cost many thousands of dollars and many drive in owners simply couldn’t afford the changes. The Keene drive in closed in 1985 and the screen, snack bar and projection booth were removed shortly after. Now it’s a meadow which, if it was no longer mowed, would return to the original forest that was here before the drive in was built. And it wouldn’t take long; I saw it go from drive in to forest to meadow in my own lifetime.

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

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I see this view of Halfmoon Pond in Hancock almost every morning on the way to work. Sometimes there are ducks, geese or great blue herons here so I always at least slow down and look. The view from here reminds me of total wilderness, where all you really have is you. At the very edge of a pond the growth is thick and hard to get through because that’s where all the sunlight is. Back away from where the water meets the land, back where the forest is dark and there is less undergrowth, there is usually a way around. I think, long before Europeans showed up, Native Americans most likely had trails around every pond and lake in this area.

Ponds are great places to see waterfowl of all kinds and I’ve seen plenty of Canada geese this year. This family swam quite close and I think it’s because they’ve been fed by humans sometime in the past.

These goslings on the other hand swam away as fast as they could, with mom and dad just out of view, bobbing their heads up and down frantically. Personally I don’t feed wild animals because I’d rather have them rely on nature. Nature will provide all they need, just as it has since the time began.

But nature doesn’t discriminate and it also provides all that snapping turtles need, and some of what they need are small birds like goslings that swim on the surface of their ponds. If you watch a family of geese over time they might start out with 6 or 7 goslings, but then often end up with only one or two that reach adulthood. Foxes, bobcats, snapping turtles and other animals all thin the flock.

The big turtles have been on the move until recently and I’ve seen quite a few females out looking for suitable places to dig their nests and lay their eggs. Once they do many of the nests are almost immediately dug up and the eggs eaten, but there are thousands of eggs around every pond. Nature allows for the losses, so there will always be turtles and there will always be goslings. I should say that you don’t want to get too close to a snapping turtle because though it doesn’t look it they have long necks that can stretch out quickly. They also have very strong jaws.

Rosy maple moths appear at about this time each year and are easy to identify because there apparently aren’t too many others that look like them. This is a cute little thing with its wooly yellow body and pink and creamy yellow wing stripes. 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.

Virgin tiger moths are large, butterfly sized moths and I’ve read that its hindwing color can vary from yellow to scarlet. Unfortunately they can’t be seen in this photo. The larvae feed on various low growing plants. Though there are countless photos of this moth online there is very little information on it. It is certainly one of the prettiest moths I’ve seen.

I saw a wolf spider crawling on one of the buildings where I work. Wolf spiders carry their egg sacs by attaching them to their spinnerets. They have eight eyes and two of them are large, which helps them see their prey. They will sometimes chase prey but usually just wait for it to happen by.

Here is a closer view of the wolf spiders egg sac. According to Wikipedia “the egg sac, a round, silken globe, is attached to the spinnerets at the end of the abdomen, allowing the spider to carry her unborn young with her. The abdomen must be held in a raised position to keep the egg case from dragging on the ground. However, despite this handicap, they are still capable of hunting. Another aspect unique to wolf spiders is their method of care of young. Immediately after the spiderlings emerge from their protective silken case, they clamber up their mother’s legs and crowd onto the dorsal side of her abdomen. The mother carries the spiderlings for several weeks before they are large enough to disperse and fend for themselves. No other spiders are currently known to carry their young on their backs for any period of time.”

A cedar waxwing sat on a lawn and let me walk right up to it and takes as many photos as I wanted before finally hopping away into the undergrowth. This is odd behavior for a bird but it must have either been a juvenile that couldn’t fly yet or maybe an adult that was stunned. I saw a Baltimore oriole fly into a window once and knock itself out. I thought it had died but an hour later it woke up and flew away. I love the beautiful sleek look of cedar waxwings, and the little bandit masks they wear. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the name waxwing comes from the brilliant red wax drops you can see at the tips of its wing feathers. Cornell also says because they eat so much fruit, cedar waxwings occasionally become intoxicated or even die when they run across overripe berries that have started to ferment and produce alcohol, so maybe this one was simply drunk.

Our white pines have been growing pollen cones, which are the tree’s male flowers. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of smoke like yellow-green pollen can be seen coming from them on windy days. The trees look like they’re on fire and virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, houses, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in, but pine pollen is a strong antioxidant that has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its numerous health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago.

I like lake sedge (Carex lacustris) because I like the way it seems to flow like the waves of the pond and lake shores it grows on. It is really the wind and its own weak stems that make it bend so, but I think it makes a pretty display. Lake sedge is native to Canada and the northern U.S. and can at times be found growing in water. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds. Even when it isn’t blowing in the wind it seems to have movement.

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) blooms in rings around the flower stalk, starting at the bottom and working towards the top. Though an invasive from Europe and Asia English plantain prefers growing in soil that has been disturbed, so it isn’t often seen in natural areas where there is little activity. But it is taking hold and it has gone from a plant I rarely saw just a few years ago to one I see just about everywhere now. I see it in lawns more than anywhere else. It is wind pollinated so it hangs its stamens out where the wind can blow the pollen off the anthers. Each stamen is made up of a white bag like anther sitting at the end of a thin filament. If pollinated each flower will bear two tiny seeds in a small seed capsule.

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum,) is as rare as hen’s teeth but I know of one or two. Some confuse it with royal fern but maidenhair fern really bears little resemblance to royal ferns. The name maidenhair comes from the fine, shiny black stalks, which are called stipes. This fern is very rarely seen in a natural setting in this area.

Grasses like this orchard grass have started flowering and I hope everyone will take a little time to give them a look, because they can be very beautiful as well as interesting. They are also one of the easiest plants there are to find. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, 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.”

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 plants.

Someone carved a heart into a birch tree. I did the same once but mine was carved into a maple and wasn’t as elaborate. Still, I’d guess the reasons for doing the carving were the same.

It might look like the hills were on fire in this shot but this was mist that the warmth of the sun was wringing out of the forest one morning after a rainstorm the night before. Marty Rubin once said “Mist around a mountain: all reality is there.” And for me, on that morning, it was. I thought it made a beautiful scene, and losing myself in it almost made me late for work.

Mists like the one in the previous photo usually mean high humidity in the forest, and if there’s one bit of nature that loves high humidity it’s a slime mold, and I’ve been seeing a few. I think this one is the scrambled egg slime mold (Fuligo septica.) It gets quite big and will grow in full sun on wood mulch or chips, so it is easily seen and is often people’s first introduction to slime molds. It also produces the largest spore-producing structure of any known slime mold. Slime molds move using a process called cytoplasmic streaming, which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass,  and I was fortunate enough to find this one on the move. Though its movement is imperceptible you can tell it has moved if you watch it over time. In fact it can climb onto stumps, logs, and living plants.

Scrambled egg slime mold is the perfect name for this one. According to mycologist Tom Volk of the University of Wisconsin, a plasmodium is essentially a blob of protoplasm without cell walls and only a cell membrane to keep everything in. It is really nothing but a large amoeba and feeds much the same way, by engulfing its food, which are mostly bacteria, spores of fungi and plants, protozoa, and particles of nonliving organic matter. Slime molds are a very important part of the ecosystem; it isn’t hard to imagine what this world would be like without decomposers like fungi and slime molds doing their work.

Scrambled egg slime in the plasmodium stage will eventually come together into a sponge-like mass called an aethalium, which is pictured forming here. An aethalium  is a “large, plump, pillow-shaped fruiting body.” Over time this slime mold forms a smooth, brittle crust which breaks easily to reveal a black spore mass.

My fungal offering for this post is a tiny bird’s nest fungus, which few people ever get to see. I think they were fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus) and this is a view of them from the side. They grow in a funnel or vase shape and have flutes around the rim of the body, which is hollow like a cup. They are so small not even a pea would fit inside them.

The “bird’s nest” is actually a splash cup called a peridium and when a drop of rain falls into it with enough force the “eggs” are splashed out. These eggs, which really can’t be seen here, are really disc shaped spore cases called peridioles. Once ejected from the splash cup the peridioles degrade over time to release the spores.

Here is a shot of a fluted bird’s nest cup with two disc shaped “eggs” in the bottom that I took earlier in 2015. It’s another of those miracles of nature that tend to boggle the mind.

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.
~Edna Jaques

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4th of July tomorrow.

 

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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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