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Last weekend I felt the urge to climb, so off I went to Mount Caesar in Swanzey. I know better than to deny the urge because it only gets stronger as time passes. The town History of Swanzey, New Hampshire says that Mount Caesar was named after Caesar Freeman, a freed black slave and one of the original settlers here. Some believe that he is is buried somewhere on it.

One of the first things I saw was a nice clump of lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) one of our most beautiful native orchids. Its beautiful pouch like pink flowers appear in May and last for a week or two, depending on the weather. I was happy to find them growing all along the trail, almost to the summit.

Botanically orchids are considered the most highly evolved of all flowering plants because of their unique reproductive strategy; they have both male and female reproductive structures fused into a single structure. This one had apparently been pollinated because it had a seed pod.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) bloomed in sunnier spots along the trail. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods.

Indian Tobacco gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering.

I saw a bright yellow, very hairy caterpillar on a twig. I believe it might be a Virginian tiger moth caterpillar (Spilosoma virginica.) This caterpillar is also called yellow bear and I think this is the first time I’ve seen one. I’m not sure what those four yellow bumps are.

Up and up I went. Mount Caesar is the most difficult climb I do these days but by normal standards it really isn’t that difficult unless you have breathing issues. I saw two or three people race up and down it before I even made it to the top but they weren’t interested in what they might see along the trail. Only the end of the trail is important to many people and they miss a lot of the beauty of nature by thinking that way. Some are even more interested in listening to their phones than the birds and I saw that happening here as well. All I can say about that is, if you are in the woods to enjoy nature racing through them as fast as you can go and plugging your ears so you can’t hear anything is not considered being in nature. Being in nature means allowing it to fill all of your senses while you are there. It means being completely immersed in the experience. When you are there be there, fully. You’ll enjoy it more and you’ll get far more out of the experience.

What I believe were ink cap mushrooms grew in the middle of the trail, but just because something is obvious doesn’t always mean it is seen and I doubt anyone noticed them because a few had been stepped on. I think they might have been the hare’s foot ink cap (Coprinopsis lagopus) but I could be wrong. I do know from personal experience that ink caps can appear very different at different times; even at different times of the same day, because their lives are very short. I liked the maroon shimmer of these examples. These mushrooms often grow in the forest, as these did.

Once they produce spores they’re done, and that usually takes one day but on this day there were plenty more coming. They’re called ink caps because their caps liquify and turn into what looks like ink.

I saw things here on this day that I’ve never seen before and one of them was shining clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum) producing spores. The yellowish club like spore producing sporophylls at the tip of each plant are where the spores are produced and once the spores are released to the wind they can take up to 20 years to germinate. In my experience sporophylls aren’t common on this clubmoss. The leaves, called microphylls, resemble scales more than actual leaves and for some reason they are very shiny. Shining clubmoss is unusual and easy to identify because it is unbranched and grows fairly erect.

Note: A helpful reader has pointed out that this is actually bristly clubmoss (Spinulum annotinum,) which I’ve never heard of. Shining clubmoss doesn’t produce sporophylls, which explains why I never see them.  

Another thing I discovered on this day was that the unripe berries of American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) are white. This plant is also called checkerberry and it is the first plant I ever learned well enough to know on sight, probably when I was just 5 or 6 years old. My grandmother and I would pick the small red berries until we each had a handful, and then we would have a refreshing, spicy feast in the forest. Chewing the leaves can also be refreshing when hiking on a hot day. In the past, the leaves were also chewed to relieve pain because they contain compounds similar to those found in aspirin. Since I’ve known these berries as red my entire life seeing them white was quite a surprise. I don’t suppose I’ve ever wondered what they would look like in their unripe state.

I was trying to capture the beautiful luminosity of the forest when I heard a loud crashing behind me. I thought “Oh great, another bear” but no, it was a deer. It stopped and watched me for a bit, blending into the forest so well that I couldn’t get a shot of it from where I was. Of course as soon as I started moving so did the deer, and it was off like a shot. The odd thing was it didn’t really run away; I could hear it jumping and thrashing in the woods for a while afterwards as I continued climbing, as if it was running along beside me.

I saw the deer clearing stone walls with ease, jumping so high it had feet to spare. I was wishing I had legs that could do  that.

A young oak had fallen and split lengthwise to reveal that it was completely hollow, most likely chewed up by carpenter ants. There are far more hollow trees in the woods than most people realize. If you have a tree on your property and you see what looks like sawdust around its base you should call an arborist, especially if it is near your house. Friends of mine had their barn cut in half by a hollow white pine that fell on it just a few years ago.

I could look at this all day. It is worthy of hanging in an art gallery, in my opinion.

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is also called arrow wood. Its beautiful white flowers turn into blue-black berries, which aren’t often seen. This plant’s fall foliage is some of the most colorful in the forest and I always look for it in the fall. The shrub is called arrow wood because its branches grow very straight and some believe that Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. 

Yellow spots form on wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) leaves before fall even arrives, and they slowly grow larger until the entire leaf is yellow. This is one of the earliest plants to start turning color in the fall.

I couldn’t get over the beautiful light coming through the trees. At times it was hard to focus on anything else.

Before you know it (unless you’re climbing with me) you’re at the summit. I remember how surprised I was the day I realized that I had been climbing a huge piece of granite. The trail ends just as it begins; with bare granite bedrock.

There is a glacial erratic up here that is nearly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. It is said to rock back and forth like the 40 ton glacial erratic over on Hewe’s Hill called Tippin Rock, but I didn’t feel like heaving and grunting over boulders on this day.

Instead I wanted to visit with my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulose.) Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them umbilicate lichens. When wet toadskin lichens are rubbery and pliable and feel much like your ear lobe but when they dry out they are much like a potato chip, and will crack just as easily. They are naturally a deep pea green but when dry they turn ash gray as this one has. They will simply sit and wait for rain for eons if necessary and they, along with great blue herons, have taught me a lot about patience.

All those black dots on the lichen in the previous photo are this lichen’s fruiting bodies, where it’s spores are produced. I’ve noticed that they often seem to form where the lichen stays wettest longer after a rain. The head of a pin is .06 inches (1.5 mm) in diameter and one of the toadskin lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecium) could easily hide behind one. The apothecium is where the lichen’s spores are produced and in this case it is tiny black disc with a sunken center that makes it look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) of the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. This photo isn’t great but I was happy that it showed the detail that it does. What looks like a piece of wood in the upper right is actually a bit of a white pine needle, if that tells you anything about scale.

The views weren’t very good but that didn’t bother me. As I’ve said before, if I climbed for the view I’d be disappointed most of the time, because views are weather dependent. On this day there was a milky sky and that almost always means that far off scenes and landscapes will not reproduce well in the camera. In fact it isn’t that I don’t enjoy the views, it’s the trying to reproduce them that I don’t enjoy. If I ever stop blogging I can easily see myself no longer carrying a camera when I’m in the woods.

This is what I mean by a milky sky; almost pure white. Still, in my opinion there’s no such thing as a bad photo of Mount Monadnock, so I’ll just leave you with this one. 

No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being. ~Ansel Adams

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Last weekend was another hot, humid one so I spent some time at one of my favorite spots along the river. Due to our ongoing drought the water was as low as I’ve seen it get and some of the plants that grow here were looking parched. In spring I would have probably been in water up to my chest if I stood in this spot.

An invasive purple loosestrife plant (Lythrum salicaria) made a mistake and grew just a yard or so from the water. When the river fills and comes back to normal this young plant will be completely underwater.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) grows along the riverbank and I like to look for the pink “flowers” at the base of each dark purple berry. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

Downstream a still pool looked inviting on such a hot day and if I were 12 years old again I would have been swimming rather than sweating. This river was very polluted when I was a boy but now children often swim right here in this spot and people also fish it for trout. I see an occasional bald eagle flying along the river and great blue herons often stand along its banks. We seem to have a shortage of herons this year though. I’ve only seen two this summer and one of them was standing in the middle of a road, slowing traffic.

Goldenrod and Joe Pye weed grew on the edge of the pool.

There is a lot of iron in the stones in this part of the river but I don’t know if that is what colored the riverbed in this spot or not. Whatever it was looked almost like algae.

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) flowers are quite small but there are usually so many blooming that they’re easy to spot. They bloom from the bottom of the flower head up, so you can tell how much longer they’ll be blooming. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into a flour or meal by some tribes, and the flowers were dried and used as snuff to treat nose bleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the European settlers and they used it in much the same ways.

A wasp was busy pollinating boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum.) This is another plant that won’t be blooming too much longer.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries, even grown in the herb gardens of Charlemagne. It was brought from England by early colonists and by 1785 it had naturalized in New England. Still, I can count the times I’ve found it in the wild on one hand, so it can hardly be called invasive. The flat flower heads are made up of many button like disc flowers; almost like a daisy without the white ray flowers that we call petals. The ancient Greeks grew tansy for medicinal use but modern science has found it to be toxic.

Tansy is a natural insect repellent and has historically been used as such but a crab spider was full of hope that an insect might be lured in by its bright yellow flowers.

Northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) grows prolifically here. This plant has opposite leaves that turn 90 degrees to the previous pair as they make their way up the square stem. Tufts of very small white flowers grow around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant likes wet places and, since there are many different species of Lycopus, it can be hard to identify. In fact, I’m never 100% sure that I’ve gotten it right.

I was very surprised to find marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) growing on the riverbank. This plant seems to be spreading quickly from place to place and I was happy to see it here because I often have to search high and low for it. Not only is this the only pink flowered St. John’s wort I’ve ever heard of; both its buds and seed pods are bright red.

Common St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) still bloomed here but I haven’t seen it anywhere else for a while now. This plant’s healing properties have been well known since ancient times.

What I call a spontaneous gift of nature stopped me in my tracks. The soft glow of the sun shining through the red leaves of a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) was beautiful. You can’t plan things like this; you simply have to be there and if you are you may see something you have never seen or even dreamed of.

Those silky dogwood leaves really shouldn’t be red this early, and neither should this burning bush leaf   (Euonymus alatus) be pink already. The first day of fall is nearly a month away unless it comes early, and some of the plants I’ve seen are hinting that it might.

These oak leaves weren’t hinting at an early fall; they were shouting it.

But on the other hand some oaks were just now working on continuation of the species.

Ducks and many other birds feed on the seeds of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and by the looks the ones on this plant were already gone. This native shrub grows all along the river and I see it fairly often. Each fertilized flower turns into a seed pod that hold two black seeds.

Flat topped asters (Doellingeria umbellata) bloomed along the river bank in shadier spots. This aster likes wet places and partial sunshine. It can grow up to 5 feet tall on unbranched stems, but these plants leaned out toward the river.

I didn’t know that fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) bloomed here until I saw the pretty seed pods. The flowers of fringed loosestrife are unusual because of the way they offer oils instead of nectar to insects. The oils are called elaiosomes and are fleshy structures that are attached to the plant’s seeds. They are rich in lipids and proteins. Many plants have elaiosomes that attract ants, which take the seed to their nest and feed them to their larvae. I like the little stars around each seed pod.

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia) plants bloomed on the riverbank and it struck me when I saw them how so many plants grow and bloom in places that will most likely be completely under water in a few months. Indeed during spring thaws I’ve seen many feet of water cover the very spot I was kneeling in. It was a bit unsettling to think about and I’m not sure how such seemingly delicate plants can survive it.

It’s always nice to spend part of a day on the river I grew up just a few yards from and have known all of my life. I saw so many interesting and beautiful things in less than a mile of waterway, and that always makes me imagine what I’d see if I could explore the whole thing. Someday maybe.

Meanwhile I’m content with the beauty I know that I’ll always find when I come here, like this beautiful cedar waxwing caught in a ray of sunshine. It was another of those spontaneous gifts of nature. I hope all of you receive similar gifts.

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. ~Miguel Angel Ruiz

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Last weekend I decided to visit the deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland. Hacked out of the bedrock over 150 years ago by the railroad, it is the only place I know of to find such a huge variety of plants, mosses, liverworts and algae. Because of the 50 foot height of the walls of this man made canyon and the trees growing above them it can be quite dark in here, even on a sunny day.

This was not a sunny day and photography was a challenge so I hope you won’t be too disappointed in the quality of what you find here.

The tip of a fern leaf revealed that something had pulled the tips of the fronds together with silk to form a ball. From what I’ve read a caterpillar of one of three native moth species in the genus Herpetogramma practice this leaf rolling and tying habit and so they are called fern leaf tiers. The ball is hollow on the inside and the caterpillar will live in it and feed on the leaf presumably until it is ready to become a moth.

The underside of a fertile frond was covered with small dots called sori, as can be seen in the previous photo. The sori are clusters of spore producing sporangia and they can be naked (uncovered) or capped by a cover called an indusium, as they are on the spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris spinulose,) which I believe this was. When the spores are ready to be released thicker cell walls on one side of each sorus will age and dry out, and this creates a tension which causes the cover (indusium) to burst open and release its spores. It all seems so amazing and improbable.

On their way to becoming brilliant red, the berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are speckled green and red for a short time and in my opinion this is when they are at their most beautiful. This plant is also called treacle berry because the berries are supposed to taste like treacle or bitter molasses. They are rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy, but large quantities of uncooked berries are said to act like a laxative to those who aren’t used to eating them. Native Americans inhaled the fumes from the burning roots to treat headaches and body pain. They also used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas.

I had to lighten this shot quite a lot but I wanted you to see the lush abundance of plant growth found here. It always reminds me of the Shangri-La described in the book Lost Horizons by James Hilton, which I read and enjoyed very much when I was a boy. It would take many years to identify all these plants.

I just read an interesting article about pink or “watermelon” snow found on the Presena glacier in northern Italy. The snow was colored by an algae bloom growing right on the snow rather than a spore release, but colored rains are common all over the world and they’re usually colored by the release of spores. The orange color seen in this place on the stone of the canyon is caused by green algae called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll. There have been red rains, black rains, and yellow and green rains, all colored by algae spores. The red “blood” rains usually wreak much havoc among the superstitious throughout the world, who believe such a thing is a bad omen.

I wasn’t happy to see purple loosestrife blooming here because it’s just about the most invasive plant we have in these parts. It’s right up there with Japanese knotweed.

Purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) has big, light gathering leaves that give it a certain tolerance for low light, and that’s how it can grow here so well. 

A hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) crawled on the flowering raspberry. It humped itself up when it saw me for some reason.

But then it straightened itself out and went on its way. Hickory tussock moth caterpillars have a stark beauty but each one should come with a warning label because those long hairs can imbed themselves in your skin and cause all kinds of problems, from rashes to infections.

This is a place where coltsfoot grows on stone, and it can do that because of the constant drip of groundwater. Every plant here has a never ending supply of rich mineral laden water, and that’s what makes the place so lush.

Since the drainage channels along the railbed were so low due to our prolonged drought I thought I’d visit with my friends the great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum,) which grow here by the thousands. They are one of the plants that I’ve never seen anywhere else, and they’re one of the reasons I come here. The great scented liverwort is such a beautiful thing and it somehow manages to look both plant and animal at the same time. 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 I was happy to see that most of them looked good and healthy. The lighter shade of green signifies new growth, and I saw lots of it.

The beautiful reptilian appearance 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.

I don’t like to hang around with the liverworts too long because rocks fall from these walls regularly. Many of them land in the drainage channels as seen here, and some are big enough to crush a car. I love the golden green of the water here when the light is right.

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) still bloomed beautifully here. If you see a spirea when you look at this flower good for you; you know your plants. Spirea blossoms always look fuzzy due to their many stamens.

There wouldn’t be anything unusual about this particular tinder polypore (Fomes fomentarius) if it weren’t for the teeth marks on it. I first saw this a few years ago happening on lichens but I think this is only the second time I’ve seen it on a fungus. I have a couple of theories about what made these marks and why; either a squirrel or chipmunk is scraping algae off the surface or they are inhibiting the growth of their teeth. They are both rodents and must gnaw to control tooth growth.

I saw the first New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) of the year on this day and I’m always of two minds about that first one. I’d like summer to go on for a few months longer but the sooner we get through winter the sooner spring will be here. New England asters are our biggest and showiest native aster and the large, inch and a half diameter blossoms come in varying shades of purple. Some can be almost white and some are very dark. This one was kind of in between and it was very beautiful.

Joe Pye weed  (Eutrochium purpureum) kindly offered to show us what a true whorl is. You can see how its leaves radiate from a single point around the stem, so if the leaves were flat and you looked at them on edge they would look like a plate, all in one plane, with no leaf higher or lower on the stem than the others in the whorl. It’s good to know not just what a plant’s flowers look like, but their leaf shape and growth habits as well. When you’re out in the field surrounded by thousands of plants it is easy to get home, look at your hundreds of photos, and wonder “what on earth is that?”

There’s no doubt what this one is; a turtle head (Chelone glabra linifolia.) I was hoping they would be in bloom because I wanted my friend Dave to see them. When he first saw a photo of a turtlehead flower he said that he thought “turtle head” immediately, even though he had never seen the plant and didn’t know its name. It seems odd to me because I have never seen turtleheads when I look at them. I think they look more like a fish mouth.

The plant gets the first part of it scientific name from Chelone of Greek mythology. She was a nymph who insulted the gods and was turned into a turtle for her trouble. I think she looks more like a trout but maybe Greek turtles look different than New Hampshire ones.

Turtleheads are very susceptible to disease and the plants here were covered with molds and mildews.

White snakeroot grows here; one of two places I know of to find it. It wasn’t flowering but that doesn’t matter, because I’d like you to see its leaves. Though its flowers closely resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s (Ageratina altissima) large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. Though boneset is used medicinally this plant is very toxic and in the early 19th century it killed thousands of settlers in the Midwest. A compound called trematol is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it and when humans drank the milk before too long they started to show signs of what was called “milk sickness.” In a week or less most would die of heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans. Today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so now milk sickness is almost unheard of. A Native American woman from the Shawnee tribe is credited with finally warning settlers about this plant and most likely saving thousands of lives.

Here is a closer look at a white snakeroot leaf. It looks nothing like boneset. You can often see the delicate tracery of leaf miners on these leaves. Native Americans used the root in a poultice to treat snakebite, and that’s how the plant gets its common name. If you don’t know what you’re doing however, it’s a plant best left alone.

Here are the leaves of boneset, knitted together around the stem like healing bones, and they are obviously very different from the leaf in the previous photo. Though many botanists will tell you it’s always best to identify plants by their flowers, in the case of boneset and white snakeroot with flowers that look nearly identical, it might be best to pay more attention to the leaves.

It was so dark by the time I got to the old lineman’s shack I had to use a flash to get a shot of it. I was happy to see the old place still standing, even it the gloom.

A feather had fallen on a fern leaf and pointed the way home, and home I went. When I come away from this place I always feel as if I have been cleansed and renewed. It is a place to be totally and completely immersed in nature and though it’s hard to explain in words, you never come out quite the same as you were when you went in. You gain something; you grow.

There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story. ~Linda Hogan

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Over the Memorial Day holiday weekend I decided a climb was in order. We had beautiful weather in the morning but it was supposed to warm into the 80s F. in the afternoon, so as early as I could I left for Pitcher Mountain over in Stoddard. I had never climbed Pitcher Mountain that early in the day, so I was surprised to find that the sun was in my eyes the whole way up the trail. That’s why this shot of the trail is actually looking down, not up.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides,) one of our most beautiful native shrubs, bloomed alongside the trail. Lower down in Keene they’re all done blooming and are making berries but up here it looked like they were just getting started.

I saw lots of violets along the trail too.

The paired leaves of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are already out.

One of my favorite stopping points along the trail is here at this meadow, which often houses Scottish highland cattle. I didn’t see any on this day but it was nice to have such a big, open space. When you live in the second most forested state in the country you don’t see many views like this one. It’s just you, the sky and the earth.

And dandelions. There were lots of them in the meadow.

Here is another view looking down the trail, but up looks much like it.

I saw lots of future strawberries along the trail.

And blueberries too. Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberries and people come from all over to pick them.

The previous shot of the meadow that I showed was taken down the hill over on the right, so this shot is 90 degrees to it looking across the meadow. A little further out and down the hill a bit is the farm where the cattle live.

I’ve always thought that the cows had the best view of anybody. Last year, almost to the day, there was a big black bear right over there at the tree line. It looked me over pretty well but left me alone. I was the only one climbing that day but on this day I saw a few people, including children. I’m always happy to see them outside enjoying nature, and I spoke with most of them.

A chipmunk knew if stayed very quiet and still I wouldn’t see it.

John Burroughs said “To find new things, take the path you took yesterday” and of course he was right. I thought of him last year when I found spring beauties I had been walking by for years and then I thought of him again on this day, when I found sessile leaved bellwort growing right beside the trail I’ve hiked so many times. I’m always amazed by how much I miss, and that’s why I walk the same trails again and again. It’s the only way to truly know a place.

By coincidence I met Samuel Jaffe, director of the Caterpillar Lab in Marlborough New Hampshire, in the woods the other day. Of course he was looking for insects and I was looking for anything and everything, so we were able to talk a bit as we looked. He’s a nice guy who is extremely knowledgeable about insects and he even taught me a couple of things about poplar trees I didn’t know. I described this insect for him and he said it sounded like a sawfly, but of course he couldn’t be sure. I still haven’t been able to find it online so if you know I’d love to hear from you. (Actually, I’d love to hear from you whether you know or not.)

Samuel Jaffe was able to confirm that this tiny butterfly was a spring azure, just as a helpful reader had guessed a few posts ago. This butterfly rarely sits still but this one caught its breath on a beech leaf for all of three seconds so I had time for only one photo and this is it. It’s a poor shot and It really doesn’t do the beautiful blue color justice, but it’s easy to find online if you’re interested. By the way, The Caterpillar Lab is a unique and fascinating place, and you can visit it online here: https://www.thecaterpillarlab.org/ I don’t do Facebook but if you do you’re in for a treat!

I fear that the old ranger’s cabin is slowly being torn apart. Last year I noticed boards had been torn from the windows and on this climb I noticed that someone had torn one of the walls off the front porch. You can just see it over there on the right. At first I thought a bear might have broken in through the window because they do that sort of thing regularly, but I doubt a bear kicked that wall off the porch. What seems odd is how I could see that trail improvements had been done much of the way up here. You’d think the person repairing the road would have looked at the cabin, but apparently not.

I heard people talking in the fire tower but then I wondered if it might have been a two way radio that might have been left on. The tower is still manned when the fire danger is high and it has been high lately, so maybe there were people up there. I couldn’t see them through the windows though and I wasn’t going to knock on the door, so it’ll remain a mystery.

The view was hazy but not bad. It was getting hot fast but there was a nice breeze that kept the biting black flies away, so I couldn’t complain.

No matter how hot or dry it gets it seems like there is always water in the natural depression that I call the bird bath. I’ve watched birds bathing here before but I like to see the beautiful deep blue of the sky in it, so I was glad they had bathed before I came.

Dandelions bloomed at the base of the fire tower.

The white flowers of shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) could be seen all around the summit.

I looked over at what I call the near hill and wished once again that I had brought my topographical map.

The near hill is indeed the nearest but it isn’t that near. There it is to the right of center and this photo shows that it would be quite a hike.

The meadow below was green but the hills were blue and in the distance the hazy silhouette of Mount Monadnock was bluest of all. I sat for awhile with the mountain all to myself except for the voices in the tower, but then more families came so I hit the trail back down. As I left I could hear complaints about the new windmills in the distance, and how they spoiled the view. I haven’t shown them here but as you can see, not all the views were spoiled by windmills.

On the way up a little girl told me that she had found a “watermelon rock” and her grandfather had found a “flower rock.” She wondered why anyone would paint rocks and leave them there, and I told her that they were probably left there just to make her happy. Then I found a rock with a message that made me happy, so I’ll show it here.

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. ~ John Galsworthy

Thanks for stopping in. Be safe as well as kind.

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Five years ago this past Wednesday on the twentieth of May, 2015 I walked into Yale Forest in Swanzey and found that it was being logged. Since Yale University has a forestry school this wasn’t a huge surprise but I like to see how a forest recovers after being cut, so that was my mission last Sunday as I started up the old abandoned road that was one known as Dartmouth College Road. It had that name because if you followed in north far enough, that’s where you would have ended up. After being abandoned by the state it became part of Yale Forest, which is slowly reclaiming it.

I saw lots of blooming violets. They’re very cheery little things that always remind me that spring has finally come.

We had a tornado warning the Friday before this walk and though we didn’t see a tornado we had some strong winds that took down trees and knocked out power, so that was another reason for my wanting to come here. I thought I’d see trees down everywhere and I saw a few but they were the same ones I saw in January, the last time I was out here. Thankfully someone had cut a path through them with a chainsaw so I didn’t have to leave the road and go way out in the woods to get around them like I did in January. Thank you for cutting through them, whoever you are.

The turkeys have missed a lot of partridge berries (Mitchella repens.) They looked fresh despite being under the snow all winter. Each red berry has two dimples left by the twin flowers whose ovaries fuse to form one berry. This small trailing vine can form colonies that are several feet across under the right conditions and I saw lots of them out here.

I saw lots of starflowers (Trientalis borealis) but no flowers yet. The flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees. There can be one or several flowers on each plant and I always try to find the one with the most flowers. My record is 4 but I’m always watching out for 5.

All on saw on the starflowers on this day were tiny buds. That bud from stem to tip is about half the diameter of a pea. It’s hard to believe such relatively large flowers will come out of it, but they will.

I saw lots of mosses out here of course. I like the little start shaped shoots of juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum.) They were one of the mosses that had spore capsules ripening.

When young the female spore capsule (Sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra which protects it. It is very hairy as is seen here and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually as the capsule ages it moves from vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra falls off. The spore capsule continues to ripen after the calyptra comes off and when the time is right the beaked end cap or lid, seen at the top of the capsule and called the operculum, will fall off and release the spores to the wind. As it ages the spore capsule changes from round to four cornered but not quite square.

At this time of year last year’s fronds of the evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) lie flat on the ground due to the weight of the snow that has covered them all winter but they are still photosynthesizing, and that gives the plant the extra energy needed to ensure that new growth quickly replaces the old. That’s what gives evergreen ferns their leg up on other, non-evergreen species.

Evergreen Christmas fern fiddleheads are covered with silvery hairs.

I was happy to see that the forest has recovered nicely, with so much new growth I couldn’t even see the tree stumps.

The university is protecting the forest with insect traps as well, probably against pests like the emerald ash borer, which is killing off our ash trees at an alarming rate. This is a wing trap which holds sex pheromone baits for specific insects. The inside is very sticky and the number of insects caught will help pest control advisers determine how best to control insect pest invasions.

Much of the new growth in this and other logged forests is made up of black birch (Betula lenta.) It is also called sweet birch or cherry birch. I was happy to see so many of them because black birch was once harvested, shredded and distilled to make oil of wintergreen, and so many were taken that they were once very hard to find. The twigs have an unmistakable taste of wintergreen, so nibbling on a twig is the easiest way to identify it. The trees can be tapped like sugar maples in spring and the fermented sap made into birch beer. 

I saw lots of beautiful, velvety new oak leaves.

I saw lots of new beech leaves too, along with lots of buds still breaking. Bud break on beech and other trees is one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever see in a northern forest, in my opinion.

I found an old trailer hitch, I’m guessing from maybe the 1930s or 40s. The ball that the trailer would have attached to is up in the left hand corner by the stick. I would have liked to have taken it back with me but it must have weighed twenty pounds.

The power company here in New Hampshire was called Public Service of New Hampshire for most of my life and someone had found one of their old utility pole badges and put it on a log. Since there are no utility poles out here I can’t imagine where it originally came from.

This spot was once very active, with busy beavers building dams and ponds but I think they left some time ago. I haven’t seen any fresh cutting or dam building and this small stream runs normally.

Wood horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) is one of the prettiest horsetails of all and this was the first time I’ve ever seen one. They are commonly found in wet or swampy forest, open woodlands, and meadow areas, which is a surprise because those are places I spend a lot of time in. The sylvaticum part of the scientific name means “of the forests.”  I’ve read that they are an indicator of a cool-temperate climate and very moist to wet, nitrogen poor soil.

Years ago I found some painted trilliums out here but I couldn’t find them on this day. Instead what I found were thousands of goldthread blossoms (Coptis trifolia,)  easily more than I’ve ever seen in one place. Since this plant was once collected into near oblivion because of its golden, canker sore relieving roots, I was happy to see them. The Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find until they couldn’t find anymore, so this is a success story. 

It’s such a beautiful little flower but those who were after the plant’s roots probably paid them little attention.

Eventually after jumping the stream you come to and old beaver pond and, though this is usually the end of the road, today I walked a little farther to see if I could find any more wildflowers. Not too far from here is the new highway that replaced this old road I was following, and I could hear the traffic.

But traffic noise didn’t bother this beautiful mallard, which fit the definition of serenity as it swam in the beaver pond. Though it quacked a few times it didn’t seem mind me being there, and that is odd behavior for a duck in this part of the state because they usually fly off at the first sign of a human.

There are times in nature when a great peace will settle over you, as if someone had placed a cloak of calmness over your shoulders, and that’s how I felt here alone with this bird. My presence must have bothered it at least a little but it seemed completely unperturbed and swam around as if I wasn’t even there. The mallard made me wonder if true serenity comes from simply letting go of the things that are disturbing us.

It is in the still silence of nature where one will find true bliss. ~Anonnymous

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone will find a puddle full of serenity to paddle in.

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Last Sunday I needed to see something new, so I decided on the rail trail that heads south out of Keene to Swanzey, Troy, Fitzwilliam, and eventually the Massachusetts border. I’ve done the northern and southern legs of the trail but never this middle section. I started my hike on this amazing stone arch bridge. Built of granite quarried a half mile away from the site, it was dry laid with no mortar in 1847 and soars 38 feet above the river. The bridge is 27 feet wide with a span of 68 feet, and its arch has a radius of 34 feet. Evidence of the plug and feather method used to split the stones is still visible on the faces of many of the stones. It’s hard to imagine how it was ever built without the use of modern tools and equipment.

The bridge is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which means it earned a little money for upkeep. Part of the upkeep involved upgrading the drainage and laying a new bed of pea stone where the trains would have run. It seems to be still as solid as the day it was built.

Here is a postcard view of the bridge, probably from the early 1900s. The view and landscape is very different today of course. These postcards were usually actual photos colored by hand but I think this one was a drawing.

The white building in the postcard view is no longer there. This view from the top of the bridge looks west towards Vermont. It was a partly cloudy, very windy day and the gusts felt like they might blow me right off the bridge so I didn’t hang around up here for very long. We’ve had at least some wind nearly every day for over a month now.

I saw some very symmetrical horsetails. This is one plant you do not want in your garden because once you have them you’ll never be rid of them. When I had my gardening business I tried just about everything I could think of including covering them with black plastic for a full year. They loved it and grew on as if nothing had happened.

I also saw some very red new leaves on the staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina.

The trail is wide and dry for the most part because the drainage channels that the railroad built 150 years ago are still working.

Skunk currants (Ribes glandulosum) grew in patches here and there along the trail. I’ve read that the plant gets its common name from the odor given off by its ripe dark red berries, which doesn’t sound too appealing but they are said to be very tasty. If you can get past the smell, I assume. This is a very hairy plant; even its fruit has hairs. The Native Ojibwa people used the root of skunk currant to ease back pain but it is not a favorite of foresters or timber harvesters because it carries white pine blister rust, which can kill pine trees.

Skunk currant flowers are quite small at about 1/4 inch across. They are saucer shaped with 5 petals and 5 purple stamens.

Unfortunately I also saw a lot of garlic mustard out here. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is 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. It 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 what I’ve read, the young spring plants are delicious.

The sunshine seemed to always be just up around the next bend. Until I got to the next bend, that is. By then it had disappeared.

This is a typical New Hampshire mixed forest with mostly pine, hemlock, cherry, beech, oak, maple and white and gray birch. Also this single beautiful golden birch.

I saw a small bird’s nest in a cherry sapling. It was about 5-6 inches across so a small bird must have made it.

Violets bloomed all along the trail. I thought this might be an early blue violet but since my color finding software sees mostly purple, I’ll just call it a violet. It had long above ground rhizomes that I’ve never seen on a violet.

Sessile leaved bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia) grew along the drainage channels in groups. I’ve seen them carpet large areas of forest floor so I had the feeling that they must have just gotten started here. They’re in the lily of the valley family, which can also form large colonies.

This signal post looked new, and that’s because someone had painted it. I’m not sure why anyone would but there it was, looking like it had just been installed yesterday.

I was very surprised to see skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) growing on a wet hillside. I’ve read that eating the leaves can cause burning and inflammation but something had eaten many of the leaves. Often animals don’t have the same reaction to plants that we do. Birds even eat poison ivy berries.

This is a photo of the fruit of a skunk cabbage which is a rare sight, even for those of us who look for such things.

I saw just two red trilliums (Trillium erectum) out here. I also saw Jack in the pulpit, starflowers, and lots of fern fiddleheads. The trilliums and our other spring ephemerals will probably be done by the time this post is read. Leaves on the trees and warmer weather finish their short bloom periods quickly.

I saw lots of wild sarsaparilla plants (Aralia nudicaulis) just unfurling their leaves. At this stage many people confuse wild sarsaparilla with poison ivy, which comes up at the same time and has glossy green leaves. One way to tell the two apart is by the stem. Poison ivy usually has an older, woody stem while sarsaparilla has a fresh, tender stem. The roots of this plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

There were already flower buds on some sarsaparilla plants. They’ll bloom in late May, with ping pong ball size flowerheads made up of tiny individual flowers.

I thought these new oak leaves were beautiful, both in color and shape. They were soft like velvet, and there were flower buds as well.

A broken whistle post told me that a road was coming up. What looks like an M is really an upside down W. The W stands for whistle and the post is called a whistle post, because it marks the spot where the locomotive engineer was to blow the train’s whistle. When there is a crossing very nearby, where the railbed crosses a road, the whistle would have alerted wagon or auto drivers that a train was coming. Some whistle posts were marked – – o -, which meant “two longs and a short” on the whistle.

There was indeed a road; route 12 south out of Keene parallels the rail trail and I had walked to the Cheshire Fairgrounds in Swanzey. Only 2.2 miles by car from where I started, so I’d guess it was a two mile walk.

And that meant that it was two miles back, but on such a sweet spring day with birds singing in the trees two miles didn’t seem like anything, really. It was one of those days that gets inside you and lets you see how wonderful this life really is, and there was no hurry to get anywhere or to do anything. I felt doubly blessed.

Some journeys take you farther from where you come from, but closer to where you belong. ~Ron Franscell

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone is able to find some outdoor time.

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We’ve seen cold, rain, snow and mostly cloudy days lately so last Saturday when it was wall to wall sunshine and 65 degrees, it seemed like a great gift. Since it was near time for wild columbines to bloom I set off along the old rail trail up in Westmoreland to the ledges where they grow. I saw all kinds of beautiful and interesting things there and it was hard to leave.

The first thing I saw was a small patch of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara.) It’s hard to believe that it’s almost time to say goodbye to this cheery little spring ephemeral but I’m seeing white in almost all the flowers I look at these days, and white is a good sign that they’re setting seed.

Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) grows beside the trail and it was all ready to bloom. By now it probably has.

Maple buds were breaking; the first I’ve seen this year. New maple leaves are often bright red as these were.

The velvety buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) were seen all along the trail. Sometimes they can be pink, orange, or a combination of the two like this one was.

When I looked at the other side of the bud I saw that it was breaking. The next time I come out here I should see leaves.

There is a lot of groundwater very close to the surface in Westmoreland and it runs from the cracks in the stone. That’s one reason such a variety of plants and mosses grow here.

Algae dripped from the cracks in the stone, or maybe they were washed down the face of the stone by the never ending drip of groundwater. I’ve read that they grow in nutrient rich places. They’re always interesting so I wanted to take a closer look.

The algae were spirogyra, with common names that include water silk and mermaid’s tresses. It is described as a “filamentous charophyte green algae of the order Zygnematales.” The strange thing that looks like a vacuum cleaner hose is a chloroplast, and its spiral growth habit is what gives these algae their name. There are more than 400 species of Spirogyra in the world, almost always found in fresh water situations. I see it on wet stone fairly regularly. According to what I’ve read, when used medicinally spirogyra are known as an important source of “natural bioactive compounds for antibiotic, antiviral, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cytotoxic purposes.”

That little black square up ahead is where we’re going, but it won’t be black when we get there.

Our wild cherries should be blooming soon, and the birds will be very happy about the abundance of fruit that will follow.

This is near the area where I saw a huge black bear last year at this time. Since there are high stone ledges and a southern exposure it would stay quite warm here in the winter I would think, and that tells me that it would be a perfect spot for a bear to live. The one I saw here certainly looked like it had been living the high life.

There is even a cave here, way up high in the cliff wall, and it’s plenty big enough for a bear. Thankfully the bear was elsewhere on this day. I carried a can of bear spray but I was very happy that I didn’t have to use it. I’ve been within touching distance of a few wild animals and last year’s encounter is the closest I ever want to be to a bear, but so far they seem to have sensed that I mean them no harm and we’ve gone our separate ways.

This is that black spot we saw in a previous photo and these are the ledges I was interested in visiting. They’re right alongside the trail and all kinds of plants grow here. I believe it’s because the stone is full of lime and the soil is much less acidic than in most other places I visit. Most Southern New Hampshire soil is quite acidic but you do find occasional “sweet spots” like this one.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) seedlings grew at the base of the ledges. I see lots of these in the spring and I’ll see lots of their orange flowers later on.

I come out here to see wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) and there are plenty of them growing on the ledges. On this day most had buds but I didn’t see a single flower, so that means another trip out here this weekend. The spring shades of green are always electric here.

Here was a flower bud. Some buds looked to be close to opening but we aren’t getting a lot of sun lately so I wonder if they’ll be fully opened this weekend.

The spring shoots of smooth Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) absolutely glowed, and it looked like someone had dipped a paintbrush in pure light and painted them there on the ledges. How beautiful they were. Native Americans and early colonists ate these shoots the way we would eat asparagus and they used the plant’s starchy roots in soups and stews, and dried them to make flour for bread. The Chippewa tribe sprinkled the dry roots on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to cure headaches.

Though herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) blooms from spring through October I didn’t see any flowers on this day, even though there were many plants growing at the base of the ledges. Native Americans used this plant medicinally for healing wounds, herpes and skin eruptions. The plant’s common name comes from a French monk who lived in 1000 AD, and who is said to have cured many people by using it. For that reason it is also called Saint Robert’s Herb.

There’s a nice clump of purple trillium (Trillium erectum) here at the base of the ledges and it had two or three blossoms on it this year. Last year there was only one.

One of the flowers looked a little torn but it was still beautiful.

Something I’ve been searching for for a long time are the small blue spring shoots of blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) and this year I found them but I was about a week late and they had grown to about 6 inches high. They had also lost that vivid purplish blue color that they have when they have just come out of the ground. But now I know that next year I need to come a week or so earlier, and I’ll be here.

You can see a little bit of blue on this shoot but I’d bet by this posting the plant has already turned green. The green is kind of a light blueish green. Cohosh means “rough” when translated from Native American Algonquin language, and refers to the knobby root. A tincture of the root was said to start childbirth but science has shown the entire plant to be toxic. It’s shadow over on the right makes me think of an alien creature.

Treasures are hidden away in quiet places. They speak in soft tones and often become silenced as we approach. They don’t beg to be found, but embrace us if we do happen to find them. They are the product of completely ordinary circumstances unfolding in wonderfully extraordinary ways. They are found hidden in the nooks and crannies of our existence; all around us if we quit allowing our attention to be captivated by that which is noisy and listen for that which is quiet and still.
~Craig D. Lounsbrough

Thanks for Stopping in. It’s supposed to be a beautiful weekend here, so why not take a walk in the woods? The beauty and solitude you find there will most likely re-charge your batteries and will certainly help you put things into perspective. Stay safe everyone.

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Last Sunday was the first warm, sunny day we’ve had in over a week so I decided to climb the High Blue trail up in Walpole. It’s actually more of a walk than a climb but with my lungs it does have enough of an uphill slant to get me huffing and puffing.

I saw that the rain we had in Keene the day before had fallen as snow here, and it hadn’t melted in shaded areas. There was no ice though.

Years ago there were hundreds of coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) here but then along came a logging skidder and it plowed them all up. On this day I was happy to see that they had made a small comeback. May they be allowed to spread at will.

I could see a little white in this one, which means it was about to go to seed. I also saw lots of insects buzzing around the flowers.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) grow all along the first leg of the trail. In May these flower buds will open to reveal one of our most beautiful native shrub blossoms. 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. The name hobblebush comes from the way the low growing branches, unseen under last year’s fallen leaves, can trip up or “hobble” a horse or hiker. George Washington thought so highly of them he planted two at Mt. Vernon.

A huge oak tree had blown over and had taken a good piece of soil with it. It’s always surprising to see how shallow growing tree roots really are. That could be because there is lots of water here and the tree’s roots didn’t have to go deeper searching for it. The hole the uprooted tree left was full of water.

There is a lot of good farmland in Walpole and as this cornfield and hayfield show, much of it is still in use. I’ve seen signs of bear in this spot in the past but I was hopeful that I wouldn’t see any on this day.

Before you know it you’re at the trail head. You can’t miss it.

The trail narrows from here on up.

You can hunt at daybreak here but getting to your hunting spot in the dark can be a challenge, so hunters put small reflecting buttons on the trees. A flashlight will pick them out easily, I would think.

One year the meadow that was here suddenly became a cornfield and the corn attracted animals of all kinds, including bears. I’ve seen a lot of bear droppings all over this area ever since, so I carry a can of bear spray when I come here.

In Keene red maples (Acer rubrum) are producing seeds but up here their buds haven’t even opened yet.

Striped maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum) were also behind their lowland cousins.

As I neared the overlook I saw a new sign, so I decided to explore.

Yes, there were ledges and I could see that the rock pilers had been here, piling their rocks. I’m guessing that they took them from one of the stone walls, which carries a fairly hefty fine if you get caught at it. I’m always at a loss as to why anyone would do this because these piles of rock don’t mark a trail and are meaningless, for the most part.

Other than a nice quartz outcrop there was really nothing here to see; trees blocked any view there might have been.

I left the ledge and kept on toward the summit and as I usually do when I come here, I had to stop at what’s left of the old foundation. I’m not sure who lived up here but they had plenty of courage and were strong people. All of this land would have been cleared then and sheep would probably have lived in the pastures. It was a tough life in what the Walpole Town History describes as a “vast wilderness.” But it was populated; many Native Americans lived here and they weren’t afraid to show their displeasure at losing their land.

There are an estimated 259,000 miles of stone walls in the northeastern U.S., most of which are in New England, and many are here in New Hampshire. The stones were found when the recently cleared pastures were plowed and they were either tossed into piles or used to build walls, wells, foundations and many other necessities of the day. Sometimes entire houses were built of stone but wood was plentiful and easier to work with, so we don’t have too many stone houses from that time. Most of what we see is used in stone walls like this one, which cross and crisscross the countryside in every direction.

This pond on the summit must be spring fed because it never dries up completely, even in drought years when the streams dry up. I always wonder if it was the water source for the family that once lived here.

I always take a photo of the sign when I come here. What it means is that at 1588 feet above sea level the summit is higher than the surrounding terrain, and the view is always blue.

The view was blue on this day but hazy as well. Still, you could just see the ski trails over on Stratton Mountain in Vermont, which is just across the Connecticut River Valley. I sat for a while, thankful that I made it up without meeting up with any bears. I’ve heard that more and more animals are getting used to seeing fewer people these days and everything from squirrels to deer to bear are being seen in towns, walking down city streets and even sunning themselves on lawns. It makes me think that if people suddenly disappeared it wouldn’t take animals long to get used to the silence.  

When I got back to my car I found a winter dark firefly (Ellychnia corrusca) on my door handle. According to Bugguide.net, these fireflies can be a pest in sap buckets in the spring because they like maple sap, and they will also drink from wounds in maple trees. They like to sun themselves on the sunny side of trees or buildings, but this one seemed happy on a car door handle. Most fireflies live as larvae in rotting wood and forest litter near water and stay in the area they were born in, even as adults. They like it warm and humid, and this recent April day was both. They don’t seem to be afraid of people at all; I’ve gotten quite close to them several times.

Close your eyes and turn your face into the wind.
Feel it sweep along your skin in an invisible ocean of exultation.
Suddenly, you know you are alive.
~Vera Nazarian

Thanks for stopping in. Have a safe and happy weekend!

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In the spring walking along Beaver Brook in Keene is one of my favorite things to do because there are so many interesting and rare plants growing there. Last Sunday was a beautiful spring day of warm temps and a mix of sun and clouds, so off I went to see what was growing.

The walk is an easy one on the old abandoned road that follows alongside the brook. Slightly uphill but as trails go it’s really no work at all.

One of the reasons I like to come here is because I can see things here that I can’t find anywhere else, like this plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) This is the only place that I’ve ever seen it. It should be blooming before the trees leaf out sometime in mid-April, and I’ll be here to see it.

The flower stalks (culms) on plantain leaved sedge are about 4 inches tall and when they bloom they’ll have wispy, white female (pistillate) flowers below the terminal male (staminate) flowers. Sedge flowers are actually called spikelets and the stems that bear them are triangular, hence the old saying “sedges have edges.” I can’t speak for the rarity of this plant but this is the only one I’ve ever seen and it isn’t listed in the book Grasses: An Identification Guide, by Lauren Brown. I’ve read that it likes cool shady places where the humidity is relatively high.

The sedge grows on a stone that’s covered by delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum,) which is a very pretty moss. I like how it changes color to lime green in cold weather. Because I’m colorblind it often looks orange to me and an orange moss commands attention.

I knew that red trilliums (Trillium erectum) grew near the plantain leaved sedge but I didn’t expect to see any on this day. But there they were, and already budded, so they’re going to bloom maybe just a little early, I’d guess. They usually bloom in mid to late April. They are one of our largest and most beautiful native wildflowers and are also called purple trillium, wake robin, and stinking Benjamin because of their less than heavenly scent.

Bud break is one of the most exciting times in a forest in my opinion, and one of the earliest trees to open their bud scales so the buds can grow is striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum.) The large velvety buds of striped maple in shades of pink and orange are very beautiful and worth looking for. Bud break can go on for quite some time among various species; striped and sugar maples follow cherry, and birch and beech will follow them, and shagbark hickory will follow birch and beech. Oaks are usually one of the last to show leaves. That’s just a small sampling that doesn’t include shrubs like lilac and forest floor plants that also have beautiful buds breaking.

This is how striped maple comes by its common name. Striped maple bark is often dark enough to be almost black, especially on its branches. This tree never seems to get very big so it isn’t used much for lumber like other maples. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one bigger than my wrist, and even that might be stretching it. It could be that it stays small because it usually gets very little direct sunlight. The green / white stripes on its bark allow it to photosynthesize in early spring before other trees leaf out but it’s still the most shade tolerant of all the maples, and in the shade is usually where it’s found. It is said that Native Americans made arrow shafts from its straight grained wood.

I found a mountain maple (Acer spicatum) growing here a few years ago and realized on this day that I had never paid attention to its buds. I was surprised how even though I’m colorblind I could see how bright red the bud scales were. And then the bud is orange. I can’t think of another tree that has such a splashy color scheme. Something else unique is how all other maple trees have flowers that hang down but mountain maple’s flower clusters stand upright, above the leaves. At a glance the big leaves look much like striped maple leaves. The shrub like tree is a good indicator of moist soil which leans toward the alkaline side of neutral. Native Americans made an infusion of the pith of the young twigs to use as eye drops to soothe eyes irritated by campfire smoke, and the large leaves were packed around apples and root crops to help preserve them.

Someday I’ve got to poke around more in this old boulder fall, because there are some quite rare plants growing among the stones. I believe a lot of these stones are lime rich, due to the plants that grow among them.

One beautiful thing that grows on the tumbled stones of the boulder fall is rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum.) Each little rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Rose moss is a good indicator of limestone in the soil so it’s wise to look for other lime loving plants in the area when it is found. This is a relatively rare moss in my experience; this is the only place I’ve ever found it.

The two toned buds of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) are poking up everywhere now. This is a fast growing plant once it gets started and it won’t be long before it blooms. Native Americans sprinkled the dried powdered roots of this plant on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to alleviate headaches. All parts of the plant except the roots and young shoots are poisonous, but Native Americans knew how to prepare them correctly. Sometimes the preparation method is what makes a plant medically useful.

One of my favorite things to see here is the disappearing stream on the other side of the brook. It runs when we’ve had rain and disappears when we don’t, but the beautiful mossy stones are always there. You can’t see it here but there was still ice up in there in places.

Another reason I wanted to come here on this day was to witness the buds breaking on the red elderberries (Sambucus racemosa) that grow here. They are handsome at this stage but the whitish, cone shaped flowers that will follow are not very showy. The leaves, bark and roots are toxic enough to make you sick, so this shrub shouldn’t be confused with common elderberry (Sambucus nigra) which is the shrub that elderberry wine comes from.

The spring leaves of the red elderberry  look like fingers as they pull themselves from the flower bud and straighten up. Bud break comes very early on this native shrub. The purplish green flower buds will become greenish white flowers soon, and they’ll be followed by bright red berries that birds snap right up. The berries are said to be edible if correctly cooked but since the rest of the plant is toxic I think I’ll pass. Some Native Americans used the hollow stems to make toys. According to the U.S. Forest Service the Alaskan Dena’ina tribe made popguns from the hollow stems, using a shelf fungus (Polyporus betulinus) for ammunition. The Kwakiutl tribe of British Columbia made toy blowguns from red elderberry stems.

I was surprised to find wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) leaves. This plant is a ground hugger, easily hidden by any plant that is ankle high or more, so I have to hunt for it and though I can’t say if it is rare here, I rarely see it. Each time I find it it’s growing near water, and the above example grows in a wet area by the brook. It’s considered a climax species, which are plants that grow in mature forests, so that may be why I don’t often see it. It likes to grow where it’s cool and moist with high humidity. Though the word Montana appears in its scientific name it doesn’t grow there. In fact it doesn’t grow in any state west of the Mississippi River. It’s a pretty little thing that reminds me of spring beauties (Claytonia virginica,) thought its flowers are larger. This is the first time I’ve noticed the hairs on its leaves.

I wasn’t sure if these were early spring mushrooms or if they were leftovers from last fall. Little brown mushrooms, or LBMs as mycologists call them, can be very hard to identify even for those more experienced than I, so they always go into my too hard basket. There just isn’t enough time to try to figure them all out.

It looks like people are geocaching again. I used to find them here quite often, though I never looked for them. According to Wikipedia “Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches”, at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world.” Someone tried to put this one under a golden birch but it wasn’t hidden very well.

I hoped to see some fern fiddleheads while I was here but I had no luck. I did see some polypody ferns though. Polypody fern spores grow on the undersides of the leaves in tiny mounds called sori, which are made up of clusters of sporangia (receptacles in which spores are formed) and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many ferns. Once they ripen they are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of yellow and orange flowers but these had gone past ripened and in fact most had fallen off the leaf, leaving a tiny indentation behind.

We’ve had enough rain to get Beaver Brook Falls roaring. I toyed with the idea of going down to the brook to get a face on view of them but I’m getting a little creaky in the knees and you slide more than walk down the steep embankment, and then you have to nearly crawl back up again on your hands and knees. Since I was the only one here I didn’t think any of that was a good idea, so a side view is all we get.

In the right light the spore producing fruiting bodies (Apothecia) of smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) turn a beautiful blue. It happens because of a light reflecting, thin coating of wax that covers each one. In different light they can appear black, gray or whitish but in the special light found here they glow different shades of blue and are as beautiful as jewels on the golden colored ledge they grow on. Beaver Brook is one of only two places I’ve ever seen them this beautiful, and they’re just one of many beautiful reasons I love to spend time here.

We do not want merely to see beauty… we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. ~C.S. Lewis

At Beaver Brook I did indeed bathe in beauty. Thanks for stopping in, and take care.

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Last weekend I went up to the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland to see if any of the hundreds of spring blooming coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) plants that grow here were blooming. A friend of mine likes to use the plants medicinally so I thought I’d find him some, but unfortunately I didn’t see any up yet. But I did see some ice still clinging to the walls and that surprised me, since it has been so warm.

I knew I wouldn’t see any ice climbers here because this ice was rotten and melting quickly.

It was also falling and some of it had reached the trail. This is always cause for a bit of anxiety when walking through here at this time of year.

Most of the ice didn’t have much height, which meant when it fell it couldn’t reach that far into the trail, so I thought it would be safe to stay. I saw and heard plenty of ice falling but it was quite small.

Here was a slab falling away from the wall in slow motion.

These 4 pieces of ice would have filled a pickup truck.

I saw leaves under ice in the shady parts of the drainage channels.

I always like to look up when I’m here. I think it’s good to be reminded how small we are occasionally.

Heartleaf foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) were looking happy, lifting their leaves to gather more light.  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 sun highlighted a blackberry cane with last year’s leaves still attached. It isn’t uncommon for blackberries and raspberries to hold onto their leaves all winter. Though some will stay green, most won’t.

The buds on the blackberry canes didn’t look as if they were ready just yet. It stays cool here so plants are slightly behind those that grow outside of this canyon.

Now this could be a conundrum; apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) gets its name from its round spore capsules, but as you can see here these spore capsules were elongated and more cylindrical that round. But since I also saw round capsules I was sure it was apple moss. Are immature apple moss spore capsules cylindrical? Yes. Were there two mosses here? No. The answers are: apple moss begins its reproduction in the late fall and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warm rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes.

And I mean tiny; apple moss sporophytes are about .06-.08 inches in diameter. Without a macro lens you would need a 10X loupe to see any real detail. The second part of the scientific name, pomiformis, means “apple-like” in Latin.

One of the plants that grows here is the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum,) and they 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. They were heavily “budded” so they should display plenty of new green reptilian lobes later on.

For a long time I thought this was a leafy moss in the Fissidens family but now I suspect it is a leafy liverwort called Plagiochila asplenioides, also known as spleenwort hepatic, because each stem is said to resemble a tiny simple fern. And they are tiny; though the plant itself can grow large each stem from leaf tip to leaf tip is only about 1/8 inch across and the stem itself a mere half inch long. Identifying features include elliptical leaves with the corner nearest where the base meets the stem leading down the stem. Leaf edges have very fine teeth, seen only at 8X or greater magnification. I can see some in this photo, I think. The leaf attachment to the stem is slanted so that the leaf corner that extends down the stem overlaps the top of the leaf below it. All of that helpful information comes from the book Outstanding Mosses of Pennsylvania and Nearby States by Susan Munch. This liverwort loves water and grows in places where water drips constantly on the stones it grows on.

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. I keep hoping I’ll see it producing spores but I never have.

This natural sculpture was perched in the middle of a drainage channel. It looked like a great blue heron had poked its head up out of the water.

I saw a seed stalk I didn’t recognize. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one like it. The way it opens is interesting and unusual.

The old lineman’s shack has made it through another winter by the looks, but I don’t know how. It seems like more of it is missing each time I see it. Since there was no provision for a woodstove in the building that I can see, I’m guessing this was simply a place to keep tools. I’d also guess that somehow they had to move a lot of snow out of the canyon so the trains could keep running. It would have been quite a job, I imagine, so lots of shovels were probably stored here.

I took another look at the old bridge that’s out in back of the lineman’s shack. It’s far too narrow for cars or trains but it crosses a stream and seems to go nowhere.

But they wouldn’t have gone to this much trouble to go nowhere. I have a feeling I’ve finally figured this mystery out, or have at least come up with a plausible theory.

By the bridge, on the far end, there is a huge pile of broken granite and, since there are massive stone walls here, I’m thinking this is where the stones for the walls were faced. “Facing” a stone means making at least one face flat, and when you stack a lot of flat faced stones together you get a flat faced wall.

These stone walls are some of the largest dry (no mortar) stone walls I’ve ever seen. The space between the walls is narrow; just wide enough for someone to stand aside when a train passed. And I’d guess that nearly every stone would have had to have been faced. That’s why I think the bridge led to where that work was done, and the pile of cut granite is left over from that operation. Small carts full of faced stones could have been pushed across the bridge to a waiting flat car to move the stones down the rail bed to where they were needed. They most likely would have had a rail mounted crane as well. Just a theory yes, but if I had been in charge of building such massive walls that’s what I would have done.

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 stopping in. Be well and please stay safe.

 

 

 

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