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Archive for the ‘Things I’ve Seen’ Category

The weather people promised a fine summer day recently, with temperatures in the 70s F. and low humidity, so I knew it was a day to make a climb. I chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey because as I looked through this year’s blog posts I was surprised to find that I hadn’t climbed it at all this year. To get to the trailhead you cross this meadow.

The last time I was here there were two planks across this wet area. Now there were four and with all the rain we’ve had this year, I wasn’t surprised. I gave a silent word of thanks to the kind person who put them here.

Though there were other wet places along the trail most of it was dry and easy going, and it was a beautiful morning to be in the woods.

I saw one of my favorite clubmosses, fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum.) The plant gets its common name from the way its branches fan out in a 180-degree arc at the top of the stem. Another common name is ground cedar because of its resemblance to the cedar tree. At one time this and other clubmosses were used to make Christmas wreaths and were collected almost into oblivion, but they seem to be making a fairly good comeback. A single plant can take 20 years or more to grow from spore to maturity, so they should never be disturbed. Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all. They are vascular plants that don’t flower; they produce spores instead of seeds and are considered “fern allies.” Fossils have been found that show the lowly clubmosses once grew to 100 feet tall.

I was surprised to find a checkered rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera tesselata) here, growing right at the edge of the trail. Though it is a woodland orchid it is not as common as its cousin the downy rattlesnake plantain, which I see regularly. It had flowered earlier but they had gone by. This plant was very small; easily small enough to fit in a teacup with room to spare, so you can probably imagine how small its flowers are. They look like tiny white teapots and are pollinated by bumblebees, halictid bees and syrphid flies.

The sun shining on these black birch leaves stopped me for a bit. There are lots of black birch trees here, I’m happy to say. They were once harvested nearly into oblivion so they could be pulped to make oil of wintergreen. If you ever wonder what kind of tree you’re seeing, cherry or birch, just scratch off a bit of bark and sniff. If you smell wintergreen, you have a black birch (Betula lenta.) It is also called sweet birch or cherry birch. The trees can be tapped like sugar maples in spring and the fermented sap made into birch beer.

Yellow finger coral fungi are round like spaghetti but these were flat so I think they were a club coral, possibly Clavulinopsis helvola. They grow in tight clusters, often fused at the base. They are said to taste very bitter, which might explain why animals never seem to touch them. They were beautiful, backlit by the sun as they were.

The reason club and coral fungi grow the way they do is to get their spores, which grow on their tips, up above the soil surface so the wind can disperse them. They grew all the way up the hill, scattered throughout the woods, looking like little flames licking up out of the soil. I’ve never seen so many in one place.

Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) also grew in good numbers, and many had ripe fruit like this one. Those plants that produce fruit usually have a bright crimson patch on the leaves just under the berries. I’ve often wondered if it was there to attract birds or animals to the fruit. Little is known about what animals eat the berries but it is said that the Native American Iroquois tribe used the crushed dried berries and leaves to treat convulsions in infants. Native Americans also ate the roots of the plant, which taste and smell like a cucumber. I accidentally scared a turkey away from the plants once and I wondered if it was that bird eating the berries. They do disappear.

What a beautiful day it was. My lungs were working well, probably due to the cooler weather, so I didn’t have any trouble climbing. This climb is steadily uphill but it isn’t steep. I think a young person could probably be up and down in a half hour, but then they’d miss so much.

I saw probably fifty or more honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea) growing on a fallen tree and I was glad they weren’t on a living, standing tree. Bootstrap fungus is caused by honey mushrooms, which are parasitic on live wood and send out long root like structures called rhizomorphs between the wood of a tree and its bark. When fresh the rhizomorphs are cream colored but darken to brown or black as they age. The fungus is also called armillaria root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees.

A ray of sunlight caught a pretty little purple cort mushroom (Cortinarius iodeoides,) fruiting far later than usual. It might seem odd to see a mushroom in sunlight but most everything in the forest gets at least some sun, if just for a few moments each day.

Ridged tooth fungi (Hydnellum scrobiculatum) grew here and there nearer the summit. This one is tough; they feel hard and non-yielding to the touch. The common name comes from the ridges on the cap margins. It’s a very unusual woodland mushroom that likes to grow near pines. Because it’s so tough nothing touches it, so they last for quite a while.

The “tooth” part of the name becomes apparent when you turn a ridged tooth fungus over. Instead of gills it has spines packed closely together. They are said to start out kind of purplish-brown but these were more of a tan so I’d guess that the color fades as they age. That’s common among fungi.

Something I’ve wanted to see for a very long time is the black earth tongue fungus so today was a lucky, fungus filled day. This fungus is very rare in my experience though I’ve read that it is widely distributed. This example might have been an inch tall at best and was club shaped. It grew on a well-rotted tree stump and for that reason I think it must be the common earth tongue (Geoglossum cookeanum.) At first I thought it was the viscid black earthtongue (Glutinoglossum glutinosum,) but that species only grows in soil. I’ve read that the only way to be sure is by microscopic examination of its spores. It is one of the sac fungi and feels very tough and leathery.

Another mushroom I’ve never seen is a pretty one called the painted suillus (Suillus spraguei.) It is also called the painted slippery cap and red and yellow suillus. The caps are dark red when young and develop yellowish cracks as they age. They also have mats of reddish hairs on the cap, according to what I’ve read. They are said to have a mycorrhizal relationship with pine trees, particularly the eastern white pine, so it makes perfect sense that it would grow here.

The sunlight brought out the velvety sheen in this tiger eye fungus (Coltricia cinnamomea.) It was beautiful, with its concentric rings of colors. They are also called fairy stools or sometimes cinnamon fairy stools because of the bands of cinnamon orangey brown coloring on their caps. Previously their scientific name was Coltricia perennis but names are changing all the time these days. The Coltricia part of the scientific name means seat or couch and perennis means perennial.

And there was the 40-ton glacial erratic called Tippin’ Rock, which will rock back and forth like a baby cradle when pushed in the right spot. I thought the story was just a fairy tale until I saw it move, and then I thought it was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen. When you start thinking of all the things that had to happen for this stone to be able to do that, it kind of blows your mind.

When I saw the puffy white clouds in the sky I knew this would be a good day for views, and I wasn’t disappointed. They add a lot of interest to what is otherwise a flat blue sky, and I’ve always loved to sit and watch their shadows moving across the hills below. Sometimes they creep and other times they speed by.

Sitting with your back against a stone, watching the cloud shadows gliding silently across the landscape, hearing the soft whisper of the wind in the trees, it’s easy to believe that you have it all. All is perfection, and there isn’t a thing you would change, even if you could.

I keep telling myself that I’ll climb to the top of the ledges so I can say that I was at the very top of 912-foot Hewe’s Hill but by the time I get there doing so has lost its importance. I also realize that I can’t be absolutely sure that this point is the highest, but I’ve never seen anything higher from where I stood. It’s impressive.

Lichens and mosses taught me to watch for vertical streams. Where water runs down the bark of trees after a rain for example, is where you’ll often find the most mosses and lichens growing. They grow on either side of the channel, just as if they grew on the banks of a stream. And here it was again, on a much larger scale. There is a water source somewhere above that drips water continuously down the face of the ledge and, since lichens need to be moist to be at their best, that’s where they grow. These are mostly rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) and toadskin (Lasallia papulosa) lichens, each umbilicate lichens.

There is little in nature that seems happier than a wet lichen, unless it is two squirrels playing tag. This toadskin lichen was in its glory; pea green, as rubbery as your ear lobe, and producing spores like there was no tomorrow.

These lichens, away from the dripping water source, didn’t look so happy. They were ashen and stiff, just hanging on waiting for rain. And umbilicate lichens really do hang on. They attach themselves to the stone at a single point and hang like a rag from a peg. Nothing illustrates that better than that rock tripe lichen in the center. It actually looks like a rag hanging from a peg. You can see the attachment point in these lichens as bright white spots in this photo. That single attachment point reminded whoever sorted these lichens into their little pigeonholes of their bellybutton, hence the name umbilicate.

And on the way back down there was Mister Smiley Face. He was here for years and then he disappeared so I thought someone had thrown him into the woods but no, he had just been moved up the hill a little further. He’s covered with moss now but still smiling. I found myself smiling too, happy to see him after so long but at the same time wondering when this chunk of log became a “him” and gained a name. I can’t remember but it doesn’t matter. It always makes me smile.

To see what others cannot…
You must climb the mountain.

~Ron Akers

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I’ve seen a lot of deer over the course of this blog but every time I’ve seen them I either didn’t have the right camera with me, or I’ve been driving a car. Once I drove right up to a doe like this one on a tractor and she just stood there, 5 feet away until I tugged open the velcro camera case I carry. As soon as she heard the rip of the velcro she was gone like a shot. But she was okay with me being so close until then, and this one was fine with me being close too. This time I made sure I made no strange sounds.

She had two fawns and they all fed on green grass in a cornfield while I watched. The thought came to me then that they were feeding on pure sunshine.

They were beautiful creatures, so gentle and quiet. I didn’t hear a sound out of them the whole time I watched. I tried to get a shot of their tails in the air; they were constantly flicking their tails to keep flies away, but I missed every time.

Slowly the doe led her fawns to the edge of the woods, and then they were gone. I was grateful to have seen them and I hope they have an easy time of it this winter.

This big, 3 foot long northern water snake was not quite so easy with my being close to it as the deer were but at least it didn’t leave. All I had for a camera was my phone so I had to lean in quite close to get this shot. It was a gamble because, though these snakes don’t have fangs they can bite and scratch the skin, and I’ve heard that you might get a nasty infection if that happens. I took a couple of quick shots and left it to soak up some more sunshine. That’s all it was really after.

I followed this small, fidgety butterfly around for several minutes, trying to get a shot of its beautiful blue wings. Blue that is, on the upper part of the wings. The underside of the wings is white or very pale blue with dark markings and I doubted that I’d be able to identify it, but it was relatively easy. It’s a holly blue butterfly (Celastrina argiolus) so called because the larvae feed on Holly. They also eat euonymus, dogwoods, snowberries and other wild and cultivated plants. They don’t sit still long, so you’ve got to be quick.

Here are the beautiful upper wings of the holly blue butterfly in an excellent photo by By Charles J. Sharp that I found on Wikipedia. This is a female, identified by the large dark areas on the wing edges. The wing color is a kind of silvery blue that shimmers beautifully in the light.

I saw this insect exploring queen Anne’s lace blossoms. I haven’t been able to identify it but I like its big eyes. It could be one of the flesh flies (Sarcophagae.)

A cabbage white butterfly (I think) explored flowers at a local garden. This species is originally from Europe along with quite a few of the cabbage family of plants that their caterpillars feed on.

Quite often at this time of year I’ll see hickory tussock moth caterpillars (Lophocampa caryae) everywhere, but so far this year I’ve only seen two or three. They 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.

If you’ve never seen how beavers start building a dam, this shot is for you. And where did they build it? Why, in Beaver Brook of course. Beavers are busy damming up the brook that was named after them again and the town road crews aren’t happy about that, because if you leave these dams in place roads and businesses flood. Since this brook was named after beavers when Keene was first settled in the 1700s, I’m guessing that there have always been plenty of them in it. Since building ponds is what beavers do, I’m also guessing that building so close to this brook wasn’t a good idea. Some industrial buildings in town even have the brook running under them and they have been flooded. It’s hard to believe that someone actually thought that was a good idea.

I’ve seen a lot of red bark on conifers like hemlock and pine but here it was on an oak. It isn’t always red; it can be orange as well. I’ve read that it affects all kinds of trees, both conifers and deciduous, and many different species, but this is the first time I’ve seen it on a hardwood. Red bark is caused by the algae Trentepohlia, which is a genus of filamentous chlorophyte green algae in the family Trentepohliaceae. It appears on tree trunks, stones and is even present in many lichens. Scientists are very interested in why it is attracted to tree bark and call it RBP for red bark phenomenon. Alga in Latin means seaweed, so I suppose it’s no wonder they’re so curious about it.

Pouch galls on stag horn sumac (Rhus typhina) are caused by the sumac gall aphid (Melaphis rhois.) These galls look like some kind of fruit but they are actually hollow inside and teeming with thousands of aphids. They average about golf ball size and change from light yellow to pinkish red as they age. Scientists have paleobotanical evidence that this aphid has had a relationship with its sumac hosts for at least 48 million years. The galls can also be found on smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) They remind me of potatoes so I always think of them as potato galls.

It’s a great year for wild grapes. Our woods are full of ripe river grapes (Vitis riparia) at this time of year and on a warm, sunny fall day the forest smells like grape jelly. Not for long though, because birds and animals snap them up quickly. North America has about 20 native species of wild grape and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is smaller than cultivated grapes and is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so the grapes were used for juice and jelly, or cooked and used in various recipes. Grapes were also used to dye baskets with a gray violet dye. They sometimes remind me of Aesop’s fable about the fox and the grapes, which teaches that we shouldn’t belittle and depise that which is beyond our reach.

Oaks also seem to be doing well this year. I’ve seen trees like this one with quite a crop of acorns. I can’t say if it’s a mast year yet though. In a mast year the trees grow a bumper crop and produce much more fruit than in a non-mast year. Scientists believe that by sometimes producing huge amounts of seed that at least some will survive being eaten by birds and animals and grow into trees. Many acorns survive intact until spring in a mast year.

I’m not sure what is going on with our birds but I’m seeing lots of black cherries on the ground under the trees this year. You can see in this photo that it doesn’t look like a single one has been picked. According to the USDA black cherries are eaten by the American robin, brown thrasher, mockingbird, eastern bluebird, European starling, gray catbird, blue jay, willow flycatcher, northern cardinal, common crow, and waxwings, thrushes, woodpeckers, grackles, grosbeaks, sparrows, and vireos. So why aten’t they eating them? There are three cherry species native to New Hampshire, Pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana) and black cherry (Prunus serotina). We also have a native plum, which is the wild American plum (Prunus americana).

Of our native cherries both choke and black cherries are edible. Black cherries have the largest fruits, and they can be identified by the cup like structure found where the stem meets the fruit. Black cherries are the only ones that have this feature, and you can see it on two or three of the cherries in this shot. Rounded, blunt serrations on the leaf edges are another identifier. Choke cherries have sharp, pointed serrations.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) grows just about everywhere here these days but I can’t remember ever seeing it as a boy. It was always considered a southern plant but like opossums, it has found its way north. People 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. They also used the plant for dye and a while ago I recieved a letter from a woman who was looking for the berries to use just that way. She freezes them until she has enough to make a batch of dye so I told her where to find them them along the river in Swanzey. She should be gathering them this year because I’ve never seen so many pokeweed berries as there are right now.

I like to look for the pink “flowers” at the base of the dark purple poke weed berries. They are actually what’s left of the flower’s five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. They’re very pretty and worth looking for.

The red-orange fruit in fall and white flowers in spring have made American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) a gardener’s favorite and that’s where you’ll find most of them in this area. This tree grows where I work. I do see them in the wild, but rarely. They prefer cool, humid air like that found in the 3000-foot elevation range. The berries are said to be low in fat and very acidic, so birds leave them for last. For some reason early settlers thought the tree would keep witches away so they called it witch wood. Native Americans used both the bark and berries medicinally. The Ojibwe tribe made both bows and arrows from its wood, which is unusual. Usually they used wood from different species, or wood from both shrubs and trees.

Another plant that is having a good year is silky dogwood. The bushes are loaded with berries this year and the cedar waxwings will be very happy about that because they love them. This is a large shrub that grows in part shade near rivers and ponds. It gets its common name from the soft, silky hairs that cover the branches. Native Americans smoked the bark like tobacco. They also twisted the bark into rope and made fish traps from the branches. 

The berries of silky dogwood start out porcelain white and slowly change to dark blue. Once ripe they’ll go fast. Every time I see these berries I wonder if the idea for the blue and white porcelain made in ancient China came from berries like these. I’ve looked it up and tried to find out but blue and white porcelain has been around for a very long time. The cobalt “Persian blue” glaze was imported from what is now Iran as early as the seventh century, so it’s impossible I think to find out where the original idea for the blue and white color combination germinated. I do know that lots of artists look to nature for inspiration.

These bright red seedpods of the marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) have nothing to do with fruit but I like the color, so here they are. Seeing them glowing red all along the edges of ponds is a beautiful sight.

In the continuing saga of the poor farmer who lost all his corn to drought last year, and this year had his fields flooded so badly there were herons and egrets fishing in them; he has come up with a new plan. I know he tried winter wheat in one of his fields last year but then I recently saw something low growing, with yellow flowers, so I went to see what it could be.

At first I thought he was growing pumpkins, because I think I’ve heard that cows eat pumpkins but no, it was squash, and what appears to be butternut squash. Now my question is, how do you harvest squash on such a large scale? The fields are huge and I can’t see anyone actually picking all these squashes, so is the entire plant harvested? Everyone knows how prickly a squash plant can be; can cows eat such a prickly thing? Can the harvesting machines separate the squash and the vines? Unless someone who knows cows writes in, I suppose I’ll just have to watch and see.

Beautiful little shin-high purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis) grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its misty flower heads look like purple ground fog for a while before eventually turn a tannish color and breaking off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall. Years ago I learned the secret of photographing purple grasses by taking photos of this grass. It wasn’t easy to get the color correct in a photo but as a nature photographer you never stop learning, and nature itself is often the best teacher.

You’d think, after driving the same road to work every day for so long now that it would have become kind of ho-hum for me but it hasn’t, and this is why. I just never know what I’ll find around the next bend. I hope all of your days are filled with beauty, wonder and awe, whether you drive or not.

The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery. ~Anaïs Nin

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Last Saturday I realized that I hadn’t climbed Mount Caesar in Swanzey this year so I decided it was time, but not that day; it was near 90 degrees with air so thick you could cut it with a knife. By Sunday morning it had cooled off considerably with very low humidity, but as this photo shows there was plenty of mist.

I was hoping I’d get to see the mist from above but the sun had burned it off by the time I got to the river of reindeer lichen. This is one of my favorite places to stop for a bit on this mountain, though you really haven’t even started the climb at this point.

There are lots of reindeer lichens (Cladonia rangiferina) here. Huge drifts of them line both sides of the trail at its start. These lichens are quite fragile, especially when dry, and should never be walked on. Reindeer lichen is very slow growing at about an eighth to three eighths of an inch per year and if overgrazed or dug up, it can take decades to reappear. I’ve always thought that the large colonies found here must be hundreds of years old.

The trail starts with granite bedrock.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) reminded me of my grandmother. When I was young she wanted me to be able to see and smell this plant’s flowers, but we never did find any because almost all of it had been picked. Now, 60 years later. It’s everywhere I go. She’d be very happy about that.

Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) are one of the earliest to turn in the fall but I’ve never seen one half turn like this one had.

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) was wearing its fall spots. This is one of the earliest plants to whisper fall in any of the forests I visit, and it is often spotted with yellow at this time of year.

My phone camera usually takes better trail photos than my regular camera, but on this morning I wasn’t really happy with the results. To be fair though, it was a bright sunlight, high contrast situation and every camera I’ve owned has had trouble with that.

I found these small mushrooms growing out of a living tree, which is never good for the tree. I haven’t been able to identify them. I see green but my color finding software sees pink, so they must be pink. They were kind of cute, I thought. All the sawdust that had fallen on and around them tells me that this tree is probably full of carpenter ants. Fungi and carpenter ants in and on a living tree is never a good thing for the tree.

I saw lots of purple corts (Cortinarius iodeoides) along the trail but the purple mushroom I hoped to find, the beautiful violet coral fungus, was nowhere to be seen. I’ve seen it here before at just about this time of year.

Another “cort” mushroom is the corrogated cap cort (Cortinarius corrugatus.) It is also called the wrinkled cort for obvious reasons. When fresh it is orangey brown but this one had gone beyond fresh. It’s an inedible but interesting mushroom that people like to find.

I can’t pass by a group of butter wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe ceracea) without getting some photos of them. They’re one of the most photogenic mushrooms in the forest, in my opinion. Very cute and shy little things; I never would have see them hiding behind this log if I hadn’t left the trail to look at something else. As is often the case if you let nature lead, one beautiful thing will lead you to another.

The trail here is very rough in places and is a constant uphill grade with no level places, so I think of it as the most challenging climb of any I do. I once saw a high school track and field member run up and down it before I had reached the halfway point but it usually takes me about an hour and 15 minutes or so. It would anyway even with healthy lungs, because I make a lot of stops to see things of interest. With me “things of interest” means just about everything I see.

Piling stones on top of a tree that has been cut about 7 or 8 feet above the ground doesn’t seem like a good idea to me, but maybe that’s just me. I hope they don’t fall on anyone.

Once I saw these polypody ferns (Polypodium virginianum) near the summit I realized that I had never seen them on this moutain before. They’re called “rock polypody” because they like to grow on top of boulders and there really aren’t any stones big enough to be called boulders along this trail. These seemed to be growing on the ground, which is unusual for this fern. Or maybe there was a buried stone I couldn’t see.

I always look on the polypody’s leaf undersides at this time of year to see the tiny spore cases (sorus) which shine like beacons. Henry David Thoreau liked polypody ferns and said that “Fresh and cheerful communities of the polypody form a lustrous mantle over rocky surfaces in the early spring.” Of course they do exactly that and that’s how they come by another common name: rock cap fern.

The tiny sori are made up of clusters of sporangia and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many ferns. Each will turn a reddish-brown color when ripe and ready to release its spores. The spores are as fine as dust and are borne on the wind. Sorus is from the Greek word sōrós, and means stack, pile, or heap, and each sorus is indeed a round pile of sporangia. As they begin to release spores the sori (plural of sorus) are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of flowers.

NOTE: A helpful reader pointed out that I had my wires crossed and had the meanings of the words sori and sorus backwards. I do know the difference but it’s easy to become confused these days. I hope I got it correct this time and hope my mistake didn’t cause you any confusion.

The end of the trail, the last few yards to the summit, shows more solid granite bedrock and when you reach this point you realize that you’ve been climbing a huge, dome shaped granite monolith with a thin skin of soil on it. It makes you feel small, and feeling small is a good thing now and then.

It was a fine morning for views from the summit but I found that a lot of brush has grown up, so you don’t see a 180-degree panorama any longer.

I was surprised to find little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) up here. It caught the light and glowed beautifully pink in the bright sunshine. This is a common grass that grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington, but is so uncommonly beautiful that it is also grown in gardens. After a frost it takes on a reddish-purple hue, making it even more beautiful.

I was surprised to find St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) growing on the summit. I also saw lots of goldenrod, sumac, honeysuckle, and even forked blue curls. It’s amazing how all those seeds find their way up here. I suppose if you knew which birds ate which seeds you could get a good idea of what birds regularly visit this mountain.

This view shows what I mean about the brush blocking some of the view. I’m sure someone must cut it but I don’t know how often.

Of course I had to visit with the toadskin lichens while I was up here. They surprised me by being quite dry, even though we’d had rain just the morning before. These lichens feel just like potato chips when they’re dry and they crack just as easily so I try not to disturb them. I learned on this climb that they dry out quite quickly and I’d guess that they must be dry for most of their lives.

The black dots you saw on the lichens in that previous shot are this lichen’s apothecia, where its spores are produced. In toadskin lichens they are tiny blackish discs with a sunken center that makes them look like a bowl with a thick black rim. I’ve been imagining that I’m having problems with the camera I use for macros, but the toadskin lichens showed me that there was really nothing to worry about. The head of a pin is .06 inches (1.5 mm) in diameter and one these tiny discs could easily hide behind one.

The view of Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey was as good as any I’ve seen from up here on this day, and I as I sat for a while enjoying it I thought it was a good bonus for all my huffing and puffing. And while I sat there catching my breath and admiring the view, I thought about what an easy thing it is to appreciate the simple things; those everyday things that cost nothing but touch you somehow. I’ve learned from experience that appreciation leads to gratitude, and gratitude leads to joy. I do hope your days are joy filled.

The climb speaks to our character, but the view, I think, to our souls. ~Lori Lansens

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We had lots of rain here in July; well over a foot in some places but luckily no serious flooding as of this writing. Since it’s raining hard as I write this near the end of the month though, that could change.

I’ve been lucky because on most of the days that I’ve had a chance to get into the woods, it hasn’t been raining. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been wet though. Most of the grasses and undergrowth have looked like what you see in the above photo for quite a while now, and many lawns have standing water on them because the ground is so saturated the water has nowhere to go.

The rains have made many moths and other insects seek shelter under the eaves of buildings, and that’s where this one was one morning when I arrived at work. I think it might be one of the underwing (Catocala) moths, so called because when they spread their upper wings their underwings show a flash of color, but I haven’t been able to satisfactorily identify it. They have names like “charming underwing,” “girlfriend underwing,” “betrothed underwing,” and “bride underwing,” so it sounds like whoever named them had something other than moths on their mind at the time.

I often see moths resting on leaves during the day and that’s what this pretty one was doing when it caught my eye. I think it might be a large lace border moth (Scopula limboundata,) which is found only east of the Rocky Mountains. From what I’ve seen online wing colors and patterns can vary considerably on this moth. Their caterpillars are a type of inchworm that feeds on clover, blueberry, apple, and black cherry.

Early one windy morning I saw this dragonfly hanging on to a blueberry leaf, blowing in the wind like a flag. That’s why I think it’s one of the pennant dragonflies. Maybe a calico pennant. It wasn’t the least bit spooked by me and just kept hanging on as I took photos. I wish they were all so willing.

Note: A knowledgeable reader who knows much more about dragonflies than I do tells me that this may be a female banded pennant dragonfly. Thanks Mike!

Widow skimmers don’t seem to stay still very long. This one flew off and returned to its perch several times before I was able to get a decent shot of it. It wasn’t the shot I was hoping for but it does show off this dragonfly’s beautiful wings.

Slaty skimmers are another beautiful dragonfly. I think this is a mature male, which are dark blue with black heads. Females and juveniles look quite different, with brownish bodies and a dark stripe down their backs. These large dragonflies are fairly common here and can usually be found on pond shorelines.

What I believe is a Mayfly hung onto the wall of a building where I work. It was under the eaves, probably trying to get out of the rain. Mayflies are very interesting creatures that can be seen anytime in summer, not just in May. From what I’ve read they are part of an ancient group of insects that includes dragonflies and Damselflies. People have been fascinated by them for a very long time; Aristotle and Pliny the Elder wrote about them. Adults, if I understand what I’ve read correctly, do not eat. Their sole function is reproduction, so I’d guess that maybe this adult male was just hanging out, waiting for his mate to come along.

Banded net wing beetles also waited under the eaves of another building, but they were still getting wet. At first, I thought this was just one beetle but I couldn’t figure out why it had its wings spread so wide until I saw the photo. There are actually 3 beetles here. Two are hiding under the wings of the first, possibly mating? Males are smaller than the females but these three looked to all be about the same size to me. These beetles contain defensive chemicals and most birds and spiders leave them alone. They feed on plant juices or sometimes other insects.

Japanese beetles cause a lot of damage to plants but they aren’t very remarkable otherwise. They’re common and fairly easy to control, even by hand picking. But this one surprised me by turning into a lion.

The beetle turned, lifted its hind legs, and roared. Or at least I thought that when I saw this photo on the camera’s screen. It looked like the beetle had opened its big mouth and roared at me, but then I thought wait a minute, beetles don’t have big mouths. It was a trick of the light, with the bright sunlight shining on the beetle’s “snout” or nose, or whatever it is called. I had to laugh at my own foolishness.

A white crab spider hung upside down among the blossoms of a swamp milkweed, hoping it wouldn’t be noticed by any visiting insects. Crab spiders can change color from white to either yellow or pink but it takes anywhere from 2 to 21 days. They’re very patient little things and if you pay attention creatures like spiders, great blue herons, frogs, and many other creatures will teach you all about what it means to be truly patient.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I saw this great egret wading through a flooded cornfield. Usually when I see things like this I don’t have the right camera with me, but on this day I had it. Without a thought I slammed on my brakes, jumped out and started shooting, so it was a good thing there was nobody behind me. I’ve really got to stop doing that.

I’ve been wanting to see an egret my whole life and never had, even when I lived in Florida, so this beautiful bird was an exciting find. I looked up how to tell which egret you were seeing and from what I read the orange bill and black legs mean it’s a great egret. It looked to be about the size of a great blue heron, but it was quite far across a cornfield so that might not be correct. We’d had quite a storm the night before and I wondered if maybe it had been blown off course. It kept pecking at the ground so it was apparently seeing plenty of food.

I didn’t find any egret feathers but I’ve seen plenty of turkey feathers. We have lots of turkeys around and I’m always seeing feathers but not usually tail feathers like this one.

I found this feather hanging from a grass stalk, gently twisting in the breeze. Google lens has said repeatedly that it is from a long-eared owl but I have a hard time believing it because, though we do have long eared owls here they’re exceedingly rare and are hardly ever seen. On the other hand, I’ve read that they nest in the woods near open fields where they like to hunt, and that was the type of terrain I found it in. I’m hoping some knowledgeable reader might be able to sort it out.

The blue of blue bead lily berries (Clintonia borealis) is quite different from the blue of blueberries; what I call an electric blue. They don’t seem to be doing very well this year though; this is the only berry I’ve seen. The seeds in these berries can take two years to germinate and adult plants can take twelve years to finally show their yellow, lily like blossoms. This plant is also called “cow tongue” because of the shape of its leaves. Deer, chipmunks and many other animals and birds love the berries and I often have trouble finding them because they get eaten so fast. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat burns and infections, and bears are said to be attracted to its root.

The berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) are called doll’s eyes, for obvious reasons. The remains of the flower’s black stigma against the porcelain white fruit is striking, and I can’t think of another plant with fruit quite like these. These plants are toxic so no part of them should ever be eaten. Luckily the berries are so bitter one bite would be enough to make anyone spit them out. Finding baneberry in the woods tells the story of rich, well drained loamy soil and a reliable source of moisture, because those are the things that it needs to grow.

Red or purple trillium (Trillium erectum) seed pods turn bright red in late summer, but few people ever seem to see them. Trilliums are all about the number three or multiples of it, and the seed chamber has six parts. The fleshy seeds are prized by ants because they have a sweet, pulpy coating that they eat, so many of the trilliums we see have most likely been planted by ants. It takes about five years for a trillium to go from seed to flower.

Tiny starflower seedpods (Trientalis borealis) look a bit like soccer balls. They’re very small so you often have to look at the plant’s leaves to find them. The few brown seeds inside need a cold period to germinate and will not do so until the fall of the second year. Ants and other insects “plant” the seeds.

This photo from a few years ago gives a good idea of how small a starflower seed pod really is; about as big as Abraham Lincoln’s ear on a penny. They’re a challenge to get a good shot of.

Witch hazel gall aphids (Hormaphis hamamelidis) have been doing their work. These cone shaped galls are where the gall aphids grow and reproduce. When they’re ready they leave the gall and fly off to find birch trees. The young aphids feed on birch leaves until they give birth to nymphs, which develop wings and fly back to witch hazels, where the process begins again.

The galls are called nipple galls or cone heads and each year, usually around Halloween, they turn black and look like witch hats. For some reason this one was early.

I went to see if I could get some shots of goldenrod flowers and instead found dodder attacking the goldenrod plants. Dodder (Cuscuta) is an annual and grows new from seed in the spring. It is a leafless vining plant that wraps and tangles itself around the stems of other plants. It is a parasite that pushes root like growths called haustoria into the stem of the host plant. Dodder can do a lot of damage to food crops and some of its other common names reflect how people have felt about it over the years:  devil’s guts, devil’s hair, devil’s ringlet, hail weed, hair weed, hell bine, pull-down, strangle weed, and witch’s hair.

In this photo from 2013, if you look just to the upper left of the white flower in the photo you can see how the orange dodder stem (haustoria) has burrowed into a goldenrod stem. Once it is feeding on its host it loses all connection to the soil and from then on will survive by sucking the life out of the host plant. Dodder has no chlorophyll and its stems can be bright orange, yellow, or red. The round growths are seed pods. One of its favorite hosts seems to be goldenrod.

Here is a close look at the dodder’s flowers. They’re among the smallest I’ve ever photographed but I’d guess that they produce plenty of seeds.

While I was getting photos of the dodder, I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye and it turned out to be 3 monarch butterflies flying around some milkweed plants. Of course, they all flew away when I walked over but this one returned and hid under a leaf. I’ve seen quite a few monarchs this year but most have been wary and hard to get good shots of.

I saw more monarchs on some hyssop plants and I tried and tried to get a photo of their open wings, but this was the best I could do. They were almost all the way open.

I ended up with most shots looking like this one but with wings open or closed they are still very beautiful things. Hyssop is a very pretty plant that would be happy in any garden and it would attract butterflies too, so it isn’t hard to do something to help these creatures survive. There are many ways in fact, and a helpful reader was kind enough to send me some information on how we can help monarchs and many other insects simply, with no real effort other than putting some thought into which plants we select for our gardens. If you’re interested you can find a wealth of information by clicking this link: https://homegrownnationalpark.org/faq

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself. ~Henry Miller 

Thanks for stopping in. I’m sorry this post is so long but there are just so many beautiful things to see out there. I do hope that you’re seeing as many of them as I am.

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Last Saturday I walked along the Ashuelot River in Keene, hoping to find some marsh bellflowers. As this photo shows, I sure found plenty of pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata.) Beautiful ribbons of it lined the banks. They are probably why I see so many ducks and geese here. Ducks eat the seeds and geese eat the leaves.

The water was about as high as it gets thanks to some very heavy rain throughout the month of July. Another foot or so higher and in places it would have been over the trail.

Luckily most of the trail stays high and dry but I found the side trail I needed to use to see the marsh bellflowers was under about 6 inches of water, so I couldn’t get to them or the mad dog skullcap plants that live there. With my lungs I can’t be falling into rivers. I doubt I could swim ten strokes.

I did see a buttonbush shrub (Cephalanthus occidentalis) up to its neck in water but it was blooming. I know another plant along the river in Swanzey that is sometimes under water when the river is high, but it doesn’t seem to bother it.

The small flowers of tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) are more white than blue this year from what I’ve seen so far. This plant has an odd look, sometimes reaching ten feet tall with flowers hardly bigger than a pencil eraser at the very top. Luckily this flower was just about at eye level, because the stalks of this plant don’t take kindly to being bent. They’ll often snap right in two.

I’ve seen thousands of Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) buds this year but not a single flower yet. That’s okay with me though, because I’ve always thought the buds were as pretty as the flowers. They seem to have a deeper color.

There is a bumper crop of blueberries this year. The bushes are loaded with berries anywhere I go so all the critters will be happy. I’ve noticed that the birds aren’t paying much attention to them yet though.

Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) grew here and there but it doesn’t seem to be doing well along this trail this year. The plants looked a bit weak and kind of ragged.

I saw quite a lot of Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) plants along the trail but this was the only one I saw with fruit. After a time these green berries will become deep, purple-black. And then they’ll disappear. I think turkeys get them before anyone else. A good healthy plant can stand just about as tall as a turkey’s eye is from the ground.

As I say every year; spring and fall begin on the forest floor. This Indian cucumber root illustrates what I mean.

“But it’s only August,” you say. “Surely the Indian cucumber root was a fluke?” Unfortunately, that argument can’t stand; this tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) also whispered hints of fall.

And so did this sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis.) Soon all of the squirrels and chipmunks will be gathering their nuts and seeds. Who needs a calendar?

I couldn’t decide which was prettier, this royal fern or its shadow, so I took a photo of both.

A depression in the woods was filled with water but the water had a strange cloudy film on it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before and I can’t imagine what caused it, way off in the woods like it was. It wasn’t oily and it didn’t look like dust. I thought of mushroom spores but it would have taken a lot of mushrooms to do this.

Clubmosses also release spores that float on water but not this one. It looked like it was finished. An interesting thing about clubmoss spores is how, if you fill a glass with water and cover the surface of the water with spores, when you stick your finger in the water and pull it out again it will be covered in spores but will be perfectly dry. Clubmoss spores are waxy and hydrophobic, which means resistant to water. They are also extremely flammable, and once made up the flash powder used to create the flash photographers used to take a photo.

The oak tree that the beavers girdled is done. I don’t know why beavers do this to trees and then leave them standing. After all, the succulent buds and branches are a big reason why they cut trees.

There won’t be any buds on this tree, and the branches will be dry. There wasn’t a leaf on them. Soon the dead branches will begin to fall, and they’re right above the trail.

It’s really too bad that beavers don’t eat Canada mayflowers, because there are many thousands of them on the floor of any forest I visit. They’re a native plant but they act like an invasive plant by creating monocultures that keep other plants from growing. I’ve seen huge stands of nothing but Canada mayflower. And may heaven help you if they get into your garden. Those speckled berries will be bright red and ripe soon, and they’ll disappear quickly.

The closed or bottle gentians (Gentiana linearis) that grow in one spot along the trail looked to be in good shape. Narrow leaf and closed gentian flowers look identical, so you have to look at the leaves carefully to tell the difference. Closed gentian leaves are wider and have a different overall shape than those of narrow leaf gentian. This plant is relatively rare in this area.

And there was the bridge. It crosses what is usually a small stream but on this day the water was licking at its sides. The water level in the river hasn’t dropped much and we’ve had more rain since that day, so I hope it hasn’t washed away.

This photo from last year shows the marsh bellflower (Campanula aparinoides) I came to see. I hoped to get some better shots of the flowers but that probably won’t happen this year without a boat, because it just keeps on raining. Luckily this plant is a perennial so unless the entire riverbank where it grows washes away, I should be able to find it next year. I can’t say how rare it is but I’ve never seen it anywhere but here in this one spot, and I’ve been walking these riverbanks for over 50 years.

Pleasure is spread through the earth in stray gifts to be claimed by whoever shall find them. ~William Wordsworth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for stopping in.

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

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

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

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

Fern fiddleheads were beautiful, as always.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Landscapes have the power to teach, if you query them carefully. And remote landscapes teach the rarest, quietest lessons. ~David Quammen

Thanks for stopping in.

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This post will be, more than anything else, about some of the beautiful things in nature that you may have been passing by without noticing, like the immature Colorado blue spruce seed cones in this photo. The color only lasts for a week or two on these cones and science doesn’t see that the color serves any useful purpose. Since evergreens are wind pollinated they don’t need color to attract insects, so maybe it’s there simply to attract our attention. They certainly caught my eye.

There are beautiful things happening all around us right now and bud break is one of them. There isn’t much in the spring forest that is more beautiful than the appearance of new beech leaves, in my opinion. Delicate as angel wings they dangle from the branches in the state you see here for just a very short time.

Each spring the miracle of life unfolds all around you. Just stop for a moment and see. Don’t just look; see. There is a difference.

“Unfolding” is a good description for what happens. You can see it in this oak; bud break has happened and now all of the current years’ leaves and branches unfold themselves from what was a tiny bud. Actually uncurling might be an even better term; you can see how they spiral out of the bud.

They start out in a spiral when just out of the bud and you can watch that twist straighten out as they grow.

Once they’ve straightened themselves they begin to look more like what we’re used to seeing, but if we wait to catch up to them until they’ve reached this stage, we’ve missed a lot.

Fern fronds start life wound like a spring and this process has a name: circinate vernation. They are curled into what look like the carved head of a violin and the growing tip of the frond and all of its leaflets are within the coil. In this photo you can see this particular fern frond just beginning to unfurl. The scientific term describes the process; circinate means circling or spiraling and vernation comes from the word vernal, which means spring.

All the fiddleheads that make up a fern plant spring from a root which might be 100 years old in some cases. These were some of the darkest fiddleheads I’ve seen. Lady fern, I believe.

Once again you can see the uncoiling of all that will be a single fern frond. Everything that will become a frond possibly three feet tall comes from a coil that might be a half inch across.

Solomon’s seal is another plant that spirals out of the bud and you can see that in this plant. The spirals are all about leaf placement, so each leaf can get the optimum amount of sunshine. Scientifically it’s all about ratios and Fibonacci numbers and other things that I don’t have the time or the knowledge to talk  about but I will say this: spirals work and they have for many millions of years. That’s why they’re found in everything from our inner ear to nautilus shells to spiral galaxies many light years across.

This mountain ash tree reminded me of the child’s game where you clench your fist and the child pries open your fingers one by one until they find that there is nothing there, but when the fist is a mountain ash bud there is something there; flower buds. The leaves open to reveal flower buds, already there.

Some native dogwoods have the same secret as mountain ash; the leaves unfurl to reveal flower buds.

Sugar maple buds are very beautiful with their pink bud scales and I’m always grateful to have seen them in spring when they’re at their best. And there is that spiral again.

Some maple leaves are quicker than others, even when they grow on the same branch.

I thought these new red maple leaves with the sun shining on them were very beautiful. The scene only lasted a few moments but that was enough. It stayed with me all day.

The fuzzy pink and orange bud scales of a striped maple pull back and what happens thereafter happens quickly, so you’ve got to be aware of what the plant is doing and what stage it is in. This is why, once bud break begins to happen, I check them regularly.

Because I wouldn’t want to miss the unusual strings of bell shaped flowers that appear on striped maples. Some trees have hundreds of them, and just the slightest breeze gets them all swaying back and forth up over your head.

Here was a Norway maple (Crimson king) with everything showing; open bud scales, new purple leaves, flowers. and even seeds. Invasive yes, but beautiful as well.

This is what poison ivy looks like when it first appears in spring; beautifully red. I know the plant well and would never intentionally touch it but I got into it when I was taking this photo and I just finally stopped itching. You can get the rash even from the leafless stems and that’s usually where I get it.

Poison ivy can be beautiful enough so you want to touch it, but if you do you’re liable to be sorry. I’m not super allergic to it but I get a rash from it every year and itch for a week or two. Luckily with me it stays on the body part that touched it and doesn’t spread, but I’ve known people who became covered by its rash and had to be hospitalized. Admire it from a distance.

I wondered and wondered what kind of tree this was until I finally noticed a tag on it. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I scanned the tag and learned that it was a dawn redwood, which is an ancient, once endangered species of tree from China. It was once so rare that in 1941 it was declared extinct but then two small groves were discovered in a valley in central China. Before that there were only fossils from the Mesozoic Era which were 150 million or more years old. So what is a beautiful dawn redwood doing in Keene, New Hampshire of all places? Seeds from living trees were distributed all over the world and now you can actually buy a dawn redwood from a nursery for your front yard if you’d like. Chances are you’ll be the only ones on the street to have one. Mankind does do things right every now and then.

So here we are in the middle of May, a flowery month if there ever was one, and we’ve seen all of this beauty without hardly seeing a single flower. I remember how surprised I was when I saw my first shagbark hickory bud opening, like the one in the above photo. I couldn’t believe that something as simple and everyday as a tree bud could be so beautiful. It helped open my eyes to the fact that all of life is beautiful, everywhere I looked and in any season of the year. I hope you’ll go out and see it for yourself if you are able. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

If one really loves nature, one can find beauty everywhere. ~Vincent van Gogh

Thanks for stopping in. I hope all of your days will be beauty filled.

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

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

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

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

Dandelions bloomed happily along the trail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A willow was golden against the sky.

And an old apple tree bloomed off in the woods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could, and I did.

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

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

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