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We’re still having the up and down weather we’ve had for a month now, with freezing temps one day and melting the next. This branch sticking up out of the Ashuelot River had a record of both how much the water has gone down and how long it had been freezing in that spot. It looks like it’s been about a foot of water, but how much time has passed I don’t know. Soon we’ll have above freezing temperatures during the day and below freezing at night, and that will be the age old sign to start tapping the maple trees. Once the sap flows the earth has warmed and spring is here, no matter what the calendar might say.

Native Americans showed the early settlers how to tap trees for their sap and boil it down into syrup. Though we tap mostly maples they tapped birches as well. They had been doing so for about 12,000 years along this river, according to archeological evidence. In fact if it wasn’t for natives the settlers probably wouldn’t have survived here. -30 degrees F. can be a real shock to one’s system if they aren’t prepared for it. I took the above photo because it shows what it might have looked like back then, and because I loved the blue of the river.

This stone has bothered me for a very long time. It sits at the entrance to a local park and has what looks like the tracks of a small animal all over it.

Here is a closer look at what look like animal paw prints to me. I can’t imagine how they would have gotten on this stone because it doesn’t look like it is a sedimentary stone, which means it was probably never mud and therefore not soft enough for an animal to leave its tracks in. On the other hand maybe they’re just some kind of inclusion in the stone and not animal tracks at all. Though the photo doesn’t show it clearly they are depressions, just as if they were indeed a paw print.

I saw a sedum seed head that looked more colorful than the flowers that were here 3 months ago. I think they were pink.

Some trees are taking on that magical golden color that only happens in spring. Willows especially will do it but I don’t think this was a willow. I couldn’t get close enough to its buds to tell.

Hydrologically speaking a seep is a wet place where water reaches the surface from an underground aquifer. This seep is a warm one; in all the years I’ve known it I’ve never seen it completely freeze. Seeps don’t have a single point of origin like a spring, instead they form a puddle that never dries up and doesn’t flow. They’re an important water source for many small animals and birds and unusual plants and fungi can often be found in and around them. I’ve found some interesting fungi like swamp beacons and eyelash fungi in seeps.

When ice formed on a mud puddle it must have cracked, because this is the pattern it left in the mud of the puddle after it melted.

This tree showed the height of the water but the odd thing was there was no water, so there must have been flooding there at some point. Flooding is common at this time of year, especially after a couple of warm days when the ice on rivers and streams melts. Then it freezes again and becomes a solid mass which can dam up any flowing water course. Ice dams can be very dangerous and so far this year there have been a few north of here which have caused some flooding.

I was disappointed in this photo of a field of little bluestem grass showing through the snow. In the sunshine it was a beautiful golden color but try as I might the camera just couldn’t see what I saw. I guess you’ll have to take my word for it, or maybe you’ve seen it yourself. It is stop-you-in-your-tracks beautiful.

In places like the northwest and Scotland you expect to see trees festooned with ferns but it’s a rare sight here. Apparently though, this polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) didn’t know that and took root on an old white pine. It seems strange to me that more ferns don’t do this.

The snow on this stump showed the depth of the latest snowfall, but what it didn’t show is the crust that formed after it rained on top of the snow. It’s a shiny, slippery, solid crust that will almost support you when you walk on it, but not quite. You step on it with one foot and it supports you until you lift your other foot, and then you plunge through the crust with the first foot. I wanted to go out hill climbing but even on flat, level ground walking in this stuff is just exhausting work.

The slab that the sun is shining through is a good example of the crusty snow. The crust is about an inch and a half thick and it is hard to manage, even with a plow. To shovel it you have to cut it into square, manageable pieces then move the pieces one at a time, but you’d better do it right after the precipitation stops or you’ll face even more ice. It’s a mindless task but mindless tasks can be valuable because since you don’t have to think when you are doing them, you can think higher thoughts. You can for example think about how lucky and very grateful you are to be alive and to be able to shovel snow.

Stilted trees grow from seeds that fall on a rotted log or stump and grow their roots around the stump or log. Once the stump or log rots away what is left is a tree that looks like it’s standing on stilts. The strange thing about this stilted tree though, is how it grew over a stone wall. It’s the first I’ve seen do that.

I saw some poison ivy the other day and it was wearing its vine disguise. Poison ivy can appear as a plant, a shrub, or a vine and if you’re going to spend much time in the woods it’s a good idea to know it well. In the winter a vine like this can help identify the plant because of the many aerial roots that come directly out of its bark. It’s best not to touch it because even in winter it can cause an itchy rash.

Vines like bittersweet, grape, and the trumpet creeper vine (Campsis radicans) shown here do not have aerial roots. They climb by twining themselves around the tree. I like the rings on this vine’s bark, like a ring shank nail. It’s something I never noticed before but this vine is quite old, so maybe that’s why.

The seed cones of gray birch trees (Betula populifolia) are often called female catkins, but botanically speaking they are strobiles, and a strobile holds seeds, not flowers. Though birch seeds ripen in late fall they are still common into late winter, even as other plants with catkins like alders and hazelnuts are starting to flower.

Each strobile holds many tiny bracts and seeds and birds seem to love them. What looks like a twig on the right is what is left, the core of the strobile, after all the seeds had been eaten from it. I’d guess that some of the seeds and bracts were blown about by the wind as well. They’re very thin, light, and papery.

There is always something on any walk in the woods that can’t be explained and this is one of them. This clothespin was clipped to a branch of a shrub that grew next to a trail. Maybe it’s there so you could leave a message for the next trail follower, if you were so inclined.

Never has the earth been so lovely or the sun so bright as today. ~Nikinapi, an Illiniwek chief

Thanks for stopping in.

Since I recently did a post about lichens that grow on trees I thought I’d do one on lichens that grow on stone. Though there are lichens that can grow on wood or stone most of the ones I know seem to prefer one or the other. In fact the ones I know seem very fussy about where they grow, even down to the species of tree or stone. The lichen in this first photo is not that fussy though, so it will even grow on sidewalks, and that’s how the name sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima) came about. Though I’ve seen it on concrete once or twice in the past I almost always see it on lime rich stones. It’s a pretty orange color and it can get quite big. This one is as big as a car tire.

Another lichen that can get quite big is the peppered rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) but this example must have just gotten started because it was quite small and had few apothecia. This lichen likes to grow on stone in full sun and I find a lot of them on stone walls. They’re a good introduction to lichen study because their brown apothecia, where their spores are produced, are large and easy to see without aid.

Lichens are made up of a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. Technically apothecia are “fungal reproductive structures, in which the fungus reproduces itself through the production of spores” This is not the only way that lichens reproduce, but it is common and the apothecia are often beautiful and well worth watching for. The beautiful brown ones in the photo above belong to the peppered rock shield.

Some lichens are very easy to identify because there aren’t many others that look like them, and the toadskin lichen (Lasallia papulosa) is one of those. Toadskin lichens show color changes when they dry out like many other lichens. When wet it is pliable and pea green and when dry it becomes crisp and ash gray like the above example. 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.

This is the very same toadskin lichen as the one in the previous photo. You can easily see the dramatic color change between this day when it was wet and when it was dry in the previous shot.

Rock tripe lichen (Umbilicaria mammulata) is a relative of the toadskin lichen but it doesn’t turn gray when it dries out. Instead it gets brownish and curls up. It is very pliable and rubbery when it’s moist, but once it dries out it becomes crisp like a potato chip. The Umbilicaria part of the scientific name comes from the Latin umbilicus, meaning navel. This is where another common name, navel lichen, comes from and points to how, like the toadskin lichens, they attach themselves to stone with a single attachment point that looks like a navel. It sticks itself to stone by way of this single, navel like attachment point and the rest of the lichen hangs from this central point, much like a rag hanging from a peg.

Here is what rock tripe lichens look like dry. You can see the back of it, which is black and pebble textured. Rock tripe is edible and eating it has saved the lives of people who were lost and starving in the past. Though I imagine they must taste like old rubber, these lichens were a source of emergency food for Native Americans and saved the lives of many an early settler. Even George Washington’s troops are said to have eaten rock tripe to survive the brutal winter at Valley Forge in 1777.

Rock greenshield lichens (Flavoparmelia baltimorensis.) Look like melted candle wax to me. They are very common in this area and are another of those bits of nature that you see so often they no longer register, but when you take the time to look closer you find that they are quite pretty.

If you happen to see a stone that looks like it has sprouted gray hairs you might want to take a closer look, because there’s a good chance you’re seeing a Cladonia lichen.

There are many Cladonia lichens including the well-known pixie cups, but I think these were peg lichens (Cladonia sobolescens.) Peg lichens are also a large group, with split pegs, thatched pegs, powdery pegs, etc., but these seem to fit the description of what the book Lichens of North America calls simply peg lichens. The “peg” is called a podetium and it is topped by brown apothecia.

Here is a closer look at the tiny tan / brown apothecia that sit atop the pegs. These are where the lichen’s spores are produced. They are so small that I wasn’t able to see them but luckily the camera could.

This peg lichen is a squamulose lichen, which means it is scaly, but it is also foliose, or leafy. Squamules are the small leafy, lobed growths that are at the base of the tiny peg shaped podetia. A podetium is an upright secondary thallus in Cladonia lichens. It is a hollow stalk extending from the primary thallus. Podetia can be pointed, club like, cupped, or branched in shape and may or may not contain the ascocarp, which is the fruiting body of the lichen. If the asocarp is bowl shaped it is an apothecium. In this peg lichen the podetia are not branched and the leafy squamules are rounded and grayish green to brown, with white undersides. The quality of these photos isn’t great but the various parts of this lichen are very small. I think they do show enough to make a fairly good identification but if I’m wrong I hope someone will let me know.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) can be quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do. I’ve seen this pretty lichen even on mountain tops.

Here is a closer look at those pretty rock posy apothecia. The ones I’ve seen are never shiny. They always have a kind of matte finish.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) are uncommonly beautiful. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone. especially slate. I see it on older gravestones quite often. It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that, at high magnification, the body of the common goldspeck lichen looks like it’s made up of tiny golden specks. The book Lichens of North America describes the body of this lichen as “little cushions of flattened granules.” This lichen is sometimes sterile, with no fruiting bodies present, but this one had a few. Crustose lichens form crusts that tightly adhere to the substrate that they grow on and usually can’t be removed without damaging it.

The golden moonglow lichens (Dimelaena oreina) that I see are usually about an inch across but they can get much bigger. They grow in full sun on granite and don’t seem to change color when they dry out like many other lichens do. The one in the photo was producing spores and that’s something I don’t see this lichen do very often. If you spend much time in cemeteries you have probably seen this pretty lichen, because it seems to like growing on smooth, polished stone, especially granite. It is a crustose lichen, so removing it from a gravestone would be a challenge. When lichens grow on glass the acids in them can actually etch the glass and this is a problem in the big European cathedrals, especially. I would think the same would be true for polished stone.

Another lichen common to stone walls is the sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s a very soft, pale yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine.

Dog lichens (Peltigera) are good example of lichens that will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was. Dog lichens are associated with mossy areas because the mosses help provide the moisture that they need. It is very thin and pliable. It is also a foliose lichen because it is lobed, or leaf like. The upper part of the body (Thallus) is undulating or veined on this example. This lichen is large and easy to see. It is also probably quite old.

Here is another look at the dog lichen. They’re much bigger than most other lichens. I’d guess this one is about the size of a 45 RPM record, if anyone can remember those.

The underside of a dog lichen is often bright white as this one was. They also have small hairs called rhizines which help them cling to whatever they’re growing on.

Smokey eye boulder lichen is a favorite lichen of mine. The blue color seen in the above photo is caused by the way light reflects off a waxy coating on the fruiting bodies, which is very similar to the “bloom” found on plums, blueberries, and grapes. In addition to blue it can also appear black or gray depending on which direction the light happens to be coming from.  The greenish-gold background color is the color of the body (thallus) of this crustose lichen. It’s a very beautiful thing and I hope you’ll take the time to look for it and all of the other beautiful lichens out there.

There is no absolute scale of size in nature, and the small may be as important, or more so than the great. ~Oliver Heaviside

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

The last time I passed through this section of woods I couldn’t have been more than 12 years old. The house I grew up in was just a few yards from the railroad tracks and I’d guess I started walking those tracks almost as soon as I could walk. I knew that if I followed them one way (north) I’d get to my grandmother’s house and then downtown Keene further on. But I didn’t know where the other direction went, so one day I decided it was time to find out. It would be my first great adventure.

There was a slight problem though. The Ashuelot River was also just a few yards from the house and if I was going to follow the tracks the way I’d never been I had to cross it by way of the train trestle over the Ashuelot River. The trestle had gaps between the ties and if you weren’t careful my grandmother said, a skinny little boy like me could fall right through one of those gaps and end up in the river. That thought had held me back for a long time as she knew it would but on this day I was determined, so off I went across the trestle for the first time, headed south.

My father knew that a boy had to run and explore and learn, and he let me off the leash early on. I had no mother to say otherwise so I simply loved life and made my own fun. Unlike the other boys I knew who could only seem to focus on what they didn’t have I saw what I did have, and though we were poor when it came to money I knew that I was rich; I could see it, sharp and clear, and even at twelve years old I knew that no boy anywhere else on earth was having a better boyhood than I was.

But even so my father would have had something to say about this adventure and I probably would have had to eat standing up for a few days if he’d found out. That’s because he knew the river drew me like a magnet. He was forever having to tell me to stay away from it, and with good reason. As I was taking photos of the frozen river on this day it began to groan and crack open and my stomach fell into my shoes. It was the same sound I’d heard when I was walking down the middle of it so many years ago when the ice gave way. Even after 50+ years it’s a sound that can still make my stomach lurch and my hands shake.

I could have drowned that day but instead I learned a good lesson, and it’s one I’ve never forgotten. In fact I learned all kinds of things along these rail lines because I was curious and I wanted to know the answers to the thousand and one questions I had in my head. Since nobody I knew could answer the questions I turned to books. Botany books, wildflower books, tree books, bird books, I had them all and I learned from them, but even so I’m still what I call “overly curious” when it comes to the natural world, and it’s that curiosity that fuels this blog. For instance I’ve wondered for years why the buds on a black birch will suddenly form a cluster of buds like that in the above photo. It’s almost like a witches’ broom but not quite because they don’t seem to grow after they knot up like this. Actually I think they die.

This is what a normal, healthy black birch bud (Betula lenta) looks like. The young bark of these trees looks a lot like cherry bark but if you nibble a twig and taste wintergreen, it’s a black birch. It’s also called sweet birch and cherry birch, and birch beer was once made from it and so was oil of wintergreen. In fact so many trees were taken to make oil of wintergreen for many years the trees were very hard to find. This is the only birch that I’ve seen the strange bud clusters on.

Another mystery is why birds don’t eat sumac berries until spring in this part of the country. I’ve heard that in other parts of the country they snap them up as soon as they ripen but here they’re still on the bushes even into April in some years. I’ve heard that they’re low in fat and not very nutritious so that might have something to do with it, but why wouldn’t that be true everywhere? The berries seen here are those of the smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) but smooth or staghorn sumac berries, most will still be there in spring.

Another mystery is how can a river look frozen solid in one place and then be free of ice less than a mile downstream. It could have something to do with restricted flow, I think. The place where I took the photo of the iced over river has a kind of S curve and an island, and both would slow down the flow.

I had to have a look at the shagbark hickory buds (Carya ovata) while I was here. There is no sign of any movement yet but come mid-May they’ll open to reveal some of the most beautiful sights in the spring forest.

I did see some movement in some of the beech buds (Fagus grandifolia) I looked at though it was almost imperceptible. You can just see how some of the silvery white tips of the bud scales have barely pulled away from the bud. Soon they will start to grow and lengthen and then in May will finally open, and then the trees will look as if they’ve been hung with tiny angel wings.

In places the woods were full of ice.

And in other places they were nearly ice free.

The drainage ditches that were dug by the railroad 150 years ago were still working fine, though they were ice covered.

What interests me most about this ice is the oak leaf shape in the lower left corner. I can’t even guess how that would have happened. Ice is such fascinating stuff.

There are lots of old stone walls out here. They are “tossed” or “thrown” walls, where the stones were literally just thrown on top of one another, because the object was to get them out of what would become cropland as quickly as possible. I know this wall is quite old because of the lichens and mosses on the stones. Walls I built 45 years ago still don’t have any mosses or lichens on them and the stones haven’t even grayed yet. I’d guess this one must be at least 200 years old, built even before the railroad came through.

This boulder pile shows what those who first cleared the land faced. Left here by the last glacier, they had to be moved if you were going to plant crops.  I’ve collected stones to build walls with and I can say that it is backbreaking work.

I hoped to see some signs of hazelnut catkins opening but these were still closed tight. It won’t be long now though.

Distances seemed longer and time passed much slower when I was a child and this walk seemed very long indeed, but for the first time I had actually left my town and crossed into another: Swanzey, and that was quite a feat in my opinion. Swanzey lies to the south of Keene and it isn’t very far but I remember feeling so tired that day when I came to this road, and I had the walk home still ahead of me. I could have waited for the Boston and Maine freight and hopped it, but my grandmother told me in graphic detail what can happen to little boys who try to hop on trains. Of course she did that to keep me from hopping the trains I saw creeping by twice a day, and it was very effective. I wanted badly to try, but I never did.

So I walked back home dog tired but elated, and as I retraced those steps on this day once again I realized how very lucky I was to have had this place to grow up in; to be able to run and play in the fields and forests along the river, surrounded by and immersed in nature. It was such a glorious life and if I ever had a choice of where and when I could return to it would be that place and that time, because for me there is simply nothing better. I really do hope that all of you have a place that you feel the same about, and I hope you’re lucky enough to be at least able to revisit it occasionally.

A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thanks for stopping in.

 

We’re having a very strange winter here, with roller coaster temperatures falling to -10 degrees F one day and soaring to 60 degrees the next. In between we’ve seen more rain than snow and all that rain has frozen into ice, because it can’t seep into the frozen ground. I took this view of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey in one of the colder stretches. Now, a week later there is no white to be seen in this view.

A week ago there were ice skirts around the stones and now there are none.

An icicle had formed in a tree, which is a sight you don’t often see.

I had to catch a wave while I was at the river. When the sun is right they have such beautiful colors in them.

Frost figures danced across my windows one morning.

If you want to strike fear into the heart of any New Englander just tell them an ice storm is on the way. We’ve seen two so far this winter but they haven’t been bad enough to bring down trees and cause power outages. I’ve seen friends have to go for weeks with no power due to an ice storm in the past.

In an ice storm liquid rain falls on cold surfaces and ice coats everything. The added weight starts to damage trees like this birch and they begin to lose branches or fall over, bringing power lines down with them.

The more surface area exposed on the tree, the more weight the ice has. White pines (Pinus strobus) are particularly at risk of losing large limbs in an ice storm.

In spite of the crazy weather or maybe because of it, we’re having some beautiful sunrises.

I thought I saw some yellow on these male speckled alder catkins (Alnus incana) but that might be wishful thinking. Yellow or green would be pollen and pollen would mean they were flowering, and it’s too early for that. They’ll open in late March or early April after the maple sap has all been gathered, and then for a short time the bushes will look like someone has strung gold and purple jewels from the alder branches.

A bird’s nest fell off an outdoor building light where I work. It wasn’t very big but it was soft like a cushion, made mostly of mosses and grasses. It also had lichens and a few twigs in it. I think it was the nest of an eastern phoebe, which is a small gray bird about half the size of our robin. They nest all over the buildings where I work, but they don’t seem to be very smart because they will often fly into buildings when a door is opened. Chasing them out again can be a chore and it has taken two of us over an hour in the past. If you leave a door or window open and walk away they still can’t seem to find their way out again.

There was a lot of moss in the nest and it was easily the softest bird’s nest I’ve ever felt. I’ve read that eastern phoebes will take over the nests of swallows or robins but I don’t think this nest was built by either of those birds. They also re-use nests year after year, but this bird will have to re-build.

I think a lot of the moss used in the phoebe nest was white tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata.) This is a very common moss that I find mostly growing on stones in sunny spots. It would be a very easy moss for birds to harvest.

I’ve seen lots of galls picked open by woodpeckers and other birds but I don’t see too many oak marble galls opened. I was surprised at the thickness of the walls on this one. There would be plenty to eat all winter long for the gall wasp (Andricus kollari) larva had it survived the bird.

I saw a milkweed pod where I didn’t know they grew and of course I immediately thought of coming back in summer to hopefully see some monarch butterflies. I’ve seen more each year for the last three or so, but that doesn’t mean whole flocks of them. I think I saw 6 or 7 last year.

The birds and animals didn’t get to eat all the river grapes (Vitis riparia) this year and now the ones that are left look more like raisins than anything else. I was surprised to see them because they usually go as fast as they ripen. It could be that the birds simply had enough to go around; we do have a lot of wild fruits. River grapes are known for their ability to withstand cold and have been known to survive -57 degrees F. That makes them a favorite choice for the rootstock of many well-known grape varieties. We have about 20 native species of wild grape in the U.S. and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so they mostly made juice and jelly from them. They were also used to dye baskets a violet gray color.

An oak leaf skittered across the snow as if it had feet. More and more oak and beech leaves are falling, signaling spring isn’t far off. I hope.

You could almost believe you were feeling the warm breath of spring when two days of 60 degree weather turned the top layer of ice on Half Moon pond in Hancock to water. Ice fishermen are having a hard time of it this year because we haven’t had a lengthy spell of really cold weather to thicken the ice.

Since we’ve had some warm days and since the groundhog said we’d have an early spring, I went looking for signs. The ice was melting around the skunk cabbage shoots but I didn’t see any of the splotchy, yellow and maroon flower spathes. They are our earliest flowers so it shouldn’t be too long before they appear. Shortly after they flower the spring blooming vernal witch hazels will start in.

You might think that seeing daffodil shoots would be a sure sign of spring but these bulbs grow in a raised bed and raised beds warm and thaw earlier, so these bulbs start growing earlier. But I’ve never seen them this early and I’m sure they are being fooled by the few days of unusual warmth. They often come up too early and get bitten by the cold, which turns their leaves to mush. I’m guessing the same will happen this year but I hope not.

When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest.
~Earnest Hemmingway

Thanks for coming by.

It was cloudy but finally warm at 38 degrees F. last Sunday so I decided to see how the ice had grown in the deep cut rail trail that ice climbers call the icebox. Since we have had plenty of below zero nights I expected the ice to be big, and I wasn’t disappointed.


Though I’ve seen as many as thirty at a time, on this day there were only two ice climbers here. It was dark in this part of the canyon on such a cloudy day so I had to really increase the ISO on my camera. Sunshine is limited on this part of the trail even on a sunny day because it’s about 50 feet below the surrounding hill that the railroad cut through.


The ice climbers said this was their third time here but they were climbing on a skimpy little ice column that didn’t look like it would support much weight. I pointed out the huge ice column on the other side of the canyon and told them that was where most people climbed, but they stayed where they were and I bid them good luck. You could fit what I know about ice climbing in a thimble anyway.

This massive pile of ice is where most ice climbers climb but on this day you could hear water dripping behind it, and that was odd.


There was a large pool of water at its base as well, and that probably would have given me second thoughts about climbing it. If groundwater was dripping between the ice and the stone of the canyon the whole thing could come tumbling down, and you don’t want to be here when that happens.


But I decided not to think of such things and instead focused on the beauty of the ice. After all, it was why I had come. All of the water that drips from the stone walls of the canyon collects in drainage ditches originally built by the railroad 150 years ago. The water is carried by the ditches out into the woods where it must eventually find its way to a swamp or pond. Meanwhile beautiful patterns form in the ice covered ditches.

Ice can be very beautiful, especially on a warm day when you have time to linger and appreciate it. I often catch myself lost in the photos I’ve taken of it as well, wondering what I might see. I’ve seen birds flying, eyes staring, waves and rivulets caught in mid flow and entire galaxies, all frozen into the ice. I love what it did here; it’s much like a topographic map because if you look closely you see that the ripples formed around peaks, and the peaks are stones in the stream. It’s a beautiful scene, and there are thousands upon thousands of others much like it out there, just waiting to be discovered.


I saw that someone had put up a sign to warn snowmobilers that there were people on the trail. That’s a good idea because the trail curves in the canyon and I’m sure a snowmobiler could be just about on top of the climbers before he sees them, depending on how fast he was moving. I hear people complaining about snowmobilers but I don’t agree, because if it wasn’t for them many of these rail trails would have become impassable long ago. Many snowmobile clubs donate their time and tools and work hard all summer long to keep these trails open and we who use them owe them a real debt of gratitude.


When you come into the canyon you can go north where the ice climbers climb or you can go south where the most colorful ice grows. I usually do both. The walls don’t soar quite as high in this section but the ice comes in many colors and grows as thick as tree trunks.

There was lots of blue ice here this day and I wasn’t surprised because it has been so cold. I’ve heard that blue ice is the hardest and most dense, and its color comes from the way the dense ice reflects light, rather than any imperfections in the water.


Other colors come from the minerals in the groundwater, I believe. Some years you see lots of orange ice like this and in other years you hardly find any. You can see at the base of the column how the snow is stained by the dripping, mineral colored water.


Though I see green when I see this ice my color finding software sees tan. Since I’m colorblind the software gets the call. Whatever the color, this formation was big. This also illustrates why I don’t come here much after the end of February, because when large ice columns like this one release from the stone they often fall like trees, right across the trail. I’d rather not be here when that happens because a person could easily be crushed.

Here is some mineral staining on the stone walls of the canyon. I believe this is what colors the ice but the strange thing is how these colors all but disappear in warmer months. Cold brings out the colors in many things like tree sap, and apparently mineral staining on stone.


It was the texture of this ice column that caught my eye. It was like ten thousand icicles had all frozen together. Quite often you see these ice columns with a smooth, shiny surface but this one was rough.


Here is a better example of how the snow stains at the base of these columns.


Frost flowers bloomed on the ice covering the drainage ditches.


I don’t see these very often so conditions must have to be just right. I’m guessing it has a lot to do with humidity. I see birds flying above Saturn’s rings, and the universe beyond.


This takes the prize as the biggest mass of ice I’ve ever seen off a pond. It’s so big I don’t know how to explain just how big it is. Tons and tons of ice, I’d guess.


Somehow a beech leaf stuck itself to an icicle. I’ve noticed that many beech and oak leaves are falling, and I hope that’s a sign that spring isn’t far away.

A small animal came out of its den for a drink and found the well frozen over. Its tracks made the snow look as if it had been zipped together.


My walk through the canyon ends at the old lineman’s shack, because that’s where the big ice ends. It looks like the old building will make it through another winter, though I don’t know how. It’s the very definition of well built. I picture it full men sitting around a potbellied, coal fired stove, wishing they didn’t have to shovel all the snow out of that canyon. But that chore must have fallen to someone.

Ice burns, and it is hard for the warm-skinned to distinguish one sensation, fire, from the other, frost. ~A.S. Byatt

Thanks for stopping in.

Even by my own account this will be a strange post because it starts with a dream or a thought that I had about brooms. The very first thought I had one morning was “Three brooms,” so I wrote it down. Since I rarely remember a dream I pay attention to those I do remember so I said okay, we’ll do brooms. But what do I know about brooms?

I know broom moss (Dicranum scoparium,) but the only thing it has to do with brooms is how it looks like it has been swept by one. This is a common moss that likes to grow in the woods on soil, stumps or logs. Its leaves generally point in one direction and so do its spore capsules. It is said to be called “mood moss” by florists, though I don’t know why. The example in this photo was very dry, which does affect its appearance.

I know a little about another kind of broom, which is called witches’ broom. It’s a plant deformation which appears as a very dense cluster of branches and it is usually found on woody shrubs and trees, like the white pine in the above photo. Witches’ broom can also happen on food crops and in some cases it can be fatal to the plant. Rice for example, will die if the fungus that causes witches’ broom reaches it. Each plant has a different fungus that causes the broom deformation in it, so the one that causes it in rice will not affect any other plant. The witches’ broom fungus that affects potatoes causes the tubers to form on top of the soil rather than under it, and potatoes exposed to sunlight become toxic by forming a toxic alkaloid called solanine, so this will ruin the crop.

Mistletoe is a type of broom deformation but we don’t have it here, so this witches’ broom on a maple tree must have been caused by a fungus. It isn’t always a fungus that causes it though; in honeysuckles it is caused by an aphid and on hackberry trees it is caused by both a powdery mildew fungus and a tiny mite. On cherry and blackberry it is caused by a bacteria carried by insects from elm or ash trees.

The most common form of witches’ broom that I see forms on highbush blueberry bushes. This fungus lives part of its life on balsam fir trees. It is a rust fungus that must have a fir and blueberry as hosts, so the fungus from one blueberry bush can’t infect another blueberry. Most witches’ brooms in fact need two host plants; the fungus that causes witches’ broom in fir trees must have chickweed as a host and the fungus that infects spruce trees needs bearberry as a host.

Though witches’ broom on blueberry plants can be unsightly it doesn’t seem to harm the plant. When I was gardening professionally I picked blueberries from a bush with a large witches’ broom on it for years. This photo shows the dense mass of deformed branches that are typical of witches’ broom on blueberry. Medieval writers wrote of bewitched bundles of twigs called Hexenbesen, which were obviously caused by witches. In 1453 warlock Guillaume Edelin confessed to flying on a broomstick.

I’ve never seen witches broom on lowbush blueberry plants, but I like their spidery branch structure against the snow.

Now we come to the third kind of broom, the sweeping kind, which I knew nothing about until I did this post. Historically, brooms were made of just about any natural material you can imagine, including birch branches. It seems though, that people always found fault with them; they wore out too fast, they didn’t clean as well as they liked, etc. But then in 1797 in Hadley Massachusetts farmer Levi Dickinson made a broom out of sorghum, which is a grain native to Australia that he grew. Levi also eventually made a machine that made brooms faster than he could by hand, because everyone wanted one of his brooms. Levi and his broom machine owned the broom market until the Shakers invented the broom vise in 1798 and made the normally round brooms flat. Levi and the Shaker’s broom machines are credited with starting the industrial revolution and gave us the flat brooms that we all use today.

If you Google “3 brooms” like I did after my dream this is what you come up with. I don’t drink wine so I have never heard of it. I thought it was interesting that the brooms on the label are old style, before the Shakers re-invented them. This is the kind of broom that was used for thousands of years; sweeping is even mentioned in the Bible.

Well, I’m sure we all now know more than we ever wanted to about booms. Let’s hope I never dream of vacuums. I’m sorry this post strayed so far from my usual fare but doing a broom post allowed me to sweep away all thoughts of going outside in the bitter cold we’ve had. It was about -9 degrees F. the morning I started this post and it hadn’t reached freezing (32 degrees) until about 3 o’clock that afternoon, which was much too late to get out and take photos because it gets dark so early. I’ve found that, due to COPD, extreme cold is much harder to bear these days and in fact the doctors say that it can be dangerous. There is a bright side though; Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog didn’t see his shadow so spring will come early, even though the calendar says we’ll have 6 more weeks.

I make no secret of the fact that I would rather lie on a sofa than sweep beneath it. ~Shirley Conran

Thanks for coming by.

 

When the snow is piled high and it seems like anything of any interest is buried under it I go to the woods and look at the trees. They’re never buried and they always have something fascinating to show me, like lichens. Lichens will grow on just about anything including glass, but this post is devoted to those I’ve found on trees.

The yellow on the trunk of the tree in the previous photo I believe is made up of fringed candle flame lichens (Candelaria fibrosa) like that seen above, but I’m not a lichenologist and I don’t own a test kit or microscope, so don’t hold me to it. This lichen must like a lot of water because I see it a lot on the lower parts of trees that grow near irrigation systems, with trunks that are almost always wet in warmer months. This lichen always reminds me of scrambled eggs.

What prompted me to do this post was a visit to the doctor’s office. I walked past a tree that had bushy green things all over it and luckily I had my camera with me, so I ran back and took a few quick shots before the appointment. This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this.

It has taken quite a while to figure out what this lichen might be called but its green body (thallus) with flattened strap like branches and white fruiting bodies (apothecia) have led me to finally settle on the tufted ramalina lichen (Ramalina fastigiata.) A lichen guide from 1902 says this lichen is “very common in New England” but I’ve never seen it. It is also apparently very common in the U.K.

This is an odd lichen with large apothecia that look like they just erupt anywhere on the body but also look like they are stalked, depending how you look at them. Some are convex and some concave and some have rims and some don’t. The white apothecia are reproductive structures where the lichen’s spores are produced. This is a very interesting lichen that I hope to see more of without having to visit the doctor.

The doctor’s trees were full of surprises. I almost made myself late taking photos of the tufted ramalina so I went back later and looked the trees over a little more closely. When I did I found another lichen I had never seen; the Eastern speckled shield lichen. According to what I’ve read it grows on the bark of deciduous trees, has a bluish gray body with large brown apothecia, and has brown to black dots (pycnidia) on the surface of the body. This lichen has all of that but what it doesn’t have that I could see are white, grainy bits called psuedocyphellae so I can’t be 100% sure of my identification. If you know more about this or any of the lichens seen here I’d love to hear from you.

Common greenshield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata) is indeed very common. It’s a large lichen and colonies of them often grow to cover entire trees. Older ones wrinkle like the example seen here. Like many lichens they change color, and go from grayish when dry to yellow green when wet. This example had just been rained on a day or two before I took the photo but was still dry, so it doesn’t take them long to dry out. This lichen also taught me that many lichens prefer growing on the shady side of trees, presumably so the sun doesn’t dry them out quite so fast.

If you saw what looked like blue eyes near the greenshield lichen in the previous photo they were just the apothecia of the star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris) seen here. The apothecia of this lichen are actually dark brown but they have a powdery wax coating that can cause their color to change depending on the light. Plant parts with this powdery waxy coating are said to be pruinose and a good example of it is the “bloom” on blueberries, grapes, plums, and other fruit. The coating reflects light and protects what it coats from the sun. Depending on the angle of the light these apothecia can appear blue, gray, brown or black. That’s why it pays to visit lichens several times.

I was shocked to find a tree with hammered shield lichens (Parmelia sulcata) all over it, because my experience up to this point has shown it to be on the rare side here. There didn’t seem to be anything special about the deciduous tree they were on, but it was in a sheltered spot. Hammered shield lichen is said to have a large variety of named varieties and forms, so it can be tough to pin down.

Hammered shield lichens are silvery gray and their many sharp ridges and depressions makes them look like they’ve been hammered out of a piece of steel. Fruiting bodies are said to be rare and I’ve never seen them. It is said to have powdery, whitish soredia but I’ve never seen them either. This one had granular bits that looked like soredia on its lobe edges but they were gray, so maybe it’s one of the aforementioned varieties.

Poplar sunburst (Xanthomendoza hasseana) is a very pretty lichen but it isn’t very common, in my experience. It’s a good one to study because it has large apothecia that are almost always present. A close relative of this lichen, the elegant sunburst lichen, was sent into space and exposed to ultraviolet radiation, cosmic radiation, and the vacuum of space for a year and a half.  When it was brought back to earth it grew on as if nothing had happened, and that’s why many believe lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore as immortal as any earth based life form can be.

Some lichens prefer growing on smooth barked trees but others don’t seem to care and will form themselves to whatever shape the bark they grow on happens to have. What I think is a rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora) had done just that and was bowl shaped, but still happily producing spores.

Shrubby little beard lichens are fruticose lichens, and fruticose lichens have upright or pendulous branches. I think this one is a bristly beard (Usnea hirta.) Though it grew on the shadier side of a tree it was caught in bright sunlight, and I’d guess that it must get an hour a day. One way beard lichens reproduce is by fragmentation. Pieces break off and are carried by the wind or maybe animal fur to another spot to colonize. There are many of these high up in the trees and they come down, often still attached to the branch they grew on, during a good wind. I’ve found as many on the ground as I have on trees.

This is an extreme close up of a different beard lichen showing its granular soredia, which are another means of reproduction. A soredium is a tiny granular ball of fungal hyphae and algal cells. They can grow on the body of the lichen or on its margins. No matter what living thing you find in nature, it’s always about the continuation of the species, and the drive to survive seems very strong in all of the things I see.

I think this lichen is a powder edged ruffle lichen (Parmotrema stuppeum) because of its uniform gray color, broad rounded lobes with erect edges, and soralia on the lobe edges. Soralia are groups of soredia meant to fall or break off a lichen and are used as a vegetative means of reproduction. They are what makes this lichen’s lobe edges look like they were dipped in powdered sugar. This lichen also has dark brown to black undersides but they aren’t seen in this photo. It was about as big as a penny, or about 3/4 of an inch across.

Some lichens might look like they have little spiders on them, or maybe as if they had been carved with a pocket knife but no, the squiggly lines are the apothecia of the script lichen (Graphis scripta.) This lichen prefers trees with smooth bark and, from what I’ve seen, only produces spores in winter. You can walk right by a tree full of script lichens in summer and see only grayish spots with no apothecia at all. In fact many lichens seem to prefer winter for spore production and I’ve never been able to find out why.

Beautiful in its simplicity is the maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora.) Plain and undressed without the fussiness of other lichens, it makes me think I could just stand and stare at it, warmed by its calm, clean lines. But how does it reproduce? I’ve never seen any reproductive structures of any kind on it so I had to look it up. The answer is that it does have apothecia, but very rarely. It also has “a thin patchy layer of soredia,” though I’ve never noticed it. The white fringe around the outside is called the prothallus and using it is a great way to identify this lichen, because from what I’ve read there isn’t another that has it.

I hope you’ll go out and look at the trees in your neighborhood. You might be very surprised by what you see.

I find myself inspecting little granules as it were on the bark of trees – little shields or apothecia springing from a thallus – such is the mood of my mind – and I call it studying. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Thanks for stopping in.