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Posts Tagged ‘Abandoned Roads’

Last Sunday it was a warm but cloudy day when I went to the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene. I haven’t been there to do a blog post since last fall so it was time for another visit. Posts from there usually write themselves as this one did. In fact I often feel like I’m being led from one thing to another; as if there is a director off in the woods saying okay, bring him over here next, and there I find another fascinating bit of nature to show all of you. It really is amazing the way it works but I know I’m not the only one it happens to. Stories write themselves in many minds but whether or not they all include lichens, mosses, and liverworts I don’t know.

This old road was abandoned sometime around 1970 when the new highway was built but strangely, nobody I’ve talked to has been able to remember exactly when. I’m sure there must be records somewhere. As this photo shows, even though the old road is snow covered you can still see that you’re on a road by the old guard posts. Most have rotted away or been broken but in this stretch they look as if they might still keep a car out of the brook.

This post had moss capping it.

The moss on the post was one of my favorites, delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum,) which isn’t really delicate at all but it is very pretty with its fern like foliage.

If you picture a steep sided, V shaped canyon with a stream running through it you’ll have a good idea of what this place looks like. In the 1700s a road was cut through beside the stream and at one time this road carried quite a lot of traffic north out of Keene.

Beaver brook was frozen over for the most part and its normally happy giggles had been hushed down to almost a whisper.

The ice on the brook looked to be about 4-5 feet thick, and that’s because of the water rising and falling so often. Sometimes you come here and the water roars through the canyon, filling the stream banks, and at other times it’s tame, with low water flowing lazily along. If we get the warm temperatures predicted for next week it will be roaring again soon.

If you’ve ever wondered how trees get damaged in the woods, this is one way.

The tree with ice against it is in the previous photo is a golden birch (Betula alleghaniensis.) There are many of them here and they’re easily identified by their color and by the way their bark peels in shreds. These trees like it cool and moist and are often found near streams and ponds. They can also stand a lot of shade so a cool, shaded forest is perfect for them. Golden birch is also called yellow birch, and Native Americans tapped this and other birch trees for their sap, which they boiled down into syrup. They also made a medicinal tea from the bark.

Many of the golden birches here have healed frost cracks, which is that vertical bulge running up the center of this tree. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree and its cells just under the bark expand. If nighttime temperatures are cold enough the bark will cool and contract rapidly, quicker than the wood underneath, and this stress on the bark can cause it to crack.  It’s fairly common to hear trees cracking with a sound like a rifle shot on cold nights.

Stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is rare in my experience; this is the only place I’ve ever seen it and I’ve never seen it with new shoots growing, like this example had. The shoots are the tiny white pointed bits seen here and there. This moss was very dry; as dry as paper, so it looks a bit ragged. Normally it is a beautiful healthy green color that sparkles in the right light, and that might be what gives it the name glittering wood moss. It is said to be more common in northern forests and grows even into the Arctic.

Here is a closer look at the tip of one of those shoots.

This is one of thousands of common script lichens (Graphis scripta) that grow on the trees here. The black squiggles that sometimes resemble a long forgotten ancient text are its apothecia where its spores are produced. This family of lichens, like many others, seems to prefer winter to produce spores. Its long, narrow apothecia are called lirellae, and they’ll fade and all but disappear in warm weather. Script lichen is also called secret writing lichen.

An elderly lady passed me on snow shoes and remarked about how beautiful the place and the day were. I agreed, and I wondered if I’d be anywhere near as able as she when I reached her age. She must have been close to 80 but she was cruising right along.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) buds are naked, meaning they have no bud scales to protect the bud from the winter cold. Instead they have hair and this one looked very hairy. This native shrub will bloom in mid-May and will be covered with large, hand size clusters of pure white blossoms. The name hobblebush comes from the way it can “hobble” a horse (or a man) with its low, ground hugging tangle of branches. The Native American Algonquin tribe rubbed the mashed leaves of this shrub on their foreheads to treat migraines. They also ate its deep purple berries that appear in fall.

I got to see the chubby purple and green buds of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) that I enjoy seeing so much. They looked a bit dry but they’re on their way to opening I think. It looks as if the outer bud scales have pulled away from the buds. This is another native shrub that has clusters of bright red berries in summer that Native Americans used as food.

There are many ledges here along the old road and last year one of them collapsed into quite a large rockslide, with stones big enough to crush a car falling into the old road.

This shows the big hole in the ledge that the stones left when they fell. Someone small could sit in there behind the ice but I wouldn’t advise it because this area looks very unstable.

Most of the stone in these ledges is feldspar but there is some granite schist mixed in, as can be seen here. There are lots of garnets mixed into the stone as well and though some can be large none are of gem quality, from what I saw in my mineral collecting days.

With a last look at the beautiful blue ice on the ledges I walked back down the old road, in truth wishing I was seeing blue flowers instead. It looks like the end of the really cold air is finally in sight; we’re supposed to see temperatures in the 40s F. next week. That should finally get spring started in earnest.

Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen. ~Willa Cather

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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It was cloudy but warm last Saturday when I visited the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene. This is a nice walk on an old abandoned road that is only 5 minutes from the center of town by car, so quite a few people come here. I was pleased to see that there was little snow here on this day because it usually quickly turns to ice from all the foot traffic. As I said in my last post, it is very strange to drive from here where there is virtually no snow to my job a half hour away in Hancock, where there is plenty.

Beaver Brook was behaving itself despite all the rain and snow we’ve had. The last time I came here I would have been in water up to my neck if I’d been standing in this spot.

I have a lot of old friends here, like this plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) This is the only place I’ve ever seen it so when I want to see how it changes as it grows I have to come here. There are also many other one-of-a-kinds I can visit while I’m here.

I like the crepe paper like leaves of this sedge.

The sun finally came out just a few hours later than the weather people said it would, and the golden light falling on the brook was beautiful. I dilly dallied for a while beside this pool, thinking how some might consider coming to such a place a waste of time or an attempt to escape reality, but this is not an escape from reality; it is an immersion in reality, because this is just about as real as it gets. And getting a good dose of reality is never a waste of time.

This is the only place I know of to find the beautiful rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum.) Each rosette of leaves is about the size of an aspirin and looks like a little flower, and that’s where its common name comes from. Rose moss likes limestone and it’s a good indicator of limestone in the soil or stone that it grows on, so it’s a good idea to look around for other lime loving plants if you find it. Many native orchids for instance, also like lime in the soil.

Another moss that I’ve only seen here is the stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens,) which is also called glittering wood moss  possibly due to its satiny sheen when dry. Though it looks quite fragile I’ve seen it with icicles hanging from it many times, and it grows north even into the Arctic tundra. The stair step part of the name comes from the way new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s growth. You can’t see it in this photo but it’s a fun thing to look for if you find this moss.

Unlike the rarer mosses we’ve just seen juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) grows just about everywhere, but that doesn’t mean it is any less interesting than the others.

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

This is a look at the business end of the spore capsule, which is still covered by a thin lid of tissue. What looks like notches around its perimeter are slots that fit over specialized teeth called peristome teeth at the mouth of the capsule. These teeth move with changes in humidity and spread in dry conditions to release the spores, which are taken by the wind. The spore capsule’s diameter at this stage is less than the diameter of a piece of uncooked spaghetti. I’d bet that I’ve probably tried a thousand times over the years to get this shot and this is the only time I’ve succeeded.  I wish I had a microscope so I could get even closer.

Here was another moss that grew all mixed in with a liverwort. It was hard to tell exactly what it was but its sporangium were covered by white calyptra that looked like a swarm of tiny insects with white wings.

Here is a shot of one of the spore capsules from the moss in the previous photo. The spore capsules have a white (when dry) 2 part calyptra that doesn’t appear to be hairy, and I haven’t been able to identify it. I have a feeling it is another moss in the Polytrichum family but I don’t know that for sure. Sporangium means “spore vessel” in Latin, and of course that’s exactly what it is. Note the long beaked lid at the end of the capsule, which is its operculum.

The liverwort that was mixed in with the moss in the previous photos was the greater whipwort liverwort (Bazzania trilobata.) It lives happily on stones right along with mosses so you have to look closely to be sure what it is you’re looking at. This pretty liverwort looks almost like it has been braided and always reminds me of a nest full of centipedes.

Each greater whipwort leaf is about an eighth of an inch wide and has three triangular notches at its base. This is where the trilobata part of its scientific name comes from. It means “having three lobes.” You might notice though, that some have more than three.

There was a good bit of ice on the roadside ledges but it was rotten and falling so I didn’t get too close.

Drill marks in the stone of the ledges tells the history of this place. This road was one of the first laid out in the town of Keene, built to reach the first sawmill. If you didn’t have a sawmill in town in those days you had a dirt floor. Or one made of logs, which was probably worse than dirt.

It turned out to be a beautiful and relatively warm day. The lack of snow on the old abandoned road made walking a pleasure. I’ve seen this natural canyon with so much snow in it I had to turn back.

The yellow lines are still here on the old road, but since nobody has driven here since about 1970 they really aren’t needed.

One of the best examples of a healed frost crack that I know of can be seen here in this golden birch. Sun warming the bark in winter can cause a tree’s wood to expand. If nighttime temperatures fall into the bitterly cold range the bark can cool and contract rapidly, but when the wood beneath the bark doesn’t cool as quickly as the bark the stress on the bark can cause it to crack. On cold winter nights you can often hear what sounds like rifle shots in the woods, but the sounds are really coming from cracking trees. They can be quite loud and will often echo through a forest.

The spot where this yellow jelly fungus (Tremella mesenterica) grew was heavily shaded so I had to use my camera’s onboard LED light to get a shot of it. I was surprised when I saw the photo because you could clearly see the shiny and dull, matte finish surfaces on the fungus. I’ve read that the fungus produces spores only on its shiny side, but in previous photos I’ve taken the entire thing always looked shiny. This is the first time I’ve ever seen the two surfaces in a photo so I’m quite happy to have solved another riddle, even though there are always hundreds more just around the next bend when you’re involved in nature study.

If you come upon a white spot on a tree that looks like it has been inscribed with ancient runes you are probably seeing a script lichen. This common script lichen (Graphis scripta) was bold and easy to see. The dark lines are its apothecia, where its spores are produced, and the gray color is its body, or thallus. If you happen to be a lichen there is nothing more important than continuation of the species through spore production, and script lichens produce plenty in winter.

There is a great waterfall here but unfortunately you have to just about break your neck to get to it, so since I wasn’t interested in doing so here’s a shot of it from a few years back. Height estimates vary but I’m guessing about 30-40 feet, and it was roaring on this day. Just think; history lessons, plants, ferns, lichens, mosses, fungi, liverworts, a waterfall and a brook that sings to you all along the way. Where else can a nature lover find all of these things in one walk? Nowhere else that I know of, and that’s why I come here again and again. I do hope you aren’t getting bored from seeing it so much.

To taste life, so true and real. Sweet serenity. ~Jonathan Lamas

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1. Road Start

For years, at least since I was a teenager, I’ve known about this blocked off road in Swanzey, New Hampshire. Though I’ve known for all that time that the road led into Yale forest I never knew why or where it ended up, so I decided to walk it recently and find out. Old abandoned roads can be fascinating places because you never know what you’ll find along them.

2. Sign

The forest is called Yale Forest because it is owned by Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.  Yale founded a School of Forestry & Environmental Studies in 1900 and owns parcels of forest all over New England. Alumni donated land to the school or it was bought and sometimes even traded, and over time good sized pieces of forest were put together. The first land was bought by the school in 1913 but this particular parcel dates from the 1920s or 30s. It is 1,930 acres in size.

The road was once called Dartmouth College Road because if you followed in north far enough, that’s where you would have ended up. When the State Department of Transportation built what is now route 10 this section of road was abandoned and from what I gather by talking to the county forester and others, was taken over by Yale University. I’m not sure exactly how it worked but apparently, since they owned the land on both sides of the road it became theirs when it was abandoned by the state. In any event it is now considered a private road but Yale University is very good about letting locals use the forest for hiking and biking. Even their website says that the forest has a “park like atmosphere.”

3. Road

A forestry school can’t train foresters in proper forest management without a forest, so this is one of the places where they come to train, and part of that training includes how to maintain healthy woodlands. This parcel is mostly red and white pine that was planted or seeded naturally after the hurricane of 1938 blew down many of the trees that stood here, so none of it is original old growth forest.

4. Stone Wall

Stone walls crisscross everywhere you look and speak of the history of this place. At one time, in the 1800s most likely, this land was cleared for pasture and, judging by the rolling landscape and huge boulders, was probably used for sheep farming. Land like this wouldn’t have been any good for cattle and sheep farming was big business back then. Most of our hills and even Mount Monadnock were cleared right to their summits to create more pasture.

5. Vegetation Mat

I’ve been on a few abandoned roads and what struck me most about this one was how wide it is. It’s as if the forest had hardly encroached on it at all in the 85 or more years that a car hasn’t traveled on it.  Then I saw why; as the above photo shows, the mat of vegetation that grew into the road has been plowed back into the woods to maintain the road’s original width.

6. Skidders

And it’s a fair bet that this log skidder did the plowing.  It must seem to a logger like he has died and gone to heaven to have a paved road to travel on. Usually they’re up to their waists in mud.

7. Apple Blossoms

Apple trees are dotted here and there along the old roadway. Apple blossoms always remind me of my grandmother because I remember as a boy running up her stairs with near arm loads of apple blossoms because she loved their scent so. Of course, every blossom that I ran up those stairs with meant one less apple but those trees were more decorative than anything, and what a show they put on in the spring!

8. Starflowers

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) carpeted the woods just off the roadway. I have a contest with myself each year to see if I can find the starflower plant with the most flowers. This one had three, but my record is four and I’m always hoping for five. Starflowers are a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, seven sepals and seven stamens, but just to be different it can occasionally have eight petals like two of the flowers in this photo do, and I’ve seen photos of them with six petals. That’s just to remind me that always and never don’t apply in nature. These flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees.

9. Bluets

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) grew all along the sides of the road where it was sunny enough. Though this tiny wildflower is thought to be a spring ephemeral I’ve seen it bloom all summer long. I think it got the reputation for being an ephemeral because it often grows in lawns and once the lawn is mowed you don’t see the flowers any longer.

10. Plank Bridge

Beavers are active in these woods and dammed a small stream and made a pond, which then formed an outlet that ran across the old road and washed it out. I could tell that the road was here before the beavers dammed the stream by a stone wall that ran right into the beaver pond. The farmer never would have built his wall into the pond and under the water, so the beavers must have come later than the wall. The foresters have put these heavy, two inch thick planks over the washout to use as a temporary bridge.

11. Beaver Lodge

The beaver lodge looked abandoned and I didn’t see any signs of fresh tree felling. Beaver ponds are active for an average of 30 years and the first stage in creating one is damming a stream to form a pond. Our native trees aren’t meant to live with their roots under water because they take in a lot of oxygen through them, so finding living trees in an area like this would mean it was flooded recently. I didn’t see any, so this must be an older pond. Older beaver ponds fill with silt or the beavers move away and their dams erode enough to drain the land. In either case the beaver pond of today will eventually revert back to forest. When the forest has re-established itself and there are enough trees for the beavers to eat they will come back and again flood the land in a slow but ever repeating cycle.

12. Beaver Dam

The dam was still holding back water for the most part, but didn’t show any signs of recent activity on the part of the beavers.

 13. Male Mallard

Meanwhile, even though the beavers have moved away from their pond, many other kinds of wildlife still benefit from it. This one was shallow enough so all that a pair of mallards had to do was stick their heads in to feed, rather than tip their entire body up like they often do. They knew I was near and eyed me suspiciously but didn’t fly away like ducks usually seem to do.  He watched me while she fed, just in case.

14. Female Mallard 2

She spent most of the time feeding and I got shot after shot of a headless duck, but eventually was finally able to at least get her profile when she began preening. She was such a pretty bird.

 15. Log Pile

I was surprised by how small the logs were. The biggest and oldest at the bottom I doubt was even 50 years old. I wonder where they go and what becomes of them once they leave here.

16. Trail

You can tell by the trees left standing that the foresters are being very selective in what they cut, and are thinning the forest rather than cutting everything in sight. This kind of care benefits the overall health of a forest, especially since we no longer dare let forest fires burn themselves out. We have 4.8 million acres of forest In New Hampshire and a hundred years ago much of it was cleared for pasture land, so we are an excellent example of how nature reclaims the land. Man and nature can work together for the benefit of both, but it takes great care, thought and planning.

17. Killer Tree

Several trees had these “killer tree” ribbons on them and of course, me being me, I had to find out what they were all about. From what I’ve read they warn loggers that the tree is dead, diseased or has some other condition that might cause it to fall. It essentially says “stay away because this tree could fall on you.” Of course I found all of that out after standing five feet from the killer trees, taking their photos.

18. Striped Maple

One tree I’m always happy to get close to is striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum,) especially when it is flowering. The yellowish green bell shaped flowers are quite small, only about 1/4 inch across. Trees can have male, female or both kinds of flowers.  The loose hanging flower clusters (racemes) usually hang under the leaves but will occasionally rest on top of a leaf like this one did. They sway in the slightest breeze and can be difficult to get a good photo of.

19. Sarsaparilla

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) grows all through our forests and is a common sight. The plant sets flower buds quickly just as its leaves have unfurled, and often before they’ve changed from their early deep bronze to green. People sometimes confuse the plant for poison ivy before the flowers appear because of the “leaves of three” as in leaves of three, let them be. One easy way to tell the difference is by looking for a woody stem; poison ivy has one but this plant does not.

20. Sarsaparilla 2

In botanical terms the flower head of a wild sarsaparilla plant is called a globoid umbel. The umbel is made up of around 40 small white flowers that seem to burst from the center on long, pale green stalks (pedicels).  The flowers have five petals but I find them too small to be seen by eye. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful, and pollination is usually very successful; every time I’ve taken a photo of a wild sarsaparilla plant there has been an insect on it. This time is no different; I’m not sure what he is but he’s black and tiny and rests about two flowers above center at 12 o’clock.

21. Violets

Common blue violets (Viola sororia) lined the old road along with the bluets and starflowers and made the walk that much more pleasant.

22. End of the Road

I wondered where the old road came out but wasn’t too surprised to find myself on the edge of the “new” route 10. This is the road that replaced the abandoned one way back in the 20s or 30s. It’s a busy road and I had to stand here for a while to get a shot of it with no cars on it.

 23. Opposite Side of Forest

Just a short walk down route 10 from where the old road meets the new is one of my favorite views that I’ve driven past and seen out of the corner of my eye for over 20 years. Now I know what’s on the other side of it in the distance; a beaver pond.  Amazing what you can discover with just a little persistence.

Note: The photos for this post were taken over the course of a month or more, so if you think everything is a little greener at the end of the post than it was at the beginning, you’re not imagining it.

There are roads known by everyone and there are roads known by no one. Choose the second, the mysterious one where many glories are hidden. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Abandoned Road

Recently I was contacted by Sean Hurley, playwright and frequent contributor to New Hampshire Public Radio. Mr. Hurley had read the blog post that I did last year about an old abandoned road and was interested in also doing a story about it. We talked back and forth for a few days, trying to find a common space where we both would have time to meet on the old road. In the end due to my time constraints and his three day’s hence deadline we never did get to meet face to face, but the telephone solved the problem and he called to interview me late one afternoon. He had a radio voice that was deep and smooth, and his words sounded more like they were being poured than spoken.

2. Beaver Brook Falls

He had explored the old road earlier and had lots of questions so we quickly got down to business. We started by talking about the place in general and what I thought of it. I told him that I thought it was great that it was so close to downtown Keene and so easily accessible. People have a place where they can go to experience nature up close and personal and can also see a great waterfall.

3. Beaver Brook Garnets

Native garnets are good for use in the abrasive industry, but not much else.

We talked about rocks; about what kind there were there. I told him that there was a lot of feldspar in the area and how I used to go there to find garnets colored such a deep blood red that they  looked almost black, and which had formed way back when the molten feldspar slowly cooled. In fact there are so many garnets in places that it looks like they were shot out of a shotgun. And they are just about the size of shotgun shot, too-quite small.

4. No Passing Lines

No Passing Zone

“What about the double yellow lines on the road?” he asked. “The grass growing up through them must mean something.” He was hoping that nature boy would come up with something deep and metaphorical, but all I could think of was how it was sunnier where the lines were, and how nature was doing all it could to fill that sunny spot with leaf surface so not a drop of sunshine was wasted. I told him that nature was slowly healing the scar that man had made. He was less than impressed, I could tell. It was only later that I thought about how ironic it was that the yellow lines meant “no passing” when everything about this place speaks of the passage of time.

5. Beaver Brook  Ice

Beaver Brook in winter

He asked if the road ever changed. Thinking like a photographer I told him about how the light changed from day to day, and even from morning through afternoon. Once again he was looking for something more-something deeper-and it was only later that I thought about how beautiful the place is when the leaves are falling, and how silent it becomes in winter when the brook wears a blanket and the roar of the falls is muffled by gigantic, gleaming columns of ice.

6. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

We talked about the plants that grow there and I told him about trillium and Jack in the pulpit, about dog lichens and Solomon’s seal and red elderberry. He answered yes, he had noticed the poison ivy growing thickly along both sides of the road, and then asked about any rare plants that I’d found there. I told him about rose moss and blue stemmed goldenrod but forgot about several others, like the smoky eye boulder lichens so amazingly blue that it looks like the sky itself has been broken into pieces and sprinkled over the stones.

7. Star Drill Hole Through Feldspar

Hole through feldspar boulder drilled by hand with a star drill sometime in the 1800s.

We talked about history, and I told him how my search for the exact dates of when the old road was closed and when the new highway was built had been frustrated at every turn. Can it really be possible that everyone has forgotten? Aren’t things like that written down somewhere? I told him that I had friends who remember driving on it, and how I could remember traveling on it as a boy with my father.

8. Beaver Brook Bridge 2

As soon as I mentioned my father I found myself wishing he were here, because he’d know all about this old place, and I wondered why he never told me about the waterfall that we passed each time we drove through here. And then I wondered if maybe he had told me and I just didn’t listen. Hearing is different than listening and I was a headstrong youth who often heard but rarely listened.

9. Dad

And that’s how, much like the old road itself with all of its twists and turns, this became a father’s day post-so I could I urge those of you who are lucky enough to still have fathers to listen-really listen-to their stories. I can say with certainty that you won’t regret it if you do, but you might regret it one day if you don’t.

I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom. ~Umberto Eco

If you’d like to listen to Sean Hurley’s radio piece and read a transcript about the abandoned road just click here.

If you’d like to read the 2 part blog post that started all of this, just click here.

Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads out there. Thanks for coming by.

 

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Long time readers will recognize this place but for you newer readers who are interested, last summer I did what turned out to be a popular two part post on an old abandoned road that we have here in Keene. Since people seemed to enjoy it I thought they might be interested in seeing what the area looks like in winter. If you missed the original posts or if you’d like to see what the area looks like in summer just click here.

1. Old Road Start

This is the starting point. Rather than break a trail through fresh snow I let the cross country skiers and snowshoers get here first. I was able to walk on nice, packed snow with just hiking boots on.

2. Frozen Brook

The road follows Beaver Brook, named for all of the beavers that once lived here. In places the ice had completely covered the brook and in others it was close to doing so.

3. Frost Covered Shrub

Down near the water every twig was covered in hoar frost.

 4. Hoar Frost

Hoar frost grows just about anywhere when there is enough moisture and it is cold enough. Here the delicate, feathery crystals grew at the edge of a puddle. Just a single warm breath is enough to destroy their beauty, so I wrapped all but my eyes up in a scarf before kneeling in the snow to take this photo.

 5. Moss and Snow

The feathery patterns in the hoar frost were repeated in this delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum.) Though this moss has the word delicate in its name in my experience it is quite tough. Snow and ice don’t seem to bother it at all.  It is also one of the prettier mosses, in my opinion.

6. Frozen Waves

In places the brook looked like it had flash frozen, with even its small waves captured in the ice. Once again I saw the feather pattern that I had seen in the hoar frost and delicate fern moss. It’s interesting how nature re uses some of the same patterns again and again.

7. Icicles

There were plenty of groundwater icicles on the ledges, but there was also still enough rock exposed to allow some lichen hunting.

8. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

Smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaeralescens) are crustose lichens that grow well here. The gray fruiting pruinose discs surrounded by black borders are very striking. A pruinose surface is one that is covered by white powdery granules and looks as if it has been frosted or dusted with powdered sugar. In this instance the surface reflects light, so these apothecial bodies often appear to be blue instead of gray.

9. Mountain Haircap Moss Capsules

Mosses also grow on these ledges. This example of mountain haircap moss (Polystrichastrum pallidisetum) had open spore capsules (sporophytes). When immature these capsules are covered by a hairy hood that resembles a stocking cap, and that’s how the name haircap moss came about. This moss is very similar to common haircap moss (Polytrichum commune). The chief difference between the two is a disk at the base of the spore capsules. Common haircap moss has this disk and mountain haircap moss does not.

10. Old Road

I took this photo to show how close the brook is to the road. I’ve met people up here who have told me that they remembered seeing the water up over the road in spring. Evidence that the brook is slowly eating away at the road can be seen all along it.

 11. Brook Ice

Ice dams had blocked the brook and created large pools behind them. This one had the flow down to little more than a trickle.

12. Beaver Brook Falls

I’ve spoken with a few people that I’ve met here and I think a lot of them come simply to get a taste of nature. Others though, come to see Beaver Brook Falls, which usually splashes into the pool below with a roar. On this day it was partially frozen and the water was falling behind a curtain of ice, so the roar had been reduced to little more than a splash. This isn’t a great shot of the falls but the steep path down to the brook looked treacherous, so I snapped what photos I could from the road. Even though this area isn’t that far from downtown Keene a twisted ankle out here alone could quickly turn serious, so I decided to play it safe. If you’d like to see and hear the falls in summer, just click the link at the start of this post.

The sole criterion is to walk with the senses, with hands that feel, ears that hear, and eyes that see. ~ Robert Browne

Thanks for coming by.

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Swanzey Lake is a place that I visit quite frequently because of the easy accessibility of the surrounding forest. Like most lakes in this area there is a road that goes completely around it. Off this road, near a huge boulder covered with rock tripe lichens, is another road that I’ve wondered about for years. I was able to finally hike it recently.

 1. Class 6 Road Sign

This is a class 6 road which means, unless you know someone who has traveled it, you’re better off walking it than driving it-at least for the first time. I know of another class 6 road with two old timber and plank bridges out and nowhere to comfortably turn around.  I had no idea where this one might lead, but I was determined to find out.

 2. Class 6 Road

It wasn’t long before I was regretting leaving the Yak Tracks behind, but as it turned out the icy spots were relatively easy to avoid. I’m not in a Yak Track frame of mind yet, but I’d better get in one soon. Some of these old roads just end in the forest and others connect with networks of other old, forgotten roads.  There’s really no telling where they lead, and that’s part of the fun. Fun that is, as long as you carefully note any detours onto other roads that you might have to take. In some cases it’s possible to get seriously lost out here if you aren’t paying attention. I haven’t heard of any lost hunters yet but it usually happens every year at about this time.

 3. Ice Needles

I saw the longest ice needles I’ve ever seen along this road. The ones in the photo were at least 6 inches long and had frozen together to form thick ice ribbons.  Since they are extruded from the ground by hydrostatic pressure, they are almost always covered with sand or soil.

 4. Ice Pillars

Instead of curling like they usually do these ice needles grew straight up and brought stones along for the ride. Several of these ice pillars were capped by tiny pebbles.

5. Stone Wall

Stone walls mean this land was cleared once, and somebody lived out here. In 1822 the New Hampshire State Board of Agriculture suggested what farmers should do with all of the stones they found in their fields:  “Almost all farms have stone enough to make a wall for every necessary division and enclosure. Labor used in this way answers a double purpose; it secures the fields from the ravages of stock, and improves them by removing rocks which are not only useless, but inconvenient and injurious in their natural situation. A farmer ought to consider it his proper business, as he has means and opportunity, to secure his lands by stone walls.”  All he needed was a horse, a stone boat, and a strong back. And a couple of sons would have come in handy, too. By 1871 there were an estimated 252,539 miles of stone walls in New England and New York, enough to circle the earth 10 times at the equator. Today it is almost impossible to walk through these woods without finding them.

 6. Hilltop Wood Lot

Somebody is still cutting trees here. None of these are very old and most are hard wood.

7. Hoar Frost Almost every inch of this hemlock twig was covered in ice.

8. Puddle Ice

It must be wind that makes waves on mud puddles-even small ones-this one couldn’t have been a foot long.

 9. Birch Log

Puddles weren’t the only things displaying wave patterns. This fallen birch was as big around as a truck tire and might have made some interesting lumber. Spalting is a caused by fungi growing on dead trees and the wood is prized by woodworkers due to the unique colors and patterns that can form in the log. I was wishing that I could cut a slab or two just to see what the grain pattern would look like. This could be a very valuable log.

10. Sugar Maple

Next to the birch log stood a nice old sugar maple (Acer saccharum.) I don’t know why sugar maples are so often found near roads, but I’m guessing they were planted there so the sap buckets would be easier to get to. A paper titled Relationships between Soil Salinity, Sap-Sugar Concentration, and Health of Declining Roadside Sugar Maples by Graham T Herrick says that scientists all over the country are seeing dying sugar maples along roadsides. Road salt residue in soil inhibits plant water uptake and tips of branches in the crown start dying off. Before long the entire tree is dying. The strangest part of the study shows that the amount of sugar in the sap actually increases as the tree dies. The tree in the photo has probably never seen salt used on this old road, so it has had a chance to live a long, healthy life.

 11. Hemlock Varnished Bracket Fungus aka Ganoderma tsugae

I found several hemlock varnished bracket fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) growing on an old eastern hemlock stump (Tsuga canadensis.) It has a white outer edge and underside when it is young and looks very different than those in the photo. They are annuals that grow new from the mycelium each spring, and these examples were at least a year old, I think. This mushroom is said to be among the most valuable medicinal fungi. The Chinese have used it in their medicine for over 2000 years.

 12. Jelly Fungus

It was cold enough to freeze this orange jelly fungus but the sun must have thawed it out.

 13. Frosty Hole

This hole in the ground was about as big as a quarter-just right for a snake. Judging by the hoar frost around its rim there was plenty of moisture of coming out of it.  At this scale it looks like a cave.

 14. Icy Road

I won’t be leaving those Yak Tracks behind again until March, I guess. Snowmobile and four wheel drive clubs do a great job of keeping these old roads open, but there’s nothing they can do about the ice.

 15. Suburbia at End of Road

Suburbia. Not exactly the wilderness I was hoping for and not what I was expecting to find at the end of a class 6 road, so back I went the way I came. At least now I don’t have to wonder where this road leads and I know where I can go for a short walk that has plenty of interesting things to see.

An old road always looks richer and more beautiful than a new road because old roads have memories. ~ Mehmet Murat ildan

Thanks for coming by.

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