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Posts Tagged ‘appalachian mountain club’

The last time I visited the deep cut rail trail that was once part of the northern branch of the Cheshire Railroad there were huge columns of ice hanging from the walls of the manmade canyon. These ice columns start to melt in the spring and can sometimes fall into the trail. Since they’re big enough to crush a person I stay away from this, one of my favorite places, until I’m sure they’ve melted. Though we’ve had a cool May I was sure they had melted by last Sunday, so off I went.

Right off I noticed something disturbing; a rock half the size of a Volkswagen Beetle had fallen from the face of the canyon. Particularly disturbing was how it fell right into the drainage ditch, which is where I am when I want to get close to the liverworts and other plants that grow on these walls. Thoughts of tons of stone whistling 50 feet down through the air certainly captured my attention for a while. It’s going to take a lot more than muscle and pry bars to move this one. I’m not sure that a backhoe could even move it.

As I walked around the stone I saw that more than one had fallen, and when they fell they took down a yellow birch tree about 6 inches across, which someone had cut up. The New Hampshire chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club comes here to train in rock and ice climbing and I hope there wasn’t anyone near here when all of this fell. If anyone were to be hit by even the smallest stone I doubt they would have survived.

Rocks fall here regularly because of the constantly seeping groundwater. In the winter it freezes, and when it freezes the ice in the many fissures inside the stone expands enough to fracture it into pieces, which eventually succumb to gravity. This year there is a lot of groundwater seeping through; all the cliff faces were wet, as the above photo shows. Of course, the plants love it.

Three or four years ago a stream appeared out of nowhere and has run down the rock face ever since, winter and summer. It’s a good thing the railroad dug wide drainage ditches along this section of rail bed, otherwise the place would be flooded and impassable from so much water constantly pouring in. The ditches have kept the rail bed dry for nearly 150 years now.

Apparently I’ve been walking right by mountain maple trees (Acer spicatum) all of my life without realizing it, but now all of the sudden I’m seeing them everywhere I go. That could be because they’re flowering now, and these trees flower like no other maple. All other maple trees have flowers that hang down but mountain maple’s flower clusters stand upright, above the leaves. At a glance the big leaves look much like striped maple leaves (Acer pensylvanicum) and I think that’s why I haven’t noticed them; I didn’t look closely. The shrub like tree is a good indicator of moist soil which leans toward the alkaline side of neutral. Native Americans made an infusion of the pith of the young twigs to use as eye drops to soothe eyes irritated by campfire smoke, and the large leaves were packed around apples and root crops to help preserve them.

There might be plenty of fruit to snack on later. Wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) bloomed all along the trail but many types of wildlife eat the berries, so I doubt I’ll get any. Wild strawberry is one of two species of strawberry (Fragaria virginiana and Fragaria chiloensis) that were hybridized to create the modern strawberry. Strawberries were an important food for Native Americans and they made a cold tea of mashed strawberries, strawberry juice, water and sassafras tea to drink at their strawberry moon festivals in spring. For that reason it was called strawberry moon tea.

Up ahead a big red maple had fallen across the trail and its top had caught on the opposite rim of the canyon. There are many people who ride and walk along this trail and I hoped there wasn’t anyone near it when it fell. Once again I was dismayed to notice that, same as the stone had, the tree’s butt end fell right into the drainage ditch.

The maple had broken off about 6 feet up its trunk, probably in a good wind. Bark was missing and that’s a good sign that it had died some time before.

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) grow here by the hundreds but I was surprised to see them because I’ve never noticed them before. I’m guessing that I’ve never come here when many of the plants I saw on this day were blooming. With such a huge variety of plants all growing together it’s a simple thing to miss a leaf or two, even when walking at a toddler’s pace. Before long many of the plants here, like tall meadow rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum,) will be shoulder high.

What I think are marsh blue violets (Viola cucullata) grow here by the thousands and I was glad that I got here when they were blooming because it was quite a sight. The 5 petaled flowers stand above the leaves on tallish (6-7”) stems and can be violet, dark blue and sometimes white, They are said to be darker at their center, as these were. Many Native American tribes used violets medicinally for everything from stomach pain to swollen joints. A blue dye was also made from the plants, used to dye arrow shafts blue.

When I look up at the rim of this manmade canyon I don’t think about falling stones or trees; I think about how lucky I am to have found a place so beautiful, where nearly every surface is covered with plants of all kinds. I think of the Shangri-La that James Hilton wrote about in Lost Horizon, and imagine that I’ve found it. As a boy I dreamed of being a plant hunter in distant jungles, and this is the closest I’ve ever been able to come. I’ve found many plants here that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll of the algae called Trentepohlia aurea. It is one of the things I found here that I can’t see anywhere else and is one of the reasons I put on my rubber boots and walk in the drainage ditches. Up close it is surprisingly hairy. I keep hoping I’ll see it producing spores but I haven’t yet.

Another plant I’ve never seen anywhere else is the eastern swamp saxifrage (Saxifraga pensylvanica.) In fact this day was the only time I’ve ever seen it, and I think the only reason I saw it at all was because it happened to be flowering. The thick, three foot tall flower stalk is covered in sticky hairs and terminates in several flower clusters. The flowers aren’t really anything to write home about; they’re small and greenish with petals that can be green, white or yellow, and rarely purple.  One plant has a single flower stem and both black bears and deer love to eat it. I know there are deer here so I was lucky to see it.

The big leaves of swamp saxifrage are in a basal rosette, each about 9 inches long and 3 inches wide, widest at or above the middle, with a blunt or sharp point at the tip, tapering at the base, on a short reddish stalk. The leaves and flower stalk are edible and the Native American Cherokee tribe ate the young leaves as salad greens. They also used the plant’s roots in a poultice to treat muscle soreness.

Another plant that grows here that I’ve never seen anywhere else is wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris.) At least I think it is wild chervil; so many plants in the carrot family look alike. Some call it Queen Anne’s lace on steroids but its fern like leaves don’t look anything like queen Anne’s lace leaves to me. This plant is thought to have been introduced to North America from Europe in wildflower seed mixes. It has been growing in this area since the early 1900s and is considered a noxious weed in many places. Oddly, some of those places are very cold, like Alaska, Iceland and Greenland. It makes sense that it would like this place then, because it gets very cold in winter and has ice columns that grow to unbelievable proportions.  Wild chervil contains chemical compounds which have been reported to have anti-tumor and anti-viral properties against human cancer cells. It is an entirely different species than cultivated chervil, which is an herb used for flavoring soups.

Mosses of every description grow to cover huge areas of the vertical walls because of all the water available. It makes the place seem even more like a lush, verdant paradise.

A little violet grew alone on a ledge where it would be constantly watered by the splashing water. I never knew that violets liked so much water, but I guess names like marsh violet should have been a clue. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water this year.

A dandelion also grew on a ledge near splashing water. I wondered how this plant, which has a long tap root, could grow on a stone that was covered by maybe a half inch of soil.

The beautiful great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) like to grow in places where they are constantly splashed by or dripped on by very clean ground water. I was surprised last winter to see that many of the plants had turned gray and appeared to be dying. On this day when I walked in the drainage ditch to get close enough for photos I noticed an odor rising from the water with each step, as if it were stagnant, and now I wonder if something in the water is killing them off. Even those that show new growth appear much smaller than in previous visits.

This is the only place I’ve ever seen this beautiful plant so I hope I’m wrong about what I’m seeing. Without knowing much about them it’s hard to say. What I’m seeing could be a natural phase of their life cycle. At least that’s what I’m hoping. I’d hate to see them disappear because they are one of the things that make this place so very special. Their amazing scent is where their common name comes from; if you squeeze a piece and smell it you smell something so clean and fresh scented you’ll wish it came in a spray bottle.

The photos of the liverworts were taken quickly, rushed because in the back of my mind there were thoughts of things falling from the cliff wall I was standing under at the time. I later stood at what is left of the old lineman’s shack thinking about that but knowing that though there may be danger here, I’d be coming back. For me this is a place of wonder and bliss, a place like no other I know, and I can’t just abandon it because of something that could happen someday.  What I can do though, is stay out of the drainage ditches. That I probably will do, but we’ll see.

Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing. ~Denis Waitley

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1. Ice Climbers

After our below zero cold of Valentine’s day weekend I wondered if the ice in the deep cut rail trail on the way to Westmoreland had grown. When I got there I could see that it really hadn’t grown much since my last visit but I was pleasantly surprised to see a group of ice climbers there. You can just see them in this photo, way down toward the light at the end of the canyon. That’s where the biggest ice grows.

2. Ice  Climber

Last time I did a post about this place that the climbers call the “ice box” several readers said they wished I could find a way to better show the scale of the place, so I broke my own rule and took photos of the climbers. I’ve avoided doing so in the past because I didn’t want to distract them, but since several of them were talking back and forth I didn’t think I’d break anyone’s concentration. These few photos should give you a good idea of the size of the place and the height of the walls that the railroad blasted out of the bedrock nearly 150 years ago.

3. Ice Climber

This climber had nearly made it all the way to the top. It must be exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time.

4. Ice  Climber

Ice climbers wear spikes called crampons on their climbing boots and have a tool called a pick in each hand. They swing a pick into the ice and then swing the other, and when they’re sure the picks will hold them securely they move their feet up until the crampons have found a purchase, and in this way they slowly move up the ice fall. There is always a helper with each climber who keeps the climbing rope taut or slack, depending on what is required at the time. These people must have great concentration.

5. Polished Ice

After our cold snap we’d had some warm days and the melting and re-freezing had given some of the ice columns a high polish.

6. Rotten Ice

Other ice falls looked dull and grayish white and these were rotten. Ice becomes rotten when water, air, and / or dirt get in between the grains of ice and the ice becomes honeycombed and loses its strength. Instead of a sharp crack when it is tapped it sounds more like a dull thud. It would be dangerous ice to try and climb, so you have to be a good judge of ice to be a climber.

7. Trail

There is still a lot of ice here in spite of the warm days we’ve had but as I walked along I noticed that much of it was rotten, and that’s my signal to stay away from this place until it has melted. I’ve seen ice columns as big as tree trunks fallen in the trail in years past, and I don’t want to be anywhere near them when they start falling.

8. Falling Ice

For the first time since I’ve been coming here I saw ice falling in the spot shown above. It wasn’t a huge amount but it was enough to warn me away until spring has taken a solid hold. This entire ice fall was rotten. Note how white it is, and how it has lost its shine and has become dull, even with the sun shining on it.

9. Fallen Ice

These fallen chunks were large enough to kill someone if they ever fell at the wrong time. The biggest was as big as a car tire.

10. Colored Ice

I knew I wouldn’t see sights like this again until next winter, so I took my time and admired the ice. This is a place where you can be immersed in winter’s beauty, and I haven’t found another place like it.

11. Ice Cave

You can just see an evergreen fern inside this ice cave. In summer this place is green and lush with most of the rock faces covered by plants, and I often think of it as the Shangri-La in James Hilton’s book Lost Horizon, but walking through here in winter can be like walking on a distant frozen planet. If there is a place where the difference between the two seasons is more apparent I haven’t found it.

12. Ice Free Wall

One wall in full sunshine had lost all its ice. This is an unusual sight here in February.

13. Liverworts

In one spot the ice had melted enough so the liverworts that grow on the walls could be seen.

14. Liverwort

After checking to see that there was no ice overhead and the ice covering the drainage ditch was solid I inched out across it to get some close ups of the liverworts. I only stayed for a minute; if the ice I was standing on had broken I would have been up to my knees in freezing cold water because I didn’t have my knee high rubber boots on. It would have been a cool walk out of here.

15. Liverwort Closeup

The beautiful reptilian great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) made the risk of cold wet feet worth taking. These liverworts like to grow in places where they are constantly splashed by or dripped on by very clean ground water. Though they like a lot of water they won’t stand being submerged in it and die back if the water level rises. Their common name comes from their scent, because if you squeeze a piece and smell it you smell something so clean and fresh scented you’ll wish it came in a spray bottle.

16. Trail

I always try to take photos that show how high the cliffs can soar, and this one does a fair job of showing that. In this section the trail was very icy. This winter any snow that has been packed down has turned to glare ice and is very difficult to walk on. That’s why I’ve stayed away from hill climbing this winter.

17. Ice Column

This column of ice was about as big as a basketball, or about 9.25 inches across. Though it looked from the trail like it had grown solidly along the rock face this view told a different story.

18. Lineman's Shack

The old lineman’s shack tells me that I’ve reached the end of what I came to see. I really thought that the winter snows would bring it down this year but I don’t think we’ve had more than 4 inches fall in a single storm, and that was the biggest. The other 4 or 5 storms were only 2 or 3 inches.

19. Lineman's Shack

There really isn’t much holding the old place up. It looks like a strong breeze would blow it over.

20. Gaffitti

I’d kind of like the old shack to stay standing. The graffiti inside always reminds me of my father. He would have been 18 in 1925 and lived near here and I always wonder if he came to see the ice like I do. None of the initials match his but he could have easily walked the tracks through here. I’m not sure what NLP! GH means; maybe: No Longer Present! Gone Home.

I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it. ~William Shakespeare

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1. The Icebox

Each winter seeping groundwater creates columns of ice that grow to unbelievable proportions in a deep cut railroad bed that lies slightly north of Keene. Ice climbers call this place “the icebox” and come here from all over New England to train. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club also holds ice climbing clinics here. I don’t climb; I just come to see beauty of a kind that I can’t see anywhere else.

2. Blue Ice

Some of the ice is blue. This example looked very solid and climbable.

3. Green Ice

Some ice is green. This example was on its way to being big enough to climb but I don’t know if the ice climbers will climb green ice. I’ve only seen them climb blue ice, which is very dense.

4. Icy Grotto

This ice formed a kind of shallow cave or grotto that I could have stepped into if I wasn’t so wary of falling ice and stone. It happens fairly regularly here and you don’t want to get hit by it.

5. Running Water

Most of the groundwater seeps through cracks in the stone but in places it runs in small streams and this is one of those places. One of the constants here is the sound of trickling water, winter and summer alike. The ice in this photo was formed by splashing water and was crystal clear. This place has taught me that there are differences in the clarity of ice, depending on how it has formed.

6. Drainage Ditch

The drainage ditches that the railroad engineers built 150 years ago at the base of the ledges still work as they were designed to and carry the water away down the gentle grade, keeping the rail bed high and dry. As the snow gets higher these ditches get deeper. I often put on knee high rubber boots and walk in them to explore the rock faces, but I didn’t do so on this trip. It was the ice I came to see.

7. Drainage Ditch

The water in the drainage ditches never freezes completely and its movement cuts off the ice on the ledges at water level. This means that the ice that looks like it’s hanging from the ledges really does hang and isn’t supported by the ground at all in many places. When it comes free from the walls and falls sometimes it’s as if a crystal tree fell across the trail. I wonder what the railroad did when such large pieces of ice fell on the tracks when the trains were running.

8. Orangey Brown Ice

Last year the ice in this spot was bright orange but this year it leaned more toward orangey brown.

9. Mineral Stains

Mineral stains on the rock faces tell part of the story of the colored ice but there are many reasons that ice can be colored. Even a higher density can turn it blue.

10. Orange Algae

There are other colors on these rock walls but they aren’t in ice. This orange patch is caused by green algae called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll. I’m not sure if the algae color any ice here.

11. Liverworts

Large areas of stone are covered in places by liverworts but they don’t seem to mind being encased in ice for the winter. In the spring you wouldn’t know they had seen any ice at all.

12. Mossy Ledges

Many mosses turn a yellower shade of green in winter but otherwise ride it out with little change.

13. Fern in Ice

This fern was completely encased in ice. Since it is an evergreen fern it will most likely lose its leaves in spring when new growth begins.

14. Dirty Ice

I think there must be soil washed along in the groundwater for ice to look dirty like this example does.

15. Ice Columns

I was hoping this shot would convey a sense of how tall this ice is but it really doesn’t.  These ice columns are too small in diameter to climb but the ice climbers go for the taller ice I’ve noticed, and these were plenty tall.

16. Green Ice

Much of the ice was half what it was last year but we still have February to get through. One of the things that made last February so memorable was the extreme below zero cold that went on and on for most of the month. If that happens this year this ice will become huge like it was then.

17. Icicles

This past week has been the coldest we’ve seen this winter so I’m sure the ice has grown some. I’ll have to visit it again before it all starts to melt away in March. When I leave here and write a post about the place I often marvel at having virtually no memory of how cold it was, so captivating were the colors, sounds, and shapes. When great joy passes through you inconvenience slips away. You remember the joy but not the inconvenience.

One moment the world is as it is. The next, it is something entirely different. Something it has never been before. ~Anne Rice

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1. Deep Cut

Each year at about this time I start wondering if the ice is forming in the deep cut rail trail that I visit up a ways north of Keene. This place gets very little direct sunlight so usually once the nights get cold enough the ice starts to grow, and our nights have been in the 20s lately. The ice grows steadily through January and February to the size of tree trunks. On this day though the temperature had soared into the 60s so there was little ice to be seen.

2. Ice

I saw that a few icicles had formed on the cliff walls but had quickly melted and fallen. Usually on a hot summer day breezes blow through here and cool it off to about 10 degrees cooler than the temperature at ground level. On this day though, for the first time, I felt a warm breeze blowing. I was dressed for two days before December but before I left I was sweating as if it were tax time in April. I should have paid more attention to the forecast.

3. Drilled Hole

Railroad workers used steam drills and black powder to crack this rail bed out of the bedrock about 150 years ago. You can still see many of the holes they drilled.

4. Ties

Signs of the railroad are still seen here and there. Here two railroad ties have been placed against the cliff face. Why I don’t know; possibly as help for climbing these walls. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club holds ice climbing clinics here and seeing them climb on winter weekends is common.

5. Bolt Hanger

They call this place the “ice box” and come here to train and get used to ice climbing before they go out and tackle the really big ice falls. You can see signs that people have been climbing on the higher parts of the wall, which I’d guess must reach 40-50 feet.

6. Mossy Wall

On this day the ice climbers would have been disappointed; there was more greenery than ice to be found. In places these walls are completely covered by all kinds of plants, mosses, lichens and liverworts and are very beautiful. It often makes me think of the Shangri-La that James Hilton wrote of in his novel Lost Horizon.

7. Possible Wall Rue Spleenwort

Some of the plants that I see here are ones that I don’t see anywhere else. I’ve been trying to identify this one for close to three years with no luck, so if you know it I’d love to hear from you. I have a feeling it’s a spleenwort (Asplenium) but I don’t know which one. It’s similar to wall rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria) but I don’t know if that’s it. Since there are close to 700 species of Asplenium it might be a while before longer I uncover its name. It grows right out of the cliff faces and is evergreen. It reminds me of flat leaf Italian parsley.

8. Built Wall-2

The railroad engineers used the stone from blasting to build massive retaining walls along parts of the rail bed. Drainage ditches run all along the base of the walls on both sides and still keep the rail bed dry after a century and a half.

9. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) still had their leaves and reminded me of spring. Their hoof shapes give this plant its common names. It has been used to treat coughs for centuries.

10. Insects on Branch

What I think were a type of winter crane flies (Trichocera) swarmed all over the cut surface of a branch and appeared to be drinking the sap. Others flew back and forth along the trail. Without too much effort I could imagine that it was almost April instead of almost December.

11. Water

In places small streams pour out of and over the rocks and there is always the sound of splashing and dripping water here. It’s like being near a public fountain.

12. Ice

There was some ice on a rock but it was rotten and probably fell soon after I took this photo.

13. Liverworts

I’ve seen many amazing things here and some of the most amazing are the large mats of liverworts that grow here in the many thousands. They’ve probably been growing here for the century and a half that these stone cliffs have been here. They grow on the rocks just above the drainage ditches where the humidity must be high, and to get close to them you have to wade through the ditches with high rubber boots on, but it’s worth the effort.

14. Great Scented Liverwort

One of my favorite liverworts is the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum.) I like its reptilian appearance and the fresh, clean scent that gives it its common name. It likes water but will die if it is submerged so it needs a place where it can be moist but not touching water. The groundwater that constantly runs down over the stones makes this the perfect spot.

15. Overleaf Pellia aka Pellia epiphylla

Another liverwort called overleaf pellia (Pellia epiphylla) also grows here but in nowhere near the numbers that the great scented liverworts do. I’ve noticed the overleaf pellia grows on the sunnier side of the cut and the great scented grows on the shaded side. When it gets cold this liverwort starts to turn purple as is seen in the photo. Though not even one tenth the size of a slice of bacon this one always reminds me of fried bacon because of the way its wavy edges curl.

16. Lineman's Shack

The old lineman’s shack’s walls seem to bulge and its roof sags just a bit more each time I see it. I wonder how many more winters it can stand before it can stand no more. Since there is graffiti dated to 1925 it I know that it has seen a few. What I don’t know is if my father, who was 18 years old in 1925, might have been one of the people who wrote on the walls. He didn’t live too far from here and might have once walked the tracks.

17. Antenna Rotor Control

The old 1940s bakelite television rotor controller still sat where it did the last time I was here. It seems so big and cumbersome now but it never did when I had to use one on our antenna years ago. It seemed like a marvel of modern engineering then.

18. Trail in February

This photo is from February of last year and is for those who might not have seen previous posts I’ve done about this place. The ice grows into massive columns and comes in many colors, including green, blue, black, and orange. I believe the many colors come from minerals, algae, soil and other contaminates, as well as the density of the ice and how it reflects and refracts light. It’s very beautiful and I look forward to seeing it each winter, but with the forecast calling for above average temperatures this winter ice like this might be hard to find.

Nature is shy and noncommittal in a crowd. To learn her secrets, visit her alone or with a single friend, at most. Everything evades you, everything hides, even your thoughts escape you, when you walk in a crowd.  ~Edwin Way Teale

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Last weekend we had a beautiful warm, sunny Saturday so I decided to visit one of my favorite places, an old railroad cut in Westmoreland that in winter becomes a cold, hard world of ice and stone.

 1. Ice Canyon

There was so much snow that I wasn’t sure if I’d see any living thing other than trees. I was surprised to find the wind blowing here because the day was calm. It is always at least 10 degrees cooler here than the surrounding area, winter or summer, and now I’m beginning to wonder if the place doesn’t create its own wind as well because, as I think back to previous trips, it always seems to be blowing here.

 2. Ice Climbers

In the deepest, most shaded part of this man made canyon a group of ice climbers were training. I’ve recently learned that the New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club holds ice climbing clinics here and it looked like that was what was going on. I didn’t bother them and let them have the ice to themselves. Ice was not what I was here for. 

 3. Ice Formations

Still, it’s impossible to ignore the ice formations. With ice like this it’s no wonder that they come here to train. I saw some rotten ice but I’m sure they know enough about what they do to avoid it.

 4. Mosses

This is what I came for-to see something green and growing. Mosses, lichens, liverworts and an incredible assortment of ferns and other plants have grown undisturbed in this place for nearly 2 centuries. I think someone could easily spend a lifetime trying to identify them all.

 5. Mountain Haircap Moss

This is a very wet place, with groundwater constantly running down the rock faces, and the mosses love it. This mountain haircap moss (Polystrichastrum pallidisetum) still had a few closed spore capsules (sporophytes) meaning that it’s busy trying to cover even more stone ledges.

 6. Fallen Tree 

This tree that has fallen and spanned the gap is my signal to start looking for liverworts, but as I looked at the ice covered walls it was hard to imagine anything growing in such harsh conditions.

 7. Canyon Walls

Fortunately in places the sun warms the stone enough to keep the walls clear of ice and this is where many plants choose to grow.

8. Velvet Shank Mushroom aka Flammulina velutipes

I saw a few clusters of velvet shank mushrooms (Flammulina velutipes) growing on a dying American elm. This is a true “winter mushroom” that fruits from September to March and can live through being frozen solid. When young velvet shanks are ivory colored but age to reddish brown. They are usually dark in the center of the cap and lighter colored toward the edges. These examples were no bigger in diameter than a nickel, but I’ve seen them reach 3 inches.

 9. Velvet Shank Mushroom Gills

Velvet shank gets its common name from the velvety feel of its stem, which is lighter near the cap. Jerry from the Quiet Solo Pursuits blog thought of the idea of using a telescoping mirror to see the underside of mushrooms instead of kneeling in the snow. I bought one and it works great but this one was high enough on the tree so I didn’t need to use it. The mirror idea might be good for those who have trouble kneeling.

 10. Narrow Mushroom Headed Liverwort

The first liverwort I saw was the narrow mushroom-headed liverwort (Preissia quadrata). This liverwort can be either male or female, or have can have both male and female reproductive structures on a single plant. Fruiting structures are short, umbrella shaped, spore producing growths that usually appear in March. The examples in the photo were just starting to grow fruiting bodies, which are the 5 or 6 little bumps that can be seen on the body (thallus) of the liverwort. I’ve circled one in white to make it easier to see. These will rise on short stalks before opening like an umbrella. Male reproductive structures will have flat tops and look like small mushrooms and females will look like tiny palm trees. I hope to be there to see them.

11. Snakeskin Liverwort

The snakeskin liverwort (Conocephalum conicum) reproduces in much the same way as the narrow mushroom-headed liverwort, but I didn’t find any getting ready to do so just yet. This is also called great scented liverwort and I remembered to smell it this time. I was astonished by its fresh, clean scent that immediately reminded me of air fresheners. It was kind of lemony, kind of spicy, but in the end impossible to accurately describe because I’ve never smelled anything exactly like it. It’s another interesting facet of an interesting and very unusual plant.

 12. Wild Strawberry 

Wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) was a plant I didn’t expect to see growing on these rocks in February but there it was, still attached to its parent by its runner (stolon).

 13. Railroad Shack 

It looks like the old lineman’s shack is going to make it through another winter even though half of the roof, most of the floor, and most of the siding boards are gone. Many were taken to be used as bridges across the drainage ditches on either side of the rail bed and they can still be seen here and there along the trail.

14. Railroad Shack Graffiti

I don’t know when it was built but according to the graffiti on its back wall the shack will see at least its 90th anniversary next year. My father was born and grew up in this town and I can’t help but wonder if he ever saw the inside of this building. He was 18 in 1925.

15. Large Ice Farmation

It’s going to be a while before all of the ice has melted in this place but spring is happening, even here.

There is beauty, heartbreaking beauty, everywhere. ~ Edward Abbey

Thanks for coming by.

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It takes about a half hour to get there from my house but the trip to Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire is always worth the effort and is a trip I try to make at least once each week at this time of year. It’s out in the middle of nowhere and is one of those places that approaches what the true wilderness must have looked like before European settlers arrived.

 1. RSP Sign

This park is a true botanical park and the only one of its kind in the state. People from all over the world come here to see the native rhododendrons (Rhododendron maxima) that grow here. The park contains the largest grove of these rhododendrons known to exist in New England. Common in south eastern states, they have reached the northernmost point of their growth here. The park was designated a national Landmark in 1982.

 2. RSP Marginal Wood Fern

Paths are wide and level in most areas. They are also shaded for the most part, and lined with marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) and many other plants.

3. RSP Wildflower Sign

Signs clearly mark the trails. I took a photo of this one because I come here for the wildflowers rather than the rhodies. Most wildflowers that grow here are quite common and what you would expect to find in New England. Partridgeberry, teaberry, wild sarsaparilla, bunchberry, blue bead lily, pink lady’s slipper, painted trillium and many others too numerous to list grow here. There are other orchids besides lady’s slippers, but they are very hard to find.

 4. RSP Rhododendron Grove

This native rhododendron isn’t like others-it blooms in mid-July rather than in spring. The land that they grow on is low and often quite wet and I think that’s why they have been left alone since Captain Samuel Patch settled here in 1788. The higher surrounding land was farmed but not where the rhodies grew. In 1901 a subsequent owner almost had the land logged off for timber but instead it was bought and given to the Appalachian Mountain Club with the stipulation that it be protected and open to the public forever after.

 5. Native Rhododendron Maxima

The National Park Service calls them pink, but I see white when I look at the blossoms. Though most of these plants are quite tall it is still easy to get close to the blossoms.

6. RSP Trail

The trunks of the shrubs grow in impenetrable thickets in places, and are so tall that you walk through “rhododendron tunnels” as you follow the pathways.

 7. RSP Mushroom

 With all of the large leaves of the rhododendrons overhead reaching for the sun it can be quite dark in some areas. That is why this park is also one of my favorite mushroom hunting places.

8. RSP Slime Mold

You know there isn’t much sunlight reaching the ground when you see slime molds. Sunlight is their number one enemy.

9. RSP Tiny Orange Mushroom

Some of the most interesting things here are small and hard to see. I’ve seen people walking the paths quickly as if they were in a hurry to be out of the park, and I often wonder how much they might have missed. This is the kind of place where you need to walk very slowly while scanning the woods along the sides of the path if you are to see very many wildflowers. I just found an orchid growing right beside the path that I must have walked by at least 20 times last year without seeing. It’s a small thing that isn’t blooming yet, so it doesn’t appear in this post. I’ve also found other plants here that I haven’t ever seen anywhere else.

10. RSP Stone Wall

What makes this place so special for someone like me is how the land has gone virtually untouched by man since at least 1901 because there are certain plants that absolutely refuse to grow in anything but old, undisturbed soil.  Unless a tree falls across a trail nature is allowed free reign here. As you can see in the photo a tree fell on a stone wall a long, long time ago and was left where it fell. This kind of hands off approach is important to many species of plants, and you really never know what you’ll find here.

 11. RSP Pipsissewa

Seeing pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellate) growing in sunny spots was one of the clues that I might see something even more special. I’ve noticed that this is a plant that prefers growing in undisturbed soil.

12. RSP Striped Wintergreen

Only another plant hunter will understand how my pulse quickened when I saw this striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculate) with flower buds. This plant is rare in all of New England but seems especially so in this corner of New Hampshire. I know of only two small plants and I’ve never seen them bloom until now. Someone from Connecticut wrote to tell me that they knew of a few colonies there on undisturbed land and I have also heard of isolated colonies in New York where it is listed as exploitably vulnerable, meaning when people see it they pick it or dig it up. The plant grows as far west as Illinois, but it is endangered there and also in Maine.

If you happen to see this plant please do not dig it up or pick the flowers! It will not grow in your garden, so leave it in the forest for the rest of us to enjoy.

 13. RSP Striped Wintergreen Blossom

 There is a fairly good chance that if you live in New England, you have never seen this flower. This was my first ever glimpse of it and I was surprised to see how much the blossom looked like that of pipsissewa. I shouldn’t have been though, because both plants are native wintergreens. If you’d like to see the pipsissewa blossom just click here.

 14. RSP Striped Wintergreen Blossom 3

I hope the small flies that are on the blossoms are pollinators so the plants will set seed.

15. RSP Patch House

Included in the park is the center chimney cape that Captain Samuel Patch built with his son sometime before he died in 1817. Captain Patch served in the Revolutionary war and took part in the battle of Bunker Hill and, though his house has changed hands a few times since being built, it looks to be true to its original footprint.

 16. RSP Sign

The house is closed to the public but what I like most about it is its old gardens that contain some very old plants like valerian and wood betony. This is also the location of the only moth mullein plant that I know of.

If you’d like to read more about the park just click here. I’ll be going back there today hoping to find an orchid finally blooming. I’ve been waiting for 6 weeks to see its flower.

The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity; it provides protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axeman who destroys it. ~ Gautama Buddha

Thanks for stopping in.

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