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Posts Tagged ‘Ash Brook’

On a recent hot, humid day I thought a rail trail might be a rather effortless walk so I chose one I knew well. When I started walking here some 50+ years ago trains ran through what now looks like a jungle. The railroad would never have put up with so much growth on the sides of the railbed of course, but I kind of like it this way. I was to find out that a little bit of everything grows here now, and the time spent here was full of discovery. This trail has become popular with bicyclists and I was passed by quite a few.

I saw lots of hazelnuts (Corylus americana.) Hazelnuts are a common sight along our rail trails but they have good years and bad years and more often than not there are no nuts on the bushes. On this day though, they were everywhere.

If you turn the nut cluster and look at the back you can see and feel the unripe nuts inside. There were four in this cluster.

Fringed loosestrife grew in shaded places along the trail. Note how virtually every flower nods toward the ground. As far as I know this is the only one of our yellow loosestrifes with this habit. Whorled loosestrife looks identical at a glance, but its flowers face outward.

A vine I never saw when I was a boy and saw only in one spot just a few years ago is spreading enough so now I’m seeing it almost everywhere I go. It is the smooth carrion flower vine (Smilax herbacea.) This native, non woody vine gets its common name from the strong odor of its flowers. There are both male and female plants, and they usually grow near each other.

The flowers of the smooth carrion flower vine become dark blue berries that birds love and I would guess that accounts for it quickly spreading from place to place as it has. The berries on this vine were still green but I would guess that they’ll be ripe by the end of July.   

Common mullein surprised me by growing along the trail. I’ve always wondered if the railroad didn’t spray some type of herbicide along the tracks because you never would have found plants like mullein growing here back when the trains ran. There were an awful lot of raspberries and blackberries back then though, but now all I see are canes with no berries. Raspberries and blackberries bear fruit only on second year canes so I’m guessing the young canes I’ve seen here are being cut. Possibly by a snowmobile trail improvement crew.

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) grew all along the trail and had large flower heads all ready to bloom. You can see how smooth and hairless its stems are in this photo. They are also a bluish color when young. This is another plant I don’t remember ever seeing here when I was a boy.

Here is a smooth sumac flower, just opened. They are so small I really doubted that I’d be able to get a useable photo of them. They look quite complicated for such a small thing.

While smooth sumac was just starting to bloom staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) had already formed fruit. I didn’t know that sumac berries went from green to pink before they became red.

Some of the things I remember most about this place when I was a boy are the cornfields, most of which are still here. More or less; last years drought killed off the young corn plants and for the first time that I can remember there was no corn growing here. This year in spring I came out here and found wheat growing in this field, as far as the eye could see. Wheat? I didn’t know what that was all about but they’ve cut all the wheat and are leaving this part of the field fallow, apparently. Off in the distance you can just make out corn growing, about a third of the way up in this photo. Why they didn’t plant the whole field I don’t know but the corn that is there was knee high by the fourth of July, and that’s perfect.

Here is the wheat I found a couple of months ago. It is actually triticale according to Google lens, which is a hybrid of wheat (Triticum) and rye (​Secale) first developed in laboratories during the late 19th century in Scotland and Germany. If the word triticale (trit-ih-KAY-lee) rings a bell you might have seen an original Star Trek episode called “The Trouble with Tribbles.” Everyone knew what triticale was except captain Kirk, and the tribbles ate all the poisoned triticale and saved the day.

I kept taking photos of the trail because I couldn’t believe how jungle like it has become. I dreamed of being a plant hunter in the world’s jungles when I was young, so I would have loved this. Back then though, this corridor was at least twice as wide.

There are things to watch out for in any jungle and on this day it was stinging nettle (Urtica dioica.) The Urtica part of the scientific name comes from the Latin uro, which means “I burn.” The hollow stinging hairs on the leaves and stems are called trichomes and act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that cause the stinging.

Buttery little sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) likes waste places and disturbed ground so I wasn’t really too surprised to see it here. I was surprised that it got enough sunlight to bloom though.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) bloomed weakly. Since it starts blooming in June I was surprised to see any flowers at all. I took this shot this way specifically so you could see the plant’s leaves. In early spring a lot of people confuse this plant with wild columbine, though the leaves are quite different.

What surprised me more than anything else I saw was a Canada lily (Lilium canadense) blooming beside the trail. This is something I would have remembered had I seen them here years ago. These plants are one of our biggest wildflowers. They can reach 7 feet tall and have as many as 10 flowers dangling chandelier like from long petioles. This plant only had 2 blossoms and I think it was because it didn’t get enough sun and grew in dry, sandy soil. I’ve seen woodchucks burrow into this ground and all they’ve brought up from under the railbed is pure sand.

Canada lily flowers are big, and can be yellow, orange or red, or a combination. They have purple spotted throats that aren’t always seen because the flowers almost always face downwards. If you’re very gentle though, you can bend a stem back enough to see into a blossom without breaking it. This plant is unusual because it prefers wet places. Most lilies, and in fact most plants that grow from bulbs, do not like soil that stays wet. They prefer sandy, well-drained soil. I almost always find Canada lilies growing along rivers and streams, and that’s why I was so surprised to see it here in this dry soil.

A tiny golden metallic bee landed on a leaf beside me.

The green berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are now speckled with red. Eventually they’ll become all red and will disappear quickly.

I was surprised to see tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) blooming out here. Though it can reach 10 feet tall its flowers are very small; no more than a 1/4 inch across, and appear in loose clusters at the top of wiry stalks. Native Americans used the plant for pain relief, as a stimulant, and for calming the nerves. The milky white sap contains a compound called lactucarium, which has narcotic and sedative properties. It is still used in medicines today but should be used with caution because overdoses can cause death.

There was the trestle over ash brook, where the brook meets the Ashuelot River after it snakes its way through Keene. I usually like to go under it and see what flowers are blooming along the banks of the brook but we’ve had several inches of rain and the water was far too high.

Of course the river was high as well. Not too far from this spot there used to be a small island in the river just off shore, and an oak tree had fallen from the river bank to the island and made a bridge. I used to spend many happy hours on that island but high water like that which we see here first washed away the oak tree bridge and then over the years the island disappeared as well. Water is a powerful thing.

This is a magical place for me. It’s a place where I can see, better than anywhere else, how the world has changed. Or at least this small part of it. The land in this view for instance was a cornfield when I was a boy. Now it’s just silver and red maples and a lot of sensitive ferns; all plants that don’t mind wet feet. If you walk through here you find that the surface soil is pure silt, as fine as sifted flour, and that makes me think they probably stopped farming this piece of land because of flooding. Both the brook and the river still flood in this area and since as I write this on July 11 there are rain or showers predicted every day for the coming week, it’s liable to flood again.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. ~John Lubbock

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I had an unusual thing happen last Saturday; I wanted to walk a favorite rail trail to see what I could find for fall color, but when I got there I found that I had forgotten to put the fully charged battery in the camera where it belonged. It was the “big camera” too, the one I use for landscape photos, so I was a bit perplexed for a moment or two.

But coincidentally a friend had given me one of his old Apple i phones just the day before and I had watched You tube videos the night before on how to use it. To make a long story shorter; many of the photos in this post were taken with that phone. I had never used an Apple product before this day but I was in a sink or swim position and I would have to learn quickly. In the end I found the hardest part of using it was keeping my finger from in front of the lens. They are very easy to use; at least as a camera.

The phone camera seemed to hold true to the color of this trailside maple.

As well as the color of this black birch.

Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is terribly invasive but it can be very beautiful in the fall.

A lily seedpod told me I should have been here in June. It might have been a red wood lily, which I rarely see.

Wild grapes grew thickly in spots along the trail.

It’s a good year for grapes. I think these were river grapes (Vitis riparia.)

Once you know both plants it would be hard to mistake the berries of the smooth carrion flower vine (Smilax herbacea) for wild grapes but they are the same color and sometimes grow side by side. Carrion flower gets its name from the strong odor of its flowers, which smell like rotting meat. The vine can reach 8 feet long, with golf ball size flower heads all along it. The female flower clusters when pollinated become globular clusters of dark blue fruit like those seen here. The berries are said to be a favorite of song and game birds so I was surprised to find several clusters of them. Raccoons and black bears also eat the fruit. Native Americans and early colonists ate the roots, spring shoots and berries of the vine but after smelling its flowers I think I’d have a hard time eating any part of it.

The i phone did a fine job on these New England Asters, even though they were partially shaded.

I took the photo of this plum colored New England aster with my “little camera.” It’s the Olympus Stylus camera that I use for macros and, though it still does a good job I think it’s on its way to being worn out after taking many thousands of photos.

Here is another i phone shot.

Seeing these turning elm leaves was like stepping into a time machine because I was immediately transported back to my boyhood, when Keene was called the Elm City because of all the beautiful 200 year old elms that grew along almost every street. I grew up on a street that had huge old elms on it; so big 4 or 5 of us boys couldn’t link hands around them. Elms are beautiful but messy trees and in the fall the streets were covered with bright yellow elm leaves and fallen twigs and branches.

Unfortunately Dutch elm disease wiped out most of the elms on every street in the city and they were replaced by others of various species. This elm tree died young; I doubt it was even 20 years old.

Eventually on this rail trail you come to a trestle, as you do on many of the rail trails in this area. The wooden parts were added by local snowmobile clubs and we who use these trails owe them a debt of gratitude.

I’m older than all of the trees in this photo and I know that because I used to walk here as a boy. They’re almost all red maple trees and they were one of the reasons I wanted to walk this trail. I thought they’d all have flaming red leaves but I was too early and they were all still green. I like the park like feel of this place; there are virtually no shrubs to make up an understory, and I think that is because the Ashuelot River floods badly through here in most years.

Sensitive ferns make up most of the green on the forest floor in that previous shot. Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) is a good wetland indicator and they grow all alongside streams and rivers in the almost always wet soil. Their shin high, spore bearing fronds full of round black spore cases make them very easy to see in winter. Early colonists noticed that this fern was very sensitive to frost and they gave it its common name. It has toxic properties and animals rarely eat it, but some Native American tribes used its root medicinally. I did see a beaver swimming down the river once with a huge bundle of these ferns in its mouth but I don’t know if they were for food or bedding.

I spent a lot of time under these old trestles when I was a boy so of course I had to see under this one again. I couldn’t get a good shot of it with camera or phone because of it being in deep shade but I saw one of the biggest hornet’s nest I’ve ever seen hanging from a tree branch under the trestle on this day. Luckily they left me alone.

I’ve always wondered how these old steel trestles were built but I never have been able to find out. I don’t know if they were built in factories and shipped to the site to be assembled or if they were built right in place. Either way I’m sure there was an awful lot of rivet hammering going on. I do know that the stones for the granite abutments that these trestles rest on were taken from boulders and outcroppings in the immediate area, but I think they must have had to ship them from somewhere else in this case because there is little granite of any size to be found here.

I used to think these old trestles were indestructible until I saw this photo by Lisa Dahill DeBartolomao in Heritage Railway Magazine. It took a hurricane to do this to this bridge in Chester, Vermont, but Yikes! Were there really only 4 bolts holding that leg of the trestle to its abutment?

The brook that the trestle crosses was lower than I’ve ever seen it and it shows how dry we’ve been. Hurricane brook starts up in the northern part of Keene near a place called Stearns Hill. Then it becomes White Brook for a while before emptying into Black Brook. Black Brook in turn empties into Ash Swamp and the outflow from the swamp becomes Ash Swamp Brook. Finally it all meets the Ashuelot River right at this spot. It has taken me about 50 years to figure all of that out. Why so many name changes? I don’t know, but I’m guessing that the settlers in the northern part of Keene and the settlers here in the southern part didn’t realize that they were both looking at the same brook. I always wonder if anyone has ever followed it from here to its source. It would be quite a hike.

The brook and river flood regularly here and the brush against the tree trunks shows the force and direction of the water flow. I’ve seen the water close to the underside of a few trestles and that’s a scary thing. I grew up on the Ashuelot River and seeing it at bank full each spring is something I doubt I’ll ever forget. Often one more good rainstorm would have probably meant a flood but I guess we were lucky because we never had one. I see by this photo that the i phone found high water marks on the trees, which I didn’t see when I was there.

I tried for a photo of a forget me not with the i phone and it did a fine job, I thought. It did take eight or ten tries to get one good photo of the tiny flower, but that was due to my not knowing the phone rather than the phone itself. If you took a hammer and pounded your thumb with it you wouldn’t blame the hammer, so I can’t blame the phone for my own inexperience and ineptitude. Before long it will most likely become second nature. That’s what happens with most cameras.

I saw some big orange mushrooms growing on a mossy log. Each was probably about 3 inches across. Due to the dryness I’m seeing very few fungi this year.

I saw a beautiful Virginia creeper vine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) on my way back. It was wearing its bright red fall color. No blue berries on it though. Maybe the birds had already eaten them all.

Since I wasn’t paying attention on my walk I got to pick hundreds of sticky tick trefoil seeds from my clothes. They stick using tiny barbs and you can’t just brush them off. You have to pick them off and it can be a chore. But that was alright; I was happy with the i phone camera and I got to feel like a boy again for a while, so this day was darn near perfect.

Boyhood, like measles, is one of those complaints which a man should catch young and have done with, for when it comes in middle life it is apt to be serious. ~P.G. Wodehouse

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