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Posts Tagged ‘Ashuelot Falls’

I had three days off due to the Columbus Day holiday but a heavy cloud cover decided to park itself over the entire region, so most of the photos you’ll see here were taken under gray skies. But this makes things interesting for me, because there is a long running argument that says colors “pop” better on cloudy days than they do on sunny ones. For me it depends. If the sun is behind me and I’m looking at the sun shining on the foliage the scene can be very beautiful, but on cloudy days you don’t have to worry about where the sun is. The colors still “pop” but in a different way, as this view from Howe Reservoir in Dublin shows. Mount Monadnock would have shown in the background if not for the low clouds.

I moved along the shoreline of the reservoir trying to get shots of the best color. An Asian couple did the same, taking selfies with their phones, presumably because the people back home would never believe this. Actually I’ve heard that there are people who think it couldn’t be real; that the colors had to have been faked somehow, but then they came here and found that nature can indeed be pretty colorful.

We still haven’t reached peak color yet so many trees like oak and beech are still green. It seems to start in swaths or pockets throughout the forest before finally the entire forest is ablaze with colors of every hue. I watch the hillsides that surround Keene and when they are showing quite a lot of color that’s my signal to start climbing and try to photograph it from above. So far I haven’t had much luck but I keep trying. My breathing is ragged this year so I’ll probably only get one try. I’ll try to make it a good one.

Birches tend to grow in groves, often mixed in with other species, so it’s hard to isolate a single tree to show you their fall leaf color, but this one conveniently leaned out over the water all by itself. They don’t vary much from the clear yellow that you see here, although I have seen red and orange leaves on birch trees occasionally.

In the fall blueberries come in yellow, orange, red, and the plum color seen here. They grow wild around our lakes and ponds. I can’t think of a single body of fresh water I’ve been on in this state that didn’t have blueberries on its shores. They are very common and their numbers are staggering.

In the last fall color post I showed some cinnamon ferns that were orange. Usually their cousins the interrupted ferns (Osmunda claytoniana) also turn orange but this one at Howe Reservoir was bright yellow.

Sometimes just a single tree seems enough.

But a single tree can never match the beauty of an entire forest wearing its fall colors. The asters were a bonus.

Red maples (Acer rubrum) don’t mind wet feet so they are often found it wet places, and that is why they’re also called swamp maples by many people. In fact some swamps are called red maple swamps. As this view into a swamp shows they come in various shades of yellow, orange, red and are one of our most colorful fall trees. They’re also called soft maple and scarlet maple. These trees can get quite big; the largest known red maple lives in Michigan and is 125 feet tall with a circumference of over 16 feet.

Both main roads and back roads are getting colorful now.  You don’t realize how many people come to see the foliage until you drive a road like this one. Usually you can walk on this road and not see a car all day, but on this day it was like a super highway. I had to wait a while to get a shot with no cars in it.

False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) had colorful leaves but no berries. They get eaten fast and I haven’t been able to find any ripe ones yet this year.

I still haven’t seen any scarlet poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) leaves but I did see some that I thought were pink. Unfortunately my color finding software sees the sky reflected off the leaves and thinks the few leaves in the lower right corner are several shades of blue.

Wild river grape leaves (Vitis riparia) turn yellow in the fall and this is a great time to find them because they stand out better now than at any other time of year.

I couldn’t let a warm and dry fall day go by without visiting the Ashuelot River. I started in the northern part of town and sure enough the tree that always changes before all the others had done it again. I can’t get close to it so I have no idea what it is, but it’s always early.

After visiting the northern part of town I visited town center at Ashuelot Park. This stretch of river is one of my favorites in the fall because the banks are lined with colorful maples. You have to come here relatively early though, because many maples change early and that means they drop their leaves early. In a week or so when I’m at other places admiring colorful foliage the trees here might be all but bare.

The falls over the old Colony dam on West Street turned to molten gold in the afternoon sun.

One of the reasons I love to come here at this time of year is because of the way the afternoon sun sets the trees ablaze with color. It’s beautiful and seeing people just standing and staring or taking photos is common. One girl with a camera told me she comes here every day. It’s a place people come to immerse themselves in the beauty of fall.

But which is more beautiful, the sunlight coming through the trees or falling on the trees? I can never decide so I always get shots of both. The colors are amazing no matter how you look at them.

I’ve been looking at this shot of a turtle on a log for nearly a week now, trying to think of what I wanted to say about it. What a lucky turtle is about all I can come up with. Not profound maybe, but I wouldn’t have minded spending some time on that log myself. I can’t imagine being any more immersed in nature than that.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

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Last Saturday it rained most of the day but Sunday had hit or miss showers so I hoped for the best and went for one of my favorite walks along the Ashuelot River in Keene. It was a damp, humid day.

I’ve known this section of river all my life. I used to fish here at the dam when I was a boy and they still fish for trout, pickerel and sunfish here today. All I ever caught were perch and dace but the river was a lot dirtier in those days. This dam is known as the Faulkner and Colony dam because it was built around 1777 by that company to power their mill. A few years ago there was talk about removing it to open up the river and another idea would refurbish it to generate power but I haven’t heard anything lately about either idea. I like the thought of restoring the river to what it once was without any dams on it. Two other dams have been removed in the past 20 years; one in Swanzey and one in Hinsdale.

Twelve Native American sites have been found along this section of river so far. At least one site dates back 10, 500 years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of these trails were originally made by the Natives, because they hug the river closely and have many good fishing spots along them.  The word Ashuelot means “collection of many waters” in Native American language and many small tributaries pour into it throughout the area. The Ashuelot in turn, empties into the Connecticut River before it finally finds its way to the Atlantic.

Arrowwood viburnum berries (Viburnum dentatum) were ripe along the shore but hadn’t been touched by the birds.

Elderberries on the other hand, were being eaten the minute they ripened. There were green berries and half ripe red berries, but no fully ripe purple-black berries on this bush. I don’t suppose I’ll ever understand why birds choose to eat what they do. We still have staghorn sumacs full of last year’s fruit, and what’s wrong with viburnum berries?

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) still blooms alongside rivers and ponds but its cousin steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) has finished. Native Americans used both plants medicinally.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) was ready to call it a summer. The leaves on this plant sometimes turn a beautiful purple color at the end of summer. Some Native American tribes used this plant to treat nosebleeds and others used it as a spice. It likes to grow in disturbed soil near water.

The most popular spot for turtles in this part of the river is the end of this old log. You can almost always see a turtle or two on it at any time of day so it’s a good place for children to walk. When I was a boy it seemed like this place had everything a boy could want, and I spent many happy days here.

In places the trail widens enough so that 4 people could walk side by side, but this width doesn’t last. On most of the trail 2 people side by side is more like it.

The prize for the most unusual thing I saw on this day has to go to what I think is a bleeding tooth fungus (Hydnellum peckii.) This large fungus gets its common name from the many droplets of blood red liquid it exudes when young. Though some of the droplets on this example were red most were more amber colored. The “tooth” part of the common name comes from the spines on its underside. The liquid the fungus oozes contains a chemical called atromentin, which has anti-bacterial and anticoagulant properties.

Here is a look at the mushroom under LED light, which shows that most of the droplets are not red. Because of the color of the liquid and the fact that I found it growing on a tree rather than on the ground I question my identification, but I can’t find another mushroom that “bleeds” and grows on trees. If you know of another species that does this and grows on trees I’d love for you to tell me about it.

A large tree had fallen into the river on the far side. This is a fairly regular occurrence and it always reminds me that, however slowly, the river is always getting wider. It was also quite high due to all of the rain. I think we’re up to about 10 inches in three weeks, according to the rain gauge where I work. This is after a moderate drought in the first half of summer and the dry land has been sponging it up fairly well until lately. Now there aren’t many places for more water to go. Even the forest floor has standing water on it in many places, so we need a dry spell. As I write this it’s pouring rain yet again.

Something had been munching on the starflowers (Trientalis borealis.) The Trientalis part of the plant’s scientific name means “one third of a foot” in Latin, and that’s just about how tall this pretty little plant gets. The spring woods wouldn’t be the same without its white star shaped flowers. This one had a seed pod; you can just see the tiny white dot between the leaf at 12 o’clock and the one at 1 o’clock.

Tiny starflower seedpods always remind me of soccer balls. They’re just about the same size as an air gun BB. The few brown seeds inside need a cold period to germinate and will not do so until the fall of the second year. Ants and other insects “plant” the seeds.

I saw some colorful turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor,) the first fresh ones I’ve seen this season. I’m hoping to see lots of blue and purple ones this year.

Woodland agrimony (Agrimonia striata) looks almost like goldenrod from a distance. The small yellow flowers grow on long spikes (racemes) on a short, knee high plant.

Woodland agrimony is said to be rare in New England and I believe it because this is one of only two places I’ve ever seen it. It grows in the shade near a tangle of many other plant species. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years dating back to at least ancient Egypt. Though the plant is said to be native to the U.S. and Canada I can find no information on how it was used by Native Americans, and that’s unusual. It is also called roadside agrimony.

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is one of my summer favorites, mostly because it dresses in my favorite color. This is another plant that loves water and it grows near ponds and rivers, and even wet roadside ditches. The bitter roots of this plant were used by native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into flour by some tribes, and others dried the flowers and used them as snuff to treat nosebleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the Europeans and they used it in much the same ways.

One of the reasons I wanted to visit this place was because I had seen narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) blooming in Nelson the previous week and I wanted to see if the closed or bottle gentians (Gentiana linearis) were blooming. Not only were they not blooming, they were barely budded. Narrow leaf and closed gentian flowers look identical, so you have to look at the leaves carefully to tell the difference. These leaves are wider and have a different overall shape than those of narrow leaf gentian.

The trail narrowed and got muddy after a time, but I was too busy enjoying all the wildflowers to care.

One of the wildflowers I saw was spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis,) which gets its name not from its orange flowers but from the way raindrops sparkle like jewels on its wax coated leaves.

I turn around at this little bridge because not too far beyond it you come to one of the main roads through Keene, and I didn’t need to see it again. Though this was a wet walk I made it all the way back and never did get rained on. It always does me good to be close to the river. I always come away feeling recharged, as if the 12 year old me has joined the me of today. I think that must be mainly due to the memories, because there isn’t a bad one to be found here.

The song of the river ends not at her banks, but in the hearts of those who have loved her. ~ Buffalo Joe

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The word “Ashuelot” is pronounced Ash-will-ot if you’re from this area or Ash-wee-lot if you’re from away. The word is a Native American one meaning “collection of many waters.” For years I read that the word meant “the place between” but that didn’t make a lot of sense. “A collection of many waters” makes much more sense because that’s exactly what the river is. Wandering the banks of the Ashuelot is something I’ve done since I was too young to even retain the memory of doing so, and I do it often. On this day I was happy to see that the ice shelves had melted and the sandy / stony shoreline was back. The river has been very high for over a month and it’s good to see it finally ready to absorb the next big rain storm, which should come sometime in April unless that month has gone haywire too.

I stopped to admire some ice formations and take some photos so I wouldn’t have to try and explain how cold it was. Actually it wasn’t bad in the sunshine when the wind wasn’t blowing but it was blowing almost constantly along this stretch of river, so it was a day to be wrapped up like you would be in January.

The ice had formed discs on every twig that was in the water and this was remarkable only because the ever splashing water usually forms icy tear drop shapes on the twigs. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen these disc shapes here before.

Here is what I’m more used to seeing. Ice baubles I call them, but there weren’t many to be seen. They happen because of the way the current makes the water constantly rise and fall along the shoreline, so one second the twig is in the cold air and the next it’s under water. The runoff freezes and layer by layer and an ice bauble is made. It reminds me of dipping a wick in melted wax over and over again to make a candle.

This is where I come to practice my wave catching skills but there were none to catch on this day because the water was too low. It has to be at just the right height for good waves to form. Too low or too high and there are no waves. I took some photos anyway though, because the water looked like satin as it poured over the unseen stones that cause the waves.

Oak leaves huddled together as if to warm each other in the chilly breeze. I love the warm, orangey brown color of last year’s oak leaves, but I won’t be sorry to see them finally fall.

The oak buds seemed to be swelling a bit but it was hard to know. Oaks are one of our latest trees to leaf out in spring.

I saw a chubby little bird in a bush which looked like it was hoping I wouldn’t see it. I think it was a dark eyed junco but I’m not 100% sure of that. I see these small dark colored birds feeding in flocks along roadsides where the snow has melted away from the pavement , exposing the soil and grass. I’ve read that dark eyed juncos come here as winter sets in and leave in spring, so they must like the cold. There are said to be about 630 million of them from Alaska to Mexico, and all across the U.S. from coast to coast.

I wondered if the juncos were eating the sumac seeds so I had to look it up. Apparently they eat smaller seeds like those of grasses, lamb’s quarters and the like, and in warmer months they also eat insects. Robins, blue jays, grosbeaks, ruffed grouse, cardinals and other larger birds eat the sumac fruit, but it never disappears here until spring.

I went to visit the Ashuelot Falls on West Street in Keene. I used to fish here quite often when I was a boy but back then the river wasn’t as clean as it is now so I didn’t catch that many fish. An occasional perch or dace was about it but that was fine, because my being here really didn’t have much to do with catching fish anyway. I’d let a forked stick hold my pole while I explored the river bank. Now they catch trout here, I’m told.

I wouldn’t have been surprised to see ice pancakes in January but this was March, so I was surprised.

Ice pancakes form when the river foam stirred up by falls or other turbulence comes together into a misshapen lump. As the current moves the misshapen lumps they bump and jostle each other until all the rough edges are shaved off and they’ve become round like a pancake. Then they begin to freeze and their edges build up into rims.

Here is what an ice pancake looks like when it starts life, before its friends smooth out all those angles.

Canada geese waded in the shallows. More and more of them are returning to nest and raise their young in the reed beds along the river. There is always one lookout standing tall while the others preen, sleep, or eat and they count on their lookout to sound the alarm. I wondered if most of these birds even knew I was there.

My pointing the camera at them was too much for one or two of the geese and they swam off quickly.

Normally a river gets deeper as you go toward its middle but a sandbar has grown here, so the water in the middle is quite shallow. Not good for navigation but the geese know they can stand here rather than swim and they take advantage of being able to rest while still in the water. The shading from dark to lighter brown in this photo shows where the sandbar is.

A maple tree had been pecked full of holes by an unseen woodpecker.

I didn’t have to see this woodpecker to know it was a pileated woodpecker, which is our biggest. Its holes are large and almost always rectangular. All of the holes in the previous photo would fit inside this one with plenty of room to spare.

The hole in this old red maple (Acer rubrum) was the biggest of all but I doubt very much that it was made by a bird or an animal. I think the river has washed the soil out from under it.

The hole was plenty big and roomy enough for me to comfortably sit in, almost like a hobbit.

I knew the old tree was a red maple by its buds. The bud scales in many of these examples had pulled back to reveal the many pinkish flowers inside. Those over on the left were even protruding a bit from the bud, but it was still too early to tell if they were male or female blossoms. It’s a good thing they hadn’t fully opened because the temperature fell to zero degrees on this night. The cold isn’t going to leave quickly this year but today is the first full day of spring, even if it doesn’t seem it.

I was born upon thy bank, river,
My blood flows in thy stream,
And thou meanderest forever,
At the bottom of my dream.
~Henry David Thoreau

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1-window-frost

Anyone who has read this blog for a time knows that I’m not a big fan of winter, but that’s because of all the extra work like shoveling the roof that comes along with it. Winter itself is a season filled with beauty, as this window frost shows so well. It looks like crystal ferns and when I was a boy most of the windows I saw in winter were decorated in this way. The newer double pane windows have pretty much put a stop to that, but car windows still become decorated on cold nights.

2-icy-woods

 

Once the ground freezes surface water has nowhere to go so if it rains or if the snow melts, small ponds form and freeze. This kind of ice makes it hard for animals like deer to get around because they slip on it.

3-monadnock

I paid another visit to Mount Monadnock the other day and found Perkin’s Pond frozen over but little snow on the summit. That has changed since; we had about 6 inches of snow on Monday but I haven’t had a chance to get photos yet.

4-monadnock-summit

On this day there was very little snow up there. It was cold enough so the bright sunshine wasn’t melting what there was though.

5-pond-ice

I’ve wondered for a long time what caused these spidery holes in lake and pond ice. I recently read that when it’s warm enough drain holes can form in the ice. When snow falls on ice the added weight forces the ice sheet to sink somewhat and water can wick up through the drain holes and wet the snow, forming channels that look like rivers. These dark spidery creations are called “ice octopi,” “ice spiders,” or “ice stars” and can sometimes grow to many feet across. This example at Perkin’s Pond was no bigger than a softball, or around 4 inches, with arms that stretched for a foot or more.

6-ashuelot-wave

The Ashuelot River hasn’t frozen and enough rain has fallen to create some waves again. I enjoy seeing if I can catch a wave at just the right curl. I don’t use burst mode on the camera so it isn’t easy, but I’ve found that if you are patient you can tune into the river’s rhythm and catch the waves in full curl. I love the colors of the river water in bright sunshine.

7-ice-bauble

Ice baubles formed on the river’s shore and the stones were completely coated with ice, so I had to watch where I stepped. This ice had formed into a round disc shape around a blade of grass.

8-river-ice

The sunlight on such clear ice is always enough to stop me in my tracks. The colors are so beautiful and the shapes in the formations always mind boggling. Like a thousand prisms bending light.

9-ashuelot-falls

I went to the Ashuelot Falls in Keene to see if they had frozen up but other than some ice from the spray they were flowing normally. I’ve seen them turn into huge blocks of ice but I’m hoping I don’t see that again right away. When the sun is just right they look like golden tinsel.

10-ice-pancakes

The waterfall creates foam on the river and when it’s cold the foam can freeze. The current keeps the frozen foam from forming a flat sheet by spinning the irregular pieces into circles. When the circles of foam bump into each other they form rims and start to look like pancakes. These ranged in size from car tires to cantaloupes, and sometimes smaller.

11-ice-pancakes

In fact they are called pancake ice and from what I’ve read are rare outside of the Arctic, even though I see them at least once every winter. In the Arctic, the pancakes can stick together and form ridges that pile on top of each other and can reach up to 60 feet thick but here on the Ashuelot they just float downstream. Whether or not they make it to the Connecticut River and then to the Atlantic Ocean I don’t know.

12-ice-pancake

This pancake formed around a reed and was stuck. It would probably never join the rest of the pack unless it thawed.

13-island

Wilson Pond in Swanzey has frozen over but not completely. If this ice was thicker it would have been perfect for skating on, but it won’t be thick enough for that for a while yet. The latest storm covered it with snow so unless someone plows or shovels it nobody will be skating here.

14-rime-ice

One of the things I saw when I explored the icy shore of Wilson Pond was rime ice. Rime ice forms when super cooled water droplets in ground fog make contact with something that is at a below freezing temperature. The thicker the fog, the larger the crystals. Rime ice can form on virtually anything, even snow. These examples grew on leaves and pine needles.

15-rime-on-leaf

I tried to pick up a twig with ice crystals on it and they were so fragile they just fell apart. This leaf was resting on the pond ice and I left it where it was.

16-rime-on-pine-needlws

I didn’t touch these ice covered pine needles either. The crystals look sharp but just a touch of a finger or a whisper of breath is enough to destroy them.

17-reflection

This was what sunrise looked like reflected in Half Moon Pond before it froze over. We’re not likely to see this again until March or April. It is beauty that will be missed, but it’s by far not the only beauty to be found.

18-half-moon-pond

This is Half Moon Pond now, with the latest super moon setting behind it. Yes, it was as cold as it looks.

19-rust

From a distance I thought these colorful bits were lichens on a piece of driftwood but it turned out to be rust on a piece of steel. But it’s still a beautiful color.

20-ice-patterns

Nature is so very beautiful at any time of year and these simple pleasures are there for anyone to see, so I really do hope you’re able to get outside and enjoy them.

What is life? It is a flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. ~Crowfoot

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1. Meadow Wildflowers

Sometimes I get tired of being sprawled out on the ground taking photos of small things and I feel like standing for a while, so that’s what this post is all about. White asters, yellow goldenrod and purple loosestrife made a pretty scene in this roadside meadow, so I had to stop to get a few photos of it.

2. Thyme

I drove through a local cemetery one day and saw that the lawns were full of blossoming thyme. Bees love thyme so I’m sure they were just ecstatic.

3. Path Through the Pines

Back before 1938 this path would have wandered through a white birch forest but the hurricane of 1938 blew them all down, so the city planted red pines in their place. The pines have grown very tall but don’t seem to have added much girth in three quarters of a century. This place is called the Dinsmoor woods, named after Mary Dinsmoor, who donated 13 acres of forest to the city in 1928.

4. Stream

I’ve driven by this scene nearly every day for over 20 years now and have always admired it in a quick, out of the corner of my eye way, so I finally stopped and took a photo of it. I can’t really say what it is about it that appeals to me, but something does. It’s the kind of place that I can just sit and stare at.

5. Beaver Lodges

Rye pond in Hancock, New Hampshire is at the top of my list of places to kayak next summer because of the beautiful orchids that grow here. I went there recently to get a feel for the place and to find a good launching spot. While I walked the shoreline I saw two beaver lodges, but I think they were abandoned.

 6. Beech Branches

Beech leaves don’t usually fall until the following spring, so bare beech branches in the middle of summer are very noticeable. Many of our beech trees are dying of a bark blister disease but I don’t know if it caused the leaf drop seen in this young tree.

7. Bailey Brook Lower Falls

We’ve had enough rain this year to make me think that some of our waterfalls would be roaring, but as this photo of the lower falls at Bailey Brook in Nelson shows, they weren’t doing much more than trickling. There are upper falls here as well but since it’s berry season and this area is known bear country, I didn’t hike up to see them.

8. Sunbeams

One day after a rain the clouds parted and sunbeams shot straight down to earth. I wish I could have seen what they were highlighting.

9. Evening Sky

The colors of the sky and clouds were beautiful after thunderstorms rolled by one evening.

10. Ashuelot Falls

The late afternoon sun often turns the Ashuelot River falls in Keene into a golden ribbon. Silky dogwoods grow along the shoreline here and soon cedar waxwings will be eating the ripe berries.

11. Pond

The water in this pond was as smooth as water can be. It looks like it won’t be long before the cattails in the background fill this shallow pond completely.

12. Pond from Forest

This photo was taken just a few feet from where the previous photo was taken. It’s amazing how just a simple change in perspective can have such an impact on the mood of a photo.

13. Fern Glade

I’ve walked by this little glade of ferns a hundred times but for some reason on this afternoon the light was like I had never seen it before, and had transformed the scene into something quite beautiful. I had to sit for a while admiring it, and I remember thinking what a wonderful painting it would make.

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

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