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Posts Tagged ‘Ashuelot New Hampshire’

Last Saturday was a beautiful spring day so I decided to walk a rail trail in Winchester, which is south of Keene. This particular section of trail has an abundance of wildflowers and native flowering shrubs all along it and I wanted to see what was blooming. Out and back the hike I usually do through here is 6 miles but on this day I cheated and only did about three miles. It was enough to see plenty of flowers.

The trail follows along the southern stretch of the Ashuelot River after it leaves Keene. In this area the river is at its widest. Not too far from where this photo was taken, in Hinsdale New Hampshire it meets up with the Connecticut River, and from there it will flow south to the Atlantic.

The railroad engineers had to hack their way through some serious ledges out here but nothing too deep, so plenty of light gets in. I think that must be why so many flowers grow here.

One of the first flowers I saw were these very small white violets and I wondered if they could be northern white violets (Viola pallens.) From what I’ve read it’s an early white violet that prefers damp woodlands, and it is certainly damp here.

The flowers sat atop long stems but they were half the size of the violets that I usually see. In fact they were so small that I couldn’t even tell they were violets from five feet away. They’re pretty little things and there were lots of them.

I think every shade of green I’ve ever seen was represented here on this day. The forest was amazingly beautiful and I felt like I was being bathed in chlorophyll.

Some trees like this cherry couldn’t have fit another blossom on its limbs.

Oaks were in the business of flowering too, but this one’s buds hadn’t opened yet. I think this was a northern red oak (Quercus rubra.) We have other oak species but red oaks are the most common in this part of the state.

I thought that these tiny oak leaves, just opened and velvety soft, were very beautiful.

I saw the first Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) plants of the year and I was surprised to see them blooming. This plant is also called cemetery weed because it’s often found in them. It was introduced from Europe in the mid-1800s as an ornamental. Of course, it immediately escaped the gardens of the day and is now seen in just about any vacant lot or other area with poor, dry soil. This plant forms explosive seed pods that can fling its seeds several feet.

All parts of spurge plants contain a toxic milky white sap which may cause a rash when the sap on the skin is exposed to sunlight. In fact the sap is considered carcinogenic if handled enough. Medicinally the sap is used externally on warts or internally as a purgative, but large doses can kill. Foraging on the plant has proven deadly to livestock. Cypress spurge has very unusual flowers. There were tiny insects flying all over this group of plants but I couldn’t tell what they were.

I was hoping the hobblebushes would be blooming and wow, were they ever. Winter must have been kind to these native shrubs because I’ve never seen them bloom as heavily as they are this year. Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is one of our most beautiful native shrubs in my opinion, and they have just started blooming. The large white, flat flower heads are very noticeable as they bloom on hillsides along our roads.

Botanically speaking the flower head is called a corymb, which is a flat topped disc shaped flower cluster. Hobblebush flower heads are made up of small fertile flowers in the center and large infertile flowers around the perimeter. The infertile flowers are there to attract insects to the much less showy fertile ones and it’s a strategy that must work well because I see plenty of berries in the fall. They start out green and go to bright red before ripening to a deep purple color. The outer infertile flowers are about three quarters of an inch across and a single fertile flower could hide behind a pea. All flowers in a hobblebush flower head have 5 petals, whether fertile or infertile.

These beautiful shrubs bloom all along this trail and when they’re finished native azaleas will take their place. The azaleas will be followed by native mountain laurels, so this place will be blooming for quite some time.

For the first time I decided to get off the rail trail and follow this old road, which leads to the site of a ruined factory which stood out here years ago. Undergrowth and trees grew close to the road, making it narrow and hard to see what was going on very far up ahead. I talked to a man a few years ago who told me that a black bear had followed him and his wife when they were hiking out here once, so this closed in place made me want to be super aware of every sound. I heard lots of beautiful birdsong and what sounded like a fawn calling for its mother, but I didn’t hear anything that sounded like a bear. I’d guess this place must be a bear’s dream come true though, because all these flowers will eventually become fruit. Rose-hips, hobblebush berries, blueberries, apples, crab apples, grapes, raspberries and blackberries are just a small sampling of what could be on a bear’s menu here. When all that fruit ripens it could literally eat its way over six miles of trail.

Rubble piles are all that’s left of the factory, which I believe was a paper mill. I think someone told me that it burned down quite a few years ago. There were a lot of bricks but little wood, so it seems plausible.

You can’t see it because of all of the growth on the far side of the river but there is a road behind the trees. At one time a bridge crossed the river here and led directly to this factory from that road. This pier in the middle of the river is all that’s left of the bridge, which was probably taken by a flood.

! was surprised to see trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) blooming out here because I’ve been here several times and have never noticed it, but a colony like this one has obviously been here for years. It grew almost vertically on moss covered stone.

This will probably be the last time I see these flowers this year. The brown spots on them is a good sign that they’re just about done.

There was a Boston and Maine railroad siding near my grandmother’s house and there were always boxcars parked there so I used to climb all over them when I was a boy. These tired old boxcars are slowly sinking into the ground they sit on but I like to come and see them. They bring back some happy memories.

These cars were originally from the Green Mountain Railroad, which still runs as a scenic railway through parts of Vermont. Why they were put out here I don’t know, but I’m sure they must have once served the paper mills in the area.

I saw quite a few forget-me-nots near the old boxcars. They weren’t really a surprise because I’ve seen them along this rail trail before. Only Myosotis scorpioides, native to Europe and Asia, is called the true forget me not. The plant was introduced into North America, most likely by early European settlers, and now grows in 40 of the lower 48 states. In some states it is considered a noxious weed though I can’t understand why. I hardly ever see it.

The big surprise on this day was seeing white forget-me-nots. I’ve never seen them before and didn’t know they came in white. They were pretty enough but I think I like the blue ones more.

The woods were ringed with a color so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a color at all. It was more the idea of a color – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts. ~Susanna Clarke

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone is seeing plenty of spring wonders!

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1. Trail Start

Last Saturday I decided to see if the hobblebushes were in bloom, so I followed one of my favorite rail trails out into the forest to see them. It’s a six mile round trip along the Ashuelot River and there’s usually plenty to see, so I’ve been looking forward to it.

2. Coltsfoot

Before I had walked half a mile I saw coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) growing in a ditch by the side of the trail and I was surprised that they were still blooming now, on this last day of April. In the past coltsfoot was thought to be good for the lungs and the dried leaves were often smoked as a remedy for asthma and coughs. It was also often used as a tobacco substitute, asthma or not. A native of Europe, it was most likely brought over by early settlers.

3. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot leaves appear just as the flowers finish their brief display and there were plenty of leaves to be seen, so this is probably the last photo of a coltsfoot blossom to appear on this blog until next spring. It’s hard to say that; it seems like spring has barely gotten started.

4. Dandelion

We won’t have to go without yellow flowers though, even when the coltsfoot flowers fade. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) as we have this year. We should really grow (and eat) even more dandelions; I was just reading a paper by the University of Maryland Medical Center that said dandelions are “chock full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc.” When I was a boy I ate the young spring leaves cooked just as spinach would have been. Like lettuce the leaves turn bitter with age, so you want to pick them young.  I’ve also roasted and ground the roots to use as a coffee substitute, and it wasn’t bad.

5. Trestle

Before long the rail trail crosses the Ashuelot River in Winchester. The old steel trestles still seem as strong as when they were built and are used by hikers, snowmobilers and bike riders. Other than snowmobiles in winter no motorized vehicles are allowed on rail trails, so it’s always a very peaceful hike.

6. Ashuelot

The Ashuelot was calm here on this day, but it isn’t always so. Lack of runoff from snow melt has kept it at summer levels and it will be interesting to see how it looks in August, which is usually when it reaches its lowest levels in this area. In some places you can walk across it and barely get your ankles wet in high summer, but it would be wise know the place well before you try it.

7. Maple Leaves

Spring was busting out all over along the trail.

8. Depot

Ashuelot is a town named after the river, (I think) and this is their old railroad depot. There was once an upper Ashuelot (Keene) and lower Ashuelot (Swanzey) and Ashuelot streets and roads are still found today. The word Ashuelot is pronounced ash-wee-lot by out of towners or ash-wil-ot by locals. The pronunciation is most likely a corruption of the original Native American word, which meant “place between” in the Native Pennacook or Natick languages. Between what remains a mystery. Hills maybe; we have plenty of those and the river does run between them before finally joining the Connecticut River.

9. Ashuelot Covered Bridge

The town of Ashuelot also has a beautiful covered bridge built in 1864, which is a strange time because the Civil War was still raging. I’ve read that it was originally built so wood could be carried across the river to wood burning locomotives, but I have no way to verify that. Anyhow, in spite of the fighting it was built in two spans and is 160 feet long. It’s a Town lattice truss style bridge, patented by architect Ithiel Town in 1820. The open lattice work sides were a big step away from the solid walled bridges that came before it. Now, instead of being dark like a cave covered bridges were filled with light and had better air circulation. They also often had covered walkways for pedestrian traffic, as can be seen on this bridge. I’ve crossed both styles and the difference is amazing. The change must have been a very welcome one to people of the 1800s.  At one time there were about 400 covered bridges in New Hampshire, and 70 of them were left at the end of the 20th century. The Ashuelot Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

10. Violets

Violets blossomed in great profusion along the trail and made me wonder about all the beautiful things the railroad workers must have seen along these rail beds when the trains ran through here.

11. Violets

I didn’t bother trying to identify which violets they were. I just enjoyed them.

12. Garlic Mustard

I didn’t have to try to identify the invasive garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) that grew in several places; I know it well.  Garlic Mustard spreads quickly and prefers growing in shaded forests. It isn’t uncommon to find areas where no growing thing can be seen on the forest floor but this plant. It is considered one of the worst invasive species because of its ability to spread rapidly and is found in all but 14 U.S. states, including Alaska and large parts of Canada. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed. It’s really too bad that more restaurants don’t use this potherb, because people foraging for it might be a good way to control it.

13. Canada Mayflower

Since it is native to North America it’s hard to describe the Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) as invasive, but it does form monocultures much like garlic mustard and I’ve seen large swaths of forest floor with nothing but Canada mayflowers, as the above photo shows.  Woe befalls the gardener who finds it in their garden, because its fibrous root system is almost impossible to eradicate once it has become established. If you try to pull the plant the leaf stem just beaks away from the root system and it lives on. The speckled red berries are eaten by ruffed grouse, white footed mice, and chipmunks, all of which help spread it throughout the forest.

14. Trail

I stopped here and took this photo because this is where a hawk circled over me, just above the treetops as I walked along. It didn’t make a sound but its shadow crossing in front of me gave it away and I didn’t even have to look up to know that it was escorting me down the trail. But of course I did look up and knew it was a hawk by the beautiful stripes on the underside of its tail feathers.  Unfortunately many hawks seem to have like stripes, so I don’t know its name. I’ve had vultures circle me but never a hawk; for it to do so for a few minutes seemed like odd behavior and I wondered if I had stumbled into its nesting site.

While trying to find the identity of the hawk I read that some Native American tribes believed that a hawk showed itself to a person when the person needed to pay attention to the subtle messages found in the natural world around them. The hawk was also a messenger and was said to bring gifts that included clear sightedness, courage, wisdom, and illumination, the ability to see the bigger picture, creativity, truth, magic, and focus.

15. Ashuelot

The Ashuelot gets very rocky in this area, mostly because of the low water level, and picking your way through in a canoe or kayak seems like it would be very tiring. If the rafts I built as a boy had done their job I would have had to face getting through it.

16. Pine Tree in River

There are other obstacles to river travel as well. That’s a full grown white pine (Pinus strobus) that was stuck on the rocks. White pines are the largest trees in eastern North America, and often grow to 150 feet tall. In Colonial times they were said to grow to over 200 feet but later verifiable accounts measured them ae about 180 feet. It’s a tall tree in any event and seeing one lying in the river like that reminds you just how big this river can be.

17. Bliss

There are places of bliss and torment in this world and we can usually tell which is which by the way we feel attracted to or repelled by them. This spot always calls to me when I hike here but when I took this photo I was about 30-40 feet above the river, and there is no good way down to it. It reminds me of an island in the river that I used to visit when I was a boy, and if I was 12 years old again I’d be spending a lot of my time down there in that little piece of Eden because if I couldn’t have found a path I’d have made one. Sometimes you have to put up with a little torment before you reach your place of bliss.

18. Hobblebushes

If you’ve ever lost yourself inside a painting, a poem, or a piece of music then you know why I’ll happily walk 6 miles to see a hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) in bloom. To see an entire riverbank full of them is beauty rare enough to see me walk twice as far. There really isn’t anything else quite like it in these spring woods, so you have to just stop and look.

19. Hobblebush

I had to get a fallen tree off this example before I could take a photo because it had squashed most of the blossoming branches down to ground level, and as a thank you for freeing it the bush didn’t trip me up. The name hobblebush comes from the way the low growing branches, unseen under last year’s fallen leaves, can trip up or “hobble” a horse or hiker. The name is a good one; I’ve found myself sprawled on the forest floor beside it a few times. I was a little early in visiting them this time so some of the small fertile central flowers hadn’t fully opened, but the large outer sterile ones more than made up for it. If it wasn’t for the rail trail through here no one would ever see these beautiful shrubs or the wild azaleas and mountain laurels that will follow, and that would really be too bad.

Note: A viburnum with similar flowers called cranberry bush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) can be found at nurseries.

20. Bent Railroad Tie

Someone made a bench out of an old railroad tie. Normally there wouldn’t be anything noteworthy about that but this one is bent, and that’s very strange. It must be natural, maybe because of the weather; I don’t think mankind could find a way to bend one of these in that way unless steam was used. Surely it wasn’t done out here in the middle of the woods with only hand tools.

21. Box Culvert

Man can do some remarkable things out in the woods with only hand tools though, and I wonder how many of these box culverts were built along these Boston and Maine Railroad tracks back in the mid-1800s. There must be thousands of them. This one caught my interest because every other one I’ve seen was put up dry with no mortar, but this one had all its joints mortared. I’m guessing it was a repair that came later. You can see how the bottom left corner of the opening is kicked in towards the center a bit and instead of repairing it correctly someone must have tried to cement it back together. How the damage could have happened in the first place I don’t know, but since I usually have a pocket full of mysteries when I leave places like this, adding one more was no real burden.

22. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots asked that I remember all I had seen here today. I’m fairly certain that it’ll stay with me for quite a while.

Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams. ~Ashley Smith

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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