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Posts Tagged ‘Ashuelot River’

When I came to this wildlife management area back in September, I saw an amzing number of flowers in bloom but I also noticed the trees. They were almost all maples and of course they were all green then but I thought they must be glorious in the fall, so that’s what this post is about. We’re going into that forest you see in the above photo.

The wires you saw in the previous photo are from the high-tension powerlines that run through here. I played under them as a boy and have walked under them off and on for most of my life, but a few years ago a man was electrocuted very near here when a wooden cross arm failed and a wire fell and touched the ground. The current travels through the ground and will kill you long before you get close to the fallen wire, so now I always look up to make sure all the wires are hanging where they should be. On this day they looked fine but I wasn’t going to be under them long.

It was a cloudy, cool day; the kind of day you find bees sleeping on flowers, and that’s what one was doing. At this time of year I often find bumblebees have died while hanging on to flowers but I saw it slowly move so not this one, not yet. I’ve always thought that there is little in nature more perfect than a bee dying while clinging to a flower. The two are inseperable. In fact the two are really one.

There were pockets of New England asters still blooming beautifully in the sunniest spots, but most are done for this year.

The mowed trail makes it seem as if you are walking through a vast park laid out by a landscape designer but this is still the same forest I grew up playing in as a boy. The path must have been the idea of the local college. I’m happy to see it because it opens the forest up to many people who would have never come here otherwise.

I’m glad this place will be protected. Maybe other children will fall in love with it as I did.

The colors weren’t what I expected and I think that was because the trees here are mostly all silver maples, which turn yellow in the fall. You need red maples for the rich oranges and reds. Silver maple is a short lived tree, and that’s why most of the trees in this post appear young.

I’ve never met a single person out here but I’d like to run into someone who knew what these mile markers are all about. I’ve seen two, this one and another that says 1.56 miles. Without knowing where the start point is they don’t mean much but I’m guessing that local college students must run through here. The area floods so the soil is too soft for a bike race, I would think. It’s almost mud in places.

Wild cucumbers (Echinocystis lobata) have finished flowering for the year…

…and now they’re busy making fruit. My friends and I used to spend a lot of time throwing these soft spined fruits at each other at this time of year.

Smallish asters grew in the woods in the sunnier spots. They were too big and too light colored to be blue wood asters I think, but not big enough to be New England asters.

I saw rose hips but for a change they weren’t on an invasive multiflora rose. They were too big for that rose, so I’ll have to come back next year to see what rose it is.

Some of the staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) had changed color and they were getting beautiful. Sumacs have quite a color range, from purple to bright red to pumkin orange.

I walked a few steps to the edge of the river and remembered that these river banks are often undercut, so you can find yourself standing on only an inch or two of soil without realizing it. They’ve crumbled away beneath me before and I didn’t need that, so I took a couple of quick shots and backed off. That’s one of many things I learned here as a boy. Nature taught me much and I dreamed a lot of dreams out here. After reading Ivan Sanderson’s Book of Great Jungles this is where I hatched the plan to become a great plant explorer. I told myself I’d visit all of those jungles I had read about and bring back plants so beautiful people would weep at the sight of them. In the end I had to lower my sights a bit and bring plants back from nurseries instead of jungles. I did indeed bring beautiful plants to people’s gardens but there wasn’t any weeping involved. I might have heard a gasp or two.

Here was one of those muddy spots I was talking about. Much too damp for bicycles I would think, though I have seen those wide tire bikes going through snow.

This was the wettest spot. The river flooded over summer and this land has never completely dried out because of the weekly rains we’re still seeing. Out here is where the fear of high water first took hold of me. We lived very close to the river and almost every spring snow melt made it rise right to the very top of its banks. Luckily the river bank on the side farthest from our house was slightly lower, so if the river topped its banks all the water spilled into these woods and into the many cornfields in the area. I saw it happen again just this past summer and it’s still scary.

I was surprised to find the lots of the pale-yellow flowers of wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) out here. These were kind of sulfur yellow but they can also be white or pink. This plant is considered a noxious weed because it gets into forage and grain crops. Everyone seems to agree that this is a non-native plant but nobody seems to know exactly where it came from or how it got here.

Here is another example of the soft, muted color of silver maples. They’re still pretty but for color variation and saturation they can’t match red maples. The day was also cloudy and that can also knock some of the punch out of certain fall colors.

A freshly fallen silver maple leaf on the trail looked nice and bright though.

There were large colonies of foxtail grass (Setaria faberi) out here too. It and all of the other plants in this post don’t mind wet feet, and can even stand a bit of flooding.

In this spot it had gotten so wet in the flooding that all of the grass disappeared from the trail but the sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis) on either side still thrived, and that’s because they don’t mind wet ground. For that reason they’re a good wetland indicator. They always make me happy I’ve had sense enough to wear waterproof hiking boots.

Common milkweeds (Asclepias syriaca) are releasing their seeds. They like to colonize disturbed ground and can form huge colonies in places that are to their liking. They like dry ground though, so it was surprising to find them here. Last summer the spot where they grow was under water for several days.

Because of all the flooding that has gone on here for who knows how many thousands of years the soil is rich and fertile, and nothing showed that better than the chickweeds that grew more thickly and looked healthier than I’ve ever seen. It’s as if they had been fertilized. I believe this was common chickweed (Stellaria media.) Originally from Europe, it has found a home here and has settled in comfortably. It likes damp, shady places.

The Stellaria part of chickweed’s scientific name means star and that’s what the flowers look like; tiny stars shining on the forest floor. They may be considered invasive by some but I think my world is a better place for having them in it. As with most things in this world, if you take a moment to really see them you find that they’re quite beautiful.

In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

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I didn’t have a bird in the hand last month, but I did have two in a bush. When I stopped at a local convenience store up they popped out of this overgrown yew. Since I had my camera with me, I took this shot through the windshield.

I think they were juvenile house sparrows, which are not native to the US. They like to nest in or near buildings. Adults have dark bills and juveniles have a more honey colored bill. As I watched another bird flew into the bush lower down on the left and the birds sitting on top disappeared quickly, as if they had taken a down elevator. I’m guessing it was a parent, come home to feed them. If I have misidentified these birds, I hope someone will let me know. I’m not good with birds. (Or colors of birds.)

I didn’t have to look this bird up. Just before I took this shot, I was lucky to see this great blue heron actually moving. As I watched it preened itself for maybe 5 minutes, and I have many shots of what look like a headless heron. This shot was taken just as it decided to rest after its grooming session, and I thought I’d might as well move on because I could tell it was going to be in statue mode for a while. But at least I got to see it actually moving; most blue herons I see act like they’re made of painted bronze. I shouldn’t complain though, because they’ve taught me a lot about being more patient.

I saw this well decorated little insect crawling up a plant stem one day and I was able to get a good side shot, but every time I turned the stem to see its back it would turn too, so I had quite a time getting the next shot.

I’ll probably always remember this one as the frustrating bug, or maybe the highly intelligent bug, but its real name is the green stink bug. Actually it is a stink bug nymph and as it grows it will lose its pretty decoration and become rather plain looking.

I went into the woods to look at a mushroom and instead found many thousands of red ants, both winged and wingless, crawling on the forest floor. I learned later that these were red harvester ants doing something they have done for millions of years: looking for a mate. I was seeing a swarm, and a swarm happens when several ant colonies leave their colonies and come together to mate. There were winged males and females here, along with wingless workers. After mating, the mated females shed their wings and find new nesting sites. Swarms like this one happen in warm weather, after a rain and in the afternoon on a day in August through September, and those were exactly the conditions when I found them. It all takes place in one day and that’s it until the following year. I’ve read that they do something called “hill topping” which simply means finding the highest spot within the swarm, and I’m guessing that was why they were climbing this pile of stones. They do it for the same reason we would; so they can see better and more easily find a mate. It was an amazing thing to watch.

I saw a red backed salamander at the base of a maple tree. The red stripe is there to scare off predators and I’ve read that the stripe can get redder when it perceives a threat and freezes in place  That’s just what happened when I started taking photos with my phone; it froze.

I waited a bit and the salamander relaxed and started climbing the tree. These small amphibians don’t have lungs so they take what gasses they need through their skin, but to do so they can’t let their skin dry out. To keep it moist they hide under tree bark, rocks, logs, anywhere they can stay out of the sun.

As I continued watching the salamander it crawled through a hole that I hadn’t seen and into the tree. I suppose the inside of a tree would be moist enough. It wasn’t until I started reading about this creature that I realized I had been lucky to see one. The day was warm and humid with occasional rain showers, and those are about the only conditions this little creature will wander around in during the daytime.

I’m still seeing monarch butterflies I’m happy to say, but this one ran into trouble somewhere along the line and damaged its wing. I’d guess that a bird got a hold of it. It seemed to still fly just fine though.

Last year a coworker and I had to pull a beaver dam apart and this year, here we were again almost in the exact same spot, pulling another dam apart. After two hours of tugging on miscellaneous tools and a rope tied to a grappling hook, we had it apart and the water flowing. This had to be done so the stream wouldn’t back up and flood roads.

I have to say that these beavers have it made; imagine living in this Eden. It was so beautiful and serene. To be able to walk out of my door and see this every morning would be sheer bliss.

A prophesying bracken fern foretold the future. Or at least the near future.

It had rained the night before and the strong morning sunshine turned the moisture left on this pine tree’s bark into steam. It made me wonder just how warm it must get inside a tree.

In 1906 in this spot trees, chiefly Scot pine and Norway spruce, were grown from seed to be used in reforestation projects. The spruce trees have done well but the Scot pines have not; neither the soil nor climate is right for them. Many of the spruce trees are still here and, as the above photo shows, are tall but have no real girth because they were meant to be transplanted into other areas, not allowed to reach full size. They are far too close together and cast such deep shade that nothing but a few mosses and fungi will grow beneath them. It is a stark, sterile place but it still has its own beauty.

This forest is far more natural. Or as natural as a second or third growth forest can be, anyway. Enough light reaches the forest floor to allow the growth of many species of plants, shrubs and ferns. It is much more natural than what we saw in the previous photo. It is also much easier to walk through than it appears here.

With all the rain I’ve been talking about this summer I’d guess that this photo of the Ashuelot River doesn’t surprise anyone. It rose higher up the bank in this spot than I’ve ever seen. On this day the water level had dropped but it was still making some impressive waves.

I thought I could see an owl coming up out of the water at one point.

This was my favorite wave shot of the day. I should say that the colors in these photos haven’t been changed in any way, and I say that because they’re so amazing they might seem unbelievable. This river has taught me much, and I know if I come here at a certain time of day when the sun is shining and the river is at the right level, it will be at its most beautiful. The sun is slightly behind and to the left of where I stand, and when a wave comes up and crests the sunlight shines through it and exposes all of the colors it contains. It is very beautiful and also mesmerizing to watch as each wave grows and changes its colors.

From the roar of the river to the quiet of the forest. This oak tree burl reminded me of Vincent van Gogh’s painting Starry Night. Burl is an abnormal growth on a tree which grows faster than the surrounding tissue, and all the little circular grain swirls in this one signify branches that tried to grow out of it. It would have looked like a witch’s broom. Burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage. Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and/or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers prize burls very highly and make some beautiful bowls and other things from them, which can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars.

After so many years of looking at trees you would think that I would have seen the beautiful golden color of the inner bark of a gray birch (Betula populifolia) before but I guess not, because I was stopped cold when I saw this. Gray birch is a short-lived species, often found in waste areas or other disturbed places. It is a colonizer; often the first tree to grow after a burn. This is also the birch tree that is often seen with hundreds of birch polypores along its length. I see as much of it on the ground as I do standing but I’ve never seen it like this before.

Hawthorn (Crataegus) fruit is ripe but so far the birds haven’t touched them. The fruit is high in pectin, so they are often added to other fruits when making jelly. Nobody seems to know how many species of hawthorn there are, but some say that it could be a thousand or more. Native Americans used the often-tasteless fruit in ointments and other medicines. The haws, botanically speaking, are pomes, like apples and pears.  One odd fact about hawthorns is how their young leaves and flower buds are edible and can be used in salads. Hawthorns are also important when used medicinally. Hawthorn has been used to treat heart disease since the 1st century and the leaves and flowers are still used for that purpose today. There are antioxidant flavonoids in the plant that may help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow, and protect blood vessels from damage.

Kousa dogwood fruit looks a little different but it’s the edible part of a Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa.) This dogwood is on the small side and is native to Asia. I don’t see it too often. It is also called Japanese or Korean Dogwood. Kousa Dogwood fruit is made up of 20-40 fleshy carpels. In botany one definition of a carpel is a dry fruit that splits open, into seed-bearing sections. Kousa dogwood fruits are said by some to taste like papaya. 

The toxic berries of the native snowberry shrub (Symphoricarpos albus) persist through winter, as the common name implies. This is an old-fashioned shrub in the honeysuckle family that has been grown in gardens for hundreds of years. As a general rule of thumb, it isn’t a good idea to eat white fruit. Poison ivy and poison sumac berries are also white.

White ash (Fraxinus americana) and green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) leaves are among the earliest to turn in the fall, usually becoming brilliant yellow and sometimes, the beautiful deep purple seen here in this fallen leaf.

The burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the river have started to change into their amazing colors. Before the leaves fall they’ll change from deep magenta to soft pink, and then finally nearly white. To see drifts of hundreds of them, all the same color, is an amazing thing, invasive or not.

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is another plant that goes through many color changes in the fall and I always look forward to seeing what colors I’ll see this year. These were a kind of plum color.

This one was more lavender. This native shrub has a lot going for it and I wish more people new about it. It’s easy to maintain, has great fall color, and attracts birds with its dark purple fruit.

Well congratulations; you’ve made it to the end, but the end is really the beginning as you can see by this beech tree. The beginning of fall that is. Beech trees seem to be turning a little early this year but that doesn’t matter because they’ll be beautiful no matter when they change. Any time now the population of New Hampshire will increase by an expected 3 million souls, all come to see the beauty of the season. If the past few years are any indication they’ll be stunned, right along with the locals. It’s the kind of beauty that takes your breath away, and I hope that you too can experience similar beauty wherever you are.

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 Gallienne

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Last Saturday I walked along the Ashuelot River in Keene, hoping to find some marsh bellflowers. As this photo shows, I sure found plenty of pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata.) Beautiful ribbons of it lined the banks. They are probably why I see so many ducks and geese here. Ducks eat the seeds and geese eat the leaves.

The water was about as high as it gets thanks to some very heavy rain throughout the month of July. Another foot or so higher and in places it would have been over the trail.

Luckily most of the trail stays high and dry but I found the side trail I needed to use to see the marsh bellflowers was under about 6 inches of water, so I couldn’t get to them or the mad dog skullcap plants that live there. With my lungs I can’t be falling into rivers. I doubt I could swim ten strokes.

I did see a buttonbush shrub (Cephalanthus occidentalis) up to its neck in water but it was blooming. I know another plant along the river in Swanzey that is sometimes under water when the river is high, but it doesn’t seem to bother it.

The small flowers of tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) are more white than blue this year from what I’ve seen so far. This plant has an odd look, sometimes reaching ten feet tall with flowers hardly bigger than a pencil eraser at the very top. Luckily this flower was just about at eye level, because the stalks of this plant don’t take kindly to being bent. They’ll often snap right in two.

I’ve seen thousands of Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) buds this year but not a single flower yet. That’s okay with me though, because I’ve always thought the buds were as pretty as the flowers. They seem to have a deeper color.

There is a bumper crop of blueberries this year. The bushes are loaded with berries anywhere I go so all the critters will be happy. I’ve noticed that the birds aren’t paying much attention to them yet though.

Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) grew here and there but it doesn’t seem to be doing well along this trail this year. The plants looked a bit weak and kind of ragged.

I saw quite a lot of Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) plants along the trail but this was the only one I saw with fruit. After a time these green berries will become deep, purple-black. And then they’ll disappear. I think turkeys get them before anyone else. A good healthy plant can stand just about as tall as a turkey’s eye is from the ground.

As I say every year; spring and fall begin on the forest floor. This Indian cucumber root illustrates what I mean.

“But it’s only August,” you say. “Surely the Indian cucumber root was a fluke?” Unfortunately, that argument can’t stand; this tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) also whispered hints of fall.

And so did this sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis.) Soon all of the squirrels and chipmunks will be gathering their nuts and seeds. Who needs a calendar?

I couldn’t decide which was prettier, this royal fern or its shadow, so I took a photo of both.

A depression in the woods was filled with water but the water had a strange cloudy film on it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before and I can’t imagine what caused it, way off in the woods like it was. It wasn’t oily and it didn’t look like dust. I thought of mushroom spores but it would have taken a lot of mushrooms to do this.

Clubmosses also release spores that float on water but not this one. It looked like it was finished. An interesting thing about clubmoss spores is how, if you fill a glass with water and cover the surface of the water with spores, when you stick your finger in the water and pull it out again it will be covered in spores but will be perfectly dry. Clubmoss spores are waxy and hydrophobic, which means resistant to water. They are also extremely flammable, and once made up the flash powder used to create the flash photographers used to take a photo.

The oak tree that the beavers girdled is done. I don’t know why beavers do this to trees and then leave them standing. After all, the succulent buds and branches are a big reason why they cut trees.

There won’t be any buds on this tree, and the branches will be dry. There wasn’t a leaf on them. Soon the dead branches will begin to fall, and they’re right above the trail.

It’s really too bad that beavers don’t eat Canada mayflowers, because there are many thousands of them on the floor of any forest I visit. They’re a native plant but they act like an invasive plant by creating monocultures that keep other plants from growing. I’ve seen huge stands of nothing but Canada mayflower. And may heaven help you if they get into your garden. Those speckled berries will be bright red and ripe soon, and they’ll disappear quickly.

The closed or bottle gentians (Gentiana linearis) that grow in one spot along the trail looked to be in good shape. Narrow leaf and closed gentian flowers look identical, so you have to look at the leaves carefully to tell the difference. Closed gentian leaves are wider and have a different overall shape than those of narrow leaf gentian. This plant is relatively rare in this area.

And there was the bridge. It crosses what is usually a small stream but on this day the water was licking at its sides. The water level in the river hasn’t dropped much and we’ve had more rain since that day, so I hope it hasn’t washed away.

This photo from last year shows the marsh bellflower (Campanula aparinoides) I came to see. I hoped to get some better shots of the flowers but that probably won’t happen this year without a boat, because it just keeps on raining. Luckily this plant is a perennial so unless the entire riverbank where it grows washes away, I should be able to find it next year. I can’t say how rare it is but I’ve never seen it anywhere but here in this one spot, and I’ve been walking these riverbanks for over 50 years.

Pleasure is spread through the earth in stray gifts to be claimed by whoever shall find them. ~William Wordsworth

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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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Hazy, hot and humid weather has settled into this part of New Hampshire, with temperatures in the mid 90s F. and tropical humidity. When that happens I think of being by the water, and that’s what this post is about. I went to several of our local ponds, like Perkin’s Pond above, to see what I could find in the way of aquatic plants and flowers. I found plenty and I hope you’ll enjoy seeing them.

One of the pondside flowers I always enjoy seeing is swamp candle (Lysimachia terrestris,) which I believe is our earliest member of the loosestrife family to bloom. As their name implies swamp candles like wet places and often grow right where the water meets the shore. Though they usually stay at about 2 feet tall I saw one last week that was chest height. They usually grow in large groups.

Each of the 5 yellow swamp candle petals has two red dots at its base, which makes the flowers look a lot like those found on whorled loosestrife, but slightly smaller. A major difference between the two plants is how the leaves don’t grow in whorls on swamp candles. There seems to be at least a bit of red on all of our yellow loosestrife flowers, no matter which plant they’re on.

One of my favorite aquatic plants is pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata.) It grows off shore in what are sometimes huge colonies. Native Americans washed and boiled the young leaves and shoots of this pretty plant and used them as pot herbs. They also ground the seeds into grain. The plant gets its name from the pickerel fish, which is thought to hide among its underwater stems.

Pickerel weed has small purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads that produce a fruit with a single seed. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. If you see pickerel weed you can almost always expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid, though I’ve heard that plants occasionally grow in water that’s 6 feet deep. I’m always surprised that the flower spikes and buds are so hairy. It seems odd for a plant that grows up out of the water.

This photo that I took previously is of a pickerel weed bud. It shows how the flowers spiral up the stalk and open from bottom to top. Being able to get this close to one is a rare event.

Yellow pond lily (Nuphar luteum) flowers almost always bloom a few inches above the water surface, making them very easy to see. They are cup shaped and have six petal like sepals and grow in water that is usually no more than 18 inches deep.

NOTE: A helpful reader has let me know that this plant is now known as Nuphar variegata, which I hadn’t heard. Thanks Sara!

Inside the outer sepals are many yellow petals and stamens, and a yellow central stigma with 8 to 24 lines or rays on its disk shaped top. Something has been eating the sepals of these flowers as you can see in this photo. Many flowers are seen floating free because they’ve been pulled up. Since the plant is also called beaver root they might have had a hand in it. The plant is also a favorite of both painted and snapping turtles, so it could be them. I find many along the shoreline with their outer sepals gone. The roots of the plant were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped the seeds much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes.

Floating Pondweed (Potamogeton natans) is so common it has shown up in many of these photos of other plants without my trying. It is also called long leaved pondweed and it likes to root in the mud and grow in full sun in warm standing water up to 4 feet deep. It does flower but they’re green and small and hard to see. Many types of waterfowl including ducks and swans eat the seeds and leaves of this plant and muskrats like the stems. Many species of turtle eat the leaves, so it seems to be a plant that feeds just about everything that lives on and in the water.

The rarest plant in this post has to be the water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna.) I only know of one pond it grows in and there are only a handful of them there. I’ve read that the plant has the unusual ability of removing carbon dioxide from the rooting zone rather than from the atmosphere. It is said to be an indicator of infertile and relatively pristine shoreline wetlands.

The small, pale blue or sometimes white flowers are less than a half inch long and not very showy. They have 5 sepals and the base of the 5 petals is fused into a tube. The 2 shorter upper petals fold up. I’ve read that the flowers can bloom and set seed even under water but these plants grew just offshore with flowers above the water. The seed pods are said to contain numerous seeds which are most likely eaten by waterfowl. For several plants in this post I had to stand right at the water’s edge and lean out over the water with my camera in one hand to get a photo, so that should tell you how close to shore they grow.

Plants and flowers aren’t all you’ll find on the shore of a pond. This male bullfrog was docile enough to let me walk right up to him and take this photo with my cell phone camera. Were it always that easy. The round spot behind the frog’s eye is called the tympanum, which is an external ear. In males frogs it is much larger than the eye and in females it is as large or smaller than the eye.

Some days nature seems to throw itself at you, and that’s how it was on this day when this spangled  skimmer dragonfly kept landing at my feet. Dragonflies will often come back to the same perch again and again and apparently that white stone was very appealing to this one. From what I’ve read, the “spangles” are the black and whitish bars (stigmas) at the leading edges of its wings. Only females and immature males have them. I believe this one was a male because females are yellow and brown. Since my track record with insect identification isn’t very good however, I’d welcome any input. In any event this dragonfly likes to hunt the marshy shallows found along pond edges, which is right where I found it. I’m sure Mr. Bullfrog would have liked to have been there.

There isn’t anything at all unusual about seeing cattails (Typha latifolia) at the edge of a pond, but rarely do you find a single plant in flower. Cattail flowers start life with the female green flowers appearing near the top of a tall stalk and the fluffy yellowish green male pollen bearing flowers above them. Once fertilized the female parts turn from green to dark brown and the male flowers will fall off, leaving a stiff pointed spike above the familiar cigar shaped seed head. Cattail flowers are very prolific; one stalk can produce an estimated 220,000 seeds. Cattails often form huge colonies that grow into impenetrable walls of green, and that’s why I was so surprised to find a single plant.

Bur reed (Sparganium americanum) grows just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down. The female bur reed flowers look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. The male staminate flowers of bur reed are smaller and look fuzzy from a distance. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush.

Cranberry plants have just started blooming. Though the flower petals curve backwards on most cranberry blossoms you can occasionally find a blossom that wants to be different, as this one did. I usually find them in wet, boggy areas but these grew on an embankment by a small pond. We have two kinds here, the common cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) and the small cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum.) I think these were the common cranberry.

Early European settlers thought cranberry flowers resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane so they called them crane berries, which over the years became cranberries. The flower petals have an unusual habit of curving backwards almost into a ball like those seen here, but I don’t see cranes when I look at them. Cranberries were an important ingredient of Native American pemmican, which was made of dried meat, berries, and fat. Pemmican saved the life of many an early settler.

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) usually grows in ankle deep standing water. Since they grow with their lower stems submerged being able to see the entire plant is rare, but there are basal leaves growing at the base of each stem underwater. I’m guessing that they must still get enough sunlight through the water to photosynthesize. The hollow stem has a twist to it with 7 ridges and because of that some call it seven angle pipewort. It is also called hatpins, for obvious reasons.

If you’re very, very lucky you will be able to see the reproductive parts poking up out of the tiny, cotton like pipewort flowers. On this day I got to see several male anthers. They sometimes make the 1/4 inch diameter flower heads look like they’re black and white from a distance. I believe the gray, thread like bits showing in the previous photo are the female stigmas. You can just see a few poking up in this shot as well. It is thought that the flowers must be pollinated by flies but I don’t think anyone knows for sure.

You also have to be lucky to find floating heart plants (Nyphoides cordata) growing close enough to shore to get photos of them. They have small, heart-shaped, greenish or reddish to purple leaves that are about an inch and a half wide, and that’s where their common name comes from. I think they are our smallest water lily. Usually they grow just far enough offshore to need a boat or to make you roll up your pant legs.  

The tiny flowers of floating heart are about the size of a common aspirin, but never seem to open fully. They resemble a Lilliputian version of the much larger fragrant white water lily. They grow in bogs, ponds, slow streams, and rivers, sometimes by the hundreds.

This photo from a few years ago shows the scale of a floating heart flower. Just about the size of Abraham Lincoln’s head on a penny.

Last year I found hundreds of golden ragwort plants (Packera aurea) blooming in a swamp but this year there were only 3 or 4 blooming. It’s not a common plant in this part of the state, but it can be found here and there. Golden ragwort is in the aster family and is considered our earliest blooming aster. The plant is toxic enough so most animals (including deer) will not eat it, but Native Americans used it medicinally to treat a wide variety of ailments. Though not strictly a pond plant it likes wet places and I could easily imagine it growing along shorelines. It usually grows in full sunlight but it does tolerate some shade.

Droopy fringed sedge (Carex crinita) likes wet feet and is a very common plant that I see on the edges of ponds and rivers wherever I go. The hanging flower heads make it attractive enough to also be seen in gardens. Ducks and other waterfowl feed on the seeds, and muskrats will eat almost the entire plant. Native Americans used sedge leaves to make rope, baskets, mats, and even clothing.

No post about ponds and aquatic plants would be complete without a fragrant white waterlily in it. In fact I have a hard time thinking of a pond in this area that doesn’t have them in it and I know of at least one pond with so many in it you can hardly see the water. This one happened to be tilted just right so we could see that  golden fire that burns brightly in each flower. In my opinion it is the most beautiful of all our native aquatic plants.

If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water. ~Loren Eiseley

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a safe and happy fourth of July!

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In how many forms can the softness of life appear? A mother holding her newborn child comes to mind. Or the feathers on a song bird’s breast. Freshly fallen snow. A favorite pet’s fur. On this day it was new spring leaves. Actually it was more the view across Half Moon Pond and the reflection in it that was so very soft. It made me feel soft, or maybe gentle is a better word. Or tender. But words don’t matter. Nature will bring you softness in its many forms.

When I looked down at my feet instead of across the pond I saw ripples in the sand. But this isn’t the view of a beach; this photo looks through about a foot of water to see these ripples. Nature also brings clarity.

I found what I thought was the dry husk, called an exoskeleton, of a dragonfly on the stem of a pond plant. I’m seeing a lot of them lately and they signal dragonfly emergence from the water. A dragonfly crawls up a leaf or stick as a nymph and once the exoskeleton has dried a bit the dragonfly emerges from it to unfold and dry its wings. When its wings are dry it simply flies away and leaves the exoskeleton behind and that’s what the strange husks are, but this one was different. I believe those are eyes that I see. I can’t explain what look like threads. It’s as if the dragonfly were laced into a costume.

If what I see are eyes this was a dragonfly in the process of emerging from its exoskeleton, and that is something I would have liked to have seen. Unfortunately I didn’t see the eyes until I looked at the photo. The entire creature was barely an inch long.

An old hemlock tree that grew right at the edge of the pond fell and over the years weather has washed every bit of soil from its roots. I thought what was left was as beautiful as a sculpture. I could look at it all day.

Our big snapping turtles are up out of the swamps and looking for suitable places to lay their eggs. They often choose the soft sand around the pond, sometimes right of the edge of the road. They’re right on time; they usually appear during the first week of June. Snapping turtles dig rather shallow holes with their hind legs and lay anywhere from 25-80 eggs each year. Incubation time is 9-18 weeks but many eggs don’t make it anywhere near that long. Foxes, minks, skunks, crows and raccoons dig them up and eat them and destroyed nests are a common sight along sandy roadsides. These big turtles eat plants, fish, frogs, snakes, ducklings, and just about anything else they can catch. Oddly, when in the water they are rather placid and don’t bother humans. This one didn’t pick a very good spot. You can probably see all the tire track in the sand around her.

This mother turtle seemed to have lost her way, or maybe she was just crossing the road. In any event I hope she made it. Some don’t; I’ve seen turtles that have been run over by cars.

Pretty little rosy maple moths almost always show up at about the same time as the snapping turtles start laying their eggs, and that is always fascinating to me. These moths lay their tiny eggs on the undersides of maple leaves and that’s how they come by their common name. Adult moths do not eat but the caterpillars are able to eat a few leaves each. They are called green striped maple worms.

We have a grove of crabapples where I work and they were just coming into bloom when I took this photo. They’re in part of the 13 acre meadow that I mow.

I thought this view of the Ashuelot River might make you think I had caught a tree falling, but actually that dead white pine on the left is falling in very slow motion and has looked like that for a while now. When it finally does fall I think it might almost stretch across the entire river. It’s very tall.

A painted turtle family rested on a log in the waning sunshine. Mother seemed to be more concerned with the littlest one scampering away than with her twins. Or at least that was the story that came to mind as I watched.

Red maple seeds (samaras) are always beautiful. In fact there is little about a red maple that isn’t beautiful.

Silver maple samaras are not as colorful as red maple samaras at this stage but are still beautiful in their way. When they’re young they’re bright red topped off with a white wooly coating and are very beautiful.

You don’t need to live on the seashore to see waves. When the water level in the Ashuelot River is just right waves like these form and people can see this section of river when it is most alive and at its most beautiful. I always try to capture the waves in my camera so I can show you what I saw. I’ve known this river all of my life and it has taught me much, including how to photograph waves.

I find some of the plants and flowers you see on this blog in places like this. Many plants like skunk cabbages like boggy ground and they can find it in these swampy areas. All of this water finds its way into the river in the previous photo, and it helps make the waves that I enjoy watching so much. The streams that flow down from the hills in the distance, the swamp seen here, the river; they are all connected, just as all of life is connected.

The skunk cabbages are having a good year, despite it being so dry last year. Though many plants are flowering like I’ve never seen there are a few that seem to be having a tough time of it.

Someone nailed what looked like a lumberjack cutout to a tree. I can’t even guess why.

Royal ferns (Osmunda spectabilis) have started producing spores. Another name for this fern is “flowering fern,” because someone once thought that the fertile, fruiting fronds looked like bunches of flowers. Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are thought to be able to live 100 years or more. I always like to show this fern because a lot of people don’t know that it’s a fern. This one lives next to a stream.

I went to Beaver Brook in Keene hoping to see the beautiful trilliums that grow there but instead saw how beautiful the brook itself was. In spring before the leaves are fully unfurled is one of the few times you can see this view. Just up around that corner in the distance grow trilliums, Solomon’s seal, rose moss, dog lichen, blue stemmed goldenrod, purple flowering raspberry and many of the other beautiful plants that you often see on this blog.

I’ve included this photo, taken just after a shower, so you would know that it isn’t always sunny here in New Hampshire. It was taken when droplets were still falling from the trees above, and I heard the steady pat…..pat…..pat of drops as they landed on an oak leaf. When you focus on such a sound you might find that your mind becomes quiet and free of thought. You might also find that the cares and problems that you carried into the woods with you seem smaller somehow, and much less important. Serenity is just one of many gifts that nature has to offer.

Unfortunately, though we have had enough rain lately to nearly end the abnormally dry conditions I’m still not seeing many mushrooms. I did find this one growing on a pine stump. Google lens thinks it’s a scaly sawgill mushroom (Neolentinus lepideus) but I wouldn’t bet the farm on that.

I can’t explain why these oak leaves were so beautifully red in June but I was happy to see them. They felt as silky as they looked.

Grasses like this orchard grass have started to flower and they’re always worth looking at a little more closely because they can be as beautiful as any other flower. Orchard grass seed heads are composed of spikelets that bear two to eight flowers which dangle from thin filaments (pedicels) and shimmer in the breeze, which of course blows the pollen to other grass plants.

Sweet vernal grass is a short, knee high grass that flowers in spring. The white “strings” you see in the photo are its flowers and since this grass doesn’t mind light shade the white is usually very easy to see. One of the most interesting things about this grass is how it smells like fresh cut hay with a bit of vanilla spilled on it, and it is for that reason it is called vanilla grass. I’ve read that the scent comes from the same substance that gives sweet woodruff its fragrance.

Ho hum, just another fallen tree in the forest, right? Not exactly. I like to see what mosses, lichens and / or fungi are growing on fallen trees so I usually look them over. This one was certainly mossy but that isn’t what caught my eye. It was the wound on the log, where enough of the bark had gone to show the beautiful, swirling grain pattern of the wood underneath. What furniture maker, I thought as I admired it, wouldn’t give his eye teeth for a log like this one? I’d love to have a table top made from it. Or even a cane. Which I hope I won’t need right away.

I should explain for the more recent readers how these “Things I’ve Seen” posts began. Years ago I realized that I had a lot of leftover photos after a blog post had been put together. They weren’t bad photos; it was just that they didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. It’s hard to fit a photo of a snapping turtle into a flower post for instance, so instead I used them in this kind of post. Pretty much everything you’ve seen here was just something I stumbled into. That’s also what makes these posts the hardest ones to do, because I sometimes stumble onto something I’ve never seen. But that is fine; the best way to study nature in my experience is to not think about how things should be or how you hope they will be; instead just experience and accept what is, and enjoy it as it comes.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

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I haven’t been seeing many trout lilies blooming in the usual places that I find them so last Saturday I decided to take a walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene to a colony of a few hundred plants that grow there. It was a beautiful spring day but the river was quite high. The Thursday before we had an inch and a half of rain and that brought all the rivers and streams up.

I thought I might be in for a solitary stroll but by the time I got back I had seen a dozen or more people.

The water had covered the base of a leatherleaf shrub (Chamaedaphne calyculata) but it didn’t seem to mind. I think I can also see some sweet gale catkins (Myrica gale) mixed in, and that’s a surprise because I didn’t know it grew here. I see it up in Hancock 25 miles to the north east regularly but never here that I can remember.

Blueberry buds were just about ready to open. The river bank is lined with native bushes.

Dandelions bloomed happily along the trail.

Cinnamon fern fiddleheads (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) were still surprisingly a week or more behind their cousins the interrupted ferns (Osmundastrum claytoniana).

Canada mayflowers (Maianthemum canadense) are up and bent on taking over the world. Thought they’re a native plant they can be very invasive and are almost impossible to get out of a garden. If you try to pull the plant the leaf stem just beaks away from the root system and it lives on. This plant is sometimes called two leaved Solomon’s seal or false lily of the valley. The “May” part of the name refers to its flowering time. Native Americans used the plant to treat headache and sore throats.

Canada mayflower can form monocultures and I’ve seen large swaths of forest floor with nothing but Canada mayflowers, as the above photo shows. 

The tiny flower buds were already showing on many of the plants. They’ll be followed by speckled red berries that birds and small animals love.

I saw a very hairy fiddlehead of a fern I can’t name but if I had to guess I’d say bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum).

Canoeists were paddling upstream, probably thinking about how easy returning downstream would be. There are lots of underwater hazards in this river, mostly fallen trees, so canoeists and kayakers wait until high water in spring to navigate the river.

I always wonder what is over on the other side of the river. It’s a sizeable piece of land and is posted no trespassing so maybe it will remain in its natural state.

In the backwaters where the current doesn’t interfere, duckweed grows. If the ducks aren’t eating it yet they will be soon.

I saw a dozen turtles sunning themselves on a log. I told a man and his wife I met on the trail about how I’ll often tell small children that I meet out here about the turtles they always seem to miss. I’ll ask them “did you see the turtles?” “No”, they’ll say, getting excited. “They’re right there on the log. See them?” Then a parent will lift them up and they’ll spot the turtles and squeal with delight and all the turtles will slide into the water with a plop. The man’s wife thought it was a hilarious story, apparently, but it has happened again and again in just that way. The delightful squeal of a child is not something a turtle can appreciate, so if you have a little one you might want to warn them to just squeal on the inside.

These two obviously weren’t speaking. They didn’t even want to see each other. I didn’t ask.

A willow was golden against the sky.

And an old apple tree bloomed off in the woods.

And the red maples were so very red. Even I can see their color, and that’s always a surprise.

And there were the trout lilies, in shade so deep they thought it was evening and so had all closed up. It was only just after noon but they know more about when their day is done than I do. At least I got to see some that were actually blooming. I still wonder what is going on with them, because they seem to be blooming much later these days.

They’re a flower pretty enough to seek out and admire, so my walk wasn’t wasted. Far from it.

The trout lilies grow right near the bridge, which is always my turning point because there is a highway up ahead.

I had the radio on in my car when I was driving here and the song that was playing when I arrived was Grazing In The Grass, by The Friends of Distinction. I remembered it as I walked back:

Flowers with colors for takin’
The sun beaming down between the leaves
And the birds dartin’ in and out of the trees
Everything here is so clear, you can see it
And everything here is so real, you can feel it
And it’s real, so real, so real, so real, so real, so real
Can you dig it?

I could, and I did.

Your deepest roots are in nature.  No matter who you are, where you live, or what kind of life you lead, you remain irrevocably linked with the rest of creation.  ~Charles Cook

Thanks for stopping in. Happy Mother’s day to all you moms out there!

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John Burroughs said “To find new things, take the path you took yesterday,” and that was to prove very true last Sunday. I followed a rail trail in Swanzey that I’ve followed more times than I can count but saw many things that I’ve never seen here before.

Male American Hazelnut catkins swayed lazily in the slight breeze. They had lengthened to three times their winter length and were still heavy with pollen.

The tiny female flowers were waiting for a good dose of that pollen so they could become the hazelnuts that so many birds and animals eat.

There is a nice little box culvert out here that I always like to stop and see. There was quite a lot of water in the stream it carries safely under the railbed on this day. It’s amazing to think these culverts are still keeping railbeds from washing away 150 years after they were built, and without any real maintenance.

The stream rushes off to the Ashuelot River, which is out there in the distance.

The first thing I saw that I had never seen here were trout lily leaves (Erythronium americanum). I didn’t see any flowers but I found the leaves growing all along the trail, and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t ever seen them.

You can get a glimpse of the Ashuelot River here and there along the trail. This was where I was to get another surprise. I saw something swimming quickly toward me from those fallen trees you see in this photo. I thought it was ducks but I couldn’t see anything except ripples.

And then up popped a muskrat. At least I’m fairly certain it was a muskrat. Though it never showed me its tail it was much smaller than a beaver and nowhere near as skittish. It saw me up on the embankment but still just sat and fed on what looked like grasses. It probably knew I was far enough away; this photo isn’t very good because my camera was at the limit of its zoom capability. At least you can see the critter, and that matters more to me than a technically perfect shot.

I knew that apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) grew here and I was able to find it. Its reproduction begins in the late fall and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warm rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes that always look like pearls to me, but someone thought they looked like apples and the name stuck.

Beech buds (Fagus grandifolia) are beginning to lose their straightness and that means the beautiful new spring leaves will be appearing before long. Beech bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the new leaves can emerge. The buds literally “break” and at the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud.

New maple leaves were everywhere but every one I saw was green. That was unusual because young maple leaves are often red for a while.  

Raspberry plants were also showing their new leaves but blackberry buds had barely broken.

I saw native cherries in all stages of growth. Cherries usually leaf out and blossom quite early.

Some of the willows along the trail had thrown in the towel and were finished for this year.

This is what the flower buds of a shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) look like. After shadbushes come the cherries, closely followed by the crab apples and apples, and then the peaches and plums. Shadbushes bloom earlier than the other shrubs and trees but are often still in bloom when the others bloom. The flowers appear before the leaves, unlike apples and some native cherries. Small, reddish purple to purple, apple shaped fruits follow in June. The fruit is a berry similar in size to a blueberry and has from 5-10 seeds. They taste best when they are more purple than red. Shadbush flowers are pretty but their fragrance isn’t very appealing. I can’t remember ever seeing them bloom along this trail but there they were.

Forsythia has escaped someone’s garden and was blooming happily beside the trail. Another surprise.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear, but here they were blooming beside the trail. This is another plant I can’t remember ever seeing out here before. Trailing arbutus was once collected into near oblivion but these days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. The reason it was collected so much was because its small pink to white, very fragrant flowers were used in nosegays.

I reached the trestle and found that someone, most likely a snowmobile club, had overlaid the flooring, which was starting to rot out. This was a another welcome surprise because that little square that juts out to the right was a hole right through the boards. It’s quite a drop down to the river.

This trestle is the last one I know of with its tell tales still in place. These are pencil size pieces of soft wire that hang down low enough to hit the head of anyone standing on top of a freight car. They would warn the person, or “tell the tale” of an upcoming trestle. I can walk from the trestle to this one in under a minute, so whoever was on top of the train wouldn’t have had much time to duck before they’d hit the trestle, and that would have been too bad. Tell tales used to hang on each end of every trestle in the area, but this is the last one I know of.

The river has come up some since the recent snowfall and a few rain showers. I was surprised I didn’t see any kayakers. They like to paddle the river in spring when the water is high because in that way they can float over all the submerged fallen trees.

It still has to gain more run off before it reaches its average height, by the looks. We’re still in a drought according to the weather people.

I was surprised to find a small colony of bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) as I was leaving. This is another plant I’ve never seen growing here, so this day was packed full of surprises.

Bloodroot flowers don’t usually open on cloudy days and I couldn’t tell if this one was opening or closing, but I was happy to get at least a glimpse of its beautiful inside. These flowers aren’t with us long.

In a forest of a hundred thousand trees no two leaves are identical, and no two journeys along the same path are alike. ~Paulo Coelho

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Have you ever gone outside on a spring morning and found the day so beautiful you wanted to throw out your arms and shout thank you? That’s what this day started like, with a beautiful blue sky and wall to wall sunshine. And with all of the red maples so full of red buds; I knew I had to go and find some flowers.

But it was still a little cool and I was afraid most flowers wouldn’t have opened yet, so I went to the river. I found ice baubles had grown over night on the shrubs that line the riverbank, so it had gotten colder than I thought.

The ice baubles form when river water splashes onto a twig or anything else and freezes. Slowly, splash by splash often a round ice ball will form. They’re usually as clear as crystal but these seemed to have a lot of bubbles in them.

There were waves on the river so I thought I’d practice catching one with my camera. I don’t use burst mode; when each wave comes I click the shutter, but it isn’t quite as easy as it sounds because there can be three or four small waves between big ones, so you have to sync yourself to the rhythm of the river. Sometimes you get a miss like this shot was. Just a bit too early for a really good curl but I love the colors.

And sometimes you’re a little too late. I find that there are times when I can “give myself” to the river and get shot after shot of breaking waves. I can’t really describe what giving myself to the river is, but your mind clears and you shoot each wave almost without really trying. I sometimes call it stepping out of myself or losing myself, and it’s always wonderful when it happens. You find that you can do things you didn’t know you could do, like reading waves.

As I was leaving the river I saw a bit of ice in a depression in a boulder. It looked like it had a face in it. Was it an elf? It was wearing a stocking cap, whatever it was.

Wildflowers are coming along and I saw my first dandelion. Since I found one blooming in February last year I’ve now seen dandelions blooming in every month of the year. Believe it or not I have more trouble finding them in summer these days than I do in the colder months. I know many people think of dandelions as weeds but to me all flowers are beautiful and there’s nothing cheerier than a field of dandelion blossoms in March. In fact one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen was a field of dandelions and violets all blooming together. My grandmother used to cook dandelion greens like spinach for me, so I suppose they’re part of me.

I also saw henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) blooming. Henbit gets its common name from the way chickens peck at it. The plant is in the mint family and apparently chickens like it. The amplexicaule part of the scientific name means “clasping” and describes the way the hairy leaves clasp the stem. The plant is a very early bloomer and blooms throughout winter in warmer areas. It’s from Europe and Asia, but I can’t say that it’s invasive because I rarely see it. I’ve read that the leaves, stem, and flowers are edible and have a slightly sweet and peppery flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked.

Here is what the foliage of henbit looks like for those who have never seen it. I find growing along with ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), which the foliage resembles in shape but not in habit. Henbit stands taller than ground ivy and the leaves are a different shade of green in early spring. Those of ground ivy lean more toward dark purple in early spring.

I also saw what I think were some very crinkly hollyhock leaves. I don’t know if they appear very early or if they live under the snow all winter.

We who live in New England have a fifth season called “mud season” and it is upon us now. Sometimes it can really be brutal; in the old days schools were often closed for a month because of it.

Here is a view, courtesy of the Cheshire County Historical Society, of what mud season can do. This was taken in Westmoreland, New Hampshire sometime in the 1940s. Gravel roads become a sea of mud and very little in the way of motorized transport can get through it. It begins when the upper foot or two of soil thaws but anything under that stays frozen. Water can’t penetrate the frozen soil so it sits on top of it, mixing with the thawed soil and making dirt roads a muddy quagmire. It’s like quicksand and it’s hellish trying to drive through it because you’re usually stuck in it before you realize how deep it is.

Snowdrops were living up to their name up in Hancock where there is still snow. When I was gardening professionally not a single client grew snowdrops and as far as I know nobody in my family did either, so I don’t know them well. I do know that they’re scarce in this area; I see small clumps of 4 or 5 flowers here and there every spring but not the huge drifts of them that I’ve seen online. They simply don’t seem to like it here and that could be because they aren’t used to our kind of below zero cold. I’ve read that they’re in the amaryllis family so maybe that’s why.  

I went to see the budded daffodils that I saw last week. I was sure they’d be blooming but not yet. We’ve had a coolish week so maybe they’re waiting for that silent signal. I have a feeling these will be white daffodils because of the bud shape. Of course they might not open at all; I once worked for an English lady who complained about bud blast in her white daffodils. Most springs they would start to open and then, just as they were showing a little color they would die off. Either a freeze or a hot spell can cause it and these have been through both. White varieties appear to be much more susceptible to bud blast than the yellows.

Tulips are growing fast. These had doubled in size in a week.

One of my favorite spring bulbs, the reticulated iris, doesn’t seem to be doing well this year. Or maybe they’re just Petering out. I’ve never grown any myself but I’ve heard they just fade out after awhile.

I went to see if the skunk cabbages were showing any foliage growth yet but didn’t see a single leaf. The ground had thawed in their swamp so rather than kneel down it wet mud I sat on a hummock beside them to get this shot with my phone. I thought about that silent signal as I sat there; the one that calls the red winged blackbirds back and makes the spring peepers peep and the turtles come up out of the mud. It’s doubtful that the signal is heard by the critters, I thought, so it must be felt. But if that is so, why can’t I feel it? But then I thought about how I wanted to throw out my arms and shout my joy that morning and wondered if maybe I did feel it and just didn’t know it. The things that come to mind when you’re sitting on a hummock in a swamp.

I would have bet breakfast that the willows would be in bloom but they held back like the daffodils. In fact many things are holding back but this week is supposed to be in the 50s and 60s, so that should coax all the plants that haven’t dared to dip their toes into spring to finally jump in with a splash.

The violas were still blooming just the way they were a week previous, so the weather doesn’t bother them at all. The pansy family is made up of cool weather lovers anyhow, so I wasn’t surprised.

The witch hazels were still going strong too. What a glorious fragrance!

Crocuses certainly aren’t holding back. Blue (purple?) ones have joined the yellows I saw last week. The gardener is going to wish he’d raked those leaves before the flowers came up. Now he or she is going to have to hand pick them.

This one is certainly purple, and very beautiful as well. The first crocuses of the year just do something to you. They let you know that yes, spring really is here despite the forecast.

These crocuses grow under redbud trees and don’t see sunlight until the afternoon so they hadn’t opened yet. I was disappointed until I saw how beautiful the unopened blossoms were, and then I didn’t care. How lucky we are to have such beauty in our lives. And everywhere you look, too. It really is a wonder we can get anything done.

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! ~Sitting Bull

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Ten years ago when I started this blog on the first day of spring in 2011, I remember thinking that I’d be lucky to keep it going for six months. After nearly a year with no real feedback or interest I decided to let it go when the year was up. And then the post below wrote itself; quite literally. People seemed to like it and two things happened: I started to concentrate on nature writing, and I started to use quotations by other nature writers regularly. The quotations seemed to say things I couldn’t and people enjoyed them; I have had more questions about them than any other part of this blog. I also realized that if I was going to write about nature, photos would help illustrate what I was saying, and that’s how the photos came about. So what you see here these days really came about because of the following post. Some of you have been here long enough to have already read it and I thank you for that, but you can skip it if you like. For the more recent readers, I hope you’ll like it.

Time Flowed Past Like The Water Of The River

My recent trip back in time to my boyhood haunts along the Ashuelot River in Keene, New Hampshire reminded me how lucky I was to grow up on a river. A river can teach a boy a lot about both nature and himself.

I learned how to identify skunk cabbage, cattails, pond lilies and much more along the river. I built a raft and set out for the Atlantic, but never even made it to the town line. (That was how I learned to recognize a foolish idea.) I learned how to read the tracks of muskrat, raccoon and deer, and how to be as still as a stone when they came to the river’s edge.

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. ~ John Lubbock

My first kiss came to me on the river’s banks and somewhere, the date is recorded on the trunk of a maple. My grandmother explained puppy love to me then, but her time would have been better spent explaining why the first broken heart is so much more painful than all of those that follow.

One day I walked south down river-farther than I had explored before-and found that an old oak had fallen and made a natural bridge out to a small, shaded island covered with soft mosses and ferns. One end was pointed like a boat, so the island became an imaginary ship that would take me anywhere I wanted to go. I never told my friends about the island; it became the place I went when I needed some alone time.

“Brooding” was what my grandmother said I did during the times I spent alone, but she mistook my occasional need of solitude and silence, when the low hum of a dragonfly’s wings could be heard from 10 yards off, for unhappiness. They were actually some of the happiest times I had known until one very wet spring when the high water washed away the oak tree bridge. I don’t think I have ever again experienced such a complete absence of humanity as I did on that island, and rare since has been the peace I found within that absence. Later on I learned that Henry David Thoreau once said “I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.” He, I thought, was a man who understood.

Who hears the rippling of rivers will not utterly despair of anything. ~Henry David Thoreau

The old Boston and Maine Railroad crossed the river many times on its way south and long before my time these crossings were popular hangouts for men who liked to drink. My grandmother called them hobos, but people were drinking under those train trestles before the word hobo even came into being. I know that because they used to throw their bottles in the river-and then I came along a hundred or so years later and found them.

Digging antique bottles along a river bank is hard and sometimes dangerous work, but it can pay well. Since the river taught me that hard work earns money, off I went to earn more. Of course, work is habit forming-or at least the paycheck is-so there was no longer any time for lolling on its banks. The river and I grew apart.

But not entirely; though time has flowed past much like the water of the river, my return visit showed me that little had really changed-with either the river or myself. As I followed the trails along its banks I found that I still had the curiosity that used to spur me on to always want to see what was around the next bend. Before I realized it I had walked for miles. Maybe the curiosity that rivers instill in us is what keeps us young even as we age.


Be like a rock in the middle of a river, let all of the water flow around and past you
. ~ Zen Saying

So now you know what started all of this.  Will it go on for another ten years? That I can’t say, but with retirement now months rather than years away things will surely change. For years I’ve wondered why when I was a boy summer seemed to go on forever, and then I realized it was because there were no clocks in my life then. When school wasn’t in session I was free of time and life was simple; I woke when I woke and ate when I was hungry. I still saw friends and did chores, but nothing had to be done at any given time. So my first thing to do after I retire is to step out of time and be free of it again. Of course I’ll have appointments and things to do but mostly I’ll be free like that boy was. Suddenly there will be no hurry and summers will once again last forever.

Live this life in wonder, in wonder of the beauty, the magic, the true magnificence that surrounds you. It is all so beautiful, so wonderful. Let yourself wonder. ~Avina Celeste

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The photos of the train trestle and covered bridge are from the Cheshire County Historical Society.

The photo of Tree Bridge is by the U.S. National Park Service.

The photographer and date of the boy on a raft are unknown.

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