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Posts Tagged ‘Ashuelot River’

Good Morning everyone. I’m sorry this post is later than usual but I woke to no internet this morning, and there isn’t much you can do about that.

The monarch butterflies have returned and have gone straight for the Joe Pye weed, which they seem to love. Nature has its own rhythm but I can’t think of anything that illustrates it more beautifully than the monarch butterfly.

I hoped the monarch would open its wings for me but this was the best I could do.

Bull thistles are attracting more insects this year than I’ve ever seen. Here was a silver spotted skipper and a bumblebee sharing this one.

And here was an eastern black swallowtail on another. What a beautiful thing; I think this was the only one I’ve seen.

Early one morning I found this pretty moth resting on a leaf. Imagine sleeping on a leaf, waiting for the sun to warm and wake you at dawn. I took a few photos and it never moved. I think its name is the large lace-border moth. It has a lacy fringe on its trailing wing edges.

I never knew there was such a difference in the size of milkweed beetles. I’m assuming one is a male and the other female. It seems like every other time I’ve seen them they’ve been the same size.

I found another insect I had never seen before one morning; a dobsonfly. Luckily a coworker knew what it was. It was quite big; it must have been 3-4 inches long including its big, fierce looking pincers. Actually they’re called mandibles and males, which this one is, use them to fight off interlopers. I’ve read that these insects can give you quite a painful bite but it is more warning than anything serious.  

Here’s a closer look at the dobsonflies many eyes. The larvae are called hellgrammites or toe biters and are aquatic. They are eaten by fish and are often used for bait by fisher folk. They can also give you quite a bite, hence the name toe biters. They stay in the larval stage for one to three years before leaving the water as a male or female dobsonfly. Once they leave the water their lifespan is shortened to three days for males and eight to ten days for females. During that time it’s all about continuation of the species.

One morning a dragonfly flew off a pickerel weed stalk and landed bang, right on my left shoulder. It was odd because I saw the dragonfly on the pickerel weed and then saw it fly at me as if in slow motion, as if it had it all planned out. Luckily I’m right handed so I was able to get my small macro camera out of its case on my belt and get this photo. But then there was a problem; how do I get the dragonfly to fly away? I put my camera away and put my finger on my shoulder and much to my surprise the dragonfly climbed aboard.

But then there was another problem; how could I get a shot of it on my right finger when I had to use my right hand to take the photo? So, I put my left my left finger up to my right finger and sure enough, it climbed right on just like my grandmother’s parakeets used to do. I was able to take several photos but since the sun hadn’t come up over the hills I was able to salvage only this one by adjusting the exposure in post processing. But then I faced another problem; how to get the dragonfly off my finger. I wiggled it gently but it held right on, so then I put my finger up to the siding of a building and it finally crawled off and flew away. I love it when insects and animals decide they want to be friends. It happens more often than I would have ever thought.

I thought the color of this dragonfly would make it very easy to identify but that hasn’t proven to be so. I’ve included it here so you can simply enjoy its beauty as I have. Beauty doesn’t need a name and as time passes I find that I care less about the names of things and more about their beauty. In 1970 Ray Stevens sang a song called “Everything is Beautiful.” At the time I didn’t believe it; I thought well that would be great if it were true, but as I’ve come down through the years I’ve found that it is indeed true. Everything is beautiful, in its own way.  

Up to this point we’ve seen a lot of relatively big insects, but now imagine one so small it can actually feed between the upper and lower surfaces of a leaf. That’s a leaf miner and that’s amazing, and that’s why nature study can change the way you look at life.

In a normal year I would have done at least one mushroom post by now and possibly two, but we’ve had so little rain until recently mushrooms just weren’t happening. Then it rained a little each week for a couple of weeks and I saw this mycelium on a log, so I knew I should see mushrooms soon. If you think of a mushroom as a vascular plant, which it isn’t, the mycelium would be its roots and the above ground part would be its stalk, and its spores would be its fruit.

Yellow spindle corals (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) lick up out of the soil like tiny flames. Each cylindrical finger is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti. The tips are usually pointed as they are here. This species usually grows in tight clusters, often in the hard packed soil on the side of the trail, which is where I found these. Because they grow where they do you often find them broken from being stepped on, as some of these were.

If you find a shelf like fungus that shines like it has been varnished growing on an eastern hemlock tree then you’ve found a hemlock varnish shelf mushroom (Ganoderma tsugae.) I show this mushroom regularly on this blog because I see it regularly, but not often in its mature form as it was here. Brick red, often quite large, and shiny.

I’m seeing quite a few boletes all of the sudden so I’ve ben doing some reading, trying to learn more about them. There are a few with red caps and yellow stems, but I think I know how to tell them apart.

When you touch the spore surface or gently squeeze the stem and where you’ve touched turns very blue, you have found Boletus pseudosensibilis. If the surfaces turn only moderately blue, you’ve found Boletus sensibilis. This one stained what I thought was quite intense blue immediately when I touched it.

This bolete did not stain blue and its pore surface on the underside of the cap was bright yellow, so it must be Boletus bicolor. Of course this is all very interesting but these mushrooms can very greatly even among the same species so I’d never eat any of them without an expert identification, and I hope you won’t either.

I rolled over a log and here was this tiny being on the side of it. I believe it is called a cotton based coral fungus (Lentaria byssiseda,) which gets its name from the creamy white, furry, feltlike, mycelial patch that it arises from. It is a pliant but tough little thing that could comfortably sit on a penny with room to spare. According to my mushroom guides they can be whitish, pink or gray.

Sometimes you don’t realize you’ve been looking for a thing until you find it, and that was the case with these Indian pipes. I’ve seen many thousands of Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) but these were just coming up out of the soil, and that’s something I’ve never seen.

Of course this is what Indian pipes usually look like when we notice them.

The female spore capsule (Sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is barrel shaped with a beaked end cap or lid called the operculum. When the time is right this end cap will fall off and release the spores to the wind but I’ve never seen it happen, so this year I took an end cap off myself and I was surprised by the cloud of spores that came out of the capsule. They were like dust and must have numbered in the thousands, so it’s no wonder I see so many mosses. The capsules are about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch long and about 3/16 of an inch in diameter and are a challenge to photograph. Since they’re too small for my tired eyes to be able to see any real detail in person I was pleasantly surprised to see the line of tiny water droplets when I saw the photo. They must have been very small indeed.

I’m guessing that we’ll have a great blueberry crop this year. The bears will eat well.

The blue of blue bead lily berries (Clintonia borealis) is quite different from the blue of blueberries; what I call electric blue. The seeds in these berries can take two years to germinate and adult plants can take twelve years to finally show their yellow, lily like blossoms. This plant is also called “cow tongue” because of the shape of its leaves. Deer, chipmunks and many other animals and birds love the berries and I often have trouble finding them because they get eaten so fast. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat burns and infections, and bears are said to be attracted to its root.

These blue bead lily berries were much darker and closer to a blueberry blue, but I’m not sure why.

In last Saturday’s post I was complaining about how hot it was and this stone illustrates it perfectly, because it was sweating. Porous rocks have the ability to absorb water and when it’s hot they can sweat, much like we do. I see this fairly regularly. There was no other explanation on this day because it hadn’t rained recently.

Congratulations are in order, because you’ve made it to the end of the longest post I’ve ever done. I hope it was worth your time and I also hope, as always, that it will entice you outside to see these things for yourself. Nature is endlessly fascinating and always beautiful so I hope you’ll get outside and let it change your life. I thought I’d leave you with this shot of the view I see when the sun comes up over the hills every morning, just before I start my work day. It’s one of my favorite scenes and yes, I do know how lucky I am. I hope all of you are every bit as lucky.

Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you. ~Freeman Patterson

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Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium fistulosum) has come into full bloom. Or full bud anyhow, most of the buds seen here haven’t opened yet. These plants towered over my head. Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I’ve read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person’s name.

Monarch butterflies love Joe Pye weed flowers and I’ve already seen them on the open flowers this year.

Strangely, though boneset (Eupatorium) looks like a white joe Pye weed I’ve never seen a monarch butterfly on it. Joe Pye weed and boneset used to be in the same Eupatorium family but Joe Pye weed was has whorled leaves so it was moved to Eupatoriadelphus, from what I’ve read. Boneset has opposite leaves. The “perfoliatum” part of boneset’s scientific name means “through the leaf,” and that’s what boneset leaves look like; as if they had been perforated by the stem. The leaves joining around the stem as they do looked like bones knitting together as they healed to ancient herbalists, and that’s how the plant got its common name.

Dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) is also called false violet because of its leaves, and I think that might be why it’s an easy flower to miss. Its small white flowers dot the forest floor like so many other small white flowers, and that also makes it easy to pass by with just a glance. A closer look reveals something different though; this plant produces other flowers that don’t open but still produce seeds. They are called cleistogamous flowers and are hidden beneath the leaves. The showy flowers like the one in the photo are mostly sterile. Dewdrop is one of the rarer flowers I see. It is endangered or threatened in many states and It likes swamps and moist woodlands.

Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis) is rare here. I first found a single 6 inch high plant a couple of years ago and I was surprised by how small it was. The single plant had a single flower that I always thought  would be as big as a tradescantia blossom, but it was only half that size. It is an introduced plant from China and Japan but it could hardly be called invasive in this area because I’ve seen maybe two or three of them in 60+ years. I’d like to see more of them; I love that shade of blue.

There are enough different goldenrods (over a hundred it is said) which look enough alike to convince me that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to identify them all, but some are quite easy to identify.  One of the easiest is gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).  It’s one of the first to bloom and its flower heads always look like they have been in a gale force wind and were all blown over to one side of the stem.

After years of trial and error Thomas Edison found goldenrod to be the best domestic source of natural rubber and bred a plant that grew to twelve feet tall and contained about twelve percent rubber in its leaves. Henry Ford and George Washington Carver developed a process to make rubber from goldenrod on an industrial scale during World War II and the USDA took over the project until synthetic rubber was discovered a short time later.

Slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is one of the easiest to identify because of its scent, which is said to resemble anise and sassafras. Since I’ve never smelled anise or sassafras I can’t confirm this, but its fragrance is pleasant so I always bend to give it a sniff when I see it. This plant closely resembles lance leaved goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia) but its leaves are narrower and have a single vein in each leaf. Lance leaved goldenrod leaves have 3-5 veins.

August is when our many asters begin to blossom here in New Hampshire and one of the first is the whorled wood aster (Oclemena acuminata). It’s one of the easiest asters to identify because of its early bloom time and because the narrow white ray florets look like they were glued on by chubby fingered toddlers. The plant can take quite a lot of shade and I usually find it growing alongside the edges of woodland paths. It gets its common name from the way its leaves appear to grow in whorls around the stem when viewed from above. In botany, a whorl is an arrangement of at least three sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point around the stem, and the leaves of this aster really don’t fit the definition. Looking at the from the side the tiers of whorled leaves of would appear flat like a plate, but these leaves appear randomly scattered up and down its length. The plant is also called sharp leaved aster and grows to about a foot tall.

Low baby’s breath (Gypsophila muralis) flowers are tiny; about the same size as those on red sandspurry, and blossom on the ends of wiry stems. Its leaves are also small and sword shaped and very hard to see in this photo. This entire plant covered maybe 3 inches.

 I find low baby’s breath growing in the sand on roadsides in full sun, much like a sandspurry would. It is an annual plant native to Europe and available commercially, sold as cushion baby’s breath.

Cup plants (Silphium perfoliatum) are native perennials with pretty flowers that can reach 8 feet. It’s called cup plant because its leaf pairs-one on each side of the square stem-are fused together and form a cup around the stem. This cup usually has water in it. 

Bees love cup plant blossoms.

I’m seeing more butterflies and moths this year than I ever have. Many small ones, about as big as my thumbnail, were loving this coneflower one day. Skippers maybe?

Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) is easy to recognize because of the way its erect stems are unbranched, with steeple shaped flower clusters at their ends. They are usually found near water. This native plant is available commercially and is an excellent choice for butterfly gardens. Native Americans used a tea made from steeplebush leaves for easing childbirth.

I’ve watched invasive purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) slowly take over the banks of this stream over the years. Slowly, it chokes out the natives asters, goldenrods, and Joe Pye weeds.

Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is a legume in the bean family. This plant gets part of its common name from the little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods and make them stick to clothing like ticks. The “showy” part of its common name comes from the way that so many of its small pink flowers bloom at once. As the plant sets seeds its erect stems bend lower to the ground so the barbed seed pods can catch in the fur of passing animals. Deer, rabbits, woodchucks and even cows love to eat this plant. It has just come into bloom.

 I like showy tick trefoil because it blooms in late summer along with goldenrod and the colors go well together.

Native arrowleaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) is in the smartweed family, which gets its common name from the way your tongue will smart if you eat its peppery parts. Though the flower buds in this family of plants seem like they never open I’ve discovered that they do, sort of. They look like they only open about halfway though and I find the buds as pretty as the blossoms. This plant is a kind of rambler / sprawler that winds its way over nearby plants so it can get as much sunshine as possible.

But that isn’t all there is to the story of tearthumb. It comes by that name because it can indeed tear your thumb or any other body part that comes into contact with it. Many a gardener has regretted trying to pull it up without gloves on, because when the small but sharp barbs (prickles, botanically) along its stems slip through your hand they act like a saw and make you sorry that you ever touched it. It actually uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I find it near ponds, blooming quite late in summer.

Jewelweed or spotted touch me not (Impatiens capensis) has started blooming but the lack of rain over the last couple of weeks has weakened their numbers. This plant typically blossoms right up until a frost but as day length shortens the plants will produce smaller, closed flowers with no petals and no nectar. They self-pollinate and their sole purpose is to produce plenty of seeds.

When jewelweed flowers first open they are male, but then change to female. The way to tell is by looking for white pollen. If white pollen is present like this example shows the flower is male. Female flowers will have a small green pistil in place of the pollen. The flowers are dichogamous, meaning that the male and female parts mature at different times. That guarantees that the flowers can’t be self-pollinated. According to an article in the International Journal of Plant Sciences, when nectar is taken from a flower pollen collecting hairs are stimulated and the duration of the male phase of the flower is shortened. From then on it enters its female phase and waits for a visitor to dust it with pollen from another male flower. It’s just so amazing.

A local business has a small flower garden packed with flowers of all kinds, and this beautiful sunflower was in it. It’s an amazing thing.

If you are lost inside the beauties of nature, do not try to be found. ~Mehmet Murat ildan              

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Last Sunday was supposed to be the hottest day of the year according to the weather people, with highs nearing 100 degrees. In the 1800s before air conditioning our ancestors used to climb hills for the breeze or find water to sit by or swim in to stay cool. It was too humid to climb so I went to the Ashuelot River, one of the most beautiful and natural bodies of water in the area.

Not only are the trails shaded along the river but there are no hills there, so there is little exertion required to hike them. Still, it was hot.

Ferns often make it seem cooler but on this day they burned like flames.

A turtle contemplated the beautiful blue of a pickerel weed blossom.

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) blossomed all along the river banks on both sides of the river. Each blossom lasts only 3 days before the stems coil and pull them underwater to set seeds but there are so many of them they never seem to disappear.

Blue vervain, Allegheny monkey flower and fringed loosestrife grew all in a tangle, all competing for the same place in the sun.

Allegheny monkey flowers (Mimulus ringens) have square stems and are also called square stemmed monkey flowers. The throat is partially closed and bumblebees are one of the few insects strong enough to pry it open to get at the nectar. Native Americans and early settlers sometimes used the leaves as an edible green. This plant usually gets about knee high and likes to grow in wet, sunny places, and it isn’t all that common. No matter how many times I see it I never see a monkey.

Beautiful blue vervain (Verbena hastata) also likes to grow in damp sunny places so it does well along the river. The plants here must have been six feet tall. Its bitter roots were used by Native Americans to treat gastric irritation and some tribes roasted them and ground them into flour. Others dried the flowers and used them as snuff to stop nosebleeds. This is one of the plants they introduced to the Europeans and they used it in much the same way.

Great colonies of fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. They are the last of the native yellow loosestrifes to bloom in this area but they seem to be having an extended bloom period this year. The flowers on fringed loosestrife are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground so I have to bend the stems up gently to get a face on photo like this one. It’s always worth the effort.

This bat box was new since I was here last. I’m seeing more and more of these in my travels. Bats are natural insect controllers so I’m all for seeing more of them.

I love the leaves of the royal fern (Osmunda regalis.) They look like no other fern I’ve ever met.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) can be tough to identify because even plants growing side by side can have differently shaped leaves, but once they bloom identification becomes much easier. I can’t think of another plant that has small, drooping white, lily like blossoms at this time of year. The half inch flowers appear in clusters at the end of branched stems that can reach 5 or 6 feet in some cases, and have forked stamens that are longer than the petals. The plant gets its common name from the Native American belief that it could cure rattlesnake bites.

Though I’ve been coming here for over 50 years I always find something new when I return, and today’s new thing was a colony of marsh bellflowers (Campanula aparinoides.) Since I’ve never seen them anywhere before I had to spend a while trying to identify them but they were obviously in the campanula family so it only took a little while.

The small white flowers are maybe a half inch long and about the same diameter as an aspirin. The 5 petals flare outward and are pointed at the tip, with a single thin gray or blue line down the center. White stamens and a long curly style make up the reproductive parts. They’re quite small but very pretty.

The plants have weak stems and tend to sprawl and tangle.

I thought I heard a tall meadow rue say “Pssst; hey, come over here and look at this.” I didn’t need to see its leaves yellowing already, but I looked. Like spring fall begins on the forest floor with just a whisper, but before you know it the whisper becomes a shout and the trees are ablaze. The forest here is made up of mostly red maples and in the fall this trail is as beautiful as a place can be.

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) had just started blooming here. Its flowers look like white Joe Pye weed and that’s because the two plants are closely related. In fact they can often be found growing side by side I find it on river, pond and stream banks; almost always near water.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shoreline. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose.

Mad-Dog Skullcap flowers grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

One of my favorite shades of blue is found on bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) but I don’t see many because they are quite rare here. This is the only place I can find them so you can imagine my delight when I found that they hadn’t been cut down this year like they had been two years ago. That was the time I found that the Keene Parks and Recreation Department had sent someone out here with a weed wacker, and that person had cut down countless beautiful wildflowers all along the trail, including the gentians. When they start to go by theses flowers become even more beautiful by turning very dark blue and then a kind of purple. They closely resemble narrow leaved gentian (Gentiana linearis) but that plant has much narrower leaves. Why anyone would cut down such a rare and beautiful thing is beyond me.

By the time I reached the little red bridge I was drenched and ready to turn around and go back.

I saw a lot of blue here on this day and since it’s my favorite color I was happy to see it. Blue is supposed to be a cool color but I didn’t feel very cool. When I started the temperature was 66 degrees F. and when I finished it was 86 degrees F. A rise of 20 degrees in an hour and a half, but was it worth it? Absolutely. In the words of the Chinese poet Lu Tung (790 – 835), “all the wrongs of life passed out through my pores.”

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. ~Edgar Allan Poe

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Though I’ve seen nursery signs that read bee bomb, the correct name for this plant is bee balm (Monarda didyma,) probably because whoever named it thought it pacified bees. But it isn’t just bees that love it; hummingbirds will come from all over to visit its flowers. Bee Balm is also called horsemint, oswego tea, and bergamot. The Native American Oswego tribe (Iroquois) showed early colonists how to make tea from bee balm leaves, so it has been called Oswego tea ever since. Its leaves are also used as an ingredient in other teas as well, and they can still be found in many stores. Many Native American tribes also used this plant medicinally. Bee balm will stand afternoon shade and is a no fuss plant that prefers to be left alone. When summers are humid it will occasionally get a case of powdery mildew.  

I was very surprised to see a native blue flag (Iris versicolor) blooming in July, but there it was. This iris usually blooms in April and May but plants seem to be doing odd things this year. These plants love water and near water is where I always find them. There is also a southern blue flag (Iris virginica.)

Another very odd thing I’ve noticed this year is how Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have been blooming continuously since March.

And I’m not just seeing a single plant with blossoms. I’m seeing many plants and hundreds of blossoms. This spring bloomer usually disappears in the heat of summer and re-appears in the fall but this year it is blooming right through one of the hottest, driest summers we’ve had in years. Today’s garden pansies were developed from this plant and the flowers can be white, purple, blue, yellow, or combinations of any or all of them. The word pansy comes from the French pensée, which means thought or reflection.

I’ve seen a lot of white campion flowers but something told me to look closely at this one and when I did I saw something curious; it looked like a double blossom, with one flower growing over another. The petals on a white campion are split so what might look like 2 petals are actually one, but I took that into account and still counted 7 petals in all. If you look up white campion you find that it is supposed to have 5 petals, so that shows that flowers don’t read the flower identification guides. By the way, you can see that this is a female flower by the way its 5 elongated styles curl out over the central collar.

A side view shows how the petals were arranged over or on top of each other. Maybe this happens all the time, but I’ve never seen it. In the end I have to suppose that flowers can have as many petals as they want but to grow more petals they have to sacrifice something else, and that is often their reproductive parts like stamens.

I once thought that this plant was the only example of panicled trefoil (Desmodium paniculatum) I had ever seen but then I found that I had misidentified them. Though the long thin shape of its flower head is correct the flowers are not.

After quite a lot of searching I’m not finding this one in my guide books or online under trefoil or Desmodium so now I’m wondering if it even is a trefoil. It’s definitely in the pea / bean family but that’s as far as I can go. It’s quite pretty and grows along a roadside in full sun. Each plant is probably about 3 feet tall but they lean on surrounding plants and each other so they’re all in a jumble. If you happen to know its name I’d love for you to let me know.

Native Rhododendron maxima (Rhododendron maxima) have reached the northernmost point of their growth here and there are very few of them in the area except for a pocket in Fitzwilliam New Hampshire, in a place called Rhododendron State Park. So rare is a place like it, it was designated a national Landmark in 1982.

This native rhododendron isn’t like others; its beautiful white to pink blooms appear in mid-July rather than in spring. The land that they grow on is low and often quite wet and I think that’s why they have been left alone since the first settlers came here. 

The big plants tower overhead in places and in a good year the white blossoms are everywhere you look. Anyone who loves rhododendrons or serious collectors of the shrubs should definitely see this.

Common quick weed (Galinsoga quadriradiata) comes from Mexico originally and how it happens to be in New Hampshire is a mystery. It is also called hairy galinsoga and is considered a weed even in its native range. It is said to be able to reduce crop yields by as much as half if left unchecked. The small flowers are about 3/8 of an inch wide and have five white ray florets widely spaced around the tiny yellow center disk florets. Another common name for the plant is shaggy soldier because of the very hairy stems. I almost always find it near vegetable gardens.

Purple loosestrife is an invasive plant that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows. Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures but though it is much hated you can’t deny its beauty. A field of loosestrife and goldenrod is a truly beautiful scene.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a tiny flowered native plant that likes to grow at the water’s edge in sandy soil. Dwarf St. John’s Wort’s foliage usually looks untouched by insects or animals because it is slightly toxic. Each flower has 5 petals and 5 light green sepals and is about the size of a pencil eraser. Though very small the flowers of Canada St. John’s Wort (Hypericum canadense) are even smaller; about half the size of these.

I find pretty gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) growing in a local garden. The plant is a fast spreading perennial in the primrose family. It originally comes from China and Japan where it grows in moist mountain meadows, near streams and along roadways. It is considered very invasive and Its extensive root system is what makes it so invasive. It can form colonies that choke out other plants but the good news is that it spreads by its roots rather than by seed, so it gets no help from birds.

Tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) can reach 10 feet tall, towering above other plants in the area. This makes it easy to see but sometimes it’s not so easy to get a good photo of. The leaves of this plant can be highly variable in their shape, with even the leaves on the same plant looking different from each other. 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.

If you find this plant growing near water it’s best to maybe take a photo and pass it by because it is one of the deadliest plants known. In 1992 two brothers went searching the woods of Maine for American ginseng. After finding what they thought was ginseng, they ate part of the root. The younger brother became violently ill within 30 minutes and died in an emergency room less than 3 hours later. The older brother suffered through seizures and delirium, but lived. The brothers were 23 and 39 years old; old enough to know better than to eat unidentified plant roots. The root they had eaten was that of the water hemlock (Cicuta maculata.)

Water hemlock is in the Carrot family (Apiaceae) like Queen Anne’s lace and the root, which reportedly “smells delicious,” like a parsnip, can be mistaken for a wild carrot or parsnip. The lower stems are hollow and the white flower clusters, called umbels, are made up of small 1/8″ flowers with 5 petals and 5 stamens. The plant grows in moist places; usually near streams and ponds, and blooms in July and August. Water hemlock is closely related to poison hemlock (Conium maculatum,)  which is generally believed to be the poison that Socrates drank. Water hemlock is every bit as deadly and is listed by the USDA as the most violently toxic plant in North America. It grows in all but 2 states and is quite common.

The stem of the plant is smooth and hollow and often purple striped or spotted. It shouldn’t be broken because it contains toxic sap that can be absorbed through the skin. We should always remember to  teach children to never put any part of any plant in their mouth unless an adult is present. In this case even using the hollow stem as a pea shooter could be fatal.

When he went into the desert the singer of the song Horse With No Name by the band America says the first thing he met was a fly with a buzz. The question of where the fly got its buzz isn’t answered, but one of my theories is that it had visited a broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.)

The reason I think that is because the nectar of a broad leaved helleborine contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects sip it they tend to stagger around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. Once the insect flies off it will most likely be oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting its pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the orchid for the buzz it got from its nectar. Look at that little pencil eraser size cup full of what looks like caviar. What insect wouldn’t want to at least try a little taste?

Suddenly I realized
That if I stepped out of my body
I would break Into blossom.
~James Wright 

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July is the time many of our biggest and most beautiful flowers appear in the fields and on forest edges. And sometimes right on roadsides, like this chicory (Cichorium intybus.) It was surrounded by pavement and the only wind it felt was from passing vehicles, but the plants were thriving. I love its beautiful blue color and I very much look forward to seeing it each summer.

Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) are probably our biggest native wildflower and they’ve just come into bloom. These beautiful flowers grew on plants that were about 3-4 feet tall but I’ve seen plants that towered high over my head. The flowers can be yellow, orange or red, or a combination. The plants always remind me of a hanging chandelier.

Canada lilies 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 often find Canada lilies growing along streams as this one was.

Though eastern purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a native wildflower I don’t often find it growing outside of gardens. Native American plains tribes used this plant to treat toothaches, coughs, colds, sore throats, and snake bite. Something interesting that I read said that Native Americans got the idea that coneflower could be used medicinally by watching sick and injured elk eat the plants. I’ve always wondered how natives came to know if a plant was poisonous or not and thought that they must have simply used trial and error. Pity the one who had to try an unknown plant for the first time.

One way to tell that you have a creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) rather than another campanula is by noticing the curious way the blue, bell shaped flowers all grow on one side of the stem, and the way that the stem almost always leans in the direction of the flowers. This plant is originally from Europe and is considered an invasive weed. It can be very hard to eradicate and it can choke out weaker native plants if it is left alone. It isn’t considered invasive here in New Hampshire though, and in fact I usually have to look for quite a while to find it. When I do it is usually growing on forest edges.

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) originally hails from Europe. It is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era and has spread throughout the United States, much to the dismay of farmers and cattle ranchers. It is also called spear thistle, with good reason. I wonder if it was imported intentionally or accidentally. I’ve read that many non-native plants came over as seeds stuck in the tails of cows and horses, and this could be one of those.

We shouldn’t forget about grasses when we speak of flowers because they flower too, and sometimes their flowers can be very beautiful. One of my favorite grass flowers is Timothy (Phleum pretense.) The story of how this grass got its name says that it was unintentionally introduced from Europe in 1711 and in 1720 a farmer named Timothy Hanson began to cultivate it. The grass took on his name and has been called Timothy ever since. It is an excellent hay grass.

It is also a grass that it is worth stopping and looking at. Its flowers are sometimes cream colored and sometimes purple as they were on this stalk.

When you’re admiring the flower heads of grasses look down and you might find the pretty little flowers of stitchwort growing up the grass stems.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) flowers are very small but there are enough of them so the plant can’t be missed. They grow at the edges of fields and pastures, and along pathways. The stems of this plant live through the winter so it gets a jump on the season, often blooming in May. It is a native of Europe.

I had to stop beside the road I was driving on because I saw the biggest colony of pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata) that I’ve ever seen. The plant gets its common name from its small flowers, which are usually a pale blue to almost white. There is also a purple variant but I’ve never seen it.

As I expected the flowers were a light sky blue. They’re quite small, maybe slightly bigger than a pencil eraser.

Some were darker blue, which I like. This is a fairly common plant but I still usually have to look for it. I love all flowers but the tiny ones that make you crawl in the grass and do some work to see them are often quite exceptional, and always worth the effort.

The nodding, waxy, cup shaped flowers of the shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) have appeared. This native plant is plentiful in pine woods and grows near trailing arbutus and pipsissewa.  The greenish white petals look waxy and sometimes will have greenish veins running through them. These plants were always thought to be closely related to the wintergreens because their leaves stay green all winter, but DNA testing now puts them in the heath (Ericaceae) family. The plant’s crushed leaves were applied to bruises in the form of a paste or salve and the aspirin-like compounds in the leaves would ease pain. Such pastes were called “shin plasters,” and that’s how the plant got its strange common name. 

The big J shaped flower styles of shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) are unmistakable, even on its winter seedpods. Shinleaf is quite common in this area and can form large colonies. Shinleaf leaves form a rosette at the base of the single, 4-5 inch tall flower stalk.

Native Pipsissewa (Chimaphilla corymbosa or Pyrola umbellata) has just started blooming. It likes things on the dry side and I find it in sandy soil that gets dappled sunlight. It is a low growing native evergreen that can be easily missed when there are only one or two plants, but pipsissewa usually forms quite large colonies and that makes them easier to find. The leaves are also very shiny, which also helps.  The white or pink flowers are almost always found nodding downwards, as the photo shows. 

Pipsissewa has nodding flowers that grow quite close to the ground and this makes getting a good photo difficult. Luckily I was able to bend a flower stalk and get a look at the large center pistil and the 10 odd shaped anthers. It is said that the plant’s common name comes from the Native American word pipsiskeweu which means “it breaks into small pieces.” This refers to their belief that pipsissewa would break up kidney stones.

When I was a boy all I ever saw were pure white bindweed flowers (Calystegia sepium) but then all of the sudden they became pink and white bicolor bindweed flowers. Now it has gotten difficult to find a white example. Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has narrower arrowhead shaped, triangular leaves.

This is closer to the bindweeds I remember as a boy; simple white trumpets. I don’t know when the bi-color pink and white flowers began to appear but I have looked them up and they and the white flowered plants are indeed the same species. But they’re not morning glories, even though that was what we called them when I was a boy. This one reminded me of playing in milkweed scented fields with grass up to my shoulders watching big black and yellow garden spiders weaving their webs. I never see them anymore either.

A few years ago I found a small colony of long leaf speedwell (Veronica longifolia) and each year there have been more flower spikes until this year, I had trouble isolating one for a photo.  I’ve never seen it growing in the wild until I found it here. It’s a pretty plant that is native to Europe and China and grows on steppes, grassy mountain slopes, meadows at forest edges and birch forests. Here in the U.S. it is commonly found in gardens but it has obviously escaped. It certainly doesn’t seem to be aggressive or invasive. I love its showy blue flower spikes.

Each tiny long leaf speedwell blossom is purple–blue or occasionally white, about a quarter inch across and 4 lobed with quite a long tube. Each has 2 stamens and a single pistil. Another very similar plant is Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) but culver’s root doesn’t grow naturally in New Hampshire.

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is also called swamp vervain because it likes water, and I find it either in wet meadows or along river and pond banks. It is also called simpler’s joy after the herb gatherers of the middle ages. They were called simplers because they gathered medicinal or “simple” herbs for mankind’s benefit and since vervain was one of the 9 sacred herbs, finding it brought great joy. It was thought to cure just about any ailment and Roman soldiers carried the dried plants into battle. Since blue is my favorite color finding it always brings me great joy as well.

The serenity produced by the contemplation and philosophy of nature is the only remedy for prejudice, superstition, and inordinate self-importance, teaching us that we are all a part of Nature herself, strengthening the bond of sympathy which should exist between ourselves and our brother man. ~Luther Burbank

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With the moderate drought we’re in I haven’t expected to see any fungi so I was surprised to see these little beauties popping up out of an old hay bale. From what I’ve read I believe they are wooly ink cap fungi (Coprinus lagopus.)

The wooly part of the name comes from the way the fungus is covered in “wool” as it comes out of the ground and because of the fuzzy stem, which can be seen here. The stem is hollow and very fragile, seeming to disappear at the slightest pressure from fingers. I love the color of the cap and gills but they seem, from what I saw these examples do, to change color as they age. And they age fast; this little mushroom goes through its entire above ground life cycle in just a day. By the end of this day these were black.

These mushrooms seem to just melt away as their spore bearing gills turn to “ink.” I’m not sure why this one looked so wet, because it was a dry day. Maybe the whole thing was turning to liquid.

The next day more mushrooms appeared from the same bale of hay, but this time they were wearing black and white. I wonder if the early morning, shaded light had something to do with the colors seen in the first three photos. This one was taken in full sun. I’ve seen them in both colors in online photos.

I saw a big bolete which had grown out of the side of an embankment, only to have gravity pull it downward. I think it might be the ruby bolete (Hortiboletus rubellus) but there are many that look alike and I’m not a mushroom expert.  Had I checked to see if it turned blue when it was bruised I would have known for sure but I didn’t want to eat it, I just wanted to admire it.

I’ve heard from quite a few sources that hemlock varnish shelf (Ganoderma tsugae) growth seems to be exploding this year, for reasons unknown. People are seeing them everywhere and as this hemlock log shows, so am I. It is closely related to the Reishi mushroom found in China. That mushroom is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential. I’m guessing this could be a valuable log; I stopped counting mushrooms at ten, and some were quite big.

Nature can show the brightest colors in the oddest places and I always wonder why. What benefit can this stalked bracket fungus gain from all of that color? Do the colors relate to the minerals it is absorbing from this old hemlock log? And why do the colors change over time?

Wooly oak galls are created by the wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator) and are about the size of a ping pong ball, but “felt covered” like a tennis ball. The gall is caused by secretions from the grubs of the gall wasp, which will only build it on white oak and only in spring. There are small seed like structures inside the gall which contain the wasp larva, and that’s why these galls are also called oak seed galls. They are a great help when searching for white oak trees. We have mostly red oaks here so I don’t see many of these.

I’m always amazed by the colors on the inner bark of trees. I’ve seen red, orange, yellow, and even blue. This photo shows the inner bark of an old gray birch, which had fallen off. I liked the patterns as well as the colors. Things like this always make me wonder why the most beautiful parts of a tree are sometimes hidden away where nobody can see them.

I also liked the pattern the leaves of this Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum) made. I often see this beautiful little fern in gardens.

Meadow spike moss (Selaginella apoda) has plenty of new growth so I’m guessing it doesn’t mind dryness, even though I’ve read that it prefers moist soil. Spike mosses are considered “primitive” seedless (spore bearing) vascular plants and therefore aren’t mosses at all. This pretty little plant is more closely related to the clubmosses, which are also spore bearing vascular plants known as lycopods. It doesn’t appear to be evergreen like the clubmosses however. It’s a pretty little thing which is native to the eastern and midwestern U.S. but its cousins grow all over the world in every continent except Antarctica. The acorn in the upper right will give some idea of scale.

The male flowers of eastern white pine trees (Pinus strobus) are called pollen cones because that’s what they produce. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of pollen make it look like the trees are burning and releasing yellow green smoke each spring. Virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, buildings, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in and if you leave your windows open you’ll be doing some house dusting in the near future. Pine pollen is a strong antioxidant and it has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago and they are said to be numerous.

The red fruits of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa,) are usually hard to find because the birds eat them as soon as they ripen, but for the first time I found a bush full of them. Why the birds left these alone is a mystery. The berries are said to be toxic but they were cooked and eaten by Native Americans so I’m sure they knew how to cook them in such a way as to remove the toxicity. They also used them medicinally. Red elderberry is one of two elderberries native to New Hampshire. The other is the common or black elderberry (Sambucus nigra V. canadensis) which has black berries and isn’t toxic.

I saw a little brown bird dancing on the rocks at the river. It would hop from one to the other and back again, staring at me the entire time. It was easy to love and I wished I could have it land in my hand. I’ve had gray squirrels eat from my hand but not birds. Not yet.

I think the bird was a song sparrow but I’m not sure of that. Long time readers of this blog know that I’m not a bird person due to colorblindness, so maybe someone out there better versed in birds knows for sure. Whatever its name it was a cute little thing that seemed to be smiling. It also seemed to be trying to distract me with its cute hopping back and forth and I wondered if it might have a nest nearby that it was hoping I didn’t see.

A mother turtle, which I believe is a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta,) was laying eggs on a lawn, quite a while after the snapping turtles had finished. She pulled her head into her shell when she saw me, but didn’t move. Snapping turtles can’t pull their head in as far as painted turtles but they do have long necks and can surprise people when they suddenly extend them.

One day I went to the shore of Halfmoon Pond in Hancock and found the entire shoreline moving with what I thought were dark colored insects; crickets maybe, but when I looked closer I found that they were tiny baby toads, so small that one of them could fit on the nail of my little finger with room to spare. Many thousands of them swarmed over the shoreline but that isn’t the strangest part of the story; the same thing is happening in other places. Saratoga Springs New York for instance, has seen the same thing happen and you can see excellent photos and even a video at the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog, by clicking here. I can’t guess what caused such a mass hatching of toads, maybe it happens regularly, but in any event I would guess that fish, snapping turtles and herons will be eating well this year.

This red spotted purple butterfly ( Limenitis arthemis astyanax) landed on the damp sand in front of me and let me take a few photos. The white admiral and red spotted purple are essentially different forms of the same butterfly. I think the deep coloration of this one suffered some in this shot because of the harsh sunlight.

I see pale beauty moths fairly regularly but they are usually resting on leaves, not sand as this one was. it was actually on a beach at a pond. Their wings and body are pale greenish to grayish white and the female, which I think this example is, is said to be much larger than the male. The caterpillars are said to feed on the leaves of 65 species of trees and shrubs including alder, ash, basswood, beech, birch, blueberry, cherry, fir, elm, hemlock, maple, oak, pine, poplar, rose, spruce, larch, and willow. They’re supposed to be nocturnal but I often see them in daylight. Usually in the evening or early morning though. I’m not sure I could think of a name any more beautiful than pale beauty moth.

I felt something hit me in the back and when I saw what it was I could hardly believe my eyes, because it had really big eyes. Actually the eyed click beetle’s (Alaus oculatus) “eyes” are really just eye spots, there to mesmerize and confound predators. They certainly had me mesmerized for a bit. This unusual insect can snap a spine hidden under its thorax and make a clicking sound. It can also use that spine to launch itself into the air, which is apparently what it did before it hit me in the back. In this photo it has hidden its legs and antennae under its body. At about an inch and a half long it may be a mid-size beetle but it has quite a big bag of tricks.

Here we are looking at the eyed click beetle’s eye spots. If I was a predator I’d think twice, and by the time I had made a decision this bug would have most likely clicked its spine and would be sailing through the air, getting away. What a great gift is this life we live; from dust to dust nothing but wonders and miracles. How sad I feel sometimes for those who don’t see them.  

Though I think this was a calico pennant dragonfly it’s a little hard to tell because of the way the sky was reflected in its wings early on this morning. Its wings could have been wet but what interests me more than the dragonfly is the dry husk, called an exoskeleton, on the stem just above it. 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 my question, since I actually measured one of the husks, is how do you pack all that dragonfly into a 3/4 inch long exoskeleton? As it turns out it isn’t all that much dragonfly; after searching for the length of a calico pennant I find that their maximum length seems to be 1-3 to 1.5 inches. Still, that’s twice the length of the exoskeleton that I measured. I’ve read that, though the dragonfly is fully formed when it emerges from the husk, it is not fully shaped.

The dragonfly is all folded up in its exoskeleton and that’s how so much dragonfly can fit inside what seems such a small package. Once it comes out of its exoskeleton it unfolds itself, begins pumping bodily fluids to all its parts, and warms itself in the sunshine. Finally, it is ready to fly and it reminds me of a quote by Jodi Livon: Fill yourself up with light and fly! Now if I could only get a shot of a dragonfly actually emerging from its exoskeleton. I’d be very thankful to have seen such a wonder.

Just a feather hanging on a stalk of grass. I’m guessing most people would think “big deal” and walk on, if they even noticed it. But this feather was special. First it was quite big; easily as big as a hen’s egg. And second I’ve never seen one like it, and third it was pretty and I thought the bird it came from would be even prettier. I wondered about hawks. Owls? Eagles? The brown banding must be a good clue, so I tried to match this photo with something I might find online. Identifying feathers is not easy when they aren’t from common birds, and I gave up after a few hours of searching. The closest I could come was a great horned owl, but it wasn’t quite right. In the end all I can do is show you its beauty and hope that is enough. Maybe it will take you on the same wonder filled journey it has taken me on. I learned many things I didn’t know about birds, all because of this feather.

He who has experienced the mystery of nature is full of life, full of love, full of joy. Radiance emanates from the whole existence itself; it does not know the meaning of holding back. ~ Maitreya Rudrabhayananda

Once again I have to apologize for the length of this post but I do like you to see all of the wonders that I’ve seen. Thanks for stopping in, and have a safe and happy 4th.

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It’s foxglove time here in New Hampshire and I love seeing the tall spikes full of tubular flowers. At one time the plant was called folksglove according to a list of plants from the time of Edward III (1312-1377,) because the flowers were “thought to be the gloves of the ‘good folk’ or fairies, who lived in the deep hollows and woody dells where the plants grew.”

Bees, especially honey bees, love the foxglove flower and after landing on the projecting lower lip of the blossom follow the nectar guide spots up into the blossom. These spots were said to be fairy fingerprints in King Edward’s time but really they just tell the bees where to go. Once at the top of the blossom the bee finds a ring of nectar but while crawling up to it, it has brushed against the little dangly bits you can see in this photo. Those are the pollen carrying anthers of the male stamens, which lie flat against the top of the tube, and the bee carries pollen from one blossom to another as it brushes against them. Once pollinated a single plant can produce up to two million dust like seeds.

A fallen blossom shows that the nectar guide spots don’t just lie on the inside surface of the flower.

I saw this fine display of coreopsis last week, but even thought the plant is known for its drought tolerance all the flowers were gone in days. There are about 80 species of coreopsis and many are native to the prairies of the U.S.

I thought the maiden pinks blooming at the feet of the coreopsis made for a beautiful scene.

Imagine a tree 100 feet high and 50 wide full of orchids and you’ll have a good idea what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. This, one of our most beautiful trees, are loaded with big, orchid like blossoms right now. Each flower tube is big enough to easily put your finger in and I’d say the flowers must be at least 3 inches across. Soon long, thin seed pods will dangle from the branches. When I was a boy we always called catalpas string bean trees because that’s what the seed pods look like.

I think of Johnny jump ups as spring flowers because they like cool weather but I’m seeing quite a few of them in this hot, dry summer, including this pale example. Since the name Viola tricolor means three colors, I was surprised to see only white and yellow petals, but then I looked closely at the photo and saw just a hint of blue in those two upper petals.

Golden clover (Trifolium campestre) is an imported clover originally from Europe and Asia. It is also known as large trefoil and large hop clover. The plant was imported through Philadelphia in 1800 to be used as a pasture crop and now appears in most states on the east and west coasts and much of Canada, but it is not generally considered aggressively invasive. Each pretty yellow flower head is packed with golden yellow pea-like flowers. I see the plant growing along roadsides and in sandy waste areas.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. John’s day, and it was right on that day this year that I saw the first blooms. The plant’s healing properties have been well known since ancient times; the Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD, and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. Originally from Europe, it can be found in meadows and along roadsides growing in full sun.

The black dots on its yellow petals make St. John’s wort very easy to identify. They are tiny sacs that hold the plant’s essential oils and when they are crushed, a dark red oil will come from them. These essential oils are used in homeopathic remedies to treat everything from healing wounds to treating depression.

An important native food found here in New Hampshire is the cranberry. They grow in wet, boggy areas and despite the drought  I got my knees quite wet getting photos of them. We have two kinds here, the common cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) and the small cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum.) I think the plants pictured are the common cranberry.

Early European settlers thought cranberry flowers resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane so they called them crane berries. The flower petals do have an unusual habit of curving backwards, but I’m not seeing 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.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata,) has tiny hooded flowers that always look like they’re cheering and laughing. They also remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

I think of black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) as a fall flower so they always remind me that summer will end all too soon. They have such a long blooming period and are seen everywhere in the fall, and I suppose that’s why I think of them as I do. I’m always happy to see them but at the same time not so happy that another summer is flying by. They’re native to the U.S. anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, and introduced west of them. I found these examples growing along the river bank and as I was taking their photo a rabbit ran out from behind them.

I do love all flowers but some seem to have a little extra spark of life that makes me want to kneel before them and get to know them a little better. One of those is the lowly crown vetch (Securigera varia.) I know it’s an invasive species that people seem to either despise or ignore but it’s also beautiful. In fact I’ve often thought that, if I had to design a beautiful flower I don’t think I could do better than this.

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) grows in the form of a small shrub and is in the spirea family, which its flowers clearly show with their many fuzzy stamens. The flowers are fragrant and have a sort of almond-like scent. I almost always find it near water, as this plant was. It is another plant which for me marks summer’s passing.

Elderberries (Sambucus nigra) have just started blooming and are commonly found along streams or on the edges of swamps.

Elderberry bushes are very common in this part of New Hampshire; common enough to be largely ignored, in fact. But, if you take the time to stop and really look at them you find that the large, flat flower heads are made up of hundreds of tiny, uncommonly beautiful flowers. Later in August each flower will have become a small purple berry so dark it is almost black.

Native spreading dogbane has small, light pink, bell shaped flowers that have deeper pink stripes on their insides. They are fragrant but their scent is hard to describe. Spicy maybe. This plant is pollinated by butterflies and the flowers have barbs inside that trap short tongued insects. That’s how it gets another of its common names: flytrap dogbane. Each flower is just big enough to hold a pea.

Spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is a perennial wildflower that looks like a shrub. It spreads by both seeds and underground stems and is considered a weed in some places. I find large colonies of it growing in sandy soil along sunny forest edges. The plant in related to milkweed and many species of butterflies rely on it.

The unusual twin flowers of partridge berry (Mitchella repens) fuse at the base and share one ovary. They will become a single small red berry that has two dimples that show where the flowers used to be. Partridgeberry is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but don’t climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. Something I’ve just discovered after many years of seeing these plants is the wonderful spicy fragrance of the flowers. When a lot of them are in bloom at the same time the fragrance is amazing. Ruffed grouse, quail, turkeys, skunks, and white-footed mice eat the berries.

Just in time for the 4th of July, tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) puts on its own fireworks display. Flowers on both male and female plants lack petals and have only anthers (male) or pistils (female). These are male flowers in this photo. Every time Independence day comes around I know it’s time to watch for these and all of the other flowers in this post. Knowing when flowers bloom is a fun thing; they give you something beautiful to look forward to all summer long. There is an orchid with very beautiful flowers growing in a swamp that I am impatiently waiting to see. It should appear next week if all goes well.

Maybe, beauty, true beauty, is so overwhelming it goes straight to our hearts. Maybe it makes us feel emotions that are locked away inside. ~James Patterson

Thanks for coming by.

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Last Sunday, the first full day of summer, was another hazy, hot and humid day. By the time I had finished this walk on a rail trail in Swanzey my car thermometer said 98 degrees F. That, coupled with no beneficial rain for several weeks, means that many plants are blooming quickly, with their flowers lasting only a day or two in some cases. I thought I’d see what was blooming in the shady areas along the trail.

Our native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) is one of the plants that is having a hard time. I saw many of them wilted enough so their flowers and leaves were drooping badly. This plant’s leaves and flowers grow in a whorl around the stem and that’s where its name comes from. A whorl, in botanical terms for those who don’t know, is made up of at least three elements of a plant (leaves, flowers, etc.) that radiate from a single point and surround the stem. In this case both the leaves and flowers grow in a whorl, because where each leaf meets the stem a five petaled, star shaped yellow flower appears at the end of a long stalk. The leaves in each whorl can number from 3 to 7. Each yellow petal of the 1/2 inch flowers are red at the base and form a ring around the central red tipped yellow stamens. The petals also often have red streaks as those in the photo do. Whorled loosestrife is the only yellow loosestrife that has pitted leaves and long-stalked flowers in the leaf axils. It normally grows in dry soil at the edge of forests but as I’ve seen, that soil can be too dry.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) came and went so fast this year I barely had time to see them. All I see now are its tiny seed pods, like the one seen here.

I was surprised to see that there was still a trickle of water running through this old box culvert. Many small streams and ponds have dried up.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) is blossoming. This common sedge is also called bottlebrush sedge and I usually find it on the shores of ponds or in wet ditches. The flowers of porcupine sedge are so small they are almost microscopic, but you can see them here. They are the whitish wisps that appear at the ends of the spiky protrusions, which are called perigynia. Waterfowl and other birds love its seeds. These were found in the now dry drainage channels along the trail.

Cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) have now released their spores and all that remains of that process are the bright red fertile fronds that give the fern its name. Someone once thought it looked like a cinnamon stick.

The fertile fronds are covered with its sporangia, which are tiny spheres where its spores are produced. Each one is hardly bigger than a pin head and you can see their open halves here. Native Americans used this fern medicinally, both externally and internally for joint pain. Many ferns were also woven into mats.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) looked like it had just finished blooming. I don’t suppose many people have seen a deer’s tongue but I have and the leaves of this grass really do look like one, so it’s a perfect name for the plant. This is a very course, tough grass that is common in waste areas, roadsides and forest edges. It can be very beautiful when its leaves change in the fall; sometimes maroon, deep purple or yellow, and sometimes multiple colors on one leaf. I saw many yellow leaves on this day but that isn’t normal for June.

This grass couldn’t have held another flower. I’m not sure what its name is.

I found these hawkweed flowers (Hieracium caespitosum) blooming in the shade, which is odd for a sun lover. Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head is actually a single, complete flower. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk.

Oak apple galls are caused by a wasp (Amphibolips confluenta) called the oak apple gall wasp. In May, the female wasp emerges from underground and injects one or more eggs into the mid-vein of an oak leaf. As it grows the wasp larva causes the leaf to form a round gall. Galls that form on leaves are less harmful to the tree than those that form on twigs, but neither causes any real damage.

This apple gall still had a small leaf attached.

A man walking his dog walked by and saw me kneeling at the edge of the trail to get a photo of a flower. “Be careful” he said, “there’s poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) all along here.” He was right and I thanked him for the warning but I know poison ivy well enough not to kneel in it. Usually when I kneel on it it’s early spring before the leaves come out and then I get a rash on my knees from the naked stems, because all parts of the plant are poisonous. Even inhaling the smoke from a fire where it is being burned can cause severe throat issues.

Sweet ferns (Comptonia peregrine) grew here and there and I saw this one was producing nuts. The part that looks like a burr at the top of the plant is actually a cluster of bracts.

Inside these bracts are 4-6 small brown nuts (seeds) that are about 1/4 inch long and oval in shape. They can be just seen here. These seeds form in place of the female flower, which is red, small, and easily missed. Sweet fern foliage is very fragrant but it isn’t a fern; it’s actually in the bayberry family. Native Americans used the fragrant foliage as incense, putting bundles of them on smudge fires. They also made a tea from the leaves and some people still make tea from them today. I’ve heard that a handful of leaves put in a Mason jar full of cool water and left in the sun will make very good tea. “Sun tea,” it’s called.

You can get a glimpse of the Ashuelot River here and there along the trail, but it’s a long climb down to it. As I walked along I could see large sandbars in the river, and they told the story of how low the water really was.

Before you know it you’re at the old Boston and Maine Railroad trestle, which has been refitted for snowmobile travel. We’re lucky enough to find these old trestles still crossing the river on many of our rail trails. It would be costly to replace them but they’re well-built and should last for many years to come.

The great thing about having the rail trails and the trestles is that you can easily get to parts of the river that you would normally never see. I hate to think of how long I’d spend and how much bushwhacking I’d have to do to get to this part of the river without the trail, because the surrounding countryside is about as close to wilderness that you can get.

The water was very low in the river. Only once before have I seen it low enough to expose the fallen trees along the bank like it was this day. It’s hard to get any sense of scale from this photo but some of those trees are mature white pines, which routinely grow to 100 feet or more.

There are lots of silver maples (Acer saccharinum) along the river and some are so close to the trestle you can reach out and touch them, so I plucked a leaf so I could show you the silvery underside, which is what gives the tree its name. A story I’ve heard my whole life is how, when the wind blows and you see the silvery undersides of maple leaves, it means it’s going to rain.

But the clouds obviously haven’t heard the old story of the maple leaves because they haven’t hardly let go a drop of rain in weeks. They say that today and tomorrow we might finally see some rain and everyone seems willing to even give up their weekend outdoors to get it. I know I’ll be happy to see it.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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Our beautiful fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) have just started to bloom and that always makes me want to show you our aquatics, so off I went to search our rivers, ponds, and ditches for all the plants that like wet feet.

Growing in the wet mud at the edge of a pond was a plant I’d never seen before; the lance leaved violet (Viola lanceolata.) It is also called the bog white violet or strap leaved violet, for obvious reasons. The plant needs a wet, sunny habitat, preferably one that floods and then dries out. It is listed as present in 8 out of the 10 counties in New Hampshire but though I’ve been on a lot of pond shores, I’ve never seen it. It is said to be rare in Vermont.

At first the flowers look like any other white violet but then you notice that it has no hairs on the side petals like other violets. The flowers nod on stems that can be as much as 6 inches long and both the bottom and side petals can have purple veining. This little plant only blooms for three weeks.

What makes the lanced leaved violet easy to identify is its leaves, which can be very long indeed. They are said to be 3-5 times longer than they are wide but I think this one exceeded that.

Wild calla (Calla palustris) isn’t at all common here but you can find them. I’ve been roaming around swamps and backwaters for 50 years and I’ve found them just twice. Though it isn’t thought to be rare in New Hampshire it is said to be a more northern species, so that could explain why I never see it. It’s also called water arum and is in the same family as Jack in the pulpit and other arums. Like jack in the pulpit the flowers appear on a spadix surrounded by a spathe. The spathe is the white leaf like part seen in the above photo. The plant is toxic so it should never be eaten. From what I’ve seen even animals won’t eat it. There are deer all over the swamp it grows in but not a leaf had been munched.

The flowers are tiny and greenish white, and grow along the spadix. They will be followed by green berries which will ripen to bright red and will most likely be snapped up by a passing deer. One odd fact about this plant is how its flowers are pollinated by water snails passing over the spadix. It is thought that small flies and midges also help with pollination, because the odor from the blossoms is said to be very rank. The spot where I found these plant is wet most of the time but it does dry out occasionally.

I think this one is ribbon leaved pondweed (Potamogeton epihydrus.) If so it has two types of leaves; submerged leaves which are ribbon like, thin and transparent, and surface leaves which are said to be broad and elliptical. Since I’d call these leaves more long and narrow than broad and elliptical the jury is still out, even though they do look like the photos I’ve seen. In any case it is a common plant that I find in the river more than in ponds.

You might make a friend or two when you walk along the shoreline.

Or you might get lost in the ever changing patterns made by tree pollen floating on the surface. It’s a good year for pollen. Just ask any allergy sufferer.

Unless you have a boat you don’t get this kind of photo of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) because they usually grow a few yards from shore, but since we’re so dry right now though I found this one right at the water’s edge. The seeds of this plant were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them 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.

Here’s a rare top view of the yellow pond lily blossom. These plants like to grow in protected coves where the water is relatively shallow and calm but you’ll get your feet wet getting to it.

Common bladderwort (Utricularia macrorhiza) normally floats but when it’s ready for dormancy its bladders fill with water and it sinks, and I find it in the mud at the edge of a pond. Its flowers are much larger than those of floating bladderwort, maybe a half to an inch long, and though this shot isn’t very good they’re easier to get a photo of when they aren’t floating.

Common bladderwort can be distinguished from other bladderworts by the spur on the flower. The name bladderwort comes from the small inflated sacs on the plant’s roots that open to trap aquatic organisms. There are tiny hairs on the bladder’s trap door which are very sensitive. When an aquatic organism touches these hairs the door opens, the organism is sucked inside and the door closes, trapping it. This all happens in about 5 milliseconds and is one of the fastest plant movements ever recorded.

I’ve been very lucky finding plants I’ve never seen before this year and here is another. There is a swamp where I work and in early spring I saw hundreds of small round, scalloped edged leaves growing on a few of the hummocks there. I wasn’t sure what they were so I watched them for weeks and finally, tall stalks with purple buds shot up from the leaves. Of course I started looking in guide books for purple flowers but that wasn’t it; when they opened they were yellow with orange centers and that led me to roundleaf ragwort (Packera obovata.)

The leaves aren’t round but they do start out that way in spring.

Stem leaves are very different.

Nurseries are selling round leaved ragwort but you’ll need to keep its feet wet and its head in the sun, which is a tall order for most gardens. It is said to spread rapidly and I can attest to that because I walked by the spot where it grows many times and for years didn’t see it. It is also called roundleaf groundsel, running groundsel, and squaw weed. Though its leaves are said to be toxic they were used in a tea by Native Americans and early settlers to ease childbirth. It was also used to treat lung ailments.

Blue flag irises are native, but yellow flag irises are not. I saw a few clumps of yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) growing on the river bank a few years ago and what was a few clumps has now become a small colony.  I’ve searched for this plant for many years and found it only in one other spot in the woods by a pond that was very difficult to get to, but now here it is, right along the shoreline in full view.

This iris is a native of Europe and was introduced in the mid-1800s as a garden plant. Of course it escaped and began to naturalize and was reported near Poughkeepsie, New York in 1868 and in Concord, Massachusetts in 1884. Today it considered highly invasive and its sale and distribution is banned in New Hampshire, though in my experience it is still a rarity in this part of the state. It’s a beautiful flower but now I do wonder what the banks of the river might look like in 50 years. The plant is useful in certain ways; it is used in sewage treatment and is known to be able to remove metals from wastewaters, so maybe we could use them for that. 

I like the fern like leaves of wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris) which grows along streams. Wild chervil is thought to have come over from Europe in wildflower seed mixes. It has been growing in this area since the early 1900s and is considered a noxious weed in places. Wild chervil contains chemical compounds which have been shown to have anti-tumor and anti-viral properties. It isn’t the same plant as cultivated chervil used to flavor soups though, so it shouldn’t be eaten. In many places it is called cow parsley. On this day it was almost ready to bloom but it hadn’t yet.

Narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata) grows in standing water in a very wet but sunny meadow but luckily this day the water had dried up due to lack of rain. It might seem odd that a meadow could be in full sun all day every day and still be so wet, but there is usually standing water here. The plant is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense.

Here’s a not very good closer look at the flower of the narrow leaved speedwell. Small blue flowers with darker blue stripes are typical of speedwells, but these can also be white or purple. They are very small and only have room for two stamens and a needle-like pistil. The plants obviously love water because there were many plants growing in this area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice. Though most speedwells we see here are non-native, this one belongs here. Like lobelias, Native Americans used plants in the veronica family to treat asthma.

Queen of all the aquatics in my opinion is the very beautiful fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata.) A bright yellow fire burns in the center of its snow white petals, and its fragrance is much like that of honeydew melon. There are some flowers that are so beautiful I want to just sit and gaze at them all day, and this is one of them. To see a pond full of them is breathtaking and fortunately I know a pond or two that fits that description. There are many other aquatics that haven’t bloomed yet, so we’ll be visiting the water again.

Water is sufficient…the spirit moves over water. ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Thanks for stopping in. Happy first day of summer!

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Last Sunday I needed to see something new, so I decided on the rail trail that heads south out of Keene to Swanzey, Troy, Fitzwilliam, and eventually the Massachusetts border. I’ve done the northern and southern legs of the trail but never this middle section. I started my hike on this amazing stone arch bridge. Built of granite quarried a half mile away from the site, it was dry laid with no mortar in 1847 and soars 38 feet above the river. The bridge is 27 feet wide with a span of 68 feet, and its arch has a radius of 34 feet. Evidence of the plug and feather method used to split the stones is still visible on the faces of many of the stones. It’s hard to imagine how it was ever built without the use of modern tools and equipment.

The bridge is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which means it earned a little money for upkeep. Part of the upkeep involved upgrading the drainage and laying a new bed of pea stone where the trains would have run. It seems to be still as solid as the day it was built.

Here is a postcard view of the bridge, probably from the early 1900s. The view and landscape is very different today of course. These postcards were usually actual photos colored by hand but I think this one was a drawing.

The white building in the postcard view is no longer there. This view from the top of the bridge looks west towards Vermont. It was a partly cloudy, very windy day and the gusts felt like they might blow me right off the bridge so I didn’t hang around up here for very long. We’ve had at least some wind nearly every day for over a month now.

I saw some very symmetrical horsetails. This is one plant you do not want in your garden because once you have them you’ll never be rid of them. When I had my gardening business I tried just about everything I could think of including covering them with black plastic for a full year. They loved it and grew on as if nothing had happened.

I also saw some very red new leaves on the staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina.

The trail is wide and dry for the most part because the drainage channels that the railroad built 150 years ago are still working.

Skunk currants (Ribes glandulosum) grew in patches here and there along the trail. I’ve read that the plant gets its common name from the odor given off by its ripe dark red berries, which doesn’t sound too appealing but they are said to be very tasty. If you can get past the smell, I assume. This is a very hairy plant; even its fruit has hairs. The Native Ojibwa people used the root of skunk currant to ease back pain but it is not a favorite of foresters or timber harvesters because it carries white pine blister rust, which can kill pine trees.

Skunk currant flowers are quite small at about 1/4 inch across. They are saucer shaped with 5 petals and 5 purple stamens.

Unfortunately I also saw a lot of garlic mustard out here. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an invasive plant once used as an edible pot herb. This plant forms large colonies and chokes out natives by poisoning the soil with compounds called glucosinolates that leach into the soil and kill off many soil fungi that native species depend on to survive. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed. It 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. Maybe if we all decided to eat it, it would prove to be less of a problem. According to what I’ve read, the young spring plants are delicious.

The sunshine seemed to always be just up around the next bend. Until I got to the next bend, that is. By then it had disappeared.

This is a typical New Hampshire mixed forest with mostly pine, hemlock, cherry, beech, oak, maple and white and gray birch. Also this single beautiful golden birch.

I saw a small bird’s nest in a cherry sapling. It was about 5-6 inches across so a small bird must have made it.

Violets bloomed all along the trail. I thought this might be an early blue violet but since my color finding software sees mostly purple, I’ll just call it a violet. It had long above ground rhizomes that I’ve never seen on a violet.

Sessile leaved bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia) grew along the drainage channels in groups. I’ve seen them carpet large areas of forest floor so I had the feeling that they must have just gotten started here. They’re in the lily of the valley family, which can also form large colonies.

This signal post looked new, and that’s because someone had painted it. I’m not sure why anyone would but there it was, looking like it had just been installed yesterday.

I was very surprised to see skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) growing on a wet hillside. I’ve read that eating the leaves can cause burning and inflammation but something had eaten many of the leaves. Often animals don’t have the same reaction to plants that we do. Birds even eat poison ivy berries.

This is a photo of the fruit of a skunk cabbage which is a rare sight, even for those of us who look for such things.

I saw just two red trilliums (Trillium erectum) out here. I also saw Jack in the pulpit, starflowers, and lots of fern fiddleheads. The trilliums and our other spring ephemerals will probably be done by the time this post is read. Leaves on the trees and warmer weather finish their short bloom periods quickly.

I saw lots of wild sarsaparilla plants (Aralia nudicaulis) just unfurling their leaves. At this stage many people confuse wild sarsaparilla with poison ivy, which comes up at the same time and has glossy green leaves. One way to tell the two apart is by the stem. Poison ivy usually has an older, woody stem while sarsaparilla has a fresh, tender stem. The roots of this plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

There were already flower buds on some sarsaparilla plants. They’ll bloom in late May, with ping pong ball size flowerheads made up of tiny individual flowers.

I thought these new oak leaves were beautiful, both in color and shape. They were soft like velvet, and there were flower buds as well.

A broken whistle post told me that a road was coming up. What looks like an M is really an upside down W. The W stands for whistle and the post is called a whistle post, because it marks the spot where the locomotive engineer was to blow the train’s whistle. When there is a crossing very nearby, where the railbed crosses a road, the whistle would have alerted wagon or auto drivers that a train was coming. Some whistle posts were marked – – o -, which meant “two longs and a short” on the whistle.

There was indeed a road; route 12 south out of Keene parallels the rail trail and I had walked to the Cheshire Fairgrounds in Swanzey. Only 2.2 miles by car from where I started, so I’d guess it was a two mile walk.

And that meant that it was two miles back, but on such a sweet spring day with birds singing in the trees two miles didn’t seem like anything, really. It was one of those days that gets inside you and lets you see how wonderful this life really is, and there was no hurry to get anywhere or to do anything. I felt doubly blessed.

Some journeys take you farther from where you come from, but closer to where you belong. ~Ron Franscell

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone is able to find some outdoor time.

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