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Posts Tagged ‘Bank Swallows’

1. Rail Trail

I decided to visit an old familiar place recently, just to see if it had changed any since my last visit. Now a rail trail, when I was a boy the big Boston and Maine diesels used to roll though here and I spent enough time walking the tracks to know the place as well as I knew my own yard. The view down the trail reminded me of learning how to draw perspective in art class and how easily the concept came to me. I walked here almost daily and the idea of a vanishing point was right there in front of me every time. Way down there where those two steel rails used to look like they came together; that was the vanishing point, and that was where I was going on this day.

 2. Broken Birch

The birches have had a tough time of it this year; that heavy foot of snow we had on Thanksgiving eve was more than some of them could bear. This one broke right in half about half way up its length, and some of the others still haven’t stood back up completely.

 3. Cherry Burl

I saw a burl as big as a soccer ball on a black cherry branch (Prunus serotina.) Seeing something like this would have gotten me excited when I was younger and I would have been off to the library to read all I could about it. If a place can give a gift, then curiosity is the gift that this place gave to me. The things in nature that I saw in here made me curious enough to want to learn about them, and that’s something that’s still with me today.

Burl, for those who don’t know, is an abnormal growth that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage.  Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and /or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers make some very beautiful things from burl and prize burls highly. I find them more on black cherry than any other tree, and I know what they are because of this place.

4. Grafted Elm

Before it died of Dutch elm disease this American elm grafted itself together in two places, both above and below where you can see daylight through the trunks. Natural grafts can’t really be called rare, but this is the first double one I’ve ever seen. The wind blows the trees and they rub together enough to rub off their bark down to the cambium layer, which can then grow together if the two trees are the same species.

 5. Hawthorn Thorn

Years ago the hawthorn trees (Crataegus) I saw here made me want to know why some trees had thorns and others didn’t, so I got ahold of a used 1858 copy of Asa Gray’s How Plants Grow to see if he knew. Gray was a hero of mine but he sure did write some awfully dry books, and if I hadn’t been so interested in plants I don’t think I could have made it through many of them. I learned a lot about the various ways plants defend themselves from his books though, including using thorns, spines and prickles.

6. Snow Depth

Because snowmobiles pack it down so much it’s very hard to judge how deep the snow is along these trails, so I was surprised when I came to a slushy spot and saw that it wasn’t more than an inch deep. It’s still pretty tough getting into the woods but spring is coming.

7. Woods

What are woods here now used to be all cornfields when I was a boy and it seems strange knowing that I’m older than the trees. When I think about it though, I suppose even the youngsters among us are older than at least some of the trees. Maybe it’s getting to meet the trees that I know are younger than me that makes it feel so strange. I like the way these woods have grown up to have a light and airy, uncrowded feel. These trees are mostly red maple and they don’t mind the occasional spring floods that happen here.

8. Winged Euonymus

I was dismayed but not really surprised to see some very invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) growing here. These open woodlands are just the kind of place these shade tolerant shrubs love to grow in. Their shallow root systems and the shade they cast mean that native plants can’t get a start, so before long you have a monoculture made up of invasives. The plant is also called winged euonymus because, as the above photo shows, they have corky ridges or “wings” that grow along their stems.

9. Euonymus Pod

There were only 3 or 4 burning bushes here but they were big and had grown thousands of berries. Unfortunately the birds had eaten every single one of them and all that was left were the once purple pods.

10. Side Rails on Trestle

This old trestle marks the vanishing point that we saw in the first photo. Of course you can’t ever reach it because it moves with you (see-there is another one way down there) but it was a great thing for a young school boy to spend time thinking about. If you walk from vanishing point to vanishing point before you know it you’re in Swanzey with very tired feet, unless you cross country ski it like I used to. That’s another thing I learned how to do here.

11. Beard Lichen

Snowmobile clubs have put wooden safety railings all along these old trestles and there was a great example of a fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula) growing on the weathered wood of this one. There are many lichens that prefer growing on wood, but it doesn’t always have to be in tree form.

12. Trestle Rivet

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

13. Trestle Rivets

I’ve always been a lover of solitude and when I was young this is the place I came when I wanted to be alone, because back then you could sit on this old trestle all day without seeing another soul. It was a good place to just sit and think or watch the many birds and animals that came to drink from the river. I don’t come here very often these days because solitude is easier to come by now and the place seems to bring on an ache that’s hard to understand. Maybe it’s an ache for another shot at boyhood or maybe it’s just simple nostalgia, but it always seems to end with the feeling that there’s an empty place somewhere inside of me. Maybe that’s why I only visit about once each year.

 14. Brook View

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

15.Embankment

This bluff where the brook meets the river is where bank swallows used to nest. They are social birds and nest together in large colonies that sometimes number in the thousands. What I find fascinating is how the male birds dig nest holes using their feet, wings, and tiny beaks, and these holes can be 2 feet deep. They nest near water and eat insects, and that explains why there were never any mosquitos here. The swallows are a good example of how this place has taught me so much over the years; I didn’t know exactly what kind of birds they were and I had to look them up. After all these years I still learn something when I come here, and it could be that the most important lesson I’ve learned is, as author Thomas Wolfe said, that you can’t go home again.

The past is for learning from and letting go. You can’t revisit it. It vanishes. ~Adele Parks

Thanks for coming by.

 

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