Posts Tagged ‘Barbed Wire’

Two of my great loves are history and botany and one of the best ways I know of to get a good dose of both is by following stone walls. This particular wall is in Swanzey, New Hampshire and surrounds what I believe is the oldest cemetery in town. Revolutionary war soldiers are buried here so it certainly has some age.

Right off I spotted some sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s very yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine.

Sulfur dust lichens are kind of granular in texture. If you’re lucky you can sometimes find them with fruiting bodies (apothecia) but more often than not I see them when they aren’t producing spores.

There are stone walls called “lace walls” which are built of a stack of stones just one stone wide, and which are full of holes that make them look like lace, but this is a tossed wall sometimes three or four stones wide and it was built to keep animals, probably sheep, out. There were no holes when it was built but there are now, as this photo shows. I can’t explain how it happened but I’ve built enough dry stone walls to know that building a hole like this one into a tossed wall would be close to impossible. In a tossed wall the stones are literally just tossed on top of one another. The object wasn’t to build a pretty wall; it was to get rid of the stones as quickly and efficiently as possible. I think a stone must have fallen or been taken out of the wall to create such a hole.

There are a lot of tree stumps along the wall and some of them, like the one above, are very old. Not only was this one covered with moss and lichens, it also had birch trees growing out of it. Stumps like this are always worth a second look.

The old stump had more British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) growing on it than I’ve ever seen in one place. Old rotted logs and stumps are the perfect spots to find them.

Even I can see this shade of red, and I’m colorblind.

A large pile of sand at the base of another hollow tree stump meant that something was living under it. Possibly a ground hog, but I didn’t see a single paw print.

This old maple tree was covered on its sunny side by whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena.) This is a tough, crusty lichen that is fairly common on hardwood tree bark. They can cover quite a large area and make the tree look as if it has been painted, hence the common name. They can be greenish white, silvery, or bright white.

As time passed barbed wire was often added to stone walls to keep animals in or out. Stone walls were usually too low to be effective and cows and other farm animals often jumped right over them, so their height was increased by adding wire or other materials. You had to pay a fine if your animals escaped and were caught roaming free. They were brought to the town pound and the owner had to pay to get them back. This wire grew out of the very center of a pine tree, so it has been here for quite a while. Running their saw into steel wire is one of a wood cutter’s worst nightmares come true but many things have been found inside trees, from axe heads to gravestones to even bicycles.

Every time I see rusty old barbed wire stapled to a tree I think about a book I read by a man who lived in a cabin in the Massachusetts woods. He said that one of his favorite things to do was run through the woods at night. He wouldn’t want to do that here. I wouldn’t even run through these woods in broad daylight because much of what is now forest was once pasture, and there is a lot of barbed wire out there.

Peppered rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) likes to grow on stone in full sun and I find a lot of them on stone walls. They’re a good introduction to lichen study because their brown apothecia, where their spores are produced, are large and easy to see without aid.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) on the other hand, are quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do.

Sometimes it isn’t what is on the stone that interests me, it’s the stone itself. I’m not sure if this pattern was on the stone or part of it but it was very interesting. Also interesting was how it had absolutely nothing growing on it when all of the stones around it had mosses and lichens growing on them.

I never knew my grandfather but I do know that he made his living as the town blacksmith in Westmoreland, New Hampshire, and this old horse hitching ring brought thoughts of him to mind. If he was lucky a blacksmith might make a dollar a day but very little cash changed hands in colonial America so he most likely would have been paid in food, charcoal for the forge, lumber, or something else he needed. In the early 1800s blacksmiths charged anywhere from 2 cents for an axe wedge to $5.50 for all of the ironwork on a new wagon. That would include springs, axles, brakes, and rims for the wheels. I have a photo of my grandfather working on a wagon wheel in his blacksmith shop. The wheel sits on top of a big wooden keg that he probably made the iron hoops for. I hope he was paid more than they were in colonial times.

Some of the stones in this old wall are not natural, meaning they were cut or quarried. There is a large granite outcrop just up the hill from this spot and stone was taken from it using star drills and sledge hammers, I would imagine. The marks of the old hand drills are still easily seen on some of the stones. It’s unusual to see both natural and cut stones together in a wall; usually they’re made of one or the other but the farmer could have been trying to increase the height of his walls.

Some of the quarried granite was used for fence posts. Four posts were put in around certain family plots in the cemetery and chain hooks were added by drilling a hole into the top of each post and hammering a hook into the hole.  I’m not sure if friction alone held the hooks in the holes or if cement was added to hold them, but after over 200 years they are still solid and immovable.

Once chain was added the family plot was enclosed but still visible to anyone trying to find it. This chain looks like it was hand wrought.

Blacksmiths don’t cast iron; they soften it by heating it in a forge and then shaping it with a hammer, and I love how you can see all the hammer blows on this chain hook. I also love how the smith fashioned something as simple as a chain hook into what looks like a dragon’s tail. He didn’t have to do this; it was extra work that he probably wasn’t paid for, but he was good and would have wanted people to know his work. If I needed ironwork done and I saw this hook and the ones in the previous photos I would have chosen the smith who made this one. It’s a beautiful thing which, if I owned it, would be considered a work of art.

Sometimes these posts wander in unplanned directions and almost write themselves, and this is one of those; l felt as if I were just along for the ride instead of the one doing the writing. It began in the old cemetery and I just tagged along with the camera while the story wrote itself in my mind, so I hope you won’t mind that there is a little more history than botany in this one. Though I expected the post to be full of mosses and lichens for me the history I found was a refreshing diversion while I wait for spring flowers to appear, and thoughts of my hammer wielding grandfather ran all through the day. I wonder if he ever imagined that one of his grandsons would grow up to be a stone wall builder.

Stones are all about time—time to find them, to move them, to place them, and time, occasionally, to chisel and shape them. And above all, time to see them, experience them, and fall under their spell. ~Charles McRaven

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1. The Pond

I was going to walk a rail trail in Swanzey one day but as I pulled off the road to park I saw a small pond. Though I’ve seen it many times before it wasn’t until this day that it caught my interest. I started to explore its shores and before I knew it I had a camera full of photos and never did walk the rail trail. Normally this wouldn’t be anything remarkable but the pond is one step above a puddle, so if you put a canoe in it you’d be lucky if you had one stroke of the paddle before you had crossed it.

2. Rail Trail

The unexplored rail trail will still be there for another day; maybe a sunnier one.

3. Barbed Wire

Barbed wire was used in this area in place of the heavy gauge stock fencing that the railroad usually used to keep cows and other animals off the tracks. You have to watch where you’re going in these New Hampshire woods because there are still miles of barbed wire out there and it’s easy to get hung up on.

4. Culvert

A culvert lets the small stream that feeds the pond flow under the road.

5. Outflow

An outflow stream runs into the drainage ditches along the rail bed, ensuring that the pond is always balanced and never floods.

6. Wild Oats Seed Pod (Uvularia sessilifolia)

This 3 part seed pod told me that I can come here in the spring to find the sessile leaved bellwort plant (Uvularia sessilifolia.) The flowers are pale yellow, more or less tubular, and nodding, and often grow in large colonies. The plant is also called wild oats or merry bells. In botany sessile means “resting on the surface” so in the case of sessile leaved bellwort the leave are stalkless and appear to be resting on the surface of the stem.  Since the plant is so good at spreading by underground stems (stolons) it doesn’t often set seed.

7. Sensitive Fern Fertile Frond

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) likes to grow in places that are on the wet side and seeing its clusters of spore bearing sori is a good indication of a wetland.  It is also called bead fern, for obvious reasons. The name sensitive fern comes from its sensitivity to frost, which was first noticed by the early colonials.

8. Winterberries

Another wetland indicator appeared in the form of winterberries (Ilex verticillata.) I often see this native holly growing in standing water but I’ve heard that it will grow in drier soil. Birds love its bright red berries. These shrubs are dioecious, meaning they need both a male and female plant present to produce seed. If you have a yard with wet spots winterberry is a great, easy to grow native plant that won’t mind wet feet.

9. Black Jelly Fungus

Black jelly fungi (Exidia glandulosa) grew on a fallen oak limb. They were a bit dry and had lost some of their volume but they hadn’t shriveled down to the black flakes they could have been. I like their shiny surfaces; sometimes it’s almost as if they had been faceted and polished like a beautiful black gem.

10. Bracket Fungus

I think that this is what was left of a thin maze flat polypore (Daedaleopsis confragosa) but it was hard to tell because its entire upper surface was missing so I could see its gills from above. I’m assuming that it was slowly decomposing from age but I can’t be sure because I’ve never seen another bracket fungus do this. Normally the upper surface of a thin maze flat polypore would be zoned like a turkey tail, but the zones would tend to be tan to brown to cream, rather than brightly colored like a turkey tail.

11. Bracket Fungus Underside

The lower pore bearing surface of the thin maze flat polypore is maze like, as its name suggests. Michael Kuo of Mushroom Expert. com says that this mushroom’s appearance is highly variable, with pores sometimes appearing elongated and sometimes more round. I put my camera against the tree’s trunk under the fungus and snapped this photo without seeing what I was taking a photo of, so it isn’t one of the best I’ve ever done. It does show you the maze-like structure of this fungus though, and that’s the point.

12. Foliose Lichens on a Branch

From a photographic perspective the example above is terrible, but it shows just what I want you to see. These foliose lichens were growing in the white pine branches just over my head, and all I had to do to find them was look up and see their silhouette. If you’d like to find them all you need to do is look up the next time you’re under a tree.

13. Northern Camouflage Lichen

If you see a foliose lichen on a branch and pull it down for a look like I did you might see something similar to the northern camouflage lichen seen (Melanelia septentrionalis) above. Foliose means leaf or foliage like, and this lichen is a beautiful example of that.

14. Northern Camouflage Lichen

The shiny reddish brown discs are apothecia or fruiting bodies, and they help identify this lichen. The stringy black parts are the lichen’s root like structures called rhizines, and they also help identify the lichen. The body (thallus) was very dry and its color had faded from brown to the off whitish gray color seen here. I usually find these on pine or birch limbs.

Note: Canadian Botanist Arold Lavoie tells me that this lichen is in the Tuckermannopsis ciliata group. I’m sorry if my misidentification has caused any confusion. Arold has helped me here before and I’m very grateful. If you’d like to pay him a visit his website can be found at http:www.aroldlavoie.com

15. Maple Dust Lichen

Just to the right of center in the above photo is a maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora) on the bark of a maple. It was about the size of a dime, or .70 inches (17.9 mm.)

16. Maple Dust Lichen

It was a few years ago now that I stumbled onto my first maple dust lichen and though I kept it in the front of my mind I never saw another example until just recently. Now I’m suddenly seeing them everywhere. It’s hard for me to believe but I must have been looking right at them and not seeing them for years. From a distance they resemble script lichens, so maybe that’s why. They’re a beautiful lichen and definitely worth looking for. They can be identified in part by the tiny fringe around their perimeter.

17. Moss on a Log

Of all the things I saw near the pond this moss on a log was my favorite because of its beautiful green color and because it was so full of life. It seemed as if it was sparkling from the light of creation coursing through its trailing arms and I could have sat there with it all day. When the log was a tree a woodpecker might have made the hole that the moss explored. I could see part of an acorn in there, so maybe the woodpecker that made the hole hid the acorn in it for a future meal. I think this moss might be beaked comb moss (Rhynchostegium serrulatum) but I’m not certain. I see it quite often on logs but never quite so full of life as this one was. Even in a photo it glows.

18.Hazelnut Catkins

American hazelnut (Corylus americana) catkins told me that I could come here in April and see the tiny crimson female flowers. The catkins are the male flowers and once they begin to open and shed yellowish green pollen that will be the signal that it’s time to watch for the opening of the female flowers. They are among the smallest flowers that I know of and are hard to get a good photo of, but I try each spring because they’re also among the most beautiful.

Sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take. ~Angela N. Blount

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