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Posts Tagged ‘Beaver Brook Falls’

It was cloudy but warm last Saturday when I visited the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene. This is a nice walk on an old abandoned road that is only 5 minutes from the center of town by car, so quite a few people come here. I was pleased to see that there was little snow here on this day because it usually quickly turns to ice from all the foot traffic. As I said in my last post, it is very strange to drive from here where there is virtually no snow to my job a half hour away in Hancock, where there is plenty.

Beaver Brook was behaving itself despite all the rain and snow we’ve had. The last time I came here I would have been in water up to my neck if I’d been standing in this spot.

I have a lot of old friends here, like this plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) This is the only place I’ve ever seen it so when I want to see how it changes as it grows I have to come here. There are also many other one-of-a-kinds I can visit while I’m here.

I like the crepe paper like leaves of this sedge.

The sun finally came out just a few hours later than the weather people said it would, and the golden light falling on the brook was beautiful. I dilly dallied for a while beside this pool, thinking how some might consider coming to such a place a waste of time or an attempt to escape reality, but this is not an escape from reality; it is an immersion in reality, because this is just about as real as it gets. And getting a good dose of reality is never a waste of time.

This is the only place I know of to find the beautiful rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum.) Each rosette of leaves is about the size of an aspirin and looks like a little flower, and that’s where its common name comes from. Rose moss likes limestone and it’s a good indicator of limestone in the soil or stone that it grows on, so it’s a good idea to look around for other lime loving plants if you find it. Many native orchids for instance, also like lime in the soil.

Another moss that I’ve only seen here is the stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens,) which is also called glittering wood moss  possibly due to its satiny sheen when dry. Though it looks quite fragile I’ve seen it with icicles hanging from it many times, and it grows north even into the Arctic tundra. The stair step part of the name comes from the way new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s growth. You can’t see it in this photo but it’s a fun thing to look for if you find this moss.

Unlike the rarer mosses we’ve just seen juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) grows just about everywhere, but that doesn’t mean it is any less interesting than the others.

When young the female spore capsule (Sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra which protects it. You can’t see it in this photo but it is very hairy and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually as the capsule ages it moves from vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra falls off. The spore capsule continues to ripen after the calyptra comes off and when the time is right the beaked end cap or lid called the operculum will fall off and release the spores to the wind. As it ages the spore capsule changes from round to four cornered but not quite square, as seen here.

This is a look at the business end of the spore capsule, which is still covered by a thin lid of tissue. What looks like notches around its perimeter are slots that fit over specialized teeth called peristome teeth at the mouth of the capsule. These teeth move with changes in humidity and spread in dry conditions to release the spores, which are taken by the wind. The spore capsule’s diameter at this stage is less than the diameter of a piece of uncooked spaghetti. I’d bet that I’ve probably tried a thousand times over the years to get this shot and this is the only time I’ve succeeded.  I wish I had a microscope so I could get even closer.

Here was another moss that grew all mixed in with a liverwort. It was hard to tell exactly what it was but its sporangium were covered by white calyptra that looked like a swarm of tiny insects with white wings.

Here is a shot of one of the spore capsules from the moss in the previous photo. The spore capsules have a white (when dry) 2 part calyptra that doesn’t appear to be hairy, and I haven’t been able to identify it. I have a feeling it is another moss in the Polytrichum family but I don’t know that for sure. Sporangium means “spore vessel” in Latin, and of course that’s exactly what it is. Note the long beaked lid at the end of the capsule, which is its operculum.

The liverwort that was mixed in with the moss in the previous photos was the greater whipwort liverwort (Bazzania trilobata.) It lives happily on stones right along with mosses so you have to look closely to be sure what it is you’re looking at. This pretty liverwort looks almost like it has been braided and always reminds me of a nest full of centipedes.

Each greater whipwort leaf is about an eighth of an inch wide and has three triangular notches at its base. This is where the trilobata part of its scientific name comes from. It means “having three lobes.” You might notice though, that some have more than three.

There was a good bit of ice on the roadside ledges but it was rotten and falling so I didn’t get too close.

Drill marks in the stone of the ledges tells the history of this place. This road was one of the first laid out in the town of Keene, built to reach the first sawmill. If you didn’t have a sawmill in town in those days you had a dirt floor. Or one made of logs, which was probably worse than dirt.

It turned out to be a beautiful and relatively warm day. The lack of snow on the old abandoned road made walking a pleasure. I’ve seen this natural canyon with so much snow in it I had to turn back.

The yellow lines are still here on the old road, but since nobody has driven here since about 1970 they really aren’t needed.

One of the best examples of a healed frost crack that I know of can be seen here in this golden birch. Sun warming the bark in winter can cause a tree’s wood to expand. If nighttime temperatures fall into the bitterly cold range the bark can cool and contract rapidly, but when the wood beneath the bark doesn’t cool as quickly as the bark the stress on the bark can cause it to crack. On cold winter nights you can often hear what sounds like rifle shots in the woods, but the sounds are really coming from cracking trees. They can be quite loud and will often echo through a forest.

The spot where this yellow jelly fungus (Tremella mesenterica) grew was heavily shaded so I had to use my camera’s onboard LED light to get a shot of it. I was surprised when I saw the photo because you could clearly see the shiny and dull, matte finish surfaces on the fungus. I’ve read that the fungus produces spores only on its shiny side, but in previous photos I’ve taken the entire thing always looked shiny. This is the first time I’ve ever seen the two surfaces in a photo so I’m quite happy to have solved another riddle, even though there are always hundreds more just around the next bend when you’re involved in nature study.

If you come upon a white spot on a tree that looks like it has been inscribed with ancient runes you are probably seeing a script lichen. This common script lichen (Graphis scripta) was bold and easy to see. The dark lines are its apothecia, where its spores are produced, and the gray color is its body, or thallus. If you happen to be a lichen there is nothing more important than continuation of the species through spore production, and script lichens produce plenty in winter.

There is a great waterfall here but unfortunately you have to just about break your neck to get to it, so since I wasn’t interested in doing so here’s a shot of it from a few years back. Height estimates vary but I’m guessing about 30-40 feet, and it was roaring on this day. Just think; history lessons, plants, ferns, lichens, mosses, fungi, liverworts, a waterfall and a brook that sings to you all along the way. Where else can a nature lover find all of these things in one walk? Nowhere else that I know of, and that’s why I come here again and again. I do hope you aren’t getting bored from seeing it so much.

To taste life, so true and real. Sweet serenity. ~Jonathan Lamas

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As I’ve said recently in previous posts it has been mostly sunny, hot and dry here so far this summer and now a large part of the state is once again in a moderate drought, for about the third year in a row. Small streams and wetlands are again drying up so last Saturday I decided to go and see how Beaver Brook in Keene was faring. I hadn’t done a post about the place since February so I thought it was time. I like to see the seasonal changes that take place in the various places I visit. It’s how I really get to know the places and the plants that grow in them. The trail through this particular place was once a road north out of Keene, but it was abandoned in the 1970s when a state highway crossed it. Now nature is in the process of reclaiming it.

The first flower I saw blooming on this day was the little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata.)

This lobelia gets its common name from its inflated seed pods, which are said to resemble the pouches that Native Americans carried their smoking materials in. It’s too early for those but there were plenty of the tiny blue flowers to see.

There is lots of poison ivy here (Toxicodendron radicans,) all along the left side of the old road as you walk up it, so it’s best to wear long pants, hiking boots and socks if you come here. That’s what I always wear anyway and, though I’ve heard you can get a rash just by getting the plant’s oils on your clothes, I’ve walked through knee high poison ivy plants hundreds of times with no ill effects. I tend to be somewhat immune to it though; if I get it on my hand it stays there and doesn’t spread.

Just in case you do start to itch, jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) grows along the right side of the road. If you crush the stems of jewelweed and rub the sap on poison ivy blisters it will stop the itch. It doesn’t cure the rash but it stops the itch as well as calamine lotion does. There are people out there who don’t believe this is true but I’ve used it many times and it works, so I’ll continue using it and the non-believers can scratch. With plants being used even in cancer and HIV treatments I’m not sure why some people have a hard time believing that a plant can stop a simple itch, but they do.

I was shocked to see that a huge portion of ledge had fallen; shocked because I used to kneel right where the stone pile is to get photos of the helleborine orchids that grew there. The stone is white (actually sort of pink) because it is feldspar, and the biggest piece lying at an angle behind the plants is as long as a car. It’s always risky to walk near ledges and this is why. Ledges line almost the entire road and so many years of water seeping between the layers of rock and freezing in winter has cracked them badly, so none of it is stable; it’s all very loose. The city should come in with an excavator and peel away all the loose stone but they don’t even cut brush correctly here, so I know that isn’t going to happen. I’ll be staying well back from the ledges from now on.

The reason the ledges are here at all is because this road was hacked out of the stone of the hillside back in the 1700s. This photo shows a hole in the feldspar made by a star drill. A star drill is a pointed, five sided, two foot long piece of steel. You can tell a star drill was used because you can see the star, as it shows in this photo. To use it one man holds the drill while another strikes it with a sledge hammer. After each hammer blow the drill is turned a quarter turn and then the hammer falls again and again the drill is turned, and so on until a hole is made. Once you have a hole you fill it with black powder, insert and light a fuse, and run as fast as you can. At least, that’s what you do if you happen to live in the 1700s. Feldspar is a softer stone but it was still a tremendous amount of work. After all, someone had to clean up all that blasted stone.

Stone isn’t the only thing falling here. Trees fall regularly and many get hung up on the electric lines that still run alongside the road.

In some places the ledges pull back away from the road as you can see there on the left, but in many places the ledges come right up to the road. You can also see how the trees lean over the electric wires on the right. It’s all about light and plants lean towards the light to get more of it, so this will never stop happening no matter how many trees fall or how many are cut. The hole in the canopy that lets in light is over the road.

The double yellow no passing lines still run down the center of the road even though there hasn’t been a car here for nearly 50 years.

The old guard posts still line the road but they are slowly rotting away.

I met an old timer up here once who told me that he had seen Beaver Brook flood badly enough to come up over the road and I believe it, because you can see where it’s eating away at the edge of the road all along it. This old concrete culvert finally gave up and slid into the brook.  You can also see the size of the boulders that the brook tosses around like pebbles when it rages. And it does rage; I’ve seen it roaring and angry enough to make me leave this place, but normally it just giggles and chuckles along beside you as you walk along.

On this day though, there was little chuckling and giggling to be heard, because the brook had all but dried up to a gurgle. I could walk from bank to bank in this spot without getting my feet wet, and that’s something I’ve never been able to do before. In a normal year I would have been in serious trouble if I had tried to stand in this spot, though it’s actually getting hard to remember what a normal year was like. It seems we’ve had extreme weather take over our thoughts for the past few years.

It’s time to say goodbye to thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) for another year. The seed head will grow on for a while longer and then the seeds will fall.

Purple trillium (Trillium erectum) was also busy making seeds. Trilliums are all about the number three and multiples of it, so the seed chamber has six parts. The fleshy seeds are prized by ants because they have a sweet, pulpy coating that they eat, so many of the trilliums we see have most likely been planted by ants. It takes about five years for a trillium to go from seed to flower.

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) grew on the end of a log. Though they look like bracket fungi oyster mushrooms have off center stems that attach to the log they grow on. Mushrooms are often eaten by tiny worms called nematodes that live on plant and fungal tissue, but not oyster mushrooms. Scientists discovered in 1986 that oyster mushrooms “exude extracellular toxins that stun worms, whereupon the mycelium enters its body through orifices.” What this means is that oyster mushrooms are actually carnivorous. They also consume bacteria in order to get nitrogen and protein. These examples looked like they had slug damage, so the mushroom apparently hasn’t evolved a defense against them.

I saw the most colorful tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius) that I’ve ever seen. It had bands of purple and orange and red and that’s unusual, because they’re normally gray, brown, and sometimes a little cream colored. I’ve also seen these tough, woody fungi with squirrel teeth marks all over them in the past but I didn’t see any on this example. I think the squirrels are after the algae that grow on the fungus. They do the same thing with certain lichens. I can’t explain the colors; it’s something I’ve never seen in person or in books.

I saw a very dark colored toad that looked black in person but looks dark green in the photo. It looks like it has somehow lost most of its left front foot. Or maybe it was making a fist. It seemed to hop just fine.

I made the treacherous climb down the steep gravel embankment that leads to Beaver Brook Falls and found what I expected; barely a trickle. The water usually falls with a roar heard from quite far away but on this day there was a little splashing going on that hardly echoed off the stone walls of the canyon. I’ve never seen the falls with so little water coming over them.

This is what the falls normally look like and they probably look much like this right now, because since I went there last weekend it hasn’t stopped raining. We’ve had rain and storms every day since, totaling up to about 4 inches of rain here. We’ve even had flash flood warnings, so I suppose we need to be careful what we wish for in this age of weather extremes. From drought to flood in one post.

The air is impressively warm and close, as thick as honey. ~Lucy Foley

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I haven’t been to the Beaver Brook natural area in Keene for a while so last weekend I decided take a walk up the old abandoned road. This road was gated when a new highway was built in the 1970s, but my father and I used to drive over it to visit relatives when I was a boy.  Back then the road went all the way to the state capital in Concord and beyond, but the new highway blocked it off and it has been a dead end ever since. At what is now the end of the road is a waterfall called Beaver Brook Falls and I thought I’d go see how much water was flowing over it. We’ve had a lot of a rain this year.

The old road follows along beside Beaver Brook and was originally built to access a sawmill which was built on the brook in 1736. In 1735 100 acres of “middling good land” and 25 pounds cash was offered to anyone who could build a sawmill capable of furnishing lumber to the settlement of Upper Ashuelot, which is now called Keene. Without a sawmill you lived in a log cabin, so they were often built before anything else in early New England settlements. The headwaters of Beaver Brook are in Gilsum, New Hampshire, north of Keene.

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) grows prolifically here and is one of the first plants I notice at this time of year because it towers above everything else. The one growing up past the top of this photo must have been 8 feet tall. These plants usually end up with powdery mildew by the end of summer and this year they all seem to have it here. I was a bit surprised to see it though because this summer hasn’t been all that humid. It could be that the closeness of Beaver Brook makes the air slightly more humid. It is also usually very still here, with little wind.

As I’ve said many times on this blog, fall starts at the forest floor and lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) tells me that fall is in the air. This is the only fern that I know of with fronds that turn white in the fall.

If you aren’t sure that you have a lady fern by its fall color you can always look at its sporangia, which are where its spores are produced. They are found on the undersides of the leaves and look like rows of tiny black eggs. The little clusters are usually tear drop shaped.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides,) one of our most beautiful native shrubs, was also whispering of fall.

Hobblebush berries start out green then turn to red before finally becoming deep purple black, so they’re at their middle stage right now.

A hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) crawled on a goldenrod leaf. This black and white caterpillar can cause quite an itchy rash, from what I’ve read. The nettle like hairs can break off and stick in the skin and they are said to bother some people enough for them to be hospitalized, so it’s probably best to look and not touch this one.

When Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) turn their nodding flowers to the sky it means they’ve been pollinated and are ready to set seed. The plants will turn brown and become hard like wood, and finally the seed pods will split open and release the tiny seeds. They are dust like and are borne on the wind.

Orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) grew on the underside of a fallen branch. This small fungus has a smooth whitish underside with no pores. The complicatum part of the scientific name means “folded back on itself” and the above photo shows these examples just starting to fold. It also likes to grow on the logs of deciduous trees. It can be seen from quite a distance because of its bright color.

Ledges show how the road was blasted through the solid bedrock in the 1700s. The holes were all drilled by hand using star drills and there are still five sided holes to be seen in some of the boulders. Once the hole was drilled they filled it with black powder, lit the fuse and I would imagine ran as fast as they could run. There are interesting things to see here among these ledges, including blood red garnets, milky quartz crystals, many different lichens and mosses, and veins of feldspar.

It’s worth taking a close look at the ledges. In the right light the spore producing fruiting bodies (Apothecia) of smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) turn a beautiful blue. It happens because of a light reflecting, thin coating of wax that covers each one. In different light they can appear black, gray or whitish but in this light they glow different shades of blue and are as beautiful as jewels.

Another beautiful thing that grows on stone here is rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum.) Each little rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Rose moss is a good indicator of limestone in the soil so it’s wise to look for other lime loving plants in the area when it is found. This is a relatively rare moss in my experience; this is the only place I’ve ever found it.

One of the reasons I came here on this day was to get photos of purple flowering raspberry fruit (Rubus odoratus,) but I was surprised to see several plants still blooming. This plant is in the rose family and the 2 inch wide flowers might look like a rose at first glance, but one look at its large, maple like leaves will show that it isn’t. Flowering raspberry has no thorns like roses or raspberries but Japanese beetles love it just as much as roses and it’s common to see the large leaves looking like they’ve been shot full of holes. The plants are a little fussy about where they grow but they will thrive under the right conditions, as they once did here.

The fruit of purple flowering raspberry looks like a large raspberry. The plant is closely related to thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) and gets its common name from its fruit. I’ve never eaten one but some say that they’re close to tasteless and others say they taste like dried raspberries. The plant is unreliable as a source of berries though; I’ve seen many clusters with no fruit at all and others that had 5 or 6 flowers bearing only a single berry. Native Americans had over 100 uses for this plant, both as food and medicine.

Chances are you don’t see anything wrong with this view of the old road but I was appalled when I saw it. Thousands of wildflowers used to grow right over the road almost to the yellow lines on each side. There was a narrow, 2 person wide path through here last time I came, but now the city workers have come in and plowed all of the plants away. Without even having to think about it I could list over a hundred different species of plants that grew here and were plowed up.

Here is the view from where they finally stopped plowing up the plants. You can see how far they grew into the road in this spot but this doesn’t accurately show how it used to be because this is pretty much the end of the road just above Beaver brook falls, and few ever walked here. The plants didn’t grow quite so far out toward the yellow lines where people regularly walked.

And here is what is left of the plants; decades of growth just rolled off to the side like so much worn out carpet. Just think; many of the growing things at the beginning of this post and hundreds more like them just kicked off to the side. You would think before doing something like this that they would call in a botanist or a naturalist, or at the very least buy a wildflower guide so they knew what they were destroying but instead they just hack away, most likely thinking all the while what a wonderful thing they’re doing, cleaning up such a mess.

They’ve peeled the road right back to the white fog line at the edge of the pavement. This is what happens when those who don’t know are put in charge of those who don’t care; nature suffers every single time. What these people don’t seem to realize is that they’ve just plowed away the whole reason that most people came here. I’ve talked to many people while I’ve been here and most came to see what happens when nature is allowed to take back something that we had abandoned. You marveled at the history before you; the charm of the place was in the grasses and wildflowers growing out of the cracks in the pavement, not a road scoured down to just built condition. New Hampshire Public Radio even did a story about the place precisely because it was untouched. The very thing that drew so many people to the place has now been destroyed, and it will be decades before it ever gets back to the way it was. I certainly won’t be here to see it.

A lot of people also come here to see Beaver Brook Falls, but to get a clear view of them you have to climb/ slide / fall down a very steep embankment and then climb over large boulders. It’s becoming more dangerous all the time and now younger people are about the only ones who dare do it. If you broke an ankle or leg down here it would take some serious work and several strong men to get you out, but Instead of cutting the brush that blocks the view of the falls from the road so people don’t have to make such a dangerous climb down to the brook to see the falls, the city would rather spend their money plowing up all the wildflowers.

This is the view as you’re leaving. Where the road is narrower is where they left a few yards of growth at the start of the road, but I wouldn’t count on it being this way the next time I come here. You might say “Big deal, who cares about a few old weeds?” But what grows in those unplowed strips of vegetation includes blue stemmed goldenrod; I’ve never seen it anywhere else. White wood sorrel; I’ve seen it in one other place. Field horsetails; I’ve seen them in one other place. Plantain leaved sedge; I’ve never seen it anywhere else. Yellow feather moss; I’ve never seen it anywhere else. Thimbleweed; I’ve never seen it anywhere else. After wandering through the destruction for as long as I could stand it I had to go into the woods for a while because, as author David Mitchell said: Trees are always a relief, after people.

Lord, what fools these mortals be! ~William Shakespeare

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After the last snowstorm, which lasted all day Friday and Saturday, I decided to visit Beaver Brook in Keene. The storm was long in duration but it was warm enough so much of the snow that fell melted, and there wasn’t much more than 3 or 4 slushy inches on the old abandoned road on Sunday.

Though I’ve done several posts about Beaver Brook I’ve never shown this old box culvert. Upstream a ways is a channel that diverts part of the brook along a large stone wall and through this culvert. It’s very well built; I’ve seen water roaring over the top of it a few times when the brook was high and it never moved.

This is where the diversion channel leaves the brook. I wonder if the farmer who first owned this land diverted the brook purposely to water his stock or his gardens.

The water is relatively shallow here; probably about knee deep, but with the rain and snow melt that happened yesterday it’s probably quite a lot deeper right now.

The snow hung on in shaded areas along the brook, which was starting to run at a fairly good clip. I’m sure it must really be raging by now, after a 50 degree day and a day of rain. There have been flood watches posted in parts of the state but I haven’t seen any flooding here.

This is a favorite spot of dog walkers but I didn’t see any on this day.

Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night. If you’re in or near the woods on a cold night in winter you can often hear the trees splitting and cracking, and sometimes it’s as loud as a rifle shot. Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter.

When repeated healing and cracking happens in the same place on the tree over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen on the yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) in the above photo.

I like to look at the undersides of fern leaves to see what’s happening under there. Luckily we have several evergreen ferns that let me do this in winter. The spore cases seen here were on the underside of a polypody fern leaf (Polypodium virginianum.)

Polypody fern spores grow on the undersides of the leaves in tiny mounds called sori, which are made up of clusters of sporangia (receptacles in which spores are formed) and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many ferns. Once they ripen they are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of flowers; in this case yellow and orange flowers.

Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is supposed to be a very invasive species but I see very few of them, so I was surprised to find a sapling growing here. The Norway Maple’s terminal bud and stem are larger than the Sugar Maple’s, and its bud scales are fewer and colored a pleasing maroon. Sugar maples have twice as many bud scales and they are brown. Norway maple terminal buds are also rounded while those of sugar maple are sharply pointed. According to Wikipedia Norway maple is native to eastern and central Europe and western Asia, from France east to Russia, north to southern Scandinavia and southeast to northern Iran.

Beaver brook flows at the bottom of a kind of natural canyon with sides that are very steep in places, as this photo shows.

In places the hillside comes right down to the water’s edge. This makes following the brook on the far side difficult.

The bottom of the canyon is wide enough for the brook and the road, and not much else. The road was hacked out of the hillside in the 1700s and goes steadily but gently uphill. Normally it isn’t a difficult walk but the wet slushy snow on this day made it feel as if I was sliding back a step for every two I took. I stopped and took this photo at this spot because I was getting winded and this is where I was going to turn around, but after catching my breath I decided to go on instead.

The road was covered in enough snow so somebody new to the place might not realize they were walking on a road at all if it wasn’t for the old guard rails along the side nearest the brook.

A seep is a moist or wet place where groundwater reaches the surface from an underground source such as an aquifer, and there are many along this old road. Springs usually come from a single point while seeps don’t usually have a definite point of origin. Seeps don’t flow. They are more like a puddle that never dries up and, in the case of the example shown, rarely freezes. Seeps support a lot of small wildlife, birds, butterflies, and unusual plants and fungi. I’ve found swamp beacons and eyelash fungi in seeps in the past so I always look them over carefully when I see one. Orchids grow near this one.

There are ledges along this old road and they have many lichens growing on them. Crustose rock disk lichens (Lecidella stigmatea) are very common on rocks of all kinds and usually grow in full sun. Crustose lichens form a crust that clings to the substrate so strongly that it becomes impossible to remove them without destroying what they grow on.

Rock disk look a lot like tile lichens (Lecidea tessellate,) but tile lichens have black fruiting bodies that are sunken, or concave, and rock disk lichens have black fruiting bodies that are raised or flat. This photo shows how the black apothecia stand slightly proud of the body (Thallus) of the lichen. This is an important identifying characteristic when looking at gray or tan lichens with black apothecia, so you need to get in close with a good loupe or macro lens.

It isn’t the rarity of the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that make me take photos of them each time I come here, it is the way the light falls on them. In the right light their spore producing fruiting bodies (Apothecia) turn a beautiful blue, and it’s all because of a light reflecting, thin coating of wax that covers each one. In different light they can appear black, gray or whitish but in this light they glow different shades of blue and are very beautiful. I hope readers will look for them. It’s always worth the small amount of effort it takes to find them.

I made it all the way to  Beaver Brook Fall but there is a steep embankment you have to climb down and if you get top heavy and get going too fast you could end up in the brook. Having that threat added to climbing back up in the slippery slush meant that I decided not to do the climb.

Here is the shot of the falls from the road that I should have gotten, but on this day my camera decided it wanted to focus on the brush instead of the falls so I’ve substituted a photo from last year. To get an unobstructed view you have to climb down the treacherous path to the water’s edge because for some reason the town won’t cut the brush that blocks the view. The falls are about 30 to 40 feet high.

I’ve done many posts about this place but I keep coming here because I always see something I’ve never seen before and I get to see old friends like the hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides,) which is one of our most beautiful native viburnums. At this time of year its naked, furry buds are growing bigger and its leaf buds look like praying hands. Later on it will have large, beautiful white flower heads followed by bright red berries which will ripen to purple black. I’m guessing this one was praying for spring like the rest of us.

The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it. ~Chinese philosopher

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Abandoned Road

The weather man said that Easter Sunday would be sunny and in the mid-50s so I planned to climb one of our local hills, but instead of sun we had clouds that were low and thick enough to keep the temperature in the low 30s. I quickly changed my plans and decided to hike up to Beaver Brook Falls. Actually it’s more of a walk than a hike because you have an old abandoned road under your feet the whole way.

2. Beaver Brook

The old road was built to access a sawmill in 1736 and follows Beaver Brook to the north of Keene. The brook was relatively placid this day but it hasn’t always been so in the past.

3. Plantain Leaved Sedge

One of the reasons I like to come here is because I can see things here that I can’t find anywhere else, like this plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) This is the only place that I’ve ever seen it. It should be blooming before the trees leaf out sometime in mid-April, and I’ll be here to see it.

4. Road

The old road isn’t travelled by car anymore but there were many years that it was. We had relatives living north of Keene when I was a boy so I’m sure I travelled the road many times with my father. I don’t really remember a single instance though; in those days I was far more interested in what was at the end of the road than the journey along it, and I probably couldn’t wait to see my cousins. These days I care more about what I see along the roadsides and don’t think much about when or where they might end. It’s funny how your perspective can change so easily, without any real effort at all.

5. Lines

I don’t suppose the no passing lines will ever wear away now since there has been no traffic on this road since the 1970s.

6. Stairstep Moss

Stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) gets its name from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. You can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps. It’s a very tough moss that even grows on the Arctic tundra. It has a certain sparkle to it when it’s dry and is also called glittering wood moss because of it. According to the Islandwood outdoor classroom in Seattle, Washington, stair step moss was once used to chink the logs in log cabins. Wet moss was pressed into the cracks between logs and when it dried it stayed compressed and green for the life of the cabin.

7. Beech Fungus

Annulohypoxylon cohaerens fungi like beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) and that’s where I always find them. They start life brown and mature to the purplish black color seen in the photo, and always remind me of tiny blackberries. Each small rounded growth is about half the diameter of a pea and their lumpy appearance comes from the many nipple shaped pores from which the spores are released. It has no common name apparently, and I had a very hard time identifying it; it took three years before I finally found its scientific name.

8. Smoky Eye Boulder Lichen

Other things I come here to see are the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens,) not because I can’t find them anywhere else but because of the way the light reflects off their spore bearing apothecial disks here. They look beautifully sky blue in this light, much like the whitish bloom on plums and blueberries make them look blue in the right light and it’s all due to a powdery waxy coating that the lichens and fruits have. The black border on each disk makes them really stand out from the body of the lichen, which can be the golden brown seen here or grayish white. The disks are barely bigger than a written period on paper. This is a really beautiful lichen that’s relatively common on stones and ledges.

9. Washed Out Culvert

The old road is washing away along the brook in more and more places each year. I talked to an old timer up here once who told me that he had seen water up over the road a few times in the past. Chances are one day far in the future there won’t be a road here at all.

10. Guard Rail

Many of the old wooden guard posts that hold the guard wires have rotted off at ground level and hang from the wires but this one was still solid. It’s probably been close to 50 years since they last saw any maintenance. Even the triangular concrete posts used to replace the wooden posts are breaking up and washing downstream.

11. Waterfall

There are a few things that can get me to climb over the guard wires and one of them is this view across the brook of a waterfall that appears sometimes when it rains. I like the mossy rocks and wish I could get over there with dry feet, but the only way I see is by walking through the brook. This photo also illustrates the kind of steep hillsides found on both sides of the road. Together they make this place a canyon that it would be very hard to climb out of.

12. Dog Lichen

The biggest dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea) that I’ve seen grows here. It’s about 9-10 inches across and grows happily surrounded by mosses. The mosses soak up water like a sponge and that keeps the lichen moist as well. When moist it is pliable and feels much like your earlobe but when it dries out it feels more like a potato chip. The grayish / whitish areas show where it’s starting to dry out.

I’ve heard about four different theories behind the name “dog lichen.”  One says that the name refers to the large, lobed body of the lichen looking like dog ears. It sounds plausible, but so do the other three theories I’ve heard. One says the lichen’s fang like rhizines that anchor it to the substrate look like dog’s teeth, another says the entire body looks like a dog, and yet another says that the apothecia, or fruiting bodies, look like dog ears. There’s not a single part of it that reminds me of a dog.

13. Apple Moss

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) gets its common name from its spherical spore capsules that some say look like tiny green apples. Reproduction begins in the late fall for this moss and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warmer rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny green globes.

14. Path to Brook

The path down to the brook near the falls is steep and getting steeper all the time because it’s slowly washing away. Each time I stand here I ask myself if I’m not getting too old for this but each time if it isn’t icy, down I go. It’s a kind of half slide/ half climb situation going down so coming back up is always easier.

15. Beaver Brook Falls

The reason I climb down to the brook is of course to see an unobstructed view of the falls, which people who stay up on the road don’t get to see. It was really too shady to be down here on this day but I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m guessing the falls are about 40 feet high but I’ve also heard all kinds of other guesses about its height. I don’t think anyone really knows, but I’m inclined to believe the old timers. It’s high enough so I know I wouldn’t want to ride down it.

16. Above the Falls

I’ve shown this place many times on this blog but I’ve never shown this view of Beaver Brook from above the falls. It’s a bit hard to see because of all the trees but it was the best I could do. When I took the previous photo of the falls I was down there at water level. You don’t really understand what that means until you see it from up here.

It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things. ~Nicholas Sparks

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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1. Abandoned Road

We had another snow storm recently and though we didn’t get that much snow it did have to be plowed. The worst part of this storm was the long stretch of freezing drizzle that came after the snow. It glazed the top of the snow in a thick coating of very slippery ice, so I had my Yaktrax on for this walk up the old abandoned road that follows Beaver Brook in Keene.

2. Icy Snow

This shot will give you an idea of just how icy it was. The crust was thick enough for me to walk on without breaking through, which is unusual. When I was a boy I went sledding in this kind of snow just once. The runners of the sled broke through the crust and it stopped dead, but I didn’t. I flew off the front of the sled into the sharp crusty snow and got a nasty gash on my chin that I didn’t think would ever stop bleeding. I’ve been wary of this kind of snow ever since. It can be tricky to walk on.

3. Cloud Blocked Sun

There was blue sky to be seen but also enough clouds to blot out the sun for most of the time.

4. Snowy Woods

Enough snow came with this second storm to fully cover the forest floor.

5. Beaver Brook

I like seeing the ice formations in winter but Beaver Brook had very little ice on it. After the warmest December ever recorded our January temperatures have also been above average so far, but the month is young. As we found out during the last two winters, it can get awfully cold in a hurry.

6. Fern

Our evergreen ferns look dainty and fragile but they can stand up to some fierce weather. I didn’t look closely but I think that this one was an intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia) because of the shorter leaflets (Pinnae) at the base of its stem (Stipe) and the scales along the lower part of its stem.

7. Fern

This one grew out of a log as if it was spring. I think it might be another younger intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia.)

8. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

This is the place where I began to pay attention to the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that grow on the ledges. They taught me that lichens can be pruinose, which means they can have a waxy coating that reflects light much like the whitish bloom on blueberries. These (sometimes) blue disks are called apothecia and are where the lichen’s spores are produced. The wax coating makes them appear blue in the right light and their black border makes them really stand out from the body (Thallus) of the lichen. In certain light the apothecia can also appear more gray than blue.

9. Yellow Crust Fungus on Hemlock

The base of this hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) was covered in a yellow crust fungus. I think it might have been the conifer parchment fungus (Stereum sanguinolentum,) which is also called the bleeding parchment because of the red colored juice they exude when they’re scratched or injured. This example was very thin and dry and probably wouldn’t have reacted if I had scratched it. Conifer parchment fungus can cause brown heart rot, which is a reddish brown discoloration in the wood of conifers.

10. Yellow Birch Bark-2

The thin papery bark on this yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) had peeled back to show its lenticels. Lenticels are corky pores that allow gases like oxygen to reach the living cells of the bark. Without enough oxygen, bark can die. Yellow birch likes rich, moist, and cool soils so we don’t see them as often as white birch. In this place it grows well on the shaded side of the road, but there isn’t a single example found on the sunny side.

11. Icicles

Winter has teeth and it will bite the unprepared. I met someone here who wore only sneakers and he said “I don’t know what I was thinking when I put sneakers on to come up here!” He was having a hard time of it and I would imagine that his feet were soaking wet and very cold by the time he made it out of here.

12. Crustose Lichen

Every nature walk seems to come with its own bit of mystery and this one was no different. I’ve never seen this lichen before and don’t know its name. I know that it’s a gray crustose lichen, but that’s about all. I don’t know what the dark outlines signify either but they make it look like some kind of ancient petroglyph.

13. Beaver Brook

While I was following the brook and trying to get a shot of a placid pool I didn’t notice the blue of the sky that the rushing water reflected, nor did I see the yellow sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina) on the stone. I’m not surprised; the camera often sees things that I don’t.

14. Peace Pipe

Someone turned the old drain pipe into a peace pipe. Being able to see this pipe shows how much of the road Beaver Brook has eaten away over the years.

15. Beaver Brook Falls

I made it all the way to Beaver Brook Falls but the path down to the brook was too icy for me, so I took this shot from the road, where the view is marred by brush. The falls were roaring as usual and showed no sign of freezing. I was surprised when I came here last year and saw the falls  frozen into a huge lump of ice. The ice muffled almost all sound and it was the one and only time that I’ve ever heard so little sound in this place. When you expect the roar of rushing water silence can seem amazing.

16. Sunshine

Typically, the sun came out from behind the clouds just as I was leaving, but I don’t mind an occasional cloudy day. Last summer was made up of an almost endless string of sunny, cloudless skies and I learned then what the term “too much of a good thing” really meant.

By walking in a snowy forest you can really forget about this world, and every time you forget about this world you leave this world, and every time you leave this world you gain a very special wisdom that does not exist in this world. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

Thanks for coming by.

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1. The Group

Last Saturday afternoon the weather cooperated and after 2 or 3 false starts the Pathfinders finally made it to Keene for their tour of the old abandoned road that follows Beaver Brook. Their group was much smaller than what had been originally planned last winter, but I hope that the ones who couldn’t make it can come another day. When I took this photo of them walking up the old road I thought oops, I forgot to tell them to wear long pants. The road is covered with poison ivy along one side and it’ll be a miracle if none of them starts itching.

2. Poison Ivy

I was busy showing them the mosses, lichens and liverworts that they had come to see and didn’t take many photos so I went back the following day after it had rained to get more shots of the poison ivy and other things that we saw. That’s why it’s going to look dry in some of these photos and wet in others.

I pointed the poison ivy out to the Pathfinders right away but I didn’t need to because they all knew it well. I forgot that they are called “Pathfinders” for a reason and probably know the woods as well as I do.

3. Jewelweed

Many think that jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) gets its common name from its spotted orange or yellow flowers but the name actually comes from the way the waxy coating on its leaves makes rain water bead up and sparkle like jewels. The pathfinders noted that the plant always seems to grow near poison ivy, and how its sap has been used since before recorded time by Native Americans to alleviate the rash brought on by its toxins. It’s as if nature put the illness and the cure side by side.

4. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

Everyone was impressed by how the spore bearing apothecial disks of the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) looked blue gray in certain light but more blue in a photo. They have a waxy coating that reflects light much like the whitish bloom on blueberries and that makes them appear blue in the right light. The black border on each disk makes them really stand out from the body of the lichen but they are still very small.

The Pathfinders needed to find 5 lichens, 5 mosses, and a liverwort (I think) to earn their badges in one of the nature categories, similar to what the Boy Scouts do, by the sounds of it. In the end they found all they needed and more.

5. Dryad's Saddle Fungus

I saw some dryad’s saddle (Polyporus squamosus) bracket fungi on a dead elm. I was surprised to see them since May had been such a dry month. These mushrooms get quite large and are fairly common on dead hardwood trees and stumps in the spring and fall. They are often funnel shaped rather than flat and saddle shaped like the example above.  The squamosus part of the scientific name means scaly and this mushroom almost always has brown scales on its cap. By the way, a dryad is a tree nymph or female tree spirit from Greek mythology. They were considered very shy creatures but I suppose even shy creatures need somewhere to sit down every now and then.

6. False Solomon's Seal

There were many false Solomon’s seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum) blooming along the roadsides. This common plant grows in every state except Hawaii and is also called treacle berry because its ripe red fruit tastes like molasses. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for the plant including as a cough suppressant and a treatment for sunburn. They say that the young spring shoots taste like asparagus but there are other poisonous plants with shoots the look much the same, so I think I’ll just let them grow.

7. False Solomon's Seal

Each tiny false Solomon’s seal flower is slightly more than an eighth inch across and made up of 6 tepals, 6 stamens, and a central pistil with a short pudgy style. The word tepal is used when a flower’s petals and sepals look enough alike to be nearly indistinguishable, as they do in this case.

8. Forest Tent Caterpillar

The forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria Hübner) is found in hardwood forests across America and is especially abundant here in the east. Though their preferred foods are sugar maple, aspen, cherry, apple, oaks, birch, ash, alder, elm, and basswood this one had been munching on a flowering raspberry leaf (Rubus odoratus.) They hatch near the time of bud break and eat both flower and leaf buds along with mature foliage. If they happen to defoliate the same tree more than 2 years in a row they can kill it. I’m not crazy about it defoliating trees but I love the beautiful sky blue color of its stripe.

9. Rose Moss

I was able to show the pathfinders a few rare mosses including rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum). I think it was their favorite, judging by the amount of photos being taken. It’s a beautiful thing that isn’t often seen in this area. It isn’t normally so shiny; the shininess of it in this photo is because it had rained.

10. Polypody Fern Sporangia

We spent a little time talking about polypody ferns (Polypodium virginanum) and I showed them what the sporangia, where the spores are produced, looked like. They grew on the boulders all around us and explained very nicely why “rock cap fern” is one of their common names.

11. Polypody Fern

Polypody ferns are one of our few evergreen ferns. They love to grow on boulders and could be seen topping many of the larger stones. They have a very tough, leathery feel, not delicate at all.

12. Beaver Brook

Beaver brook was little more than a trickle in places; so low that I don’t think a beaver could have swam in it without first damming it up. In a normal spring with normal rainfall I would have been swept downstream if I had tried to stand where I was when I took this photo.

 13. Falls

All but one of us made the slide / climb down to the falls. The light was all wrong for a good photo but the bright sun brought out the pinks and tans in the microcline feldspar that is so prevalent here. The brook was low enough to walk across so some of the kids crossed over and had some fun splashing around in the small pool at the base of the falls (and almost losing shoes.)  I’ve never seen these falls with so little water flowing over them, even in July. It was really surprising and drove home the point that rainfall is down nearly 6 inches from March first. The Pathfinders wanted to know if you could swim here. I told them that people used to but nobody did.

14. The Road Dark

The Pathfinders are polite, well behaved, fun, happy, and all around good kids. I really enjoyed my time with them and I hope we can get together again sometime. Though this old road leads nowhere these days, I have a strong hope that the experiences they had on it will help lead them to a love of nature that will stay with them throughout their lives.

Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives. ~ Thomas Berry

Thanks for coming by.

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