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Posts Tagged ‘Beaver Brook Falls’

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

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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

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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

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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

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1. Trail

I agreed, back in February, to help a group of Pathfinders get some merit badges by helping them find mosses, lichens, and liverworts. Pathfinders range in age from 10 to 15 I think, and are kind of like scouts, at least when it comes to earning merit badges. Of course as soon as the plans were finalized it began to snow and it didn’t stop until nearly every living thing was buried under feet of it. We’ve had some warmth since though, so recently I decided to check out the old abandoned road near Beaver Brook in Keene to see if we could get in there without snow shoes.

2. Snow Melt

The snow had melted well on the hillsides along the sunny side of the road but the road itself still has as much as 6 inches of loose granular snow in places. Tough to walk in, but not impossible. Good, waterproof hiking boots will be best for this trip.

3. Snowy Hillside

The hillsides along the shady side of the brook still had quite a bit of snow on them.

4. Ledge

The last time I was here the wind had blown so much snow against the ledge faces, you wouldn’t have known they were there if you weren’t familiar with the place. Many of the mosses, lichens and liverworts that the Pathfinders want to find grow on these ledges so it would have been a waste of time.

5. Dog Lichen

Dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea) is just one of many things that grow here that I rarely see anywhere else. Dog lichens aren’t fussy and will grow on soil, stone or bark but they do seem to like moist, sunny spots. They also always seem to grow near moss, probably because moss soaks up water like a sponge.

6. Stairstep Moss

Chances are the Pathfinders won’t realize how special what they’re seeing actually is, but I plan to tell them that this is the only place that I’ve ever seen this stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens.) It is also called glittering wood moss and grows on the side of a large boulder here. It could be that I rarely see it because it usually grows in the boreal forests of Canada, Europe and Russia. I’m not sure why this particular example is growing so far south. This moss was once used to plug gaps between the logs in log cabins. It has anti-bacterial qualities.

7. Rose Moss

Rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) is one of the most beautiful mosses in my opinion and like the stair step moss, this is the only place I’ve ever seen it. This moss gets its common name from the way the small rosettes of leaves resembled rose blossoms to the person who named it. The example that grows here is large and I think must be quite old. It grows on the flat top of a boulder. As the photo shows, the rosettes grow so dense that you can’t even see the stone.

8. Yellow Feather Moss

Yellow feather moss (Homalothecium lutescens) is another moss that’s rare in this area, at least in my experience. This small clump is the only one I know of. It’s looking a little bedraggled because of being covered by snow all winter, but at least the Pathfinders will be able to see it.

9. Stone

I don’t know too much about geology but I do know that there are some interesting things to see here among the ledges, including garnets, milky quartz crystals, and veins of feldspar. I also know that I could build a nice looking wall with the stones in this section.

10. Ice Free Brook

In places the ice that covered the brook all winter has completely melted and the silence of winter has been replaced by the chuckles and giggles of spring water moving over and around the stones. Be more like the brook, I remind myself. Laugh your way through life and just flow around any obstacles that might appear.

11. Icicles

Not all of the brook is ice free. There were still some impressive icicles to be seen.

12. Falls

The lower section of Beaver Brook Falls had shaken off its think coating of ice and was announcing spring with a roar. It’s amazing to come here in the dead of winter when even they are silent. Ice makes a very good sound insulation.

13. Greater Whipwort

Greater whipwort (Bazzania trilobata) will fulfil the Pathfinder’s one liverwort requirement. Their need for 5 each of lichens and mosses will easily be met here as well. This liverwort doesn’t grow everywhere but it isn’t really rare either. I always find it growing on stones near a brook or a stream. At a glance it might fool you into thinking it was a moss but a closer look reveals the three tiny lobes at the base of each leaf that give it the trilobata part of its scientific name. This liverwort is the host plant for the larva of a moth known as the gold cap moss eater (Epimartyria auricrinella.)

14. Blue Fibers on Tree Skirt Moss

A while ago I did a post about all of things that I found growing on a single tree, and in it I mentioned how I had been seeing a lot of long white fibers hung up on lichens especially. Well, now they’re getting hung up on moss too, and they’re blue. I found this little bundle on some dry tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates.) I wonder if a bird was collecting it for its nest and dropped it. I don’t see many humans where this particular moss grows.

 15. Line on Road

The snow had melted enough in one spot to see a little piece of the yellow line that still runs up the middle of this old road. Since the temperature reached into the 60s F yesterday I’m hoping to see a lot more of it next week when the Pathfinders are here.

If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in. ~Rachel Carson

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1. Ashuelot Waves

It has been more like spring than winter here for the past week, with above freezing temperatures and lots of rain. With all of the rain and snowmelt I thought that I might look for some roaring water. My first stop was the Ashuelot River on the one sunny day that we’ve had in over a week. I like the challenge of trying to read the rhythm of the river so I can catch its waves when they’re curling like ocean waves. The deep rich blues and greens and clean, bright whites that appear in the water on a sunny day can be really beautiful.

2. Brook

When I visited 40 foot falls in Surry there was no sun to be seen but I found that there was still plenty of snow in the woods, though in my own yard it’s all gone. Before you can get to the falls you have to cross what is normally a small stream but on this day because of all the rain it had swollen to twice its normal size, wider than I could jump, so I had to follow it upstream and find a place to cross.

3. Crossing

Footprints told me that someone else had crossed here where the stream narrowed so I crossed using the stones as a bridge, hoping that none of them were slippery or tippy. Luckily I stayed dry.

4. Lower 40 Foot Falls

The lower falls were a bit of a letdown because they didn’t seem to be running any stronger than they had been last fall when I first visited this place. It could be that there is a beaver dam further up that regulates the flow. Next summer I’ll find out.

5. Middle 40 Foot Falls

The middle falls weren’t any better as far as volume, but I decided to blur the water so it might look like more was spilling over. I’ll let you be the judge of whether the effort was successful or not. I didn’t bother going all the way to the upper falls because even with Yak Trax on it was slippery. They don’t help much when it is leaves instead of ice making it slippery, I’ve discovered.

6. Beaver Brook Abandoned Road

I hadn’t been to Beaver Brook falls for a while so I decided to give them a try. The snow on the old abandoned road was melting where it saw sunshine.

7. Beaver Brook Abandoned Road

I was happy that I had worn my Yak Trax on the shadier parts though, because the packed snow had turned to ice. It’s hard to tell from the photos but it’s a steady and gentle uphill climb to the falls and ice makes it difficult.

8. Beaver Brook

Beaver brook was roaring along almost at the top of its banks, so I had high hopes that the falls would be roaring too, as long as they hadn’t frozen.

9. Along Beaver Brook

It was a beautiful warm sunny day and in places along the old road it looked like spring might be right around the corner.  Just two more months and it will be spring if you go by meteorological rather than astronomical seasons, and I do. If you’d like to know the difference between the two just click here.

10. Beaver Brook Ledges

In other places winter still had a firm grip on the landscape.

11. Beaver Brook Falls

Beaver brook falls fell with a deafening roar and didn’t disappoint. Since I was wearing Yak Trax I decided, for the first time in winter, to climb down the embankment so I could get a better photo. Sitting and watching the water, all I could think of was the boy who was fishing above the falls last summer and somehow fell in and got swept over the edge of this monster. He fell at least 40 feet into the rocky pool below, suffering a broken arm and shoulder and many cuts and bruises. He had to be flown out by helicopter strapped to a backboard, but thankfully he lived to tell about it. I was thinking as I listened to the roar that this boy now has a story to tell that few if any will ever believe. And who could blame the disbelievers, especially if they had seen what I was seeing? I can hardly believe it myself and I know it’s true.

12. Beaver Brook Falls Climb

The price you pay for having dared climb down the steep embankment to get an unobstructed view of the falls is climbing back up. I never would have made it without my trusty Yak Trax on.

13. Island

Even the pond ice is starting to melt. I saw three wooly bear caterpillars this fall and every one had a wider brown band in its middle section than I’ve ever seen. Folklore says the wider the brown band, the milder the winter, and I’m beginning to wonder. Of course, maybe it’s just wishful thinking; I still haven’t forgotten the three straight weeks of below zero nights we had last winter.

When the seasons shift, even the subtle beginning, the scent of a promised change, I feel something stir inside me. Hopefulness? Gratitude? Openness? Whatever it is, it’s welcome. ~Kristin Armstrong

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