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Posts Tagged ‘Beaver Brook Natural Area’

I couldn’t remember the last time I was at Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene so last weekend I thought I’d take a walk up the old abandoned road to the falls that are at the end of it. As far as I can tell the old road was laid out in the 1700s and was abandoned in the early 1970s when a new highway was built-literally right across the existing road. Nature has been taking back what is hers ever since and the old road slowly gets narrower as the plants and trees grow in toward its middle where the sunlight is. It is kept open to the public as a nature trail and follows Beaver Brook, so named because of the beavers that once thrived here.

It was cold the night before and was still cold when I started out. Below freezing weather had created ice here and there on the brook, mostly in areas that don’t get much sun.

I like to come here because I can find things here that I don’t see anywhere else, like this smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens.) Actually I see this lichen just about everywhere I go but nowhere else are its fruiting bodies (apothecia) so blue. The blue color comes from the way the light falls on the waxy coating that covers the black outlined apothecia and often when the light is just right the stone they grow on appears golden, which makes for a very beautiful scene.  

Plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) Is another reason I come here. 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. Today I discovered that it must be evergreen because we’ve had over a week of real cold weather, with nighttime temperatures sometimes in the single digits, and it was still as green as it is in May.

I like the crepe paper like leaves of this sedge. The prominent midrib, two lateral veins, maroon bases, and puckered look of the leaves are all used as identifying features for plantain leaved sedge. The leaves can be up to a foot long and an inch wide and I can’t think of another sedge that has leaves that look quite like these. I’ve read that it likes cool shady places where the humidity is relatively high. There is a stream just a few feet from where this one grows.

There are calm pools along Beaver Brook and this is one of them. It had a thin skim of ice along the stream banks but it still caught the forest in reflection.

Where the water splashed and dripped, icicles grew in long fingers.

In places the old guard posts and cables survive. These posts used to have to be hand painted black and white, one by one, all the way along this and every other road in the county. Of course it was a lot more open here then, when the forest wasn’t allowed to grow so close to the road.

The guard rails were a necessity on a narrow, two lane road. You didn’t want to drive into the brook because in places the embankment is quite steep. This is a view across the brook to the hillside beyond. There is a boulder fall there and when we get enough rain a stream runs down through and over it. On this day there was only ice.

The utility pole in the distance is broken off at the base and it leans precariously toward the brook. I think it will eventually fall into the brook if something isn’t done. It looks like it might be taking these two poles with it.

I’m not sure what these electric lines power but whoever receives their power from them must be frequently in the dark because every time I come here there are trees on the wires. In fact there are fallen trees all through here.

Here was a huge pine tree in the brook. It had fallen with its top pointing perfectly downstream. Whether or not it will dam up the brook is anyone’s guess but it looked to be about 100 years old and was big enough so I doubt the brook will be able to move it, even in flood.

Beech nuts and their husks littered the old road. There are lots of beech trees here and this seems to be a mast year, so the forest animals will eat well. Native Americans ate beech nuts raw but they contain toxins that can be removed by cooking, and they are said to taste better when roasted.  Early settlers pressed the nuts and used the oil for lamp oil and as a substitute for olive oil.

In this light it was easy to see how the golden birch (Betula alleghaniensis) came by its common name. There are many of them here right alongside the road and they make a beautiful contrast on winter afternoons when the snow is deep blue in the shadows. These trees like it cool and moist and are often found near streams and ponds. They can also stand a lot of shade so a cool, shaded forest is perfect for them. Golden birch is also called yellow birch, and Native Americans tapped this and other birch trees for their sap, which they boiled down into syrup. They also made a medicinal tea from the bark.

We have several vase shaped evergreen ferns and a few species grow here. This one was a little flat but it was still green.

The two rows of spore cases (sori) growing on the underside of the sub-leaflets and the large brown scales on the bases of its stalks told me this was the evergreen wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia.)

Black raspberry leaves (Rubus occidentalis) provided some late fall color.

There was ice on the ledges and it wasn’t a surprise.

The groundwater that created the ice in the previous photo is slowly bringing down the ledges, which are weakened and shattered after close to 300 years of freeze / thaw cycles. This big rockfall could have killed anyone standing under it so I don’t get too close to these ledges anymore. Most of the stone here is feldspar, which is why it appears white in the photo. Feldspar is a soft rock when compared to quartz or granite and it can be split with a sledge hammer. When you strike it with a hammer it has a very unusual smell.

Beaver Brook cascades over ledges into a small, shaded pool that was once a popular swimming hole. There seems to be a lot of conflicting information about how high the falls are; I’ve heard everything from 10 feet to 100 feet, but I’d guess that they are closer to 30 to 40 feet and maybe 50 if you include the part that isn’t visible in this photo. They’re big enough to make a roar that can be heard from a distance.

Up above the falls there is a small turn off; I guess you’d call it a rest area, where cars could have pulled off the main road. The guard posts seen in this photo would have stopped a car from tumbling into the falls, but just beyond the last one you could walk right off the edge and fall into them if you weren’t paying attention. That’s probably why I can’t remember my father ever stopping when he drove through here on our way to see relatives. I was what you might call a “handful” when I was a boy and he probably thought he’d have to fish me out of the brook if he let me out of the car. A few years back a teenage boy was fishing up here and fell in and was swept over the falls. He was lucky to come away with only some bruised ribs and a broken arm.

Right before the turnoff is a fairly good side view of the falls when the leaves have fallen. In fact I think just after the leaves fall is the best time to come here because you can see the falls from the old road, and that’s important if you happen to be a little too creaky to slide down the steep embankment to the brook. Soon it will be winter and the roar of Beaver Brook will most likely become a whisper under the ice for a while; some winters even the falls are muffled by the ice.

But for now you can still see the old no-passing lines in the road. I could do 5 posts on this place and still not show you all of the beauty found here, so if you live nearby I do hope you’ll pay it a visit. It isn’t far from the center of town, which makes it a perfect nature spot for anyone living in Keene.

It’s amazing how quickly nature consumes human places after we turn our backs on them. Life is a hungry thing. ~Scott Westerfeld

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The air cools at this time of year but the water in our lakes and ponds can still be relatively warm. When the cool air moves over the warm water it often creates mists or fog, and it seems every time I’ve wanted to get a photo of Mount Monadnock this fall the summit was obscured by clouds or the entire huge mass was obscured by mist. Finally though, on this day both the sky and the ground was empty of cloudiness and I was able to get a clear shot of the mountain, complete with a forest full of fall color.

When this was taken there was still lots of color on this hillside but on the day of this writing most of the trees have lost their leaves. That tells me that most of them are maples. Oak and beech are still going strong.

This is one of my favorite spots in the fall because it reminds me of what I experienced as a schoolboy. Almost all of the senses are in use in a place like this; seeing the colors of the trees, smelling the sweetly burnt, earthy scent of the fallen leaves, and hearing them crackle and rustle as you walk through them. And then there’s always the special one or two that you have to touch because they stand out from all the rest.

There is a grove of birches I always admire as I drive past it. On this day I stopped and went into it. Now I admire it even more.

There is still good color at Half Moon Pond in Hancock. This is a place that just keeps on giving at this time of year; the way its beauty lasts but changes almost daily.

I’m sorry that we aren’t seeing blue skies in these photos but I have to take what nature gives, and right now that seems to be milky skies. This was also taken early in the day before the sun was fully up and that almost always means milky or overexposed skies.

This is a view of a swamp that I pass sometimes. People often mention “swamp maples” but swamp maple is just another name for red maples, which I think most of these trees are. They could also be silver maples, which don’t mind wet feet. Silver maples prefer alkaline soil though and we have little of that in this area. Our soil is usually acidic.

I think the red in the foreground shines from blueberry bushes but they could also be dogwoods. They add even more beauty to an already beautiful scene.

Maple leaved viburnums have been very beautiful this year. I liked the deep purple leaves on this one. They can be yellow, orange, pink, purple, or combinations of colors but I think all of them end up a pale, almost white pastel pink before they fall.

My blogging friend Ron Corbyn has been itching to see some red poison ivy leaves (Toxicodendron radicans) like he saw in Texas years ago, so I hunted around and found a few left on an almost leafless vine. Very pretty color but you don’t want to touch it. Even touching the bare stems can give you a bothersome and, for people who are extremely allergic, what could be dangerous rash.

A white ash seedling (Fraxinus americana) looked very beautiful in purple, I thought. They usually start out bright yellow, but can be multicolored with yellow, orange, red and deep purple all on the same tree.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the Ashuelot River as still as it was on this day.

The stones showing in Beaver Brook show how dry it is right now, and the light through the witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) shows how beautiful.

When I want reflections I can usually count on the pond in a local park to provide them. On this side of the pond there was a bit of a breeze.

But this side of the pond was perfectly still.

The reflections were what I expected they would be here, at least on one side of the pond.

This is another photo of the road I travel to work on. It’s a beautiful ride.

There is a swampy area along the road in the previous photo that always looked like a pleasant spot when I passed it. I stopped beside it on this day and found that it was indeed a pleasant, quiet and colorful place.

You can see bare trees in this view of Surry Mountain in Surry. I’m guessing that more than half of them are bare by now.

Sunlight through maples can be so beautiful at this time of year.

This view looking into the forest caught my eye enough to make me want to walk into it.  

Over the years I’ve tried, with little real success, to show you what being in these woods is actually like. Here is this year’s attempt. It isn’t as easy as it might sound.

An autumn forest is such a place that once entered you never look for the exit. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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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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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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