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Posts Tagged ‘Boston and Maine Railroad’

Last year I found a blue cohosh plant on the rail trail out in Westmoreland and I’ve gotten to see the flowers and fruit but I’ve never seen the spring shoots. From what I’ve seen in photos they’re very beautiful things, like little dark blue hands coming up out of the soil, so last Sunday off I went with a pocket full of hope.

There was a little ice on the start of the trail but after that it was ice free. It was a beautiful early spring day with the trees full of bird song and a temperature of almost 60 degrees F. It’s amazing how much snow one warm day can melt. If we had a week of days like this it would all be gone.

There are plenty of reminders of the history of this place, like this signal base. The Boston and Maine Railroad ran through here for many years.

There are some nice old stone box culverts out here, still working fine after 150 years. The stream that runs through this one must be off and on because there was no water here on this day.  Leave it to the railroad to build something “just in case.” That’s why these railbeds are still here 150 years later with virtually no maintenance.

Someone found a bent rail spike and put it on a boulder.

The stone walls out here are very unusual in that there isn’t hardly a round corner to be seen anywhere. That’s because these are stones left over from when the railroad blasted their way through the ledges. They’ve never gone through the grinding action of a glacier. Rather than the usual stone walls built by farmers clearing their land, these walls are simple property markers.

There must have been many thousands of tons of stone blasted out of the hillsides and that’s a good thing because this railbed had to be built high above the surrounding terrain and all of the blasted stone had to be used essentially to fill in a valley between hills. When you build a road bed through a hilly area you take everything you’ve cut from the hills and use it to fill in the valleys, and in that way you end up with a flat, level roadway, hopefully without having to bring in a lot of fill. This shot shows that I was almost in the tree tops where I was walking.

When you look down the side of the very high railbed you see large chunks of stone and realize that you’re walking on a huge, long pile of it.

But you’d never know it from this view of a flat, level trail. The railroad engineers were very good at what they did and the sheer amount of stone under this trail boggles the mind.

If you’re on a rail trail and see a stream going under it that almost always means a box culvert, and I always look for them if the hillside isn’t too steep.

This one was bigger than the first I showed and it had water running through it. It was under the snow though, so you can’t see it. There is mortar on this culvert and that tells me that it has probably been repaired because I’ve never see railroad masons use mortar on anything they’ve built.

Before I knew it I was at the ledges where I found the cohosh. The question was, where exactly did I find it and could I find that spot again? There were a lot of leaves to poke around in.

This is the spot where wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) also grow and this is the ledge most of them grow on. Both columbine and cohosh like limestone and that tells me that there must be a lot of lime in these ledges.

There was a columbine leaf from last year, still hanging on. I never knew they were so hairy.

The mosses were as beautifully green as I’ve ever seen them.

I’m not sure what this one is but it’s a very pretty moss. And it was covered by ice.

I tried to dig around in the leaves at the base of the ledges in several spots and found ice under them each time. The only plant I know of that can melt its way through ice is skunk cabbage, so I knew I wouldn’t see blue cohosh shoots on this day.  I’ll have to try again.

In this place it was still a little too cold for emerging plants.

And the snow on the ski slopes of Stratton Mountain over in Vermont proved it. I’m sorry I couldn’t show you those blue cohosh shoots. I’ll see what I can find this weekend; It will be worth the effort to see such a rare plant.  If you’re interested just Google “Blue cohosh shoots” and you’ll see why I want to see them.

That’s what winter is: an exercise in remembering how to still yourself, then how to come pliantly back to life again. ~Ali Smith

Thanks for coming by.

 

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The last time I passed through this section of woods I couldn’t have been more than 12 years old. The house I grew up in was just a few yards from the railroad tracks and I’d guess I started walking those tracks almost as soon as I could walk. I knew that if I followed them one way (north) I’d get to my grandmother’s house and then downtown Keene further on. But I didn’t know where the other direction went, so one day I decided it was time to find out. It would be my first great adventure.

There was a slight problem though. The Ashuelot River was also just a few yards from the house and if I was going to follow the tracks the way I’d never been I had to cross it by way of the train trestle over the Ashuelot River. The trestle had gaps between the ties and if you weren’t careful my grandmother said, a skinny little boy like me could fall right through one of those gaps and end up in the river. That thought had held me back for a long time as she knew it would but on this day I was determined, so off I went across the trestle for the first time, headed south.

My father knew that a boy had to run and explore and learn, and he let me off the leash early on. I had no mother to say otherwise so I simply loved life and made my own fun. Unlike the other boys I knew who could only seem to focus on what they didn’t have I saw what I did have, and though we were poor when it came to money I knew that I was rich; I could see it, sharp and clear, and even at twelve years old I knew that no boy anywhere else on earth was having a better boyhood than I was.

But even so my father would have had something to say about this adventure and I probably would have had to eat standing up for a few days if he’d found out. That’s because he knew the river drew me like a magnet. He was forever having to tell me to stay away from it, and with good reason. As I was taking photos of the frozen river on this day it began to groan and crack open and my stomach fell into my shoes. It was the same sound I’d heard when I was walking down the middle of it so many years ago when the ice gave way. Even after 50+ years it’s a sound that can still make my stomach lurch and my hands shake.

I could have drowned that day but instead I learned a good lesson, and it’s one I’ve never forgotten. In fact I learned all kinds of things along these rail lines because I was curious and I wanted to know the answers to the thousand and one questions I had in my head. Since nobody I knew could answer the questions I turned to books. Botany books, wildflower books, tree books, bird books, I had them all and I learned from them, but even so I’m still what I call “overly curious” when it comes to the natural world, and it’s that curiosity that fuels this blog. For instance I’ve wondered for years why the buds on a black birch will suddenly form a cluster of buds like that in the above photo. It’s almost like a witches’ broom but not quite because they don’t seem to grow after they knot up like this. Actually I think they die.

This is what a normal, healthy black birch bud (Betula lenta) looks like. The young bark of these trees looks a lot like cherry bark but if you nibble a twig and taste wintergreen, it’s a black birch. It’s also called sweet birch and cherry birch, and birch beer was once made from it and so was oil of wintergreen. In fact so many trees were taken to make oil of wintergreen for many years the trees were very hard to find. This is the only birch that I’ve seen the strange bud clusters on.

Another mystery is why birds don’t eat sumac berries until spring in this part of the country. I’ve heard that in other parts of the country they snap them up as soon as they ripen but here they’re still on the bushes even into April in some years. I’ve heard that they’re low in fat and not very nutritious so that might have something to do with it, but why wouldn’t that be true everywhere? The berries seen here are those of the smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) but smooth or staghorn sumac berries, most will still be there in spring.

Another mystery is how can a river look frozen solid in one place and then be free of ice less than a mile downstream. It could have something to do with restricted flow, I think. The place where I took the photo of the iced over river has a kind of S curve and an island, and both would slow down the flow.

I had to have a look at the shagbark hickory buds (Carya ovata) while I was here. There is no sign of any movement yet but come mid-May they’ll open to reveal some of the most beautiful sights in the spring forest.

I did see some movement in some of the beech buds (Fagus grandifolia) I looked at though it was almost imperceptible. You can just see how some of the silvery white tips of the bud scales have barely pulled away from the bud. Soon they will start to grow and lengthen and then in May will finally open, and then the trees will look as if they’ve been hung with tiny angel wings.

In places the woods were full of ice.

And in other places they were nearly ice free.

The drainage ditches that were dug by the railroad 150 years ago were still working fine, though they were ice covered.

What interests me most about this ice is the oak leaf shape in the lower left corner. I can’t even guess how that would have happened. Ice is such fascinating stuff.

There are lots of old stone walls out here. They are “tossed” or “thrown” walls, where the stones were literally just thrown on top of one another, because the object was to get them out of what would become cropland as quickly as possible. I know this wall is quite old because of the lichens and mosses on the stones. Walls I built 45 years ago still don’t have any mosses or lichens on them and the stones haven’t even grayed yet. I’d guess this one must be at least 200 years old, built even before the railroad came through.

This boulder pile shows what those who first cleared the land faced. Left here by the last glacier, they had to be moved if you were going to plant crops.  I’ve collected stones to build walls with and I can say that it is backbreaking work.

I hoped to see some signs of hazelnut catkins opening but these were still closed tight. It won’t be long now though.

Distances seemed longer and time passed much slower when I was a child and this walk seemed very long indeed, but for the first time I had actually left my town and crossed into another: Swanzey, and that was quite a feat in my opinion. Swanzey lies to the south of Keene and it isn’t very far but I remember feeling so tired that day when I came to this road, and I had the walk home still ahead of me. I could have waited for the Boston and Maine freight and hopped it, but my grandmother told me in graphic detail what can happen to little boys who try to hop on trains. Of course she did that to keep me from hopping the trains I saw creeping by twice a day, and it was very effective. I wanted badly to try, but I never did.

So I walked back home dog tired but elated, and as I retraced those steps on this day once again I realized how very lucky I was to have had this place to grow up in; to be able to run and play in the fields and forests along the river, surrounded by and immersed in nature. It was such a glorious life and if I ever had a choice of where and when I could return to it would be that place and that time, because for me there is simply nothing better. I really do hope that all of you have a place that you feel the same about, and I hope you’re lucky enough to be at least able to revisit it occasionally.

A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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There is a rail trail in Swanzey that runs between the main road and the river and the trees along it often change into their fall colors slightly earlier than others, so last weekend I decided to go and see if fall had paid a visit yet.

It was a beautiful day, with full sunshine, temps in the 60s, and very low humidity. Asters in blue, purple and white lining the trail helped beautify the hike.

These blue ones were small; about the size of a regular aspirin, but beautiful.

I saw what I thought might be Jack O’ Lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus olearius) growing from a log. These mushrooms usually grow in large clumps and get their name from their bright orange color. They are toxic and unfortunately are sometimes confused with chanterelle mushrooms. Jack o’ lanterns probably won’t kill but they can put you in the hospital for a time so mushroom foragers would be wise to know them well. This mushroom is also bioluminescent, and the gills are said to glow with a faint blue-green light in the dark.

There are a few nice old box culverts out here but the railbed is about 50 feet above the streams that run under them so they’re hard to get photos of. To see this one I only had to scramble down a 10 foot embankment so it was relatively easy. It still works just as the railroad engineers designed it 150 years ago. There are massive amounts of soil over it but the thick granite slabs haven’t moved an inch. These are called box culverts because they have 4 sides like an open ended box.

There’s a good chance that the granite for the box culverts came from this ledge that the railbed was cut through. Railroad stone masons often used stone that was as close to the project being built as possible. They didn’t want to haul it very far.

Long, straight drill holes still show in the face of the ledge. This one was probably drilled with a steam drill. Once you had a hole you filled it with black powder, lit the fuse and ran as fast as you could go.

I was happy to see a lot of pink lady’s slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) with seed pods out here. I’ve got to remember to come back in June to see if I can find others blooming.

Lady’s slipper seeds are very small and each seed pod can contain as many as 20,000 seeds. The seeds have no stored starch for food so they have to rely on certain fungi in the soil to grow, and without the fungi the plant won’t make it. That’s why digging them up to plant in gardens never works; the symbiotic connection between orchid and fungus is lost. It can take 10-15 years for a lady’s slipper grown from seed to flower. Setting seed like this example has done weakens the plant enough so it probably won’t blossom again for a year or more, so each plant only sets seed about 5 times in its lifetime.

The most unusual thing I saw on this outing was a native turtlehead plant (Chelone) with bicolor blossoms in lavender and white. I’ve seen pink turtleheads and white turtleheads but I’ve never seen this one. I’m guessing that it must be a natural hybrid, created by the bees. It was pretty and I would be happy to have it growing in my own garden.

The turtlehead’s blossoms had just started to open.

Chanterelle wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe cantharellus) grew on a moss covered stump. These mushrooms are quite small; I don’t think I’ve ever seen one much bigger than a penny, so you have to look closely and carefully to find them. Every time I see them they are growing in groups either on a stump or a log. They’re fairly common at this time of year.

One of the people who live along the rail trail built a bridge over the drainage ditch so they could get to the trail. They’re lucky; I’d love to be able to reach a rail trail from my back yard.

This trail is popular with bike riders. I didn’t count how many passed me but it was quite a few. I was the only one walking.

I saw a lot of fallen trees out here too. The top of this big poplar was hanging by just a few branches onto a white pine it had fallen against. It didn’t look like it would take much of a breeze to bring it all the way down and I hope nobody is under it when it happens.

Even without much in the way of fall colors there was still plenty to see out here, like this maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora.) Lichens and mosses start calling to me at this time of year because once the leaves fall they become more visible. As the name implies the maple dust lichen grows on the bark of maples but I’ve also seen it on beech, oak, basswood and poplar, so don’t be afraid to look for this one on just about any tree. They can be large and easy to see at about 3/4 of an inch and the white fringe around their perimeter makes them easy to identify. They’re pretty little things that are worth searching for.

Before I knew it I was at the old trestle over the Ashuelot River, which was my turn around spot. The wooden deck and side rails have been added to many trestles by snowmobiler clubs for safety. The decks make these old trestles much easier to cross.

Trestles give you views of the river way out in the middle of nowhere that you’d most likely never see if the trestles weren’t there and that’s one of the things I like most about rail trails. I didn’t see much fall color on this side of the trestle, just some trees on the yellow side of green.

But on the other side of the trestle some trees were very yellow. Maples, I think. It’s odd how colors can vary so much in just a few yards.

On the way back there was another yellowish tree up ahead on the left but all in all I can’t say that fall has come to this section of trail just yet. Before too long though, there will be reds and oranges along with the yellows. I have to say that I’m in no hurry. I love to see the fall colors but I’m not too crazy about what follows. I hope you’ll have a gloriously colorful fall season wherever you may be.

Summer is leaving silently. Much like a traveler approaching the end of an amazing journey. ~Darnell Lamont Walker

Thanks for stopping in.

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Last Saturday I decided to hike one of my favorite rail trails. Not only does it have wildflowers and flowering shrubs all along it, it has plenty of railroad history too. I hadn’t been out here for a couple of years because I had heard of a bear out here that seemed to have no fear of humans. A bear that has no fear of humans is a bear to fear, but bears and many other animals are most active early in the morning and in the evening, so when the clock reached mid-morning I grabbed my can of bear spray and out I went.

This is the first example of spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) that I’ve seen blooming this year and it’s about a month early. Dogbane is toxic to both dogs and humans, but insects love it. It’s closely related to milkweeds and has milky sap like they do. Monarch butterflies drink its nectar. Though it is an herbaceous perennial its growth habit makes it look like a 3 foot tall shrub. The Apocynum part of its scientific name means “away from dog.” Not only dogs but most other animals avoid it because of its toxic sap. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and used its strong fibers to make thread and cord. The plant’s milky white sap is very sticky and I wonder how they removed it from the thread they made.

An Ox eye daisy bloomed in a sunny spot at the edge of the trail. It was notable because there was just one.

Invasive but very fragrant multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) grew up trees all along the trail. I just featured this plant in my last post if you’d like to know more about it.

If you’re on a rail trail and see a stream flowing under it, there’s a good chance that it is flowing through a culvert-possibly a very old culvert. The one in the photo is a box culvert, made up of two side walls, top or lintel stones, and a stone floor. In the mid-1800s railroad stone masons cut these stones from ledges or boulders found in the woods near the rail line. There were certain rules that they had to follow. One regarded the thickness of the lintel stones and by how many inches they had to overlap the side walls, and even how much soil would be packed on top of them. These lintel stones were at least a foot thick and supported the weight of locomotives twice a day for over a century.

According to a website I found called Historic Stone Highway Culverts in New Hampshire the difference between a bridge and a culvert is the length of the span. (Width of the opening) Anything less than 10 feet is a culvert, and more than that is a bridge. Most culverts are covered by earth fill and the amount of fill over a culvert plays a huge role in how much weight it can carry.

Though I grew up hearing everyone call this type of span a trestle, according to Wikipedia this is a Warren-type through-truss bridge. This type of bridge was made of wood, wrought iron, cast iron, or steel. We have several that cross and re-cross the Ashuelot River and for the most part they are cared for by snowmobile clubs, but I was dismayed to find that this one had seen no attention for a while. All the wooden side rails were missing and the floor boards were rotting enough so some had holes through them. I hope the snowmobile clubs haven’t abandoned this leg of the trail. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for working so hard to keep these trails open. They donate their time, tools and quite often their own money.

The view of the Ashuelot River from the trestle shows how low it is. We’re over 3 inches shy of average rainfall now, and I don’t think we’ve had a real rainy day for about a month.

I was surprised to find native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) blooming out here already. It’s about two weeks early and as this photo shows, it was wilting from the dryness and heat. This plant’s leaves and flowers grow in a whorl around the stem and that’s how it comes by its common name. A whorl, in botanical terms for those who don’t know, is made up of at least three elements of a plant (leaves, flowers, etc.) that radiate from a single point and surround the stem.

Both the leaves and flowers grow in a whorl on whorled loosestrife, because where each leaf meets the stem (axils) a five petaled, star shaped yellow flower appears at the end of a long stalk. Many plants grow flowers in the axils of the leaves, but most do not grow in whorls. Almost all species of loosestrife with yellow flowers often have a lot of red in them as this example had.

This old train depot along the rail trail in Ashuelot, New Hampshire  isn’t as elaborately adorned as some that still stand in this area but it has been taken care of and seems to be fairly complete, except for the wooden platform it surely must have had. The train would have stopped just a few yards out from that red door. This was on the Ashuelot branch of the Cheshire Railroad, which was part of the Boston and Maine Railroad system. The Cheshire Railroad ran from Keene to Brattleboro, Vermont, and from there north into central Vermont or south to Massachusetts.

The town of Ashuelot has a beautiful covered bridge which was built in 1864, which is a strange time because the Civil War was still raging. I’ve read that it was originally built so wood could be carried across the river to wood burning locomotives, but I have no way to verify that. Anyhow, in spite of the fighting it was built in two spans and is 160 feet long. It’s a Town lattice truss style bridge, patented by architect Ithiel Town in 1820. The open lattice work sides were a big step away from the solid walled bridges that came before it. Now, instead of being dark like a cave covered bridges were filled with light and had better air circulation. They also often had covered walkways for pedestrian traffic, as this bridge has on the far side. I’ve crossed both styles and the difference is amazing. The change must have been a very welcome one to people of the 1800s.  At one time there were about 400 covered bridges in New Hampshire, but only 70 of them were left at the end of the 20th century. The Ashuelot Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

There are many plants growing in the few sunny spots found along the trail and some of the most beautiful on this day were the purple flowering raspberries (Rubus odoratus) in full bloom. This shade tolerant 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, light gathering, maple like leaves will show that it isn’t. The plant has no thorns but it does have a raspberry like fruit. The flower petals always look a bit wrinkled.

The name “forget me not” (Myosotis) comes from the original German “Vergissmeinnicht” and the language of flowers in 15th century Germany encouraged folks to wear them so that they wouldn’t be forgotten by their loved ones. Mozart wrote a song about the flowers and Franz von Schober wrote a poem about them. It seems that the plant has always been associated with romance or remembrance; Henry IV had forget me nots as his symbol during his exile in 1398, probably so his subjects would remember him. Surely they must have; he was only gone for a year. Only Myosotis scorpioides, native to Europe and Asia, is called the true forget me not. The plant was introduced into North America, most likely by early European settlers, and now grows in 40 of the lower 48 states. In some states it is considered a noxious weed though I can’t for the life of me understand why. I hardly ever see it.

In several places the sides of the trail had grown in so much there was barely room for two people to pass, and that gave me another sinking feeling that there had been no maintenance here for a while. I do hope I’m wrong.

This view of the river shows how low it really is. In a normal spring you would hardly be able to see a single stone here.

The last time I was out here a hawk circled overhead for quite a while as I walked so I wondered if this time a hawk didn’t snatch up a woodpecker, because I can’t think of any other birds with feathers like this. I hope the birders among you might have a better idea. The feather wasn’t very big; maybe about an inch or inch and a half across.

June is the month when our native mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia) bloom and they are one of the reasons I wanted to hike this trail, because they bloom along quite a good length of it. The wood of this shrub twists and turns and can form dense, almost impenetrable thickets when it grows in suitable locations like this area. An older name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

Like the bog laurel I showed in my last post the pentagonal flowers of mountain laurel have ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. Once released from their pockets the anthers don’t return to them. Though related to the blueberry, all parts of this plant are very toxic.

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom on mountain laurels. This rear view shows the cups that the anthers fit into. The way that these flowers work to make sure that visiting insects get dusted with pollen is really amazing.

New Hampshire used to have a lot of paper mills but many have gone out of business. This one seems to be slowly crumbling. I’ve watched buildings like this crumble before and it always seems to start with an unrepaired leak in the roof. The water coming through the roof rots the roof rafters, floor joists and sills, and finally the rotting building is too weak to handle the snow load and, usually after a heavy snowfall, down it comes.

I know that a lot of freight was hauled over these rails but I was surprised a few years ago to find these old boxcars slowly sinking into the earth outside the old abandoned paper mill. There was a lumber yard and warehouses across the tracks from my grandmother’s house and when I was a boy I used to play in and on boxcars just like these. That was back when the trains were running so I also used to get chased out of them frequently.

The old knuckle couplers still held the boxcars together after all this time. After a three mile walk I’d seen enough and it was time to turn around and walk the three miles back to my car. I spoke with several homeowners along the way who were out doing yardwork and every one said yes, they had seen bears out here, but I didn’t see one and that made for a fine hike.

After all this talk of railroads I thought you might like to see one of the trains that ran through here. A sister train to the Flying Yankee pictured here carried passengers on the Cheshire Railroad from 1935 until its retirement in 1957. The gleaming stainless steel streamliner with “Cheshire” on its nameplate ran over 3 million miles in its history as a state of the art diesel passenger train. Its second car was a combination baggage / mail / buffet dining car and the third car was coach seating and had a rounded end with 270 degrees of glass for observation. It carried 88 passengers.

Human history and natural history are visible from trails. The old railroad routes through a town can show a lot about how the town developed, what it was like long ago. When you go through a town on an old railroad route, the place looks very different than from the customary perspective of the car and the highway. ~Peter Harnick

I’m sorry this post is so long, but I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping in.

 

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Last weekend I decided to go and see a bridge I wrote a post about in January of 2017 called Bridging a Dangerous Crossing.  They were still building it then but have since finished it, so I thought I’d go and see what crossing it was like. It just happens to be on the same rail trail that I grew up walking as a boy so not only would I see the bridge, but I’d see pieces of my past as well.

Back then the rail trail was a working railroad with Boston and Maine trains passing my house twice each day. I used to play in the cornfield in the above photo, which runs alongside the trail. There were lots of crows in it on this day and you can see a couple of them flying there on the right. In the fall after the corn is harvested hundreds of Canada geese also visit these fields. They’ve been doing so at least as long as I’ve been around.

If you know where to look there are good views of Mount Monadnock along the rail trail. When I was a boy it was my favorite mountain because it was always just over my shoulder no matter where I went. When I was still quite young I foolishly came up with the idea of cataloging all the plants on the mountain. In my teen years I still had the dream but I was sure someone else must have already done it. Sure enough, Henry David Thoreau had started an inventory of the mountain’s plants and it was fairly extensive, and that’s how I first discovered Henry David Thoreau. When I found that we seemed to think a lot alike I immediately read everything I could find that he had written. But I never did catalog the plants of Monadnock. The closest I came was helping the ladies of the Keene Garden Club plant wildflowers on its flanks. I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing today but at the time it seemed the right thing to do.

Along these tracks is where my curiosity about the things I was seeing in nature grew until I couldn’t stand not knowing any longer, so I began reading to find answers to the many questions I had, like why is a young black raspberry cane blue? The answer is the same waxy “bloom” found on plums, grapes, and other fruits and plants. They and other plants along these railroad tracks were what prodded me into reading books like “Grays Manual of Botany.” Easily the driest book I’ve ever read, but I learned a lot from it. I began to visit used book stores and usually spent any money I earned on botany and gardening books, and that and a plant loving grandmother is what started me on the path to professional gardening.

I didn’t always have my nose in a book; somewhere along this rail trail my own initials are carved into the bark of a maple, much like these are.

In no time at all here was the bridge, open at last. The arch of the thing was startling because from the side it looks almost level.

Here is the bridge from the side in a photo taken in January 2017 as the concrete deck was being poured. This is why the arch in the previous view was such a surprise; I’m not really seeing such a pronounced arch from here.

Here it is again, closer to the center of the span. It’s very strange that it could look so level from the side.

Up here I was closer to the red maple (Acer rubrum) buds; thousands of them, just starting to open. If you’re looking for red maple flowers as I do each spring, look for a maple with these kinds of round bud clusters on its branches.

Red maples can look a lot like silver maples (Acer saccharinum) but if I understand what I’ve read correctly, only red maples get target canker, which causes platy bark to appear in circular target-like patterns like that seen here. Silver maples prefer damp swampy areas while red maples are more likely to grow in drier places.

The bridge was built so local college students could cross this very busy highway safely. They walk through here constantly to get to the athletic fields which lie beside the rail trail. There is a sister bridge that crosses another nearby highway, and that was originally built because someone was killed trying to cross that road. Nobody wanted to see that happen here so it was agreed that another bridge should be built. These days traffic is very heavy and I’ve waited for quite a while trying to get across. When I was a boy I could walk across this road without having to hurry at all because on many days there was hardly a car to be seen.

Once you’ve crossed the new bridge you come to the old Boston and Maine Railroad trestle. When I was a boy you could sit here all day and not see a soul, but now there’s a steady stream of college students walking across it so it took a while to get shots of it with nobody on it. When this was built there was nothing here; it was just another trestle in the middle of the woods, but now it has all grown up and there’s a huge shopping center just behind and to the left of this view. The college takes up all the land to the right, and if you follow the rail trail straight ahead you end up in downtown Keene. These days this is a very busy spot.

The railroad tracks are gone now and this portion of the rail trail has been paved, and it even gets plowed by the looks. Up just a short distance to the left is the house I grew up in, built in 1920 and changed many times since. Pass that and cross a street and you would have been at my Grandmother’s house, which is now a parking lot. Back in the film camera days when I used to sell photos I always heard that you needed the owner’s permission to publish a photo of a residence so I didn’t take a photo of my old house, but I saw that the box elder tree that I planted when I was about 10 years old is still there. It’s huge now and still shades the porch, just like I planted it to do.

This side view of the trestle shows the wooden rails that have been put up on most of these trestles by snowmobile groups. You wouldn’t want to drive a snowmobile off the edge of a trestle. This view also shows how much land the trestle covers on each end. That’s because this area floods regularly and I’ve seen the Ashuelot River rise almost to the bottom of this bridge many times.

This is “my view” of the river that I grew up with. It looks placid now but when it floods the river can swallow the land seen on the left. The local college foolishly built a student parking lot there and I’ve seen cars floating there in the not so distant past. It’s hard to tell from the photo but the land on the right where my old house still stands is slightly higher than the land on the left, so the flood waters never reached the house that I know of. The cellar sure got wet in the spring though.

Seeing this granite abutment almost completely underwater and the river pouring over the land beyond was a scary thing to a boy living just feet from the river and it has stayed with me; I still get a bit nervous when I see high water, even in photos. The granite in the abutment was harvested locally, most likely in Marlborough, which is a small town slightly west of Keene. It was brought here and laid up dry, with no mortar. It has stood just as it was built for nearly 150 years.

I spent a lot of time under the old trestle as a boy and this view looks up at it from the underside. You can see the original wooden ties, now covered by boards. When I was small I was afraid of the spaces between the ties but before too long I could almost run across, even in the dark. In fact this is where I learned that darkness comes in different shades.

I spent a lot of time sitting and watching the river from this spot beside the old trestle. It might not look like much but it was a wonderful, magical place to grow up. I was lucky that my father let me run and explore and explore I did, and I learned so much. My early years here were so enjoyable; if I had a chance to go back to any time and place I would choose this place in my childhood years, without a second thought. I hope readers with children will please let them explore nature as well. It’s what childhood should be all about.

I was surprised and happy to see that the old path from my house to the rail trail was still there and still being used, apparently. I would have given anything to have followed it home but I know that this home exists only in my memory now.  And what a memory it is. I hope you all have such great memories.

I hope you didn’t mind this little diversion from the botanical to the mechanical. I don’t mention it often but I’m a mechanical engineer as well as a gardener, so bridges and such things can give me a thrill. No thrill is as great as the one that comes with spring though, and I’ll get back to it in the next post.

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. ~Miguel Angel Ruiz

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a happy Easter!

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1. Tunnel

Last weekend I decided to explore a place that I first saw a couple of years ago and which I’ve been curious about ever since. My hike down a section of the Cheshire Rail Trail would carry me over this stone arch tunnel built when the railroad came through circa 1848. That was back when only horse drawn wagons used it and to this day it’s only wide enough for one car at a time.

2. Culvert

Off in the woods is a culvert built as a smaller version of the tunnel that carries water instead of cars under the rail bed. Both the culvert and tunnel were built by expert masons from stone quarried very near here. They are beautiful examples of the stone mason’s art and are also fine examples of taking pride in your work. Even though these culverts are in places where they couldn’t be seen by the public they were built as if everyone in Keene, New Hampshire would be seeing them.

3. Ice on Rock

It was a cold morning and the stones in the stream wore skirts of ice.

4. Stream

This is the view of the stream from the rail trail above the culvert that passes under the rail bed.

5. Road

And this is the view of the road that passes through the tunnel under the rail bed.

6. Trail Start

And unfortunately this is the start of the rail trail section that I planned to follow. The ice stretched on into the distance so I went back to my truck to get my Yaktrax, but that’s when I discovered that I had foolishly left them at home. There was nothing to do but walk on the edges of the trail and hope for the best. I had to pinwheel my arms a couple of times to keep my balance but I didn’t fall. I actually saw 2 bike riders and a jogger riding and running across ice just like this. I don’t know how they did it; it was all I could do to walk on it. Walking on ice makes your body tense up and it can be very tiring.

7. Trail

Finally the ice gave way to gravel and from here on it wasn’t bad.

8. Ripples in Ice

But there was still ice to be seen in the drainage ditches that line each side of the rail bed. It was too thin to walk on but admiring it was possible.

9. Trail Detour

Before I knew it I was at the detour that goes uphill and around the original rail bed.

10. Abandoned Section

And that’s because this is the original rail bed, which is obviously no longer used. I’ve taken the detour around it and I’ve been able to look down into what is a deep railway cut through the hillside from up there. Since I first saw it two years ago I’ve been curious about what is in there and today I planned to find out. There were a few obstacles ahead but they didn’t look unsurmountable. I had to make myself very small to crawl under the tree in the photo, but I got through the tangle.

11. Fallen Trees

I should say that I got through the first tangle. It looked like there were plenty more up ahead.

12. Fallen Trees

Most I had to simply climb over, but ice made it challenging in places.

13. Ledges

It was easy to see why there were so many fallen trees in here. They were perched on the brink of ledges which looked like they were about to crumble and fill the space with rubble. Sizeable stones had  fallen in places but I didn’t really want to think about that. I could only hope I wouldn’t be in here when anything fell.

14. Fallen Trees

Trees of all sizes had toppled onto the rail bed and each one had to be climbed over or crawled under. While in this place I didn’t see a single foot print and I wondered if it was because nobody wanted to go through what I was going through. The next time you meet a snowmobiler I hope you’ll give them a big thank you, because without their voluntary trail maintenance all of our rail trails would probably look just like this, and that would be a shame.

15. Drill Marks

Reminders of the railroad workers were everywhere. When this rail bed was blasted out of the rock they drilled a hole with a steam drill or by hand with a star drill and sledge hammer. They then filled the hole with black powder, lit the fuse, and probably ran. And then they had tons of blasted rock to move without the use of gasoline powered vehicles. These people certainly earned their pay.

16. Ice

There was some ice here but it wasn’t anywhere near as big or as colorful as the spectacular ice falls that I’ve seen in the other deep railway cut on the way to Westmoreland. This ice was very clear.

17. Fallen Trees

Finally the fallen trees thinned out so I could walk normally without climbing or crawling. I could tell that there was needle ice under the thick mat of leaves by the way they crunched with every step. For a change I was grateful for the ice underfoot because otherwise it would have been very wet here. In fact I’m not sure I could get through it in warm weather without my knee high rubber boots on. Normally the drainage ditches would keep the rail bed very dry, but they were blocked in several places and had soaked it.

18. Telegraph Pole

A telegraph pole leaned against one of the walls. These used to be strung along the sides of the rail beds with glass insulators on cross arms. I haven’t seen one of these for a long time.

19. Dead End

The end of the line was nothing but a pile of dirt covered by last year’s fallen leaves but that was a problem, because railroad tracks don’t just stop at a dirt pile; this line ran north to Westmoreland and then cut over into Vermont at one time, so I know it was here. The guard rails for Hurricane Road, which was laid out in 1761, can just be seen at the top of this photo. Hurricane Road ran to the Westmoreland town line and the railroad came to this area in 1848, so the tracks would have had to run under the road at this spot. So does that mean that there is a beautiful granite tunnel like the one in the first photo of this post under that huge pile of dirt? Did they take the tunnel apart and fill in the hole when the railroad stopped running? These are questions that I can’t answer yet but there must be a record somewhere, and the county Historical Society will be a good place to start searching.

20. Rail

A rail comes out of the pile of dirt where the tunnel should be but it is loose and not attached to any ties that I could see. Piles of the old ties were stacked here and there along the rail trail before I entered the canyon.

21. Mossy Wall

When I was a boy I wanted to be a plant explorer in the Amazon jungle and though this place was far from jungle like it was a kind of Shangri La like lost world and I felt right at home. I searched the walls for the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum) but I don’t think enough groundwater trickled down the walls to support them. Instead I saw what must have been many thousands of the smaller greater whipwort liverwort (Bazzania trilobata.) It doesn’t seem to need as much surface water as some of the others and was thriving here. There were also plenty of mosses but I couldn’t get close enough to the walls to get any macro photos of them. I’m already looking forward to seeing this place when all the plants start growing. It might be a good spot to see some of our native red columbine.

22. Looking Back

To me this place was completely wild and beautiful and though it was slow going in places there was a lot to see. Time must have gotten snagged on a branch of that first tree I crawled under because I lost all sense of it and was surprised to see that 5 hours had passed when I got back to the start of the trail. It had felt more like 15 minutes.

Surrender to the unknown and trust that the universe will lead you home. ~Karen A. Baquiran

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Frost Crystals

The plan was to get out early last Saturday and hike a rail trail since I skipped it last week in favor of a pond, but nature had other plans. We got about 5 inches of snow on Friday and the temperature at 7:00 am on Saturday was barely 17 degrees F. I thought I’d wait for the sun to warm it up a bit and took photos of frost crystals while I waited. They were very feathery.

2. Trail

Eventually I did get out there and found a beautiful warm and sunny day.  Warm was 35 degrees but since last February saw below zero temperatures nearly all month long 35 degrees seemed like a gift.

3. Tire Track

I saw that a bike with balloon tires had gone through the snow. I’ve heard that the tires on them are underinflated, and that these bikes can go just about anywhere. It seems as if it has taken a good part of my lifetime for bikes to get back to where they were when I was a boy. I can remember them with fat balloon tires that always seemed to be underinflated back then, but we just rode them on the streets.

4. Little Bluestem Grass

There is a pasture for horses that runs for a short way along one side of the trail and on the far side of it what I think was little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) glowed beautifully in the sunshine. I love the golden color that some grasses have when they’re “dead.”

5. Poison Ivy Berries

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) can grow as a shrub or a vine. In this case it grew as a vine on a tree trunk and its white berries gave away its identity, even in winter. I’m glad I saw the berries before I touched the tree trunk. You can catch a good case of poison ivy rash even when the plants have no leaves on them and as general rule I try not to touch plants with white berries. Poison ivy hasn’t ever bothered me much but there is always a first time. Some people get it so badly they have to be hospitalized. Over 60 species of birds are known to eat poison ivy berries, so the toxic part of the plant must have no effect on them.

6. Oak Gall

A gall wasp made a perfectly round escape hole in its near perfectly spherical oak gall. It is said that oaks carry more galls than any other tree. This example is a marble gall.

7. Pine Sap

White pines (Pinus strobus) have shown me that I can use their sap as a kind of thermometer in the winter because the colder it gets, the bluer it becomes. This example was sort of a medium blue which kind of parallels our almost cold winter. I’ll have to look at some if the temperature plunges next weekend as forecast.

8. Trestle

Snowmobile clubs have built wooden guardrails along the sides of all of the train trestles in the area to make sure that nobody goes over the side and into the river. That wouldn’t be good, especially if there was ice on the river. Snowmobile clubs work very hard to maintain these trails and all of us who use them owe them a great debt of gratitude, because without their hard work the trails would most likely be overgrown and impassable. I know part of one trail that hasn’t seen any maintenance and it’s like a jungle, so I hope you’ll consider making a small donation to your local club as a thank you.

9. Warning Wires

Years ago before air brakes came along, brakemen had to climb to the top of moving boxcars to manually set each car’s brakes. The job of brakeman was considered one of the most dangerous in the railroad industry because many died from being knocked from the train when it entered a trestle or tunnel. This led to the invention seen in the above photo, called a “tell-tale.” Soft wires about the diameter of a pencil hung from a cross brace, so when the brakeman on top of the train was hit by the wires he knew that he had only seconds to duck down to avoid running into the top of a tunnel, trestle, or other obstruction. Getting hit by the wires at even 10 miles per hour must have hurt some, but I’m sure it was better than the alternative.

I’ve spent over 50 years wondering what these wires were called and was able to find out just recently. I also discovered that though tell-tales were once seen on each side of every trestle and tunnel, today they are rarely seen. The above photo shows the only example I know of and I chose to walk this particular section of rail trail because of it.

10. Ashuelot

There is a nice view of the Ashuelot River from the trestle. It’s very placid here but its banks seem wild and untamed, and it’s easy to imagine that this is what it looked like before colonists came here.

11. Rivets

Though there is surface rust on the ironwork of the trestle they were built to last and I wouldn’t be surprised if it looks the same as it does now after standing for another 150 years. You can see in this photo that the rust is just a very thin coating on the heads of the rivets.

12. Stone Wall

Stone walls marked the property line between landowner and railroad. I’ve tried to find out how wide railroad rights of way are but it seems to vary considerably. I’ve read that the average setback on each side is 25 feet from the center of the nearest rail. Add 10 feet or so for engine width and you have a 60 foot wide rail trail right of way, which seems about right in this region of the country.

13. Snowshoer

On my way back I was passed by a lady on snowshoes who asked me what I was taking photos of. “Anything and everything,” I told her, but I really wasn’t planning on taking her photo until I realized that she might give the place a sense of scale. This photo shows how, though the right of way might be 60 feet wide the sides aren’t often flat, so this might leave an actual trail width of only 20 feet.

14. Lowbush Blueberry

Railroad tracks have always been a great place to go berry picking. Raspberries, blackberries and blueberries can all be found in great abundance along most trails. In this section lowbush blueberry bushes (Vaccinium angustifolium) looked spidery against the snow.

15. Maple Dust Lichen on Beech

On this trip something I had been wondering about for a few years was finally put to rest, and that was the question do maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) only grow on maple trees? The one pictured was growing on a beech tree, so the answer is no. So why are they called maple dust lichens? That question I don’t have an answer for.

16. Amber Jelly

I saw the biggest amber jelly (Exidia recisa) fungus I’ve ever seen out here. It was as big as a toddler’s ear and felt just like an ear lobe. As usual it reminded me of cranberry jelly, which isn’t amber colored at all.

17. Sweet Fern

I saw the sun lighting up the orange brown leaves of this sweet fern from quite a distance away. Sweet fern is a small shrub with incredibly aromatic leaves which release their fragrance on warm summer days. They can be smelled from quite a distance and are part of the summer experience for me.  Though they aren’t ferns their leaves look similar to fern leaves. They are actually a member of the bayberry family and the leaves make a good tasting tea. Native Americans made a kind of spring tonic from them and also used them as an insect repellant. On this day I just admired their beauty, glowing there in the sun.

18. Fungi on a Branch

A fallen branch poked up out of the snow as if it had been waiting for me to come along. It showed off what looked from a distance like little orange flowers, but I knew that couldn’t be.

19. Fungi on a Branch

They weren’t flowers but they might as well have been because they were just as beautiful. I’m not sure but I think they were older examples of milk white toothed polypores, which are known to brown with age. These hadn’t reached the brown stage but they were very orange and very interesting.

Each living thing gives its life to the beauty of all life, and that gift is its prayer. ~Douglas Wood

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