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Posts Tagged ‘Box Culverts’

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. Trail Start

Last Saturday I decided to see if the hobblebushes were in bloom, so I followed one of my favorite rail trails out into the forest to see them. It’s a six mile round trip along the Ashuelot River and there’s usually plenty to see, so I’ve been looking forward to it.

2. Coltsfoot

Before I had walked half a mile I saw coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) growing in a ditch by the side of the trail and I was surprised that they were still blooming now, on this last day of April. In the past coltsfoot was thought to be good for the lungs and the dried leaves were often smoked as a remedy for asthma and coughs. It was also often used as a tobacco substitute, asthma or not. A native of Europe, it was most likely brought over by early settlers.

3. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot leaves appear just as the flowers finish their brief display and there were plenty of leaves to be seen, so this is probably the last photo of a coltsfoot blossom to appear on this blog until next spring. It’s hard to say that; it seems like spring has barely gotten started.

4. Dandelion

We won’t have to go without yellow flowers though, even when the coltsfoot flowers fade. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) as we have this year. We should really grow (and eat) even more dandelions; I was just reading a paper by the University of Maryland Medical Center that said dandelions are “chock full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc.” When I was a boy I ate the young spring leaves cooked just as spinach would have been. Like lettuce the leaves turn bitter with age, so you want to pick them young.  I’ve also roasted and ground the roots to use as a coffee substitute, and it wasn’t bad.

5. Trestle

Before long the rail trail crosses the Ashuelot River in Winchester. The old steel trestles still seem as strong as when they were built and are used by hikers, snowmobilers and bike riders. Other than snowmobiles in winter no motorized vehicles are allowed on rail trails, so it’s always a very peaceful hike.

6. Ashuelot

The Ashuelot was calm here on this day, but it isn’t always so. Lack of runoff from snow melt has kept it at summer levels and it will be interesting to see how it looks in August, which is usually when it reaches its lowest levels in this area. In some places you can walk across it and barely get your ankles wet in high summer, but it would be wise know the place well before you try it.

7. Maple Leaves

Spring was busting out all over along the trail.

8. Depot

Ashuelot is a town named after the river, (I think) and this is their old railroad depot. There was once an upper Ashuelot (Keene) and lower Ashuelot (Swanzey) and Ashuelot streets and roads are still found today. The word Ashuelot is pronounced ash-wee-lot by out of towners or ash-wil-ot by locals. The pronunciation is most likely a corruption of the original Native American word, which meant “place between” in the Native Pennacook or Natick languages. Between what remains a mystery. Hills maybe; we have plenty of those and the river does run between them before finally joining the Connecticut River.

9. Ashuelot Covered Bridge

The town of Ashuelot also has a beautiful covered bridge 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 can be seen on this bridge. 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, and 70 of them were left at the end of the 20th century. The Ashuelot Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

10. Violets

Violets blossomed in great profusion along the trail and made me wonder about all the beautiful things the railroad workers must have seen along these rail beds when the trains ran through here.

11. Violets

I didn’t bother trying to identify which violets they were. I just enjoyed them.

12. Garlic Mustard

I didn’t have to try to identify the invasive garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) that grew in several places; I know it well.  Garlic Mustard spreads quickly and prefers growing in shaded forests. It isn’t uncommon to find areas where no growing thing can be seen on the forest floor but this plant. It is considered one of the worst invasive species because of its ability to spread rapidly and is found in all but 14 U.S. states, including Alaska and large parts of Canada. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed. It’s really too bad that more restaurants don’t use this potherb, because people foraging for it might be a good way to control it.

13. Canada Mayflower

Since it is native to North America it’s hard to describe the Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) as invasive, but it does form monocultures much like garlic mustard and I’ve seen large swaths of forest floor with nothing but Canada mayflowers, as the above photo shows.  Woe befalls the gardener who finds it in their garden, because its fibrous root system is almost impossible to eradicate once it has become established. If you try to pull the plant the leaf stem just beaks away from the root system and it lives on. The speckled red berries are eaten by ruffed grouse, white footed mice, and chipmunks, all of which help spread it throughout the forest.

14. Trail

I stopped here and took this photo because this is where a hawk circled over me, just above the treetops as I walked along. It didn’t make a sound but its shadow crossing in front of me gave it away and I didn’t even have to look up to know that it was escorting me down the trail. But of course I did look up and knew it was a hawk by the beautiful stripes on the underside of its tail feathers.  Unfortunately many hawks seem to have like stripes, so I don’t know its name. I’ve had vultures circle me but never a hawk; for it to do so for a few minutes seemed like odd behavior and I wondered if I had stumbled into its nesting site.

While trying to find the identity of the hawk I read that some Native American tribes believed that a hawk showed itself to a person when the person needed to pay attention to the subtle messages found in the natural world around them. The hawk was also a messenger and was said to bring gifts that included clear sightedness, courage, wisdom, and illumination, the ability to see the bigger picture, creativity, truth, magic, and focus.

15. Ashuelot

The Ashuelot gets very rocky in this area, mostly because of the low water level, and picking your way through in a canoe or kayak seems like it would be very tiring. If the rafts I built as a boy had done their job I would have had to face getting through it.

16. Pine Tree in River

There are other obstacles to river travel as well. That’s a full grown white pine (Pinus strobus) that was stuck on the rocks. White pines are the largest trees in eastern North America, and often grow to 150 feet tall. In Colonial times they were said to grow to over 200 feet but later verifiable accounts measured them ae about 180 feet. It’s a tall tree in any event and seeing one lying in the river like that reminds you just how big this river can be.

17. Bliss

There are places of bliss and torment in this world and we can usually tell which is which by the way we feel attracted to or repelled by them. This spot always calls to me when I hike here but when I took this photo I was about 30-40 feet above the river, and there is no good way down to it. It reminds me of an island in the river that I used to visit when I was a boy, and if I was 12 years old again I’d be spending a lot of my time down there in that little piece of Eden because if I couldn’t have found a path I’d have made one. Sometimes you have to put up with a little torment before you reach your place of bliss.

18. Hobblebushes

If you’ve ever lost yourself inside a painting, a poem, or a piece of music then you know why I’ll happily walk 6 miles to see a hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) in bloom. To see an entire riverbank full of them is beauty rare enough to see me walk twice as far. There really isn’t anything else quite like it in these spring woods, so you have to just stop and look.

19. Hobblebush

I had to get a fallen tree off this example before I could take a photo because it had squashed most of the blossoming branches down to ground level, and as a thank you for freeing it the bush didn’t trip me up. The name hobblebush comes from the way the low growing branches, unseen under last year’s fallen leaves, can trip up or “hobble” a horse or hiker. The name is a good one; I’ve found myself sprawled on the forest floor beside it a few times. I was a little early in visiting them this time so some of the small fertile central flowers hadn’t fully opened, but the large outer sterile ones more than made up for it. If it wasn’t for the rail trail through here no one would ever see these beautiful shrubs or the wild azaleas and mountain laurels that will follow, and that would really be too bad.

Note: A viburnum with similar flowers called cranberry bush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) can be found at nurseries.

20. Bent Railroad Tie

Someone made a bench out of an old railroad tie. Normally there wouldn’t be anything noteworthy about that but this one is bent, and that’s very strange. It must be natural, maybe because of the weather; I don’t think mankind could find a way to bend one of these in that way unless steam was used. Surely it wasn’t done out here in the middle of the woods with only hand tools.

21. Box Culvert

Man can do some remarkable things out in the woods with only hand tools though, and I wonder how many of these box culverts were built along these Boston and Maine Railroad tracks back in the mid-1800s. There must be thousands of them. This one caught my interest because every other one I’ve seen was put up dry with no mortar, but this one had all its joints mortared. I’m guessing it was a repair that came later. You can see how the bottom left corner of the opening is kicked in towards the center a bit and instead of repairing it correctly someone must have tried to cement it back together. How the damage could have happened in the first place I don’t know, but since I usually have a pocket full of mysteries when I leave places like this, adding one more was no real burden.

22. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots asked that I remember all I had seen here today. I’m fairly certain that it’ll stay with me for quite a while.

Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams. ~Ashley Smith

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1. Rail Trail

I’ve decided that what I like most about rail trails is the same thing I liked about them when the trains were running. Back when I was a boy everything was a mystery and new discoveries waited around every bend. I find that little has changed in that regard on these old paths through the forest. I’ve been walking and biking the rail trails in the area over the past few weeks and this year I decided to look for a little history as well as interesting plants. I found plenty of both.

2. Box Culvert

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.

3. Trestle

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 but trees and shrubs along the river banks are making them harder to see each year. Last year I could see the river from this spot, but not now.

4. Signal Box

This appears to be an old switch box of the kind that would alert the engineer that the through track had been switched to a side spur. Whatever it was, it was powered by electricity. The rectangular base was bolted to a concrete pad and the warning indicators would have been at the top of the pole, but that part had been broken off.

 5. Forget Me Not Colony

One of the largest stands of forget me nots (Myosotis scorpioides) I’ve ever seen is beside a rail trail. You never know what plants you might find along these trails, and I’ve seen some amazing things.

6. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots are such pretty little things and here they grow happily, way out in the middle of nowhere.

7. Box Culvert

This is another, bigger box culvert. 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 but the one in the photo surprisingly had very little fill over it. The amount of fill over a culvert plays a huge role in how much weight it can carry.

8. New Culvert

This is an example of a new culvert, recently installed. Will it last for centuries like the box culverts have?

9. Rattlesnake Weed

Rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum), one of the rarest plants that I’ve ever found, grows beside a rail trail. I was very happy to see that it is going to bloom this year. Its flowers look like those of yellow hawkweed and, though they aren’t very spectacular, flowers mean seeds and seeds mean more plants.

 10. Arch Street

Sometimes these old rail trails still cross over roads.

11. Tunnel

Way up at the top of that embankment through a break in the trees is where I was when I took the previous photo. Many of these old granite tunnels have been taken down, but this one still stands. My question is, how did the railroad build it? Did they dig a hole through the hillside and then line it with granite block, or did they build the tunnel and then fill in with soil over the top of it? I’m guessing the latter, but can anyone imagine the amount of soil they had to move? It’s staggering to think of it.

The plants growing in the gaps in the face stones are pushing them away from the arch stones (voussoirs) and they really should be removed.

 12. Early Azalea

In my last post I wrote about finding a native early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) out in the woods, and just as I was taking photos for this post I found another growing beside a rail trail.

13. Early Azalea 2

The fragrance of this azalea is really magnificent and it was my nose as much as my eyes that led me to it.

 14. Arched Culvert

What most impresses me about the railroad is how, even out in the woods, the stone masons displayed their extraordinary craftsmanship. They knew when they built this arched culvert that few if any people would ever see it, but they created a thing of beauty anyway. Each one of those stones was split, faced and fitted by hand, using little more than hammers and chisels. That they have stood and stood well since the mid-1800s is a testament to their mastery of the art of stone masonry. Having built with stone myself I am left in awe of their skill and knowledge. Stone arch culverts are rare in comparison to the box culvert, representing only ten percent of the total culverts in New Hampshire.

In part two of this post we’ll see abandoned mills, old railroad depots, rock slime, rusting boxcars and of course, more flowers.

Sometimes you don’t choose the path, it chooses you. ~Anonymous

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