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My small climb up along 40 foot falls that I wrote about in my last post inspired me to try something bigger, so last Sunday I decided to climb Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. A diagnosis of COPD took the wind out of my sails for a while and I wondered if I’d ever climb again, but the medicines they have given me seem to work well and I was able to climb on this day at least as well as I could last year. I started by walking through this frosty meadow.

At about 20 degrees F. it was cool but there was little snow to be seen, so I hoped for a trail without ice. This trail is well traveled and ice is always a problem when constant foot traffic packs down snow and turns it into ice.

Thankfully the trail was ice free, probably because the hemlock boughs overhead have kept a lot of the snow from falling on it. We’ve also had rain and warm temps and I’m sure that helped. I was glad to see it, because I’ve been here when the ice was so bad here I had to leave the trail and go into the woods to make it up the hill.

I think it was about 10 years ago when this hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) was wounded, and I think that because I counted the rings on the scar. I’ve read that hemlock is the only tree that heals scars with growth rings that can be counted.

I also saw a large number of hemlock trees with this yellow crust fungus on them; more than I’ve ever seen. I believe it is the conifer parchment fungus (Stereum sanguinolentum,) which is also called the bleeding parchment because of the red juice they exude when they’re injured. The examples I saw were very dry and thin, almost as if they were part of the bark, and though I tried to scratch one with my fingernail it remained undamaged. Conifer parchment fungus causes brown heart rot, which is a reddish brown discoloration in the wood of conifers. This tree and many others I saw won’t be with us much longer, I’m afraid.

More ice needles than I’ve ever seen in one place grew all along the center of the trail, meaning the soil was saturated. Groundwater at the soil surface is one of the requirements for ice needle growth, and the other is a below freezing temperature right at the very surface of the soil while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces super cooled groundwater out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a needle shape. As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. Each needle is hexagonal and several will often freeze together into ribbon like bands like those seen here. As they grow they sometimes force the forest floor to heave up, which can be seen happening here.

There are many small holes in the ground made by chipmunks, snakes, and other animals, and these holes often grow hoar frost around their openings. This frost forms when the warm moist breath of the earth meets the cold air at the surface.

The trail gets darker in spots because of overhanging evergreens but on this day it clouded over and made it seem even darker.

I saw some colorful bracket fungi growing in the crack of a tree but I’m not sure what they were. I am sure that they were frozen solid, whatever they were.

I couldn’t account for the beautiful colors of this fallen limb, and I still can’t even guess what would have caused it except weather and age.

A blue jay lost a feather at some point, but on this day the woods were totally silent with no bird songs and no chatter from chipmunks or squirrels. It seemed very strange to have it so quiet.

The steepest part of the trail is near the summit so I knew I was almost there at this point. I was huffing and puffing but no more so than last year or the year before so that was a pleasant surprise. I do know that nature can heal because I’ve experienced it but I don’t know to what extent that healing can happen. I think maybe the only thing that is holding me back is me, but I’m keeping an open mind and believing, and will be very grateful each time I reach a summit.

You don’t realize how much water travels through the soil under our feet until winter. There really is an incredible amount of water moving about in this area, even on our hills.

My daughter and son in law were with me on this climb and all of us tried to move the 40 ton glacial erratic named Tippin Rock, but it wouldn’t budge. I think it was frozen right to the bedrock it sits on. I was a little disappointed because I wanted them to be able to see it move. For new readers, this boulder rocks back and forth just like a baby cradle when you push on it in the right spot, but apparently not in winter.

The big stone has quite a crack in it and someday it might be two stones, which would be too bad. It is a local legend.

The sun had gone, the sky was milk and the views were poor, but since the view isn’t why I climb it was little more than a passing annoyance.

One thing the views from here always show though, are the endless miles of unbroken forest stretching out in all directions. When you stand in such a place you can’t help but wonder, if it was 1760 and you stood here with only an axe head and a gun, what would you have done? It must have been just a bit overwhelming.

I’ve had a great fear of heights since I fell out of a tree and fractured my spine when I was young  so this is as close as I dared to get to the cliff edge. I wanted to show you what a forest looked like from above, but this is the best I could do. You can believe me when I say that this is a drop you would never survive.

There are some huge granite outcrops up here. That tree is a fully grown white pine.

I saw lots of amazing things up to this point but the main reason I chose this hill to climb was so I could visit my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) Though I expected them to be very dry from lack of rain or snow a few surprised me by being deep, healthy green. This is their natural color when they’ve had plenty of water and are happy. These lichens attach themselves to stones at a single point that resembles a belly button, and that means they are umbilicate lichens. I always feel as if I’m looking deep into infinity when I look at a toadskin lichen and I may be; there are many who believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and therefore immortal.

Though I doubt toadskin lichens like drying out I kind of like the way they look in their dry, ashen state. They are much like a potato chip when dry and they’ll break almost as easily so I only touch them when they’re green and pliable.

These toadskin lichens were under a good two or three inches of ice and that ice acted like a magnifying glass. Those black spots on the upper one are the lichen’s apothecia where its spores are produced, and without ice magnifying them they’re about the size of the head of a common pin. It’s kind of amazing to see them so big in a photo.

Only in the woods was all at rest for me, my soul became still and full of power. ~Knut Hamsun

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Since I wasn’t able to get down the steep hill to see the falls at Beaver Brook Natural Area that I wrote about in my last post I decided to visit another waterfall that’s easier to get to. Slightly easier anyway; the first problem was how to get across this smallish stream so I could get to the falls on Merriam Brook. It can be done. You don’t have to jump it but it’s wise to be sure the stones you will walk on aren’t covered with ice.

One of the first things you see here are a lot of boulders that don’t look natural, and that’s because they were dumped here a long time ago when the road was built.

The reason I know that is because of the holes through some of the boulders. These not quite round holes were most likely drilled by hand with a star drill and sledge hammer, then packed with a fuse and black powder to shatter the ledges that were being removed.  They are about an inch and a half across.

I made it to the spot where you first see the falls and found ice water. Ice and water were no surprise since it was only 19 degrees. There is a heavy canopy of evergreen hemlock branches overhead so there isn’t much sunlight reaching the forest floor, and that helps keep it cool here. It also means that it is dark here and that makes photography a challenge. I had to have the ISO of my camera up to 1600 for many of these shots, which is something I rarely have to do.

With ice covering the calmer sections of the brook its roar was muted somewhat. I was glad that I didn’t have to carry on a conversation on its banks though, because it still had plenty to say. There are 3 falls here, the lower, middle and upper.

Everywhere you look there are fallen trees that have been tossed around like matchsticks. There have been some terrible floods here in recent years that have washed away parts of roads and damaged houses. This spot is where the brook takes a sharp left turn. It’s unusual to see a stream or brook take a 90 degree turn like it does.

The middle falls weren’t frozen solid but there was a lot of ice. It was a very cold spot even though I was dressed for it, so I hung around only long enough for a couple of photos.

Icy fingers hung from every branch and twig near the water.

Ice crystal lace covered the still pools.

After the middle falls comes the worse part of the climb. It isn’t that far to climb but it is steep and all the oak leaves make it slippery. I’ve taken a couple of good spills here.

Worse yet is the ice that might be under the leaves. I’ve learned to pick my way carefully.

I’ve read that there was once a snowmobile bridge across the brook, made of steel cable and planks, so I’m assuming that the cable this tree has grown around was part of it. The bridge and all trace s of it except for this cable are gone, washed away in a raging flood in 2003.

This view looks back the way we just came. The brook doesn’t look very wide in this photo but it is.

The upper falls are in a large canyon that you have to pick your way into because of all the debris.

But it isn’t as hard as it looks if you walk slowly and look carefully. There are plenty of opportunities to get hurt up here though, so you have to keep your wits about you and be on your toes. This isn’t the place for day dreaming unless you want to just sit still while you do. It was a little cool for that on this day so I kept moving.

In places all the soil has been scoured off the stream bed from by flooding.

Whole trees have been torn out by the roots all along the embankments.

I could tell by the line of ice on this boulder that the water level in the brook had dropped.

This is where you get your first glimpse of the upper falls. I doubt that it falls anywhere near 40 feet but I can’t think of anything else that would give this place that name. So you have some idea of scale, that boulder in the middle of the photo is almost as big as a Volkswagen Beetle.

Polypody ferns grew on a ledge close enough to the falls to grow a coat of white ice. They are one of our toughest evergreen ferns and not only will they survive a coat of ice, they’ll thrive.

The upper falls seem almost anti-climactic and I’m always surprised that so much water comes from what seems like barely more than a dribble. I do know better though, because I’ve seen what this dribble has wrought and everything about the place says that no matter what, the water will have its way. It really is amazing to think that water could do all of this.

Water is the driving force in nature. ~Leonardo da Vinci

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So many more of the smaller things become visible when the leaves fall, like the tongue gall on these  alder cones (strobiles.) These long, tongue like galls are caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus chemically deforms part of the ovarian tissue of the developing strobile and causes long, strap shaped galls called languets to grow from them. These galls, like most galls, don’t seem to bring any harm to their host.  I wish I knew how they benefit from growing in such unusual forms.

I didn’t know if this ladybug was dead or alive or maybe frozen, but it wasn’t moving. And where were its spots? The answer is, it doesn’t have spots because it isn’t our native ladybug; it’s a female multicolored Asian ladybug. From what I’ve read it is highly variable in color and was purposely introduced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a biological control agent. It is a tree bark dwelling beetle that consumes large amounts of aphids and scale, both of which do large amounts of damage to crops. They’re slightly larger than our native beetles and can drive homeowners crazy by collecting on windowsills, in attics, and even indoors in the spring. They can release a foul smelling defensive chemical which some are said to be allergic to.

We’ve had more snow in parts of the state. It’s very odd to leave my yard at my house that has no snow in it and drive to work where I see snow like this. It’s only a distance of about 25 miles, but it’s enough of an elevation change to cause cooler temperatures. It really drives home what a difference just a few degrees can make.

I thought this beech tree was beautiful, with its Christmas ornament like leaves.

And what was that poking up out of the snow?

It was a fallen limb which was covered by what I think was orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum,) which is very common here. I see large fallen limbs almost completely covered by it. Though this isn’t a very good shot of it the color is so bright sometimes it’s like a beacon in the snowy landscape. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself”  and that is often just what it does.

Amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) grew on the same branch the orange crust fungus grew on. I like holding these up so the light can shine through them because sometimes they look like stained glass. Being in the snow meant these examples had absorbed plenty of water so they were pliable and rubbery, like your ear lobe. I see this fungus everywhere, especially on fallen oak limbs but also on alder and poplar as well.

I decided to visit a grove of witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) that I know of to see if they were still blooming. Blooming or not, they were beautiful with all of the newly fallen snow decorating them.

And they were still blooming, even in the snow. This tells me that it must be the air temperature that coaxes them into bloom because it was about 40 degrees this day.

I know it’s far too early to be looking at buds for signs of spring but red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) buds are so pretty I couldn’t help myself. I’ve known people who thought that buds grew in spring when it warmed up, but most buds actually form in the fall and wait  for warm weather to swell up and break and form leaves and / or flowers. These buds should break in mid-May, if it’s warm enough.

I’ve seen some unusual lichens lately, like this grayish white example which had the same color apothecia (fruiting bodies) as the body (Thallus.)  This made them hard to see and I only saw them by accident when I got close to look at something else.

I wish I knew what caused the colors in a lichen. As far as we know they don’t use color to attract insects but many of them are brightly colored nevertheless. I have seen teeth marks in lichens so I’m fairly sure squirrels eat them and I know for sure that reindeer eat them, but I don’t know if this helps them spread or not. I also don’t know the identity of this lichen. I haven’t been able to find it in any of my lichen books or online.

Here’s another unusual lichen; actually two lichens separated by the nearly horizontal crack between them. The lichen on top might be a bumpy rim lichen (Lecanora hybocarpa,) which gets its name from its bumpy body (Thallus) and the rims around its apothecia.  The lichen below the crack has me baffled. It has a fringe around its perimeter that makes it look like a maple dust lichen but I can’t find any reference to apothecia on a maple dust lichen. It’s another mystery to add to the thousands of others I’ve collected.

Here is a true maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora.) Note the white fringe around its outer edge, much like the lichen in the previous photo.  But unlike the previous lichen it has no visible fruiting bodies.

If you have ever tasted gin then you’ve tasted juniper berries, because that’s where gin’s flavor comes from. The unripe green berries are used for gin and the ripe, deep purple black berries seen here are ground to be used as a spice for game like deer and bear. The berries are actually fleshy seed cones and they appear blue because of a waxy coating that reflects the light in such a way as to make them appear blue. The first recorded usage of juniper berries appears on an Egyptian papyrus from 1500 BC. Egyptians used the fruit of junipers medicinally and Native Americans used them both as food and medicine. Stomach disorders, infections and arthritis were among the ailments treated.

Gray, furry willow pine cone galls appear on the very tips of willow branches, because that’s where a midge called Rabdophaga strobiloides lays its egg. Once the eggs hatch the larvae burrow into the branch tip and the willow reacts by forming a gall around them. These galls are about as big as the tip of your thumb and do not harm the plant.

A woodpecker, chickadee, or other bird started pecking at this goldenrod gall to get at the gall fly larva (Eurosta solidaginis) that is growing inside the gall. These galls have thick walls that discourage parasitic wasps like Eurytoma gigantean from laying its eggs inside the larval chamber. If successful the wasp larva quickly eat the gall fly larva. If the bird is successful then everything inside will be eaten.

We’re certainly having some beautiful sunrises lately, probably because of the low cloud deck we seem to have almost every morning.

And those low clouds can hide things, including mountains. Off to the left in this photo is the huge bulk of Mount Monadnock behind the clouds. It’s too bad it was hidden; the bright morning sunshine on its snowy flanks tells me it probably would have been a beautiful scene.

Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you. ~Freeman Patterson

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We’ve seen some unusual below zero F. cold lately and when it gets cold like this my thoughts usually turn to a deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland that ice climbers call the icebox. The groundwater constantly seeping from thousands of cracks in the stone walls of the manmade canyon freezes into ice columns that can easily reach the size of trees. It can be very beautiful but since it is only November I wasn’t sure what I’d find. Though I doubted there would be much ice to see, last Saturday I made the drive to Westmoreland to find out.

There was some impressive ice to be seen but nothing like it will be in January.

There are a lot of minerals in the groundwater that seeps through the stone and they are the only thing I can think of that would color ice like this.

I’ve seen orange, green, blue, red, tan, brown and even black ice here.

The giant ice columns are like a magnet for ice climbers and members of the New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club come here to train beginning climbers. I was surprised to see some of them here on this day since it is so early in the season.

This should give you an idea of the scale of the place. Though the ice might look impressive it is much less so than it will be in a couple of months. This climber said she was a beginner but she had climbed just about as far up as she could. The ledges in this spot I’d guess are about 50 feet high. Though it was cold at about 40 degrees this day I’ve read that the ideal conditions for climbing happen at between 20 and 35 degrees, because those temperatures produce the just right “plastic” ice; not cold enough to shatter and not warm enough to melt. Ice climbers swing sharp tools called picks into the ice and embed them in it so they can hang onto them as they climb, and I would guess that the last thing they want to see is shattering ice. Since the temperature in the canyon is always colder than the surrounding countryside it must have been just about perfect for plastic ice on this day.

This view looks back the way we came in. It can be very cold in here because the sunlight rarely seems to reach the canyon floor in winter. There is almost always a breeze blowing through the canyon as well, even when there is no breeze outside. It’s as if it makes its own wind.

The railroad engineers used a lot of the stone they blasted out of the canyon to build massive retaining walls along the parts of the trail outside of the canyon. They are some of the best examples of stone wall building that I know of and you won’t find a teaspoon of mortar in any of these walls. Note how the wall leans back into the hillside at about a 10 degree angle, as any good retaining wall should. I’d bet next week’s paycheck that a bed of crushed stone or gravel extends out at least two or three feet from the back of the wall into the hillside. This is for drainage so wet soil doesn’t freeze behind the wall and heave it apart. You want the back of the wall as dry as possible.

I like to see how the ice forms according to the conditions. This little grotto scene looked almost other worldly.

This ice looked like a necklace made of clear crystal, all formed by drip after drip of water.

In places the ice was rotten, and you can tell that by its matte gray, opaque “sick” look and the dull thud it makes when you tap it. Ice becomes rotten when air  and / or dirt get in between the grains of ice and it becomes honeycombed and loses its strength.

In some places where the sun reached the walls of the cut ice had been falling, and in fact I saw (and heard) some  fall while I was here.

I thought how, if I was a teenager once again, I’d find a way to slide down this giant ice slide.

I have a feeling that it’s going to be a good year for ice formations even though the forecast is for rain and above freezing temps this week.

Drainage ditches along the railbed have been doing their job of directing all of this water out of the canyon for around 150 years, but heavy rain overwhelmed them last summer and washed away parts of the railbed. It’s a hard thing to see this place being so severely damaged but there is only so much the snowmobile club volunteers can do, I suppose. One day instead of a railbed here it might be a stream.

In places the stone is stained by years of mineral seepage.

In other places the colors on the walls come from living things, like this algae, but I don’t think they color the ice because they don’t grow where a lot of ice accumulates. This is actually a green algae called Trentepohlia aurea but the same pigment that colors carrots orange makes green algae orange as well. It’s also very hairy, but I couldn’t get close enough to show you.

Colorful foam gathered on one of the drainage ditches in what I thought were beautiful swirling patterns. What caused it to appear and what colored it, I don’t know.

I didn’t have my high rubber boots with me on this trip so I couldn’t get close enough to the canyon walls to get close shots of the algae or the great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) seen here. This beautiful, reptilian liverwort gets its common name from its fresh, clean scent. It will only grow near water that is very clean and it grows here on the  canyon walls just above the drainage ditches. Groundwater constantly splashes them and keeps them wet in warm months. In winter they are often encased in ice, which has just started happening to the plants in this shot.

We’re having some wet heavy snows this month but the old lineman’s shack still somehow stands, even though people have been pulling it apart for as long as I’ve known about it. It just goes to show how the railroad built things to last. Their carpenters were as good as their stone masons. I hope it’s still standing a month from now when I come back to see how the ice has grown.

The splendor of Silence,—of snow-jeweled hills and of ice. ~Ingram crockett

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Actually stone walls can talk, but you have to speak their language to be able to decipher what they’re saying. Having built a few myself this one was relatively easy to understand. It told me that its builder didn’t have time for tight joint stone masonry and in any case most likely didn’t know how to build with stone anyway. He needed a field to plant crops in so he and his family could survive and these stones were in the way of the plow, so he tossed them in a long undulating pile, and that became what is now called a tossed or thrown wall, because the stones were literally just thrown on top of one another with no time or eye for intricacies.

The landowners on either side of the wall didn’t have time to patrol the wall and pull tree seedlings so many of them started growing down in the wall where their seeds fell. Some saplings were too close to stones to cut with an axe or saw so they grew to massive size, sometimes pushing the wall stones apart ever so slowly  to make room for the huge trunk. Now, over 250 years later they shade the wall and keep it from being covered in deep snow. Some, like the white pine shown above, still stand even after being struck by lightning. The old split in its bark runs from the top of the tree all the way down its trunk, following a root right down into the ground. I’ve found trees like this one soon after they were struck and the ground around them was covered with narrow strips of bark, blown right off the wood by the lightning bolt.

You can see many interesting things if you look at our stone walls carefully, like this blacksmith made hitching ring where someone would have hitched up a horse. The odd thing about it is its location in the wall. It’s in an empty place where it doesn’t look like there would have much going on but 250 years ago it could have been a community information hub, for all I know. Most likely it was simply a shaded place for the horse to rest while the rider did whatever they had to do here.  I’m guessing it involved a lot of work.

My grandfather was the town Blacksmith in Westmoreland which is to the north west of here, so I’m always fascinated by iron work. The chain hook shown here is one of the best examples of 18th century blacksmithing I know of. I like it because it shows hand hammered marks and shows the fine workmanship and talent of the smith. He didn’t have to make such a utilitarian object as beautiful as a dragon’s tail, but he did.

This stone in this wall is only the second place I’ve found a beard lichen growing on stone. I’ve seen thousands of beard lichens but they were growing on wood 99% of the time. I think this one might be a bushy rock lichen (Ramalina intermedia.) Lichen communities grow in succession with many varieties of crustose lichens as pioneers. Foliose lichens come next as intermediary species and finally fruticose lichens like this one are considered climax species. What I don’t know is, how much time is between pioneer and climax? Climax communities of lichens are considered “old growth” communities.

As this stone shows stone walls absorb a lot of heat from the sun and release it slowly all night long until the sun shines again the following day.

Because it’s so warm near stone walls in the winter many plants like this mullein like to grow along them. In fact there is an amazing variety of plants growing on or near this wall.

There are many ferns growing along this old wall. Some are evergreen and others, like this one, are trying to be.

Many types of trees grow along the old wall including shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) which is named, not surprisingly, for its shaggy looking bark. These trees drop large amounts of hickory nuts each fall so I thought I’d find one and show it to you.

Unfortunately the squirrels had already found all the nuts and I didn’t see a single one.

I did see a lichen on the bark of the hickory that I’ve never seen before though, made up of a grayish body (Thallus) with tiny black fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) I think it might be the tiny button lichen (Amandinea punctata) which grows on wood and has a grayish, barely perceptible thallus and flat, disk shaped, black apothecia. Each black dot seen here is very small; about the size of a period made on paper with a pencil.

At the base of the hickory was a stone with a forest of pixie cup lichens (Cladonia asahinae) on it. The tiny little golf tee shaped parts are the fruiting bodies of this lichen. Spores produced in them will be splashed out of the cup by raindrops.  Pixie cups almost always produce large groups of fruiting bodies like these.

Shield lichens have become kind of a ho-hum lichen for me because I see thousands of them, but the way this one seems to overlap like shingles and the way it grows in concentric circles is different, and I’m not so sure it’s a shield lichen at all. I’m leaning towards the zoned dust lichen (Lepraria neglecta) but I’ll have to go back and have another look to be sure. It also resembles the shingled rock shield (Xanthoparmelia somloensis.) Like any other part of nature, stone walls have their own mysteries.

Another lichen that I don’t see often is what I believe is the rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora) seen here. Its rosy or orange apothecia are large and pad like and I’ve read that though it usually grows on wood it can grow on stone as well. It could also be a scattered rock posy lichen but I don’t think so.

Sometime I can be fooled into thinking I’m seeing lichens when I’m really seeing something else. In this case I’m not sure what the green “something else” was but possibly algae. Why it was here in this spot and nowhere else along the wall, I’m not sure.

Common speedwell was enjoying the warmth from the wall and looked as good as it does in early June but of course it wasn’t flowering. This European native is common here and has been used medicinally for centuries. Its leaves have also been used as a tea substitute.

I think a lot of us believe that winter is a very wet season and it can be when the snow melts, but when it is cold and there isn’t any melting going on it can be very dry, and this white tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata) reminded me of that. When dry it pulls its tiny needle like leaves in close to the stem and if dry enough it looks like strands of string or clumps of worms, and this gives it another common name of medusa moss. It hadn’t reached that point when this photo was taken but it was quite dry, even with snow on it.

Stone walls will give many gifts to those who walk slowly along their length and look closely. One of the greatest gifts they give me is green leaves in winter, even when there is snow on the ground.

Stones are all about time—time to find them, to move them, to place them, and time, occasionally, to chisel and shape them. And above all, time to see them, experience them, and fall under their spell. ~Charles McRaven

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We’ve had our first snow and, from the time between when I took some of these photos and started putting together this post, we had our second and third snows. To have this much snow in November with leaves still on many of the trees and shrubs is rare, so I had to go out and see it.

But snow isn’t all we’ve seen. The frost on the windows speaks of full blown winter, even though winter is still weeks away.

These snows have been of the sticky kind and snow covered every branch and leaf.

Beech leaves will stay on the tree through winter and they do collect snow, but though the extra weight seems to bend their branches down I’ve seen very few very few actually fall off.

Oak leaves form the waxy, corky cells called the abscission layer at their base later than many other trees so seeing leaves on oak trees in the winter is no great surprise, but I know this tree well and it has usually shed all of its leaves before it snows.  In fact most oak trees still have most of their leaves and this can be problematic, because the snow load on those leaves can lead to power outages from all the falling branches. Unlike beech trees oak trees lose branches regularly year round, and I’ve seen limbs as big as my leg fall on calm summer days, so it doesn’t take much snow to bring them down.

An odd thing that I noticed was how many oak leaves fell after the storm. Everywhere you looked the snow was covered with oak leaves.

The dark color of oak leaves means they absorb sunshine, which warms them and lets them melt their way through the snow. Oak leaves also repel water and you and see it in the many water droplets on the surface of this leaf.

There were many oak leaves that were still in the process of changing into their fall colors when the snow fell, like the beautiful leaves on this small red oak.

The hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) in my back yard were heavy with snow but like most evergreens they have a lot of flex in their branches so they can take quite a snow load. In fact they keep much of the snow from falling on the ground under them, so there is often several inches less snow on the ground in a hemlock grove. In a snowy winter deer will go there and so will I, because the walking is much easier.

When the sun fell through the forest in such a way that the still colorful shrubs were highlighted it was a very beautiful scene and I had to stop and just absorb it. It is things like this that truly are good for the soul I think. I’ve discovered that being able to find joy in the simplest things means that joy is never far away.

The small pond in my neighborhood has already frozen over but on this day it was really more slush than solid ice. After -2 degrees F on Thanksgiving night though, I’m sure it must be solid now.

There is a muskrat in this pond that eats an incredible amount of cattail roots (Typha latifolia,) and I know that from seeing not only the muskrat but all of the cutoff cattail stems floating on the surface of the pond. Native Americans used to roast these roots and make flour from them. They contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice. In fact Natives used all parts of the plant, eating the new shoots in spring, weaving mats and baskets from the leaves, and even using the pollen in bread.

I thought I’d get an old cliché shot of white snow on red winterberries but by the time I got there the wind had blown all the snow off them. They’re still pretty though, nevertheless. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a native holly that likes a lot of water. Birds love the bright red berries and it is an excellent choice for a landscape plant to attract them, especially if your yard has wet spots.

Here is another view of colorful understory shrubs in a snowy forest. It’s so very beautiful and it doesn’t happen often, so I was thankful that I could see such scenes on this day.

Mount Monadnock is always at its most beautiful when it is snow covered, in my opinion.  Scenes like this remind me of the shoulder deep snow I found up there when I climbed it one April day; snow so deep I had to crawl over it to reach the summit. Henry David Thoreau wrote that felt the presence of “a vast, titanic power” when he saw Mount Monadnock. He climbed Monadnock many times but finally realized “Those who climb Monadnock have seen but little of the mountain. I came not to look off from it, but to look at it. The view of the pinnacle itself from the plateau below surpasses any view which you get from the summit.” I agree, and that’s one reason I don’t climb it.

And then it snowed again, and again…

…until it seemed that every living thing must be coated with it, and it reminded me of one of my favorite winter quotes by William Sharp: There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow. It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.

This grove of witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) was certainly clad with radiance.

And they also had hundreds of flowers blossoming in the snow. I’ve known for a long time that these flowers were tough, but this is the first time I’ve seen this. I think they were taken by surprise because it had been in the low 40s F before it snowed, and that’s plenty warm enough for witch hazel blossoms.

It is in the deep quiet of a winter morning just before sunup when I really feel the beauty of this season. The birds are silent at that time of day and if I’m lucky so are my thoughts, and it is at those times when a great sense of peace can come over me. It’s the same peace that comes on the top of a mountain, or when I sit beside a river, or when I’m in a forest and sit with my back against a tree. It’s a peace that is always there but one that you can’t just order up like a meal at a diner. You can search for it as long as you like but it is only when you stop searching and are still that it will find you. It is restorative; healing even, and I do hope it will find all of you as well.

The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found? ~ J. B. Priestley

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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“All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray…I’ve been for a walk, on a winter’s day.” California Dreaming by The Mammas and the Pappas has been playing in my head a lot lately; maybe because I hoped to do one more fall foliage post. But now, since all the leaves are brown I doubt that it will happen.

I shouldn’t say all the leaves are brown because bracken fern’s leaves (Pteridium aquilinum) have turned kind of a pinky gray. Bracken is one of the oldest ferns; fossils date it to over 55 million years ago, so it has been very successful. That might be because it eliminates competition by releasing chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants. That’s why large colonies of nothing but bracken fern are seen, often along roadsides. Some Native American tribes peeled and cooked the roots of bracken fern to use as food but science has shown that all parts of the plant contain carcinogens.

It has gotten cold here all of the sudden; cold enough to be record breaking in parts of the state, so scenes like this one of frosty leaves and grass have become commonplace in the morning. I was hoping I could get all of the leaves picked up before it snowed, but that isn’t going to happen.

This juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) was about as frosty as it could be but mosses can handle extremes and this little plot of moss should come through winter completely unscathed.

The thin, crinkly white puddle ice that I used to love riding my bike through as a boy has appeared on the puddles. I was never thrilled to see it in the fall but I loved seeing it in the spring because it meant that the earth was warming up after a long winter and soon school would be letting out for the summer. I’ve learned since then that the white color comes from bubbles, because this ice contains lots of oxygen. I’ve also learned that you can see some amazing things in this ice; I’ve seen wave ripples, birds flying, high mountains, distant stars, and space and time. All of that and more can all be there for the seeing, but most of us don’t take the time to look.

At the river there was ice of another kind. Just seeing it in a photo makes me shiver because I remember how cold it was that day.

Speaking of the river, the Ashuelot’s banks won’t hold much more. We’ve been getting 1-4 inches of rain each week since about mid-July and so far there hasn’t been any serious flooding but as this photo shows, something is going to have to give soon if it keeps up. Luckily the weather people are finally talking about a pattern change, and except for a few snow showers the upcoming week looks fairly dry for the most part.

Of course streams are running furiously as well. I visited Beaver Brook in Keene recently to admire the stone wall that was built over and around the brook, probably well over a hundred years ago. It’s the only stone wall built around a brook that I’ve ever seen; essentially a box culvert on top of rather than below ground, built by a clever farmer I’d guess. The only time you can get a good look at it is after the leaves fall.

Even beavers are saying “enough rain already!” This beaver dam was breached by high water because apparently even the industrious beavers can’t keep up.

Beavers have been very active near my house. They cut down this 5 inch diameter poplar tree and I was surprised because in the past they’ve always cut birches first. There are quite a few birches in the same area but so far they’ve left them alone. They can cut and drag off an amazing number of trees in one night.

Usually it’s the top branches of a tree that beavers want most for winter food so I was surprised that they left this poplar limb behind. I’m guessing that they probably came back for it that night.

Though jelly fungi grow at all times of year I think of them as winter fungi because that’s usually when I find them. I often see them on fallen branches, often oak or alder, and I always wonder how they got way up in the tree tops. Yellow jellies (Tremella mesenterica) like this one are called witches butter and are fairly common. We also have black, white, red, orange and amber jelly fungi and I’d have to say that white and red are the rarest. I think I’ve seen each color only two or three times. Jelly fungi can be parasitic on other fungi.

The most common of all jelly fungi is the amber one in my experience (Exidia recisa,) because I see it all the time, especially after a rain. This one always reminds me of jellied cranberry sauce. Jelly fungi dry out when it’s dry and appear as tiny colored flakes that you’d hardly believe could grow as much as they do, but they absorb water like a sponge and can grow to 60 times bigger than they were when dry. Jelly fungi have a shiny side and a kind of matte finish side and their spores are produced on their shiny sides. After a good rain look closely at those fallen limbs, big or small, and you’re sure to find jelly fungi.

Hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) can be quite big but they are still easiest to see when the leaves fall. Their color can vary greatly but they’re almost always shiny on top, hence the “varnish” part of the common name, but this example had no shine. In China this mushroom is called the Reishi mushroom and it has been used medicinally for centuries. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese medicine and scientists from around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

When I started my current job I saw a tree / shrub that I hadn’t ever seen. I watched it for a while to see what it would do but even after watching it for months I couldn’t find it in any guide, so I put it on the blog as an unknown. Right off my blogging friend Clare from the Suffolk Lane blog told me it was a spindle berry, native to Europe,  and after researching it I was happy with that name and I’ve called it that ever since. But recently I found out that we have a native version called eastern wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus,) so now I’m going to have to watch it even more closely to see which one it is. I think it’s probably the native version. The photo above is of its interesting bright red fruit.

In my last post I mentioned how the inner bark of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) was often a beautiful bright red, but the odd thing about it is that it seems to turn red only after exposure to the elements. I’ve peeled the bark from dead staghorn sumacs and have never been able to find any red color, but if I look closely at dead sumacs with bark that has peeled naturally like that in the above photo, it’s often quite red. How and why it changes is a mystery to me but it’s nice to see in winter when there isn’t a lot of color.

Wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) are sucking insects that pierce the bark of an alder and suck out the sap, so they do harm the plant. They can be winged or unwinged and need both alders and silver maples to complete their life cycle. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of silver maple trees. In spring the nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the undersides of new leaves until in late May through July they develop wings and fly off to find alders. Once on an alder they begin feeding on the sap and reproducing. Soon the colony is made up of aphids in all stages of growth and becomes covered in a fluffy white, waxy “wool” like that seen in this photo. Some aphids mature and fly off to silver maples to mate and once mated the female will lay a single egg in a crevice in the bark and the cycle will repeat.

Last year I was able to do an entire flower post in November but this year it got cold quickly, so I was surprised to see this little lobelia (Lobelia inflata) still blooming. The flowers are no bigger than a pencil eraser and its common name of Indian tobacco comes from its inflated seedpods, which are said to look like the pouches that Native Americans carried their smoking mixtures in.

I’ve seen native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) bloom in January in a warm winter, so it wasn’t a surprise to see it blooming in November, but even witch hazel can have too much cold and I doubt I’ll see these pretty blooms again until the spring witch hazels bloom in March. It’s an event I’ll be impatiently waiting for. Just the thought of spring, my favorite season, is like a soothing balm that gets me through winter.

If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. ~Tecumseh, Shawnee

I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving! Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

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