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This post is a kind of hodge podge of things I saw last summer when I was taking a break from blogging and things I’ve seen recently. If there is any continuity at all, any thread that runs through it, it is I hope how the beauty of this world can be found everywhere you look. The photo you see above happened just last week as I was going into a store to do some grocery shopping. I wasn’t surprised to see many people just walking right by without seeing it. We live in a paradise that is absolutely filled with beauty all the time, night and day, and we should give ourselves time to at least notice it. How long does it take to appreciate the beauty of the frost crystals on your car windows before starting the car in the morning, or to simply look up at the sky now and then?

This shadow of a staghorn sumac reminded me of the palm trees I saw when I lived in Florida. The first time I crossed over from Georgia into Jacksonville, Florida it was about two in the morning, and the palm trees that lined the center of the divided road, lit up as they were by streetlights, seemed like the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I felt as if I were driving into a postcard. I felt electric, and more alive than I had ever been.

Here is another kind of shadow. The town put in a new sidewalk last summer and last fall of course the falling leaves landed on it. This leaf, from a maple, leached out its tannins and left its silhouette on the newly poured concrete. Maple leaves are one of the species used for botanical or “eco-printing,” which is where leaf and bark shapes and colors are transferred or bled onto fabric or paper.

When the town put in the new sidewalk they tore up lawns all up and down the street, so to finish the job they brought soil in from somewhere, and what you see above is what sprouted from that soil on the corner of the street; a forest of what are commonly known as weeds, like lamb’s quarters.

One of the plants that sprouted from the soil that was brought in was jimson weed. When I first saw it its big, beautiful white and purple flowers were just about to open. Jimson weed is considered poisonous to both humans and livestock so I was surprised to see it growing here, on the lawn of a children’s daycare center. This hallucinogenic plant in the nightshade family is also called loco weed and was used by Native Americans on spiritual quests. The original common name was “Jamestown weed” which was given to it after English soldiers in the Jamestown colony began to behave oddly after eating leaves of the plant. It is said that they “behaved like animals for several days.” This plant is considered exceedingly dangerous due to poisonings and deaths by people trying to get high. I was going to say something about it but the daycare wasn’t due to open until school started, so there was nobody to say anything to.

Another plant that grew from the foreign soil was wild mustard, which I never used to see much but now see fairly regularly. Because of the plants that grew from it I have a feeling that this soil must have come from old pasture land. There is old pasture south of here and I’ve seen these same plants growing there. In any event, I went back a few days later to see the beautiful Datura flowers and everything had been mowed down to something resembling lawn. I was a bit disappointed because Datura blossoms are very beautiful.

I went to a pond that I had been to a hundred times last summer and found this small, foot tall fern that I had never seen growing in the water right at the shoreline. The rounded over edges of the sub-leaflets didn’t look familiar but they, along with the way the leaflets twisted along the stem helped identify it.

I turned one of the fronds over and saw something I had never seen. The curled over edges of the sub-leaflets formed cups filled with what looked like blackberry jelly, but of course these were the fern’s spore cases (sori) and there must have been many hundreds of them. With all the hints it gave me it was easy to identify it as the marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris pubescens.) It has fertile and sterile leaves but the fertile ones tend to be smaller, according to what I’ve read. It likes wet feet and full sun. This isn’t a very good shot of the spore cases so I hope to return this coming summer and try again.

According to the book Identifying Ferns the Easy Way, A Pocket Guide to Common Ferns of the Northeast, by Lynn Levine, the caterpillars of the marsh fern moth feed on the leaves of this fern and it is the only known host plant of what is an uncommon moth.

And speaking of uncommon moths, here is a large maple spanworm moth (Prochoerodes linolea.) I found it relaxing on the siding of the local post office and was amazed by its resemblance to tree bark. I’d guess that I’ve probably walked right by them thousands of times in the woods but here on this bright white wall it was easy to see. Life is such a beautiful and amazing thing. Emily Dickinson said it best: To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.  

I’ve known tansy for a very long time but for years if I wanted to see it, I had to visit a garden. Only over the last few years have I found it in the wild, so as an invasive plant it has failed miserably in this area, even though it has excelled elsewhere. In colonial times tansy was used as both a flavoring in tea, cakes and puddings and an insect repellant, used especially for bedbugs. It was also used to make green dyes and was thought valuable enough to be brought over on a three-month voyage. It is also toxic, so though I don’t have a problem with using it to repel insects I doubt I’ll ever flavor anything with it.

I didn’t see large numbers of monarch butterflies this year but I saw a few, and I found a patch of Joe Pye weed that they and spangled fritillary butterflies seem to prefer over all the other flowers in the area. I would revisit this spot every few days and each time these flowers had several butterflies and bumblebees visiting.  You have to look closely to see them but there are many bumblebees in this shot.

What was it, I’ve wondered, about these particular plants that made them so attractive to so many insects?

I also saw a monarch butterfly caterpillar on a milkweed plant last summer. I don’t see very many of them so it was a surprise.

The unusual berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) called doll’s eyes, have over the past two or three years turned black and shriveled up for reasons I can’t fathom, but last summer they were nearly pristine when I found them. The remains of the flower’s black stigma against the porcelain white fruit is striking, and I can’t think of another plant with fruit quite like these. The hot pink pedicels are pretty as well. These plants are toxic but luckily the berries are so bitter one bite would be enough to make anyone spit them out. Finding baneberry in the woods tells the story of rich, well drained loamy soil and a reliable source of moisture, because those are the things that it needs to grow. I almost always find them at the base of hillsides.

I saw very few mushrooms last summer because it was so dry, but I did see a few Indian pipes, which is odd since they’re parasitic on certain fungi.

Here is a rarely seen (by many) look into the inside of an Indian pipe flower. At the tips of the 10 stamens surrounding the center stigma are the anthers, colored yellow, which contain pollen. The anthers are open and shedding pollen at this stage. In the center of the flower is the pollen-collecting stigma, which looks like a funnel between the yellowish stamens. Each flower will stand straight up when it is ready to be pollinated, and once pollinated will eventually become a hard brown seed capsule. You can find them sticking up out of the snow, usually in groups, at this time of year and they are always fun to look at.

If you walk in certain places at certain times, you might see things that you will only see once in a great while, if at all. People often ask me how I do this; how I see what I see. The answer is to simply be there. I spend as much free time outdoors as possible. I also walk very slowly and pay close attention. Many times, I just stumble onto the greater part of what you see here on this blog. If I had been just a few minutes earlier or later I might have missed the sunlight highlighting the hairs on this staghorn sumac. That would have been too bad because it shows how the plant got its name, with its velvety softness just like that of a deer’s antler.

With other things found in nature, you can often do some planning ahead. For instance, if you know that the “bloom” on black raspberry canes is made of a kind of natural wax, and if you know that it “melts away” in warm summer weather, you know that your best chance of seeing it is in the cooler months. You will also find this same beautiful blue, which is a result of the way sunlight is reflected by the wax crystals, on blueberries, plums, lichens, and many other things.

This photo of American hazelnut catkins might not seem like much but it is special to me because it was taken with a cell phone. Since I’ve struggled with getting a shot of these little things even with a macro camera in the past, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the phone camera got it. The depth of field could have been better but all in all I was happy with it. You can see how the triangular bud scales spiral up the catkin. When the catkin swells and the bud scales begin to open in spring the tiny, beautiful golden flowers will do the same. They are among the earliest spring flowers and I look forward to seeing them each year. It won’t be long now.

Many will most likely think big deal, it’s just an old leaf, but if you had lived through 60+ New Hampshire winters like I have you would know that any splotch of color is beautiful in the often stark black and white world of January. Any color anywhere will stop you in your tracks and you’ll be thankful that it was there for you to find.

How does a child see the world? What is childlike wonder? Everything a young child sees is fresh and new; they’ve never seen it before so they have no history; no file cabinet full of memories to search through and compare what they see now to what they saw then. A child sees a branch or a rock and becomes enraptured by it because it is fresh and new. They see what is right now, as it is. We adults on the other hand, compare what we see to what we’ve seen before and instantly decide that it’s better or worse than the one we saw previously. Once we do that all the freshness, the newness, and the wonder is gone, and what we see becomes old. Children see as much with their hearts as with their eyes and if you follow their lead great beauty will appear, seemingly out of nowhere. The more beauty you see the more you will see, and before long you will have to say, as I did, “My gosh, everything is so very beautiful. Just look at it!”

If we have relegated vision solely to a function of the eyes, we are blind indeed.
~Craig D. Lounsbrough

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Toward the end of November I decided to take a walk up the old abandoned road that leads through the Beaver Brook natural area in Keene. I hadn’t been there in a while and since I had just tangled with Covid I thought the slight gradient of the old road would let me gently test my lungs and make sure they were still working as they should. Surprisingly I didn’t get winded at all; good news I thought, considering all I had heard about Covid.

I saw many beautiful things there that day but I would have been happy just seeing the mosses. They always seem so much greener and more vibrant in colder weather.

The brook was rushing along, not quite as high as I had imagined it would be but still with a bit of a roar to it. It has many voices, this little brook. In summer it becomes tame and moves slowly, giggling and chuckling shyly as it spills over the rocks in its bed. In winter it often becomes nearly mute, its voice muffled by a covering of thick ice. It can still be heard, but as if from a distance. In spring and fall, due to snow melt or excessive rain it swells up and shouts, sometimes with a deafening roar. Only one thing about it never changes, and that is its beauty.

There are a few pretty views along the brook and this is one of my favorites. I hadn’t gone there that day with a blog post in mind but I had a cell phone camera and the small Olympus I use for macro photos and in the end, I was glad I had brought them.

Of course, I had to stop and see my old friend the smoky eye boulder lichen that lives here because it is a beautiful thing. Both the way the light falls on it and the color of the thallus or body of the lichen make it stand out from other examples I’ve seen. Why it has this golden, orangey brown color I don’t know, and I also don’t know why the fruiting bodies always seem so blue or lavender when they are usually gray. It has to be the special way the light falls on it in this particular spot. Seeing it again is always like finding a jewel.

The squiggly black apothecia have appeared on the script lichens, as they always seem to do in the cold weather. If you look at them extremely closely, they look like the body of the lichen has been torn or cut open, and they erupt from it rather than sitting on it. But whatever happens when they appear, they leave no trace when they disappear. If you come here in warmer months all you will find are the white / gray body of these lichens, like spots on the tree’s bark.

I stopped at what I call the boulder fall. I’ve found mosses here that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

And one of those mosses is the pretty little rose moss. This moss likes limestone and since this area isn’t rich in limestone it always leaves me guessing. Somehow two or three of the boulders must have at least some limestone in them. I first found this moss on just one stone years ago and now it is on at least three of them, so it must be happy here.

Another rare moss that grows here is the glittering wood moss, also called stair step moss because of the way new growth comes up out of the midrib of the previous year’s growth. It looks delicate but I’ve seen it encased in ice in winter and still looking fine in spring. Not surprising since it can withstand conditions in the Arctic tundra. It sparkles in the light so “glittering” is a good description.

For years I’ve thought that snow load was what made our evergreen ferns splay out on the ground but this year we have no snow and they are still hugging the ground, so that theory has to be let go of. I recently read this on Westborough Massachusetts Community Land Trust page: “When the green fronds are on the ground, warmth from the earth keeps them warmer than they would be if they stood up in the wind and cold air. The fern’s stems weaken near the ground in autumn, helping the fronds to fall over.” That does make sense but I wonder where that information originally came from. I believe the fern in the photo is a marginal wood fern, but I didn’t check for spore cases.

A big old red maple tree had fallen and someone had come along and cut off all its branches. This tree had target canker but that doesn’t kill trees, as far as I know.

Target canker won’t kill a tree but it can certainly keep one busy by causing its bark to grow in circular patterns of new, thin bark plates, which helps protect it from the canker. According to Cornell university: “A fungus invades healthy bark, killing it. During the following growing season, the tree responds with a new layer of bark and undifferentiated wood (callus) to contain the pathogen. However, in the next dormant season the pathogen breaches that barrier and kills additional bark. Over the years, this seasonal alternation of pathogen invasion and host defense response leads to development of a ‘canker’ with concentric ridges of callus tissue—a ‘target canker.’” You can see the pattern of new, thin bark plates the tree grew each year in this photo. I count at least ten, so that means this tree fought off the invader for at least ten years. There are some things which once seen can never be forgotten, and target canker is one of those.

I saw what I think was a white cheese polypore on a fallen branch. It grows on hardwood logs and causes white rot, and gets its common name from its scientific one (Tyromyces chioneus). Tyromyces means “with a cheesy consistency,” and chioneus means “snow white.” These mushrooms are big enough to be seen from a distance and when they are fresh, they have a pleasing fragrance that some think is like cheesecake. Mushroom Expert. com says it is “just about the most boring mushroom going,” but it is a winter mushroom and I’m always happy to see mushrooms in winter. There is also a blue cheese polypore and a green cheese polypore.

From boring to beautiful; this must be the most colorful display of turkey tail fungi that I’ve seen. It was beautiful, with its many different colors all in the same growth. No matter how many times I come here I always see something I’ve never seen before, and that is why it pays to revisit the same places again and again.

I was surprised to find a little ice on the ledges. It has been cold some nights but all in all this has been a very mild winter so far. I doubt there is any ice to speak of in the deep cut rail trail where ice climbers usually practice.

This is one of my favorite reasons to visit Beaver Brook; to see what I call the “disappearing waterfall,” because it only appears when we’ve had enough rain to get it going. It’s a beautiful thing and in the spring, I’ve seen people standing in line waiting to get to the spot where you can get the best photo of it.

I saw two splotches of color on the end of a log and I thought I recognized them.

As I thought, they were wrinkled crust fungi (Phlebia radiata) but they weren’t quite as colorful as others I had seen. I suspected they were young examples which might change as they aged, so I decided to return in a week to see if they had. These winter fungi are rare in my experience and well worth a second look.

This photo of a wrinkled crust fungus I took years ago shows what I was hoping to find upon my return but no, the fungi in the previous photos hadn’t changed at all. A quick online search showed that they can be very beautiful like this example or rather plain like the previous example. Like many things in nature, finding them is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and paying attention. Unlike some fungi it’s hard to predict where or when they’ll choose to grow, though they do seem to like cold weather.

And speaking of being in the right place at the right time; as I was leaving Beaver Brook after my second look at the wrinkled crust fungi the afternoon sun decided to shine right up the brook. It was something I had never seen happen before and it seemed like a final, beautiful exclamation point to mark the end of my journey through a place filled with beauty.

Look at places no one looks at, so you can see the things no one sees.
~
Mehmet Murat ildan

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There is the orderliness of the city
So sharp and well defined
With a brash intensity that leaves you feeling raw
Only half a self
And there is the randomness of nature
So soft and seemingly chaotic
With a silent stillness that leaves you at peace
Whole and complete

Where are you meant to be?
Listen to the rain.

Inspired by Rain and the Rhinoceros by Thomas Merton
With a thank you to Deb Black for the introduction.

Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, this rain. As long as it talks, I am going to listen. ~ Thomas Merton.

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We’re having another one of those strange, almost snowless winters so far this season but even though it hasn’t been snowy it has been cold enough for ice to form, so in early December I decided to visit a stream near my neighborhood. Last year I found beautiful lacy ice all along it but this time as you can see, there was no ice.

There was frost on the lawns, so I thought for sure there would be ice on the stream.

A little neighborhood pond had a thin film of ice on it.

But there was little to no ice to be found here at the stream. No matter; there are always interesting things to see, like this pronounced meander in the stream. When I first started coming here it was nothing like this but over the years flooding has dumped a lot of sand and gravel in a pile over there on the left, forcing the stream to move more and more to the right. As it moves it washes soil away from tree roots and many trees have fallen.

I stopped to admire some beech leaves. The beech is a tree that gives beauty to the forest all year long.

I also saw some colorful turkey tail fungi on a stump. Part of their scientific name is versicolor, and it’s a good one. I’ve seen these come in pink, orange, blue, purple, and everything in between. They’re one of the most colorful fungi I know of and winter is a good time to find them. As far as I know no one has ever discovered what causes their many variations in color.

I looked back to where I had come from and saw how the stream meander is slowly cutting into the hillside and washing it away; a mountain slowly turning to sand. I thought the low sun falling on the green plants was a beautiful scene. It showed how, around every corner, there is the very real possibility of finding staggering beauty of the kind we’ve never seen. We need to learn to stop and let the beauty of life seep into us until it fills every part of our being; until the word Hallelujah comes to us naturally, without a thought.

One of the things I come here to see are the tree mosses. When I first started coming here there was a group of maybe ten plants right at the water line but now, they have grown away from the stream and there are hundreds of them. They must like wet ground because this place floods regularly and they often spend part of their life underwater. They’re beautiful little things and I’d like to see them in more places but so far this is the only place I’ve ever found them.

This unknown creature grew on a tree and though I was sure I had seen it before I couldn’t remember its name. It looks almost like a crustose lichen with an area of something else growing through it but I can’t imagine what that something else would be. In the end I decided it didn’t matter. Memories are like dogs that come when you call them but otherwise lie silent and still. Sometimes they don’t come at all, and seem so far off I can’t tell if they are even there anymore. The effort it takes to recall them doesn’t seem worth whatever limited value they may have. They are like things stored in the attic; not worth climbing the stairs to see, but seemingly still too precious to throw away. They sit gathering dust but one day they will have to go, so why bother adding to the pile by gathering up more of them? Let each day start fresh and shining brightly, unobscured by the film of dust that is yesterday.

This is a two-part post; what you’ve seen so far happened one day and what you will see from here on happened on another. Luckily the sun was shining brightly on both days. I would have loved to have been able to see it the way this NASA photo shows it.

On the second day I went to the stream, about three weeks later, there was ice. Strangely though, at nearly 40 degrees F. this day was warmer than the first.

Last winter when I came here, I found beautiful, lacy ice covering the surface of the stream but this year I saw mostly splash ice. Splash ice forms when running water splashes droplets up on cold surfaces, where they freeze almost immediately. It can be beautiful; all of what we see here is splash ice.

Ice curtains along the banks showed how the water level had dropped, with ribbons of ice forming at each different level.

This view is looking down on ice similar to that in the previous photos.

This ice sculpture grew on a twig that hung out over the stream.

This very thin, clear pane of ice had water droplets hanging from its underside.

This ice reminded me of the bullseye glass windowpanes you can still see in very old houses. Before modern glass making came along glass windowpanes were blown from a gob of molten glass that was spun at the end of the blowpipe until it formed a large disc. Rectangular windowpanes were cut from the disc with the outer, thinner, clearer panes sold to the wealthy and the inner, thick, wavy panes with the pontil mark bullseye in the center sold to the poor. You couldn’t see anything out of them but they did let in light and that was what was important. I can’t even guess how this ice would have formed to look just like them.

Neither can I explain why this bit of dead grass had a ray of sunlight falling on it.

I’ve heard that very white ice is white because it has a lot of oxygen in it, so maybe all the bubbles in this piece go along with that theory. It must have gotten very cold very quickly to freeze bubbles in place.

The only thing you can expect from ice is the unexpected, because no two pieces will ever be alike. Ice helps teach us that we should go into nature with no expectations and just enjoy what we see.

On the way home this scene looked more like March than December. Now into January without plowable snow in my yard, it looks to be another unusual winter. I hope you enjoyed coming along through the snowless woods. In a normal winter we wouldn’t have been able to go without snowshoes.

The wise man knows that it is better to sit on the banks of a remote mountain stream than to be emperor of the whole world. ~ Zhuangzi (c. 369 BC – c. 286 BC)

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I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And a Happy Hanukkah too!

May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty all the days of your life. ~Apache Blessing

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Last Sunday afternoon, on the 12th, light snow started to fall in the afternoon. It snowed for most of the night but as these photos show, it didn’t amout to much. Depending on where you were an inch to three inches accumulated; what we call a nuisance snow. The above photo shows the Ashuelot River in Swanzey Monday morning. The water was higher than it has been all summer.

As usual the snow stayed on the evergreens. White pine trees have very flexible branches so they can hold a lot of snow but every now and then you’ll hear a loud cracking in the woods when older branches break off. It’s a good idea to not be under snow laden, older pine trees for long. Branches usually fall with their broken end down and I’ve seen them punch holes through roofs.

There’s a lot of splashing going on at the river and fingers of ice had formed on every twig on this shrub. If it was a shrub. There are many here, such as alder, buttonbush and dogwood so it probably was, but I was paying more attention to the ice than what it grew on.

Ice baubles form by water splashing over and over in the same spot. Eash splash of water adds thickness to the ice, just like a candle being dipped again and again in wax. Thanks to gravity they grow vertically, so seeing these at an angle told me that they grew too heavy and the twig they were on could no longer support them. It bent, and this threw the baubles off vertical. I’d like to see how they grow from this point on. They’ll look very different than a standard ice bauble, I would think.

I haven’t yet figured out what makes some flattened while others are more round but it really doesn’t matter. They’re all beautiful, especially when sunlight shines through them. It’s like seeing a thousand prisms all along the shoreline.

Sometimes the surroundings reflect in the ice baubles. I think the reflection of the river must have been what caused the blue in the one on the left.

The waves on the river weren’t huge on this day but they were curling nicely and they were beautiful, as always. If you come here at the right time of day, in the morning at around 11:00, the sun shines from the left of this spot and if it strikes a wave just right it can illuminate its interior, as can be seen here. There is a lot going on inside a wave, which is something I never thought much about until I came here and started trying to catch all their different poses.

They grow and fall and crash again and again and the resulting roar emphasizes the awesome power and beauty of the river. There are also deep rumbles and booms that you can feel more than hear, as if large boulders were rolling down the riverbed. This is not the place to try to hold a conversation. It is a place to just stand and be amazed by all that is happening.

I stumbled onto an interesting article recently that showed that chimpanzees can also be in awe of water. Primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall noticed how, when solitary chimps come to a waterfall, they will often walk into the water and sway back and forth rhythmically, from one foot to the other. There is even a photo of a chimp sitting on a stone in the river, staring up at a waterfall as if in a trance. This might not seem very remarkable until you realize that chimpanzees can’t swim and are naturally afraid of water. Something about the waterfall makes them forget themselves, and some believe it is the roar. I think there is more to it than just sound.

It’s much quieter here in the woods on the road to Swanzey Lake than at the river. This is a class 6 road, meaning it gets no maintenance during winter, so this might be the last time I can get out here until spring.

I thought if I came out here I would see the snow falling from the trees but it was dead still, without even a hint of a breeze, so most of the snow stayed on the trees. You can just see, at the end of the road in this shot, a bit of what I call snow smoke, which happens when the wind blows. Being in a place like this with the snow blowing from the trees can sometimes be like being in a blizzard.

Snow smoke was happening here but the sun was so bright the camera couldn’t really catch it well. It did catch the beauty of the beech leaves though.

I love to see dark water in winter. It looks like a polished black mirror against the white snow and it always makes me want to just sit and admire it.

In this view, just behind where the tree has fallen across the stream, you can see a beaver dam. Beyond it the beaver pond had frozen over. This was the first body of water I had seen with ice on it this season, but since it’s on or surrounded by private property I couldn’t get close to it. There will be plenty of other ice to see though, I’m sure. And more snow as well; it’s snowing lightly right now.

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

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Toward the end of July I took a walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene, looking for wildflowers. Since I didn’t have writing a blog post in mind at that time, I never took a shot of the river or the trail I followed. My thoughts were on the wildflowers that grow here, and there are many. It’s a good place to find flowers that like to be constantly moist, like the American water horehound (Lycopus americanus) in the above photo. These common plants often have deep maroon foliage like that seen here, which is quite pretty. The tiny bell-shaped flowers form a ring around the square stem in the leaf axils.

American water horehound is very similar to northern water horehound, but that plant’s flowers have five lobes instead of four. The pretty little flowers are some of the most challenging to get a good photo of and it often takes me several attempts. The plant grows in roadside ditches and along the shores of ponds and rivers, where it can keep its feet wet. The hard brown seeds are eaten by waterfowl and Native Americans used the small tuberous roots for food.

The round, inch diameter flower clusters of button bush shrubs (Cephalanthus occidentalis) dotted the shoreline. The fragrant, long white, tubular flowers each have an even longer style that makes the whole flower head look like a spiky pincushion. Flowers are often tinged by a bit of brown when I see them but these were in fine, fresh condition. Once pollinated the flower heads become hard brown/ reddish seed heads made up of small, two seeded nutlets that are a favorite of ducks and shore birds. According to the USDA, Native Americans used concoctions made from the bark of buttonbush to relieve headaches, rheumatism, and other ailments, and chewed it to relieve toothaches. I wonder if it has the same aspirin like compounds in it that willow bark has.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) always says midsummer to me, though it has a fairly long blooming season. It loves shaded, damp places and under the right conditions can form huge colonies.

This jewelweed blossom had a bee inside, and it didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get out. A pollen eater, maybe?

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) is hard to miss with its clear white, swept back petals. Each plant reaches about two feet and usually grows right at the edge of taller vegetation. Flowers have 5 petals and 10 stamens. Its unusual name comes from the way its leaves contain natural soaps called saponins. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather will appear. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It is originally from Europe and is considered toxic. It grows along the riverbank only in the sunniest places.

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) gets its name from being very sensitive to frost but there is no frost in July so I’m not sure what triggered the change in this one. Maybe it was just tired of trying to flourish in a drought.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) also called an early end to summer. Sometimes this plant will fool people into thinking they’ve found wild columbine. Also, on occasion its leaves will change to a beautiful deep purple in fall. Though this one was a ground hugger I’ve seen them that towered over my head.

Tall white rattlesnake root (Prenanthes trifoliate) grows all along the side of the trail that follows the river. They bloomed early this year; I usually think of them as a fall or very late summer flower. Plants have a waxy, reddish stem which helps in identification when it isn’t in bloom. Leaf size and shape can vary greatly from plant to plant, so it can be a tough one to figure out unless it is blooming.

Once tall white rattlesnake blooms it is unmistakable. There is no other plant that I know of that has small, drooping white, lily like blossoms in late summer. The half inch flowers appear in clusters at the end of branched stems that can reach 5 or 6 feet in some cases, and have forked stamens that are longer than the petals. The flowers move at just a hint of a breeze, so they can be difficult to get a good photo of. This plant is also called gall of the earth because of how bitter the root tastes. These roots were once made into a very bitter tonic that was used to (allegedly) cure snake bites, and that’s where its other common name comes from.

I had to stop and admire the beautiful deep pink buds of Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum.) This plant doesn’t have a strong presence along this part of the river but I see them here and there. I’ve always thought its buds were as beautiful as its flowers.

Slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) grows just about anywhere and is very common. It is similar to lance leaved goldenrod but the two can be told apart by leaf veining; slender fragrant goldenrod has only one vein running down the center of each leaf and lance leaved goldenrod has several veins. Other common names are sweet goldenrod, wound weed, Blue Mountain tea, sweet-scented goldenrod, anise-scented goldenrod, and true goldenrod. Goldenrods like dry, sunny places and don’t mind sandy soil so the drought didn’t really bother them. This native grows much shorter than most goldenrods; usually about knee high.

There are 2 or 3 small lobelias with small blue / purple flowers that grow here, but though the flowers look alike the plants themselves have very different growth habits, and that makes them easy to identify. This lobelia is called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) and the small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it, I just look for the inflated seedpods.

These pretty, tiny flowers have to be pollinated by small insects, and bees such as sweat bees are perfect for the job. Once pollinated tiny, dust like seeds will form in the inflated seed pods in the fall. Eventually they will blow on the wind.

Allegheny monkey flowers (Mimulus ringens) grew here sparingly this year. Though there are 150 species of monkey flower worldwide, this is not a plant that I would expect to see large colonies of. I’ve learned to expect just a few.  I’ve never seen a monkey in one, but someone did. According to the University of Connecticut “The so-called Monkey Flowers in the genus Mimulus got their name because their flowers have a mouth-like shape, and to some they resemble the face of a monkey.” Oh well, I don’t see turtles when I look at turtlehead flowers either.

A blue damsel fly perched on a leaf just long enough for a couple of quick shots.

I was happy to find the small white blossoms of marsh bellflowers (Campanula aparinoides) here and there among the taller plants. This plant is a wetland indicator species and, in this spot, it grows right at the very edge of the river bank, so you have to be careful if you don’t want a dunking. Though perennial they, along with all with all the other plants in this photo, come and go according to conditions. Last year all of this was completely underwater and there wasn’t a flower to be seen, so this was only the second time I’ve ever seen them. They are rare in my experience and I don’t know a lot about them.

I do know that each bell-shaped flower is about the diameter of an aspirin, and a single flower dangles at the end of a wire like stem that can be up to three feet long. They don’t climb or cling but instead just tangle their way through other plant stems. They aren’t easy to get a photo of. As any painter knows, you can’t paint white snow on a white canvas; you need darkness before you can show light. This also applies to photography, and I had to twist myself in knots to get just the right amount of darkness behind this tiny flower. Background reflections of white clouds on the river made it almost disappear, so I was very happy when I got home and saw that I had the only useable photos I’ve ever taken of this rare flower. It is its simplicity that makes it beautiful, I think. I’ve read that they also come in very pale blue and I’d love to see those as well.

I’ll never believe that beauty can only be found in special places, where we must stand in line to see it. Great beauty can be found anywhere at any time, often in simple, uncomplicated places where there is nothing to do or to think about, like here along the river. Many landscape artists and photographers whose paintings and photos hang in galleries and museums come to places like this to find the beauty they want to capture. If you can’t afford to fly off to a museum or gallery to see a reproduction or representation of the beauty of life, why not walk through the real thing instead?

Beauty is not hidden. It is right there in plain sight for all to see, and all we have to do is notice it. The more we pay attention to it, the more we’ll see. It’s in the curl of a leaf, or the colorful gravel in a stream bed, or the carved hieroglyphics of bark beetles. It’s always there no matter where you look, and giving it our attention helps us realize what a great gift we’ve been given. This leads to gratitude and gratitude brings empathy and compassion, and they in turn fill our hearts with a love for all life.

Just as, when you look into the eyes of another human being you get a glimpse of their soul…
So also when you look deeply into the heart of a flower you get a glimpse into the soul of the earth.
~Rudolf Steiner

Thanks for stopping in.

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Hello again all, I hope everyone is well. I thought I’d get this post out much earlier but I’ve been dragged through a bout of Covid, so that slowed me down a bit. Actually, it has flattened me; it threw me to the mat and stood with its foot on my neck in a matter of hours, but thankfully I think I’m over the worst of it. All I can say about it is, if you haven’t been vaccinated, I wish you well.

But I’ll put that away and say that I have a few more autumn photos I thought you might like to see. I went to Willard Pond over in Hancock sometime around Halloween and some of them, like the above shot of the road leading to the boat ramp, were taken there. Other photos are just random samplings from here and there.

Willard Pond is a place of great beauty and wildness, and serenity. It is a place where you can immerse yourself in the beauty of nature without effort, and you can immerse yourself in silence as well. It is the first thing you notice and it is vast; only occasionally punctuated by the call of a loon or the soft splashing of waves. Though the parking lot had several cars in it on this day I didn’t see another person, and that’s the way it usually is here.

As I shuffled along through the fallen leaves making all kinds of noise, I thought back to a game I played as a boy, where I would challenge myself to walk through the woods soundlessly. If I snapped a twig or rustled a trail side shrub I failed and would have to start again. I learned to look for bare ground that had been swept clean of leaves by the wind, or to walk along the tops of logs, or to step on stones that jutted up out of the leaf litter. If you watch animals, especially cats, you’ll see that they do this same thing. I would watch for any potential obstacles out ahead of me and keep a look out for natural pathways through the forest. There were few thoughts about what I was doing; in fact, if I was to win the game it was better if I didn’t think about it. I didn’t know it at the time but what I was really teaching myself by doing this was to be intensely aware of my surroundings. That awareness would prove to be very useful throughout life.

Successful nature study is a lot like what I discovered as a boy, I think. Our mind can get in the way unless we learn to accept what is, as it is. We often wish things were different; wishing the light was better or wishing the wind wasn’t blowing so hard. We go into the woods with these preconceived notions about what we might see, or what we hope to see, but all these expectations mean that often, we miss the reality of what is here in front of us right now. I sometimes still get caught up in it as well, but usually I just tell myself I’m just going for a walk in the woods, and leave it at that. I’ll see what I see. Most memorable discoveries happened when I didn’t expect to discover anything at all, like the little oak bullet gall in the above photo. I’ve seen thousands of hard, brown, marble size oak bullet galls but I’ve never seen one just forming, as this one was. It looked like a tiny, pink, pea size planet sitting there on its oak limb. Finding it was like finding a jewel.

I didn’t go to Willard Pond this year with the intention of doing a blog post. It was more like wanting to spend some time with an old friend, just to see how they are. This day was beautiful with a bit of wind, which you can see in the many ripples on the surface of the pond. The wind almost always blows directly toward this side of the pond, and that means any leaves that fall in the water tend to stay right here.

A large part of this forest is made up of of birch, maple, oak, beech, with some pine, and you can tell a lot about what is growing here by looking at what leaves are floating on the water. On this day in this spot, they were almost entirely maple with a few white pine needles scattered on top of them. Further along I saw a few beech and oak leaves and they told me that the season would be coming to a close before long. Once the beech and oak leaves are gone that’s about it for fall foliage.

But what a show they put on before they fall. There is nothing quite as beautiful as a New England hardwood forest in the fall and when I come here, I’m usually too stunned by what I see to even think. The beauty of the place makes me want to be quiet and still and I always pay close attention when I come upon something that makes me want to be quiet, be it an entire forest or a single flower. It is then that the mind can be swept clean of all that is unnecessary, leaving nothing but that which has captured your attention. Totally undistracted and free of thought, when there is nothing other than what is there before you, at that moment you can soar up and out of yourself with boundless joy.

Discovering that you can be free from yourself is an extremely powerful thing.

I first discovered this was happening a few years ago by accident, when I was kneeling by one of the busiest highways in Keene, taking photos of flowers. The traffic noise faded and all thoughts flew from my mind. I saw nothing but the flower. It was if I and the flower had become one and the same and as I left, I realized that I had no idea how long I had been there. It could have been moments or days. Where had I been? I supposed I must have been out of my mind and in a way, I had been; I had been intensely focused on the present moment. I know this now but at that time, not knowing how to describe what had happened, I called it “stepping out of myself,” because that’s exactly what it felt like. I was there but I wasn’t.

I’ve wanted to find out what this is about for several years so during my break from blogging I did a lot of reading. I found that it happens to people all over the world in all cultures, all the time. But the strangest thing about it is, most of us don’t know it is happening. That’s what this post is about; I’d like you to know that it is most likely happening to you every time you become absorbed in simply doing something that you enjoy. All it takes to find out is to simply pay attention.

Present moment awareness during an activity happens to painters, musicians, writers, poets, photographers, athletes, runners, and anyone else who is involved in a challenging activity that takes a certain amount of skill and concentration. It should also include a goal, though it won’t matter if you reach it. I can easily see it happening while knitting, woodworking, or even pounding dents out of car fenders. After describing how things often “wrote themselves” as I was writing blog posts, a reader wrote in to say that she experienced it while quilting. Years ago, I knew a lady who told me she was at her happiest while ironing. Her father had been a Colonel in the army and getting the creases in her husband’s shirts and pants sharp enough to cut himself on had apparently become her pathway to bliss. She never took down her ironing board, I noticed.

Medically, it is described as “An altered state of consciousness in which the mind functions at its peak. Time may seem distorted, and a sense of happiness prevails. In such a state the individual feels truly alive and fully attentive to what is being done.” It is called a state of flow or a “flow state,” where what you do seems to flow out of you effortlessly, like water. Some call it single point awareness but no matter what you call it, it is simply allowing your mind to remain in the present moment.

Neuroscience has shown through EEG brain scans how, when in a state of flow the brain goes through many changes. Neurochemicals like dopamine are released. The mood stabilizes, and self consciousness and inhibitions weaken. Uninhibited and encouraged, creativity can blossom and grow. Brain scans of people in a flow state are similar to the brain scans of people who are meditating. The state is said to be similar to mindfulness, but a flow state is usually entered during an activity and mindfulness can be experienced at any time, so there seems to be a difference. The absence of thought is what makes them similar.

Research also shows that “achieving the flow state on a regular basis is a key component of happiness. That is, by learning how to enter the state of flow you can increase your productivity, be more creative, and be happier, all at the same time.”

Though some see being in the present moment, which is what a flow state really is, as an altered state, I believe it is our natural state. Native Americans are just one example of a people who are totally aware of and in harmony with the here and now. In my opinion being fully in the present moment is perfectly natural; it isn’t an “altered state.” Neither is it something new; even Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote about it.

You can’t make a flow state happen, but you can make sure conditions are favorable so that they do happen. Seeing this spotted cucumber beetle on a thistle flower didn’t put me in a flow state, but the challenge of using my skills to get a photo of it did. Favorable conditions are called “triggers.” You find your own triggers by watching yourself closely. I first noticed that it was happening by realizing I had lost all sense of time. How many times have you wondered “Gosh, where has the time gone?” How many activities do you do again and again because you enjoy them and lose yourself in them? How many times have you had a “rewarding experience?” What was your reward? Was it the bliss you felt while doing it?

Since that first time I noticed this happening there by the highway I’ve found that it happens nearly every time I put any real effort into taking a photo, and that is why I would still take photos even if nobody else ever saw them. It isn’t the end result that’s important; it is the process that brings such joy.

Slipping in and out of flow states has shown me what a joy filled experience being in the present moment is. It’s as if a door opened and someone said “See; this is how life is meant to be.” I don’t see it as something I’ve achieved; I see it as my finally noticing something that has been right here in front of me for all of my life. It is a great gift and I’m very grateful for it.

Putting this post together has taken many attempts and many days to finally finish. Now, I’ve finished it in isolation while still in a Covid fog, so I hope it makes some kind of sense. I’m certainly not an authority on flow states or present moment awareness. I can only relate what I myself have experienced. There is far more to it, so I have added a few links that have helped me understand. I hope they’ll help you as well. I would love for you to discover that you are experiencing this and if you are I’d love to hear about it.

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving Day.

May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.
~Rainer Maria Rilke

An Introduction to Flow States: https://positivepsychology.com/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-father-of-flow/

The Psychology of Flow States: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow (psychology)

Importance of Flow States in Nature Photography. https://www.naturephotographers.network/flow/

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Hello again everyone, I hope you are all well and hope that you’ve had a wonderful summer. I can’t believe that fall is here already but as you can see, the trees are saying that it is so. I’d like to thank all of you for understanding my need to take a break and I thank you for your well wishes. Also, thank you to those of you who have written to ask how I’ve been doing. I’ve been fine, and though you haven’t heard from me in a few months I’ve still been out meandering around and taking photos, though not in the large numbers I once did. Fall in New England is a special time and this year has been particularly colorful, so I didn’t feel right letting it pass without showing you some of it. I’m not going to say much about the photos because I think just about everyone everywhere knows that leaves change color in October in New England.

I’d like to think that I’ve used the time away from this blog wisely by finding answers to some difficult questions, some of which concerned this blog. For years it had been such a joy to do. It was hardly a burden at all; I just went on walks and took photos of anything that caught my eye and then showed them to you, and that was really all it was. Easy, laid back, no cares, no troubles. But then somehow it began taking more and more time and the joy was slowly seeping out of it. What to do was a question I had to answer.

The problem was, putting this blog together was taking every minute of free time I had, and that’s because I let it happen. I thought readers were getting tired of seeing the same old places so I tried to find new places to go, even if it included driving to them to do it. Then, because I always took far too many photos I added more and more to the blog. One day I saw that it had grown into something I really didn’t enjoy anymore, but I felt chained to it.

For all of my life, I have found answers to difficult questions through simply being silent and listening. Solitude has always been part of the solution because it is solitude that makes silence shine like a bright light in the darkness. That light leads you into yourself and it is there where the answers are found, because they come from the heart. That’s a large part of why I had to take a break from blogging.

When I was a boy summer seemed to last forever, and for many years I wondered why that was. The answer, I finally saw, was that there was no time then. Though I still had chores and other things to take care of I could do them whenever I wanted, so I was completely free of time. It was easy to envision retirement being the same way. I would just throw away all the clocks and step out of time and I’d be free, but if we don’t pay attention in life, we can set traps for ourselves and then fall into them, and that’s just what I had done. I had all the free time I wanted yes, but I also had no really constructive ideas about how to use it. I knew that I didn’t want to use it all writing this blog, but I had to ask myself what life would be. Would the high points of life now consist of walking, mowing the lawn, reading, and writing blog posts?

There had to be more to retirement than that, so I thought I’d travel a little. I’d get to see some places I hadn’t seen in years and I could take photos while there and show you our mountains and seashore, each about two hours away. But then gas prices started rising almost on the day I retired and went so high that any plans that included driving any real distance had to be put on hold. I had also always wanted to volunteer as a reader for / to the blind so I wanted to use some of my free time for that, but apparently advances in audio gadgetry have put an end to that need. Both my father and an aunt were blind so I know what a challenge it can be. Other volunteering opportunities in the immediate area seem to be slim to none. I couldn’t believe that I had all this free time and could find no good, useful way to use it.

So to feel somewhat useful I found a part time job. It isn’t much; just 25 hours per week, but I feel like I’m accomplishing something. I’m not one to sneeze at a little extra money but that’s not what having a job is really about for me at this point; it’s more about feeling like I’m doing something that matters while having the chance to be around other people. The hermit that lives here inside me was telling me that I should go and stay in a cave I found but as tempting as it sounded, I think it would be too much of a good thing. I’m getting too old to fight off animals and sleeping on stone has never been any fun. Besides, the people I work with are among the kindest, most helpful people I’ve met and so far, I feel at home there. It may not last forever but at this point I think I could look back on it fondly, as a good thing.

Finally, I had to sit down and ask myself why this blog was even here. What did I expect from it? Was it a hobby? What good was it? It started as an offshoot of a garden coaching business that never took off. Garden coaching is where you show homeowners how to do the “hard and scary things” like pruning trees and trimming shrubs and hedges, and transplanting. You help them find solutions to what they see as problems, hence the strange name of this blog. The other part of it was proving that I didn’t have what it took to write a weekly gardening column for a local newspaper. People were telling me I should and I told them if I did, it wouldn’t last. After eleven years of keeping this blog going that thought has obviously gone out the window. But here was this blog, coming up out of the ashes of two ideas that had collided simultaneously. At first it was about gardening and nobody cared, so I decided to end it on its one-year anniversary. But then I stepped back out of the way. I hung my mind on a peg and just let this thing do what it would. Posts began writing themselves, and suddenly people began showing some interest.

It’s hard to explain what I mean when I say a post “wrote itself” but it’s almost as if I’m taking dictation when it happens. I sit and watch words appear on the screen and I’m often surprised and baffled by what I see. Here’s an example of what I mean:

I remember wondering, where did that come from? It came pretty much as it is, with very little tinkering required. I had to turn it into an image so WordPress wouldn’t change the format, so that’s why the text looks smaller.

I’ve always had a spark in me that made me want to draw and paint, or write, or design gardens, or take photos, or anything else that made me feel that I was making something out of nothing. When that spark of creativity begins to burn inside, bright and hot enough so you have to do something about it, it is the most wondrous thing you can imagine. You just step out of yourself; get out of your way, and let whatever it is you’re doing flow out of you unobstructed, like water. When it happens it is euphoric, and that’s putting it mildly. So yes, as a creative outlet this blog has value, but obviously it is a personal thing.

All of you, through your comments and emails over the years, have shown me that this blog has value beyond any personal satisfaction that I might receive from it. I’ve heard from many people who are nature lovers but who for whatever reason can’t get outside easily anymore, and they’ve told me that this blog is their only link to the outdoors. Their situations are what made my recent break so hard, because I felt as if I was letting them down. That’s why it’s important to me that you know that the decision to shut down for a while wasn’t just off the cuff. I put a lot of thought into it before finally understanding that it had to happen. In the end it is all of you who have answered the question, why is this blog even here?  

I’m not here to win prizes or to see how many people I can get to read this blog; I’m here to get you out there. The hope I’ve always had is that whoever reads this will want to get out there and see the things I see because I can guarantee that if they do, they too will fall in love with nature. That’s important, because when we love something, we are less apt to destroy it. That is the essence of this blog in a nutshell so please, go out and fall in love with this beautiful place we live in, and then tell everybody you know about the miracles you’ve seen. No matter where you live, there is beauty there. There is beauty absolutely everywhere you look, and part of the fun is exploring your piece of the world and seeing it. If you pay attention, you will notice how nature quietly leads you from one beautiful thing to another all throughout your walks, and over time you’ll find that one of the most beautiful things it has led you to is you. It is by losing ourselves in the beauty of this world that we can find our true selves. One of the biggest surprises about being in nature is, we learn as much about ourselves as we do about nature. Just be there fully, with your whole self, and walk with nature, not through it. This isn’t a bare rock we live on; it’s a garden paradise, and we are as much a part of it as it is a part of us. Let nature show you that you don’t stop at your skin. You are so very much more.

So here we are. I can answer my own questions with yes, this blog does have value and as a creative outlet it is more than just a hobby. I see creative outlets as similar to pressure relief valves, so I’ve decided to keep it going. I’m going to have to cut back on the number of posts I do though; no longer will I be doing two posts per week. I don’t know if I’m just getting old or what it is but two posts per week seem to have really become just too much. For years I told readers they didn’t have to go anywhere to see the wonders of nature because nature was everywhere. I could walk into the woods or along the banks of the river each day and see new things every single time. So this blog is going to go back to that easy, laid back, joyful, no cares thing that it once was. I’m going to let simplicity be my guide and just wander and see what I see with nothing more in mind than walking with an old friend. I can’t say what the new schedule will be yet because I don’t know that myself. Friends have suggested that one post each month would be easier to bear but no matter what I decide you might want to click on the “Follow This Blog Via Email” button over there on the right. I was getting lots of emails from people saying they were no longer being notified of new posts and the way to solve that problem (I hope) is by clicking that button and adding your email address, even if you’ve already done so. That way if these posts become just a random thing you won’t miss any, not that there is anything earthshaking here to miss.

I have to say that when I think about it, I find that it’s very strange to be doing something like this. It’s easy to get carried away by it, always thinking the current post should be better than the last. That’s why it’s a good idea I think, to sit down every now and then and remind yourself what it’s really all about. A kind of reaffirmation of the core principles that made you want to start doing it in the first place. I can never know how many people this blog has touched, and I’ll never know what they might go on to do or be, and I have to be okay with the not knowing. All I can really do is hope that the message gets through and makes people want to get outside and explore their world. From then on if nature fills even one of them with the kind of love and reverence that makes them fall to their knees and weep tears of joy and gratitude, this blog will have done something.

Until the next time, which shouldn’t be too long, thanks for stopping in. It’s been nice talking to you again. Take care, and enjoy life.

There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice. ~John Calvin

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I’m starting this post on aquatics with blue vervain (Verbena hastata,) only because I like its color. It isn’t a true aquatic but every time you find it there will be water very nearby. Blue vervain provides a virtual nectar bar for many species of bees including the verbena bee (Calliopsis verbenae.) Butterflies also love it. It likes wet soil and full sun and can reach 5 feet when it has both. I find it in wet ditches, on river banks and just about anywhere where the soil stays constantly moist.

Wild calla (Calla palustris) is also called water dragon or water arum, and it is a true aquatic. It is an arum like skunk cabbage or Jack in the pulpit, both of which also like wet places. I don’t know if I could say this plant is rare but it is certainly scarce in this area. It’s the kind of plant you have to hunt for, and you have to know its habits well to catch it in bloom. Like other arums its flowers appear on a spadix surrounded by a spathe. The spathe is the white leaf like part seen in the above photo. This plant is toxic and I’ve never seen any animal touch it.

I missed the tiny greenish white flowers this year. They grow along the small spadix and are followed by green berries which will ripen to bright red and will most likely be snapped up by a passing deer. This plant was in the green, unripe berry stage. One odd fact about this plant is how its flowers are pollinated by water snails passing over the spadix. It is thought that small flies and midges also help with pollination, because the odor from the blossoms is said to be very rank.

Pickerel weed is having a bad year and gone are the beautiful ribbons of blue flowers along the river’s banks. I’m not sure what is causing such a sparse bloom but I hope it rights itself because large masses of this plant in bloom can be truly spectacular.

One of the things that always surprises me about pickerel weed is its hairiness. I don’t expect that from a water plant. Its small blue / purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Once the flowers are pollinated and seeds have formed the flower stalk will bend over and drop the them into the water, where they will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate. If you see pickerel weed you can almost always expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid, though I’ve heard that plants occasionally grow in water that’s 6 feet deep.

I haven’t seen any berries yet but elderberries (Sambucus nigra canadensis) have bloomed well this year so we should have plenty. This is another plant that doesn’t grow in water but it grows as close as it can to keep its roots good and moist. This native shrub can get quite large and its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.

A floating plant that is attached by roots to the pond or lake bottom is an aquatic, and that description fits floating hearts (Nyphoides cordata) perfectly. Floating hearts have small, heart-shaped, greenish or reddish to purple leaves that are about an inch and a half wide, and that’s where their common name comes from. The tiny but very pretty flowers are about the size of a common aspirin and resemble the much larger fragrant white water lily blossom. They grow in bogs, ponds, slow streams, and rivers. This flower was having trouble staying above water because it had rained and the water level had risen.

Forget me nots are not an aquatic plant but I keep finding them in very wet places. This one grew right at the edge of a pond so its roots must have been at least partially in water. The ground they grew in was also so saturated my knees got wet taking this photo. Many plants that are thought of as terrestrial are able to tolerate submersion in water and can live where they’re exposed regularly to water and from what I’ve seen, this is one of them.

Water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) is probably the rarest of all the aquatics that grow in this area. I still know of only one pond it grows in and there are only a handful of them there. I’ve read that the plant has the unusual ability of removing carbon dioxide from the rooting zone rather than from the atmosphere. It is said to be an indicator of infertile and relatively pristine shoreline wetlands. This year I saw only 4 or 5 plants in a small group. The small, pale blue or sometimes white flowers are less than a half inch long and not very showy. They have 5 sepals and the base of the 5 petals is fused into a tube. The 2 shorter upper petals fold up. I’ve read that the flowers can bloom and set seed even under water. True aquatic plants are plants that have adapted to living in aquatic environments (saltwater or freshwater) and this one has adapted well.

I saw a strange looking bubble which had ripples coming from it, as if it were moving. It was in a pond, just off shore.

Of course if you go looking for aquatic plants, you’re going to see dragonflies like this widow skimmer.

I’m also seeing lots of what I think are spangled skimmers this year. On this day all of them were watching the water.

Pipewort plants (Eriocaulon aquaticum) are also called hatpins, and this photo shows why perfectly. Pipewort plants have basal leaves growing at the base of each stem and the leaves are usually underwater, but falling water levels had exposed them here. Interestingly, this photo also shows the size difference between a floating heart, which is there in the center, and a standard water lily leaf, which you can just see in the top left. Floating hearts are tiny in comparison.

Pipewort stems have a twist and 7 ridges, and for those reasons it is called seven angle pipewort. The quarter inch diameter flower head that sits atop the stem is made up of minuscule white, cottony flowers. I think it’s interesting how their leaves can photosynthesize under water.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter if there are any flowers in view. The light is enough.

I saw what I thought was a pretty clump of grass right at the very edge of the river bank but when I looked closer, I saw that it wasn’t any grass that I had ever seen before and I think it is reed sweet-grass (Glyceria maxima,) which is invasive. It is native to Europe and Western Siberia and is a semi-aquatic, perennial grass with unbranched stems that get up to 8’ tall. There is a reddish tint on the lower parts of the stems. This plant towered up over my head but I can’t swear it had red on the stems because I have trouble seeing red. Reed sweet-grass invades wetlands and crowds out natives, and is not suitable for nesting. It is also a poor food source for our native wildlife.

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) grows in the form of a small shrub and is in the spirea family, which its flowers clearly show with their many fuzzy stamens. It’s a common plant that I almost always find near water.

Meadowsweet flowers are fragrant and have a sort of almond-like scent. A close look shows that clearly, they belong in the spirea family. Before long their pretty purple cousins the steeple bushes will come along.

In my opinion swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is the most beautiful milkweed of all. It grows onshore but a few yards away from the water’s edge on land that rarely floods. Many insects were visiting it on this day. I know of only a single plant now, so I hope it produces plenty of seeds. The flowerheads always remind me of millefiori glass paperweights.

Swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are not true aquatics but they do grow close enough to water to have their roots occasionally flooded. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. Their name comes from the way their bright color lights up a swamp, just as they did here.

Swamp candles have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. Each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are also often streaked with red and this is common among the yellow loosestrifes. Reddish bulbets will sometimes grow in the leaf axils. I’ve read that our native yellow loosestrifes were thought to have soothing powers over animals so people would tie the flowers to the yoke of oxen to make them easier to handle.

Pretty little sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) will sometime grow in standing water but only when it rains and the water level rises. By choice they live right at the water’s edge. On the day I saw these I saw thousands of flowers blooming on the banks of a pond.

Here is a closer look at the flowers. Sheep laurel is part of the Kalmia clan, which in turn is part of the very large heath family, which includes rhododendrons, blueberries and many other plants. I know of only three Kalmias here and they are Mountain, Sheep and Bog laurel. The flowers of all three, though different in size and color, have ten spring loaded anthers which release when a heavy enough insect lands on the flower. It then gets dusted with pollen and goes on its way.

You can always tell that you’ve found one of the three Kalmias by looking at the outside of the flower. If it has ten bumps like those seen here you have found one of the laurels. Each bump is a tiny pocket that the tip of an anther fits into. If the flowers are anything but white it is either a sheep or bog laurel. If the flowers are white it’s a mountain laurel, though I’ve seen mountain laurels with pink flowers in gardens for the first time this year.

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) are having a good year, I’m happy to say. They’re one of our most beautiful native aquatics. If you could get your nose into one you might smell something similar to honeydew melon or cantaloupe, but getting your nose into one is the tricky part.

I went to a local pond and saw what I thought were two-foot-tall white flowers on an island offshore. The pickerel weeds growing near the island told me the water could be up to six feet deep, so I certainly couldn’t wade out to them. My only choice was the zoom on my beaten-up old camera so I put it on the monopod and gave it a shot. When I looked at the photo I was stunned to see that the flowers weren’t white, they were pink. That was because they were rose pogonia orchids (Pogonia ophioglossoides,) a most rare and beautiful flower that I had been searching for in the wild for probably twenty years. And here they were, at a pond I had visited a hundred times. Why had I not seen them before? Because I had never come to this exact spot on the shore at this exact time of year before. That’s how easy it is to miss seeing one of the most beautiful flowers found in nature in bloom.

I’m sorry these are such poor photos but if you just Google “Rose Pogonia” you will see them in all their glory. This is a fine example of why, once you’ve started exploring and studying nature you feel that you really should keep at it, because you quickly learn that right around that next bend in the trail could be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. I hope you have found that this is true in your own walks through nature.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds. 
~
Edgar A. Guest

Thanks for coming by.

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