Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Cheshire Rail Trails’

John Burroughs said “To find new things, take the path you took yesterday,” and that was to prove very true last Sunday. I followed a rail trail in Swanzey that I’ve followed more times than I can count but saw many things that I’ve never seen here before.

Male American Hazelnut catkins swayed lazily in the slight breeze. They had lengthened to three times their winter length and were still heavy with pollen.

The tiny female flowers were waiting for a good dose of that pollen so they could become the hazelnuts that so many birds and animals eat.

There is a nice little box culvert out here that I always like to stop and see. There was quite a lot of water in the stream it carries safely under the railbed on this day. It’s amazing to think these culverts are still keeping railbeds from washing away 150 years after they were built, and without any real maintenance.

The stream rushes off to the Ashuelot River, which is out there in the distance.

The first thing I saw that I had never seen here were trout lily leaves (Erythronium americanum). I didn’t see any flowers but I found the leaves growing all along the trail, and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t ever seen them.

You can get a glimpse of the Ashuelot River here and there along the trail. This was where I was to get another surprise. I saw something swimming quickly toward me from those fallen trees you see in this photo. I thought it was ducks but I couldn’t see anything except ripples.

And then up popped a muskrat. At least I’m fairly certain it was a muskrat. Though it never showed me its tail it was much smaller than a beaver and nowhere near as skittish. It saw me up on the embankment but still just sat and fed on what looked like grasses. It probably knew I was far enough away; this photo isn’t very good because my camera was at the limit of its zoom capability. At least you can see the critter, and that matters more to me than a technically perfect shot.

I knew that apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) grew here and I was able to find it. Its reproduction begins in the late fall and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warm rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes that always look like pearls to me, but someone thought they looked like apples and the name stuck.

Beech buds (Fagus grandifolia) are beginning to lose their straightness and that means the beautiful new spring leaves will be appearing before long. Beech bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the new leaves can emerge. The buds literally “break” and at the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud.

New maple leaves were everywhere but every one I saw was green. That was unusual because young maple leaves are often red for a while.  

Raspberry plants were also showing their new leaves but blackberry buds had barely broken.

I saw native cherries in all stages of growth. Cherries usually leaf out and blossom quite early.

Some of the willows along the trail had thrown in the towel and were finished for this year.

This is what the flower buds of a shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) look like. After shadbushes come the cherries, closely followed by the crab apples and apples, and then the peaches and plums. Shadbushes bloom earlier than the other shrubs and trees but are often still in bloom when the others bloom. The flowers appear before the leaves, unlike apples and some native cherries. Small, reddish purple to purple, apple shaped fruits follow in June. The fruit is a berry similar in size to a blueberry and has from 5-10 seeds. They taste best when they are more purple than red. Shadbush flowers are pretty but their fragrance isn’t very appealing. I can’t remember ever seeing them bloom along this trail but there they were.

Forsythia has escaped someone’s garden and was blooming happily beside the trail. Another surprise.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear, but here they were blooming beside the trail. This is another plant I can’t remember ever seeing out here before. Trailing arbutus was once collected into near oblivion but these days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. The reason it was collected so much was because its small pink to white, very fragrant flowers were used in nosegays.

I reached the trestle and found that someone, most likely a snowmobile club, had overlaid the flooring, which was starting to rot out. This was a another welcome surprise because that little square that juts out to the right was a hole right through the boards. It’s quite a drop down to the river.

This trestle is the last one I know of with its tell tales still in place. These are pencil size pieces of soft wire that hang down low enough to hit the head of anyone standing on top of a freight car. They would warn the person, or “tell the tale” of an upcoming trestle. I can walk from the trestle to this one in under a minute, so whoever was on top of the train wouldn’t have had much time to duck before they’d hit the trestle, and that would have been too bad. Tell tales used to hang on each end of every trestle in the area, but this is the last one I know of.

The river has come up some since the recent snowfall and a few rain showers. I was surprised I didn’t see any kayakers. They like to paddle the river in spring when the water is high because in that way they can float over all the submerged fallen trees.

It still has to gain more run off before it reaches its average height, by the looks. We’re still in a drought according to the weather people.

I was surprised to find a small colony of bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) as I was leaving. This is another plant I’ve never seen growing here, so this day was packed full of surprises.

Bloodroot flowers don’t usually open on cloudy days and I couldn’t tell if this one was opening or closing, but I was happy to get at least a glimpse of its beautiful inside. These flowers aren’t with us long.

In a forest of a hundred thousand trees no two leaves are identical, and no two journeys along the same path are alike. ~Paulo Coelho

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Last Sunday I decided to go looking for the tiny female flowers of the American Hazelnut (Corylus americana), and I could think of no better place to find them than a rail trail. They usually grow all along rail trails and I knew I wouldn’t have to look very hard to find them on this trail in Keene.

Part of the trail was muddy, I was surprised to see.

But other parts were icy. Packed down snow from lots of foot traffic turns to ice quickly.

But luckily I had my micro spikes on. I once slid down an icy hillside with Yaktrax on, so I switched to micro spikes at a friend’s prodding. You don’t slip with these on, so if you’re a winter hiker you might want to look into them.

I found the hazelnuts easily. Some of the male catkins were deformed like these, which seems common, but they had taken on a look of more yellow than green and were getting pliable, so I was encouraged that they knew spring was happening.

I looked at hazelnut branches until my eyes crossed but I couldn’t find a single bud with female blossoms. This photo from a previous year shows the female flowers in relation to a paperclip so you can see how small they really are. I’m not sure why they aren’t blooming yet. I’ve seen skunk cabbages flowering and that’s usually a sign that the hazels are too. Oh well, when they’re ready I’ll find them. I’m sure they know what they’re doing better than I do.

Small white, downy feathers fluttered in the breeze on one of the hazel stems.

Hazels will quite often hang onto their leaves well into winter but this was the only one I saw on this day. It was a warm, orangey brown but it didn’t do much to warm me in the wind that always seems to blow along this trail. It comes out of the west and it howls sometimes.

I looked off to the west and saw, miles away, that there was still snow on the hillsides. The wind comes roaring over these hills sometimes so maybe that’s why the wind I was in felt cold. I’m not sure why this photo came out so strangely colored. Maybe there was a haze I couldn’t see.

I saw three large animal burrows that had been freshly dug but this was the only one I could get close to. Judging by the large mound of soil this one was deep.

The side view shows the soil mound a little better. I was surprised to see that it was really nothing but sand; I wouldn’t have thought the railroad would have used sand as a rail bed. These holes were big enough to be woodchuck holes. Since woodchucks are burrowing animals and are common here I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. I tried to find tracks but saw none.

The other two burrows were well protected by multiflora rose canes so I couldn’t get near them without shredding my clothes.

One of our Covid vaccination sites is near this trail and I saw this big army truck over across the way, so the shots are probably being administered by National Guard volunteers. It seemed to be parked so it would block the road. My turn comes soon so I’ll find out.

Last year I came out here and was surprised to find hundreds of willows, so I thought I’d check them for catkins. Though many of our willows are golden yellow these were very red.

Willows play host to many galls and if you like galls this is the time of year to look for them. This one was caused by a tiny midge called the willow beaked gall midge (Rabdophaga rididae). The gall started life as a bud until the midge caused the tissues to form a hard gall instead. These galls often come to a point which looks like a beak, hence the name. This one shows how red this particular species of willow is.

Here was another pretty gall that forms on the very tip of willow branches. It’s called a terminal rosette gall, which is also known as a camellia or rose gall. It is caused by another midge (Rabdophaga rosaria) which turns the terminal bud into what looks like a beautiful flower. This midge will choose any of at least 6 different species of willow so it’s hard to identify the willow by the gall. In fact willows are notoriously hard to identify because they cross breed so readily. As Henry David Thoreau said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused.”

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. Galls might seem unsightly but they do not harm the plant.

I saw two or three small bird’s nests in the willows. I would think the birds would eat the midges that cause the galls but I don’t suppose they can catch them all. This nest appeared to be made mostly of grasses.

Young poplars were glowing in the sunshine and dancing in the wind. The poplars and the willows will be forever young because the power company cuts them to the ground every few years.

Soon these willow catkins will be bright yellow flowers. Since last Sunday when I took these photos we’ve had a week of record breaking warmth so they may even be blooming today. I’ll have to go and see. I hope you’ll see flowers in your travels too; I think we all need some flowers.

The snow in winter, the flowers in spring. There is no deeper reality. ~Marty Rubin

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

The weather people were saying that it was going to warm up so I thought I’d better to get into the man-made canyon on the rail trail up in Westmoreland before the ice started melting. Once the stone starts warming up the ice releases its grip and starts to fall, and I sure don’t want to be here when that starts happening.

Ice here grows as big as tree trunks and when it lets go it often falls all the way across the trail. I’ve never seen the big ones fall but I’ve come here right after they have, and I’ve seen enough to know that I’d rather not be here when it happens.

This isn’t a great year for colored ice but I did see some here and there. This formation was huge.

A few ice climbers were here but most of them had gone by the time I got here. They like to be here quite early in the morning I think, but since it was only 17 ˚ F. when I got up I thought I’d wait a while.

That icicle was longer than I am tall.

Evergreen ferns are still hanging on, even under the ice.

I saw a few snowmobilers. A lot of people complain about them but the arguments for them using the rail trails far outweighs the arguments against them in my opinion because they put a lot of time, money and effort into maintaining the trails. In fact without them many of our trails would no longer exist and thanks to them walking this trail in winter is like walking down a sidewalk. The ice climbers have posted rules to follow and one of them says that snowmobiles always have the right of way. I simply stand to the side and return their waves.

The southern canyon usually has the most colored ice. Blue is the most dense ice and I thought I saw blue in this group. It doesn’t look like the camera saw blue but it still saw plenty of beauty.

My color finding software tells me that the color of this ice is “lemon chiffon.” Pale yellow, I’d guess. You can look these names up and relate them to a specific color but I haven’t bothered.

It also sees orange and tan. I might see tan but I’m not sure about orange.

I thought this ice was green but the software sees pale orange and “wheat”.

I thought we’d agree that this was blue but no, the software sees slate gray.

I couldn’t even guess what color this ice was but the software says “papaya whip,” whatever that is. By the way, if you or someone you know is colorblind just search for “What Color?” color finding software and you’ll find it. It’s free and has no ads.

This shows that the color in the ice doesn’t color it completely sometimes. I still believe that it has to be minerals in the groundwater that color it. I don’t know what else could.

I hoped I might see some red ice stained by iron but there was none. Just lots of staining on the stone.

This ice looked just plain dirty. I’m sure a lot of soil must be washed out of the cracks in the stones by all the groundwater that seeps through them.

I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t much ice on the drainage channels. That’s where you often see the laciest ice.

I needn’t have been disappointed though because just a little further down the trail ice had formed on the channels.

All the variations in ice forms are an endless source of amazement and wonder for me. It’s quite beautiful.

This one that had formed on a stone just above the water surface looked like a fish, I thought.

A young skier was headed for the old lineman’s shack and I thought I’d follow him because that’s where all the sunshine was. He stopped to talk for a bit and said he was trying to do ten miles for the first time. He also said he hoped he’d make it. I hoped so too and wished him well.  

The old lineman’s shack still stands so it looks like it will somehow make it through another winter. When I see it I think of the way things once were and how things were built to last. It continues to surprise me.

I saw what was left of another small bird’s nest near the old shack. It might have been just big enough to hold a hen’s egg with no room to spare. I’d guess that it started life in the V of those two branches.

As I left I looked up and hoped it was warmer out there.

It had just reached freezing (32 ˚F) when I came in here so allowing for the usual 10 degree difference meant that with the breeze it was probably about 20 degrees inside the canyon. After two hours I was ready to leave and I had taken about three times the photos that I could use anyway. There is an awful lot to see in this place, all of it beautiful, but I think the next time I come here the ice will have fallen and it will be more green than white. Thousands of violets bloom here in spring and I want to be here to see them.

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

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Sometimes when you walk a trail you come back with more questions than answers, and that’s what last Saturday was like.

I chose a rail trail in Swanzey because the snowmobile traffic had packed the snow down, and that made for easy walking. I saw a few riding the trail that day. There goes one now.

The snow in the woods wasn’t all that deep but if you strayed too far off the trail you’d get a shoe full.

The old stock fencing along the trail still looked as good as the day the railroad put it up.

An animal had come out of the woods on the other side of the trail. I couldn’t tell what it was but it wasn’t a deer. The prints looked more like a fox or coyote, but they weren’t clear.

A window had opened up into the drainage channel that ran along the trail.

A quarter size beard lichen floated in the channel. These interesting lichens fall from the trees regularly.

An evergreen fern had stood against the weight of the snow. These delicate looking ferns are anything but delicate.  

I was going to tell you that these lichens were common greenshield lichens (Flavoparmelia caperata) but something about them tells me they may not be that lichen. The branching and the lobes don’t seem quite right but it could be just because they were dry. I wish I had walked over to them instead of taking this photo from the trail but for now I’ll just say they are large round, green foliose lichens. Close to 20,00 species of lichens are said to cover 6% of the earth’s surface but few pay any attention to them, and that’s too bad.

The lichens will most likely be there when I get back; this land is protected.

I’ve taken photos of both alder and hazelnut catkins this winter and both have had a reddish cast to them that I’ve never seen. These American hazelnut catkins (Corylus americana) were a pinky-brown according to my color finding software, so it isn’t my imagination. They’re usually green and this was just one of a few mysteries that I came away from this particular trail with.

And here was another mystery. I found this strange growth on the same hazelnut that I showed in the previous photo. I believe that it must be some type of gall but I’ve never seen anything like it before on a hazelnut and I’ve looked at a lot of them.

It seemed to be a bunch of deformed leaves, which some galls are, but it was small; about the size of a grape. It was also quite furry.

This was not a mystery. Even in silhouette shagbark hickory trees (Carya ovata) are easy to identify because of their peeling, shaggy looking bark. These trees produce good crops of nuts each year and help feed many different birds and animals.

I looked at a hickory bud but I didn’t see any signs of swelling yet. It has still been quite cold but it won’t be long now before the sap starts to flow.

If you find what looks like a big clearing in the woods in winter you had better walk around it until you are sure, because this clearing is a river. When you can’t tell where the land stops and the water starts it’s easy to find yourself walking on ice. I’ll never forget walking down the middle of this very river as a boy and hearing the ice start cracking under me. I don’t think I have ever moved that fast since.

This would be a good indication that what you might think is a clearing isn’t a clearing.

It’s funny how in spots the river is clear of ice and in others it is frozen over. Another mystery. I’m guessing that the speed of the current has something to do with it.

The leg of rail trail crosses a road several times. The tire tracks of one of the monster machines that plowed the road were fun to look at but not so much fur to walk in.

I expect to see beech and oak leaves falling at this time of year but not maple. We do have a couple of sugar maples where I work though that are still clinging to a few of their leaves.

I saw a single white pine seed scale, which is odd. I usually see piles of many hundreds of them, left by squirrels. White pine seeds grow two to a scale. It takes them around two years to mature, and they usually ripen in August and September. They are light brown, oval in shape and winged so the wind can disperse them. I’ve tried to get the seeds, with their thin wings intact, from a scale and I can tell you that it is all firmly attached together. Squirrels can do it all day but I have yet to get one in good enough condition to show you here.

At first this was a mystery but after I looked at it for a while I thought it might be the seed head of a white flowered turtlehead plant (Chelone glabra linifolia). When I got home and looked it up there was no doubt and I was happy that I finally found the seedpods for this plant after so many years of finding the flowers. They look a little like the flowers and that makes them relatively easy to identify.

In the end I went home with a pocket full of mysteries but that was fine because it was a beautiful day, with the sky that shade of blue that only happens in winter and puffy white clouds to keep it interesting. I hope everyone is still able to get outside and enjoy. There is such a lot of beauty out there to see.

Outdoors is where the great mystery lies, so going into nature should be a searching and humbling experience, like going to church. ~Skip Whitcomb

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

I hope you’re in a nice warm place while reading this because this post is full of ice like that in the photo above, and you might feel a little chilly by the time you’ve reached the end.

Last Sunday, about a month since my last visit, I decided to visit the deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland where the “big ice” grows each winter. The walls of the manmade canyon are 50 feet high in places and groundwater running through the stone creates ice columns as big as tree trunks. I wanted to see how much the ice had grown in a month.

It had grown quite a lot; enough to climb, in fact and by chance the Appalachian Mountain Club were training here today. They come here as soon as the ice is safe to train people in ice climbing. On this day the 25 degree temperature and 10 mile per hour wind made this place feel like an icebox, and that’s exactly what the climbers call it.

I was here for ice too; not to climb but to photograph, and I saw plenty.

There was an entire canyon full of it.

Some of the ice is colored various colors, I believe according to the minerals that happen to be in the groundwater.

There are plenty of mineral stains to be seen on the stones where groundwater has seeped out of cracks and it makes sense that mineral rich water would color the ice.

This slab of ice is huge and if it ever lets go of the rock it grows on I hope I’m nowhere near it.

I speak about “rotten ice” a lot when I come here so I thought I’d show you the difference between good, solid ice like that in the above photo and the rotten ice in the following photo. This ice is clear and very hard and will ring sharply if you tap on it. It has very few air bubbles and other impurities trapped inside it.

Rotten ice on the other hand is opaque, weak and full of impurities. Ice becomes rotten when water, air bubbles, and/or dirt get in between the grains of ice and cause it to honeycomb and lose its strength. When you tap on ice that looks like this you hear a dull thud. The grayish white color and matte finish are a sure sign that you should stay away from it when it’s hanging over your head like it can do here.  

Falling ice is a real danger here; most of these pieces were big enough to have killed someone. This doesn’t usually happen until the weather warms in March though, so I was surprised to see it.

Then there are the falling stones. These fell very recently because they were on the ice of the frozen drainage channel. This always concerns me because I walk in or over the drainage channels to get to the canyon walls. That’s where interesting mosses and liverworts grow. If I had been hit by any one of those stones it would have been all over.

But speaking of the drainage channels, the ice growing on them was beautiful.

The opening photo of this post also shows ice that formed on the drainage channel, just like that in the above shot.

Here was something I’ve never seen; an icicle fell and stabbed through the ice on the drainage channel, and then froze standing up.

Last year’s leaves were trapped under the ice in places.

In other places the drainage channel hadn’t frozen at all. Here the sun was reflected in the water of the channel. I thought the colors were very beautiful. Like molten sunshine.

This spirogyra algae dripping off the stones was something I’ve seen but have never seen here. Spirogyra has common names that include water silk and mermaid’s tresses. It is described as a “filamentous charophyte green algae of the order Zygnematales.” I’ve read that they grow in nutrient rich places. They’re always interesting and I wanted to take a closer look but I didn’t have my rubber boots on so I couldn’t walk through the drainage channel.

Here is some spirogyra algae that I found last year. The strange thing that looks like a vacuum cleaner hose is a chloroplast, and its spiral growth habit is what gives these algae their name. There are more than 400 species of Spirogyra in the world, almost always found in fresh water situations. According to what I’ve read, when used medicinally spirogyra are known as an important source of “natural bioactive compounds for antibiotic, antiviral, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cytotoxic purposes.” As I said; they’re always interesting.

NOTE: A botanist friend has written in to say that chloroplasts are microscopic so the hose like thing is not one of those, but neither one of us can figure out exactly what it is. It’s a very strange thing to be seen under algae, that’s for sure. I wish we had studied algae in the botany classes that I had!

The orange red color in this shot is iron oxide, washed from the soil by groundwater. I thought the colors in this scene were amazing; otherworldly and beautiful. There was much beauty to be seen here on this day and it reminded me why I come here again and again.

As I always do I stopped at what is left of the old lineman’s shack. It was easy to imagine a group of workers huddled around an old potbellied stove in there on a day like this, but it would have had walls and a roof then. It was very well built and simply refuses to fall. They actually used railroad ties for the sills.

Here is a look at the inside of the shack. It’s too bad people feel the need to tear things apart, but it has probably been abandoned for close to 50 years now, since the Boston and Maine Railroad stopped running in the 1970s.

If you aren’t cold yet you must be a real trooper, but I thought I’d end with a warm shot of sunshine and blue sky just in case. With the wind chill the temperature was about 10 degrees F, and I was thankful that my cameras hadn’t stopped working. I was also thankful to be back in a warm car again even though I discovered that wearing a cloth mask is a good way to keep your face warm. Hopefully spring isn’t too far off.

It’s getting cold. Some of you will put on jackets from the last season. Check your pockets. You might  well find a forgotten, unfulfilled wish.
~ Ljupka Cvetanova

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Last Sunday the weather people said it would be windy and cold with possibilities of snow squalls but I wanted to be in the woods, so I headed for a rail trail in Swanzey that I hadn’t been on since last year sometime. When I left the house it wasn’t bad; 36 degrees F. and cloudy, with a slight breeze. I was hoping the snow squalls wouldn’t happen because they can take you into white out conditions in an instant. When they happen you can’t see very well so I made a plan to just stand under a pine or hemlock tree until it passed. Luckily, I didn’t need a plan.

The trail was icy because we’d had rain all day the day before and then it froze up at night, but someone still had their bike out. You wouldn’t catch me doing that.

Though the trail was iced over the forest along the trail was mostly clear. Pines and hemlocks keep a lot of snow from hitting the ground.

The old whistle post wasn’t covered by forest debris yet. The W stands for whistle and the post is called a whistle post because it marks the spot where the locomotive engineer was to blow the train’s whistle. When there is a crossing very nearby, where the railbed crosses a road, the whistle would have alerted wagon or auto drivers that a train was coming. Some whistle posts were marked – – o -, which meant “two longs and a short” on the whistle. I grew up hearing these whistles (actually horns) daily as the old Boston and Maine diesel freights went by our house.

There are houses not too far from this rail trail and years ago someone planted a privet hedge and let it go. Now it has fruit.

I saw lots of big red stem moss (Pleurozium schreberi) out here. This is a common moss that I often see growing in very large mats, sometimes even overrunning and choking out other mosses. In fact I’ve never seen a moss grow as fast as this one. A few years ago I hardly saw it and now I see it just about everywhere I go. I’ve read that it is native but it seems bent on taking over the earth.

There are lots of small oak trees out here that have been cut again and again by the people who maintain these trails, and this is one of them. It stopped me when I noticed all the various colors in its leaves. Beautiful warm browns, orange, and even pink.

Many of the oak leaves were covered with small spots, which I think were some type of fungus.

One of the oaks had galls on it and a bird had pecked them open to get at the galls inside. Years ago I thought at first it was woodpeckers that did this but I’ve seen blue jays and even chickadees pecking at them.

High up in the branches of many oaks jelly fungi grow on the limbs, and when these limbs fall we get a good chance to see them. I think that the most common of all jelly fungi is this one; the amber jelly (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.

One side of this trail is bordered by Yale forest and there is plenty to see there. Yale University has a hands on forestry school in this forest so you can occasionally see it being selectively logged.

It’s easy to see how white tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata) got its common name. This is a fairly common moss that seems to like to hang from the sides of boulders and ledges. Another name for it is Medusa moss, because when dry its leaves press close to the stem and it takes on a very wiry, string like appearance. Its ball shaped orange spore capsules (sporophytes) are hidden among the leaves on very short stalks, so they’re hard to see. This moss will even grow on asphalt roofs, so it is a perfect choice for green roof projects.

Due to the rain of the day before this particular moss looked happy and beautiful.

Before I knew it I was at the trestle.

There are good views of the river from these old trestles so I’m glad they’re still here.

Many trees topple into the river each year and that’s why you usually only see kayaks or canoes on it when the water is high in spring. I have a feeling that leaning maple will be in the water before too long.

I’ve been out here when the leaves were on the trees so I know they’re silver and red maples, but even if I hadn’t seen the leaves, those buds would tell the story.

I walked on past the trestle and saw a few stones with drill marks but I didn’t see any ledges or boulders that they might have come from. Usually you can tell right where they are from.

It was nice to see green leaves in January. I think the overhanging evergreens must have helped protect these blackberry leaves from the cold.

I saw a few partridgeberry plants with the berries still on them. Usually turkeys and other birds snap them up quickly so they can be hard to find. Partridgeberry is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but do not climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. The berries will remain on the plant for long periods unless eaten, and can sometimes still be found the following spring.

Partridgeberry flowers come in pairs that are fused at the base. Once pollinated, the ovaries of these flowers will join and form one berry with 8 seeds. Partridgeberry plants can always be easily identified by the two indentations on the berries that show where the flowers were, and these can be seen in the photo above.  Other names for this plant include twinberry and two-eyed berry. The berries are edible, but mostly tasteless.

I saw a stone that was shot full of mica. I’ve had a hard time getting a good shot of mica in the past but this one came out reasonably well.

After a time I saw the river again and I knew it was time to turn around, because from here it is just a short walk to the other end of this leg of the trail where several roads meet. I was glad the snow squalls held off until later in the day.

Forests, lakes, and rivers, clouds and winds, stars and flowers, stupendous glaciers and crystal snowflakes – every form of animate or inanimate existence, leaves its impress upon the soul of man. ~Orison Swett Marden

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

A few years ago I found a beautiful lichen on one of the trees you see in this photo and then I went back later on and found it again, but since then I’ve never been able to find it, and that’s what this post is about. The lichen post I did a while back reminded me that the fruiting (spore producing) bodies of some lichens only appear in the winter. I had been looking for it in the summer and hadn’t seen a thing, so on this coldish day I had high hopes of finding it.

I walked here two days before Christmas so the rain hadn’t yet washed away the 16 inch snowfall. Thankfully snowmobiles had packed it down. My days of breaking trails through knee deep snow are over so I wait for them to do it for me. They make winter walking much easier.

The weather people said partly cloudy and I had to let them get away with it, even though it was more cloudy than not.

I didn’t see any change in the American hazelnut catkins but it’s early. In February they’ll start to lengthen and soften and then will finally turn yellow with pollen and flower when the female blossoms appear at the end of the month. It’s an event I look forward to each year.

I saw a branch covered with milk white toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus). This fungus is common and easily seen in winter. It is a resupinate fungus, which means it looks like it grows upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi appear to do.

The “teeth” of a milk white toothed polypore are actually ragged bits of spore producing tissue which start life as pores or tubes and then break apart and turn brown as they age.

Last year when the corn in the nearby cornfields was ripe I came out here and saw 15-20 squirrel’s nests in the trees. This year the corn didn’t grow due to the drought, and I saw just one dilapidated squirrel nest that looked like it had been abandoned.

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), covered with fine velvet like hairs, glowed in the dim sunshine.

The velvet on a staghorn sumac is much like that found on a summer deer antler and I wondered if a male whitetail had tangled with this sumac stem. “Buck rubs” happen when a male deer rubs its antlers on a tree to get the dry, shedding velvet off its antlers. This velvet covering is soft and blood filled through summer but once the antlers mature and start to harden the velvet dries and begins to peel in strips.

But a deer didn’t do this; this sumac looked like it had been through a sickle bar mower.

The inner bark of dead staghorn sumacs is often bright red for a time but it does fade as this example was. I’ve heard that a rich brown dye can be made from sumac bark.

There was the beautiful blue of black raspberry canes and I wasn’t surprised. These old rail trails are a great place to pick berries in the summer, just as they were when the trains were running. I used to eat my way down the tracks when I was a boy.

I saw a bird’s nest so small you couldn’t have fit a robin’s egg in it. I don’t know which bird made it but it was very well made. It would have fit in the palm of my hand with plenty of room to spare.

Virgin’s bower seed heads (Clematis virginiana) glowed in the sunlight. This shows how this native clematis vine grows up and over shrubs, trying to reach as much sunlight as it can.

Virgins bower seed heads remind me of feeding furry tadpoles. It is said that the plant is toxic but early settlers used parts of the vines as a pepper substitute. Native Americans used it to treat migraine headaches and nervous disorders, and herbalists still use it to treat those same illnesses today.

Someone marked a gray birch tree with a bow. Trees are often marked for cutting, especially those that are in danger of falling, but not usually with a bow.

My favorite view of Mount Monadnock can be seen from here, and it’s my favorite because it’s the one I grew up with.

A plane droned by overhead and it reminded me of those lazy summer days as a boy when I would lay on my back in the grass and watch the clouds. Summer seemed like it would never end back then.

Finally I was at the spot where I thought the lichens grew. Luckily I had taken a photo of the group of trees that I had originally found the lichen on so I was able to find the group of trees, but I had no pointer to which tree in the group I had to look at, so the first trip was fruitless and I didn’t find the lichen. I tried again the next day and finally found it, slightly bigger than a pea growing on the smooth bark of a young red maple it was unmistakable with its yellowish body (Thallus) and blue apothecia. The first one I found years ago was dime size but this smaller one tells me there is more than one here. If I have identified it correctly it is the frosted comma lichen (Chrysothrix caesia) and this is the only spot I’ve ever found it in.

Also known as Arthonia caesia, this photo shows its granular thallus and blue gray apothecia (actually  called ascomata on this lichen) which get their color from the same waxy “bloom” that colors the black raspberry cane we saw earlier. They make this lichen easy to identify, but don’t make it any easier to find. Though it might seem a lot of work for little reward I now know that this lichen only fruits in winter and I’ve also read that some of them can be sterile. I also know that it’s a waste of time to look for them in summer, so I learned a lot about another being that I share this planet with.

Live this life in wonder, in wonder of the beauty, the magic, the true magnificence that surrounds you. It is all so beautiful, so wonderful. Let yourself wonder. ~Avina Celeste

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Last weekend warm air moved over the cold snow and created a fog which was quite thick in places, including here in the man-made railroad canyon in Westmoreland. Ice climbers call it the icebox and there was plenty of ice to see on this day.

Once cold settles in here, which in places is as much as 50 feet below surface level, it usually stays for the winter. There is also a lot of groundwater trickling out of the rock walls, and that coupled with the cold creates ice columns which are often as big as tree trunks. So big that the Appalachian Mountain Club comes here to train ice climbers.

There were some impressive Ice falls here on this day but I don’t know if they were ready to be climbed.

There are many signs to tell you what goes on here, like this metal tie off. Ice climbers call these “screws.”

I’ve included this shot from last year to give you a sense of scale of the place. It doesn’t take much ice to get them climbing but on this day they admitted that they were doing as much rock climbing as they were ice climbing. I don’t usually speak to these people out of fear of breaking their concentration. It could be the climber’s first climb and they need to be able to hear and concentrate on the instructions coming from below. Sometimes if I hear them say they need a rest I’ll speak to them but I never stay long. They’re a gutsy bunch. With my paralyzing fear of heights they’d have to pry me from that wall one finger at a time.

In places water quite literally pours from the rock walls. Until I came here I never knew how much ground water could be moving just below the surface.

Water pours and trickles from every crack in the stone, in winter and summer.

The ice falls can be very beautiful.

In places the groundwater sometimes doesn’t flow and even in winter the place reminds me of the Shangri-La James Hilton described in his book Lost Horizon. Being here is like walking back in time to an unspoiled place, even though it was actually created by man. It’s easy to lose yourself in the beauty of it and it’s common for me to have no idea how long I’ve spent here.

Of course all that water has to be taken out of the canyon somehow, so the railroad built drainage channels along each side of the trail. When they are maintained they still work as they were designed to 150 years ago.

As I always do I headed south out of the deep canyon to the southern part of the trail. On the way you pass an excellent example of how a retaining wall should be built; tilted back into the hillside at about 10 degrees. This adds a lot of strength to the wall. You can’t see it in this shot but what’s left of a signal box is on top of the wall about half way down.

And before long I saw this; the entire southern canyon was flooded. Trees and tree limbs fall regularly here and they often land in the drainage channels. With regular maintenance this isn’t a problem but if nobody removes the trees and branches leaves build up and plug the channels. That’s exactly what has happened and since the water had nowhere else to go it ran into the rail bed and washed it out in several places. I went along and pulled out what branches I could but this will take two strong backs with a chainsaw and a stone rake to do it properly. Coincidentally I met a man on a 4 wheeler who was trying to clean things up but he had no real tools and his ability was limited, but he did say that there are many committees and commissions that know about this problem, so hopefully it won’t be long before this is taken care of. This place is after all one of a kind. There is nothing like it that I know of anywhere else on this rail trail circuit.

I’ve noticed that the green alga (Trentepohlia aurea) that grows here and there on the walls seems to  be spreading, so the conditions must be right for it. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll. Someday, maybe after I retire, I’m going to come here regularly so I can better understand its life cycle. I know it produces spores but it’s something I’ve never seen happen. Since you have to walk through the drainage channel to get to it I don’t see it up close very often.

There was some colored ice already forming. I believe the color comes from various minerals in the groundwater. Due to the rise and fall of the water in the drainage channel the ice is always cut off in a very straight line as you can see here.

Every year this evergreen fern is encased in an icy prison, but every year it just shrugs it off.

A blackberry still had some color.

Here was more colored ice. Blue is the most dense but I didn’t see any of that. In fact much of the ice was rotten, which is what happens if it gets too warm. Rotten ice is soft and opaque and makes a dull thud when you strike it. New clear ice is quite hard and rings a bit when you strike it.

Here is one of the mineral seeps found along the trail. I believe it is iron, possibly oxidized by bacteria. Certain types of bacteria can take iron dissolved in groundwater and oxidize it. Oxidation prevents iron from dissolving in the water and produces either an orange colored slime as is seen here, or an oily sheen. I think this must play a large part in why there is so much colored ice found here.

Here was a bit more colored ice. Location seems to be random because it doesn’t always happen in the same place year after year.

The beautiful reptilian great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) like to grow in places where they are constantly splashed by or dripped on by very clean ground water. Though they like a lot of water they won’t stand being submerged in it and die back if the water level rises. Ice doesn’t seem to bother them because they are often totally encased it all winter in this place. This is the only place I know of to find them.

Since I wasn’t wearing my rubber boots I couldn’t get close to the liverworts but I wished I could smell them. If you squeeze a small piece and smell it you’ll immediately smell one of the cleanest scents found in nature that I know of. In general liverworts are a sign of very clean water, so that says a lot about the quality of the groundwater in this place. There are also small brook trout swimming in the drainage channels, and that’s another sign of very clean water.

Orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) is also called crowded parchment but no matter what you call it, it’s a beautiful fungus that can be seen from quite a distance. It loves moisture so this place brings out its best.

How appropriate I thought, to find one of the fungi that Ötzi, the 5000 year old “iceman” whose well preserved body was found in the Ötztal Alps in 1991 carried. From what I’ve read he carried two types of fungi; birch polypores (Piptoporus betulinus) and the one shown here, which is the tinder polypore (Fomes fomentarius.) There are lots of different theories of why he would have carried these two particular fungi but I don’t think anyone will ever know for certain. What is known is birch polypores have antiseptic properties and tinder fungi are good for starting fires, and both would have been valuable to someone who walked 5000 years ago.

This stream carries all the water from the drainage channels off into the woods to some unknown body of water. It could flow into Tenant swamp in Keene, which isn’t too far downhill from here. The “hills” you see on either side are actually made of much of the blasted stone that came from the deep cut canyons.

Off in the distance a bridge goes over the stream. It’s a narrow thing, possibly 8-10 feet wide, and I’ve always thought it must have been used as a way for ore carts to get all the stone away from the railbed, but now I wonder if it might have been used for one of those pump handle carts they used to use. Somehow men had to get into the canyon and move a lot of snow after every storm and I’ve wondered for years how they did it. There were plows fitted to the front of some locomotives but I think there still would have been a lot of cleaning up to do afterwards. The canyons are only about 4-6 feet wider than a train so there wouldn’t have been a lot of room for snow.

I think all the snow removal tools would have been kept in the old lineman’s shack, which may or may not make it through another winter. Ever so slowly it leans in on itself. Since we just got 16 inches of snow on the day I’m finishing this post I wonder if it isn’t just a pile of boards now.

One moment the world is as it is. The next, it is something entirely different. Something it has never been before. ~Anne Rice

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

There is a rail trail in Swanzey that I drive by occasionally and I noticed this past summer that there was heavy equipment all along it. There were piles of what I first thought were pipes, but they turned out to be new power poles. I noticed that the heavy equipment was finally gone last week so I thought I’d go see what had gone on. In other words I was being nosey.

What had gone on was new power poles had been put in place and the growth under them had been removed. All the plants that once grew under them had been replaced by grass but luckily, along the side of the rail trail that the power company doesn’t have rights to, the plants were left alone. It is very common here to have high tension electric wires follow right along beside what once were railroad tracks. The railroads in turn, often followed rivers. I suppose materials to build railroads could have been floated down rivers and then, once electricity came along, the materials for power lines could have been shipped by rail. I don’t know this as fact but it would explain why rivers, railroads and power lines always seem to be side by side.

These new poles are made of steel and are very tall. They are also 12 sided, with the upper pole section slipping down over the lower section. They’re then bolted together. Lining those holes up to get the bolts in must be quite a chore when everything is dangling from a crane.

I would guess, since steel is an excellent conductor and wood is not, that the poles would have been much less hazardous if they had been made of wood as they have always been.

Many of the new poles are right there on the side of the rail trail, so how they expect that people will stay away from them is anyone’s guess. I’m sure children will be all over them. I was when I was a boy, but those were wooden poles. You can also see in this shot how, where the poles go into the ground they’re coated in some type of rubberized material, most likely to keep them from rusting. Since the coating was already scratched away in many places I have little faith that there will be no rusting going on.  

There is an old railroad bridge out here that once carried cars over the railroad tracks. I’ve driven over it many times myself.

The timbers are stout and still appear to be strong but the highway department has closed it to all but foot traffic.

They could have closed it because the road was put down over wood, as this view of the underside shows. All the paving of the road over the years was actually being supported by simple wooden boards. Of course when this bridge was built the traffic might have been chiefly made up of horse drawn wagons and model A Fords.

Though a brush cutter cleared the sides of the trail recently you’d never know it from this shot. You can see lots of the old wooden poles that hadn’t been replaced yet.

These old poles still look solid to me but I’m not a power company engineer. They could all be like hollow trees.

It was cold enough for there to be frost in the shade on this morning.

I saw that horses had used the trail.

Deer had used it as well.

There is lots of old farmland out here. I’d guess it is probably all used for hay fields now.

It was clear that this cattle gate hadn’t been used for a while.

An old stone boundary marker had been cut by hand and was shaped like the state of New Hampshire.

I saw a few American hazelnut (Corylus americana) catkins, and that made me think of spring.

The hazelnuts themselves had been bored into and the meat eaten, either by a bird or an insect. I’ve never seen this before. I have seen birds pecking at goldenrod galls though, so maybe that’s what has happened here.

I was surprised to see a young goldenrod plant looking like it thought spring was here.

Most goldenrods looked like this; long gone to seed. These tall plants that stand up above the snow are an important source of food for the birds in the winter after snow covers all the seeds on the ground. There were several chickadees scolding me as I took this photo so I wondered if they were eating the seeds already.

Last time I was out here I found a well-constructed hideout some kids had made. They would have to crawl on their stomachs to get through that small hole but that wouldn’t have bothered me when I was a boy. I thought, since all the growth along the sides of the trail had been cut, that it would have been destroyed but no, the mowers went around it and left it alone. I’m guessing whoever was driving the tractor once had a hideout too.

The last time I walked a rail trail a flock of robins was busy eating all the staghorn sumac berries but out here the fruit was untouched. It’ll be good winter food.

I saw some escaping pumpkins. I’m guessing that they wanted to get into the drainage channel. From there they could get to a stream and from there to the river and from there to the Atlantic. Once in the ocean well, the world is your oyster.

Everything is light, everything is warmth, everything is electricity, everything is a magnetic field, everything is you.~ Md Anisuzzaman

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

From Winchester to the south of Keene to Westmoreland to the north the Cheshire Rail Trail covers about 40 miles, so I’m not surprised that I haven’t hiked the entire thing. One leg I’ve wondered about for quite a while is the piece that goes from Pearl Street in Keene to Whitcomb’s Mill Road. On this day I decided to stop wondering and hike it, and this is what I saw at the outset; a wide, packed gravel trail with street lights and park benches. It was the busiest rail trail I’ve ever been on and this is the only photo I was able to get without people in it. There were hikers, runners, bike riders, dog walkers, elderly couples and small children in strollers, and I wondered what I had done. I’m used to being kind of “right here, right now” when I’m in nature, and there usually is nothing else. When you find yourself continually having to say “hello” or “good morning”, or to explain why you’re taking a photo of an old dead tree, it’s harder to be there.

The trail crosses another one of Keene’s busiest highways and this bridge was built here after a homeless man was killed trying to cross. This bridge reminds me of the other one like it near Keene State College but this one isn’t as sturdy. A jogger ran over it while I was crossing it and the entire thing was bouncing up and down. For someone who doesn’t get on well with heights it was a little disconcerting. Speaking of heights, this is very near the place where I fell out of a tree a fractured my spine some 50 years ago. That thought just happened to pop into my mind when the bridge started bouncing.  

It had rained the day before so everything, including this greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), was still damp. On this day we were promised full sunshine and strong winds. The wind prediction kept me out of the forest but we had no wind at all, and no sunshine either.

There were plenty of reminders that this was once a railbed, including this pile of old railroad ties and the drainage channel behind. The railroad took up all the rails and ties and left them in piles all along the rail corridor. My question has always been, if they weren’t going to re-use them why did they remove them?

I wondered what kinds of mosses could grow on creosote soaked rail ties so I looked closer. One of them was one of my favorites, white tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata). It is also called medusa moss because of  the way this moss looks like a bunch of tangled worms when it dries out. This moss is fairly common and I find it mostly growing on stones in sunny spots. It always seems to be very happy and healthy. This example had spore capsules, which I’ve rarely seen on this moss.

A tangle of black raspberry canes made me think of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue”. I was happy to let it play in my mind as I walked on.

Honey mushrooms (Armillarea mellea) once grew on this elm tree and I know that because their long black root like structures called rhizomorphs still clung to the dead tree. Honey mushrooms are parasitic on live wood and grow long cream colored rhizomorphs between the wood and its bark. They darken to brown or black as they age, but by the time we see them the tree has died and its bark is falling off. The fungus is also called armillarea root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees. Fallen logs and standing dead trees will often still have the black rhizomorphs attached to them.

I’ve never paid attention to the inner bark of an elm tree but I will from now on because it is beautifully colored. This piece brought the thought of Jupiter’s great red spot, the anticyclonic storm that has been raging for hundreds of years on that planet.

Off in the distance there was still some color.

And above me hung crab apples. Though we think the apples we’re eating are native, crab apples are really the only apples native to North America. The apples we know originated in Central Asia, where its wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, is still found today. Apples are thought to be the first cultivated tree and have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe. North American apple cultivation began 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. Settlers had come prepared with seeds, cuttings, and small plants from the best European stock and the trees grew well here; by the end of the 19th century 14,000 apple varieties were being grown. Many were inferior varieties and for one reason or another fell out of favor and have been lost to the ages. Today 2,500 varieties of apples are grown in the U.S. and 7,500 varieties of apples are grown worldwide.

Thank you to Tim Hensley and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for the article A Curious Tale: The Apple in North America, for some of the information used here.

Bracken fern made me think of the spines and rib cages of ancient fossilized creatures.

I came to a large field. Since it wasn’t fenced I’m guessing it was a hay field. A strange thing to find out here I thought, even though I was only a stone’s throw from suburbia.

And the Keene Country Club’s golf course proved how close I was to suburbia. I was happy to get out of here without getting whacked by a golf ball. How strange that green looked.

Instead of worrying about stray golf balls I kept my mind on the beauty that surrounded me here on the trail. There was plenty of it.

I saw what I first thought was a dead tree and then I looked up and saw a cross brace and realized it was an old railroad pole that once held the glass insulators that telegraph lines were fixed to. It showed great age and I loved its weathered surface and many knots. I’m guessing it must have been locust because no other wood I know of can stand in the ground for two hundred plus years without rotting. It’s a great choice for fence posts.

Here was a newer concrete marker post. I’ve tried to look up what 93-24 means but I haven’t had any luck.

There was a small homemade bridge crossing the drainage channel and I’d bet if I had crossed it I would have come to a secret hideout. Every child has one.

The other day on my way to work a red fox ran across the road in front of me and this grass reminded me to tell you about it.

The intense red of the inner bark of a staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) caught my eye. Native Americans used the pulp of the stems and the inner bark to make dye, and after seeing the color I’m not surprised. You have to be quick to find the red color though because it’s only there for a short time right after the tree dies. I’ve read descriptions that say the inner (live) bark is “light green and sweet to chew on,” but no reference to its changing color when it dries, so it is a mystery to me. The plant is said to be rich in tannins and I do know that dyes in colors like salmon and plum can be made from it.

When I was a boy we always carved our names into trees with a pocket knife but as Brittnie shows us, these days it’s done with a marker. Better for the tree I suppose.

From a distance I thought a hawk had gotten a bird but no, the scattered “feathers” were just wet milkweed seeds.

I could sit down and write out a very long list of all the plants and trees one could expect to find along our rail trails but yew wouldn’t be one of them. Canada yew (Taxus canadensis) is native from Newfoundland west to Manitoba, south to Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, and Iowa, but in this region I rarely see it. Though all parts of the yew plant are poisonous several Native American tribes made tea from the needles to ease everything from numbness to scurvy. A man in England died not too long ago from eating yew, so I wouldn’t advise trying to make tea from it. Natives knew how to treat poisonous plants in ways that made them beneficial to humans, but much of that knowledge has been lost.

Well, this was an interesting hike on a very well maintained trail but it was a bit too busy for my liking, so I doubt it will be a regular in my book of hiking spots. In fact at times it seemed as if I might have been hiking in downtown Keene. I enjoy less traveled trails where solitude is one of the most precious things to be found because, as Marty Rubin once said: “Solitude is where one discovers one is not alone.”

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »