Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Cheshire Rail Trails’

Last Saturday was a beautiful warm spring day and though there was plenty of snow left, it was melting fast. The “plenty of snow” part of things is what dictates where I can go in winter because many parking areas have been plowed in or not plowed at all. Not only that but many places don’t see much foot traffic in winter so the snow hasn’t been packed down. This rail trail in Keene solves all of those problems and that’s why I chose it. There is plenty of parking space and the snow has been packed down by snowmobiles, making it easy to walk on. If you step off that packed trail though, you could find yourself knee deep in snow, so you have to keep that in mind.

I admired the branch structure of the trees against the beautiful blue of the sky. This one is a white poplar (Populus alba,) which is a weak tree that often loses large limbs. In ancient Rome this tree was called Arbour populi, which means tree of the people. These days it is also called silver leaved poplar. It originally came to the U.S. from Europe in 1748 and obviously liked it here because now it can be found in almost every state. It is very common here in New Hampshire and is considered a weed tree.

One of the easiest ways of identifying white poplar is by its diamond shaped lenticels, which are dark against the whitish bark. Another way is by its leaves, which are green on top and white and wooly underneath. The tree has a shallow root system and suckers aggressively from the roots, so it is best not to use it as an ornamental.

The native tree population in the area is mostly maple, pine, birch, and black cherry. This forest is young; I can remember when it was a cornfield, and knowing I’m older than the trees makes me feel a little strange. I can’t remember exactly when they stopped farming this land but if I go by the size of the tree trunks it couldn’t have been more than 25 or 30 years ago.

I finally saw birds eating birch seeds. This gray birch had a whole flock of them in it and they let me stand 5 feet away and watch them feed until a snowmobile came along and scared them away. These aren’t good photos at all but I wanted to show that I wasn’t imagining things when I say that birds eat birch seeds.

I tried looking these small birds up and the closest I could come was the black and white warbler, because of the stripes you can see in this  poor shot.  There was a resounding chorus of birdsong all along this trail on this day and now I know who was singing at least part of it. How could someone not be happy when so many birds are?

The whole of both sides of this trail are lined with American hazelnut bushes (Corylus americana) and I like the way the green-gold catkins shine in the spring sun. I looked several time for signs of them opening, but not yet. When they open there will be a single bright, yellow-green, male flower peeking out from under those diamond shaped bud scales.

As I was taking photos of these sapsucker holes I could hear a woodpecker drilling off in the distance. Yellow bellied sapsuckers are in the woodpecker family but unlike other woodpeckers they feed on sap instead of insects. They drill a series of holes in a line across the bark and then move up or down and drill another series of holes before moving again, and the end result is usually a rectangular pattern of holes in the bark. They’ll return to these holes again and again to feed on the dripping sap. Many small animals, bats, birds and insects also drink from them, so these little birds helps out a lot of their forest companions.

I was admiring the sunshine on black cherry branches (Prunus serotina) when a plane flew by. A single engine Cessna practicing stalls, I think. It flew in a nose up attitude and was surprisingly quiet.

This black cherry had a bad case of black knot disease, which is what caused the growth seen here. Though it looks like a burl it is not; it’s caused by a fungus called Apiosporina morbosa. When it rains the fungus releases spores that are carried by the wind to other trees and almost every cherry along this trail had the disease, which is always fatal if it isn’t cut out of the tree when it’s young. It also infects plum and other ornamental cherry trees. It’s often mistaken for the chaga mushroom but that fungus doesn’t grow on cherry trees. Note the tree’s platy, dark gray bark with horizontal lenticels. Black cherries can grow to 80 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet in diameter if they aren’t attacked by black knot.

I saw what I thought was snow on a fallen branch but it was a bracket fungus that had degraded so badly it had become paper thin and the purest white.

I reached the point where ash swamp brook meets the Ashuelot River and there were two small black and white ducks here, splashing across the water very fast; so fast I couldn’t get a shot of them. They were probably half the size of a mallard with dark and light colored bodies and they could really move.

I used to come here as a boy and watch the bank swallows that lived in this embankment. That’s all soil, probably 10 feet deep, from the brook to the top, all deposited as river silt over who knows how many thousands of years and soft enough for the birds to dig in. It’s no wonder farmers have farmed this land for centuries. “Rich bottom land” I believe they call it.

The brook and river still flood to this day, and you can usually see huge plates of ice all around the trees in this area in winter, but I didn’t see any on this day.

I was able to climb / slide down the hill into the forest to get a shot of the trestle I stood on to take the previous 3 shots. This trestle is known as a “double intersection Warren pony truss bridge” and was probably built around 1900. It is also described as a lattice truss. Metal truss bridges were used as early as 1866 but railroads didn’t begin using them until around 1870. By 1900 they were common and replaced wooden bridges, which occasionally burned and often were washed away in flooding. I’ve seen water almost up to the bottom of this one and that’s a scary sight.

Some of these old Boston and Maine Railroad trestles have been here for 150 years and if man leaves them alone I’d bet that they’ll be here for another 150 years. I wish I knew if they were built here or built off site and shipped here. I do know that the abutments were built here from local granite, all without a drop of mortar.

Ash swamp brook was very low but since it hasn’t rained and no snow had melted for a week or so I wasn’t surprised. This brook meanders through parts of Keene and Swanzey and originates to the north of Keene. Hurricane brook starts it all near a place called Stearn’s hill. It becomes white brook for a while before emptying into black brook.  Black brook in turn empties into Ash Swamp, and the outflow from the swamp is called ash swamp brook. It finally meets the Ashuelot river at this spot after changing names at least 4 and maybe more times. I’m guessing all the different names are from the early settlers, who most likely didn’t know they were looking at the same brook. It’s quite long and I doubt anyone has ever followed it from here to its source.

I saw a small oak branch that was full of split gill fungi (Schizophyllum commune.) These are winter fungi that in late fall and I was happy to see them because I’ve been looking for them all winter but hadn’t seen any. They are about the size of a penny and are very tough and leathery.

Split gill fungi wear a wooly fur coat and this makes then easy to identify. Split gills grow on every continent except Antarctica and are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. Scientists have isolated a compound in them that is said to inhibit the HIV-1 virus.

The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds of tissue on its underside that split lengthwise when the mushroom dries out. The splits close over the fertile spore producing surfaces in dry weather and open to release the spores when they’re rehydrated by rain. It’s a pretty little mushroom, in my opinion.

It’s spring fever, that’s what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

We still haven’t seen much snow and the temperature would average out at about 35 degrees, I’d guess, so winter has been easy so far and that means easy hikes as well. Last Saturday I decided to go and see if the Ashuelot River had any ice on it out in the woods where nobody can see it, and to get there I had to use this rail trail.

White cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) lived up to its name with its perfect pin cushion shape. This moss gets its common name from the way its color lightens when it dries out. It often is a good example of how dry winter can be.

I saw a mushroom that looked like it had been painted by van Gogh. It was a beautiful thing; a painting and a poem, and was more beautiful in death than it would have been in life.

A tree decided to eat the small sign that had been tacked to it. As it grows the tree will grow out around it and finally engulf it so it can’t be seen. Many things are found in trees when they are cut down, including screws and nails, signs, pipes, fencing, cannonballs, bullets, beer bottles, hammers, handsaws, horse shoes, chains, ropes, stones, and one arborist even found a Chevy Corvette rim. Trees will grow around just about anything, and this doesn’t bode well for the wood cutter.

This sign was for the Yale Forest, which borders this trail. How it got into the tree in this way is a mystery, but I saw two or three of them doing the same thing.

Hard little oak marble galls had grown on a small oak. These are formed when a gall wasp called Andricus kollari lays its eggs inside a leaf bud. The plant reacts by forming these small spherical galls.

The wasp larvae live and grow in the gall by eating the plant tissue, but in this case they didn’t have a chance. A bird pecked its way into each gall and ate the insects.

The hard little wood-like seed pods of Indian pipes stood here and there along the way. Interesting in this grouping was how some of the seed heads pointed towards the ground. The stems usually become erect and point the flowers toward the sky once they have been pollinated.

This is how an Indian pipe seed head usually looks at this time of year. They look like little carved wooden flowers and when their seams begin to split open it is a signal that the seeds have ripened. The pods split open to reveal 5 separate chambers full of dust like seeds which will be taken by the wind. Each individual seed is just about microscopic at only 10 cells thick.

Blowdowns throughout our forests tell of the strong winds we had last summer. We lost many trees, and many houses, cars, and outbuilding as well when the trees fell on them.

Wood pulp where its heartwood would have been showed in one white pine that had been twisted off its stump by the wind. It was a huge old tree that was all but hollow. Carpenter ants had turned its insides to dust. It’s amazing how many trees there are just like this one, still standing and waiting for a strong wind to knock them down.

What looked like white animal hair was tangled on a bramble and quivered in the slight breeze. It might have been from a skunk or a dog. Lots of people walk their dogs here but skunks should be hibernating by now.

I think the bramble was a rose, possibly the invasive multiflora rose, but if so it was a young example. I can’t account for the two tiny black beads of liquid at the base of the bud.

An animal sampled this birch polypore (Fomitopsis betulina) and apparently didn’t find it very tasty. They’re said to smell like green apples and I wonder if they taste the same. This common fungus is also called razor strop fungus because of its ability to sharpen knives when it dries out. It has also been used medicinally for thousands of years due to its antiseptic, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. It also contains betulinic acid, which has shown promise in cancer research.

I love these old trestles out here in the middle of nowhere. I’ve been playing on them since I was a young boy so they come with many great memories.

This is the last trestle 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 walked 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.

I saw a few small bits of ice along the trail in shaded spots but there wasn’t any on the river. This is an unusual scene for January but it speaks of the mild temperatures we’ve seen so far. As I write this on New Year ’s Day at 11:00 am the sun is shining and it is already 37 degrees F, with an expected high today of 47. I might have to stop writing and get outside.

The high water mark on the river’s flanks showed the water had dropped what looked to be 5-6 feet. You can see the fine white silt the river deposited near the high water mark.

Pine bark beetles had penned abstract calligraphy on a fallen limb. Shallow channels like these are made by the female beetles and the males make much deeper channels. It’s all about having chambers to deposit eggs in and when the eggs hatch even more chambers are made.

The sun had lowered by the time I had turned around and it cast a golden light on the trail ahead.

The sun was also caught in the little bluestem grass across the way. It made the grass even more beautiful than it usually is. It, combined with all of the other interesting things I saw, made this walk very enjoyable.

In the winter, the world gets sharp. Beautiful things happen. Peter Fiore

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Though we still have a lot of colorful foliage to see we are now just past peak color and leaves (mostly maple) are falling quickly. The birch trees clinging to this rock face still had plenty of their bright yellow leaves though. That beautiful blue color you see is caused by wet spots on the stone that reflected the blue of the sky.

Here is a hillside that’s considerably more populated than the one in the previous photo. Many of the trees were already bare when this was taken and by the time you see this post I’m guessing that the biggest part of this hillside will be bare. It’s amazing how fast it can happen, especially with rain and wind, and that tells me I’d better be climbing a mountain soon if I want to see the colors from above.

If you thought you saw plum purple in that previous photo you might have; white ash trees (Fraxinus americana) often turns purple in the fall.

White ash is also called American ash. Along with purple they’ll turn red, orange or yellow in the fall. They turn early along with the maples and are one of our most beautiful fall trees.

Another hillside with some bare trees. And cows.

The trees along the Branch River in Marlborough were showing some good color. Marlborough was settled in 1764 and before that it was a fort town known as Monadnock number 5. Marlborough grew to be an important quarry town and granite from here was used in buildings in Boston and Worcester Massachusetts. Today slightly over 2,000 people live there and I drive through it every day to and from work.

Up north of Keene in Surry the Ashuelot River can just be glimpsed through the trees. Surry is another small town. With a population of only 732 in 2010 in hasn’t grown much since the first census was taken in 1790. It had 448 residents then. It also has some beautiful fall foliage.

Surry also has Surry Mountain and it had quite a lot color on the day that I was there.

Surry Mountain has a lot of evergreens on it, mostly pine and hemlock, and they and the deciduous trees sometimes grow in wide swaths of one kind or the other without much mixing.

The mountain also had a few bare trees showing. Though they say that fall color was about 10 days later than average this year it seems like the maples aren’t hanging on to their leaves very long once they turn.

Our roadways still have plenty of color along them, either highways or back roads.

And so do our rail trails. This one is in Swanzey but they all look pretty much the same, bordered by a variety of trees. These happened to be maples.

Two ferns turn white quite early on in the fall; lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) like the one seen here are often first, and sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis) usually just before a frost. In fact sensitive ferns got that name from early settlers who saw that it was very sensitive to frost and cold weather.

I’ve seen hundreds of royal ferns (Osmunda spectabilis) in the fall and they’ve all been yellow until I saw this one, which decided to be orange. I like it better than yellow but I may never see another one. Royal ferns are thought to live 100 years or more though, so I do have a chance.

There was quite a lot of red showing in Tenant Swamp in Keene. Most of the trees in this view are maples, I think, but there may be a yellow larch or two in there as well.

I took this photo looking into the forest so you could see what the woods look like at this time of year.

One of my favorite places to walk is on this trail around a local pond. On this day the trail was carpeted with newly fallen leaves and the sight, sounds, and smell of them made me 10 years old again. I used to love walking through leaves just like these on the way to school.

Many people don’t realize that certain evergreens lose needles in the fall just as deciduous trees lose their leaves. White pine needles (Pinus strobus) like those seen here first turn yellow and then brown before finally falling. These examples fell in the pond water and made interesting patterns. You can find huge amounts of fallen needles like these along our back roads.  I used to fill trash bags full of them each year for a lady who used them as mulch.

I know everyone likes to see the colors reflected in glass-like water but October is a windy month and undisturbed water is hard to come by. Luckily the pond is protected by a big hill on one side so some parts of it were sheltered from the worst of the wind.

This is about as good as it got for reflections this time around I’m afraid, but there should be more in future posts.

Like being inside a kaleidoscope, that’s what this season is. Here are more of those fallen leaves I used to love walking through so much as a boy. I wish you could smell them. There is nothing else like it.

The fallen leaves in the forest seemed to make even the ground glow and burn with light ~Malcolm Lowry

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The turtlehead’s blossoms had just started to open.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

It was a beautiful sunny, spring like 40 degree day last Saturday when I set off down a favorite leg of the Ashuelot Rail Trail in Swanzey. Every time I come here I discover something I haven’t seen here before and today was no different. In fact I saw many things that I’ve walked right by on previous trips. That’s why John Burroughs said “To find new things, take the path you took yesterday,” and that’s why I follow the same trails again and again. Though I’ve traveled them many times I know that I haven’t seen half what is on them.

There were lots of beech trees along this section of trail and their dry leaves shivered and whispered softly in the light breeze. Soon they will begin to fall and make room for new leaves.

These berries had me scratching my head for a minute until I realized that the large shrub they grew on was privet. A homeowner who lived along the rail trail had long ago planted a privet hedge and then never trimmed it so the hedge grew to about ten feet tall, and it was covered with berries that the birds weren’t eating. That’s a good thing because privet is considered invasive. This is one of those things that I’ve walked by fifty times but haven’t seen.

One of my reasons to come here was to see the old trestle that crosses the Ashuelot River. There has been a lot of talk about ice jams and I wanted to see what the ice looked like out here in a place you can’t drive to.

Dark purple-brown frullania liverworts decorated a young oak tree. This liverwort is an epiphytic plant, which means it takes nothing from the trees that it grows on. I think of them being like a bird; they simply perch on trees in spots where they get the moisture and light that they need. They are easiest to see in winter when the cold darkens them.

There are about 800 species of this liverwort so identification can be difficult but this is the one that I most often see, with tiny leaves that are strung together like beads. Some frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant but I keep forgetting to smell them.

A heavily fruiting lichen grew right next to the liverwort on the oak tree. I see this lichen quite often but I’ve never been satisfied with any identification I’ve come up with so far. I thought it might be rosy saucer lichen until my color finding software told me that its many apothecia were brown instead of rosy. For those who don’t know lichens, the apothecia are the round, rimmed fruiting bodies where this lichen’s spores are produced.

An old railroad marker had slowly tilted until it had fallen almost all the way over but its “W” was still visible, highlighted in snow. 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. There is a crossing very nearby where the railbed crosses a road, and 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 was surprised that I couldn’t remember seeing the post here before, but I’m sure it had to have been.

I scuffed my boot in the snow to find that there were only about two inches over very firm ice. The ice remains even though it rained more than a week ago, but maybe a day or two of this warmth will have melted it.

When the sap (called pitch) of white pines turns blue and / or purple you know it has been cold. The only time I see it do this is in the winter. In summer it is either a matte finish, tannish color or a very clear honey / amber color, depending on when it oozed from the tree. Sometimes in winter it can be a very beautiful deep blue.

The biggest surprise on this hike was how many balsam fir trees (Abies balsamea) I saw. This is thought of as a more northern tree so I don’t expect to them here in the southern part of the state but I must have easily seen 20 of them that I hadn’t seen the last time I came this way. It’s hard to believe but maybe it is cold enough here these days to keep them happy. A lot of Christmases came rushing back when I smelled a few of its crushed needles.

The red buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) were a welcome sight but I was surprised again because I’ve never seen them growing here. Toward the end of April the fuzzy buds will be showing pink and orange hues. They’re one of the most beautiful things in the spring forest and well worth the effort to see.

The chubby, thumb size buds of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) were no surprise because these trees grow quite abundantly in the river bottom section of Swanzey. This is another bud which, when it breaks in early June, will easily be one of the most beautiful things in the forest. The insides of the bud scales are orange, pink and yellow and make these tress look like they are full of beautiful flowers.

Shagbark hickory gets its name, not surprisingly, from its shaggy bark. The wood is very hard and tough but flexible and shock resistant, so it is prized for use in tool handles. It was also once used to make wheels and spokes for wagons and early autos. Northeastern Native American tribes used the wood to make bows and stone axe handles. Hickory is also one of the hottest burning woods.

Native Americans used the nuts of shagbark hickory for food and the word “hickory” comes from the Native Algonquin “pawchiccora,” which was their word for the oily nutmeat. If a mother’s milk wasn’t available infants were fed hickory milk, which was made by boiling crushed hickory nuts. Today the nuts are eaten mostly by squirrels, chipmunks, foxes and turkeys.

As if often the case what should have been a short walk turned into a long one because there was so much to see along the way, but I finally made it to the trestle. Wooden decks and railings were added to most of the old, unused trestles in this area by snowmobile clubs, and all who use these trails really owe them a debt of gratitude for maintaining them. When I was a boy you had to step from railroad tie to tie, with a gap between that it was easy to catch a leg or an ankle in if you weren’t careful. I was so used to crossing trestles by the time I was ten I could cross them in the dark but I know people who got their leg down between the ties and one who even fell from a trestle into the river below.

I wouldn’t recommend falling into this river in January. There was something going on up river but I couldn’t tell if it was an ice jam or just ice that had formed around a submerged tree. There are a lot of submerged trees in this river and that’s why you only see kayaks or canoes when the water is high, usually in spring. You can see in this photo how the trees lean out over the water as they grow, trying to gather up as much sunlight as possible.

Slabs of ice in the trees told me how high the water had been a while ago. I’m guessing that the water level had dropped 4 or 5 feet since that ice formed.

Another reason I come here is to see the only “tell tales” left to see in this area. Tell tales are thin, pencil size pieces of wire suspended from a cross brace that hangs out over the railroad tracks. They were put in place to warn anyone walking on top of a boxcar that a tunnel or bridge was ahead so they could duck down and avoid a nasty collision with an immoveable object. Being hit in the face by these hanging wires couldn’t have been pleasant but it was certainly better than the alternative. They used to hang on either end of every trestle but now these ones are the only ones I see.

Of all the times I’ve come here I’ve never noticed that the upright that holds the tell tales out over the rail bed is actually a piece of track stood vertically and buried in the soil. It tells me that these tell tales might have been fashioned in place rather than made ahead of time and shipped to the site.

Where I grew up the Boston and Maine Railroad crossed the Ashuelot River just a few yards from my house and there was a trestle there just like this one, so I wouldn’t be lying if I said I grew up on this river and on these railroad tracks, and I guess that each are as much a part of me as anything can be. I think that’s why I come back to them again and again; to check on their health and to see that they’re doing well, and I’m happy to say that both the river and the rail trails are doing much better now than they were then. The Ashuelot was very polluted back then and the trains kept many people off the tracks, but now you can come and sit on a trestle like this all day and admire a near pristine river where bald eagles once again fish for trout. It makes me want to say just look what we can do when we really want to.

When I came here I had nothing but a camera and curiosity but I left satisfied with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step. It struck me on this walk that if people could find happiness in simple things like a walk outside on a warm January day, or seeing sunshine falling on last year’s grasses, they might find that they were happy most of the time. I find that I’m pretty happy most days, and that has happened quite by accident, just by spending most of my free time in nature. It really is amazing what an abundance of joy simply being outside can bring to you. I hope you’ll try it and see.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
~Lao Tzu

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Last Saturday in part one of this post I headed south out of Swanzey on a quest to find ledges and deep cuts on the old Cheshire Railroad that once ran from Keene to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and then on to Boston. Now, in part two of this post I’ve driven south just a short bit and I’m heading north to Keene, simply to cut down on the walking mileage. At this point I haven’t found the deep cut but I’ve seen many other interesting things, like this granite railroad bridge on the southern branch of the Ashuelot River. Built in place with granite hacked out of the nearby hills by railroad stone masons nearly 170 years ago, it’s as solid now as it was then and every bit as impressive too. Most of these arched railroad bridges were laid up dry with no mortar, and that’s quite a feat.

Near the railroad bridge are ruins of old bridge abutments which probably held a wooden or iron highway bridge at one time. Ruins like this are common here because our rivers and streams occasionally rise to “100 year flood” levels and wash everything in their path downstream. In reality it seems like the term 100 year flood should be revised to “10 year flood,” because we’ve had several bad ones in just a few years.

I picked up the trail head just off Route 12 south to Troy but this view looks north into Keene, and that’s where I’m going.

A sign told me exactly where I was but it urged me to go south into Troy and that wasn’t in today’s plan. It reminded me though, that Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harrison Blake and other transcendentalists rode on the railroad to Troy from Fitchburg, Massachusetts and then hiked to Mount Monadnock to climb it. Thoreau did this four times and wrote extensively of his journeys by rail and his climbs afterwards. He loved Mount Monadnock but even in his day complained that there were too many people on the summit. He would be shocked if he could see it today; some days it’s standing room only up there, and that’s why you never see views from the summit of Monadnock on this blog.

I saw a lot of trailing arbutus growing right along the sides of the trail. This was surprising because the plant was once over collected and is notoriously hard to find. We call it Mayflower and its sweet, spicy scent is unmatched. It was one of my grandmothers favorite flowers, so she was with me along this stretch of trail. I’m going to have to come back in May when it must perfume the air all through here.

I didn’t have to walk too long before I finally found some ledges. I had previously checked out the satellite views of this section of trail and this looked like an area that would have ledges, but even a satellite view isn’t a guarantee because of the heavy tree cover.

The ledges were probably about 20 or 30 feet high; not hugely impressive compared to some I’ve seen. I was a little disappointed by the lack of dripping groundwater. I doubt very much that anything like the tree trunk size ice columns that I see in the Westmoreland deep cut would grow here because it takes a lot of constantly dripping groundwater to create them. They are simply gigantic icicles, after all.

But there must be groundwater seeping in from somewhere because the usual drainage channels along the sides of the rail bed had water in them. Sometimes the color of the rocks makes it hard to tell how wet they are.

We have three or four evergreen ferns here in New Hampshire and the spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris spinulose) seen here is one of them. This lacy fern looks fragile but is actually very tough and will still be green in spring after its long sleep under the snow. I saw many examples of this pretty fern along the trail.

Many ferns release their spores in the fall and if you look at the underside of a fertile frond at that time you will often see small dots called sori. The sori are clusters of spore producing sporangia and they can be naked (uncovered) or capped by a cover called an indusium, as they are on the spinulose wood fern. When the spores are ready to be released thicker cell walls on one side of each sorus will age and dry out, and this creates a tension which causes the cover (indusium) to burst open and release its spores.

This photo shows a single sorus with its cover (indusium) burst, revealing the almost microscopic spherical sporangia. This is as close as I’ve ever gotten to this event. Each sorus is tiny and I can’t even guess the size of the sporangia. I do know that I can’t see them without a macro lens. What I could see if I had a microscope!

At one point on the trail I looked down to the left to the road I had been driving on just a short time before and saw that I was probably what must have been about a hundred feet above it, and it was then that I realized that I was walking on fill. Many thousands of cubic yards of soil must have had to have been used to fill in what was once a small valley between hills. The railroad engineers were smart though and used all the blasted rock from the deep cuts to fill in the low spots. This method is still in use today when a road is built; you bulldoze the top of a hill into a valley to make the roadbed level.

Here is a look down at the aforementioned road. I was almost in the tree tops and had to marvel at such an engineering feat. How they did all this in the mid-1800s is beyond me. It must have been very hard work indeed.

I was surprised to find running ground pine (Lycopodium clavatum) out here because in my experience it is relatively rare in this region. Though it is called running ground pine the plant is a clubmoss and has nothing to do with pines. The “running” part of the common name comes from  the way its horizontal underground stems spread or run under the leaf litter. Other names include lamb’s tail, fox tail, wolf’s claw, stag’s horn and witch meal. Native Americans used clubmosses medicinally to treat a variety of ailments including headaches and urinary problems. They were also used to treat wounds and dye fabrics. The Lycopodium part of the scientific names comes from the Greek Lycos, meaning wolf, and podus, meaning foot.  Whoever named them obviously thought clubmosses looked like wolf paws, but I don’t really see that.

It wasn’t too long before I saw more ledges, and these looked to be much higher than the first ones.

In fact these were some of the highest I’ve seen in this area. They might have been 60 feet or more at their highest point I’d guess, and I couldn’t back up enough to get all of them in view. Like the first set of ledges I saw these were quite dry with little groundwater seepage, so I’m guessing that I won’t be seeing many of those huge ice columns out here.

This tree was a fallen white pine that fell when it was young. I’d guess 30-40 years old maybe. It’s hard to say how tall it was but it had some height.

Some parts of the ledges were absolutely covered by what at first I thought was moss but which turned out to be liverworts. Many thousands of them.

This isn’t a very good photo because of the shiny wet leaves but I believe that these liverworts were the same greater featherwort (Plagiochila asplenioides) liverworts I saw at 40 foot falls in Surry back in November. These were very wet while the ones at 40 foot falls were on the dry side. They look quite different when wet like these but that’s when they’re at their best. They’re very small.

Again, this is a poor photo but it shows a closer look at the liverwort that I think is greater featherwort. This is only the second time I’ve ever seen them though, so I could be wrong.

Part of the ledge had collapsed and a large rock slide had dammed up the drainage ditch. This isn’t good because the water will eventually flow out into the rail bed and wash it away. I’ve seen the same thing happen on other rail trails, so I hope one of the snowmobile clubs will repair it. It is they who keep these trails open and we who use them owe them a big thank you. If it wasn’t for them in many cases there would be no rail trails. They work very hard to keep them open using their free time and often their own tools, so I’m sure a donation would be welcomed too if you feel so inclined.

The prize for the prettiest thing I saw on this trail has to go to these turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) They were as beautiful as flowers and some of the most colorful I’ve seen this year.

Well, I didn’t find the great scented liverworts and potential ice columns out here like I hoped I would but I certainly found plenty of other interesting things. I hope you thought so too and I hope this post inspires you to explore the rail trails in your own area.

Our minds, as well as our bodies, have need of the out-of-doors. Our spirits, too, need simple things, elemental things, the sun and the wind and the rain, moonlight and starlight, sunrise and mist and mossy forest trails, the perfumes of dawn and the smell of fresh-turned earth and the ancient music of wind among the trees.~ Edwin Way Teale

Thanks for stopping in.

 

Read Full Post »

Actually, it isn’t the rail trail that’s new; it has been here since about 1850, but it’s new to me. I’ve wanted to follow it because for years I’ve been hearing about a deep cut through ledges on this rail trail leading from Swanzey south to Massachusetts, so one day I finally decided to follow it.

There was plenty to see out here, including this box culvert. Box culverts are simple things, usually with two upright side walls and massive stone slabs on top, and then huge amounts of gravel on top of that. But this one was different;  it was built of granite blocks, probably cut right on sight out of boulders or ledge. It was still letting a small stream pass unimpeded under the railbed after nearly 170 years.

But there were problems. Some of the stones on the sidewalls had shifted and this let the cap stones overhead begin to sag a bit. This was most likely caused by the freezing and thawing of the soil and pressure from tree roots. In any event it should be repaired because if it goes so does the rail bed above it. The question is, now that there is no railroad, who is responsible for making repairs?

The stone for the culvert might have come from this big boulder. It still shows drill marks from when the rail line was put in. There was a lot of drilling and blasting of stone going on in these woods in those days.

There were signs of the railroad everywhere, including this old signal box. I’ve been told that these often had asbestos in them, so they’re best left alone.

There were some nice birches out here too.

But some had fallen. Birch polypores (Piptoporus  betulina) are parasitic on dead or weakened birch trees and cause brown rot. Both the fungus and the decayed wood have a sort of green apple smell. Birch polypores are annual fungi that grow only on birch trees and live for only one season.

Further down the trail a huge old oak had fallen and had taken several other trees with it. I don’t think four grown men could have linked hands around this monster when it was standing. What a shame to let all that firewood go to waste.

This was a day to see fallen things, apparently. A granite mile marker had fallen across a drainage ditch.

It’s hard to read but I think the message on the fallen mile marker said B (for Boston) 88. According to Google maps Boston is just about 88 miles from Swanzey if you follow route 119.

Cushions of what was probably a species of Dicranum moss glowed a beautiful bright green in what little sunlight there was. I was surprised to read that people are now buying this moss to create moss gardens. They call it “mood moss,” though I’m not sure why. I have to say that seeing it made me smile, so maybe that’s where the name comes from.

As I said in the last lichen post I did, pixie cup lichens (Cladonia pyxidata) are squamulose lichens, and squamules are the small leafy, lobed growths that are at the base of the tiny golf tee like podetia in this photo. The podetia support the lichen’s fruiting bodies called apothecia, which is where the lichen’s spores are produced. It’s all about continuation of the species.

I was a little dismayed but not surprised to find invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) out here. There weren’t many; I only saw two or three, but all but a few of their berries were gone and that means the birds ate them. And that means more bushes in the future. Burning bushes don’t have a problem with making sure new generations will follow.

In some places the rail trail passed very close to private property. I thought I grew up close to the tracks at a few yards but this trail was just a few feet away from this building.

The closeness reminded me of this sign that I saw on another rail trail. It’s important to remember that you’re very near private property when on rail trails so you shouldn’t wander too far off the trail. Imagine what it would be like to find strangers wandering through your yard every now and then like they did when I was a boy growing up beside the tracks. It can be a little unnerving. The message is important enough for this sign to have been printed by the State of New Hampshire Bureau of Trails.

Something I’ve never seen on a rail trail before is a bent rail, but there it was. I don’t know if it was bent on purpose to follow a curve when it was originally installed or if it was bent after the rails were taken up. I can’t imagine anyone taking the time and effort it would have taken to bend it for a lark but it can be done. During General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march to Atlanta during the Civil War he had his troops heat up sections of track until they were red hot and then bend them around trees. These bent rails came to be known as “Sherman’s bowties.” Since the south had limited supplies of iron this pretty well finished the southern railroads but soon the rebels followed suit and destroyed northern rails in the same way. These bent rails were known as “Mr. Lincoln’s hair pins.”

The bent rail had me scratching my head, because there were no curves to be seen on any nearby part of the rail bed. Would someone really take the time to heat a rail and bend it, I wondered as I walked along.

Here was another strange thing. A two inch galvanized steel conduit came up out of the ground and passed under the rail bed before continuing out the other side and into the forest.

The laying of the conduit looked to be well done and I was fairly certain that it had some electrical purpose but I couldn’t guess who would have the money or the inclination to lay it way out here.

Off it went, up the hill. It wasn’t until later when I was telling friends about it that I remembered how close I had been to the airport. This entire area sits in a bowl which is surrounded by hills and each hill has to have a tower with a flashing red light so planes flying at night don’t run into the hills. This conduit must have been put here to power one of those lights. What a lot of work and what a cost it must have been, but if it saves lives it’s worth it. We’ve had our share of plane crashes here.

By now you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t shown any ledges or “deep cuts” through hillsides. That’s because I didn’t find any, at least not on this section of trail. And that’s why there has to be a part two to this story. I walked too far and took far too many photos for them all to be squeezed into one post, so if you’re at all interested I hope you’ll stay tuned for part two, coming up next week.

Heaven on earth is a choice you must make, not a place you must find. ~ Wayne Dyer

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »