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Posts Tagged ‘Chesterfield New Hampshire’

Years ago I tried to do a post on Chesterfield Gorge, which lies over in Neighboring Chesterfield New Hampshire ,but it was really too dark there for the light gathering capabilities of my camera and I gave up on the place. Until recently that is; a helpful reader wrote and told me that our terrible storms this summer had toppled some trees and let in much more light, so last Saturday I went to see for myself. There was indeed more light available and I was finally able to get some passable shots of the gorge.

Chesterfield Gorge was created by Wilde Brook and it is said that it has taken it many thousands of years to cut through the bedrock to where it is today. The cool, shaded gorge has been enjoyed by locals for hundreds of years and in 1936 a local farmer named George White bought the land to be sure it would be forever preserved. It eventually became a state park and now anyone can enjoy it at no cost. There were many people here on this day including lots of children, which always gladdens my heart.

In places you’re high above the canyon that the brook has made and in the most dangerous areas the state has put up fencing to keep people back from the edge. But people will be people and some are foolhardy enough to climb the fences just so they can “get a little closer.” Not me; no photo is worth that fall.

The last time I came here there was only one bridge across the gorge because the raging waters of the brook had washed the upper bridge away. Happily I found a new one in its place this time. Though Wilde Brook seems placid enough it can quickly turn into a monster, so I’d never come here right after the kind of storms we’ve had recently. Over a foot of rain has now fallen in some places in just 4 weeks.  The brook starts at small ponds upstream and flows down into Partridge Brook in Westmoreland.  The last time I visited Partridge Brook I found that it also had raged and had scoured its bed right down to bedrock in places. It had also completely altered the landscape and had caused some serious flooding.

One of the trees that fell was a very big and old golden birch. There are many of them in this forest.

Sawdust on the inside of the fallen birch points to carpenter ants. I’m guessing that it probably had woodpecker holes as well because they love carpenter ants. Note the hollowed out space where the tree’s heart wood should have been.

Dry rot in the heart of the fallen birch pointed to fungi, and there were plenty of different mushrooms growing all over the fallen logs. The fungi rot the wood, ants move in, and before long a 100 foot tall tree is completely hollow inside. Add 60+ MPH winds and a lot of them come down; hopefully not on houses.

Some of the older birch logs displayed this wavy pattern. I think it was in the inner bark but I’m not positive, and I don’t know why it would be on only parts of certain logs. It was beautiful, like it had been sculpted.

I saw a lot of tiger’s eye fungi (Coltricia perennis,) also called fairy stools.  This one shows how the velvety cap reflects the sun and makes it look shiny. These are very pretty little mushrooms that vary in size and color. This one was probably an inch across and might have stood an inch tall.

I also saw lots of yellow spindle coral fungi (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) growing along the trail. These fungi almost always grow in tight cluster like these examples but I did see a single “finger” here and there.

Many trees had fallen into or across the gorge. It didn’t look like there was any way to get them out or to even cut them up. What will most likely happen is the next flood will wash them away.

The lower bridge is smaller than the upper one. It’s apparently also less likely to wash away, though I’m not sure why it would be.

I was surprised to see how low the water was by the lower bridge, but even so in places it still ran with enough force to knock a person down.

Here was a small, dammed up pool that looked perfect to cool off in. I often find these shallow pools that have been made by someone damming up a stream or brook with stones they’ve found just lying around. It’s hard to tell how long they’ve been there but I do know that people in the 1800s weren’t so very different than we are today when it came to recreation.

I’ve had some breathing issues lately so I’ve avoided hill climbing in the hot, humid weather we’ve had, but I had forgotten what a hike it was all the way down there and then back up again. I had to stop and pretend I had seen something interesting a couple of times while I caught my breath but I did surprisingly well. If this Louisiana weather ever leaves us I’ll have to start climbing again.

I kept taking photos of the gorge, trying to show how deep it really is. The safety fence at the top of the photo is about 4 feet high, so that should give you a sense of how far the drop to the water would be. I wish I could have gotten a closer look at all the plants on that cliff face, but it wasn’t possible.

Here’s one of those interesting things I saw while I stopped and caught my breath. At some point someone had bent a piece of iron into an S shape and hammered it into the end of this post. It looked quite old but I can’t guess what it meant.

Near the post was what looked like an old well cover. That’s something you have to be careful of in these woods because the wooden covers have often been there for a very long time and are rotted. And they’re often covered by leaves, so you have to pay attention, especially when near old cellar holes.

I saw lots of tree roots on the trail. I think the recent heavy rains have washed a lot of soil away from them, and that weakens their holding power so when a strong wind blows, down they go.

Some of the tree roots looked as if they had been carved and polished by an artist; so beautiful you wish you could take them home. I can’t guess how many years and how many feet it would take to do this.

I’ve chosen this little mushroom as the prettiest thing I saw on this day, but not just then; I’m seeing them everywhere I go this year and that seems a little odd since I can’t remember ever seeing them before. I love its colors and its waviness. I think it’s called the smooth chanterelle (Cantharellus lutescens) but I couldn’t guarantee that. There are a few chanterelle mushrooms that look a lot alike.

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanates from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.  ~Robert Louis Stevenson

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1-sign

Here in New Hampshire a class 6 designation means that a road isn’t maintained by either the state or the town and traveling it could be rough going. Class 6 roads are also subject to gates and bars. Though they are public ways they are roads that are more or less forgotten except by hikers and snowmobilers. The one I chose to hike on this day is in Swanzey and dates from the mid-1800s.

2-trail

The road itself is wide and flat but can be rocky in places. A vehicle with good ground clearance could easily navigate it, at least until it came to the streams that cross the road. The one bridge that I saw hasn’t been maintained, so stream crossing would be a bit of a gamble. According to the Swanzey Town History the road was originally laid out in 1848 and went from the village of West Swanzey to the Chesterfield town line. From that point the town of Chesterfield took over and continued it up the valley to the “Keene and Chesterfield highway,” which I think must now be route 9 that runs east to west.

3-california-brook

The many small streams and rivulets that drain down from the hillsides empty into California Brook, which runs alongside the road for miles. California Brook is a strange name for a brook in New Hampshire and I’ve tried to find the name’s origin but haven’t had any luck. It has its start in the town of Chesterfield and runs southeast to the Ashuelot River in Swanzey. There were at least two mills on the brook in the early 1800s, and it was said to be the only waterway in Swanzey where beavers could be found in the 1700s. They’re still here, almost 300 years later.

4-snowy-log

This was a cold hike; in shady spots there were still traces of the snow that fell several days ago.

5-christmas-fern

Evergreen Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) don’t mind a little snow. The tough leathery leaves will stay green under the snow all winter long. In spring they will turn yellow and then brown to make way for new fronds. One story says that the name “Christmas fern” is thought to come from the early settler’s habit of using its fronds as Christmas decorations.

6-foamflower-leaves

Foam flowers (Tiarella cordifolia) grew along the old road. This plant has hairy leaves that look delicate, but they’re fairly tough and stay green under the leaves and snow all winter. The purple veins in each leaf become more pronounced as the nights cool and sometimes the leaves will have purplish bronze splotches. This plant makes an excellent flowering groundcover for a damp, shady spot in the garden. Plant breeders have developed many interesting hybrids but I still like the native best, I think.

7-frozen-pool

Just off the road a small pool had formed and frozen over. It was much like the vernal pools that we see in spring that are so important to wildlife.

8-bridge

I came out here several years ago and was able to drive over this bridge but I doubt I’d try it now. Part of it looks to be fairly rotten. There’s a drop of 3 or 4 feet to the stream bed under it.

9-bridge

A snowmobile or a 4 wheeler could get over the bridge with no problem in spite of the rotted and missing planks, but it looked like it would be tricky for a wider vehicle. I was glad I decided to hike it, especially since a second bridge further up the road had washed away completely. The flooding that happened here a few years ago must have taken it. Someone had tried to fill the stream bed with crushed stone but it would still be a tough crossing. The flooding also destroyed a beaver dam and the large beaver pond that was out here several years ago has drained away.

10-stone-wall

Moss covered stone walls line the road. They were most likely built in the mid-1700s after the original land grants and years before the road was built. According the town history most traveling was done on foot and bridle paths in the early years of settlement. Stone walls like this one which are all but forgotten are sometimes called “wild” walls.

11-woods

One of the things I like about this time of year is how you can see so much farther into the forest once the leaves have fallen. This view shows that there are a lot of stones that would have to be cleared before this piece of land could become a pasture. Frost brings more stones to the surface each year so clearing them out of a pasture can be a constant effort. Though the trees in this view look young I saw some large examples that were obviously very old.

12-wood-chips-from-woodpecker

Fresh woodchips lay all around the base of a beech tree. I’ve learned to look up when I see this.

13-pileated-woodpecker-holes

Because every time I see wood chips at the base of a tree I see pileated woodpecker holes in it. These were high up, just below where the tree had lost its top. The old dead beech must have been full of insects, probably carpenter ants.

14-scars-on-beech-tree

The tree’s trunk had slashing scars on it, made within the last few years.  According to the town history the largest animals that settlers in this area saw regularly were wolf, bear, catamount (mountain lion), lynx, beaver, otter and deer. Of those wolves and bears presented the most “annoyance.” Since we don’t have wolves any longer and mountain lion sightings happen only very rarely, the only other animal I can think of that is powerful enough to leave marks like this is a black bear. I doubt very much that they were made by a human.

15-scars-on-beech-tree

Just as water will take the path of least resistance black bear, deer and other animals use manmade roads and trails and bears will mark the trees and utility poles along them. I saw several trees with marks like these along this section of the trail but they aren’t something that I see regularly in my travels.

16-black-bear

This might not seem like its best side, but if you meet a black bear in the woods this is the side you want to see. Black bears normally weigh from 135 to 350 pounds, but they can reach 600 pounds. They’re amazingly fast and very strong and you can’t outrun, outswim, or out climb them so your best bet is to avoid them. Bear attacks are rare but they do happen, usually when the bear has been surprised or startled. The area I was in on this day is about as close to a wilderness you can get in this part of New Hampshire and is known bear habitat, so I used my monopod as a walking stick and had a bear bell on it so they’d know I was coming. I also had some bear spray with me. I’d hate to ever have to use it but you never know. This photo was taken by a friend’s trail camera just a month ago.

17-markers

A marker and an arrow on a tree pointed me that way.

18-gate

But there was a gate that way, barring a side road that went sharply uphill. It was unlocked and that seemed odd, but I went through it anyway.

19-brook-near-cave

A still, beautiful pool was just inside the gate. I thought it would make a great place to sit for a while but then I saw something that changed my mind.

20-cave

This cave at the side of the pool looked big enough to walk into by bending a bit, but not small enough to have to crawl into. It looked very inviting and called loudly to the hermit in me but it also looked big enough to hold a whole family of bears and snug enough to be attractive to them, so I decided to go back out through the gate and keep moving. Personally I wouldn’t mind spending some time in the solitude of a cave, but I wouldn’t want to have to tangle with a bear to earn the privilege.

21-tree-eating-branch

Though it might look like some tree cannibalism was going on things like this are easy to explain. The tree with the wound grew up through the branches of the tree on the left and the wind made the wounded tree rub against the other’s branch. Over time the tree grew and its wound got deeper until now it has almost healed over the offending branch. I expect that one day it will heal over completely and look very strange with a foreign branch poking out both sides.

22-trail

The old road went on and on. On a map the distance from Swanzey to Chesterfield is about 18 miles using the highway and, though cutting through the forest like this is probably shorter, at a slow pace of three miles an hour hiking to Chesterfield and back could have taken about twelve hours. Since we only have about 9 1/2 hours of daylight available right now that didn’t seem like a wise decision so I turned around. The days will be longer in summer and it will certainly be warmer.

In our noisy cities we tend to forget the things our ancestors knew on a gut level: that the wilderness is alive, that its whispers are there for all to hear – and to respond to. ~Lawrence Anthony

Thanks for stopping in.

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1-syaircase

Last week I decided to visit Indian Pond in Chesterfield. I’d heard about it but had never been so off I went. The trail I was to follow to the pond took me very near a place I know well, so I took a short detour to the ruins of Madame Sherri’s summer home, which is called the “castle.” Madame Sherri was a French costume designer who worked in New York City in the roaring twenties (1920s) and designed costumes for the Ziegfeld Follies and others. The chalet style castle was built of local stone found on the property, and I think what draws people to the site is what’s left of the arched outdoor stairway shown above. Two of the largest arches have come apart, so I fear this well-known local landmark won’t be standing much longer unless it is repaired.

2-side-entrance

This view shows the side entrance. Large windows were set in between stone pillars. I’m guessing that Madame Sherri had a lot of visitors from New York in the fall, because the colors were amazing. The place still gets plenty of visitors and a second parking lot had to be built to accommodate the overflow. They come in droves from all over the world, but especially in autumn.

3-chalet-front

This old photo shows the castle as it was before it was destroyed by fire on October 18, 1962; nearly 54 years ago to the day, which I didn’t know when I went there. Madame Sherri died penniless and a ward of the town of Brattleboro, Vermont in 1965 at the age of 84.

4-signpost

Back when I was a teenager I used to come here often and in those days you could sit here all day and not see a soul. One year an outdoor rock concert was held with the ruins of the castle as the stage and the popularity of the place has grown ever since until today, you’d have a hard time finding that you had the place to yourself. The last time I was here I had to avoid interrupting a professional photo shoot, costumed model and all. That day it was more like a circus than a nature walk.

The Ann Stokes that the sign refers to is the lady who bought the land and graciously donated it to the public. Indian Pond, it is said, was where Madame and her guests would swim in seclusion. I’m not sure why I never visited the pond years ago.

5-beaver-pond

The first thing you come to is a beaver pond. I didn’t see any signs of recent activity so the beavers might have abandoned it. All the grass in the distance tells me it has silted up. Soon shrubs will start growing there and then the forest will eventually reclaim it.

6-aster

New England asters bloomed along the edge of the pond.

7-nurse-log

I’ve searched for a nurse log for many years and finally found one here by the beaver pond. A nurse log is a log which has decayed enough to provide a fertile bed for tree seedlings, either of its own or another species. They aren’t common; this is the first one I’ve seen. I believe those are birch seedlings growing near the old root ball of the log.

8-orange-mushrooms

Considering how dry it has been I was surprised to see a few mushrooms dotted here and there. I haven’t been able to identify these orange ones with small caps that seemed out of proportion to their long stems. I wondered if they were stunted due to the dryness.

9-orange-mushrooms

I think these examples were Jack O’ Lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus illudens,) which grow in clusters on wood. Some experts say that through a process called bioluminescence the gills of Jack O’ Lanterns glow green in the dark, but others say that they don’t. I don’t have time to shut myself in a closet with them to find out, so I don’t suppose I’ll ever know for sure. They are definitely poisonous but smell very good and that can tempt people into eating them. They shouldn’t be confused with chanterelles, which don’t grow in clusters and don’t grow on wood. Those pictured grew on a log.

10-trail

The hike to Indian Pond is described as “an easy 45 minute round trip hike to a secluded, beautiful mountain lake.” Define easy, I muttered as I climbed up and up at a steep enough grade to have me stopping to catch my breath. But a twelve year old could have run up to the pond and back with ease, I’m sure. In fact I met quite a few people of that age on the trail and could sense them obviously itching to do just that. Did I have that much energy at twelve, I wondered?

11-bridge

There are a couple of bridges to help you negotiate a stream which on this day had dried up completely. I’ve seen an alarming number of streams and ponds dry up this year and there is still no rain in sight.

12-witch-hazel

There were lots of witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) blooming. They’re our latest blooming native understory shrub, so when you see these flowers you know winter is near.

13-trail

I think a lot of people who come to New England in the fall believe that seeing the colorful foliage is the extent of it, but there’s much more to it than that. The crisp air, the rustle of the leaves as you walk through them, the soft whisper of acorns hitting the leaves as they fall and the earthy fragrance that surrounds you are all part of what we call autumn, and walking through a forest like this one is the only way to be completely immersed in the experience.

15-signpost

There are a few well-placed signs pointing you to where you want to go. I took a right turn at this one. From here it’s just a short walk to the pond.

16-indian-pond

The stunning foliage colors at the pond made the uphill hike worthwhile, and I sat an enjoyed them while I had the whole place to myself.

17-indian-pond

The pond really isn’t that big; I certainly wouldn’t call it a lake, but it is secluded. If I’d had more time I would have tried to find a trail around it.

18-fire-pit

Someone had a campfire, or maybe there have been many years of campfires here. A fire probably wouldn’t be a great idea right now considering how dry it is.

19-indian-pond

After a last look at the foliage I headed back down the hill, thinking of the photo of a yellow lady’s slipper that I had seen which was taken somewhere in these woods. I’ve never seen a yellow lady’s slipper so knowing they grow here will get me be back in the spring.

20-reflections

On my way back to the parking area I had to stop and admire the reflected colors in the beaver pond. The colors this year are truly amazing; better than I think anyone expected.

Explore often. Only then will you know how small you are and how big the world is.~ Pradeepa Pandiyan

Thanks for coming by.

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