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Posts Tagged ‘Class 6 Road’

It had been about six years since I followed an old class 6 road in Swanzey and something brought it to mind the other day, so I thought I’d give it a go. I remembered it being very shaded and since it was a hot, humid day shade was called for. Here in New Hampshire a class 6 designation means that a road isn’t maintained by either the state or the town so traveling it could be rough going. Though they are public ways they are roads that are more or less forgotten except by hikers and snowmobilers. This one dates from the mid-1800s and if you walked it for maybe 2 days, you would eventually come out on the road to Chesterfield, which is now route 9.

The road follows along a brook which is named California Brook, for reasons I’ve never been able to uncover. 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.

The forest is made up of young trees, mostly hemlock but some maple and birch as well.

Stone walls tell the story of why the forest is young. This land was all cleared at one time and I’ve read that at least three families lived out here. Most likely in the 1800s. It might have been sheep pasture, which was a common use for this stone filled land.

But the road was very different than it was the last time I was out here, and I wondered who would go to all of the expense of making an old abandoned road useable.

The road had been hardened with 1-inch crushed stone, which is terrible stuff to walk on if it hasn’t been compacted. This hadn’t been compacted so in places it was almost like walking on marbles.

Even the old rotted bridge had been replaced. There is only one reason someone would go to all this trouble and expense to get out here.

And the reason is logging, just as I suspected. It looked like they were taking the softwood and leaving the hardwood to grow. In any event, it certainly wasn’t the first time this land had been logged off and I couldn’t worry about what was being done on someone else’s land.

Colonies of heal all (Prunella lanceolata) grew on both sides of the road and I was happy to see them. They are also called self-heal and have been used medicinally since ancient times. They are said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how the plant got its common name. In fact the plants were once thought to be a holy herb sent by God to cure man’s ills. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

Maybe happiness is a large part of the cure that heal all brings to man. Seeing them certainly brightens my day. Their happy faces and wide-open mouths always seem to be cheering life on. I can almost hear them shouting yay! As I’ve said before, I think all flowers are happy simply because they’re alive; they exist. All of nature is in a state of ecstasy because it simply is. We could learn a lot from its example.

Hobblebushes have set fruit. The berries will go from green to bright red and then deep, purple black as they grow and ripen. They won’t last long once ripe.

I saw a big, soccer ball size burl on a red maple. It would have been the perfect size to make a bowl out of. They’re valuable to woodworkers because just about anything made from burl is beautiful and commands top dollar. A burl is an abnormal growth on a tree that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage. Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and/or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. That’s the theory, anyhow.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) grew all along the roadside in large numbers. This one still had a raindrop on it.

Coltsfoot also grew in great numbers out here and if I can remember that, next spring I’ll come back and find some of the earliest blooming flowers.

My find of the day was this many headed slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) I saw growing on a log beside the road. It was in its plasmodium stage and was quite big.  When slime molds are in this state, they are usually moving-very slowly. Slime molds are super sensitive to drying out so they usually move at night but they can be found on cloudy, humid days as well. It was a hot and humid day and this particular spot was very shaded, so it was just right for slime mold activity.

Through a process called cytoplasmic streaming slime molds can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Scarcity of food is what drives them on, always searching for bacteria and yeasts to feed on. As this photo shows, slime mold plasmodium is a mass of glistening vein-like material (actually a single-celled amoeba) that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil. They are fascinating beings that behave like a flock of birds or a school of fish, and science just can’t seem to figure them out.

I was hoping that I might also see some fungi out here but all I saw were these tinder polypores (Fomes fomentarius) on a very dead beech. They do like beech trees. I see them more on beech than any other tree. This one was so old its bark was flaking off but the fungi were still able to get what they were after from it. Since woodpeckers had been at it too, I’m sure it was full of insects. Most likely carpenter ants. Tinder polypores produce huge amounts of spores; measurements in the field have shown that they release as many as 800 million spores per hour in the spring and summer.

The first time I came out here I saw the biggest beaver dam I’ve ever seen. It was high enough to be over my head in height, but the last time I came out here it was gone. I thought that if the dam had let go there had certainly been some serious flooding somewhere, but I’ve never seen any signs of it.  Anyhow, here was another beaver pond. I couldn’t see the dam but they’re at it again.

I should say that I’m not happy with many of the photos that I took with my new cell phone. I went into a phone store hoping they could fix a small issue I was having with an app on my Google Pixel 4A phone and the person behind the counter noticed that I had a 3G sim card in the phone. “You really should have a 5G sim card,” he said. “This is a 5G phone.” To make a long story short the 5G sim card he put in apparently destroyed the Pixel’s ability to connect to the internet, so they had to give me a new phone of “equal or greater value.” Well, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE they gave me as a replacement is indeed of greater value because it cost $200.00 more than I paid for the Pixel, but the Samsung’s camera can’t touch the Pixel’s camera, and for that reason it has little value to me. In my opinion it’s okay for making phone calls, but not much else.

There are ditches alongside the road and since it had rained that morning they had water in them, and they also had northern water horehound (Lycopus uniflorus) growing beside them. This plant is in the mint family and has a square stem as so many of the plants in that family do. Soon the plants will have tiny white flowers blooming where the leaves meet the stem. The foliage is said to be very bitter and possibly toxic, but Native Americans used the tuberous roots for food. I don’t know what birds or animals eat the seeds, but muskrats love the roots. Another name for the plant is northern bugleweed and I almost always find it near water.

I saw lots of mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) and I ran my hands through it hoping for lucid mugwort dreams, but I can’t remember anything special. Mugwort is supposed to make dreams much more vivid and also increases the chances that the dreamer will rmember their dreams. A year or two ago I ran my hands through it a few times and really did have some wild dreams, so there must be something to it. The plant has mild hallucinogenic properties and is considered a “magic herb.” It has been used by man for thousands of years; the earliest writings regarding it are from 3 BC. in China. It is also one of the herbs recorded in the Anglo-Saxon nine herbs charm from the tenth century and by all accounts was and still is considered a very important plant. If you enjoy reading about plants mugwort lore could easily fill an entire book. When you have a spare hour or two just Google “mugwort.”

Purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) grew in the shadiest places because the big, hand size, light gathering leaves lets it do so. Its common name comes from its fruit, which looks like a raspberry but is about as big as the tip of your thumb. I tasted one once and tasted nothing but there are people who say they’re delicious.

I was happy to see this cave at the side of a still pool in the stream again. From a distance it looks big enough to walk into by ducking a little, but not small enough to have to crawl into. Every time I see it, it calls loudly to the hermit in me, but it also looks big enough to easily hold a bear or two so I haven’t ever dared go near it while out here alone. Maybe if someone was with me to get me back if anything happened, or maybe if I had a rifle and a strong flashlight, but not alone. It’s too bad; I wouldn’t mind spending some time here. It’s an idyllic spot with the stream running just outside the entrance and a mossy bank to lounge on, and a cave to stay dry in. Inside myself I know living here for a while wouldn’t be a hard choice to make but this is known bear country, so I suppose you would always wonder what was going to come through that entrance, and that might be a hard way to live. I’ll just have to live it in a dream, I guess. Maybe a mugwort dream.

I was surprised to see that branch still sticking out of the tree on the right. It has been that way for many years, but when I first came out here the branch was still attached to the tree on the left. I think 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 partially healed over the offending branch. When I first saw it, I thought that one day it would heal over completely but now I doubt it. It’s an unusual thing to see and this is the only time I’ve seen it happen.

I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected to everything. ~Alan watts

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a happy 4th!

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Last Saturday I had a plan, but so did nature. It had been raining the night before when I turned out the lights but then it got cold enough to change the rain to snow, and in the morning my world had gone white. If you read this post you might want to turn up the heat and get something warm to drink.

My plan was to climb Mount Caesar in Swanzey, seen above, and since the snow barely measured two inches that wasn’t going to stop me. Instead the cold kept me back. It was about 22 degrees F. with a strong wind that made it feel much colder, so I decided to let it be. It takes a while to get used to that kind of cold and I haven’t seen enough of it to be used to it yet. By February 22 degrees will feel balmy.

So instead of following my plan I drove around looking for snowy scenes like this one to show you. I know many of you don’t get the kind of snow we get here and some of you never have snow at all, and I know many of you like to see it.

I chose to drive along an old class 6 road in Swanzey. Class 6 roads have no winter maintenance, so it won’t be long before this road is impassable to all but four-wheel drive trucks. You would have a rough walk ahead of you if you got stuck out here in winter, so I stay away.

On this day the road was easily passable and I was glad I chose it, because the forest views were pretty. When it rains before it snows the snowflakes stick to everything, so everything becomes covered in white.

Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) are evergreen but heavy wet snow can flatten their fronds. These weren’t flat but by spring they will be. Once they get completely buried under snow they usually stay that way until spring. Only when the new fronds, or fiddleheads, appear in spring do the previous season’s fronds turn yellow and then finally brown. The dead fronds then form a mat around the living fern that helps prevent soil erosion.

Some of the smaller ponds had frozen and beech and oak leaves were trapped in the ice.

Other leaves were just beautiful. You can always count on seeing at least some color, even on a snowy day.

Beech trees provide a lot of color in winter.

Sometimes the blue of the sky seems to be the only color I can see.

Bright sunshine broke through the forest but it held little real warmth.

In full sunshine the snow-covered forest was beautiful. As William Sharp once noted “It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.”

I happened upon a small stream that was also clad in radiance. It isn’t cold enough to freeze streams and rivers yet, but it probably won’t be long if temperatures like these keep up.

I thought I might see some ice starting to grow along the stream edges but there wasn’t any.

There was quite a lot of aquatic grass growing in the stream and I loved the way it moved with the current. I don’t know if it was eelgrass or something else. It was a little cool to go wading to find out.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) is another plant that adds a little color in the winter.

Mallards swam happily in water that was probably a lot warmer than the air was.

The rain falls equally on all things, and so does the snow.

There is grass under there and I took this photo to show you just how little snow we had gotten. It was loud, icy snow that crunched when you walked on it. Luckily there wasn’t enough of it to have to shovel. Maybe 2 inches in some places but I’d say it averaged maybe an inch or so over all.

Every twig on this tree was covered, but it’s hard to see that in this shot.

This shot of a hillside across Swanzey Lake shows that not a single tree escaped the snow. As wintery as it might look the sun did its work and most of it had melted by the end of the day.

Snow or not the witch hazels still bloomed. These flowers are pollinated by owlet moths, which purposely shiver to keep warm. They can raise their temperature as much as 50 degrees, and this allows them to fly and search for food when it’s cold.

I hope you enjoyed this unexpected post and I hope it didn’t make you feel too cold. There’s nothing quite as beautiful as the first snowfall and I’m glad that it happened on a weekend so I could show it to you immediately after it happened, when the snow was fresh.

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

Thanks for coming by.

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In New Hampshire a class six designation means a road isn’t maintained by either the state or the town, so it could be rough going. I don’t know if this road actually has that designation but I do know that it can be impassable in winter, so whether or not you will make it over its entire length is anyone’s guess.

Since we have had very little snow this winter I doubted there would be much snow on it and I was right. There was a dusting but nothing that needed plowing.

If anything would give a driver trouble on this day it was ice; the road was like a skating rink so I walked on the edges, which is where I would have walked anyway. It’s hard to see anything interesting from the middle of a road.

The road was also heavily rutted. I’ve driven over it in spring and between the ruts and the washboards, sometimes you feel like the teeth will rattle right out of your head.

It’s common in this area to see huge boulders right on the very edge of the road. That’s because in the 1700s when many of these roads were laid out stones this big were impossible to move and it was too much work to drill and blast them, so the road was simply built around them. And there they still sit to this day. This one was easily as big as a delivery truck.

I loved the beautifully bright green brocade moss (Hypnum imponens) that grew on a log. This pretty moss gets its common name from the way it looks like it has been embroidered on whatever it grows on. I’ve searched high and low for it so I could include it in my moss posts, but I never could find any.  Now all I need to do is remember where it is.

There was a lot of logging going on out here last summer. It looks like they left a lot of the deciduous trees and took mostly evergreens, probably hemlock and pine.

The logging was being done on a tree farm, which in New Hampshire means a privately owned forest managed to produce timber with, according to the New Hampshire Tree Farm Program, “the added benefits of improved wildlife habitat, water quality, recreation, and scenic values.”

A small stream had formed a pool and it was covered over by what I call puddle ice. It’s that brittle white ice full of oxygen bubbles that makes tinkling sounds when you break it. Seeing it always takes me back to my boyhood when I would ride my bike through puddles covered by it in spring. I’ve thought of it as a sign of spring ever since, even though I see it in fall and winter too.

The little stream also had some beautiful ice formations in it as well.

If you know where to look you can find a winding trail through the woods that leads to a beaver pond.

It’s a large pond, several acres in size.

This shows what happens when a forest is flooded by beavers; what trees they don’t cut down drown and die. Areas like this often become rookeries for great blue herons because they’re full of frogs and small fish. I’ve seen herons here before but I haven’t seen a nest yet.

There are several beaver lodges here and the open water near this one suggests beaver activity. They work hard to keep channels open in winter. This lodge doesn’t look like most I’ve seen. It looks as if it has had a lot of mud added to the outside, which is something I haven’t seen.

This is more what I think of when I imagine a beaver lodge. They usually look like a pile of sticks, but the one in the previous photo looks more like a pile of dirt.

I think this one might have been abandoned. It had a light coating of snow on it and from what I’ve seen beaver lodges aren’t snow covered for very long unless we’ve had heavy snows. Heavy snow helps insulate the lodge and sunshine helps warm it. The temperature at water level in a beaver lodge is usually about 32 degrees F. but it might fluctuate a bit due to outside temperature and body heat generated by the beavers themselves. They have to leave the lodge to eat but they lose body heat quickly in the cold water, so they aren’t very active in winter if it is very cold. So far this winter they’ve had it easy but that’s about to change, with wind chills of -14 degrees F. expected on Monday.

I thought these were rabbit tracks but I think the smaller front feet should be directly in front of the larger rear feet, not off to the side like what is seen here. Maybe it was a turning rabbit.

I can’t even guess what made these swishy tracks. I’ve looked at examples of both animal and bird tracks and nothing comes close to matching. And it’s too cold for reptiles, so I’ve struck out.

Someone lost their hat and a kind soul picked it up and put it on a mossy rock. You meet very few unkind people in the woods, I’ve found.

The reminders of the terrible winds we had last summer are all around me each time I go into the woods, in the form of tangled blowdowns like these. In fact I saw several just like it in these woods. I think thousands of trees must have fallen in this area but I also think that the trees that were already weekend by disease were the ones that fell. You can see bracket fungi all over the largest of these and that’s a good sign of a sick tree.

I’ve spoken about how water resistant oak leaves are on this blog for years, but now I can show it. Oak leaves can take a year or more to decompose because they are leathery and contain a lot of woody substances like lignin and cellulose, and I’ve always believed that it is also because they don’t absorb water as readily as leaves from other trees. This photo shows how water will puddle on an oak leaf.

There are roads known by everyone and there are roads known by no one. Choose the second, the mysterious one where many glories are hidden. ~Mehmet Murat Ildan

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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Swanzey Lake is a place that I visit quite frequently because of the easy accessibility of the surrounding forest. Like most lakes in this area there is a road that goes completely around it. Off this road, near a huge boulder covered with rock tripe lichens, is another road that I’ve wondered about for years. I was able to finally hike it recently.

 1. Class 6 Road Sign

This is a class 6 road which means, unless you know someone who has traveled it, you’re better off walking it than driving it-at least for the first time. I know of another class 6 road with two old timber and plank bridges out and nowhere to comfortably turn around.  I had no idea where this one might lead, but I was determined to find out.

 2. Class 6 Road

It wasn’t long before I was regretting leaving the Yak Tracks behind, but as it turned out the icy spots were relatively easy to avoid. I’m not in a Yak Track frame of mind yet, but I’d better get in one soon. Some of these old roads just end in the forest and others connect with networks of other old, forgotten roads.  There’s really no telling where they lead, and that’s part of the fun. Fun that is, as long as you carefully note any detours onto other roads that you might have to take. In some cases it’s possible to get seriously lost out here if you aren’t paying attention. I haven’t heard of any lost hunters yet but it usually happens every year at about this time.

 3. Ice Needles

I saw the longest ice needles I’ve ever seen along this road. The ones in the photo were at least 6 inches long and had frozen together to form thick ice ribbons.  Since they are extruded from the ground by hydrostatic pressure, they are almost always covered with sand or soil.

 4. Ice Pillars

Instead of curling like they usually do these ice needles grew straight up and brought stones along for the ride. Several of these ice pillars were capped by tiny pebbles.

5. Stone Wall

Stone walls mean this land was cleared once, and somebody lived out here. In 1822 the New Hampshire State Board of Agriculture suggested what farmers should do with all of the stones they found in their fields:  “Almost all farms have stone enough to make a wall for every necessary division and enclosure. Labor used in this way answers a double purpose; it secures the fields from the ravages of stock, and improves them by removing rocks which are not only useless, but inconvenient and injurious in their natural situation. A farmer ought to consider it his proper business, as he has means and opportunity, to secure his lands by stone walls.”  All he needed was a horse, a stone boat, and a strong back. And a couple of sons would have come in handy, too. By 1871 there were an estimated 252,539 miles of stone walls in New England and New York, enough to circle the earth 10 times at the equator. Today it is almost impossible to walk through these woods without finding them.

 6. Hilltop Wood Lot

Somebody is still cutting trees here. None of these are very old and most are hard wood.

7. Hoar Frost Almost every inch of this hemlock twig was covered in ice.

8. Puddle Ice

It must be wind that makes waves on mud puddles-even small ones-this one couldn’t have been a foot long.

 9. Birch Log

Puddles weren’t the only things displaying wave patterns. This fallen birch was as big around as a truck tire and might have made some interesting lumber. Spalting is a caused by fungi growing on dead trees and the wood is prized by woodworkers due to the unique colors and patterns that can form in the log. I was wishing that I could cut a slab or two just to see what the grain pattern would look like. This could be a very valuable log.

10. Sugar Maple

Next to the birch log stood a nice old sugar maple (Acer saccharum.) I don’t know why sugar maples are so often found near roads, but I’m guessing they were planted there so the sap buckets would be easier to get to. A paper titled Relationships between Soil Salinity, Sap-Sugar Concentration, and Health of Declining Roadside Sugar Maples by Graham T Herrick says that scientists all over the country are seeing dying sugar maples along roadsides. Road salt residue in soil inhibits plant water uptake and tips of branches in the crown start dying off. Before long the entire tree is dying. The strangest part of the study shows that the amount of sugar in the sap actually increases as the tree dies. The tree in the photo has probably never seen salt used on this old road, so it has had a chance to live a long, healthy life.

 11. Hemlock Varnished Bracket Fungus aka Ganoderma tsugae

I found several hemlock varnished bracket fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) growing on an old eastern hemlock stump (Tsuga canadensis.) It has a white outer edge and underside when it is young and looks very different than those in the photo. They are annuals that grow new from the mycelium each spring, and these examples were at least a year old, I think. This mushroom is said to be among the most valuable medicinal fungi. The Chinese have used it in their medicine for over 2000 years.

 12. Jelly Fungus

It was cold enough to freeze this orange jelly fungus but the sun must have thawed it out.

 13. Frosty Hole

This hole in the ground was about as big as a quarter-just right for a snake. Judging by the hoar frost around its rim there was plenty of moisture of coming out of it.  At this scale it looks like a cave.

 14. Icy Road

I won’t be leaving those Yak Tracks behind again until March, I guess. Snowmobile and four wheel drive clubs do a great job of keeping these old roads open, but there’s nothing they can do about the ice.

 15. Suburbia at End of Road

Suburbia. Not exactly the wilderness I was hoping for and not what I was expecting to find at the end of a class 6 road, so back I went the way I came. At least now I don’t have to wonder where this road leads and I know where I can go for a short walk that has plenty of interesting things to see.

An old road always looks richer and more beautiful than a new road because old roads have memories. ~ Mehmet Murat ildan

Thanks for coming by.

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