Posts Tagged ‘Contoocook River’

1. Crossing Sign

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time most likely knows that railroad tracks and rivers played a strong part in my boyhood. The Ashuelot River was just a few yards away from our house to the south and the Boston and Maine Railroad another few yards to the north. When they tore up the Boston and Maine tracks it felt like they tore part of me up with them, so when I noticed some railroad tracks in Bennington, New Hampshire near where I work I knew that I had to explore them.

2. Tracks

After years of walking rail trails with no rails it was a pleasure to see some again.  So many memories came flooding back that I might just as well have been in a time machine. One of the strongest of those was of my grandmother telling me stories about all the terrible things that happened to little boys who dared to try and hop on a moving train. She must have been psychic because that’s exactly the thing that I always wanted to do, and it was only the pictures that she painted in my mind of disfigured little boys that kept me from doing so. It was probably for the best.

3. Spike

It was clear right away that something wasn’t right about these tracks. For one thing the rails were rusty, and rails that see train traffic are always shiny and smooth and look almost polished.  There were also many spikes that had worked their way up out of the ties and no responsible railroad would let that happen. Once I got home I did some research and found that these tracks were once owned by the Milford-Bennington Railroad and originally serviced the Monadnock Paper Mills in Bennington, but the 18 mile line was abandoned in 1986 and has been owned by the state since 1988.

The Milford-Bennington Railroad still carries stone in Wilton, New Hampshire and if you’d like to see it you can watch a short video of it by clicking on the word here.

4. Tie Plate

Some of the tie plates were dated 1932, but since these tracks were laid in the late 1800s they had to be replacements.

5. Track

A splice bar is bolted to the ends of two rails to join them together in a track. It is also called a fish plate or joint bar. Spending time on the tracks taught me that by puzzling my mind and pricking my curiosity enough to pick up a book and find out what I could. The tracks also taught me about the thermal expansion of steel and why expansion joints are needed, and why trains go clickety clack when they roll. If you want your child to learn about this world just let him or her walk the tracks for a while. They’ll drive you crazy with all their questions, but it will be the start of a learning process that will most likely stay with them throughout their lives.

6. River View

In places the tracks run very near the Contoocook river, one of just a handful in the state that flow from south to north rather than southward. In this spot the river widens dramatically and is called Powder Mill Pond. The name Contoocook comes from the Native American Pennacook tribe and is said to mean “place of the river near pines.” There are plenty of pines along this river’s 71 mile course.

7. High Water

If you want to know how high a river gets when it floods just look at the trees and bushes along its length.  I was astonished to see that this bit of river stuff was hanging high enough in a tree to be over my head, which meant the river would have probably flooded both the tracks and the road that is just off camera to the right in this photo. I’ve read that the Contoocook is considered a high risk river due to regular flooding.

8. Ice on Log

The ice on this pine log shows how cold it was on this day, one of the very few cold days in the month of December. Even so the temperature was still above average.

9. Crossing

I haven’t seen a tractor crossing like this one in a very long time.  It didn’t look that old but it was nice to see it.

10. Reindeer Lichen

Reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina) decorated the sides of the railroad bed. This lichen seems to like to grow in poor, gravelly soil. At least that’s where I find it most often.

11. Moss

In the shade the only real snow we’ve seen this season hung on, refusing to melt.

12. Path

A well-worn path led into the woods and I decided to follow it.

13. Fishing Hole View

As I suspected the path led to a fishing spot on the banks of the Contoocook. The view was fine enough to make it one of those places where you could sit for hours, not caring if you ever caught a fish. I have a sneaking suspicion that my father used to visit such places when he fished.

14. Knothole

I found a beautiful old hollow tree along the path and peeked into the knothole, but there was nobody home. I loved its color and grain patterns, and its oldness.

15. Trestle

The tracks eventually lead to a trestle that crosses a very rocky part of the river to a siding at the paper mill. Since trains no longer run here the tracks are blocked by high fencing, so there was no way onto the trestle, I was sorry to see. The stone piers that hold up this trestle were laid dry with no mortar and it doesn’t look like a stone has moved in nearly 150 years. The stone is granite that was most likely cut very nearby from ledge, bedrock or boulders, as the railroads used to do.

16. Trestle

Many of the secondary piers are made of heavy 12 X 12 inch wooden beams, which are common on railroad bridges in this area. The wooden deflectors tell me that this spot must see some serious ice in winter. I’ll have to come back and see in February.

17. Tracks

You can’t go home again they say, but if you pay attention you can find little pieces of home tucked here and there; maybe in a meal, an aroma, a song, or a place. I was able to easily walk back into boyhood on this day and that’s always a welcome experience. Everyone should have that chance at least once.

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision; that true instinct for what is beautiful, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. ~Rachel Carson

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!




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I’d heard about a very special place in Antrim, New Hampshire, a town that lies about 20 miles northwest of Keene. The place is called Loveren’s Mill, named after Josiah Loveren, who in 1864 became the third owner of a combined saw and grist mill originally built in 1798. The mill changed hands several times until it finally closed in 1920. It isn’t the mill site that I went to see however-there is an Atlantic cedar swamp on the property that pollen tests have shown is at least 4000 years old, and most likely much older.

1.Trail Sign

The Atlantic white cedars (Chamaecyparis thyoides) here aren’t cedars at all-they are white cypress-but they are also very rare and appear in just a few pockets along the Atlantic coast. One reason they are so rare is because they grow so slowly, in some cases taking hundreds of years to reach a foot in height.

 2. Stone Foundation

I don’t know if this old stone foundation was for a mill, house, or barn but it sits close to the north branch of the Contoocook River.

 3. Contoocook

The Contoocook river is notable as the only river in New Hampshire to run north instead of south. This photo was taken near the site of the mill, which stood a little way upriver on its far side.

 4. Plant Covered Boulder

 As you move away from the river deeper into the woods you can feel that this is an ancient place. Every stump, boulder and log is a garden, covered with mosses, liverworts, ferns, lichens and fungi.

5. Boardwalk

 Before too long, off the main trial to the right, a 200 foot long boardwalk leads through the spongy peat mosses into a grove of cedars.  Atlantic white cedar swamps are rare in New Hampshire and are considered globally rare as well. This swamp is unusual because of its 1,083 foot elevation and by the way the surrounding hills funnel cold air down into it. Because it stays so cool it supports plant life that is usually found only in boreal forests much farther north. I’ve heard that in spring the trails are lined with pink ladies slippers and native pink azaleas. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a great variety of orchids here, along with sundews, pitcher, and other plants that like cool, acidic water.

 6. Cedar Swamp

You don’t want to step off the boardwalk because you would probably sink into the floating mat of mosses up to your knees if you did-the trees in this photo are growing in standing water. They can’t stand much fluctuation in the water level, and their survival here shows that things haven’t changed much over the millennia. Still, I have heard that the boardwalks are sometimes under water in spring from snow melt, so it must fluctuate some.

 7. Cedar Fruiting

Fruiting cones show that the cedars which are actually cypress must be happy. The flat, scaly leaves and grayish, peeling bark are common to both cedar and cypress, so it is easy to confuse the two. Though many cypress are deciduous, these Chamaecyparis thyoides are evergreen, which makes identification even more difficult.

 8. Larch Branch

Eastern larch (Larix laricina) is another tree that prefers wet, swampy ground and they do quite well here in the swamp. They like to be cool and can stand temperatures down to -85 degrees F. Other trees found here include balsam fir (Abies balsamea) and red spruce (Picea rubens) and like the cypress, these trees are usually found much farther north in boreal forests.

 9. Fern Moss aka Thuidium delicatulum

There were so many different mosses growing here that I might have to do a post on just mosses. This beautiful thing is one of the fern mosses called delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum). It is very lacy and fragile looking and I don’t see it too often. This moss forms large mats and will grow in sun or shade as long as the soil is moist. It is available commercially for moss gardens.

 10. Dog Lichen (Peltigera polydactyla)

I saw many lichens in the area, but I didn’t expect to see this dog lichen (Peltigera) growing on a moss covered stump. I should have gotten a few photos of its underside-that would have made species identification easier. I’ve never seen it before so I’ll have to re-visit it to be sure about its identity. It grows right beside the trail so it shouldn’t be too hard to find again.

 11. Dog Lichen Apothecia

This is one of the fruiting bodies (apothecia) of the dog lichen in the previous photo. I’ve heard three different stories of why this is called “dog” lichen. One says that the lichen itself is shaped like a dog. Another says spiky projections on the lichens look like dog teeth, and the third says that the apothecia curl into a shape that resembles a dog’s ear, which you can see happening in this photo.

 12. Worm Like Lichenized Fungi (Multiclavula mucida)

These greenish white growths were the size of toothpicks. I found them growing on a debarked log and as it turned out that is an important identifying characteristic. At least, I’ve identified them as much as I’m able to. Depending on whom you ask these growths are either fungi or lichens.  One web site says they are lichenized fungi, so I’ve decide to go with that. Their name is Multiclavula mucida, and the mucid part of the scientific name means slimy. That’s also important, because these lichenized fungi always grow in association with green algae and the algae is what makes the log in the photo look so slimy. I’ve never seen these before.

 13. Creeping Snowberry 2

Something else I’ve never seen is the evergreen creeping snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula). With no flowers it was hard to identify, but I’m fairly certain that the small trailing plant with alternate leaves in the above photo is it. This plant is classified as a prostrate shrub in the same family as American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), which is commonly called teaberry or checkerberry. It has greenish white flowers in spring which are followed by round white berries that are twice the size of the leaves. The berries are said to taste like wintergreen and the crushed leaves smell like wintergreen. This plant is also called Moxie Plum because it is thought to have been an ingredient in the original Moxie soft drink, along with gentian root. Native Americans had many uses for this plant.

 14. Alboleptonia sericella Mushrooms

These small white leptonia  (Alboleptonia sericella) mushrooms were very small and hard to photograph. The largest one is about the same diameter as a pea. I can’t think of anything to compare the smallest one to, but it was tiny. These mushrooms have pink spores and some mushrooms in this family are a beautiful midnight blue.

 15. Contoocook Pool

There were many places where the river widened into pools that would be nice to sit beside for a while, but I didn’t have the time this day. That doesn’t bother me because I know I’ll be coming back in the spring. On just a short 3 mile hike I saw 6 or 7 plants that I’ve never seen before, and that amazes me enough to make re-visiting this place a top priority for next season. I get excited just thinking about what plants I might see from spring through summer in this fascinating place.

As you sit on the hillside, or lie prone under the trees of the forest, or sprawl wet-legged on the shingly beach of a mountain stream, the great door that does not look like a door opens. ~ Stephen Graham

Thanks for coming by.

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