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Posts Tagged ‘Cornfields’

The last time I visited the High Blue trail in Walpole was last October. It was a cool day then and I hadn’t dressed for it, so the only thing that kept me warm was walking. Here was another cool day but this time I had sense enough to dress for it, so I could dilly dally without freezing. It was a beautiful spring day but another 10 degrees would have been welcome.

In the shade there was ice on the puddles, and many fallen beech leaves. When they finally let go and fall spring can’t be far off.

In spring and fall you often see stones that appear to have sunken into the soil, but what really happens is the saturated soil freezes and heaves up around the stone, which doesn’t move. The hole always has the very same shape as the stone.

I saw an old gray birch which was slowly dying. One trunk was covered with fungi and the other full of woodpecker holes. Woodpecker activity means there are insects in the trunk and they, along with the fungi, mean death.

A fallen tree had an excellent example of a branch collar. If you do any tree pruning you would do well to read all you can find about branch collars, because if you prune off a branch while ignoring the branch collar you could be slowing down the healing process and inviting any number of diseases to come and visit your trees. This shot shows what happens naturally; the branch dies and falls off and the branch collar is left intact. A tree should look similar after it has been pruned. Of course it won’t have a hole where the branch was, but the branch collar should be intact.

Where the sunshine reached the road there was no more ice.

Instead there was water. A small stream runs alongside the road year-round, probably from a natural spring. There is a lot of groundwater in this area.

The breeze made ripples in the stream.

The ripples passing over sunken beech leaves in the sunshine were beautiful.

And here was the trail head. I remembered the winter I stood in this spot looking at waist deep snowdrifts that covered the trail. The snow was so deep I gave up and turned back. That memory made me grateful that there was no snow now.

When I was up here in October the corn still stood in what was once a meadow but I saw that the farmer finally cut it. I miss the meadow / hayfield that was here when I first started coming. There was orange hawkweed, buttercups, pale spike lobelia, asters, and many other wildflowers here, and many bees and butterflies to go with them.

The farmer got most of the corn but what he didn’t get birds and animals did. But not all of it. Nobody ever seems to get all of it. For years I watched flocks of Canada geese scouring the cornfields in Keene in spring before the fields were tilled, but even they never got all of it.

There are lots of ledges up here and when there aren’t leaves on the trees, they’re easy to see. They’re mostly covered with rock tripe lichen, as these were. It makes them look ragged.

I thought it was a one in a million chance that two stones could fall and end up like these did.

I know of a huge piece of milky quartz up here; the biggest I’ve seen. It’s hard to tell in the photo but it’s big enough so I doubt four men could lift it. We don’t see much quartz down in the lowlands.

The small pond on the summit was still frozen over. It’s fairly well shaded and there is a cool breeze at this time of year.

Running club moss (Lycopodium clavatum) seems to be spreading up here.This plant gets its name from the way it sends out long, horizontal stems. All along the horizontal stem erect stems form at intervals and roots form where it touches the ground. The bright sunlight showed a different side of it than I have seen in the past and showed why clubmosses are often associated with pines, even though they have no relationship.

I always feel that I have to get a shot of the old sign that marks the lookout spot but I’m not sure why. There have been times when it was a very hard shot to get because of the light and on this day a hemlock branch blowing in the breeze kept trying to shade it out.

But on this day the light was right and the view was good. The bench is a good place to sit and admire it when the wind isn’t blowing too hard. This view looks toward the west, so there is almost always some wind. In January it can be brutal.

The view across the Connecticut River valley was very blue but I expected it would be; I’ve never seen it when it wasn’t. That’s where the name comes from. Some puffy white clouds floating by would have been nice but I was happy with the clear blue sky. The clouds came to mind because ever since I was a boy, I’ve loved to watch the clouds float by and cast purple shadows on the hills. There are those who believe that, if you can see the thoughts in your mind as clouds, and can watch them floating by as you would clouds, you will find the path to inner peace. As a lifelong cloud watcher I believe there is a lot of truth in that, but I also believe there is always more than one path to any destination.

The ski slopes on Stratton Mountain over in Vermont still had snow on them but I’d guess that they would be closing soon. Nights are mostly staying above freezing now so they no longer have the weather they need to make snow. Hopefully those trails didn’t get as icy as the trails I tried to walk this winter.

Always be thankful for the little things… even the smallest mountains can hide the most breathtaking views. ~Nyki Mack

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Two Sundays ago I decided to visit the High Blue Trail up in Walpole. It’s an easy climb with plenty to see and it was a beautiful fall day. Once I hit the trail I wished I had dressed a little more sensibly though. I had worn a short-sleeved summer shirt so I did a little shivering at the outset.

Hobblebush leaves (Viburnum lantanoides) were already changing into their beautiful, deep maroon fall color.

Hobblebush berries go from green to bright shiny red, and then to deep, purple black. You can see a single ripe berry here. The berries are said to taste like spicy raisins or dates and are eaten by cardinals, turkeys, cedar waxwings and even pileated woodpeckers. Bears, foxes, skunks and squirrels are among the animals that eat them. They go fast; I rarely find them fully ripe.

A New England Aster grew in a low spot so wet I couldn’t get to it, so I had to take a long shot. One thing I’ve learned this year is that New England asters like wet places.

Blue wood asters bloomed in sunnier (and drier) spots all along the trail.

Sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis) got that name from colonials who noticed that they turned white at the slightest hint of frost. We haven’t had a frost but it is definitely cooling off, and this fern showed it.

Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) also turn white early. Lady and sensitive ferns make up a large part of the growth found on the floors of many of our forests, so it won’t be long before they seem a little barren. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Once the leaves fall off the trees and shrubs you can see the bones of the forest; the hardscape of stony ridges, glacial erratics, fallen logs and patches of beautiful green mosses bigger than you ever thought they could get.

Speaking of beautiful green moss, here was a quartz stone covered in delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum.) This is a color changing moss and in cold weather it turns bright, lime green. Color blindness usually means that I see it as bright orange but on this day, it was still green to these eyes.

This sign marks the trail to the overlook. So far, we’ve been following an old logging road.

There is magic in a forest and I know it has found me when these blog posts write themselves right there on the trail. I feel as if I’m on autopilot when it happens; all I have to do is take photos and then come home and type the words that have written themselves in my mind.

The corn in the cornfield was short and stunted looking, which was surprising considering all the rain we’ve had. You shouldn’t be able to see over the top of a cornfield like I could here; corn usually towers far over my head but these stalks might have been 5-6 feet tall. Each stalk had ears on it though, so it will help feed the cows this winter.

If there’s any of it left, that is. I saw signs of animals feeding on it.

White crested coral fungus (Clavulina cristata) grew just off the trail. This fungus is not as common as the yellow spindle corals that I see so often. As I was looking this up, I saw sea corals that looked identical to this example. It’s amazing how nature seems to use the same shapes again and again.

What I think might be a goat cheese webcap mushroom (Cortinarius camphoratus) grew just off the trail. Though it’s hard to see in this photo the cap surface has matted fibers on it, and that’s one of the identifiers, as are the lilac color and rather large size. Unfortunately I didn’t smell it, because that would have been the clincher. This mushroom is said to have a powerful odor of “old goat cheese or sweaty feet.” Some also think it smells like camphor, so maybe I should be glad I didn’t smell it. It’s a pretty thing though, and is a fall / late summer mushroom found usually in coniferous forests.

Years ago a hunter put small reflectors on the trees along the trail and they’re still there. I know there are bears up here and I’m fairly sure there must be lots of deer as well, because there are game trails here and there. I followed one once and discovered a lot of cornstalks that had been taken into the woods.

Running club moss (Lycopodium clavatum) grows near the summit. The name comes from the way it sends out long, horizontal stems. All along the horizontal stem erect stems form at intervals and roots form where it touches the ground. All of this happens under the fallen leaves so it can be difficult sometimes to tell this club moss from others. I can’t say that these plants are rare here, but I don’t see them too often. It is also called stag’s horn clubmoss because of its shape.

Wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) grew on a log. This slime mold starts out as tiny pink globules (aethalia) but as they age they become darker, like those seen on the lower part of the log. Once they darken the globules look more like small puffballs, so it is easy to be fooled.

If you pop a young one (and they do pop) an orange-pink liquid drips out. As they age this liquid takes on a toothpaste consistency before finally becoming a mass of dark colored, dust like spores. If you see one with liquid like that shown here oozing out of it, you’ll know they aren’t very old. Another name is toothpaste slime mold.

I reached what is left of the old stone foundation. It and the stone walls that snake through these woods are reminders of the days when these hillsides were pastures, and not forests. I don’t know who lived up here but I do know that they were hardy souls. I came here one winter and followed snowmobile tracks as far as I could before running into waist deep snowdrifts that stopped me cold. Up here, living with that kind of snow, miles from anywhere, you would have to be hardy indeed. But it wasn’t just the snow; there were bears and wolves as well, and you don’t run very well with snow shoes on. I just read that the last known wolf in the region was taken in the winter of 1819-1820.

Since there is a small pond here on the summit the people would have had water and food as well if they farmed this land. With food, water and plenty of wood for a fire they most likely just waited out the weather until spring. What long, dark and cold winters they must have seen.

At 1588 feet you aren’t exactly on top of the world but you are on the summit of the highest hill in Walpole New Hampshire.

And as always, the view was very blue. But hazy too.

This view is hazy most of the time when I come here but I could make out Stratton Mountain, off across the Connecticut River valley in Vermont. I don’t how far it is as the crow flies but it’s about 50 miles from here to the mountain if you’re driving.

I’m sure the sharp eyed among you saw signs of fall all through this post, like ripe corn, fall mushrooms, and ghostly ferns. This Indian cucumber root is another sign; it has lost all its green but hasn’t lost that beautiful crimson splash on its top tier of leaves. It’s a beautiful color but the trees are putting on their beautiful fall colors too now, so it won’t be long before you see some very colorful foliage.

The summer sun is fading as the year grows old. ~The Moody Blues

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After putting together a post like the last one I did on lichens I needed to free up my mind a bit so I headed into the woods of Walpole to climb the High Blue trail. I had just been here in October but it wasn’t that cold then. My mission on this day was to see if the ski areas had started making snow.

It was definitely cold enough here to make snow. This shot is of some of the many bubbles I saw in the ice of a mud puddle.

Intermediate wood ferns (Dryopteris intermedia) were still nice and green but that was no surprise because it is one of our native evergreen ferns. It is thought that evergreen ferns get a jump on the competition in spring by starting photosynthesis earlier than their cousins.

A large tinder polypore (Fomes fomentarius) grew on a trail side tree. These bracket fungi produce spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that they can produce as many as 800 million spores in a single hour. Its common name comes from its usefulness as tinder for starting fires. The 5000 year old “iceman” found preserved in ice and snow in the Italian Alps carried pieces of this fungus with him. It is also useful medicinally and is known to stop bleeding, so he might have used it both ways.

The small reflectors put on the trees by hunters reminded me that I probably wasn’t the only one in these woods. I was glad that I remembered to wear my bright orange hat and vest.

There are people who think that plants grow their buds when it warms up in the spring but most plants actually plan ahead and grow their spring buds in the fall. This hobblebush bud (Viburnum lantanoides) already has all it needs to produce a pair of new leaves and a beautiful head of white flowers next spring. Hobblebush buds are naked, meaning they have no bud scales to protect them from the cold, and that’s why they are furry. Hobblebushes are one of our most beautiful native viburnums and there are many of them in these woods.

Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) also have their spring buds at the ready. They’re small now but they’ll grow bigger when it starts to warm up. When they break in spring beech buds are one of the most beautiful things you’ll find in a New England forest.

The farmer has cut all his corn for silage. This was a meadow for many years and it’s always a bit surprising for me to find a cornfield here now. The corn attracts bears and last year I saw several piles of their dung, but this year I didn’t see any. I’m hoping they found a different corn field.

There are game trails that lead from the meadow / cornfield into the woods. Do you see this one? It’s just a narrow trail but it is used regularly, especially by deer. When I come here in winter there are deer tracks everywhere up here.

I followed the game trail into the forest to see what I’d see and found a huge quartz boulder sitting on top of an old stone wall. How anyone ever lifted it up there is beyond me. It was at least 4 feet long and must have been very heavy.

There were also a lot of ears of corn along the game trail and even entire corn stalks pulled up by the roots. This is obviously where the animals come to eat it after they take it from the cornfield. I don’t know if a deer could pull up a cornstalk but a bear certainly could. I was hoping it was cold enough for them to be sleeping by now.

Back on the main trail the sun was shining brightly but not providing much warmth. It was probably about 40 degrees F. and that isn’t bad for the end of November but it still felt cold. November is said to be the cloudiest month but we’ve been lucky this year and have had quite a few sunny days.

One of the things I like about this time of year is how you can see so deeply into the forest now that there is no foliage to block the view. One of the things that is much easier to see now is the old stone wall that snakes through the woods. It’s a “tossed wall,” meaning that the stones were literally tossed or thrown on top of one another. Stones were not nice to plows and farmers wanted to get them out of their fields as quickly and efficiently as possible, and ringing the fields with them was the easiest way. In 1872 there were an estimated 270,000 miles of stone walls in New England. It’s hard to hike through a piece of forest these days without seeing at least one wall.

Walpole is famous among stone wall builders for its ledges which, with little effort, break into nice, flat slabs. The fractures happen naturally, as can be seen on this outcrop. This is very easy stone to build with and it makes a great looking wall.

This stone was taken from the ledge in the previous photo at some point in the past. It hasn’t been cut; this is how it comes right out of the ledge, and that’s what makes it so special. Building a wall with stone like this is a real pleasure but it doesn’t happen often. Usually the stones are rounded, so it takes much more time and effort to build with them.

The small pond on the summit was frozen over as I thought it would be. I used to think that the animals would suffer when the pond froze but there are many small streams nearby that run year round so they always have a place to get a drink.

The sign at the granite overlook tells you that you’ve arrived. High means the spot is higher than the surrounding terrain and blue means the view is very blue, and it always is.

It was a bit humid on this day and as it did the last time I was up here a haze blanketed the landscape, so even though the view across the Connecticut River Valley into Vermont was blue it wasn’t that good. Still, you could see Stratton Mountain so I couldn’t complain. The question was, would my camera be able to cut through the haze so I could see the ski area?

So far so good. Sometimes the camera really goes bonkers up here and I’m shocked by what I see when I get home, so I was hoping this wouldn’t be one of those days. I put it on “auto” for a few shots just to give it a chance to do what it wanted. It seems to have a mind of its own sometimes when capturing landscapes.

Though it is a blotchy photo it showed me that there was indeed snow on the ski trails, so after sitting and admiring the view for a bit, down I went. Before long this entire landscape will be snow covered and there won’t be any snowmaking required, so I was happy that I was still walking in crunchy leaves rather than squeaky snow. You know it’s cold when the snow squeaks underfoot.

Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood. Andy Goldsworthy

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1. 12 Spotted Skimmer

When I first started trying to get photos of dragonflies it seemed like they just never sat still, but after a while I found that they do, and sometimes for quite a long time. This male twelve spotted skimmer stayed still for a while so I was able to get close enough for a useable shot. He gets his name from the 12 brown spots on his wings, but some people (and many books) count the white spots and call him the 10 spotted skimmer. Only mature males have these white spots. Females and immature males have the twelve brown wing spots but not the white spots.

2. Widow Skimmer Dragonfly

I think this is another skimmer; the widow skimmer. Bothe males and females have the dark wing spots but only mature males have the white ones. Adult males also have the powdery blueish white color on their abdomen. The name skimmer comes from the way that they fly low over the water, but some are also called perchers. I’m always happy to see the perchers, the skimmers are a little too fast when they’re skimming.

3. Possible Eastern Amberwing

I saw a dragonfly land one day but because of the distance, the bright sunlight, and my colorblindness it instantly disappeared among the cattail leaves. I thought I knew where it was though so I just shot blindly a few times, hoping the lens had caught sight of it. The above photo is the result, proving that yes, dumb luck plays a part in being a nature photographer. I’ve had a hard time identifying this one but I think it might be an eastern amber wing.

NOTE: Several blogging friends have said that this is a male calico pennant and after a little research I agree with them. Thank you all very much for the help, I appreciate it.

4. Cattail Blossom

While I was watching the dragonflies I was also looking for flowering cattails. Out of many hundreds this was the only one that had flowered up to that point but it won’t be long before they all have flowers. Native Americans used the roots of cattails to make flour and also wove the leaves into matting. Cattails produce more edible starch per acre than potatoes, rice, taros or yams, and during World War II plans were being made to feed American soldiers with that starch in the form of cattail flour. Studies showed that an acre of cattails would produce an average of 6,475 pounds of flour per year, but thankfully the war ended before the flour making could begin.

5. Viceroy Butterfly

It was a hot but very windy day when I found this viceroy butterfly clinging to a leaf for dear life. I must have stood there for 20 minutes waiting for it to open its wings and it did every time I looked away or fiddled with the camera’s controls, so I ended up with one blurry shot of it with its flaps down. This shot shows how the strong wind was curling the tops of  its wings toward the camera. I was surprised that it could hang on at all. Those legs are small, but very strong.

6. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

There wasn’t any wind when I saw this eastern tiger swallowtail drinking from a vetch blossom but it was tilted in an unusual way so I never did get a really good shot of it. Now that I look at the photo I see that I could have gotten down lower and shot up at it, but then I probably would have been shooting into the sun. It’s amazing how birds, animals and insects use sunlight to their advantage and will often position themselves so the sun is behind them, meaning it is shining directly in your eyes if you try to see them. Fighter jet pilots use the same strategy to blind the enemy.

7. Luna Moth

Since I work outside all day every day I always carry a small pocket camera, because as anyone who spends time outside knows, you just never know what you might see. One day I saw this Luna moth in the grass. At first I thought it was dead but it was just crawling through the grass rather than flying and I don’t know enough about them to know if this is normal behavior or not. Luna moths are one of the largest moths in North America, sometimes having a wingspan of as much as 4 1/2 inches. They are beautiful, with a white body, pinkish legs, and pale lime green wings. In northern regions the moth lives for only 7 days and produces only one generation, while in the south they can live for as long as 11 weeks and produce three generations.

8. Beetle

We have a small yellow buggy that we use to get around the 760 acres where I work and one day this beetle landed on it. I haven’t been able to identify it but I think it’s one of the longhorn beetles. They are also called wood worms because of the way that many of them bore into wood. Some, like the invasive Asian longhorn beetle, can do serious damage to forests.

9. Queen Anne's Lace

Along the Ashuelot River Queen Anne’s lace buds were just beginning to unfurl themselves in the sunshine.

10. Sedge

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) blossomed a few feet upriver. You can just see the tiny, almost microscopic wisps of whitish flowers at the pointed ends of some of the upper spiky protrusions (perigynia.) This plant is also called bottlebrush sedge, for obvious reasons. It’s very common near water and waterfowl and some songbirds love its seeds.

11. Ashuelot in June

The stones showing in the river tell the story of how dry it has been. You don’t usually see this many until August but the water level is low enough in this spot right now to walk across without getting your knees wet, and we’re still in June. I suppose I shouldn’t complain; we’ve seen some damaging floods in recent years.

12. Flowering Grass

What I think might be bluejoint reedgrass (Calamagrostis canadensis) sparkles and shimmers in the breeze along the edges of the forests.

13. Flowering Grass

The closer you get, the more interesting it becomes. It’s a beautiful tall grass with very large seed heads.

14. Flowering Grass

It’s only when you take a real close look that you discover why it sparkles and shimmers so. Yellow pollen bearing male (staminate) flowers hang down, waiting for the wind will carry their pollen to waiting feathery white female (pistillate) flowers. Usually the pollen bearing male flowers will bloom and release pollen before the female flowers appear. In that way the pollen of one plant reaches and fertilizes nearby plants and the grass avoids fertilizing itself.

15. Orchard Grass

Orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) is another tall, beautiful grass that seems to be having an extended blooming period this year. I wish more people would take a look at grass flowers because they can be very beautiful. And they’re easy to see because they’re virtually everywhere, even in vacant city lots.

16. Hay Bales

Orchard grass is especially good for baling and it and most of the other pasture grasses grown on local farms will end up in hay bales. The lack of rain is working in the farmer’s favor and the first cutting of hay has dried well, but if the dryness lasts much longer it will start to work against them.

17. White Pine Pollen Cones

The male flowers of eastern white pine trees (Pinus strobus) are called pollen cones because that’s what they produce. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of pollen make it look like the trees are burning and releasing yellow green smoke each spring. Virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, buildings, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in and if you leave your windows open you’ll be doing some house dusting in the near future. Pine pollen is a strong antioxidant and it has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago and they are said to be numerous.

18. White Pine Pollen Cones

When the white pine’s pollen cones have shed all of their pollen they fall from the trees in the many millions and cover the ground for a short time. Here they’re suspended in a spider’s web.

19. Cornfield

Here in this part of the country our corn is supposed to be knee high by the fourth of July but it looks like the dryness might keep it shin high instead. When I was a boy cornfields stretched to the south as far as I could see, growing on rich bottomland along the Ashuelot River, built up by annual spring flooding over thousands of years. This land has been farmed for at least as long as I’ve been alive.

20. Bracket Fungus

You might find a conspicuous lack of fungi and slime molds here this year but again, that’s because it has been so dry.  I did see a bracket fungus that was a little sad but it still had a blush of pinkish orange on it. Since orange is such a hard color to find in nature I thought I’d show it here.

I think we are bound to, and by, nature. We may want to deny this connection and try to believe we control the external world, but every time there’s a snowstorm or drought, we know our fate is tied to the world around us.  ~Alice Hoffman

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