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Posts Tagged ‘Double Stone Walls’

Stone walls, it is said by author Robert Thorson, are much easier to explore in January when the leaves are off the trees and bushes. “Like a negative to a photograph,” he says, “walls are most visible when life is most invisible.” I agree, and that’s why I do these stone wall posts in winter. But as you can see by the above photo, this post was made even easier by the lack of snow. Not only did a January thaw melt it all but the huge old pine trees overhead keep much of the snow off this particular wall, even in mid-winter.

Unusual about this spot are the parallel double walls with a space big enough between them for a horse drawn wagon or a cow herd to pass through with ease. None of the trees seen here would have been here when the wall was young. Tree seeds fell into or very near stone walls and grew and few people ever did anything about it.

I’m guessing that there were animals involved in the path through the double walls because holes were drilled into stones and steel rods inserted into them to increase the wall height by about a foot and a half. As the steel ground against the granite over the years the holes were made bigger so cut nails were driven in beside the rods to keep them straight. The cut nails seen here date the steel rods to sometime between 1800 and 1900, but the wall itself has been here since the mid-1700s.

Each steel rod has a flattened tip with a hole in it. The hole most likely had wire passed through it. This would have all been done by the local blacksmith.

If wire was passed through the hole in the rod it could have been used to hold up barbed wire. Barbed wire would have been used to keep animals from jumping the wall and it can be found strung all along it.

You can occasionally find cut stones on this wall. I think this rectangular example is a granite fence post that broke off at ground level and was thrown on top of the wall to get it out of the way. The most common stone walls in this area are “tossed walls.” Farmers worked from dawn to dusk in Colonial New England and tossed walls required the least amount of time and effort because smaller stones were literally tossed or thrown on top of one another. In the early years getting rid of the plentiful stones quickly and efficiently was more important than enclosing the fields and boy, did famers get rid of them. In 1872 there were an estimated 270,000 miles of stone walls in New England.

Rock greenshield lichens (Flavoparmelia baltimorensis) look like melted candle wax to me. They are very common in this area and are another of those bits of nature that you see so often they no longer register, but when you take the time to look closer you find that they are quite pretty. They must like it here because they cover entire lengths of this wall.

In the story books of my childhood the stones in stone walls were all colors including blue, orange and yellow, so I knew right off that whoever wrote the books had never seen anything built of stone because, as everybody knew, stones were gray. As I grew older and started paying closer attention to the world around me I realized once again that I didn’t know what I was talking about because, as whoever illustrated those books knew, stones could indeed come in many colors. Usually in this area only the oldest stone walls are colored in this way, and of course what grows on them depends on exposure, so they may not be as wonderfully colorful as this one.

The yellow color in the previous photo comes from sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s a very soft, pale yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine.

The white on this tree is caused by a lichen called, appropriately enough, whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena.) This lichen is usually found on the bark of hardwood trees and is fairly common. It makes the tree look as if it has been painted white, and that’s where its common name comes from. They can be greenish white, silvery, or bright white as this one is.

I saw a stone with a forest of pixie cup lichens (Cladonia asahinae) on it. The tiny little golf tee shaped parts are the fruiting bodies of this lichen. Spores produced in them will be splashed out of the cup by raindrops.  Pixie cups almost always produce large groups of fruiting bodies like these.

I saw some pixie cup shapes that were unusual; the one on the left is a double one, with two cups grown together. The one on the right has one cup growing out of another. I don’t know if this is common behavior or not but I haven’t ever seen it.

Here was a large stone covered by a carpet of Hedwigia ciliata moss. This moss is common and is also called white tipped moss.

The white leaf tips drawn out to long, fine points help confirm the identity of Hedwigia ciliata moss. It’s one of those mosses that you almost have to run your hand over.

Because it’s so warm near stone walls in the winter many plants like this mullein (Verbascum thapsus)  like to grow along them. In fact there is an amazing variety of plants growing on or near this wall. Native Americans used tea made from mullein’s large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

Bristly or swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing vine blooms with white flowers that look a lot like strawberry flowers. The fruit looks more like a black raspberry than anything else and is said to be very sour. Its leaves usually live under the snow all winter but these exposed examples were beautifully colored purple. It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring so they get a head start over the competition, and this plant certainly seems to benefit from it. Swamp dewberry looks like a vine but is actually considered a shrub. It likes wet places and is a good indicator of wetlands, but I’ve seen it growing in dry waste areas many times. It’s also called bristly blackberry because its stem is very prickly.

It was no surprise to find the European Vinca (Vinca minor) growing in the wall, because in the 1800s Vinca was a plant given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies, and I’ve seen all three still blooming beautifully off in the middle of nowhere. They grow thickly together and sometimes form an impenetrable mat that other plants can’t grow through. It has been here long enough to have erased any memories of it having once crossed the Atlantic on the deck of a wooden ship, and people like it. Another name for it is Myrtle.

The beautiful blue of first year black raspberry canes (Rubus occidentalis) is always a welcome sight in the winter. The blue color is caused by the way light is reflected off the powdery, waxy white crystals that cover the canes. The crystals are there to protect the young canes from moisture loss and sunburn and many other plants including blueberries, plums, grapes and blue stemmed goldenrod also use the same strategy. The color is often like that of a blue jay.

There are some very old white pine trees (Pinus strobus) here. I’d guess this one had to be approaching 300 years old. It was huge and had deeply furrowed bark. Sometimes I lay my hands against great trees like this one to feel their power. The power of creation just seems to hum through them like an engine.

My grandfather was the town blacksmith for years in Westmoreland, New Hampshire and the old wrought iron hardware I sometimes find in stone walls always makes me think of him. A blacksmith might make a dollar a day in the early 1800s but very little cash changed hands in colonial America, so he most likely would have been paid in food, charcoal for the forge, lumber, or something else he needed. I’d guess my grandfather made more than a colonial blacksmith, but probably not by much. The ring seen here most likely held a chain.

Since history and botany are my favorite subjects it all comes together for me here, and on the historical side of things this chain hook is one of my favorite bits of antique iron work that I find here. A link from a chain would have been hooked over it and then another link hooked over a similar hook a certain distance away. Chains were (and are) often hung across roads or driveways as a way to say “no admittance.”  What I like about this example is the way the blacksmith tapered the hook over its length and finally ended it in what looks like a dragon’s tail. He didn’t have to make such a utilitarian object as beautiful as a dragon’s tail, but he did. It’s a beautiful thing which, if I owned it, would be considered a work of art.

Stones are all about time—time to find them, to move them, to place them, and time, occasionally, to chisel and shape them. And above all, time to see them, experience them, and fall under their spell. ~Charles McRaven

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

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