Posts Tagged ‘Dry Stone Walls’

Two of my great loves are history and botany and one of the best ways I know of to get a good dose of both is by following stone walls. This particular wall is in Swanzey, New Hampshire and surrounds what I believe is the oldest cemetery in town. Revolutionary war soldiers are buried here so it certainly has some age.

Right off I spotted some sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s very 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.

Sulfur dust lichens are kind of granular in texture. If you’re lucky you can sometimes find them with fruiting bodies (apothecia) but more often than not I see them when they aren’t producing spores.

There are stone walls called “lace walls” which are built of a stack of stones just one stone wide, and which are full of holes that make them look like lace, but this is a tossed wall sometimes three or four stones wide and it was built to keep animals, probably sheep, out. There were no holes when it was built but there are now, as this photo shows. I can’t explain how it happened but I’ve built enough dry stone walls to know that building a hole like this one into a tossed wall would be close to impossible. In a tossed wall the stones are literally just tossed on top of one another. The object wasn’t to build a pretty wall; it was to get rid of the stones as quickly and efficiently as possible. I think a stone must have fallen or been taken out of the wall to create such a hole.

There are a lot of tree stumps along the wall and some of them, like the one above, are very old. Not only was this one covered with moss and lichens, it also had birch trees growing out of it. Stumps like this are always worth a second look.

The old stump had more British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) growing on it than I’ve ever seen in one place. Old rotted logs and stumps are the perfect spots to find them.

Even I can see this shade of red, and I’m colorblind.

A large pile of sand at the base of another hollow tree stump meant that something was living under it. Possibly a ground hog, but I didn’t see a single paw print.

This old maple tree was covered on its sunny side by whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena.) This is a tough, crusty lichen that is fairly common on hardwood tree bark. They can cover quite a large area and make the tree look as if it has been painted, hence the common name. They can be greenish white, silvery, or bright white.

As time passed barbed wire was often added to stone walls to keep animals in or out. Stone walls were usually too low to be effective and cows and other farm animals often jumped right over them, so their height was increased by adding wire or other materials. You had to pay a fine if your animals escaped and were caught roaming free. They were brought to the town pound and the owner had to pay to get them back. This wire grew out of the very center of a pine tree, so it has been here for quite a while. Running their saw into steel wire is one of a wood cutter’s worst nightmares come true but many things have been found inside trees, from axe heads to gravestones to even bicycles.

Every time I see rusty old barbed wire stapled to a tree I think about a book I read by a man who lived in a cabin in the Massachusetts woods. He said that one of his favorite things to do was run through the woods at night. He wouldn’t want to do that here. I wouldn’t even run through these woods in broad daylight because much of what is now forest was once pasture, and there is a lot of barbed wire out there.

Peppered rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) likes to grow on stone in full sun and I find a lot of them on stone walls. They’re a good introduction to lichen study because their brown apothecia, where their spores are produced, are large and easy to see without aid.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) on the other hand, are quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do.

Sometimes it isn’t what is on the stone that interests me, it’s the stone itself. I’m not sure if this pattern was on the stone or part of it but it was very interesting. Also interesting was how it had absolutely nothing growing on it when all of the stones around it had mosses and lichens growing on them.

I never knew my grandfather but I do know that he made his living as the town blacksmith in Westmoreland, New Hampshire, and this old horse hitching ring brought thoughts of him to mind. If he was lucky a blacksmith might make a dollar a day 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. In the early 1800s blacksmiths charged anywhere from 2 cents for an axe wedge to $5.50 for all of the ironwork on a new wagon. That would include springs, axles, brakes, and rims for the wheels. I have a photo of my grandfather working on a wagon wheel in his blacksmith shop. The wheel sits on top of a big wooden keg that he probably made the iron hoops for. I hope he was paid more than they were in colonial times.

Some of the stones in this old wall are not natural, meaning they were cut or quarried. There is a large granite outcrop just up the hill from this spot and stone was taken from it using star drills and sledge hammers, I would imagine. The marks of the old hand drills are still easily seen on some of the stones. It’s unusual to see both natural and cut stones together in a wall; usually they’re made of one or the other but the farmer could have been trying to increase the height of his walls.

Some of the quarried granite was used for fence posts. Four posts were put in around certain family plots in the cemetery and chain hooks were added by drilling a hole into the top of each post and hammering a hook into the hole.  I’m not sure if friction alone held the hooks in the holes or if cement was added to hold them, but after over 200 years they are still solid and immovable.

Once chain was added the family plot was enclosed but still visible to anyone trying to find it. This chain looks like it was hand wrought.

Blacksmiths don’t cast iron; they soften it by heating it in a forge and then shaping it with a hammer, and I love how you can see all the hammer blows on this chain hook. I also love how the smith fashioned something as simple as a chain hook into what looks like a dragon’s tail. He didn’t have to do this; it was extra work that he probably wasn’t paid for, but he was good and would have wanted people to know his work. If I needed ironwork done and I saw this hook and the ones in the previous photos I would have chosen the smith who made this one. It’s a beautiful thing which, if I owned it, would be considered a work of art.

Sometimes these posts wander in unplanned directions and almost write themselves, and this is one of those; l felt as if I were just along for the ride instead of the one doing the writing. It began in the old cemetery and I just tagged along with the camera while the story wrote itself in my mind, so I hope you won’t mind that there is a little more history than botany in this one. Though I expected the post to be full of mosses and lichens for me the history I found was a refreshing diversion while I wait for spring flowers to appear, and thoughts of my hammer wielding grandfather ran all through the day. I wonder if he ever imagined that one of his grandsons would grow up to be a stone wall builder.

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

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1. Logging Road

On Saturday I decided to visit a beaver pond that I’d heard might prove to be a worthwhile walk. I started off down this old logging road, which was well worn and rutted, in Hancock. It was early and cool on a day that was supposed to be hot later, with temperatures in the high 80s F. We’ve been having a few of those lately and there are more to come.

2. Stone Wall

The stone walls lining both sides of the road told me that this land once looked far different than what it does now. It was cleared and farmed at one time and folks lived out here in what now seems like the middle of nowhere. But I can see why they built here; the land is level in places and is relatively protected by hills, and there is a stream running through it.

3. Trail

Through a break in the wall you turn onto the trail that leads to the beaver pond.

4. Boulder

The trail is called boulder trail for good reason. There are some very big stones out here; car, truck and house size. Can you imagine wanting to clear the land and seeing this, when all you had was an axe and maybe a pair of oxen? They must have just cleared around it because here it still sits.

5. Swamp

Finally you reach the beaver pond. It’s peaceful here but far from quiet. Bullfrogs made their presence known with loud bellowing cries from every direction. They usually do this in the evening and at night, but will also croak during the day when the breeding season is at its peak. It must be at its peak now because there had to have been thousands calling; most of them male. At one point they started calling at one end of the pond and then more and more joined in, all perfectly synchronized, until you could feel as well as hear the wave of sound pass around the pond. I’ve never heard anything like it from bullfrogs. Spring peepers yes, but not bullfrogs.

6. Beaver Lodge

A beaver lodge was off shore a few yards, but I didn’t see any beavers.

7. Beaver Trail

I didn’t really need to see the beavers to know they were there though. Their trails through the floating aquatic plants told me that they were active, most likely at night. The grass growing beyond the trail isn’t a good sign for the beavers though. It means their pond is silting up, and there isn’t a thing that they can do about it except move on. Sometime in the future their unmaintained dam will collapse and the land will drain and dry out. Trees will take root, and once again this place will be a forest with a stream running through it. Beavers will then move back in, start to cut the trees and build another dam, and the ever repeating 30 year cycle will start again.

8. Beaver Tree

Their activity was very recent. There must have been 30 or more trees either felled or in the process of being cut. It’s a bit unnerving out here on a windy day I would imagine, because some of the standing trees had been cut to one tenth their original diameter.

9. Beaver Tree

There isn’t much left of its original self. One good wind gust and over it goes.

10. Blue Flags

But there wasn’t any wind and anyway, I was too busy looking at all the beautiful things around me to worry about falling trees.

11. Blue Flag-2

Blue flag iris (Iris versicolor) is a beautiful flower and I’m always happy to see it. It loves to grow on the shore of virtually any slow moving or still water and so is right at home here.

12. Great Blue Heron Chicks

The beaver pond attracted fish and bullfrogs and they in turn attracted great blue herons, which built their nests in the still standing dead trees. Sometimes the trees looked like high rise apartments with multiple nests. Each nest seemed to have at least two chicks in it.  I heard that one of the special things about this place is how the herons have become used to seeing people, and it’s true; they aren’t as skittish as they’ve been in other rookeries I’ve visited. All of these photos were shot in the morning, but I learned to wait until afternoon to come here, because in the morning the sunshine falls almost directly on the trail where you stand, which means right at your lens, and that can make for some challenging photography.

13. Great Blue Heron

My camera really doesn’t have the reach required to get good photos of herons in the middle of a beaver pond but this one sat in a tree nearer to me than most. Herons will teach you patience by standing statue-still for long periods of time but finally, this one had an itch.

14. Dragonfly

When I wasn’t watching statuesque herons I watched the multitudes of dragonflies flitting back and forth. I think this one is a female or newly emerged male blue dasher, but it’s hard for me to tell. As dragonflies will, this one kept leaving and returning to its perch and even fought with others for the right to use it.

15. Fragrant White Waterlily

The fragrant white waterlilies (Nymphaea odorata) were just opening and were beautiful as always. While I was trying to find an unobstructed view of this flower a big black northern water snake caught a frog and dragged it under. There would be one less voice in the chorus on this night.

16. Northern Water Snake by Wikipedia

The Northern water snake was too fast for me to get a photo of but I thought you might want to see what they looked like, so I found this excellent shot by Matthew Hayes on Wikipedia.  It shows one of the big snakes basking in the sun, which they often do. I’ve seen them about 3 feet long but they can reach about 4 1/2  feet in length. According to Wikipedia they can be brown, gray, reddish, or brownish-black, but the ones I’ve seen have looked black. That could be because they were wet but they also darken with age and become almost black. They aren’t venomous but I’ve heard that they will bite and that their bite can sometimes lead to an infection if it isn’t taken care of. They eat small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, and even small birds and mammals, like chipmunks. They’re also very fast and hard to get a photo of.

17. Indian Cucumber

I’ve never seen so many trillium, lady’s slippers, blue bead lilies and Indian cucumber root plants in one place before. There were so many in places it was hard not to step on them. The above photo shows an immature Indian cucumber root plant (Medeola virginiana,) too young to bloom. I chose it for a photo because I wanted you to see how its leaves grow in a whorl around the stem. It will produce another tier of whorled leaves higher on the stem when it becomes old enough to bloom. The plant gets its common name from its small white, carrot shaped edible root, which tastes like cucumber. Native Americans used it for food and also used it medicinally. The Medeola part of the plant’s scientific name is from Medea, a magical enchantress from Greek Mythology. It refers to the plant’s magical curative powers.

18. Indian Cucumber Blossom

The flowers of Indian cucumber root usually nod under the leaves and have 6 yellowish-green recurved tepals, 6 reddish stamens topped by greenish anthers, and 3 reddish-purple to brown, curved styles. These large styles are sometimes bright red-brown like those shown but I think they darken as they age. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish-black berry.

19. Black and Blue Damselfly

I think this is a common blue damselfly, but it’s uncommonly beautiful. It’s also my favorite shade of blue.

20. Wild Calla aka Calla palustris

As I was sitting on a log waiting for the blue herons to do something interesting I noticed these plants that I’d never seen before growing at the water’s edge. I get excited when I see a plant I’ve never seen, so I had to have a closer look.

21. Wild Calla aka Calla palustris

Wild calla (Calla palustris) was what they were and you could have knocked me over with a feather, I was so surprised. I’ve been roaming around swamps and backwaters for 50 years and I’ve never seen this plant. Though it isn’t thought to be rare in New Hampshire it is said to be a more northern species, so that could explain why I never see it. It’s also called water arum and is in the same family as Jack in the pulpit and other arums. Like jack in the pulpit the flowers appear on a spadix surrounded by a spathe. The spathe is the white leaf like part seen in the above photo. The plant is toxic and it is said that the Native American Meskwaki tribe of the great lakes region chopped the root and put it in the food of their enemies, causing them great pain and possibly death.

22. Wild Calla aka Calla palustris Close

Unfortunately I missed the actual flowers, which are tiny and greenish white, and grow along the spadix where the green berries are now. These berries will ripen to bright red and will most likely be snapped up by a passing deer. One odd fact about this plant is how its flowers are pollinated by water snails passing over the spadix. It is thought that small flies and midges also help with pollination, because the odor from the blossoms is said to be very rank.

23. Swamp

Some say that you can see heaven in water and I thought I saw it once or twice myself in this beautiful place. There is a sense of wonder and mystery in such places and time can seem to stop, and that’s one thing that makes them so special. I’m sorry that this grew to such a long post but there was much to see and still, I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ll definitely be returning; I’d love to see it in winter.

I am grateful for the magic, mystery and majesty of nature – my loyal friend and companion – always there, welcoming and waiting for me to come; to be healed. ~Tom North

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1. Trail

Last Sunday morning I decided to climb Mount Caesar in Swanzey. This hill seems to be a single, huge piece of granite bedrock that was thrust up out of the earth unknown eons ago. As the above photo shows, the trail starts out bare granite with a little moss and some reindeer lichens growing on the sides. Exposed granite like that shown can be seen here and there all the way to top, but there must be pockets of soil in places because settlers once went to a lot of trouble to clear it.

2. Red Maple

A red maple tree (Acer rubrum) has blown over onto a stone wall and its roots have humped up part of the trail.

3. Target Canker

I know the tree is a red maple by the target canker on its trunk. This canker doesn’t harm the tree but causes its bark to grow in circular patterns of narrow plates which helps protect it from the canker. As the tree ages the patterns disappear. If I understand what I’ve read correctly red maple is the only tree that does this.

4. Cut Forest

The blowdown was caused by the cutting of a large area of town owned forest, which was sold off a few years ago. A tree that has grown behind such a large windbreak all its life it doesn’t need very strong roots, but when the windbreak is removed its weak roots will let it fall. That’s why trees in a constant wind have much stronger roots than those that grow in sheltered locations. That’s also why people who have encountered hardship and adversity throughout their lives are much more able to bear the strain than those who have lived lives of sheltered ease.

5. Cut Boulder

The removal of the shade provided by the forest has revealed a lot of things I haven’t noticed before, like this large boulder that was cut by someone in the past. The short 3 inch deep lines around its edge are what’s left of the holes that were drilled so tools called feathers and wedges could be pounded in them to split the stone. The holes were most likely drilled by hand with a sledge hammer and star drill. One person would hold the drill while the other hit it with the hammer, and that says a lot about both skill and trust.

6. Trailing Arbutus

The cutting of the forest has also thrown sunlight on many shade loving plants, including this trailing arbutus. Its leaves should be deep green rather than the yellowish green seen here. There were a few flowers tucked under the leaves but the plants don’t look as healthy as many other examples I’ve seen.

7. Trail

The skidder used to haul the logs out of the forest turned the trail into a logging road and in places it’s so muddy that people have been forced to make a new narrow trail above the now 2 foot deep trench.  It works fine until you meet someone going the opposite way.  I doubt that it will ever be repaired until the trail becomes a stream and washes half the hill into the road that borders it. Parts of the trail are showing signs that this is already happening, and they look more like dry stream bed than trail. In a pouring rain the water must really rush through.

8. Stone Wall-2

When I was building dry stone walls I always thought of them as giant puzzles, because I knew that there was always a perfect stone that would fit in the space that I was trying to fill; all I had to do was find it. These days I just admire the work of others, and I thought that this part of an old wall looked particularly puzzle like. This isn’t a “thrown wall” where someone just tossed stones on top of each other in a long pile. This wall was thought about and a certain amount of care was taken when it was built.

9. Stone

Sometimes you see stones in walls that have a story to tell, like this one that I assume probably had the deep grooves worn into it by a glacier. I imagine the father and son, brother and brother, or master and slave had a lot to talk about as they cleared the fields of the many rocks they found. They were talking about glaciers and ice ages in Sweden in the 1700s, but whether or not any of that knowledge would have reached the residents of Swanzey is a question I can’t answer. I do know that Native Americans burnt the town to the ground in the mid-1700s, so the residents probably had other things on their minds than glaciers and ice ages.

10. Stone

Other stones, instead of being shaped by ice, show traces of the hot magma that formed them.

11. Turkey Tails

These young turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) grew on a piece of bark that had pulled away from the stump it grew on. They reminded me of the old song Blue Velvet by Bobby Vinton, and I had it playing in my head for the rest of the hike.

12. Log

There is a very big old log lying beside the trail just before you reach the top and I usually stop here to catch my breath. When I did that this time I saw that the old log had become a nurse log, with a small cherry or black birch growing out of the hollow where a branch once grew. I should have tasted a twig; the taste of wintergreen would have meant it was a black birch (Betula lenta,) which is also called sweet birch, cherry birch, and mahogany birch. It’s an unusual place for a tree to grow and it’ll be interesting to watch.

13. View

I think, out of all the hills I climb, if I climbed them for the view I’d be disappointed about 80% of the time, but since I don’t really care what the view looks like I’m never disappointed. I climb more for the things I see along the trail than what I see from the top, and I see interesting things along the trail every single time I climb. Today’s view would have been among the 80% I’m afraid, with its harsh sunlight and flat blue sky. A deeper blue in the sky and some puffy white clouds would have made a beautiful view but you can’t have everything, and I need to stop and remind myself that I should be thankful that I can even make it up here. There was a time not that long ago when Mount Caesar might as well have been Mount Everest.

14. Monadnock

Mount Monadnock sat in a sun washed haze over in Jaffrey. The word Monadnock is thought to originate with the Native American Abenaki tribe and is said to mean “mountain that stands alone. “ At 3 165 feet Mount Monadnock is taller than any other feature in the region and is visible from nearly every surrounding town. It rises about 2203 feet higher than where I stood when I took this photo.

15. Turkey Vulture

A large bird soared above me on the thermals. I think it was a turkey vulture and I wondered for a moment if it thought I was a turkey. It seemed very interested and circled a couple of times before flying off.

16. Lean To

Someone built a lean-to near the summit sometime in the past. If they stayed up here at night I hope they had a good flashlight and an excellent sense of direction. The cliffs here are quite high and stumbling around up here in the dark would not be wise.

17. Erratic

There is a large glacial erratic that sits on top of Mount Caesar but for some reason I’ve never shown it in a blog post. It’s smaller than a Volkswagen Beetle but not by much. It sits on the granite bedrock where the glacier left it, simply too big and heavy to do anything with. It could have been drilled and split with feathers and wedges like the boulder we saw earlier in this post but that was a lot of work, and what would have been the point? Then you’d just have had to drag the resulting stone slabs all the way down the trail.

18. Mica

This erratic has a lot of mica and feldspar in it, which are minerals I’ve never seen anywhere else here on Mount Caesar. Maybe the glacier carried it from Gilsum to the north. There is plenty of both there. Of course the definition of a glacial erratic is “a piece of rock that differs from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests” and this example seems to fit that definition perfectly.

19. Toadskin

I had to sit by my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) for a while and study them a bit, because the more I look the more I see. On this day they were very dry to the point of crispness, but were still beautiful. The smaller one on the right was pierced by a pine needle, so if you know the size of a pine needle that will tell you the size of the lichen. They aren’t very big; I think the biggest one I’ve seen was about the same diameter as a ping pong ball. I keep hoping to find them at lower elevations but so far the only place I’ve ever seen them is on hilltops. More sunshine? Cleaner air?  I don’t know what attracts them to only the high places.

20. Bluets

The only wildflowers I saw on this morning were bluets (Houstonia caerulea,) and that was okay. They’re beautiful little things but I’ve never seen such an even division in the white and blue on the petals. Usually they have more of one color or the other, and often the white makes a narrow band around the center and the blue colors most of the rest of the petal. I’d have to call these examples bicolor. They were a surprise, and a real treat to see.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds.

~Edgar A. Guest

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1. Gate

When I visit a place I like to visit it in all four seasons and get to know it a bit, and that’s why I decided to walk in Yale Forest in Swanzey last weekend. It was a cloudy, gray day that wasn’t great for photography but I saw plenty of interesting things and came home happy. It’s amazing how much the look of a place can change between winter and summer, and how many unseen things are revealed when the trees and shrubs no longer have leaves.

The road I followed was once called Dartmouth College Road because if you followed in north far enough, that’s where you would have ended up. When the State Department of Transportation built what is now route 10 this section of road was abandoned and from what I gather by talking to the county forester and others, was taken over by Yale University. I’m not sure exactly how it worked but apparently, since they owned the land on both sides of the road it became theirs when it was abandoned by the state. In any event it is now considered a private road but Yale University is very good about letting locals use the forest for hiking and biking. Since gates on both ends of the road are locked I’m assuming that the tire tracks were made by someone from Yale.

2. Forest

Yale founded a School of Forestry & Environmental Studies in 1900 and owns parcels of forest all over New England. Alumni donated land to the school or it was bought or sometimes even traded, and over time good sized pieces of forest were put together. The first land was bought by the school in 1913 but this particular parcel dates from the 1920s or 30s. It is 1,930 acres in size. A forestry school can’t train foresters in proper forest management without a forest, so this is one of the places where they come to train, and part of that training includes how to maintain healthy woodlands. This parcel is mostly red and white pine that was planted or seeded naturally after the hurricane of 1938 blew down many of the trees that stood here, so none of it is original old growth forest.

3. Hardwood Stump

Many of the hardwood stumps had sprouted new growth. When I saw this one I thought “deer food.”

4. Deer Browse

Sure enough the deer had eaten the tender tip of every shoot. Deer have their front cutting incisor teeth only on their bottom jaw and these teeth meet a cartilage pad on their top jaw so they tear rather than cut through cleanly, and that tearing can be clearly seen in the photo. This won’t kill the new shoots but it will make them bushier. Selectively cutting a forest and leaving the stumps to re-grow provides valuable winter food to deer.

5. Deer Run

Now that the ferns and other undergrowth have died back game trails could be seen clearly. The deer use these trails year round but they aren’t as easy to spot in summer and fall. They can be seen in any New Hampshire forest and have probably been used since the dawn of time.

6. Stone Wall

Stone walls and cellar holes are all that’s left to tell of all the back breaking work that once went on here. This particular piece of land is very stony and parts of it are low and wet, so I doubt much crop farming was done here. I’m guessing that it was sheep pasture. Sheep were big business in this area in the 1800s but then railroads came through and the industrial revolution happened and many of these smaller farms were abandoned or sold. The forests grew back and now it’s close to impossible to walk into a New Hampshire forest and not see a stone wall. At one time there were an estimated 250,000 miles of stone walls in the northeast.

7. White Tipped Moss on Stone Wall

White-tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata) grew on one of the stones in the wall.  This moss was very green and healthy looking and part of that probably had to do with the previous night’s dusting of snow. It was warm enough so the snow had melted and the water from it rejuvenated the mosses and lichens. Many people don’t seem to realize that in spite of the snow the winter landscape can be as dry as a desert until it warms up enough for the snow to melt. I see many mosses and lichens that are as shriveled in January as they are in July.

8. White Tipped Moss on Stone Wall Closeup

I like seeing mosses close up, and this is about as close as I could get to the white tipped moss in the previous photo.  At this scale it’s clear where it got its common name, and it’s also clear that it’s a very beautiful thing.

9. Crowded Parchment

Crowded parchment fungi (Stereum complicatum) jostled for space on a log. There must be some way that growing so close together and in such large numbers benefits this fungus, but I haven’t been able to find out how. I probably see more of it than any other mushroom.

10. Fallen Tree

A small tree had fallen between 2 others and was supported so it hung out into the road at about eye level.

11 Fallen Tree

I was surprised to see how much growth covered the trunk of the fallen tree. It was like a garden, with several kinds of mosses, lichens and fungi growing all along its entire length.

12. Beech Leaves

For years I’ve seen certain dead beech leaves as a kind of peachy orangey-pinkish color but I always thought that I was simply seeing the wrong color due to color blindness. Imagine my surprise when my color finding software told me that these leaves were the color that I thought I’d been seeing all along. Color blindness is very strange in how it works differently for virtually every color. Blue can be purple and red can be brown but apparently peach is always peach.

13. Deer Tongue Grass

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) added some color to the forest floor.

14. Lesser Plait Moss

This beautiful moss grew in a rather large patch on a tree trunk, but too high up to be tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates.) Instead I think it might be lesser plait moss (Hypnum pallescens,) which is supposed to be a “shiny, dark ochre-green moss with light green tips that creeps like satin threads over bark and rock.” Its tiny leaves are triangular and egg shaped, and have a long curved tip like a sickle.

15. Lesser Plait Moss Capsules 1

Its orange spore capsules were very small and hard to get a good photo of.  Unfortunately my moss book doesn’t say if the spore capsules of lesser plait moss are orange.

16. Fallen Killer Tree

Ironically (or maybe not) a tree with a “killer tree” tape on it had fallen. These warnings warn loggers that the tree is dead, diseased or has some other condition that might cause it to fall. In this case it was a valid warning and I was glad it wasn’t windy because there were more still standing.

17. Killer Tree Stump

The killer tree’s wood was orange.  I don’t think I’ve seen that before and I’m not sure what would cause it other than a fungus.

18. Pinesap

I was fooled once into thinking that I had found a blue lichen, but I hadn’t paid attention and didn’t know that the sticky sap of white pines (Pinus strobus) turned blue in cold weather. Now whenever I find a blue lichen I look around to make sure that I’m not standing near a pine. This one had lost a limb and had dripped quite a lot of sap onto the forest litter below.

19. Pine Bark

I don’t know how old the tree that was dripping sap was but it was huge; easily three feet across. White pines can reach 200 to 250 years old and some can live over 400 years. Its needles contain five times the amount of the vitamin C of lemons and were used by Native Americans to make tea. This knowledge saved many colonists who were dying of scurvy, but instead of using the tree for food and medicine as the Natives did the colonists cut them down and used the wood for paneling, floors and furniture. When square riggers roamed the seas the tallest white pines in the Thirteen Colonies were known as mast pines. They were marked with a broad arrow and were reserved for the Royal Navy, and if you had any sense you didn’t get caught cutting one down. This practice of The King taking the best trees led to the Pine Tree Riot in 1772, which was an open act of rebellion. Colonists cut down and hauled off many marked mast pines in what was just a taste of what would come later on in the American Revolution.

20. Maple Dust Lichen

I found a maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora) by accident a few years ago and have hoped to see one again ever since. I finally saw one on the bark of a maple in Yale Forest and this is it. It was maybe an inch across and if I understand what I’ve read correctly you can tell that it’s a maple dust lichen by the tiny fringe around its outer edge. I stood and gazed at it as I would if I were in an art gallery viewing paintings by DaVinci or Rembrandt, because it’s every bit as beautiful.

One who returns to a place sees it with new eyes. Although the place may not have changed, the viewer inevitably has. For the first time things invisible before become suddenly visible. ~Louis L’Amour

Thanks for coming by. Part 2 of this post will be along on Saturday.



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1. Monadnock

I don’t think I’ve ever shown much of what our landscape looks like in November. Some people think there’s nothing worth seeing at this time of year; that everything is either brown or white, but that simply isn’t true and I hope the following photos will prove it. I don’t usually do too much landscape photography because I find it much harder than any other kind and because I’m not that good at it, but I probably can’t lose by starting off with Mount Monadnock. A three year old couldn’t mess up a photo of this mountain from this spot.

2. Monadnock Summit

3,165 ft. high Mount Monadnock has bald granite on its summit because a fire set in 1800 to clear the lower slopes for pasture got away from the settlers and burned every tree on its summit. Between 1810 and 1820 local farmers thought that wolves were living in the blowdowns left from the first fire, so they set fire to the mountain again. This fire raged for weeks, burning so long and so hot that it even burned the soil, which the wind and rain eventually removed, leaving the bare granite that we see today.

3. Climber on Monadnock

Monadnock is the most climbed mountain in the United States and the second most climbed in the world after Mount Fiji in Japan. It’s not unusual to find standing room only on the summit on a fall weekend, but on this morning it looked like one climber had the whole thing to himself. I’d bet that it was pretty cold up there and that probably kept people away. It won’t be long before it’s covered by many feet of snow.

4. Meadow

Something that really says New Hampshire to me is a field surrounded by stone walls. The stones were found when the field was being cleared and to get rid of them the farmers put them along the edges of the field. Stone walls built in this way are among the earliest and most common, and are called thrown or tossed walls since that’s how the stones were put there. Since forests were being cleared rapidly wood for fencing was in short supply and stone walls eventually replaced the earlier wooden fencing. If the field was used as pasture wooden rails were often added to the tops of stone walls to keep animals from jumping over them.

5. Stone Wall

Laid walls took more care and time to build and were often used for show along the front of a house or other places that were seen by the public. They are more orderly than dumped or thrown walls and show the skill of the builder.

6. Granite Gate Post

This wall had a gate with granite gate posts. You don’t see these very often.

7. Woods

I’ve been walking in these forests almost since I learned how, so I can’t think of this state without thinking of them. New Hampshire has 4.8 million acres of forest so the woods become a big part of life here. Big open spaces are rare and often have cows in them.

8. Old Road

I should have said that I’ve been following trails and old logging roads through these forests since I learned to walk. Though I’ve done it in the past just walking into these woods with no trail to follow is a very foolish thing to do. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department handles between 150 to 200 search and rescues each year, and many are lost and / or injured. Besides, I love walking the old forgotten roads because there is often a lot of history to be found along them. Stone walls and cellar holes tell an interesting story.

9. Porcupine Falls

If there’s one thing New Hampshire has plenty of it is water, and even in a drought most of the streams run. The water is clean and clear and many people still fill bottles with it at local springs. I like to just sit and listen to streams chuckle and giggle as they play and splash among the moss covered stones. At times nature is like a little child and this to me, is that child’s laughter.

10. Ashuelot

The Ashuelot River is also fairly clean now but it wasn’t always that way. I can remember when it ran all colors of the rainbow, depending on what color dyes the woolen mills happened to be using on any given day. To now see people catching trout in this river and bald eagles nesting along its course seems truly miraculous to me.

11. Ashuelot

I like going to see parts of the Ashuelot River that aren’t that familiar to me like this section up in Gilsum, which is north of Keene. I particularly like this stretch because of its wildness. Major floods tore through here a few years ago and scrubbed the river banks clean of soil right down to the bedrock in places. A steel suspension bridge that crossed near this spot was torn loose and wrapped around trees and boulders like it was made of aluminum foil and pieces of it can still be found bent around various immoveable objects to this day.

12. Pond at Sunset

But enough about flooding; I prefer the placid waters of our many lakes and ponds. I was thinking as I started putting this post together that I can’t think of a single town in this region that doesn’t have a lake or pond, and most have both. The pond pictured is Wilson Pond in Swanzey last Saturday at sunset.

13. Hills at Sunset

Other things we seem to have a great abundance of, at least in this part of New Hampshire, are hills. In fact Keene sits in a kind of bowl and no matter which direction you choose to leave it by, you have to climb a hill. So of course I wanted to show you hills, but I found that photos of hills in November aren’t very exciting. On this day though the setting sun in the previous photo turned the sky a peachy color and the hills a deep indigo blue, improving their appearance considerably I thought.

14. Hills at Sunset

As the sun continued to set the color of the sky became richer and deeper. I was driving home at the time and had to keep stopping to take another photo because we don’t see skies like this every day. It was so beautiful that I spent more time just sitting and staring than I did taking photos. This kind of beauty isn’t just seen; it’s felt as well, as if you are bathing in it, and I don’t see how anyone could have room for anything but peace in their hearts after witnessing such a display.

15. Stream at Sunset

Just to see if I could do it all of the photos in this post were taken in one day, and what a day it was. But as every day must this one had to end, and I just happened to be near a stream when the light began to fade. I expected the pink and orange reflected sky but I didn’t expect the beautiful blues. A perfect end to a perfect day.

If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. ~Tecumseh, Shawnee

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, or just a plain old good day if you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.

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1. High Blue Sign

As of last weekend we hadn’t seen any snow but it was cold enough to make it on the ski slopes. I was curious to see if they had been making any so I decided to hike up high blue trail in Walpole and take a peek over into Vermont.

2. High Blue Trail

It was a cool but beautiful sunny day.

3. Mossy Ledges

Now that the leaves have fallen you can really see the hardscape that makes up the forest floor-what I call the bones of the forest. This is a great place to look at mosses and lichens.

4. Rock Tripe

The larger boulders in these woods are festooned with rock tripe lichen (Umbilicaria mammulata.) Some of the biggest examples I’ve seen-as big as a hand-grow here. Though I imagine they must taste like old rubber, these lichens were a source of emergency food for Native Americans and saved the lives of many an early settler. Even George Washington’s troops are said to have eaten rock tripe to survive the brutal winter at Valley Forge in 1777.

 5. Polypody Fern Sori

Polypody fern, also known as rock cap fern, grows on the tops of many ledges and stones in these woods. This fern likes places with little wind and high humidity, so it will tell you something of your surroundings. The round sori where spores are produced can be found on the undersides of the leaves and are orange brown and look fuzzy when they are mature like those in the above photo. Many fern sori are covered by thin membranes called indusial, but those of the polypody fern are naked.

6. Reflector on Tree

Something odd that I saw was two reflectors on a tree. They were about three quarters of an inch in diameter and looked to have been hammered into the tree much like a big thumbtack. I can’t even guess who would be coming up here at night, or why. My idea of a good time doesn’t include dancing around on cliff edges in the dark.

7. Beech Foliage

The beech trees along the trail still showed a little color.

8. Black Jelly Fungus

When they are moist black jelly fungi (Exidia glandulosa) puff up like little black pillows, but when they dry out they shrink down to little more than black specks. Since this example didn’t look like either I think it was frozen solid.

9. Orange Jellies

These orange jellies (Dacrymyces palmatus) looked frozen too. I see a lot of these at this time of year and almost all of them grow on eastern hemlock logs.

10. Stone Foundation

Seeing this old stonework always gets me thinking about the people who once lived on top of this hill.

11. Stone Wall

What a job clearing this land must have been for a man with nothing but an axe. Just as daunting would have been having to get rid of all the stumps and stones before he could plow. It must have been near back breaking labor from sunup to sundown. I’ve cut trees with an axe and built stone walls, so it’s no wonder to me that they died so young. I think they must have simply worn their bodies out.

12. Ice on High Blue Pond

The pond had ice on it, so it had been quite cold up here the night before. I wonder if this small pond was originally a hand dug stock pond. It’s very close to the old foundation. Someday I’m going to have to research the history of this place.

13. High Blue Sign

The sign lets you know that you have arrived.

14. High Blue View

As always the view was very blue and as I suspected there was snow on Stratton Mountain over in Vermont. They like to be open on Thanksgiving Day, which is November 27th, so most of the snow is probably man made.

15. Ski Trails

Man-made or not, if it’s cold enough on these mountain peaks to keep snow and ice from melting during the day then it won’t be too long before those of us down in the valleys get a taste of winter too. This view looks to the west so the wind is almost always blowing through here. I was dressed for fall but up here it was winter and the wind was biting, so I didn’t stay out in the open long.

There is a serene and settled majesty to woodland scenery that enters into the soul and delights and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations. ~Washington Irving.

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Muddy Logging Road

I took a muddy walk up an old logging road through Warner forest to the High Blue trail head in Walpole, New Hampshire recently. It is a walk I’ve taken a few times.

2. High Blue Sign

Before you know it you’re through the mud and at the trail head. I came here not just to see the view but also in the hopes of seeing some coltsfoot in bloom, but the plants that grew here appear to have been destroyed by logging. It’s too bad because it was a beautiful display-the most coltsfoot plants I’ve seen in one place.

3. Coltsfoot Flowers

This photo is of the coltsfoot colonies from last year. They extended off to the right well out of the photo. I’m hoping some of them survived being plowed up by a logging skidder.

4. Hobblebush Bud

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) line the roadside up to the trailhead, and their flower buds are just starting to unfold. Their common name comes from the way the stems grow so close to the ground. Unseen under the leaves they can tangle the feet of or “hobble” horses. I got firsthand experience in how they work last year when I was trying to examine a bush. My feet became entangled in the stems and I went down fast and hard. Ever since then I’ve been more careful around them. Soon theses bushes will be covered by large white flowers that are among the most beautiful in the forest.

5. Fan Club Moss

I’ve always called this plant fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum) but some call it southern ground cedar or running ground pine, even though it isn’t related to either pine or cedar. The name fan clubmoss comes from its distinctive shape. This plant was once harvested to near extinction for use in making Christmas wreaths and flash powder, and is still rarely seen. This is one of the few places I know of to find it. It can grow undisturbed here because the plants are off the trail in the woods, so anyone who goes looking for them has a good chance of ending up lost. Every now and then I receive emails from people saying they’ll buy all I can find or asking where they can find it. I’m usually pretty good about answering people’s questions, but those emails go unanswered.

6. Meadow

The meadows are still quite brown but it won’t be long before they green up. There are three or four large meadows in the area, still used for hay cutting as they have been since the 1800s. Since there was no water power for mills in the town, Walpole was dependent on agriculture in its early history.

 7. Pileated Woodpecker Chips

I saw a huge pile of wood chips at the base of a dead beech tree and that was my signal to look up.

8. Pileated Woodpecker Hole

This is the biggest pileated woodpecker excavation I’ve ever seen. It must have been 9 or 10 inches long and at least half as wide. It looked more like a nesting hole than a feeding station.

9. High Blue Sign

I always take a photo of the sign that tells you that you are at the overlook, just for the record.

10. High Blue View

The view across the Connecticut River valley was beautiful as usual, and also very blue. It is this “blueness” that gives this place its name.  The winds were light and the air warm, so I sat for a while admiring the view and the puffy clouds.

11. Stratton Mountain from High Blue Lookout

They’re still skiing on Stratton Mountain over in Vermont, but if we have many more days as warm as this one was it won’t last long.

12. Stone Ruins

As I sit and admire the view from this place my mind always wanders to the people who used to live here. They left pieces of themselves behind in things like this old stone ruin. Some say it’s a chimney and others a foundation, but whatever it is it is clearly very old and is a sign that people once lived here. I was reading a town history a while back that described the many dangers of living in places like this in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Chief among them were mountain lions (catamounts), wolves, and bears, and women and children never went into these woods alone.

13. Stone Wall

I’ve built a few stone walls in my time so I know how much work went into these walls. Add to that cutting all the trees with an axe and pulling stumps and plowing the forest floor with a team of horses and it just boggles the mind. I suppose, when your very existence depends on it, you can do just about anything.

14. Elderberry Buds

There are elderberry bushes growing here and I wonder if they were planted, because this hill top is an odd place to find them. Maybe the farmer and his wife sat sipping a little elderberry wine at the end of the day, watching the sunset behind the Vermont hills.

15. Mount Monadnock

As you re-enter the meadow after coming back down the hill, in spring, fall, and winter you are greeted by a view of Mount Monadnock, the largest mountain in the region. It won’t be long before this view is almost completely hidden by tree foliage, and it will stay that way until next fall.

There may be more to learn from climbing the same mountain a hundred times than by climbing a hundred different mountains. ~Richard Nelson

Thanks for stopping in.


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