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Posts Tagged ‘Dry Stone Walls’

Last Sunday was a beautiful but chilly day at about 30 degrees F. After almost two weeks of cold weather I thought I’d visit a local beaver swamp to see how they were doing. If beavers haven’t stored enough food underwater before their ponds freeze they can be in serious trouble, and this year the ponds have frozen earlier than average.

What might look like water is actually ice; very smooth ice, but also thin. I walked out on it and didn’t get too  far before it started creaking and cracking, so I quickly returned to shore.

There is a trail of sorts that leads a little way around the swamp. There were lots of fallen trees out here but they were caused by wind and old age, not beavers.

This one broke off about 10 feet up, making it a challenge for a chainsaw. Widow makers they call these, and for good reason.

Stone walls tell me someone used to live out here and farm this land before the beavers took it over. Nobody did the back breaking labor of clearing stones from the land unless it was absolutely necessary, so this wall wasn’t built here for the fun of it. I’m guessing it probably dates from the late 1700s to early 1800s. Many farmers went off to work in factories in the mid-1800s after the industrial revolution and gave up farming, and their pastures slowly returned to forest.

Vinca (Vinca minor) is one of the plants you often find near old stone walls and cellar holes. Others are wild roses, lilacs and peonies. All were passed from one neighbor to another. This colony is one of the largest stands of vinca I’ve seen and it still grows and blooms beautifully after hundreds of years. The word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s what the plant’s wiry stems do.

I was going to say that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky but there was one shy one hiding behind some trees.

Not all the water here was frozen. This is a seep, which happens when ground water reaches the surface. They are like puddles that never dry up and they don’t flow like a stream or brook. In my experience they don’t freeze either, even in the coldest weather. They are always good to look at closely, because many unusual aquatic fungi like eyelash fungi and swamp candles call them home. They’re also an important water source for many small animals and birds.

Stilted trees grow from seeds that fall on a rotted log or stump and grow their roots around the stump or log. Once the stump or log rots away what is left is a tree that looks like it’s standing on stilts. The strange thing about this stilted tree though, is how it grew over a stone. I don’t see them do that very often. I’m guessing that, probably over centuries, enough leaves fell on that stone to eventually turn into humus. Enough at least for a tree seed to sprout.

This is more what I’d expect from a stilted tree. Whatever it grew on has rotted into the soil and now it looks like it’s running away.

This beaver pond has two beaver lodges in it and this is one of them. I don’t know if that means there are two families of beavers or if one family uses both lodges. Beavers will move into a place, dam a stream to make a pond, and cut all the nearby trees and then move on. Their pond will eventually drain and new trees will start to grow, and then they will move back again to repeat the cycle. I’ve read that it takes about thirty years to go once around the cycle. I’m not sure what stage of the cycle this pond is in but I’ve never seen freshly cut trees here.

There are lots of standing deadwood here and that usually means it’s a good place for great blue herons to nest. I’ve seen the big birds fishing here but I’ve never seen one of their huge nests in any of the trees. What struck me most about this place was the quiet. I heard a bird or two but for the most part it was absolutely still, and that’s a rare and wonderful thing.

Here was a sign of beavers. I think that dark line of ice was made by beavers trying to keep their channel from freezing. But freeze it did, later than the rest of the pond, and that means thinner, darker ice.

Much of the ice was made up of large crystals.

Leaves were frozen into the ice in places and they were white with rime.

Scratches on a tree were too small for a bear. I’d guess it was a bobcat because I found wild turkey wings very close to this spot one day. Bobcats are one of the most common predators of wild turkeys. According to the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game “Based on observation reports occurring over the previous 20 years, bobcat numbers appear to have increased in New Hampshire. They  take advantage of environmental conditions, such as winter snow depth, to kill large prey, such as deer and turkey.”

Seeing green goldthread leaves was enough to have me longing for spring, even though winter hasn’t yet arrived. Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. Native Americans showed early colonists how to chew the roots to relieve the pain of canker sores and that led to the plant being called canker root. It became such a popular medicine that the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other plant, and of course that meant the plant came close to being lost. Two centuries of being left alone have brought healing to Goldthread though, and today I see the tiny but beautiful white flowers quite regularly in April.

Many mosses will grow on wood, stone or soil and delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) is one of them. Delicate fern moss is a beautiful little thing that isn’t as delicate as its name implies, but it certainly is fern like. The leaves of this moss are often bright yellow green in fall and are dull rather than shiny. It is fairly common and easy to find because it often forms very large mats. It grew on many of the logs here.

American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens,) is also called teaberry or checkerberry and it is the first wild plant that I learned to identify, with the help of my grandmother. We used to love to eat the bright red minty tasting berries. It’s probably the easiest of all wintergreens to identify because of the strong, minty scent that comes from its crushed leaves. If you have ever tasted teaberry gum then you know exactly what it smells and tastes like. The plant contains compounds that are very similar to those found in aspirin and Native Americans used it much like we use aspirin. Its leaves often turn purple as the nights get colder, as these plants show. The name teaberry comes from a pleasing tea that can be made from the leaves. Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, grouse, partridges, bobwhites, turkeys, fox, deer and bears eat the berries.

There is a much studied phenomenon called the Red Bark Phenomenon, and scientists have devoted much time studying trees with colored bark all over New England. It isn’t always red; it can be orange as well. It affects all kinds of trees, both conifers and deciduous, and many different species. I’ve seen it here and there on tree bark and after a lot of research a few years ago I found that it was caused by the algae Trentepohlia, which is a genus of filamentous chlorophyte green algae in the family Trentepohliaceae It appears on tree trunks, stones and is even present in many lichens. So if you see a tree with red bark there isn’t anything wrong. It’s just algae looking for a place to perch.

Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps. ~Henry David Thoreau

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The last time I passed through this section of woods I couldn’t have been more than 12 years old. The house I grew up in was just a few yards from the railroad tracks and I’d guess I started walking those tracks almost as soon as I could walk. I knew that if I followed them one way (north) I’d get to my grandmother’s house and then downtown Keene further on. But I didn’t know where the other direction went, so one day I decided it was time to find out. It would be my first great adventure.

There was a slight problem though. The Ashuelot River was also just a few yards from the house and if I was going to follow the tracks the way I’d never been I had to cross it by way of the train trestle over the Ashuelot River. The trestle had gaps between the ties and if you weren’t careful my grandmother said, a skinny little boy like me could fall right through one of those gaps and end up in the river. That thought had held me back for a long time as she knew it would but on this day I was determined, so off I went across the trestle for the first time, headed south.

My father knew that a boy had to run and explore and learn, and he let me off the leash early on. I had no mother to say otherwise so I simply loved life and made my own fun. Unlike the other boys I knew who could only seem to focus on what they didn’t have I saw what I did have, and though we were poor when it came to money I knew that I was rich; I could see it, sharp and clear, and even at twelve years old I knew that no boy anywhere else on earth was having a better boyhood than I was.

But even so my father would have had something to say about this adventure and I probably would have had to eat standing up for a few days if he’d found out. That’s because he knew the river drew me like a magnet. He was forever having to tell me to stay away from it, and with good reason. As I was taking photos of the frozen river on this day it began to groan and crack open and my stomach fell into my shoes. It was the same sound I’d heard when I was walking down the middle of it so many years ago when the ice gave way. Even after 50+ years it’s a sound that can still make my stomach lurch and my hands shake.

I could have drowned that day but instead I learned a good lesson, and it’s one I’ve never forgotten. In fact I learned all kinds of things along these rail lines because I was curious and I wanted to know the answers to the thousand and one questions I had in my head. Since nobody I knew could answer the questions I turned to books. Botany books, wildflower books, tree books, bird books, I had them all and I learned from them, but even so I’m still what I call “overly curious” when it comes to the natural world, and it’s that curiosity that fuels this blog. For instance I’ve wondered for years why the buds on a black birch will suddenly form a cluster of buds like that in the above photo. It’s almost like a witches’ broom but not quite because they don’t seem to grow after they knot up like this. Actually I think they die.

This is what a normal, healthy black birch bud (Betula lenta) looks like. The young bark of these trees looks a lot like cherry bark but if you nibble a twig and taste wintergreen, it’s a black birch. It’s also called sweet birch and cherry birch, and birch beer was once made from it and so was oil of wintergreen. In fact so many trees were taken to make oil of wintergreen for many years the trees were very hard to find. This is the only birch that I’ve seen the strange bud clusters on.

Another mystery is why birds don’t eat sumac berries until spring in this part of the country. I’ve heard that in other parts of the country they snap them up as soon as they ripen but here they’re still on the bushes even into April in some years. I’ve heard that they’re low in fat and not very nutritious so that might have something to do with it, but why wouldn’t that be true everywhere? The berries seen here are those of the smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) but smooth or staghorn sumac berries, most will still be there in spring.

Another mystery is how can a river look frozen solid in one place and then be free of ice less than a mile downstream. It could have something to do with restricted flow, I think. The place where I took the photo of the iced over river has a kind of S curve and an island, and both would slow down the flow.

I had to have a look at the shagbark hickory buds (Carya ovata) while I was here. There is no sign of any movement yet but come mid-May they’ll open to reveal some of the most beautiful sights in the spring forest.

I did see some movement in some of the beech buds (Fagus grandifolia) I looked at though it was almost imperceptible. You can just see how some of the silvery white tips of the bud scales have barely pulled away from the bud. Soon they will start to grow and lengthen and then in May will finally open, and then the trees will look as if they’ve been hung with tiny angel wings.

In places the woods were full of ice.

And in other places they were nearly ice free.

The drainage ditches that were dug by the railroad 150 years ago were still working fine, though they were ice covered.

What interests me most about this ice is the oak leaf shape in the lower left corner. I can’t even guess how that would have happened. Ice is such fascinating stuff.

There are lots of old stone walls out here. They are “tossed” or “thrown” walls, where the stones were literally just thrown on top of one another, because the object was to get them out of what would become cropland as quickly as possible. I know this wall is quite old because of the lichens and mosses on the stones. Walls I built 45 years ago still don’t have any mosses or lichens on them and the stones haven’t even grayed yet. I’d guess this one must be at least 200 years old, built even before the railroad came through.

This boulder pile shows what those who first cleared the land faced. Left here by the last glacier, they had to be moved if you were going to plant crops.  I’ve collected stones to build walls with and I can say that it is backbreaking work.

I hoped to see some signs of hazelnut catkins opening but these were still closed tight. It won’t be long now though.

Distances seemed longer and time passed much slower when I was a child and this walk seemed very long indeed, but for the first time I had actually left my town and crossed into another: Swanzey, and that was quite a feat in my opinion. Swanzey lies to the south of Keene and it isn’t very far but I remember feeling so tired that day when I came to this road, and I had the walk home still ahead of me. I could have waited for the Boston and Maine freight and hopped it, but my grandmother told me in graphic detail what can happen to little boys who try to hop on trains. Of course she did that to keep me from hopping the trains I saw creeping by twice a day, and it was very effective. I wanted badly to try, but I never did.

So I walked back home dog tired but elated, and as I retraced those steps on this day once again I realized how very lucky I was to have had this place to grow up in; to be able to run and play in the fields and forests along the river, surrounded by and immersed in nature. It was such a glorious life and if I ever had a choice of where and when I could return to it would be that place and that time, because for me there is simply nothing better. I really do hope that all of you have a place that you feel the same about, and I hope you’re lucky enough to be at least able to revisit it occasionally.

A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Santa brought me some Kahtoola Micro Spikes for Christmas this year, so of course I had to try them. On the day after Christmas I decided that climbing Pitcher Mountain over in Stoddard would be as good a trial as any and as luck would have it the trail was covered in snow and ice. I’ve heard a lot of good things about micro spikes and I have to say that I won’t be without them from now on. I purposely walked over ice with them on and didn’t slip or skid at all.

I found this photo online for those who haven’t seen micro spikes. They really grip.

The message was a good one but was a little late, I thought. Or maybe it was me who saw it too late.

There was quite a pile of wood chips at the base of a dead tree, so I looked up.

Sure enough a pileated woodpecker had been looking for lunch. Pileated woodpeckers are our largest woodpecker and you can tell their holes by the more or less rectangular shape. The unusual thing about this was the perfectly round holes made by a smaller woodpecker inside the pileated woodpecker holes. I’ve never seen this before. The smaller bird was smart to let the bigger bird do most of the work. If there are carpenter ants inside they’re usually in the heartwood of the tree.

Before you know it you’re at the meadow where Scottish Highland cattle sometimes graze. I didn’t see any on this day though.

The trail takes a sharp left at the meadow and gets a little steeper. So far legs, lungs and micro spikes were all working well but the snow had melted on this leg of the trail.

The crunchy, frozen soil told me I was walking on ice needles and there were plenty of them to see. A lot has to happen for these to form but I’ve explained it many times, so I’ll spare you this time. It has to be cold for them to form, with the temperature right at 32 degrees at the soil surface. Air temperature was about 22 degrees F. when I started.

Hoar frost grew around the mouths of chipmunk and snake holes in the soil. The earth’s warm breath meeting the cold air of winter.

Stone walls made me think of the Pitcher family, who settled here in the 1700s and most likely built this wall. They gave their name to this mountain.

One of my favorite places marks the second sharp left turn along the trail. After essentially living in a forest all of my life wide open places like this one seem almost other worldly. It’s just you, the earth and the sky. Minimalism at its finest.

Quite often you’ll find a place where the ground looks like it has heaved up and around stones. The stone sits at the bottom of a hole that is usually shaped exactly like it is, so it also looks like the sun has heated the stone enough for it to melt down into the frozen soil. I doubt that is the answer though because the sun would heat the surrounding stones as well, but they haven’t melted into the soil. I think the ground must have heaved up and lifted all the soil and smaller stones that surrounded the bigger one. I saw that this had happened in several places along the trail.

The inner bark of staghorn sumac is sometimes brightly colored like the thin strip at the top of this piece, which my color finding software tells me is coral and salmon pink along with a little orange. I saw that colorful strip and peeled the section of bark it was on. I was surprised to see that the inner bark still attached to the wood was Indian red, dark salmon pink, and a lot of sienna. Why this bark colors like this when the tree dies, I don’t know.

When bark is removed from a tree, as long as the tree isn’t girdled it will live and try to heal itself, but I’ve been watching this young staghorn sumac for a few years and it hasn’t healed at all. I think that’s because deer are using it to rub their antlers on, because the wound on the tree is always fresh. Male white tail deer, called bucks, rub their antlers on trees for different reasons, but it seems fitting that they would choose a staghorn sumac. Staghorn sumacs get that name because of the hairs all along their stems that resemble the velvet on a stag’s antlers. Maybe this deer thought he was fencing with another deer.

You can get a glimpse of the fire tower through the trees in some spots. The sunshine was glaring off the windows on this day.

The old ranger cabin is having a relatively easy winter so far but I’m sure it has seen winters up here when the snow almost buried it. The concrete piers and blocks it rests on have all shifted and I wonder how much longer it will be able to resist the pull of gravity. I wouldn’t be surprised to climb up here one day and find that it had tumbled down the mountainside.

The fire tower must be manned at some point during the year but I’ve only seen people in it once out of all the times I’ve been up here. There were a lot of people up here that day and they all wanted to get into the tower, so I passed on it.

It can be very windy up here so the tower is tied down to the bedrock by steel cables. The tie down shown was used for the original tower, which burned in 1940 in one of the worst forest fires this state has ever seen. 27,000 acres burned, including all the trees on this summit.

The views weren’t too bad but it was windy and that made it feel colder so I didn’t stay long.

I liked this view because you could see how snowy the distant hills were.

There was ice on the summit but I didn’t worry about slipping with the micros spikes on. They even seem to make walking on uneven stones easier.

A close look at the bedrock on the summit shows that it is almost entirely covered by lichens.

One of my favorite lichens that grow here is the common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina.) This pretty lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and it was once used to dye wool yellow in Sweden. How they ever got it off the stones, I don’t know.

Perhaps there’s no better act of simplification than climbing a mountain. For an afternoon, a day, or a week, it’s a way of reducing a complicated life into a simple goal. All you have to do is take one step at a time, place one foot in front of the other, and refuse to turn back until you’ve given everything you have. ~Ken Ilgunas

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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

Thanks for coming by.

 

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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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