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Posts Tagged ‘Eastern Hemlock’

We’re still on the weather roller coaster but it is slowly warming up and the snow is melting, as the melt ring around this pinecone shows. I was happy when I found this because it answered a question that I’ve had for a long time: why do melt rings form around tree trunks? As the pinecone shows it has to be the sun warming it up, and as the pinecone releases that warmth the snow around it melts. Or maybe it’s simply heat radiating from the pinecone during the day when the sun is shining. The dark cone would absorb more sunlight than the white snow would.

Here is a melt ring just getting started around this tree. A study done by Emeritus Professor of Botany Lawrence J. Winship of Hampshire College, where he used an infrared thermometer to measure heat radiated by tree trunks, found that the sunny side of a red oak was 54 degrees F. while the shaded side was just 29 degrees F. And the ground temperature was also 29 degrees, which means it was frozen. This shows that trees really absorb a lot of heat from the sun and it must be that when the heat is radiated back into the surroundings it melts the snow. The professor found that the same was true on fence posts and stumps so the subject being alive had nothing to do with it, even though a living tree should have much more heat absorbing water in it. In my mind, the pinecone in the previous photo answers the question of melt rings.

But I didn’t have long to wonder about melt rings on trees because on Monday March 4th we got about 6 inches of new snow. This shows part of my drive to work that day.

I pass this scene almost every day so I can see if the ice is melting. It was and then it wasn’t. Winter can be very beautiful but the pull of spring fever can be terribly strong. By this time of year almost everybody but is ready for spring and waiting impatiently.

It’s hard these days to follow a trail that hasn’t been broken. It never used to be but things change. I’ve never been a real fan of snowshoes so I used to just trudge through it, even if it was up to my knees, but going any real distance through snow much deeper than your knees is a struggle at any age and in any condition, and these days I avoid it.

But as I said it can be beautiful enough to stop you in your tracks. Every season has its own beauty, as this early morning view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows.

No matter what the sun always appears again and it was very beautiful on this eastern hemlock tree, I thought. I think algae colored its trunk and the sun came along and lit it up. You can walk just about anywhere in nature and find beauty like this any day of the week, and if that isn’t a gift I don’t know what is.

It’s amazing how a little sunlight can transform the simple into something beautiful, as it did with these deer tongue grass leaves.

I don’t think I’ve ever shown icicles hanging from the eaves on this blog before, but that might be because they are so common. You see them on just about every structure in winter.

I love the way icicles sparkle with color in the sun like prisms. This shot doesn’t quite catch it but there was a lot more color in them.

One cold morning frost flowers bloomed on the ice of mud puddles. They form when the frost point in the air is reached and water vapor condenses into ice. They are a form of hoarfrost, so delicate that a touch of a finger or a warm breath will destroy them. In my experience it has to be very cold for them to form, but there also has to be plenty of water vapor in the air. That’s why hoarfrost is often found near streams and ponds.

Mount Monadnock is an old friend, there in my earliest memories, and it is always at its most beautiful when snow frosts its peak. I would guess the snow must be at least 5 feet deep near the summit. I was up there with a friend of mine on April 19th one year and it was about chest deep in places. We had to climb over it and kind of swim through it rather than trying to break a trail through it. The air was warm and the snow was melting, and the fog generated by the cold snow and warm air mixing together was so dense you could barely see your hand at the end of an outstretched arm. I don’t think I’ve ever been as wet as I was that day.

Tramp art was done by chipping and whittling a piece of wood with a pocket knife. Often pieces of wood from cigar boxes and orange crates were turned into picture frames and other household items which were sold for meager amounts of money. That’s what this piece of branch reminded me of when I saw it but the hand of man played no part in this art; it was made entirely by engraver beetles and was very beautiful, I thought. I wish I had kept it and brought it home but then if I had the next hiker to come along couldn’t have marveled at its insect carved hieroglyphics as I did.

I’ve taken many photos of frullania liverworts throughout the winter but never posted any of them because it’s a tough plant to get a good shot of. It’s a leafy liverwort but each leaf is smaller than a house fly so it isn’t an easy subject. There are about 800 species of frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on; instead they simply perch there like birds. Mosses and lichens are also epiphytes.

The liverwort’s tiny leaves are strung together like beads, and change from green to deep purple in cold weather. Frullania liverworts can cause a rash called woodcutter’s eczema in some people. It’s an annoying, itchy rash but doesn’t cause any real harm, and it disappears in a week or two if you stop handling logs with liverworts on them.

This post started with winter but it will end with spring, and that illustrates how quickly one season can change into another here in the northeast. Sometimes it’s as if someone flipped a switch, and it’s what inspired Mark Twain’s “If you don’t like the weather in New England just wait a few minutes” quote. Here our earliest flowering plant, the skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus,) has finally shown its mottled yellow and maroon flower spathes.

Some are yellow with maroon spots and some are maroon with yellow spots. It’s good to finally see them no matter what colors they choose to wear. The spathes shown here appear first and multiple flowers grow inside the spathe on a spadix. Soon the spathes will begin to open so insects can enter and pollinate the tiny flowers, and so a photographer or two might get some photos of them.

Sap collecting has begun but you’d hardly know it these days. When I was a boy it seemed like every yard had trees with sap buckets hanging from them in spring but I had to search long and hard to find just a few this year, and I fear family sap gathering a dying art. Nobody knows when or where sap gathering started but most agree that it was learned from Native Americans. They used to cut a V notch into the bark of a tree and then put a wedge at the bottom of the cut. The sap would drip from the wedge into buckets made of bark or woven reeds, or sometimes into wooden bowls. They would then boil it down until it thickened and became syrup.

This Library of Congress photo from the early 1900s shows a Native American woman tapping trees and gathering the sap in what appears to be bark buckets, which it looks like she is making. Birch bark buckets are entirely plausible since they made canoes from the same bark. Sticky pine or spruce sap on the seams made their canoes leak proof. Since it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup sap gathering was a lot of work, and it was almost always done by the women of the tribe. There are many legends about how Natives discovered the process but nobody really knows for sure. Red and silver maples as well as sugar maples were tapped. So were hickory, box elder and birch, though in those trees the sap was less sweet.

I’ve read about mallards migrating and some articles say they do and others say they don’t, so I’m not sure if this photo is a true sign of spring but I saw these two dancing on the ice at a local swamp, most likely hoping for it to hurry up and melt like the rest of us. I thought it was a pretty, spring like scene.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep. ~Rumi

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I was shooting photos of a wintery Mount Monadnock when spring hopped into the photo in the form of a robin. He’s there in the grass on the left.

Robins are very curious birds, I’ve found. They seem to like watching what I’m doing as much as I like watching them. I had one let me stand right next to it just the other day.

A raccoon has become a regular visitor to where I work. Somehow it has damaged its paw and doesn’t seem to be able to see very well. We think it must be quite old for a raccoon but it still gets around fairly well and can still climb trees.

Two mallards hid in the reeds in a small roadside pond. While he watched me she tipped up and ate. She ate quite a lot, ignoring me the whole time.

They finally got tired of me watching them and swam off. Ducks and other waterfowl are very wary of humans in this area. They don’t swim right up to you when they see you like they do in other places because nobody feeds them, so getting photos of them is usually tough. This pair put up with me longer than most do.

Activity seems to have increased among all creatures except bees, which I still haven’t seen yet. Squirrels are certainly in abundance; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many. This one was hopping across a lawn when I tried to get its photo.

I’ve never seen so many pinecones fall as they have this year either. They’ve made a squirrel’s life pretty easy, as this large stone covered with pinecone scales shows. For some reason squirrels usually like to sit up off the ground when they eat and one or more of them ate a lot of pine seeds on this stone.

There was a storm brewing on an ice covered Half Moon Pond in Hancock on March 29th when this was taken.

This is what the pond looked like 14 days later on April 12th. We’re getting just about one sunny day each week and this one was that week’s day. The ice on the pond wasn’t completely gone but there was very little left. It has snowed again once or twice since that photo was taken.

I found what I thought was a toothed crust fungus, but this fungus wasn’t acting like any other crust fungus that I’ve seen.

This crust fungus had developed fruiting bodies that looked like mushrooms with a hollow stem. On the smaller one on the left you can just see the teeth hanging from the underside of the cap. I don’t really know if the toothed crust developed from the mushroom like fruiting bodies or if the mushrooms arose from the toothed crust. Each “cap” was about as big as an aspirin.

On a nearby section of log the toothed crust, if that’s what it is, had completely enveloped the mushroom shaped fruiting bodies. I’ve never seen anything like this and haven’t found anything like it, either in my mushroom guides or online. If you know what it is I’d love to hear from you.

I know what this is; an orange jelly fungus behaving strangely. Orange jelly fungi (Dacrymyces palmatus) are common here and usually grow on fallen eastern hemlocks. They absorb many times their own size and weight in water and usually shrink when they dry out but this one looked like it was melting. These fungi are eaten in China and are said to improve circulation and breathing.

Plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) is a large plant as sedges go, with wide, pleated, foot long leaves that wrinkle like crepe paper. It’s large leaves are for gathering light so it does well in the shade under trees, where the one pictured grows naturally. Sedges like cooler weather and cool soil, so they grow and flower best in spring in this area. Once it gets hot their growth slows but sometimes in a cool fall they’ll have a second growth spurt. This one is on the rare side here. I know of only a few plants, all growing in one spot.

Plantain leaved sedge usually blooms in mid spring and this plant seems to be right on schedule. It had several beautiful dark purple flower spikes showing. These flowers will open into wispy white female flowers on the lower part of the stalk (Culm) and the long, yellowish male flowers on the upper part. The flowers are called spikelets and the stems that bear them are triangular, and that leads to the old saying “sedges have edges.” I’m guessing that these flowers will appear in a week or two, depending on the weather.

Soil crunching underfoot in the spring and fall is a sure sign that you’re walking on ice needles. For them to form the temperature at the soil surface has to be below 32 degrees F while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces the groundwater, which is sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because more water is freezing at its base. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape and that needles 16 inches long have been found, but most of the ones I see are less than 5 inches long. They are often very dirty.

There is a plant called common cotton sedge (Eriophorum angustifolium) but I doubt this is it because another name for it is bog cotton due to its habit of growing in damp boggy ground, and this plant was growing in a spot that was high and dry. It grew at the edge of the woods under pine trees and I’ve never seen anything else like it. It had a single hairy stem about a foot tall with this bit of “cotton” at the top. It had no leaves because of the time of year. If you know what it is I’d love to know.

An eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) was healing a wound in a strange way, I thought. The wound cork had grown over a scar in a kind of lump rather than flat as it usually does. According to the book Bark, by Michael Wojtech eastern hemlock is the only tree in the northeast that grows wound cork in annual increments. Because it grows this way it can be counted just like a tree’s growth rings. From what I counted this scar took 10-12 years to heal. Native Americans used the inner bark (Cambium) of hemlock as a base for breads and soups or mixed it with dried fruit and animal fat to use in pemmican. They also made tea from the tree’s needles, which have a high vitamin C content. This saved many an early settler from scurvy.

I recently went to see one of my favorite lichens, the poplar sunburst (Xanthoria hasseana.) One of the reasons it is one of my favorites is because it is almost always producing spores in its large, sucker like fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) This lichen grows on tree bark near a pond and has a mounded growth habit rather than flat. This example might have been a half inch across. It’s a pretty little thing.

I might have already shown these turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) but I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter anyway because seeing such beautiful things doesn’t have to happen just once. I certainly think they’re worth a second look. As beautiful as they are though turkey tails frustrate me a bit, because I’ve never been able to find out how they come by their color. They have a wide range of colors and something must influence what color they’ll be. I think it might be the minerals in the wood they feed on, but that’s just a guess. I hope you’ll be able to see at least one thing as beautiful this week.

The appearance of things changes according to the emotions; and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves. ~Kahlil Gibran

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I’ve been itching to climb a hill for a while now but the weather has kept me away. It has warmed up enough to rain several times this winter and then it has gotten cold immediately after and ice has built up just about everywhere. Finally for the last 3 or 4 days of last week it warmed up and didn’t rain so I thought I’d climb Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey last Saturday. It was relatively warm at about 36 degrees F. and the trail of footprints through the pasture showed that I wasn’t the only one with an itch to climb.

As I thought there might be there was ice on the trail, but at the start it was only in spots and I had my Yaktrax on, so I didn’t worry about it.

Other parts of the trail were snow covered. I stopped to admire a beech tree that was caught in a ray of sunshine.

I saw a curious stone with moss growing in concentric rings around it. I’m guessing depressions in the stone gather water and stay wet longer than the rest of the stone, and the moss is attracted to the moisture. The same happens vertically when the natural channels in tree bark become small streams when it rains. Mosses grow along these vertical streams, and so do lichens and algae.

I almost turned back when I saw this much ice but after scratching my head for a moment or two I decided I’d climb in the woods beside the trail for a while, and once there was no more ice I’d return to the trail.

Just so all of you who wear Yaktrax know; you can slip and fall with them on. I almost went down in this spot.

The forest didn’t look too bad to walk through. It was snowless and open in many areas but here is another warning about Yaktrax: sticks can get in between the Yaktrax and the sole of your boots and get caught there, so when you try to move forward your trapped foot stays where it is and you go down face first. The solution is to walk slowly, which I do ayway. Walking slowly is the only way to see those interesting “hidden” things in a forest. Walk at a toddler’s pace and you’ll see some amazing things. Hurry along to the end of the trail and you’ll see nothing.

I saw quite a few interesting things, including this cocoon attached to a beech bud. I’m calling it a cocoon instead of a gall because it was attached to the bud with silk. I don’t have any idea what insect made it or why it would be so exposed, out at the tip of a branch on a terminal bud like it was. It seems like a poor choice to me, but I could be very wrong. Maybe the sunshine in that spot keeps it warm.

Some things I saw were’t so quite so interesting, like this fallen hemlock I had to find my way around.

I couldn’t find the stump that the hemlock had broken off from until I looked up. It was actually the top of a huge tree that had broken off way up there. I was glad there was no wind on this day.

Before the hemlock lost its top it made sure that many children would follow, as this grove of young ones beside it revealed. It was as hard to get through it as it was to get over the broken tree top.

And then the ice came up off the trail and into the woods and I began to question my judgement in doing this. I almost threw in the towel and called it a day in this spot but instead I moved further into the woods for a while.

Finally, after climbing nearly the entire trail in the woods, just before the summit the ice was gone and I walked comfortably on frozen soil again. This is the steepest part of the trail so I was very happy to see it ice free. The reason for so much ice on is because the trail never sees direct sunshine and when it rains all the water runs down it as if it was a stream. Layer by layer the ice builds in thickness each time it rains and the only thing that will get rid of it is a few days of 50 degrees or more. We reached 61 degrees Tuesday and are supposed to reach 70 degrees today, so all of the ice you’ve seen here is probably gone now.

With a nod and a tip of my hat I passed the 40 ton glacial erratic called Tippin Rock that lives on the granite slab that is the summit. It’s called that because you can indeed tip the behemoth and watch it rock slowly back and forth like a cradle. I’ve written about it several times so if you’d like to know more about it, just type “Tippin Rock” in the search box there on the upper right of this page.

The trail passes Tippin Rock and leads to the granite overlook where the views are seen. I saw that there was a big old maple tree slowly falling over. When it finally makes it all the way down it will block the trail. There were many fallen trees here on this day. I just went aroud this one.

There were ice falls on the ledges. This ice was as clear as window glass and there was a lot of dripping going on. You don’t realize just how much groundwater is in a place until you visit it in winter. Though it seems dry in summer there is seeping groundwater everywhere in this forest.

The view on this day was hardly worth taking a photo of because the sun always shines directly at you in the afternoon in this spot, but I did want you to see what you’re faced with when you look out at it: a vast forest, too big to even comprehend. Though it couldn’t really be called unbroken it seems like it is, and waves of lonesomeness can ripple through you when you see it. It’s as if you’re the only person within many miles and that must have been a very sobering thought for the people who settled this land, because except for the Natives they really were the only ones here. They had nothing and no one to rely one except themselves and what they carried, so looking out over something like this must have made them wonder exactly what they had gotten themselves into.

But as far as this day went I knew that as soon as I climbed back down I wouldn’t be the only one anymore, and since I believe that solitude is good for the soul I love to spend time in high places like this where there is nothing except you, the land, and the breezes. Any troubles you may have in life look much smaller from up here, and you can be emptied of them while you relax into the silence.

It seems like it has been a very long time since I last visited my little friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) so I was happy to sit with them for a while. This one was partially covered by ice but it had water dripping on it so it was very happy, and I know that because of its color. When everything is going right a toadskin lichen will be pea green and pliable, like an ear lobe. The dark spots on the body of the lichen are its disc shaped apothecia, where its spores are produced. A fruiting lichen is a happy lichen, because when you’re a lichen it’s always all about making more lichens.

When toadskin lichens dry out they get crisp like potato chips and turn an ashy gray like this one. They’re not very happy at this stage but if nothing else lichens are patient beings, and they will just wait until it rains or snows so they can become pea green and rubbery again. Toadskin lichens are umbilicate lichens, which means they attach to the stone at a single point, and this one displayed what I call its belly button beautifully; it is the sun at the center of its solar system. Though they aren’t at their happiest I think these little lichens are at their most beautiful when they’re dry like this one, and I’ve lost myself inside that beauty many times.

I went a little further along the trail and visited the ledges where the rock climbers climb. I thought I might find some big ice here but instead I found a small pile of slush at the base of the ledge, so that means the sun is warming this huge mass of stone. To give you an idea of how big it is; that pine tree is probably about 75-100 years old. Someday I’m going to go up there and see what I can see.

But for now it was time to head back down Hewe’s Hill and, though climbing down is almost always harder than climbing up, on this day it was doubly hard and I think I’ll wait until it warms up before I climb again. But I made it up and down without falling and I saw some amazing things, so it was great day to be in the woods. I went home happy on rubbery legs.

The splendor of Silence,—of snow-jeweled hills and of ice. ~Ingram Crockett

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Back a few years ago I had the luxury of working from home, telecommuting in a way. At times it could get slightly monotonous so to break up the monotony I took a walk at lunch time each day. Of course I had a camera with me and many of the photos I took on those lunchtime walks appeared here on this blog. The above photo shows the road I walked on, what we always called the “dirt road,” because it was a dirt road for many years until the town came along and paved it.

To the right of the road is a small pond where Canada geese used to swim but now it is home mostly to frogs, snapping turtles, and muskrats.

The muskrats eat the cattail roots. The snapping turtles eat the frogs, and the frogs eat up a lot of mosquitoes, for which I am very grateful. I’m looking forward to hearing the spring peepers start singing again in March.

To the left of the road is a large alder swamp where in the spring red wing blackbirds by the many hundreds live. They don’t like people near their nesting sites and when I walked by here they always let me know how disappointed they were with my walking habits. Just out there in the middle of the swamp was an old dead white pine I used to call it the heron tree, because great blue herons used to sit in its branches. Since it fell I haven’t seen as many herons fishing here.

The alders were heavy with dangling catkins, which in this case are the shrub’s male (Staminate) flowers. I believe that most of the alders here are speckled alders (Alnus incana) but I can’t get close enough to most of them to find out, because this swamp never freezes entirely.

The beautiful alder catkins, each packed with hundreds of male flowers, will open usually around the last week in March to the first week of April. When the brownish purple scales on short stalks open they’ll reveal the golden pollen, and for a short time it will look as if someone has hung jewels of purple and gold on all the bushes. That’s the signal I use to start looking for the tiny crimson female (Pistillate) flowers, which will appear in time to receive the wind born pollen. They are among the smallest flowers I know of and they can be hard to see.

The female alder flowers become the hard little cones called strobiles which I think most of us are probably familiar with.  These strobiles have tongue gall, which is caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the developing cone and causes long, tongue like galls called languets to grow from them. I’m guessing that the fungus benefits from these long tongues by getting its spore bearing surfaces out into the wind. They don’t seem to hurt the alder any. In fact most galls don’t harm their hosts.

Medieval writers thought witch’s brooms were a bewitched bundle of twigs and called them Hexenbesen, but witch’s brooms are simply a plant deformity; a dense cluster of branches caused by usually a fungus but sometimes by a parasitic plant like mistletoe. Witch’s broom can sometimes be desirable; the Montgomery dwarf blue spruce came originally from a witch’s broom. This example is on an old dead white pine (Pinus strobus) and is the only one I’ve ever seen on pine.

A colorful bracket fungus grew on a fallen log. Or maybe I should say that it was frozen to it, because it was rock hard. My mushroom book says that this fungus can appear at all times of year though, so it must be used to the cold. It’s described as hairy with ochre to bright rust yellow and rust brown banding and if I’ve identified it correctly it’s called the mustard yellow polypore (Phellinus gilvus.) That’s an odd name considering that it has very little yellow in it but even the photo in the book shows only a thin band of yellow.

This bracket fungus was very thin and woody and grew in several examples around the perimeter of a fallen tree. I think it’s probably the thin maze polypore (Daedaleopsis confragosa,) which is fairly common.

This photo is of the maze-like underside of the thin maze polypore. This is a great example of how some mushrooms increase their spore bearing surfaces. When fresh the surface is pale gray and turns red when bruised. This fungus causes white rot in trees.

Despite having more cold days than warm days the sun is doing its work and melting the snow in places with a southerly exposure. Our average temperature in February here in southern New Hampshire is 35 degrees F. so try as it might, winter can’t win now. It can still throw some terrible weather at us though; the average snowfall amount is 18 inches but I’ve seen that much fall in a single February storm before. We are supposed to see 10-12 inches later today, in fact.

The reason the area in the previous photo is so clear of growth is because a large stand of bracken fern grows (Pteridium aquilinum) there. Bracken fern releases release chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants and that’s why this fern grows in large colonies where no other plants or trees are seen. Bracken is one of the oldest ferns, with fossil records dating it to over 55 million years old. Though they usually grow knee high I’ve seen some that were chest high.

Down the road a ways a large colony of American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) grows. Since this was the first plant I learned to identify I’m always happy to see it. It is also called teaberry or checkerberry and those who have ever tasted Clark’s Teaberry Gum know its flavor well. Oil of wintergreen has been used medicinally for centuries and it is still used in mouthwash, toothpaste, and pain relievers. Native Americans carried the leaves on hunts and nibbled on them to help them breathe easier when running or carrying game. The leaves make a pleasant minty tea but the plant contains compounds similar to those found in aspirin, so anyone allergic to aspirin shouldn’t use this plant.

Common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) has also been used medicinally for centuries in Europe and its leaves were used as a tea substitute there. Though it isn’t really invasive it is considered an agricultural weed. It forms mat like growths like that seen in the above photo but sends up vertical flower stalks in May. Each flower stalk (Raceme) has many very small blue flowers streaked with dark purple lines. They are beautiful little things, but they aren’t easy to photograph.

Yet another plant found in large colonies along the road is yarrow (Achillea milefolium.) Yarrow has been used medicinally since the dawn of time, and bunches of the dried herb have been  found in Neanderthal graves. It is one of the nine holy herbs  and was traded throughout the world, and that’s probably the reason it is found in nearly every country on earth. I’ve never looked closely at its seed heads before. I was surprised to see that they look nothing like the flowers. If it wasn’t for the scent and the few dried leaves clinging to the stem I’m not sure I would have known it was yarrow.

In one spot a small stream passes under the road. Strangely, on this side of the road it was frozen over…

…while on this side of the road it was ice free. That shows what a little persistent sun or shade can do at this time of year.

This is the tree that first got me wondering why some Eastern Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) had red on their bark when most didn’t. I’ve never been able to answer that question so I don’t know if it’s caused by algae, or is some type of loosely knitted lichen, or if it is simply the way the tree’s genes lean.

My lunchtime walk sometimes found me sitting in the cool forest on an old fallen hemlock tree, with this as my view. Just over the rise, a short way through the forest, is a stream that feeds into the swamp we saw previously. This is a cool place on a hot summer day and one that I used frequently. Sometimes it was hard to go back to work but you need discipline when you work from home and I always made it back in time. It was fun taking this walk again for this post. So many good memories!

The walks met a need: they were a release from the tightly regulated mental environment of work, and once I discovered them as therapy they became the normal thing, and I forgot what life had been like before I started walking.  ~ Teju Cole

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Well, we survived the coldest stretch of weather I’ve ever seen and now we’re in the midst of a January thaw, but I didn’t think I’d ever thaw out after going out on January 7 th to take many of these photos. It was a brisk 14°F but the sun was shining and I didn’t think it would be too bad, but it still felt frigid because of a breeze. Anyhow, anyone who lives here would know how cold it must have been just by seeing this photo of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey frozen from bank to bank. I think this is the first time in two or three years that this has happened.

Downstream from the previous photo ice shelves were forming but the river was open.

You could see how much ice had formed since the last snow. But the last snow was just 3 days before this photo was taken.

Close to a foot of snow fell and plowing it made mountain ranges.

After the snow storm dragged down more arctic air it got even colder; too cold to be outside for more than just a few minutes.

On New Hampshire’s tallest peak Mount Washington, a tie score for the second coldest place on the planet was recently recorded. At -36 ° F. with a wind chill of -94 °F. it was just two degrees warmer than Yakutsk Russia. What an honor.

Birches bent under the weight of the snow, which fell on top of the ice from the December ice storm. It has been so cold that the ice from that storm weeks ago has never melted.

The birches were giving up their seeds to the wind and to the birds too, probably.

Birds are definitely eating the seeds from eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) cones. Chickadees, pine siskins and other small birds eat them, and several species of warblers nest in the dense foliage. Larger birds like turkeys, owls, and grouse will often roost in the branches, possibly because hemlocks are excellent at shedding water. You can stand under large hemlocks in a pouring rain and barely feel a drop. Deer will eat the foliage.

By September the small cones and seeds of eastern hemlock are ripe but are still green, wet and oily. Once the cones begin to turn brown the seeds will be dry and birds can get at them as soon as the cone opens like the one pictured. Hemlock seeds are often lacking in viability, with less than 20% of them viable. Hemlock trees can live to 800 years old and reach a height of 175 feet. Native Americans used the inner bark, roots, and needles of hemlocks medicinally. They contain antiseptic properties and were used to treat wounds and in sweat lodges to treat colds and rheumatism. When food supplies were low the inner bark was often eaten.

Bird tracks under the hemlocks reveal their value to wildlife.

The birds have eaten all the coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seeds. Since these coneflowers were mostly planted by the birds the seeds belong to them and I don’t cut them or other plants back until spring. The more seeds they eat and spread around the yard, the more plants I’ll / we’ll have.

A motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) stem poked up from the snow and I thought it was interesting how I could see where all the little tufts of tiny flowers had been much easier without its leaves in the way. Of course the flowers are now seed pods. Though I’ve searched to find out which birds eat the seeds of motherwort I didn’t have any luck at all. It could be because the plant isn’t native, coming originally from Asia. It was brought here because of its long history of medicinal use in Europe and Asia. It is said to be useful as a heart medicine, hence the cardiaca part of its scientific name. It has a sedative effect and is also said to be useful to treat anxiety and muscle spasms.

The ice on most lakes and ponds is safe now, probably thicker than it’s been in years, and fishermen have begun setting up their bob houses. Some of these small, garden shed size buildings are quite elaborate, with all the comforts of home included. This fisherman built his out of clear corrugated plastic, probably hoping for some solar gain. I’d have to want to catch a fish pretty badly to stand on the ice all day, even if it was in a bob house.

When you approach a frozen over pond with snow covered ice you often can’t tell where the land ends and the water begins, so I look for cattails (Typha latifolia.) They always tell me right where the water starts.

Japanese knotweed stems (Fallopia japonica) looked red in the bright sunshine. It’s too bad this plant is so invasive, because it is pretty through much of its life cycle.

Milk white toothed polypores are resupinate fungi, which means they look like they grow upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi seem to do. This is a common winter fungus with “teeth” that are actually ragged bits of spore producing tissue which start life as pores or tubes and break apart and turn brown as they age. This fungus can be found on the undersides of hardwood tree branches. They don’t seem to mind the bitter cold temperatures we’ve had.

When I was in high school I had an art teacher who knew how to paint winter scenes. She taught me how to paint snow on tree branches and have it look realistic, and how to paint snowy landscapes. She was a professional artist as well as a teacher so she knew her way around an easel, but I still questioned her when she said that my gray winter shadows should be blue. I told her I painted them as I saw them, and I saw gray. I don’t know if it was colorblindness or some other reason that I saw gray but whatever it was has corrected itself and now I see blue winter shadows, just as Miss Safford said they should be. What makes them blue? The ice crystals that make up the snow reflect the ambient blue light from the sky. The color of a shadow is determined by the amount of light reaching the area that is in shade and light from the blue sky will even illuminate shaded areas. If the sky is gray, the shadows will appear gray.

It was so cold on this day that even the window frost seemed contracted, like each crystal had been held back by an icy grip, so instead of large, elaborate and beautiful frost feathers what formed were blocky, clunky crystals.

Here is an extreme close up of some window frost crystals. They didn’t have the beauty of frost feathers but this example reminded me of Aztec and Inca carvings I’ve seen photos of. It looks like a figure with a headdress, a long nose or beak, and wings. Or maybe it just looks like ice. I’ll let you decide.

Nearness to nature keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt, and in touch with the unseen powers. ~Charles Eastman

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I’ve been wanting to show you something so last Sunday I decided to climb Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey to see if I could see what I had in mind. Usually when I think of climbing a hill to show you something it doesn’t work, but I’ll keep trying. We start by crossing this hay field / meadow.

There were violets in the grass. There were also buttercups but my photos of them aren’t good enough to be shown here. I think this is a dog violet (Viola conspera) but I usually avoid trying to identify violets because there are so many and they all seem to look alike.

The grasses are starting to flower. Many grasses are beautiful and interesting when they flower, but it’s an event that I fear most of us miss.

Once we’re through the meadow and into the woods everything becomes very green, including the light through the new spring leaves.

There were thousands of starflowers (Trientalis borealis) along both sides of the trail. They are a woodland plant that doesn’t mind shade, so the leaves overhead don’t bother them.

I saw my first mushroom of the year but I don’t know its name. Someone wrote in once with a positive identification of this one but I can’t remember the name they told me or the date of the post it appeared in. There are an awful lot of mushrooms on this blog but finding a specific one can be tedious if you don’t have a name to search for.

Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) were growing here and there. 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. These should be flowering in early July.

Botanically speaking a whorl is an “arrangement of sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point and surround or wrap around the stem,” and nothing illustrates this better than Indian cucumber root. Its leaves wrap around the stem arranged in a single flat plane, so if you saw them from the side theoretically you would see an edge, much like looking at the edge of a dinner plate. If any leaf or leaves in the arrangement are above or below others it’s not a true whorl.

I saw a few pink lady’s slippers budded but they usually won’t bloom until June. Some think they’ve found a pale yellow lady’s slipper when they see the buds are at this stage. This native orchid is our state wildflower.

As we get deeper into the forest it gets darker because of the canopy, and there is much less undergrowth.

There is a surprising openness in a dark forest overshadowed by evergreen hemlock and pine branches. I’ve heard that the same is true of jungles, because very little sunlight reaches the forest floor.

I saw a hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) with some young hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) growing on it. This mushroom’s common name comes from its shiny cap which will come later, and which looks like it has been varnished. You can tell that they’re young because of the white / tan color on their outer edges. As they age they will lose the whitish color and become deep, shiny red. This mushroom has been used medicinally in China for thousands of years. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

This hemlock didn’t have any fungi on it but it must have had insects inside it because the woodpeckers were having their way with it. A while ago I split a log that had thousands of big black carpenter ants in it and for a woodpecker they’re a delicacy.

The bedrock forms ledges here that appear to have risen from the surrounding terrain, creating caves under the overhangs. They aren’t big enough for bears but a porcupine, raccoon or even a bobcat might call them home.

When the trail reaches its steepest you know you’re very near the summit.

I gave a nod and a click of the shutter to Tippin Rock as I passed. The 40 ton erratic gets its name from the way it will “tip” if shoved in the right spot. It actually rocks back and forth very slowly, like a pendulum. I didn’t have time to wrestle it on this day but if you’re interested you can just type “Tippin Rock” in the search box over on the top right and you’ll be taken right to all the posts I’ve done about it.

This is what I wanted to show you; the forest canopy awash in spring greens. With the oaks and hickories finally chiming in all of the trees now have their new leaves. This is why the spring ephemeral wildflowers are done blooming in the forests. From now on it will be mostly meadow and roadside flowers.

We aren’t in the clouds up here but we are in the tree tops. How many shades of green can there be?

The forest seems to go on forever. Sitting alone up here with the breeze and birdsong I often find myself wondering what the early settlers might have thought when they looked out over something so vast and unbroken. I also wonder if I would have had the courage to face it. There were no houses out there, no stores, and no roads. Only what you carried; that and your own ability were all you could really rely on.

I sit with my back against the little toadskin lichen’s (Lasallia papulosa) boulder when I take photos of the views, so of course I have to spend some time with them. Most were surprisingly dry in spite of all the rain but still beautiful nonetheless.

Some plants seem to shine with the light of creation and some lichens are no different. Sometimes you can see entire solar systems on the face of a toadskin lichen.

It looks like Mister Smiley Face is growing a mossy beard. I hope it doesn’t get too out of control. We always smile at each other on my way down.

I hope you enjoyed seeing the spring forest from above.

To see what others cannot…
You must climb the mountain.

~Ron Akers

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Last Sunday dawned cold at only 4 degrees F so I waited until it had warmed up as much as it was going to before climbing Hewes Hill in Swanzey. The trail winds through mostly hemlock forest and is quite dark in places and I expected ice, so I strapped on my Yaktrax and set off across the hayfield in the above photo.

It wasn’t long before I was glad to be wearing the Yaktrax because there was ice here and there on the trail.

I’d bet that I’ve walked by this stone a hundred times without ever seeing anything interesting, but on this day I noticed that it was covered with concentric boulder lichens (Porpidia crustulata.) This lichen gets its common name from the way its fruiting bodies (Apothecia) grow in concentric rings around the center. I’ve only seen it two or three times and that led me to think that it was uncommon here, but now I wonder if I’ve just been walking right by them all these years.

We had one day with wind gusts near 60 mph last week so I wasn’t surprised to see this eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) lying across the trail. I saw several more fallen trees as well.

The hemlock most likely fell because it had been weakened by the tinder fungi (Fomes fomentarius) that were growing on it. The spores from this fungus enter the tree through damaged bark and cause rot inside. It usually grows on hardwoods but can occasionally grow on conifers as well. This bracket fungus produces spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that as many as 800 million can be produced in a single hour. The fungus is also known for its ability to stop bleeding and was recommended for that purpose by none other than the father of medicine himself, Hippocrates (460 – 370 BCE).

The fungal rot was white and clearly visible all over the inside of the tree. White rots break down lignin and cellulose and cause the rotted wood to feel moist, soft, spongy, or stringy. They can be white or yellow.

I heard crunching underfoot so knew I was walking on ice needles. For ice needles to form the air temperature has to fall below 32 degrees F right at the soil surface while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape, and that needles have been found that were 16 inches long. The needles in this photo were no more than 4 inches long. They were very dirty.

Other ice growing on ledges was bigger; much bigger.

As is true on many of these hills and mountains the trail is steepest just before the summit.

The 40 ton glacial erratic known as Tippin’ Rock sits atop Hewes Hill on a slab of very flat granite bedrock. Legend says that it is called Tippin’ Rock because if you push in the right place it will tip. I didn’t know whether to believe it or not until I first saw it happen and then tipped it myself.

To give you an idea of the size of Tippin’ Rock and because I promised my friend Dave that I’d make him world famous, here he is actually tipping Tippin’ Rock last summer. We were shocked to see such a huge boulder rocking gently and almost soundlessly back and forth like a baby cradle. When you think about all of the forces that had to come into play for this stone to simply be here at all, but then to also be so perfectly balanced, it becomes kind of mind blowing.

Sometimes if a stump or log has decayed enough tree seeds can fall and grow on them. In this photo am eastern hemlock grew stilted roots over what was probably a stump that has since rotted away. From what I’ve seen any type of tree will do this.

The views weren’t spectacular but I sat for a while and wondered, as I often do, how the first settlers felt when they looked out over something like this. It isn’t hard when you’re up here to imagine nothing out there but trees and maybe a game trail to follow if you were lucky. And if you were very lucky you might have a gun, an axe head, and food enough for a day or two. I also often wonder if I would have had the courage to face such an immense unknown.

You really are in the treetops up here. Mostly oak treetops.

This is another unsuccessful attempt to show you how high you are when you’re up here. You’ll have to take my word that it’s quite a drop.

The views didn’t really matter because that’s not what I climbed up here to see. I haven’t seen my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) since last fall, so I thought it was past time to pay them a visit. They prefer growing on undisturbed natural boulders rather than on man-made stone walls and in this area I’ve only seen them on hilltops, so I don’t see them often; only when I’m willing to work for it. We haven’t had any rain or snow lately so they were very dry, and when dry they usually turn from their normal pea green color to the ashy gray seen here. They also become very brittle.

Common toadskin lichens are umbilicate lichens, which means they attach to a substrate (usually stone) at a single point, like a belly button. That point is the lighter area in this example. These lichens also look warty, and that’s how they come by their common name. These examples were small at less than an inch across but I’ve seen them as big as 2 inches. They can be very beautiful.

The head of a pin is .06 inches (1.5 mm) in diameter and one of the toadskin lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecia) could easily hide behind one. The apothecia are where the lichen’s spores are produced. In this case they are tiny black discs with a sunken center that makes them look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) of the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. This isn’t a great photo but it’s the closest I’ve ever been able to get to this lichen and it’s a fair bet that you’re seeing something you’ve never seen.

This photo shows how the apothecia are distributed over the surface of the toadskin lichen. Despite being quite dry this one was producing a lot of spores.

Mr. (or Mrs.) smiley face was there to greet me as I reached the bottom of the hill. I wonder if whoever painted it could have imagined that it would stay here so long and cheer so many people on. There have been times when my weariness has disappeared as the little smile put a smile on my face.

I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything. ~Alan watts

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1-crab-apple

Since I often tell readers of this blog that they don’t even have to leave their yards to enjoy nature I like to practice what I preach every now and then and restrict my wandering to my own yard.  This time I found that the birds had eaten every crabapple from my tree except one. Things like this always make me wonder what it is about that one crabapple that turned them away. It also makes me wonder how they knew that it was different from all the others.

2-rudbeckia-seedhead

The seed eaters haven’t touched the black-eyed Susan seeds (Rudbeckia hirta). That’s odd because the birds planted them; one year a few plants appeared and I just left them where they grew.

3-coneflower-seedhead

The birds seem to have gone for the coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) first, as just about every seed head has been at least partially stripped. I planted one plant years ago but now there are several scattered here and there in the yard and like the black eyed Susans I let them grow where the birds have planted them.  If that makes my gardening abilities seem lax, so be it. The last thing I wanted to do after gardening professionally for 10-12 hours each day was to come home and spend more time gardening, so the plants in this yard had to be tough enough to take care of themselves. I simply didn’t have the time or the inclination to fuss over them, and still don’t.

4-hemlock-cone

The plants in this yard also have to be able to withstand a certain amount of shade, because they’re surrounded by forest.  Eastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) are numerous and so are white pines (Pinus strobus) and both soar into the sky on three sides of the property. Black capped chickadees flock here to eat the seeds from the hemlock cones like the one pictured above. The 1/2 inch long eastern hemlock cones are among the smallest of all the trees in the pine family but the trees usually produce so many of them that the ground is completely covered in the spring. The needles and twigs of hemlocks are ground and distilled and the oil is used in ointments.

5-hemlock-needles

The white stripes on the undersides of the flat hemlock needles come from four rows of breathing pores (stomata) which are far too small to be seen without extreme magnification. The stripes make the tree very easy to identify.

6-the-forest

This view of the forest just outside of my yard shows what messy trees hemlocks are, but it is a forest so I don’t worry about it. It’s too bad that so many are afraid to go into the forest; I grew up in the woods and they have kept me completely fascinated for over a half century. There are dangers there yes, but so can cities be dangerous. Personally I’d sooner take my chances in a forest than a city.

7-hazel-catkins

I found that an American hazelnut had decided to grow on the property line between my neighbor’s yard and mine and I was happy to see it. Now I can practice getting photos of the tiny scarlet, thread like female blossoms that appear in spring. For now though the male catkins will have to do. As I was admiring them I saw a black something clinging to one of them.

8-hazel-catkins-close

I thought the black thing on the hazel catkin was an insect of some kind but it appears to be just part of an insect. I can’t imagine where the other half went. Maybe a bird ate it? I looked up insects that are partial to hazelnuts but none of them had parts that looked like this.

9-cedar

The color blue appears in some surprising places in nature, and one of the most surprising is on the egg shaped female flower tips of the northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis.) There were three examples of this native tree in the yard when I moved here and I’ve watched them grow big enough to provide welcome shade from the hot summer sun over the years. The Native American Ojibwe tribe thought the trees were sacred because of their many uses, and maybe they were. They showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with its leaves and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He had trees with him when he returned to Europe, and that’s how Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

10-cedar-seed-cone

There are many seed pods on the cedars and robins, common redpolls, pine siskins, and dark-eyed juncos eat the seeds. Many small birds use the trees to hide in and robins nest in them each spring. The open seed pods always look like beautiful carved wooden flowers to me.

11-rhodie

When the rhododendron buds look like they’re wearing choir robes you know that they’re singing Baby It’s Cold Outside, and it was cold on this day but at least the sun was shining. That hasn’t happened that much on weekends lately. These rhododendrons were grown from seed and started their life in this yard as a small sprig of a plant. Now some are taller than I am. It is thought that their leaves curl and droop in this way to protect their tender undersides from the cold.

12-quartz-crystals

I built a stone wall in my yard years ago and, since I collected rocks and minerals for a time, many of the stones in the wall have surprises in them. This one is studded with quartz crystals. Others have beryl crystals, mica, tourmaline and other minerals in them.

13-crispy-tuft-moss

It took several years before I could confidently identify the tiny tufts of moss I sometimes saw growing on tree trunks but I eventually found out that its name was crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa.) Now I see it everywhere, including on the maple trees in my own yard. This one was less than an inch across.

14-fringed-candleflame-lichen

I was happy to find a tiny bit of bright yellow fringed candle flame lichen (Candelaria fibrosa) on one of my maple trees. Lichens simply use tree bark as a roosting place and don’t harm the tree in any way. This lichen is said to be very sensitive to air pollution, so seeing it is a good sign that our air quality is good. I hope it grows and spreads to other trees. As of now it’s the most colorful lichen in the yard.

15-amber-jelly-fungus

I found an oak twig in the yard that had fallen from a neighbor’s oak tree. I saw that it had tiny, hard flakes of amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) on it. Luckily though this is a wood rotting fungus it only grows on dead wood so it won’t hurt the tree.  Since the twig was barely bigger than a pencil I decided to try an expiriment and brought it inside.

16-amber-jelly-fungus-3

This is what the hard little flakes in the previous photo turned into after I soaked the twig in a pan of water for just 15 minutes. What were small hard lumps had swollen to I’d guess about 40-50 percent larger than their original dry size,  and instead of being hard now felt much like your earlobe. In fact they looked and behaved much like the cranberry jelly served at Thanksgiving. These fungi have a shiny surface and a matte surface, and the shiny side is where their microscopic spores are produced.

17-black-knot-on-cherry

I found another twig, this time from a black cherry (Prunus serotina.) It showed that the tree had black knot disease, which is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa, which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus can be spread by rain or wind and typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those in the above photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring. Since this tree is a fully grown black cherry and lives in the forest there is little that can be done for it.

18-sedum-seedhead

I don’t know if any birds eat the seeds of the Russian stonecrop (Sedum kamtschaticum) in my yard but I always let them go to seed because the shape of the open seedpods mimics exactly the shape of their bright yellow flowers. It spreads but couldn’t be called invasive. It is a tough little groundcover that can stand drought or flood. I haven’t done a thing to it since I planted it about 30 years ago.

19-white-pine

The tallest and straightest tree in my yard is a white pine (Pinus strobus.) I put my camera on its trunk and clicked the shutter, and this is the result. It doesn’t show much except that it was a sunny day and they have been rare here lately. White pine 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 early settlers 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. I think this tree, so tall and straight, would surely have been selected as a mast pine.

Even in the familiar there can be surprise and wonder. ~Tierney Gearon

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1. Stream

Last year on March 28th I followed a small stream that flows near my house and this year I decided to do the same to see what had changed. As it turned out nothing much had changed but it was still an interesting walk as spring walks often are.

2. Stream

The most obvious change was the lack of snow this year*. The above photo shows what the stream banks looked like last March. This year the walking was much easier but still, there is no path here so you have to find your own way through the underbrush. With luck you might see a game trail and be able to follow that. Deer are regulars here.

*After I put this post together we got about 5 inches of snow and some 20 degree weather, just to show us what we had been missing.

3. Stream Gravel

The stream bed is made up of colorful gravel. I would think that a lot of water must percolate down through it, but though it gets quite low in warm dry weather the stream has never dried up in the more than 20 years that I’ve known it.

4. Grape Tendril

Native river grapes (Vitis riparia) grow along the stream banks. These are old vines that grow well into the tree tops, some as big around as a navel orange, and the fruit make the forest smell like grape jelly on warm fall days. I like looking at their tendrils. Sometimes I see beautiful Hindu dancers in their twisted shapes; other times animals, sometimes birds. They can make the heart sing and imagination soar, and that’s part of the enchantment of the forest.

River grapes are also called frost grapes, and their extreme cold tolerance makes their rootstock a favorite choice for many well-known grape varieties.  If you grow grapes chances are good that your vine has been grafted onto the rootstock of a river grape. If so the cold will most likely never kill it; river grapes have been known to survive temperatures of -57 degrees F. (-49 C)

5. Hemlock

Eastern hemlock trees (Tsuga canadensis); easily identified by the white stripes on the needle undersides, also grow along the stream banks. These trees are important to deer and other wildlife. They grow thickly enough to allow you to stand under one and hardly feel a drop of rain, and deer bed down under them. Many birds nest in them and many small birds like chickadees also feed on the seeds. Larger birds like owls and turkeys use them to roost in. Hemlocks are very shade tolerant and like to grow in cool, moist areas, so finding a grove of hemlocks is a good sign of a cool spot in a forest. Native Americans used the inner bark (cambium) as a base for breads and soups or mixed it with dried fruit and animal fat to use in pemmican. They also made tea from hemlock needles, which have a high vitamin C content, and this saved many a white settler from scurvy.

6. Japanese Honeysuckle

I was surprised to see Japanese honeysuckles (Lonicera japonica) already leafing out but I shouldn’t have been. Many invasive plants get a jump on natives by leafing out and blooming earlier.

7. Swamp Dewberry

Ankle grabbing, prickly swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) hadn’t even shed its winter bronze color yet. In June this trailing vine will bloom with white flowers that look a lot like strawberry flowers. The fruit looks more like a black raspberry than anything else and is said to be very sour. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for this plant, including treating coughs, fever and consumption. Swamp dewberry, as its name implies, is a good indicator of a wetland or moist soil that doesn’t dry out.

8. Foam Flower

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) also like shady, moist places and they do well here along the banks of the stream.  They’re very low growing and their evergreen leaves don’t change much from summer through winter, but the leaf veins often turn purple. This plant is a good example of a native plant with much appeal and plant breeders have had a field day with it, so there are many hybrids available. If you have a moist, shaded spot in your garden where nothing much grows, foamflower would be a good choice for a groundcover.

9. Sensitive Fern Fertile Frond

The small blackish bead-like sori that make up the fertile fronds of the sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) have opened to release the spores. Sensitive fern is another good indicator or moist places. Its common name comes from its sensitivity to frost, which was first noticed by the early colonials.

10. Signs of Flooding

Washed away leaves and plant stems all pointing in one direction mean flooding, and this stream has started flooding regularly over the last few years. It’s hard to believe that a small, meandering stream could become the raging torrent that I’ve seen this one become, but it does and it usually happens quickly. If it had been raining on this day I wouldn’t have been standing anywhere near the spot where this photo was taken.

11. Washout Repair

When the stream floods it often comes up over the road and a couple of years ago it took a good piece of the road embankment with it. The “repair” was a few loads of crushed stone dumped into the resulting hole, but so far it has held.  There was a large colony of coltsfoot that grew here before the flooding but they were washed down stream. Or I thought they had; last year I saw two or three flowers here, so they’re slowly re-colonizing this spot. I would expect that all the stone would catch the sun and raise the soil temperature so the coltsfoot would bloom earlier but they actually bloom later than most others.

12. Tree Skirt Moss

Tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates) usually grows from ground level up a tree trunk for about a foot or so, but this example grew about three feet up the trunk and it looked like its lower half had been stripped away by flooding.

13. Tree Skirt Moss

Tree skirt moss looks like it’s made up of tiny braided ropes when it’s dry. It is normally deep green but I think dryness must have affected the color of this example. Many mosses and lichens change color when they dry out. After a rain it will be green again and each tiny leaflet will pull away from the stem, giving the moss a fluffier appearance.

14. Tree Burl

A muscle wood tree (Carpinus caroliniana) had a grapefruit size burl on it and something had worn away the bark on it. A burl is a rounded growth on a tree that contains clusters of knots made up of dormant buds. It is said that burls form on trees that have seen some type of stress, and though scientists aren’t 100 percent sure it is believed that they are caused by injury, a virus, or fungi. The name muscle wood comes from the way that the tree looks like it has muscles undulating under its bark, much like our muscles appear under our skin. This tree likes soil that doesn’t dry out and is common on stream and river banks.

15. Muscle Wood Tree Burl

Other names for the muscle wood tree are American hornbeam and ironwood. The name iron wood comes from its dense, hard and heavy wood that even beavers won’t touch. Since a burl is naturally dense, hard, and heavy a burl on this tree must be doubly so, and would probably be almost impossible to carve. It would make a great bowl though, with its wavy purple stripes.

16. Black Cherry Burl

Black cherry is another tree that doesn’t mind wet feet and it grows well along the stream. This one has what I’ve always thought was a burl bigger than a basketball on it, but further reading shows it to be black knot disease. A fungus (Apiosporina morbosa) causes abnormal growth in the tree’s cells and the resulting burl like growths interfere with the transmission of water and minerals up from the roots and food down from the leaves. Because of this trees with black knot almost always die from it eventually.

17. Horsetails

Horsetails (Equisetum hyemale) rise like spikes from the forest floor. These ancient plants are embedded with silica and are called scouring rushes. They are a great find when you are camping along a stream because you can use them to scour your cooking utensils. Running your finger over a stalk feels much like fine sandpaper.

18. Horsetail

In Japan they are boiled and dried and then used to smooth wood, and are said to produce a finish superior to any sandpaper. Horsetails produce spores in their cone shaped tips, but the examples in this spot rarely grow them. The stripes on them always remind me of socks.

19. Tree Moss

When old friends reunite it’s usually a joyous occasion and it certainly was on this day when I said hello to my old friends the tree mosses (Climacium dendroides). They were right where they were last year, toughly hanging on inches above the water despite all the flooding they’ve seen. The stream bank where they grow is just high enough to be a perfect sit down spot and I can sit beside them comfortably for as long as I wish, admiring their beauty while listening to the chuckles and giggles of the stream. There is no place I’d rather be and nothing that could make me happier, and I could sit here for hours.

20. Tree Moss

Like music for the eyes are these little mosses. It is their shape that gives tree mosses their common name but it is their inner light that draws me here to see them. Some plants seem to shine and pulse with a love of life, and this is one of those. As I sat admiring their beauty we burned with the same flame for a time and loved life together.

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.
~Edna Jaques

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1. Winter Woods

After more than 3 months of warmer than average temperatures we’ve finally had a real taste of winter here, with a few inches of snow and a couple of days and nights of bone chilling cold. The cold I could do without but it’s hard to imagine anything more beautiful than freshly fallen snow decorating everything in the forest.

2. Hemlock

Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) branches catch so much snow that there is often bare ground under them a day or two after a storm. That’s why white tailed deer bed down under them. Years ago when I smoked I used to stand under a big old hemlock in the front yard when it rained, and even in a downpour barely a drop of rain reached me.

3. Morning Clouds

I don’t know what it is but there is something about the hill on the far side of Half Moon Pond in Hancock that seems to attract sunshine. I have no way to explain what I’ve seen here but even on cloud covered days the clouds will often part to let the sun shine on it. I hope to climb it one day. Maybe the sun will shine while I take photos for a change.

4. Half Moon Pond at Sunrise

This photo is deceiving because even though the sun had just risen above the hills behind me it looked like it was rising behind the hills in the distance. It’s one more thing I can’t explain about how the light and shadows play on Half Moon Pond and the hills that surround it. Odd things happen here. This photo was taken in January just as the pond had frozen over, and what looks like water in the distance is actually glare ice.

5. Cattails

Wind plays a big part of winter and it can often mean the difference between bearable and unbearable temperatures, but how do you show it in a photo? This is one way; the prevailing winds showed these cattail leaves which way to grow.

6. River

Some see winter as dark and bleak and colorless, but there is much color and beauty to be seen if they’d only look around a little. I love how the white snow makes water look so inky black. If it hadn’t been so cold I could have stood there longer, admiring it.

7. Sunrise

The sun promised a warm day but it was a bitter cold morning when I stopped to get a shot of it with my cell phone. It did turn out to be a warm day in spite of the morning cold, though. In fact most of them have been on the warm side this winter, but not all; we’ve seen night temperatures drop to -15 ° F (-26 ° C.) Interestingly on this, one of the coldest mornings of the season, I heard the sad but beautiful Fee Bee mating call of the male black capped chickadee. Now I’m sure that spring is just around the corner, no matter how much more winter we see.

8. Ice Finger

When the water level of the river dropped it left a skirt of ice around this stone. Then the sun warmed the stone and the ice skirt melted into an icy finger that reached around it from its back side. I’m sure the icy finger had to attach to the stone somewhere, but it wasn’t anywhere that I could see. It must have been on the far side which I couldn’t get to because the river was so close.

9. Ice Finger

Another view of the icy finger, which looks to be just about ready to tickle the stone.

10. Canada Geese

Canada geese don’t seem to mind the cold. They appear to act the same, winter or summer, though I usually see them in flocks rather than pairs.

11. Canada Geese

As usual one stood guard while the other fed.

12. Ashuelot Falls

The stones at the base of Ashuelot Falls in Keene were ice covered, but since it was only about 15° F, I wasn’t surprised.

13. Ice Pancakes

Downriver from the falls ice pancakes were frozen into the ice covered surface. This view also shows the needless cutting of all the shrubs along the riverbank, most of which were silky dogwoods that robins and cedar waxwings enjoyed eating the berries from. The same thing happened last summer along the Ashuelot in Swanzey. I think this is driven more by ignorance than for any other reason, but I didn’t know that this kind of ignorance was so widespread.  I’ve heard that the Army Corps of Engineers has been here studying the dam for possible removal so the bank clearing might have something to do with that, but why they would need to cut everything so far from the actual dam is a mystery.

14. Ice Pancakes

Ice pancakes, according to Wikipedia, can grow to nearly 10 feet in diameter and can have a thickness of nearly 4 inches.  Each pancake has an elevated rim that forms when the frazil ice or slush that it is made from bumps up against other pancakes. Since these one foot diameter examples were frozen into the river ice I think they were done bumping together, at least for now.

15. Ice Formations

Since these formations didn’t have raised rims I’m guessing that they weren’t pancake ice. They looked more like paving stones.

16. Ice on Ice

I saw a kind of ice that I’ve never seen before. What I can only describe as light colored frost feathers grew all over the darker ice of a stream.

17. Ice on Ice

This is a closer look at the frost feathers from a photo taken with my cellphone. I wonder if anyone has ever seen something similar. Many of them stood vertically on the ice of the stream. I can’t imagine what caused them to form unless it was very high humidity on the surface of the stream ice.

18. Stone Frozen in Ice

A stone was trapped in the ice near the formations in the previous shot but since it probably wasn’t going anywhere I doubt that it cared. It’s interesting how the sun seems to warm some stones enough to melt the ice on them but others stay coated in it.

19. Puddle Ice

Nature laid the universe at my feet but I was too blind to see it until I looked at the photo I took of this puddle ice. It was only then that I saw the stars, asteroids, galaxies and distant nebulae, almost as if I was looking at a photo taken by the Hubble telescope. As Edward Abbey once said: There is beauty, heartbreaking beauty, everywhere. To that I’ll add: Even in mud puddles.

20. Sap Bucket

So far this winter has been an upside down one; warm enough to get sap flowing and witch hazel blooming before a bitter below zero cold snap and then 50 degrees and rain yesterday. When spring finally does get here there’s no telling how plants will react to such an overall warm season. My feeling is that they’ll be fine, but we’ll have to wait and see.  The first thing nature teaches is patience.

There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow. It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance. ~William Sharp

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