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Posts Tagged ‘Eastern Hemlock’

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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1. Trail

We haven’t had very many warm sunny days here this spring so when we do I try to make the best of them.  On one recent beautiful spring day I decided to climb Hewes Hill in Swanzey. A 40 ton glacial erratic sits on top of the hill along with some toadskin lichen friends that I like to visit occasionally.

2. Snowy Woods

The woods and the trail were snow covered by about 6 inches of snow but in the shade the crust was strong enough to walk on, so it was almost like walking on pavement.

3. Snow Melt

The snow had melted away from every tree trunk. I showed this in a post I did recently and several of us agreed that this must be caused by the sun heating up the tree bark which, if you really think about it, is pretty amazing.

4. Oak Leaf

This eastern hemlock caught an oak leaf and didn’t want to let go.

Hemlock Wound

According to the book Bark by Michael Wojtech, eastern hemlock is the only tree in the northeastern U.S. that produces wound tissue (cork) in annual rings that can be counted like rings of wood. I counted about 21 years that it took this wound to heal. But my question has always been, how do trees out in the middle of nowhere, away from human activity, get these wounds in the first place?

6. Deer Print

Deer are smart animals. They let humans do the work of breaking trails through the snow and then packing it down, and then they just follow along.

7. Sign

Before too long you see the sign that “captain obvious” must have put up.

8. Tippin Rock

I say that because there aren’t many rocks this big in the immediate vicinity. In fact there aren’t any. For those new to the blog, this glacial erratic gets its name from the way it rocks (tips) back and forth if you push it in the right place. I’ve never been able to move it but I’ve talked with someone who saw a group of kids all stand on one end to make it move. If you look closely at the underside you can see that it comes down to a point like the keel of a boat.

When you think of all that had to happen for a glacier to set a 40 ton boulder down on the single flat piece of rock on a hilltop in New Hampshire so it would be perfectly balanced it becomes close to impossible to believe, but there it is.

9. Crack in Rock

Something I never noticed before was this large crack that runs from top to bottom of the rock on one side. It doesn’t go all the way through though, so I don’t think tippin rock is in any danger of cleaving itself in two.

10. Ledge Ice

There are some good views up here but you can’t see them from tippin rock. To get to the ledges where the views are you have to walk another 10 minutes or so through the woods past a lot of stone outcrops that still have a lot of ice on them. The trail itself was very icy on this section as well.

11. Rest Spot

There were some dry spots to sit and catch your breath or to just listen to the forest. The birds were singing happily this day.

12. View

Since the views look off to the south southwest, afternoon is not the time to come up here and take photos, but I always try anyway. There is something about this place; it’s peaceful energy maybe, which is different than all the other hills I climb. It makes me feel like just being here is what’s really important, and that the photos don’t really matter. Though I’ve never really gotten a good photo from up here, neither have I ever come away feeling disappointed.

13. View

It was so sunny and warm up here that it felt like summer and not spring was right around the corner. I could have sat here for days.

14. Toad Skin Lichen

Though the views are beautiful  they are really secondary to my real quest, which are the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) I’ve found them only on hilltops so being able to see them always comes with a price. This one was reddish orange, which is a color I’ve never seen among them. I thought that it could have come from an algae coating, which is common among some lichens, but the book Lichens of North America says that it is a pruinose coating similar to that on plums and grapes, but red instead of white.  I never knew a pruinose coating could be anything but white.

Toadskin lichens are umbilicate lichens, meaning they attach to the substrate at a single point, and that point can be clearly seen in the upper third of this example. This lichen was about as big as a penny, or about 3/4 of an inch.

15. Toad Skin Lichen

These toadskin lichens are pea green when they’re wet, and when they dry out turn ashy gray to almost white. This one was very dry and crisp but I chose this photo because the lichen’s fruiting bodies (apothecia) are so easily seen. They look like tiny black dots scattered over the surface. The bumps that look like the warts on a toad are called pustules, and they look like indentations from the underside.

16. Toad Skin Lichen

This close up shows a better view of the toadskin lichen’s apothecia, which 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) 0f the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. If I could magnify them enough we’d see clear to brown muriform spores in each apothecia. Muriform means they are “wall like” with internal cross walls that make them look as if they were made of brick and mortar. What strange and fascinating things nature will show us if we just look a little closer.

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. American Bittersweet Berries

I don’t see many American bittersweet vines (Celastrus scandens), so I was happy to see this one. The invasive Oriental bittersweet is far more common in this area and is quickly outpacing the natives, mainly because its berries are more enticing to birds and its seeds germinate much faster. The easiest way to tell American bittersweet from Oriental is by the location of the berries on the vine; American bittersweet berries grow on the ends of the vines and Oriental bittersweet berries grow all along them. While both vines climb trees and shrubs, American bittersweet is less likely to strangle its host like Oriental bittersweet will.

 2. Black Eyed Rosette Lichen aka Physcia phaea

I’ve been seeing these very small lichens all over the trees and even though they all seem to be fruiting at the moment, I’ve struggled with their identity. With the help of the book Lichens of North America I think I can finally say that they are black eyed rosette lichens (Physcia phaea). At least with about 80% certainty. They are very common; in fact they are so common that they are one of those things that you see so much of, you stop paying attention. This winter I noticed that they all had fruiting bodies (Apothecia), which are the tiny black disks with gray margins, and that got me interested because I had never seen them produce spores. Why so many lichens do it in winter is still a mystery to me.

3. Boreal Oak Moss aka Evernia mesomorpha

This beard lichen and the dead tree it was on looked so ancient that I had to get a photo. ‘Methuselah’ was what I thought as I clicked the shutter. I think this is boreal oak moss (Evernia mesomorpha) because of its antler like shape and because of the way that it looks like it has been here since the dawn of time.

According to many scientists it might be possible, because many believe that lichens never really die. Even if you chop one to pieces the pieces just make more lichens. They have even survived 2 weeks in the vacuum of space and grew on like nothing had ever happened when they returned to earth. Some believe that lichens have the best chance of any earth bound life form of colonizing other planets.

4. Highbush Blueberry Buds

I took a few shots of these bright red highbush blueberry buds (Vaccinium corymbosum) and was surprised when I saw what the camera did to the shadows on the snow in the background. They came out looking like studio portraits, and very patriotic ones at that.

5. Hemlock Bark

I’ve been paying attention this winter to the way the cold can make some lichens change color and how white pine sap turns blue in the cold, but I’ve also noticed that cold also enhances some colors and makes them more vibrant than they are in the warmer months. I know this old eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) well since it grows near my house but, though most hemlocks have a red tint to their bark, I never noticed the deep red on this tree’s bark until this winter even though it must have always been there. Now I’ve got to remember to watch it and see if the color fades as we warm up.

6. Hemlock with Zig Zag Scar

I wanted to visit another eastern hemlock to see if its zig zag scar had changed any since last year. It hadn’t.  I never have been able to figure out for sure what would have caused this scar, but it comes right up out of the ground, travels for about 3 feet up the trunk and stops. It’s a very deep scar so the wound was made quite a while ago.

7. Hole in Pine Tree

I thought I saw a bird peeking out of this hole in an old white pine but it turned out to be just a clump of leaves and pine needles. But how did those leaves and pine needles get in there? Maybe it’s a woodpecker’s nest.

8. Wisteria

I don’t know if a bird or a human planted this old wisteria vine, but it has grown up into the crown of a tree just off the parking lot of an elementary school. It has been there for quite a while and flowers beautifully each year, full of very fragrant white and blue flowers that hang down from the tree and make it look as if the tree is flowering.

9. Wisteria in Fence

It has also grown through the school’s chain link fence; so much so that it’s hard to tell where the vine ends and the fence begins. Of course its new growth sprawls all over the place like wisterias will do, but since the vine isn’t technically on school property there is only so much that can be done. Each year the maintenance people at the school chop off everything they can reach but of course the wisteria just says ‘thank you very much’ to that treatment and grows even more vigorously. It’s hard to win when you’re doing battle with a well-established wisteria.

10. Wisteria Buds

I stopped to take a photo of the wisteria’s beautiful dark buds, which remind me of those of black ash.

 11. Snowmelt

This photo might not look like much to the uninitiated but to the winter weary it’s like a dream come true. Each spring, ever so slowly, the snowbanks begin to retreat back from the road edges and little strips of grass appear and start to green up quickly. Seeing it happen is akin to taking a good dose of spring tonic, and it gives us our second wind.

12. Sap Bucket

This is the newfangled way to tap maple trees; at least for smaller operations. The large maple syrup producers have the plastic tubing strung from tree to tree with vacuum pumps at the end that keep the sap moving and literally sucks it out of the trees. The sap should be running this week; it’s getting warm enough now.

13. Skunk Cabbage Swamp

I went to the place where skunk cabbages grow but the snow was still too deep to see any. Since they can raise their internal temperature above that of the surrounding air through a process called thermogenesis, I’m sure they are melting the snow around themselves as I write this. If the warm weather keeps up I might see them within a week or so.

 14. Daffodils in Snow

I’ve never heard of daffodils having thermogenic capabilities but there they were, coming up through the snow. Maybe they’re in as much of a hurry to see spring as the rest of us are.

 15. Daffodils

It sure is nice to be able to see and smell some dirt again. There are other signs of spring that I couldn’t show here, like the feel of the warm breezes out of the south or the sound of ice falling off the roof and the constant drip of what doesn’t fall. Skunks are just coming out of hibernation and the Boston Red Sox are back on TV playing spring training baseball games, so it really does seem like spring is finally on its way.

Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day. ~W. Earl Hall

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1. Cone Flower Seed Head

It struck me recently that for close to 4 years now I’ve been telling all of you that you don’t even have to leave your yards to study nature, but I’ve never done a post about what I see in my own yard. This post will start to make up for that.

I started with the purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), which I always leave standing for the birds. They ate most of the seeds from this one but left a little patch of them untouched. Goldfinches love these seeds so it makes me wonder why this tiny bit was rejected. Didn’t they taste good? Were they not ripe enough? I guess I’ll never know.  Since this photo was taken snow has buried it.

2. False Indigo Seed Pod

This false indigo (Baptisia australis) seed pod only had one seed left in it, but others had more. They often rattle in the wind. Sparrows, quail, grosbeaks and many songbirds like these seed and many different butterflies are attracted to the flowers. Deer won’t eat the foliage, and in this yard that’s a bonus.

3. Wild Senna Seed Head

The long, curved seedpods of wild senna (Senna hebecarpa) split lengthwise to reveal the seeds, so even though they don’t look like they’re open in this photo, they are. Many species of butterfly caterpillars like to feed on the foliage of this plant, including cloudless sulfur and orange barred sulfur. Bumblebees are attracted to its bright yellow flowers which open in late summer. This plant reminds me of a giant, 3 foot tall partridge pea.

4. Wild Senna Seed

The seed pod of wild senna has segments and each segment holds a single oval, flat seed that is about 1/4 inch across. The seeds are bigger than many seeds in my yard and bigger birds eat them. Mourning doves and many game birds like bob whites, partridge, turkeys, and quail like them, but there seems to be plenty of seeds left this year.

5. Maple Leaved Viburnum Fruit

The birds ate most of the fruit from the maple leaf viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium,) but there are a few left. I’ve noticed that there are always seem to be a few still hanging on in spring. Many species of birds love these berries, including many songbirds.

6. Crabapple

Birds like the crabapples but they always seem to leave one or two of these behind as well. Do you see a pattern here? Birds, at least the ones in my yard, never seem to eat every seed or fruit that’s available. It seems kind of odd, especially in a winter as severe as this one has been.

7. Hemlock Needles

Eastern or Canada hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) surround my yard along with white pines, oaks, and maples. The hemlocks provide plenty of seeds for the smaller birds like black capped chickadees. They are a messy tree though, and shed their smaller branches, needles, and cones all winter long. I like the white racing stripes on the undersides of the flat needles. They are actually four rows of white breathing pores (stomata) which are too small to be seen without magnification; even my macro lens couldn’t show us those.

8. Hemlock Cone

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, so the next time an ointment helps your sore muscles, thank a hemlock.

9. Pink Something on Hemlosk Branch

I’m not sure what this pink bit of wooly fluff was that I found on a hemlock branch, but it was too big to be a hemlock wooly adelgid, which is a tiny, white woolly insect that sucks the life out of hemlocks and can eventually kill them.  I’m assuming that it is a cocoon of some sort.

10. Porella liverwort

After traveling all over the county looking for liverworts, imagine my surprise when I found this Porella liverwort growing on a hemlock limb. Its leaves were very small and at first I thought it was a moss but the photos showed overlapping leaves in two rows rather than the spirally arranged leaves of a moss. This photo isn’t very good so I’ll have to try to get a better one later on. Its leaves are small enough so they took my macro lens right to its limit.

11. Moss on Maple

This coin sized bit of moss was growing on the bark of a red maple. For the most part mosses, lichens and liverworts are epiphytic rather than parasitic and don’t take anything from trees, but I do wonder why they choose to grow where they do. In the case of this moss, it’s on the side of the tree that gets morning sun in summer and there is probably a channel in the tree bark that water runs down when it rains, so it’s most likely a perfect spot for it. It was covered in spore capsules so it’s obviously very happy.

12. Moss on Maple Closeup 2-2

This is a closer look at the spore capsules on the moss in the previous photos. They were tiny things hardly bigger in diameter than a piece of uncooked spaghetti. The capsules were all open so this moss has released its spores. I think this one might be crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa) because of its curly, contorted leaves and the way the base of its spore capsules gradually taper down to the stalks. It’s a moss that prefers tree trunks.

 13. Maple Sap Flow

Seeing sap flowing from a maple tree might get some excited about spring, but this is just a bleeding frost crack. Anyone who has sat quietly in the woods on a winter night around here has heard the crack of “exploding” trees. It’s as loud as a rifle shot and happens when the temperature drops quickly at night. They usually happen on the south side of a tree where the sun warms the tree during the day. Then at night when the temperature drops below 15 °F, the outer layer of wood can contract much quicker than the inner layer and (bang!) you have a frost crack.  I was sorry to see it on this red maple in my yard because a wound like this is a perfect spot for disease and rot to gain a foothold.

14. Unknown Growth on Maple

It could already be too late for this red maple; I found these tiny fungi growing on the shady side away from the frost crack. At least I think they’re fungi. I’ve never seen them before and have no idea how they appeared in such cold weather. The biggest example was about half the diameter of a pea and appeared to be growing directly out of the tree’s bark. When I can stop shoveling paths, roofs, and decks I’ll have to shovel a path to them so I can watch and see what they do. The snow where the tree grows is about 3 feet deep now.

15. Sring Growth on Blue Spruce-2

The blue spruce in my yard is all ready to grow new buds as soon as it warms up. It’s teaching me patience; since the temperature for the last 23 days has been below freezing, I need a good lesson in it.

Your deepest roots are in nature.  No matter who you are, where you live, or what kind of life you lead, you remain irrevocably linked with the rest of creation.  ~Charles Cook

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