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Posts Tagged ‘erratic boulder’

Last Saturday I woke up to not only the snow that fell on Friday but a temperature of 9 degrees F. That told me we wouldn’t be seeing any melting going on. By 11 am it was 22 degrees, but with the wind the feel-like temperature was more like 18 degrees, so I opted for a place where I knew I could be out of the wind. Beaver Brook and the abandoned road that follows it lie at the bottom of a natural canyon sheltered by hills on 3 sides, so there usually isn’t much wind there.

It was still cold though.

I have a friend in California who grew up here and is very fond of this place, so I like to come here at least once in each of the four seasons so he can see what it’s looking like. The place itself doesn’t change much but the weather sure does. I’ve seen waist deep snow on the old road.

There is a small cave here that I’ve always thought looked like a perfect spot for an animal den and sure enough I could see tracks in the snow that looked like they might have been bobcat tracks, but since we’d had a little more snow overnight it was hard to tell. The cave goes much further back into the hillside than what it looks like here.

Stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is a pretty moss that I only find in this place. It’s very delicate looking but it can take a lot of winter ice and snow and grows as far north as the arctic tundra. It is also called glittering wood moss because it sparkles when the light is right. It grows on the stone that caps the cave and seems to like places where it can hang over an edge.

The seep hadn’t frozen, but it rarely does. When you see this frozen over you know it is extremely cold. Hydrologically speaking a seep is a wet place where water reaches the surface from an underground aquifer, and this one stays just like this winter and summer. I saw it freeze one winter but I’ve never seen it dry up. It’s a good place for birds and animals to come and drink.

Near the seep is a boulder fall, and on some of the stones in the boulder fall dog lichens grow. I hoped to see them on this day but they were covered by snow. The sky was a beautiful blue though, and that more than made up for their lack.

Also near the seep is a tree that I’ve been watching. It died at some point and has been sloughing off its bark for at least two years now. When you find a tree in the woods that is completely without bark, this is why. Sometimes you can even find a bunched-up pile of shed bark at a tree’s base. It is normal for live, healthy trees to lose some bark, but not like this.

A goldenrod held out its seeds for birds that didn’t seem interested. There seems to be a lot of that going on here. Many fruits and seeds are not being eaten like they were a few years ago.

I love to see the sunlight falling on golden birches. It shows how they come by their name. They are also called yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) but to me they’re golden. Swamp birch is another name for this tree that is the largest and most valuable birch. They can live to 100 years regularly but at least one was found that was over 200 years old.

I was lucky to find a fallen golden birch branch that had the female seed heads (strobili) attached. They are quite big on this birch; about the size of bush clover seed heads, or the tip of your thumb.

And here was a single fallen golden birch seed, which is about twice the size of the gray birch seed I showed in a recent post. I’ve read that redpolls, pine siskins, chickadees, and other songbirds eat these seeds. Ruffed grouse eat the seeds, catkins, and buds, and red squirrels like the seeds and sap.

Golden and paper birches both have bark that peels like this. As any camper knows, it’s great for starting a campfire. That’s because it contains betulin, which is highly flammable. It is also water repelling, and that’s probably why Native Americans used birch bark for their canoes.

There was lots of ice on the ledges. These ledges don’t see a lot of sunshine; I’d guess maybe two or three hours per day, so the ice grows slowly. It is clear and hard.

The sunshine that falls here in winter comes over the hillside to the right, out of this view. In winter it takes its time reaching the other hillside on the left, so much of the road is shaded. It can be a cold walk. The overhead electric wires just follow this handy corridor. There are no houses here.

I met and old timer up here once who told me that rock climbers used to practice on that erratic over on the other side of the brook. It is big; maybe twice the size of the 40-ton Tippin Rock in Swanzey.

I loved the way the reflected light fell on the water in this spot. So much beauty, everywhere you look.

In the place where the brook becomes wide and calm it had iced over. I’ve seen Beaver Brook with ice three or four feet thick on it, so thick that the brook lost its singing voice.  I’m hoping I don’t see that this year.

The icicles hanging from the stones in the brook have large “feet” and I think that is because they grew in length as far as the water surface and then, once they couldn’t grow any longer, they grew wider instead. I’ve watched the ice in the Westmoreland deep cut and when it reaches the surface of the drainage channels it widens, just like this. If that is what is happening here then the water level has dropped about a foot since the icicles grew.

Ice hung from every stone. Anywhere water splashes is a good place to look for ice formations.

The seed pods of Indian pipe plants (Monotropa uniflora) look like small, carved wooden melons. This one had split to release the tiny, winged seeds. They split into five parts and each segment will eventually fall off, leaving the hard, dried central style behind. I had to take my gloves off to get this shot so it is a bit rushed. I wanted to show more of the top so we could see the funnel shaped hole in the stigma, but it was cold. The wiry looking bits are what is left of its ten dried stamens which, when the plant is flowering are inside the petals. You can see one of the dried petals behind the seed pod there in the lower right. It really is fascinating how much of the flower’s structure is still there in the dead plants. I always like to stop and take a closer look when I see them.

I stopped to look at the chubby purple buds of red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa). Buds with many bud scales that overlap like shingles are called imbricate buds. A gummy resin often fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. If ice should form inside the bud scales it could kill the bud. I’ve seen these buds in the past with purple and green stipes and they were beautiful. The colors reminded me of drawings of court jesters that I’ve seen. I can’t say why some buds are striped and others are not but I have a feeling that temperature might have something to do with it. Many plants like American wintergreen, turn purple in winter and I’ve noticed that the color is darker when it is cold.

As is often the case these days I didn’t dare to climb down the embankment to get a good view of the falls, but this shot from 2015 is a good representation of what I saw by peeking through the brush on this day. There was a good roar but I’ve seen even the falls covered by ice in the past, quieted by the cold.

As I was leaving, I noticed that the sun was higher in the sky and its light had reached the brook. There wasn’t much warmth but there was light. This shot also shows how treacherous climbing down to the water would be, and this spot would be much easier than at the falls. You’ve got to be careful up here because you’d wait quite a little while for any help to come and in this cold that wouldn’t be good.

The sunshine had also reached the icicles on the ledges but I’d be surprised if it had enough time to do any real melting. It won’t be long though. There is a little more daylight each day and it will be March before we know it.

In the winter, the world gets sharp. Beautiful things happen. ~Peter Fiore

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Tippin Rock Sign

I’ve heard a lot over the years about 912 foot Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey New Hampshire and about the 40 ton glacial erratic boulder that sits atop it, so recently I decided to finally climb up and see it for myself. It’s called Tippin Rock because according to legend “with a shove of your shoulder under the right spot” you can make 40 tons of granite rock gently, like a baby’s cradle.

2. Close Trail

The trail starts out as little more than a game trail, single file narrow, until it widens just a little as the above photo shows. Even though it’s a little wider here than where it started it’s still one person wide. Tall tree seedlings crowd in on both sides, obscuring any view into the forest.

3. Trail Widening

Finally it widens out to road width and steepens, and you can see deep into the forest ahead and on both sides. When bears are fattening up for hibernation I feel a lot more comfortable on a trail like this than I do on a close, winding trail where you can only see a few feet directly in front of you. There is less chance of being surprised.

4. Violet Toothed Polypore aka Trichaptum biformis

I found some violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis) growing on a log. I don’t see these very often so I wasn’t thinking about getting a shot of the undersides, which are toothed. I like their purple edges.

5. White Coral Fungi

I also saw coral mushrooms (Ramariopsis kunzei) as white as the snow that will soon cover them. I always wonder how something that has just come up out of the ground can be so clean. Coral fungi get their name from the corals that grow under the sea.

6. Trail

Before too long the canopy thins and sunlight gets through, and you know that you’re near the top.

7. Tippin Rock Sign

The sign proves it. I had to laugh at the way it stated (and pointed to) the obvious.

8. Tippin Rock

So this is Tippin Rock? It’s only as big as a delivery van, so I wouldn’t have guessed. It’s a good thing the sign was there!

A glacial erratic is defined as “a piece of rock that differs from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests.” You have to wonder where this one came from.

9. Tippin Rock Underside

Of course I immediately (before anyone could see) “got my shoulder under” every likely spot on the 40 ton behemoth and shoved and grunted and sweated and swore, but I couldn’t get it to move. I crawled under it to see what made it tick and found that, as the photo shows, it has a keel much like a boat. Who would have ever guessed that a glacier could set a 40 ton boulder down on a sheet of granite on a mountain top, in exactly the right position so it would rock back and forth? At least, it rocks for people who know the secret. I thought about finding a log and prying it, but then decided that doing so would be cheating. It would be hard to claim that I had tipped Tippin Rock knowing that I had cheated.

10. Old Photo of Tippin Rock

Did this lady tip it, I wonder? Actually, maybe I’m better off not knowing. I found this photo on line and what I find most interesting about it is how the visible side of the boulder is covered with rock tripe lichens. Rock tripe is a lichen that loves to grow on very large boulders and it can often be found on mountain and hill tops. It’s similar to toadskin lichen which we will see a little later. The lady’s outfit and the fact that the first really affordable camera-the Kodak Brownie-came out some time around 1900, means that it’s very safe to assume that a hundred years ago there were lichens on this rock face.

 11. Tippin Rock

So where did all the lichens go? This is the same face of the boulder shown in the previous circa 1900 photo, and it’s as clean as if it had been scrubbed. Did the trees grow and shade them out? Did they all die and just fall off? Did the weather wash them away? Tests have shown that lichens are tough enough to survive even the vacuum of space and tenacious enough to etch glass for a foothold, so how and why they disappeared from this rock face is a real mystery.

I leaned my monopod against it to give you an idea of how big this stone really is. Fully extended the monopod is about 6 feet long. I’m guesstimating the boulder is about 9-10 feet high, 18-20 feet long and 8-9 feet wide.

 12. Ledges

After you’ve worn yourself out trying to tip Tippin Rock you can follow a small side trail that leads to a lookout, and these cliffs are one of the things you pass on the way. Though it doesn’t look it in the photo it must have been 30 feet or more to the top. I wasn’t able to back away from them for a better angle because there was another even longer drop behind me which it wouldn’t have been good to test. People come up here to rock climb, and I can see why.

13. Toadskin Lichen

Toadskin lichen (Lasallia papulosa) decorated several boulders and I was happy to see it. This makes two places that I’ve found it now. Both take quite a climb to get to, so I wonder if altitude plays a part in where it will grow. It had just rained the night before so these examples were plump, pliable, and pea green. The black parts are their fruiting bodies (Apothecia) and these lichens were fruiting heavily.

14. Ledge View

The views from up here look south toward Massachusetts and are some of the best I’ve seen. This is a place that makes you feel small and that’s a good feeling to have every now and then. Sometimes feeling small reminds us just how big the universe is.

15. Ledge View

This beautiful view, taken as I had my back against the boulder that the toadskin lichens grew on, is my favorite. Every time I look out over such vast expanses of unbroken forest I realize that I’m seeing fairly close to what the early settlers would have seen. I wonder what they thought when they climbed a hill and found something like this before them. How daunting it must have been to know that you had to carve a homestead out of that wilderness with a single axe-your most valuable possession. I can’t help but wonder what I would have done. Would I have had the strength and courage to go on or would I have turned around and gone back to where I came from?  Still more questions which (thankfully) I’ll never find the answers to.

A man does not climb a mountain without bringing some of it away with him and leaving something of himself upon it. ~Martin Conway.

Thanks for coming by.

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