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Posts Tagged ‘Evergreen Ferns’

Yes, I know I’ve shown photos of snow here already this season, but those were of conversational snow that didn’t really count. We often start the season with small snowfalls that cause a lot of talk but no action and the last one was one of those. This time though, the snow piled up to about 8-11 inches in two back to back storms and required considerable effort with plows and shovels to get it out of the way. This photo shows what I saw last Sunday morning in my own back yard.

A local trail that I follow sometimes was as snowy as it ever gets. It’s no secret to readers of this blog that I’m not a great lover of winter because of all the added work it heaps upon me, but I can’t deny its beauty, and when I’m not working because of it I love being out in it.

The breeze picked up and snow fell from the trees, creating what I call snow smoke. It’s like seeing through a veil of snowflakes and if you’re walking the trail when they fall it feels the same as being caught in a snowstorm. There was so much falling from the trees that day I had to put my camera in a plastic bag. I always carry one in winter and summer.

The skies were changeable; one minute sunny and the next cloudy. The bane of photography, because you have to keep changing your settings according to the amount of light coming through the lens, and if you don’t pay attention your photos will come out too dark like this one did.

The horses in the pasture in the previous photo pawed at the snow to get at any green shoots and ignored the skies above them.

I love how water looks so dark when surrounded by white but just when I didn’t want the sun to come out it did and kind of spoiled the blackness of the stream.

Photos of white snow on red fruit have become common enough to be a cliché, but I was there and the rose hips were there and I had a camera, so there you are. But my thoughts were not of red fruit in white snow. I wondered why the birds never seem to eat these native Alberta rose hips (Rosa acicularis)  even though they’ve taken every hip off the invasive multi flora roses (Rosa multiflora.) It could come down to size, since these rose hips are much larger than those of the multiflora rose.

Snow covered every single thing, including these beech leaves.

A small pond was slushing over, and I saw more snow smoke coming from the trees over on the left.

The red wing blackbirds will have plenty of nesting material in the spring. These birds are very defensive of their nesting sites and have no problem letting you know when you’re too close. They’ll fly right in your face and hover there. They also chase hawks and eagles, so they have no fear.

The trees told me which way the wind had blown during the storm.

The trail around the pond was very snowy but it wasn’t too deep to manage. When it is deep I let snowshoers and cross country skiers break the trail and then I follow. If I’m lucky a snowmobile will have gone through first, but they aren’t allowed on this trail.

Sometimes without warning you can be sent off into a dream by nature and that’s what happened on this day when I saw this stone surrounded by the pristine white snow. I’ve walked this trail hundreds of times and I’d be willing to bet that I’ve tripped over this stone and have probably even cursed it, but on this day it sang to me and I loved it enough to take over 30 photos of it from different angles. It was so dark and perfect surrounded by such whiteness, and I’ve purposely over exposed this photo so you can see what I saw. It looked as ancient as the earth itself, and was beautiful.

There was fun to be had and people of all ages were having it. There was a lot of sledding going on, some on snow shovels.

I walk by this exposed bit of bedrock quite often but only in winter do I notice all its folds and wrinkles. For the geology nerds among you, the bedrock in this area consists of medium-grained light to dark-gray granodiorite and quartz diorite. (Basically granite) This is composed of oligoclase-andesine, quartz, biotite, muscovite and potash feldspar. The bedrock is fractured and has areas that have been split by the shearing motion of moving rock. This information comes from a natural resources inventory completed in 2009 by our local university.

A couple of our evergreen wood ferns grow out of cracks in the bedrock but they must be starved for nutrients because I’ve known them for years and they never get any bigger. But they are always green and any green thing is welcome in winter.

Icicles hanging from the stone outcrop told the story of the cold the evergreen ferns were experiencing.

Brooding. That’s what this scene says to me. A brooding landscape means that it’s “darkly somber,” and that’s how it looked to me when the clouds began to fill in. Winter it seems, might be here to stay.

Snow or not this is where I’ll be, every chance I have. I hope you have something every bit as wonderful in your life.

The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found? ~ J. B. Priestley

Thanks for coming by.

 

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Last Saturday in part one of this post I headed south out of Swanzey on a quest to find ledges and deep cuts on the old Cheshire Railroad that once ran from Keene to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and then on to Boston. Now, in part two of this post I’ve driven south just a short bit and I’m heading north to Keene, simply to cut down on the walking mileage. At this point I haven’t found the deep cut but I’ve seen many other interesting things, like this granite railroad bridge on the southern branch of the Ashuelot River. Built in place with granite hacked out of the nearby hills by railroad stone masons nearly 170 years ago, it’s as solid now as it was then and every bit as impressive too. Most of these arched railroad bridges were laid up dry with no mortar, and that’s quite a feat.

Near the railroad bridge are ruins of old bridge abutments which probably held a wooden or iron highway bridge at one time. Ruins like this are common here because our rivers and streams occasionally rise to “100 year flood” levels and wash everything in their path downstream. In reality it seems like the term 100 year flood should be revised to “10 year flood,” because we’ve had several bad ones in just a few years.

I picked up the trail head just off Route 12 south to Troy but this view looks north into Keene, and that’s where I’m going.

A sign told me exactly where I was but it urged me to go south into Troy and that wasn’t in today’s plan. It reminded me though, that Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harrison Blake and other transcendentalists rode on the railroad to Troy from Fitchburg, Massachusetts and then hiked to Mount Monadnock to climb it. Thoreau did this four times and wrote extensively of his journeys by rail and his climbs afterwards. He loved Mount Monadnock but even in his day complained that there were too many people on the summit. He would be shocked if he could see it today; some days it’s standing room only up there, and that’s why you never see views from the summit of Monadnock on this blog.

I saw a lot of trailing arbutus growing right along the sides of the trail. This was surprising because the plant was once over collected and is notoriously hard to find. We call it Mayflower and its sweet, spicy scent is unmatched. It was one of my grandmothers favorite flowers, so she was with me along this stretch of trail. I’m going to have to come back in May when it must perfume the air all through here.

I didn’t have to walk too long before I finally found some ledges. I had previously checked out the satellite views of this section of trail and this looked like an area that would have ledges, but even a satellite view isn’t a guarantee because of the heavy tree cover.

The ledges were probably about 20 or 30 feet high; not hugely impressive compared to some I’ve seen. I was a little disappointed by the lack of dripping groundwater. I doubt very much that anything like the tree trunk size ice columns that I see in the Westmoreland deep cut would grow here because it takes a lot of constantly dripping groundwater to create them. They are simply gigantic icicles, after all.

But there must be groundwater seeping in from somewhere because the usual drainage channels along the sides of the rail bed had water in them. Sometimes the color of the rocks makes it hard to tell how wet they are.

We have three or four evergreen ferns here in New Hampshire and the spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris spinulose) seen here is one of them. This lacy fern looks fragile but is actually very tough and will still be green in spring after its long sleep under the snow. I saw many examples of this pretty fern along the trail.

Many ferns release their spores in the fall and if you look at the underside of a fertile frond at that time you will often see small dots called sori. The sori are clusters of spore producing sporangia and they can be naked (uncovered) or capped by a cover called an indusium, as they are on the spinulose wood fern. When the spores are ready to be released thicker cell walls on one side of each sorus will age and dry out, and this creates a tension which causes the cover (indusium) to burst open and release its spores.

This photo shows a single sorus with its cover (indusium) burst, revealing the almost microscopic spherical sporangia. This is as close as I’ve ever gotten to this event. Each sorus is tiny and I can’t even guess the size of the sporangia. I do know that I can’t see them without a macro lens. What I could see if I had a microscope!

At one point on the trail I looked down to the left to the road I had been driving on just a short time before and saw that I was probably what must have been about a hundred feet above it, and it was then that I realized that I was walking on fill. Many thousands of cubic yards of soil must have had to have been used to fill in what was once a small valley between hills. The railroad engineers were smart though and used all the blasted rock from the deep cuts to fill in the low spots. This method is still in use today when a road is built; you bulldoze the top of a hill into a valley to make the roadbed level.

Here is a look down at the aforementioned road. I was almost in the tree tops and had to marvel at such an engineering feat. How they did all this in the mid-1800s is beyond me. It must have been very hard work indeed.

I was surprised to find running ground pine (Lycopodium clavatum) out here because in my experience it is relatively rare in this region. Though it is called running ground pine the plant is a clubmoss and has nothing to do with pines. The “running” part of the common name comes from  the way its horizontal underground stems spread or run under the leaf litter. Other names include lamb’s tail, fox tail, wolf’s claw, stag’s horn and witch meal. Native Americans used clubmosses medicinally to treat a variety of ailments including headaches and urinary problems. They were also used to treat wounds and dye fabrics. The Lycopodium part of the scientific names comes from the Greek Lycos, meaning wolf, and podus, meaning foot.  Whoever named them obviously thought clubmosses looked like wolf paws, but I don’t really see that.

It wasn’t too long before I saw more ledges, and these looked to be much higher than the first ones.

In fact these were some of the highest I’ve seen in this area. They might have been 60 feet or more at their highest point I’d guess, and I couldn’t back up enough to get all of them in view. Like the first set of ledges I saw these were quite dry with little groundwater seepage, so I’m guessing that I won’t be seeing many of those huge ice columns out here.

This tree was a fallen white pine that fell when it was young. I’d guess 30-40 years old maybe. It’s hard to say how tall it was but it had some height.

Some parts of the ledges were absolutely covered by what at first I thought was moss but which turned out to be liverworts. Many thousands of them.

This isn’t a very good photo because of the shiny wet leaves but I believe that these liverworts were the same greater featherwort (Plagiochila asplenioides) liverworts I saw at 40 foot falls in Surry back in November. These were very wet while the ones at 40 foot falls were on the dry side. They look quite different when wet like these but that’s when they’re at their best. They’re very small.

Again, this is a poor photo but it shows a closer look at the liverwort that I think is greater featherwort. This is only the second time I’ve ever seen them though, so I could be wrong.

Part of the ledge had collapsed and a large rock slide had dammed up the drainage ditch. This isn’t good because the water will eventually flow out into the rail bed and wash it away. I’ve seen the same thing happen on other rail trails, so I hope one of the snowmobile clubs will repair it. It is they who keep these trails open and we who use them owe them a big thank you. If it wasn’t for them in many cases there would be no rail trails. They work very hard to keep them open using their free time and often their own tools, so I’m sure a donation would be welcomed too if you feel so inclined.

The prize for the prettiest thing I saw on this trail has to go to these turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) They were as beautiful as flowers and some of the most colorful I’ve seen this year.

Well, I didn’t find the great scented liverworts and potential ice columns out here like I hoped I would but I certainly found plenty of other interesting things. I hope you thought so too and I hope this post inspires you to explore the rail trails in your own area.

Our minds, as well as our bodies, have need of the out-of-doors. Our spirits, too, need simple things, elemental things, the sun and the wind and the rain, moonlight and starlight, sunrise and mist and mossy forest trails, the perfumes of dawn and the smell of fresh-turned earth and the ancient music of wind among the trees.~ Edwin Way Teale

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1-canyon

It was about 13° F. when I left home to visit the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland that ice climbers call the icebox last weekend. Since this place seems to make its own weather and always has a good breeze blowing through it, I dressed for a frigid hike. It is a naturally dark place and I knew that the strong sunlight would make photography a challenge; there is actually a group of ice climbers in this photo but they are way down there in the dark section, so we can’t see them.

2-ice-climbers

Here they are. Even though I was much closer they’re still hard to see. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club holds regular ice climbing clinics here and seeing climbers on the ice is fairly common on weekends. Though I don’t know if this group was part of a clinic, they said they didn’t mind if I took a few photos to give readers a sense of scale. The cliffs soar to about 50 feet overhead and the constantly seeping groundwater can grow into huge icicles that can be as big as 200 year old oak tree trunks. It was plenty cold in the man-made canyon on this day but the ice hadn’t grown to the sizes that I expected.

3-ice-climbers

Two of the climbers picked on an icicle that was on the skimpy side, I thought. The noises from the ice as they climbed it; a crackling and tinkling sound, was a bit unnerving but I had to believe that they knew what they were doing. When I’m this close to them while they’re climbing I sometimes have to remind myself to breathe. It was nice of them to let me show you their methods and the intense concentration that they all seem to possess.

4-ice-climbers

This climber either lost his grip on the icicle or he was practicing falling, I’m not sure which. I was too busy taking photos to pay very close attention to what was being said. Knowing what to do in a fall is a very good idea, I would think.

5-climbing-ice

There had been a lot of activity around this huge blueish ice formation, which told me that many climbers had climbed here. I’ve heard that blue colored ice is the strongest and densest. It certainly looked more substantial than the ice that was being climbed in the previous shots.

6-icicles

There was plenty of ice to see but there weren’t many places where the giant tree trunk size formations grew. They often stand shoulder to shoulder all along the stone cliff faces but on this day they were only seen here and there.

7-ice-colors

This was one spot where the ice grew large. Even in full sunshine there was no melting going on but I could still hear the constant sound of running water made by groundwater running down the stone behind the ice.

8-evergreen-fern

An evergreen fern found a sunny spot on a ledge to grow on. Many others were encased in ice.

9-mineral-staining

There is always mineral staining on the stones but the cold seems to make the staining deeper and more colorful. I suspect that minerals in the groundwater are what gives the ice its many different colors.

10-ice-colors

Tan seems to be the most visible ice color this year. In the past I’ve seen everything from green to orange to black.

11-drainage-ditch

With all this ice and dripping water you might think I’d be standing in water up to my knees but the railroad wisely built drainage ditches along the edges of the rail bed and they’ve kept this section of trail dry for over 150 years. It seemed strange that they weren’t frozen over in most places.

12-trail-washout

Last fall a large stone fell from one of the cliff faces and it landed in the drainage ditch in just the right way to act as a dam, and since all the dammed up water had to go somewhere it ran into the rail bed and washed a section of it out. Luckily these trails are maintained by snowmobile clubs and I’m assuming it was they who moved the stone and solved the problem. I’m sure they’ll come back in warmer weather and fix the washout.

13-fallen-stone

This stone didn’t move easily. I’d guess that it must have taken two strong men with pry bars just to slide it out of the way, because it was big. Thankfully it didn’t hit anyone when it fell.

14-banded-rock

I looked up to see a band of reddish rock running through the cliff face. I’ve never noticed it before but it was the same color as the big stone that fell.

15-fallen-ice

Stones aren’t the only thing that fall here; we’ve had a few warm days and a huge slab of ice had fallen into the trail. This was easily big enough to have crushed someone, and this is why I stay in the middle of the trail away from the walls as much as possible.

16-moss-on-ice

When the ice fell it took quite a large bit of moss with it.

17-pale-liverworts

You can’t be a regular visitor to this place and be unaware of the falling ice and stone, but it isn’t something I obsess over. One of the reasons I keep coming here is because of all the unusual plants that grow here, and you’ve got to get close to the cliff walls to see them up close. For instance the above photo shows some of the many liverworts that grow on the walls. They are the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum,) but they don’t look right and I wondered if they might have frozen solid. They should be a deep, pea green color rather than the pale gray green seen here.

18-liverworts

This is how a healthy great scented liverwort should look. Note the pea green color. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the paler ones in the previous photo. I hope they’ll recover when it warms up.

19-frost-on-stone

Since I was in the deep cut last weekend we’ve had a January thaw and temperatures approached 50°, so almost all of our snow has melted. I can’t imagine what it looks like in the canyon but I’d bet that more ice has fallen. On this day though it was so cold that there was frost growing on the stones, so I didn’t stay for too long.

20-linemans-shack

With a quick nod to the old lineman’s shack, which is miraculously still standing, I headed for home to get out of the stiff breeze and to find some warmth. I’d guess that the wind chill must have been near zero and though every part of me was covered but my eyes, it was still pretty cool.

The splendor of silence, -of snow-jeweled hills and of ice. ~Ingram crockett

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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1-road-start

When it snows enough to make hiking a little more work I like to follow Beaver Brook in Keene. It’s a popular spot with both nature lovers and dog walkers and it’s rare that someone hasn’t made a path for you to follow. Since the old road that is now a trail essentially ends at a waterfall it’s easy to guess where the trodden snow path will lead.

2-ledges

One of the other reasons I like to come here in winter is because of the easy access to the ledges that are close beside the old road. There are many mosses and lichens that grow on thede ledges and I hoped to see the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that grow here, but unfortunately on this day snow covered them all.

3-blue-lichen

Though I didn’t see any smoky eye boulder lichens I did see one of the lichens that taught me that lichens can change color. This lichen is normally an ashy gray color in summer but as it gets colder it becomes darker and darker blue. This is the darkest I’ve ever seen it and I wonder if that’s because of the below zero nights we’ve had. I haven’t been able to identify it but it’s very granular and scattered, with no definite shape.

4-stairstep-moss

The stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) that I only find in this place is 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 and sparkles when the light is right. It grows on stone here and seems to like places when it can hang over an edge.

5-beaver-brook

Another reason I like coming here in winter is to see the often spectacular ice formations that grow along the brook, but this year it has frozen from bank to bank early and the only ice seen was flat and shapeless. Beaver Brook itself had been all but silenced except for a giggle heard here and there where there were small openings in the ice. It’s very strange to walk in a place where you know there is always the sound of running water and then suddenly not hear it. Only ice can silence a stream or river.

6-ice

There wasn’t even that much ice on the ledges, and I finally realized that the ice that grows here must grow from snow melt rather than seeping ground water. If it’s too cold for the snow to melt as it has been recently, ice doesn’t grow. If the ice came from seeping groundwater it would keep growing no matter how cold it got.

7-ice-on-stone

The dribbles of ice on this stone looked ancient, as if they had been here forever.

8-patterns-in-stone

Even without ice on them the stones here are fascinating and speak of the countless eons of tremendous pressure that stretched and folded these hills into what we see today. The stones here were once a mineral stew and today many blood red garnets can be found.

9-fern

Evergreen ferns grow under the ledge overhangs and wait patiently for spring, when this year’s green fronds will finally turn brown and new shoots will appear. It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring, which gives them a head start over the competition.

10-large-boulder

Off in the woods across the brook stands a huge glacial erratic boulder. If it could be hollowed out two people could easily fit inside it with plenty of room to spare. One day an old timer I met here told me that there are people who cross the brook to climb it, but I’ve never seen them do so. He’s the same old timer who told me that he had seen the brook flood and cross the road, which is a very scary thing to think about because not too far from here is downtown Keene.

11-lichens-and-liverworts

There are about 800 species of frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. As it gets colder these liverwort turn color until they become a dark purple; almost black, so they are much more noticeable in winter than in summer when they’re green. Some can get fairly large but this example was smaller than a tennis ball.

12-frullania-liverwort

The tiny leaves of frullania liverworts are strung together like beads. Some frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant but though I finally membered to smell a few they didn’t seem to have any scent at all. This liverwort can cause something called woodcutter’s eczema. This eczema, called phytodermatitis (basically an itchy rash,) has been seen in loggers and others who regularly handle logs or cord wood with it on them. It doesn’t sound like anything serious and usually disappears in two or three weeks once the person stops handling logs with liverworts on them.

13-script-lichens

Script lichens (Graphis) grow on tree bark all along this old road. The dark “script” characters are the lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) There are many script lichen species and each seems to prefer a certain species of tree. This photo shows the clear separation between three species. Though the dark fruiting bodies are all horizontal in these examples, their size and spacing is quite different. Script lichens are another lichen that seems to produce spores only in cold weather. In summer they appear as whitish or grayish splotches on tree bark.

14-script-lichens

I got excited when I saw this script lichen because I thought I had found the rare and beautiful asterisk lichen (Arthonia radiata) that I’ve been searching for, but I think the two fruiting bodies that look like asterisks were just an anomaly in what is a common script lichen (Graphis scripta.)  In a true asterisk lichen all of the fruiting bodies would be star shaped.

15-golden-birch

Many of the trees looked like they wore capes of ermine. Speaking of ermines, I searched for the otter slides that I’ve seen here in the past, but didn’t see any. The old road has steep hillsides along its length and otters come here to slide down them in winter.

16-guard-post

This road was laid out in the 1700s and was abandoned in the early 70s when a new highway was built-literally right across the existing road. Since then nature has slowly been reclaiming the area. Some of the old guard rails still stand but many have been swallowed up by the brook, which over time has eaten away the edge of the road.

17-big-snowball

From a distance I thought that a boulder had rolled down off the hillside and landed in the road but it turned out to be a huge snowball that someone had rolled. It was chest high and must have taken considerable effort to move.

18-fungus

Fall oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) grew on the trunk of a maple but were now frozen solid. These fungi cause white rot and are not a good thing to see on living trees. Oyster mushrooms are also carnivorous. Scientists discovered in 1986 that they “exude extracellular toxins that stun {nematode] worms, whereupon the mycelium invades its body through its orifices.” They also consume bacteria (Pseudomonas and Agrobacterium) in order to get nitrogen and protein.

19-moss-on-tree

We’ve all seen the deep channels in tree bark but what I didn’t know until I started researching mosses and lichens for this blog is how rainwater runs in these channels. They’re like small vertical streams and a frozen one can be seen over on the left in this shot. Mosses and lichens and even some fungi take advantage of these streams and grow beside them on the tree’s bark. By doing so they probably get a little extra water when it rains.

20-oak-leaf

An oak leaf had fallen on the snow. Its dark color will attract sunlight and that will heat it enough to melt the snow, and it will gradually sink in until it eventually disappears under it. Oak leaves are among the most water resistant leaves but being under the snow all winter is enough to waterlog even them.

21-approaching-falls

I made it to the falls which are over on the right out of the photo but I didn’t bother climbing down the embankment to take photos of them because they were frozen and hardly making a sound. It would have been a slippery climb for a shot of a big lump of ice and once I get down in there I’m never sure if I’ll get back out because it’s very steep.

The stripped and shapely maple grieves
The ghosts of her departed leaves.
The ground is hard, as hard as stone.
The year is old, the birds are flown.
~John Updike

Thanks for coming by.

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1-pond

Every now and then I get discombobulated and run out of ideas for blog posts. Inspiration is a funny thing that seems to come and go as it pleases, and though it has left me only three or four times since I started this blog it is always a bit disconcerting when it happens. It is almost as if my mind has gone completely blank as far as ideas are concerned but I’ve learned that this can be a special time, because when it happens I simply walk into the forest and let nature lead me where it will. On this day I decided to visit a local pond.

2-leaves-on-water

There were many leaves on the water surface, most of them oak.

3-oak

But not all of them had fallen. Oak leaves are still beautiful, even when they’re finished photosynthesizing.

4-low-water

The 8 foot strip of sand where there usually isn’t any showed how the drought has affected this pond.

5-alder-tongue-gall

Instead of being caused by an insect like many galls, alder (Alnus incana) tongue gall is caused by a fungus (Taphrina alni). The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the female cone-like catkins (strobiles) and causes long, tongue shaped galls known as languets to grow from them. These galls seem to like high humidity and are usually found on alders that grow near swamps, ponds and streams. There are many alders along the shores of this pond.

6-false-dandelion

The big surprise of the day was this false dandelion blossom (Hypochaeris radicata.) The flowers of false dandelion look much the same as those of true dandelions in a photo, but in the field they are much smaller and stand on 6-8 inch long, wiry stems. They’re obviously very hardy.

7-trail

All of the previous photos were taken before I had even set foot on the nice wide trail that follows along one side of the pond. That’s how much there is to see here.

8-fern-on-stone

The boulder that you can see on the right in the previous photo had a crack in it and one of our evergreen ferns decided to call it home. I’ve known this fern for several years now and I’ve never seen it get much bigger than an orange.

9-beech-leaves

I was grumbling to myself about the harsh sunlight and how difficult it was to take a decent photo in conditions like these, and then I saw this and stopped grumbling. The sunlight coming through the beech leaves made a beautiful picture and I sat down on a stone to take a photo and admire the scene. That’s when nature decided to show me a few more things.

10-bark-beetle-markings

I looked down and saw a pine limb that had been attacked by bark beetles. There’s nothing unusual about that but what was unusual were the channels that looked as if they had saw teeth. They’re usually smooth sided and I’ve never seen any like them and haven’t been able to find anything like them on line. They reminded me of ancient hieroglyphs. I’d like to know more about them if anyone is familiar with them.

11-squirrels-lunch

To my right on a log was what remained of a squirrel’s lunch. It looked like there was plenty of acorn meat left and I wondered if I had scared it away. Squirrels in this neck of the woods like to sit up on a log or stone or even a picnic table to eat; virtually anywhere off the ground. An adult gray squirrel can eat up to two pounds of acorns each week. Since there are 60-80 acorns in a pound a gray squirrel eats a lot of them each week. At the high end that’s 23 acorns per day. This year there are enough to support a lot of squirrels.

12-smoky-eye-boulder-lichen

A rock near the one I sat on was covered with beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens.) The blue bits are the spore bearing apothecial disks of the lichen. They have a waxy coating that reflects light much like the whitish bloom on blueberries and which makes them appear blue in the right light. The black border on each disk makes them really stand out from the body (Thallus) of the lichen even though each one is smaller than a baby pea.

13-mycelium

I rolled a log aside to see if there were any cobalt blue crust fungi on it but instead I saw this where the log had been. The mycelium of an unknown fungus was there in the leaves, reminding me of a distant nebula where stars are born, or a streak of lightning flashing in the evening sky, or a woman in the wind with her hair and dress blowing all about her. I love these beautiful bits of nature that can capture your mind and let you step outside of yourself for a time, oblivious to everything except the beauty before you. If somebody were to ask me right now why I spend so much time in the woods and why I do this blog I’d have to show them this photo. And then hope they understood that it’s all about the beauty of this life.

14-frosted-fungi

I saw a few bracket fungi on a nearby tree but they were past their prime. Our mushroom season is about over now except for a handful of the so called winter mushrooms.

15-witch-hazel

The fragrance of witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) was with me all along the path. Witch hazel is our last wildflower to bloom and is pollinated by owlet moths, which are active in winter and are called winter moths. These moths raise their body temperature by shivering. Their temperature can rise as much as 50 degrees and this allows them to fly and search for food when it’s cold.  It must work well because our witch hazels are always loaded with seed pods.

16-script-lichen

Many script lichens decorated the tree trunks. I always find myself looking for words in photos like this one. I never find them but I do see random letters. The light colored background is the body of the lichen and the darker “script” is where it releases its spores. There are 39 species of script lichens in North America and many more throughout the world, and their most important identification characteristic is their squiggly apothecia. I’ve seen examples that have apothecia that all run horizontally or vertically, but most seem random like those in the photo. The script lichen I want to see most of all is the asterisk script lichen, with apothecia that look like tiny stars.

17-frullania-asagrayana-liverwort-2

There are about 800 species of Frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. It can look very lacy and fern like at times. Sometimes it reminds me of the beautiful fan corals found on distant coral reefs, as the above example does.

18-frullania-asagrayana-liverwort

The very small leaves of the Frullania liverwort are strung together like beads. Some Frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant but I keep forgetting to smell them. That probably happens because a close shot of them is always very hard for me to get and takes quite a lot of concentration.

19-quartz-vein-in-granite

In geology a vein is not tubular but is, according to Wikipedia  “a sheet like body of crystallized minerals within a rock. Veins form when mineral constituents carried by an aqueous solution within the rock mass are deposited through precipitation. The hydraulic flow involved is usually due to hydrothermal circulation.” Veins can also be beautiful, as this vein of milky quartz in a granite stone shows. If I remember my geology lessons correctly if the quartz were in a tubular form it would be called an intrusion.

So, that’s what nature showed me when I walked into the woods with a blank mind. The answer to what to write a blog post about came when I wasn’t thinking about the question. Just walking into the forest and looking around was all I needed to do.

Once you really commence to see things, then you really commence to feel things. ~Edward Steichen

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1. The Icebox

Each winter seeping groundwater creates columns of ice that grow to unbelievable proportions in a deep cut railroad bed that lies slightly north of Keene. Ice climbers call this place “the icebox” and come here from all over New England to train. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club also holds ice climbing clinics here. I don’t climb; I just come to see beauty of a kind that I can’t see anywhere else.

2. Blue Ice

Some of the ice is blue. This example looked very solid and climbable.

3. Green Ice

Some ice is green. This example was on its way to being big enough to climb but I don’t know if the ice climbers will climb green ice. I’ve only seen them climb blue ice, which is very dense.

4. Icy Grotto

This ice formed a kind of shallow cave or grotto that I could have stepped into if I wasn’t so wary of falling ice and stone. It happens fairly regularly here and you don’t want to get hit by it.

5. Running Water

Most of the groundwater seeps through cracks in the stone but in places it runs in small streams and this is one of those places. One of the constants here is the sound of trickling water, winter and summer alike. The ice in this photo was formed by splashing water and was crystal clear. This place has taught me that there are differences in the clarity of ice, depending on how it has formed.

6. Drainage Ditch

The drainage ditches that the railroad engineers built 150 years ago at the base of the ledges still work as they were designed to and carry the water away down the gentle grade, keeping the rail bed high and dry. As the snow gets higher these ditches get deeper. I often put on knee high rubber boots and walk in them to explore the rock faces, but I didn’t do so on this trip. It was the ice I came to see.

7. Drainage Ditch

The water in the drainage ditches never freezes completely and its movement cuts off the ice on the ledges at water level. This means that the ice that looks like it’s hanging from the ledges really does hang and isn’t supported by the ground at all in many places. When it comes free from the walls and falls sometimes it’s as if a crystal tree fell across the trail. I wonder what the railroad did when such large pieces of ice fell on the tracks when the trains were running.

8. Orangey Brown Ice

Last year the ice in this spot was bright orange but this year it leaned more toward orangey brown.

9. Mineral Stains

Mineral stains on the rock faces tell part of the story of the colored ice but there are many reasons that ice can be colored. Even a higher density can turn it blue.

10. Orange Algae

There are other colors on these rock walls but they aren’t in ice. This orange patch is caused by green algae called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll. I’m not sure if the algae color any ice here.

11. Liverworts

Large areas of stone are covered in places by liverworts but they don’t seem to mind being encased in ice for the winter. In the spring you wouldn’t know they had seen any ice at all.

12. Mossy Ledges

Many mosses turn a yellower shade of green in winter but otherwise ride it out with little change.

13. Fern in Ice

This fern was completely encased in ice. Since it is an evergreen fern it will most likely lose its leaves in spring when new growth begins.

14. Dirty Ice

I think there must be soil washed along in the groundwater for ice to look dirty like this example does.

15. Ice Columns

I was hoping this shot would convey a sense of how tall this ice is but it really doesn’t.  These ice columns are too small in diameter to climb but the ice climbers go for the taller ice I’ve noticed, and these were plenty tall.

16. Green Ice

Much of the ice was half what it was last year but we still have February to get through. One of the things that made last February so memorable was the extreme below zero cold that went on and on for most of the month. If that happens this year this ice will become huge like it was then.

17. Icicles

This past week has been the coldest we’ve seen this winter so I’m sure the ice has grown some. I’ll have to visit it again before it all starts to melt away in March. When I leave here and write a post about the place I often marvel at having virtually no memory of how cold it was, so captivating were the colors, sounds, and shapes. When great joy passes through you inconvenience slips away. You remember the joy but not the inconvenience.

One moment the world is as it is. The next, it is something entirely different. Something it has never been before. ~Anne Rice

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 1. Sap Buckets

People who collect maple sap the old way in buckets like these are becoming a rare breed. The sap is flowing but syrup producers say it’s coming slowly, in fits and starts, because we’ve had so many cold days. Daytime temperatures need to be in the mid-forties and nighttime temps at around 28 degrees  for optimal sap flow. Though some days and nights have been perfect it hasn’t been consistent. We’re still seeing below zero nights and, since the 4-6 week season ends in early April, each cold snap brings a renewed sense of urgency. Last year New Hampshire produced 176,000 gallons of syrup. In the abnormally warm winter of 2012 producers didn’t even see half that amount, and this year it might be cold that hinders production.

 2. Muddy Road

When we have the kind of cold we’ve had this year it drives the frost deep into the ground. In spring when the soil begins to thaw the water can’t seep into the frozen ground so it sits on top, saturating the soil to the point where it can’t hold any more water. When the soil in question happens to be a road, things can get very interesting. Here in New England we call it “mud season” and when I drove over the road in the above photo I knew it was upon us, because it felt like I was driving on gelatin. Our roads become quaking quagmires that have been known to swallow even 40 foot long school buses.  If you’d like to see some photos of mud season in all its muckiness, just click here.

 3. Peat Mosses

In the swamps, peat mosses aren’t wasting any time. They seem to green up almost immediately after the snow melts. I just read that scientists took a piece of moss from part of an Arctic ice core sample that was over 1000 years old. When they exposed it to light and warmth the ancient moss grew just fine. This moss that is now green once again was alive when Rome was in its infancy. This is why some people wonder if mosses and lichens ever really die.

 4. Skunk Cabbage 

Skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) are growing fast in spite of the cold nights. Since they produce their own heat through a process called thermogenesis, they don’t care how cold it is. This photo shows skunk cabbage spathes partly out of the soil. Once they reach full size they will open so flies can visit the flower covered spadix within.

 5. Vernal Witch Hazel 

The vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) keep poking out their strap like petals, only to roll them back up again because of the cold. They, like the maples, are going through fits and starts this year.

 6. Red Maple Buds

Red maple (Acer rubrum) and other tree buds are swelling and the hills off in the distance have taken on a reddish haze that is impossible for me to take a photo of, so I settled for a branch. Red maples are one of the first trees to flower in spring and I always look forward to seeing them because they are very pretty. The sap can be made into syrup just like that of sugar maples but it turns bitter when the buds start to break. Since they appear earlier than those of sugar maples, the season doesn’t last as long.

 7. Red Maple Buds

Both red and sugar maple buds are high energy foods and eastern gray squirrels eat them in spring. These buds also have high moisture content and that means that squirrels don’t have to leave a tree for a drink at this time of year.

 8. New Fern Growth 

I spotted this fern growing on a boulder. The cluster of round buds in its center will grow into new shoots, called fiddleheads, before too long. The only fern in this area with fiddleheads that are safe to eat is the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). They are considered an early spring delicacy but they need to be prepared and cooked correctly or they can make you sick. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has investigated a number of outbreaks of food-borne illness cause by raw and undercooked fiddleheads. They should always be boiled for at least 15 minutes.  Some say you can also eat lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) and bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) fiddleheads but there is a great debate raging about the safety of eating them, so I can’t say for sure if you should or shouldn’t.

 9. Trailing Arbutus

The snow has melted enough to reveal the tough, leathery, evergreen leaves of trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens). My grandmother always called this plant mayflower but I’ve found its fragrant pinkish flowers much earlier in April. Because it has been so cold this year though, it might live up to its common name. I usually find it in mixed forests growing on sunny embankments.

 10. Oak Leaf on Snow

Last year’s oak and beech leaves are starting to fall. More signs of spring.

 11. Grasses in the Sun

The afternoon sun catching these dry grasses looked very spring like, but the scene looked better in person than it does in the photo.

12. Melting Snow

Sometimes spring comes creeping in quietly and slowly and is hardly noticeable, so we seem to go from winter right into summer. I have a feeling that this year will be that way.

Tomorrow, the first day of spring, will mark the 3 year anniversary of this blog. I remember wondering how I’d ever get through 6 months of it, so thanks go to all of you who have kept it going.

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.  ~Henry Van Dyke

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