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Posts Tagged ‘Fall Hiking’

A few posts ago I spoke of having to pull apart a beaver dam, and how beautiful the spot was that the beavers chose to build it in. I’ve wondered about that spot ever since, and what it would look like once the trees turned color, so I had to go and find out. It was even more beautiful than before; a true place of bliss, with the giggling trickle of the stream and the birds singing in the trees and the beautiful reflections, you couldn’t come much closer to an earthly paradise than this.

I’m seeing a lot of purple leaves this year, especially on blueberries.

Here is a closer look at some deep purple blueberry leaves. They don’t all do this. Some turn red, some orange, but a few do this and they are beautiful when they do.

Where I work, we have boardwalks that cross wet ground but this year we’ve had so much rain the boardwalks are floating. I’ve gotten my feet wet several times on them.

Silky dogwood leaves also have a lot of purple in them this year. By the time the leaves do this the pretty blue and white berries have usually all been eaten.

Many white ash leaves (Fraxinus americana) also show a lot of purple in the fall. These trees are among the first to change in fall, and the leaves among the first to drop.

But not all ash leaves turn purple. Most are actually yellow but some will turn red as well.

I’ve seen purple beech leaves but they were on a European beech (Fagus sylvatica purpurea) that is purple all year long. American beech leaves (Fagus grandifolia) turn bright, lemon yellow before going over to orangey brown. Beech is one of our most beautiful trees but insects and diseases are giving them a very hard time.

Usually I find purple maple leaves only after they’ve fallen, but here was one still on the tree. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this.

This is the road I drive to work every day, or one of them, anyway. It’s an old gravel road and there is some beautiful scenery along it. This shot was taken later in the day but I often see deer standing beside it in the early morning. It’s already too dark now to get photos on my drive in though.

When you get to see Half Moon Pond in Hancock every day you don’t need a calendar to tell you fall has arrived. That line of trees on the shoreline is what tells me.

Slowly, the trees on the rest of the hillside change and there is always a bright yellow one right in the top center. It has just started to change in this photo and I can see it because I’ve watched it for nearly seven years, so I know where it is. Otherwise I’m sure it must just blend in for most.

The clouds reflected in the pond caught me and held me there for a time one day and at times, if it wasn’t for the many standing stems, I might have thought I was looking at the sky. The word mesmerize means “To hold the attention of someone to the exclusion of all else, so as to transfix them.”  As I watched the clouds move over the surface of the water, I was all of that.

Bare branches and floating leaves tell me that the season is passing quickly for some maples.

The sweet softness of summer now has an edge; an urgency to put up food and stack wood and prepare for the coming winter, and that urgency is punctuated by the loud honking of the Canada geese that gather here on the pond, sometimes in large numbers. Some were born here and I once knew them as tiny balls of fluff, but most are probably strangers, come to rest and fuel up for their journey to the agricultural fields in the south. For now there is stiil food to be found here, and on most mornings their soft gray silhouettes can be seen pecking at the grass through the heavy ground fog in the meadow that I mow.

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) grows on the shores of the pond and this year they are heavy with seed pods and their leaves have gone purple, which is something I can’t remember having seen before.

Green and yellow lake sedge, orangey cinnamon ferns, and the startling blue of black raspberry canes can all be found on the shores of the pond.

The sun shining through the leaves of a Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) was a beautiful moment in a forest filled with them. Tendrils of Virginia creeper first exude a sticky substance before expanding into a disc shaped pad that essentially glues itself to the object that the vine wants to climb.  Once the adhesive discs at the tendril ends are stuck in place the tendrils coil themselves tightly to hold the vine in place. Charles Darwin discovered that each adhesive pad can support two pounds. Just imagine how much weight a mature vine with many thousands of these sticky pads could support. It’s no wonder that Virginia creeper can pull the siding off a house. Still, my mother loved it enough to plant it on the house I grew up in and the beautiful vine has always been part of my earliest memories.

Many poison ivy plants (Toxicodendron radicans) will turn yellow in the fall but this one was beautifully red.

Royal ferns (Osmunda regalis) turn yellow in the fall, but they’re a good indication of damp ground at any time of year. They’re a pretty fern but I’ve found that many people don’t know that they are ferns.

There is a swamp with beavers in it near where I work and the trees are always beautiful there in the fall. These are bold beavers; that’s a lodge right there off the road. Maybe they built there because of the view.

Here is the other half of the beaver swamp. In the summer when the forest is a wall of green you don’t notice how the trees lean into the sunshine, but when they change color in the fall it becomes more apparent. I’ve had people tell me I should correct the lens distortion that makes the trees look like they’re leaning in my photos but no; trees and all other plants will lean toward a light source. Just plant a bean seed and put it on a sunny windowsill, and watch.

We have an ornamental grass where I work that catches the light beautifully at this time of year. I believe it’s in the miscanthus family of grasses, which are native to Asia but have been grown in Europe and North America for well over a hundred years. In its native lands its blooms are considered a sign of autumn, and that’s when it blooms here as well. It is used as cattle feed and to thatch roofs, and its fibers can be made into paper.

I drive by this red maple tree on the way to work each morning and every year at this time I watch as it slowly changes from green to a brilliant red. It’s a beautiful thing that grows along the roadside. Many thousands of other trees also grow along the roadside, but few of them do what this one does. It was really still too dark for photos but I tried with my phone and it worked.

Eos, goddess of the dawn, reminds us that foliage isn’t he only colorful thing to watch for. According to the ancient Greeks each morning from the edge of Oceanus she uses her rosy fingers to open the gates of heaven and release the sun, which shines its beautiful life-giving light over all life, in equal measure.

There is a serene and settled majesty to woodland scenery that enters into the soul and delights and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations. ~Washington Irving.

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Some of you who came here expecting to find flowers might be a little disappointed but I’ve been taking a lot of fall foliage photos and I need to put them in a blog post, otherwise I’ll still be showing them in December and everyone will be confused. On this day I wanted to take just a short walk by the Ashuelot River to see if the cinnamon ferns had changed into their beautiful fall pumpkin orange color yet, but everything was so beautiful, what started as a short walk turned into a complete blog post. Sometimes it seems as if nature just throws itself at you and this was one of those days.

Not only was the forest beautiful, the weather was as well. So far we’ve had a very warm October and that has meant that the leaves are changing later than they usually do, so this might be an extended fall foliage year.

I saw a few orange cinnamon ferns but most hadn’t turned yet, which is unusual.

Turtles were even out, still soaking up as much of the weakened autumn sunshine as they could. These were painted turtles, I think. It’s unusual to see them in October.

Other creatures were active as well. Do you see the great blue heron walking along the far shore? It’s over on the far left, just by the last tree on the left side.

The big bird was hungry and on the move. Here it approaches a fallen tree from the left. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to watch the heron or the trees so I stopped to get shots of both.

But then it saw me and froze. I thought it would stay that way but it continued on, very slowly.

I hoped it would see a fish or a frog but it didn’t catch a thing while I was there. I know there are still frogs to catch because I scared a few into the water while getting these photos.

I’ve watched enough blue herons stalking food to know that this wouldn’t be over soon, so I moved on.

When I left it was watching what I was doing rather than looking for food.

I had leaves to see, so I left the bird alone. I didn’t come here looking for colorful foliage but since the trees surprised me by being so beautiful already, I stayed. My color finding software even sees salmon pink in this view.

They were beautiful no matter if you looked forward or back.

I liked this view but it might have been better if if duckweed hadn’t covered the blue of the water.

It was hard to watch where I was going instead of looking up.

The branches on the old sunken tree still looked more like the ribs of a a sunken ship.

The way these polypores were spaced on this tree made me think of squirrel steps.

The forest glowed and beckoned, so I had to go and see. I love walking into scenes like this that have such soft, beautiful light.

I found a fine old American hornbeam, also known as iron wood or muscle wood (Carpinus caroliniana.) The latter name comes from the way it looks like tendons are rippling under its bark. It is common along our rivers but seeing one this big is not common because these trees don’t seem to live long. Low down on its trunk I can see a good example of a maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora) in this shot that I didn’t see in person. It’s that light grayish spot. The tree also had lots of spidery Frullania liverworts on it. They are the darker blotches. They like places where the humidity is high, like here along the river.

New England asters bloomed here and there but they won’t last too much longer.

Many asters looked more like these.

Well there wasn’t peak color here yet, but when leaves start turning they can do it quickly and most of these have started. Sometimes in just a day or two a tree, especially a red maple, can change from green to red or orange so you’ve got to be on your toes if you want to catch them at thier most colorful. I hope you have plenty of color where you live, if not from leaves then maybe flowers. I’m still seeing flowers here so there should be at least one more flower post soon.

The fallen leaves in the forest seemed to make even the ground glow and burn with light. ~Malcolm Lowry

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Two Sundays ago I decided to visit the High Blue Trail up in Walpole. It’s an easy climb with plenty to see and it was a beautiful fall day. Once I hit the trail I wished I had dressed a little more sensibly though. I had worn a short-sleeved summer shirt so I did a little shivering at the outset.

Hobblebush leaves (Viburnum lantanoides) were already changing into their beautiful, deep maroon fall color.

Hobblebush berries go from green to bright shiny red, and then to deep, purple black. You can see a single ripe berry here. The berries are said to taste like spicy raisins or dates and are eaten by cardinals, turkeys, cedar waxwings and even pileated woodpeckers. Bears, foxes, skunks and squirrels are among the animals that eat them. They go fast; I rarely find them fully ripe.

A New England Aster grew in a low spot so wet I couldn’t get to it, so I had to take a long shot. One thing I’ve learned this year is that New England asters like wet places.

Blue wood asters bloomed in sunnier (and drier) spots all along the trail.

Sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis) got that name from colonials who noticed that they turned white at the slightest hint of frost. We haven’t had a frost but it is definitely cooling off, and this fern showed it.

Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) also turn white early. Lady and sensitive ferns make up a large part of the growth found on the floors of many of our forests, so it won’t be long before they seem a little barren. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Once the leaves fall off the trees and shrubs you can see the bones of the forest; the hardscape of stony ridges, glacial erratics, fallen logs and patches of beautiful green mosses bigger than you ever thought they could get.

Speaking of beautiful green moss, here was a quartz stone covered in delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum.) This is a color changing moss and in cold weather it turns bright, lime green. Color blindness usually means that I see it as bright orange but on this day, it was still green to these eyes.

This sign marks the trail to the overlook. So far, we’ve been following an old logging road.

There is magic in a forest and I know it has found me when these blog posts write themselves right there on the trail. I feel as if I’m on autopilot when it happens; all I have to do is take photos and then come home and type the words that have written themselves in my mind.

The corn in the cornfield was short and stunted looking, which was surprising considering all the rain we’ve had. You shouldn’t be able to see over the top of a cornfield like I could here; corn usually towers far over my head but these stalks might have been 5-6 feet tall. Each stalk had ears on it though, so it will help feed the cows this winter.

If there’s any of it left, that is. I saw signs of animals feeding on it.

White crested coral fungus (Clavulina cristata) grew just off the trail. This fungus is not as common as the yellow spindle corals that I see so often. As I was looking this up, I saw sea corals that looked identical to this example. It’s amazing how nature seems to use the same shapes again and again.

What I think might be a goat cheese webcap mushroom (Cortinarius camphoratus) grew just off the trail. Though it’s hard to see in this photo the cap surface has matted fibers on it, and that’s one of the identifiers, as are the lilac color and rather large size. Unfortunately I didn’t smell it, because that would have been the clincher. This mushroom is said to have a powerful odor of “old goat cheese or sweaty feet.” Some also think it smells like camphor, so maybe I should be glad I didn’t smell it. It’s a pretty thing though, and is a fall / late summer mushroom found usually in coniferous forests.

Years ago a hunter put small reflectors on the trees along the trail and they’re still there. I know there are bears up here and I’m fairly sure there must be lots of deer as well, because there are game trails here and there. I followed one once and discovered a lot of cornstalks that had been taken into the woods.

Running club moss (Lycopodium clavatum) grows near the summit. The name comes from the way it sends out long, horizontal stems. All along the horizontal stem erect stems form at intervals and roots form where it touches the ground. All of this happens under the fallen leaves so it can be difficult sometimes to tell this club moss from others. I can’t say that these plants are rare here, but I don’t see them too often. It is also called stag’s horn clubmoss because of its shape.

Wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) grew on a log. This slime mold starts out as tiny pink globules (aethalia) but as they age they become darker, like those seen on the lower part of the log. Once they darken the globules look more like small puffballs, so it is easy to be fooled.

If you pop a young one (and they do pop) an orange-pink liquid drips out. As they age this liquid takes on a toothpaste consistency before finally becoming a mass of dark colored, dust like spores. If you see one with liquid like that shown here oozing out of it, you’ll know they aren’t very old. Another name is toothpaste slime mold.

I reached what is left of the old stone foundation. It and the stone walls that snake through these woods are reminders of the days when these hillsides were pastures, and not forests. I don’t know who lived up here but I do know that they were hardy souls. I came here one winter and followed snowmobile tracks as far as I could before running into waist deep snowdrifts that stopped me cold. Up here, living with that kind of snow, miles from anywhere, you would have to be hardy indeed. But it wasn’t just the snow; there were bears and wolves as well, and you don’t run very well with snow shoes on. I just read that the last known wolf in the region was taken in the winter of 1819-1820.

Since there is a small pond here on the summit the people would have had water and food as well if they farmed this land. With food, water and plenty of wood for a fire they most likely just waited out the weather until spring. What long, dark and cold winters they must have seen.

At 1588 feet you aren’t exactly on top of the world but you are on the summit of the highest hill in Walpole New Hampshire.

And as always, the view was very blue. But hazy too.

This view is hazy most of the time when I come here but I could make out Stratton Mountain, off across the Connecticut River valley in Vermont. I don’t how far it is as the crow flies but it’s about 50 miles from here to the mountain if you’re driving.

I’m sure the sharp eyed among you saw signs of fall all through this post, like ripe corn, fall mushrooms, and ghostly ferns. This Indian cucumber root is another sign; it has lost all its green but hasn’t lost that beautiful crimson splash on its top tier of leaves. It’s a beautiful color but the trees are putting on their beautiful fall colors too now, so it won’t be long before you see some very colorful foliage.

The summer sun is fading as the year grows old. ~The Moody Blues

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Temperatures are cooling quickly now, with overnight lows sometimes in the 40s F and daytime highs in the 60s and 70s. If you go out in the morning before the sun does its work at this time of year you find that bees are very sluggish. Sometimes you can even find them sleeping in flowers. That makes bee photography much easier and it was simple to capture this bee on a knapweed blossom.

The sun was coming up behind these New England asters early one morning, but the light reflected off the clouds and lit them up so the center of each one was lighter than the surrounding rays. They were very beautiful and I stayed with them until the light changed.

I saw a three-foot-tall alfalfa plant (Medicago sativa) growing by itself on the side of a road, so I had to stop and see its beautiful flowers. Alfalfa is an important crop used around the world for hay and silage. I’ve read that it needs a well-prepared seedbed so I’m not sure how it got there by the side of the road.

Alfalfa is a legume in the pea /bean family and you can see that as soon as you look closely at the flowers. They’re quite pretty.

Yellow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum) has seen the writing on the wall and knows its days are numbered, but I still see them here and there gently swaying in the breeze. The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval leaves at the base of the stem often turns deep purple in winter.

Beech drops (Epifagus americana) are strange plants which grow near beech trees. They are parasitic plants that fasten onto the roots of the beech tree using root like structures. They take all of their nutrients from the tree so they don’t need leaves, chlorophyll or sunlight. Beech drops are annuals that die off in cold weather, but they can often be found growing in the same place each year.

This year the plants had odd shaped flowers that looked to be fully open. Normally they look to be about half opened and point to the side, but this year they were cup like and pointed straight at the sky as if trying to catch the rain.

Some of the flowers were full of I don’t know what. Were they insect larva, crawling up the stem or were they parts of the plant, splashed out of the flower by the rain? I haven’t been able to find the answer online so if you know I’d love to hear from you.

NOTE: A helpful reader with a good library believes that the tiny white object seen here are indeed seeds, being splashed out of the splash cups by raindrops. Something rarely seen!

This is what beech drop flowers have always looked like every time I’ve seen them. Until now.

You might be thinking Oh no-not more jewelweed, but this photo of a jewelweed blossom from last August is just here to illustrate another fascinating fact about this plant.

This is a jewelweed seedpod, for those who have never seen one. When ripe at the slightest touch they will curl up and shoot the seeds in all directions with considerable force. This is where the name “touch me not” comes from. If however, you hold one in your closed hand and let it curl and explode, you’ll be able to catch the seeds. Why would you want to do that? Just read on.

Because this is what the seeds look like. A helpful reader wrote in to say that I should have a look because they were a beautiful robin’s egg blue. After 4 or 5 tries and finding immature seeds, there it was, and it was indeed a beautiful robin’s egg blue. You just have to rub the outer coating from the seed to find it. Nature is just awesome, and so are all of you who visit this blog. Thank you for enlightening us, Ann!

It’s time to say goodbye to crown vetch (Securigera varia) I think. I found a few plants blooming on a roadside and though this one will never win a prize in a flower show, it was the best of the lot. This is another member of the legume family and its bicolor flowers are very pretty, I’ve always thought.

False sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) is still blooming strongly. This native plant can sometimes reach 5 feet, and is decorated with pretty yellow, daisy like flowers. I often find it growing along the river as this one was. It also does well in gardens.

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) is a funny little plant with maple syrup scented flowers that never seem to fully open. The plant’s common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. An odd name for it is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. They apparently decided to try smoking it too because it was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people. It is said to be useful in treating asthma.

Here is a sweet everlasting flower that has opened but when they do this, they’re very dry and it seems as if they have gone or are going to seed. This stage is the end of the changes in appearance for them from what I’ve seen, and if you cut them and put them dry in a vase they’ll stay this way for a very long time.

I still see an occasional black eyed Susan blossom (Rudbeckia hirta) and I’m never surprised, because they’ll go right up until a freeze. Our first frost date is now about two weeks later than average so it could happen any time.

Bees are still happy that they’re open for business.

And then there is this; a “man-made” rudbeckia called Rudbeckia Henry Eilers (Rudbeckia subtomentosa.) It is said to “look like an asterisk” and to be a “standout among black eyed Susans” in nursery catalogs, and I would guess that both of those statements are true. It’s not really my cup of tea but I’m sure a lot of people must grow it. I find it in a tiny local garden along with many other unusual plants that I haven’t ever seen before.

I got there just a bit too late to see the Japanese anemones at their most beautiful but this one was still pretty, just the same. These have been planted in the gardens of a local park so I’ll have to remember to visit them next summer.

I’ve seen dandelions blooming in every month of the year, and I’m hoping to see them in December, January and February of this year.

This roadside view looks quite different now but when it was at its peak like it is here, I took so many photos I hate to let them go without showing them. Being there and walking among such beautiful flowers was like walking into an impressionist painting.

Every bird, every tree, every flower reminds me what a blessing and privilege it is just to be alive. ~Marty Rubin

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I didn’t have a bird in the hand last month, but I did have two in a bush. When I stopped at a local convenience store up they popped out of this overgrown yew. Since I had my camera with me, I took this shot through the windshield.

I think they were juvenile house sparrows, which are not native to the US. They like to nest in or near buildings. Adults have dark bills and juveniles have a more honey colored bill. As I watched another bird flew into the bush lower down on the left and the birds sitting on top disappeared quickly, as if they had taken a down elevator. I’m guessing it was a parent, come home to feed them. If I have misidentified these birds, I hope someone will let me know. I’m not good with birds. (Or colors of birds.)

I didn’t have to look this bird up. Just before I took this shot, I was lucky to see this great blue heron actually moving. As I watched it preened itself for maybe 5 minutes, and I have many shots of what look like a headless heron. This shot was taken just as it decided to rest after its grooming session, and I thought I’d might as well move on because I could tell it was going to be in statue mode for a while. But at least I got to see it actually moving; most blue herons I see act like they’re made of painted bronze. I shouldn’t complain though, because they’ve taught me a lot about being more patient.

I saw this well decorated little insect crawling up a plant stem one day and I was able to get a good side shot, but every time I turned the stem to see its back it would turn too, so I had quite a time getting the next shot.

I’ll probably always remember this one as the frustrating bug, or maybe the highly intelligent bug, but its real name is the green stink bug. Actually it is a stink bug nymph and as it grows it will lose its pretty decoration and become rather plain looking.

I went into the woods to look at a mushroom and instead found many thousands of red ants, both winged and wingless, crawling on the forest floor. I learned later that these were red harvester ants doing something they have done for millions of years: looking for a mate. I was seeing a swarm, and a swarm happens when several ant colonies leave their colonies and come together to mate. There were winged males and females here, along with wingless workers. After mating, the mated females shed their wings and find new nesting sites. Swarms like this one happen in warm weather, after a rain and in the afternoon on a day in August through September, and those were exactly the conditions when I found them. It all takes place in one day and that’s it until the following year. I’ve read that they do something called “hill topping” which simply means finding the highest spot within the swarm, and I’m guessing that was why they were climbing this pile of stones. They do it for the same reason we would; so they can see better and more easily find a mate. It was an amazing thing to watch.

I saw a red backed salamander at the base of a maple tree. The red stripe is there to scare off predators and I’ve read that the stripe can get redder when it perceives a threat and freezes in place  That’s just what happened when I started taking photos with my phone; it froze.

I waited a bit and the salamander relaxed and started climbing the tree. These small amphibians don’t have lungs so they take what gasses they need through their skin, but to do so they can’t let their skin dry out. To keep it moist they hide under tree bark, rocks, logs, anywhere they can stay out of the sun.

As I continued watching the salamander it crawled through a hole that I hadn’t seen and into the tree. I suppose the inside of a tree would be moist enough. It wasn’t until I started reading about this creature that I realized I had been lucky to see one. The day was warm and humid with occasional rain showers, and those are about the only conditions this little creature will wander around in during the daytime.

I’m still seeing monarch butterflies I’m happy to say, but this one ran into trouble somewhere along the line and damaged its wing. I’d guess that a bird got a hold of it. It seemed to still fly just fine though.

Last year a coworker and I had to pull a beaver dam apart and this year, here we were again almost in the exact same spot, pulling another dam apart. After two hours of tugging on miscellaneous tools and a rope tied to a grappling hook, we had it apart and the water flowing. This had to be done so the stream wouldn’t back up and flood roads.

I have to say that these beavers have it made; imagine living in this Eden. It was so beautiful and serene. To be able to walk out of my door and see this every morning would be sheer bliss.

A prophesying bracken fern foretold the future. Or at least the near future.

It had rained the night before and the strong morning sunshine turned the moisture left on this pine tree’s bark into steam. It made me wonder just how warm it must get inside a tree.

In 1906 in this spot trees, chiefly Scot pine and Norway spruce, were grown from seed to be used in reforestation projects. The spruce trees have done well but the Scot pines have not; neither the soil nor climate is right for them. Many of the spruce trees are still here and, as the above photo shows, are tall but have no real girth because they were meant to be transplanted into other areas, not allowed to reach full size. They are far too close together and cast such deep shade that nothing but a few mosses and fungi will grow beneath them. It is a stark, sterile place but it still has its own beauty.

This forest is far more natural. Or as natural as a second or third growth forest can be, anyway. Enough light reaches the forest floor to allow the growth of many species of plants, shrubs and ferns. It is much more natural than what we saw in the previous photo. It is also much easier to walk through than it appears here.

With all the rain I’ve been talking about this summer I’d guess that this photo of the Ashuelot River doesn’t surprise anyone. It rose higher up the bank in this spot than I’ve ever seen. On this day the water level had dropped but it was still making some impressive waves.

I thought I could see an owl coming up out of the water at one point.

This was my favorite wave shot of the day. I should say that the colors in these photos haven’t been changed in any way, and I say that because they’re so amazing they might seem unbelievable. This river has taught me much, and I know if I come here at a certain time of day when the sun is shining and the river is at the right level, it will be at its most beautiful. The sun is slightly behind and to the left of where I stand, and when a wave comes up and crests the sunlight shines through it and exposes all of the colors it contains. It is very beautiful and also mesmerizing to watch as each wave grows and changes its colors.

From the roar of the river to the quiet of the forest. This oak tree burl reminded me of Vincent van Gogh’s painting Starry Night. Burl is an abnormal growth on a tree which grows faster than the surrounding tissue, and all the little circular grain swirls in this one signify branches that tried to grow out of it. It would have looked like a witch’s broom. Burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage. Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and/or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers prize burls very highly and make some beautiful bowls and other things from them, which can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars.

After so many years of looking at trees you would think that I would have seen the beautiful golden color of the inner bark of a gray birch (Betula populifolia) before but I guess not, because I was stopped cold when I saw this. Gray birch is a short-lived species, often found in waste areas or other disturbed places. It is a colonizer; often the first tree to grow after a burn. This is also the birch tree that is often seen with hundreds of birch polypores along its length. I see as much of it on the ground as I do standing but I’ve never seen it like this before.

Hawthorn (Crataegus) fruit is ripe but so far the birds haven’t touched them. The fruit is high in pectin, so they are often added to other fruits when making jelly. Nobody seems to know how many species of hawthorn there are, but some say that it could be a thousand or more. Native Americans used the often-tasteless fruit in ointments and other medicines. The haws, botanically speaking, are pomes, like apples and pears.  One odd fact about hawthorns is how their young leaves and flower buds are edible and can be used in salads. Hawthorns are also important when used medicinally. Hawthorn has been used to treat heart disease since the 1st century and the leaves and flowers are still used for that purpose today. There are antioxidant flavonoids in the plant that may help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow, and protect blood vessels from damage.

Kousa dogwood fruit looks a little different but it’s the edible part of a Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa.) This dogwood is on the small side and is native to Asia. I don’t see it too often. It is also called Japanese or Korean Dogwood. Kousa Dogwood fruit is made up of 20-40 fleshy carpels. In botany one definition of a carpel is a dry fruit that splits open, into seed-bearing sections. Kousa dogwood fruits are said by some to taste like papaya. 

The toxic berries of the native snowberry shrub (Symphoricarpos albus) persist through winter, as the common name implies. This is an old-fashioned shrub in the honeysuckle family that has been grown in gardens for hundreds of years. As a general rule of thumb, it isn’t a good idea to eat white fruit. Poison ivy and poison sumac berries are also white.

White ash (Fraxinus americana) and green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) leaves are among the earliest to turn in the fall, usually becoming brilliant yellow and sometimes, the beautiful deep purple seen here in this fallen leaf.

The burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the river have started to change into their amazing colors. Before the leaves fall they’ll change from deep magenta to soft pink, and then finally nearly white. To see drifts of hundreds of them, all the same color, is an amazing thing, invasive or not.

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is another plant that goes through many color changes in the fall and I always look forward to seeing what colors I’ll see this year. These were a kind of plum color.

This one was more lavender. This native shrub has a lot going for it and I wish more people new about it. It’s easy to maintain, has great fall color, and attracts birds with its dark purple fruit.

Well congratulations; you’ve made it to the end, but the end is really the beginning as you can see by this beech tree. The beginning of fall that is. Beech trees seem to be turning a little early this year but that doesn’t matter because they’ll be beautiful no matter when they change. Any time now the population of New Hampshire will increase by an expected 3 million souls, all come to see the beauty of the season. If the past few years are any indication they’ll be stunned, right along with the locals. It’s the kind of beauty that takes your breath away, and I hope that you too can experience similar beauty wherever you are.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienne

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Each year summer goes out with a bang here in this corner of New Hampshire, and this is how some of our roadsides look now; full of several kinds of asters and goldenrods. Welcome to fall.

There were lots of what I believe were purple-stemmed asters (Symphyotrichum puniceum) along that road. They like damp places and branch at the tops of their stems. The stems are often very dark purple as can be seen in this photo, and that’s where the common name comes from.

This is also one of the best places I know of to find my favorite aster, the deep purple New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae.) It’s a hard one to find in this region for some reason, but it loves this small hillside.

I went from the roadside to brookside at Beaver Brook. There is a flower growing here that doesn’t grow anywhere else that I’ve been.

Blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) appears early in summer but waits until September to bloom. Its stems grow vertically until the flowers begin to open and then fall over into a more horizontal position, as if to show off the yellow blooms that grow in tufts all along the stem.

The stems of blue stemmed goldenrod get their blue color from the same natural wax coating that is found on grapes, plums, blueberries and other plants. The coating is called a “bloom” and plants use it as a form of protection against moisture loss. It’s made up of tiny powdery, whitish crystals which reflect and scatter light in ways that can make the surface that they cover appear very blue. The wax crystals can be washed off by rain or melted by the sun, so many stems will be green before the plant blooms. This plant tolerates shade and seems to prefer places where it will only get two or three hours of sunlight. It isn’t considered rare but I’ve only seen it here.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) also blooms at Beaver Brook. This plant gets its common name from the Native American belief that it could cure rattlesnake bites. The small, drooping white, lily like blossoms bloom at the top of stems that might reach 5 feet. They move in the slightest breeze and are quite hard to get a good shot of. I like the forked stamens that are often as long as the flower petals.

Northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) has opposite leaves that turn 90 degrees to the previous pair as they make their way up the square stem. The leaves are sessile, meaning they sit directly on the stem with no leaf stem (petiole,) or they can occasionally have a short petiole as these did. Tufts of very small white flowers grow around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant likes wet places and, since there are many different species of Lycopus, it can be hard to identify.

The tiny flowers of northern bugleweed are about 1/8 inch long and tubular with 4 lobes, a light green calyx with 5 teeth, 2 purple tipped stamens, and a pistil. They are also very difficult to photograph because they’re so small. The plant is usually about knee high when I find it along the edges of ponds and streams. They often fall over and grow at an angle if there aren’t any other plants nearby to support them.

This is what bugle weed’s seed pods look like when they’re forming. When ripe they will be brown and have clusters of four nutlets formed the shape of a square. Each nutlet will hold a single seed.

I was surprised to find a violet blooming at the edge of the woods. This is a flower I’d expect to see blooming with tulips, not with asters.

This garden aster, which I once hoped was a fragrant aster, is very slow to come along this year…

…but the bees are getting what they can from it nonetheless.

It’s time to say goodbye to coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea,) from what I’ve seen. The petals that haven’t fallen taken on that papery, pastel look that means they’ll fall too, soon. You can also see how yellow their foliage is getting in this photo.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a sedum do what this one was doing. Usually the plants I see have much smaller flowers. I like its foamy, fuzzy look.

Red is a color that cameras don’t like but I was able to get a shot of this red phlox with my phone camera. Many cameras want to turn red into purple but that usually isn’t a problem unless you see a lot of red flowers. I haven’t seen a red phlox in many years. I wish I had sniffed to see if it had a fragrance.

I thought this was another willowleaf angelonia (Angelonia salicariifolia) growing in a local garden but it doesn’t have the right leaf shape, so now I’m not sure what it is. It grew in a pot and stood maybe a foot tall. The flowers were very pretty and looked just like those I saw recently on a willowleaf angelonia, I thought.

When I posted a shot of a rudbeckia that I found in a local garden a while ago a reader thought it might be a gallardia instead. In my reply I said that I had grown gallardia for a client probably forty years ago and had found them to be a disappointment, but then I got thinking that my opinion wasn’t a fair one and maybe I should see what galardia are like these days. Maybe, I thought, they have come a long way. Well, maybe not. I found these plants in another local garden and remembered why they had been so disappointing; they never seem to open. Every time I’ve seen them, they have looked like this, as if opening fully was just too much work. When I saw them, I remembered that being the chief complaint of the lady I was gardening for at the time. “Next time” she asked, “could we get flowers that open?” Before I wrote this, I looked online and saw beautiful flowers fully opened, so I wonder what am I missing?

NOTE: Helpful readers have told me that these plants are gazania rather than gaillardia. I believe that I tried both back in the day when I was a gardener and I don’t remember being too impressed by either one. But it could be that they’ve improved a lot in the past 30-40 years, so why not give them a try?

The yellow fall blooming azalea I find in a local public garden at about this time of year also blooms in spring, I discovered this past spring. I don’t know its name but it seems that an azalea that blooms in both spring and fall would be a valuable addition to any garden.

What Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) lacks in flower size it more than makess up for in root size. Its roots can spread 20 feet in a single season and pieces of broken root will produce new plants, and for that reason it is taken care of quickly by farmers. As thistles go its flowers are small; less than a half inch across, even though the plant itself can reach 5 feet tall. The leaves are very prickly. It is native to Europe and Asia and has nothing to do with Canada except as an invasive plant, so I’m not sure how it came by the name.

Years ago I bought a bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora,) which is a native shrub. It does well in the understory and prefers partial shade so I planted it between two trees to use as a screen to screen out the neighbor’s yard beyond. Ten yeas or so later that shrub probably hasn’t grown six inches taller than it was when I planted it. But it has gotten wider, and it does flower, as this photo shows. I suppose I should count my blessings, because there is one at the local college and it is huge. If mine got half that size, it would have to come out, so I should be happy. Its leaves turn a beautiful yellow in fall, so I’m looking forward to that. 

Bottlebrush buckeyes produce nuts, I found recently when I visited the one at the local college. It blooms two months earlier than mine and it has these nuts all over it. The nuts are called buckeyes because they are said to resemble the eye of a male deer. I don’t see the resemblance but I did find out that the plant is related to the horse chestnut and its nuts are poisonous if eaten, as are the leaves and bark. The seeds inside the husks contain high quantities of saponins, I’ve read. Saponins make a good soap substitute, so if soap is the next thing I can’t find at the local market I’ll be all set.

Here are more of those roadside flowers, for your viewing pleasure. I hope you have scenes just like this where you are.

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
The world of the flower, the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom:
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here
.
~ Zenkei Shibayama

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Last Saturday was supposed to be a gorgeous day according to the weather people so I headed out early for Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. In my opinion no other mountain can compare for foliage viewing, because this one has a 360 degree view. By the time I got there though, the parking area was filled so I had to park on the road. The view above is what I saw on the other side.

I always take a photo of the trail so you can at least get an idea of my surroundings but on this climb I had to fiddle faddle around while the people ahead of me turned the corner. But they didn’t turn the corner right away because they were taking photos-of all things, the bits of nature all around them that caught their eyes. I gave them a silent hooray and shot the side of the trail instead. Even then they still made it into the shot but oh well, now you know there were people there. A lot of people.

Lady ferns were turning white as they always do in fall. Besides sensitive fern it’s one of the earliest to do so.

Clubmosses were clubbing, just as they do every year at this time. Their spores form in spike-like structures called sporophylls, which are the yellowish green “clubs” seen here. A single clubmoss plant can take twenty years to grow from a spore, so I try to never harm them.

I turned to look at Mount Monadnock and saw the haze, present for weeks now, from the western wildfires. If you look at satellite imagery you can sometimes see a trail of smoke from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

I knew that the haze meant that It wouldn’t be a day for far off views but when the near views looked like this I had a hard time caring.

The farmer had baled all the hay, I’m guessing for the Scottish Highland cattle that live here. Do they live this high up in Scotland? I wondered. I’ve often thought they had the best view of anybody.

I moved aside to let people by and fell in a small hole off the side of the trail. I could have twisted my ankle if I hadn’t had good stout hiking boots on, and it reminded me how easy it is to get hurt on rough trails like this. Each year the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game goes on average 190 rescue missions, which costs the state about $308,952 per year. Because of this they have started charging the people who have had to be rescued due to their own negligence. An example of negligence would be climbing this trail without proper footwear and in the winter without proper winter clothing. I’ve been up here in January and it’s no joke.

I’ve seen people climbing this trail in flip flops believe it or not, and that’s their choice but if they get hurt and have to be carried from the mountain, they will be charged for the adventure. The elderly and children who get lost are not charged and neither are those who have a medical emergency, but being foolish in the woods here in New Hampshire could cost you a few hundred dollars.

I won’t tell you how many times I have tried and failed at this photo but today the light was just right and I finally got it. What is it? It shows what black knot disease can do to a cherry tree. Black knot 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.

This photo I took previously shows what black know looks like on a young tree. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots which will eventually become serious wounds like that seen in the previous 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.

The blackberries have taken on their beautiful fall purple and bronze colors. You have to just stand for a moment or two admiring them because they’re so pretty.

There were lots of leaves still on the maples, even though many have fallen in the lowlands. It has most likely been warmer up here because cold air flows like a stream down mountainsides and pools in the valleys below. Since I live in a valley I tend to notice it more.

I saw a dead staghorn sumac and had to have a look at the bark, because the inner bark of the tree is often bright red as this example was. I’ve read that the powdered bark can be made into a good antiseptic salve that can be used to treat burns.

I was out of breath by the time I saw the fire tower from the old ranger cabin, so I decided to sit for a spell.

I was sitting on the porch and heard “Oh cool! What is that?” I stood up and saw 4 or 5 young boys, probably just into their teens. “It’s the ranger station,” I told them. “Does anyone live there? Can we go inside?” I answered no to both questions. “But you can stand on the porch,” I said as I moved along. Of course they raced down the trail and did just that. I remembered when I could race down trails. And up them.

The old mountain ash had not only been stripped of all its fruit by birds, the wind had taken all its leaves as well. Now it’s ready for its winter sleep.

There was that smoky, yellowy haze again and I thought of the poor people in the western part of the country. We had a terrible fire here once; in April of 1940, in the most destructive forest fire to ever strike this part of the state twenty seven thousand acres burned, including the fire tower and all of the trees and vegetation on the summit. Terrible it was, but it was nothing like what is happening on the west coast.

The colors at the summit were beautiful, especially the deep reds of the blueberries.

Speaking of blueberries, Josh Fecteau from the Josh’s Journal blog over there in the favorite links section asked me to take another look at what I identified as the native black highbush blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum.) The berries I looked at this time were in the center of this bush, which by its leaves I know is  the highbush blueberry bush (Vaccinium corymbosum.) The problem is, all of the various species of bushes grow in a tangled thicket so it can be difficult to know what you’ve got. 

Josh thought these might instead be the fruit of the Chokeberry (Aronia sp.) and I have to say that they don’t look quite right for a blueberry, so I think he’s correct. Personally I don’t get too excited about such things but I know Josh is a forager and such things are very important to foragers, so his intentions and motivations are good ones. Though I have been studying nature since I was a boy and have had some formal training in botany I still consider myself very much an amateur, because there is simply too much to know. I’ve met a few in life who thought they knew it all but so far in my experience none has, and that includes me. I do make mistakes and people should always verify any plant identification they find on this blog if they intend to use that plant in any way.

The sun was coming directly at me when I tried for this shot of the meadows below.

I had to wait for a few people to move on before I could get a good view of what I call the near hill. It was beautiful; well worth waiting for. Just an endless, unbroken forest of color stretching off to the horizon.

A 4.8 million square mile forest of color.

If there was a triangle in the center of this marker it would be part of a triangulation point but since there isn’t it’s there for a surveyor to know where the point of his plumb bob should fall to be dead accurate. Right on that cross in the very center I’d guess, or maybe over the tiny hole I’ve never noticed before.

I don’t know this lichen’s name and I don’t really care. It’s beauty and the challenge of getting its photo was enough.

The overhead wire that I accidentally got in this shot is one of the cables that keeps the fire tower from blowing off the top of mountain.

And I’m not kidding. On this day it was extremely windy and there were a couple of gusts that almost blew me over. You’d have thought it was January.

Wind is to be expected up here, sometimes very strong winds, but on this day it didn’t really bother me because I was lost in the colors.

The ferns wanted attention and they had mine.

It had rained a bit during the past week but it was enough to top off what I call the bird bath, apparently. In fact I’ve never seen it go dry, and that’s a little amazing. I sat for a while hoping a bird would stop in to bathe or drink but none came. It didn’t matter; it was a glorious day with filled with sunshine and incredible beauty everywhere I looked, and I knew that I lacked not one single thing. You really can’t ask for more than that.

I saw a wooly bear caterpillar on the trail. Folklore says that the wider the orangey brown band on a wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. If we’re to believe it then this winter will be very mild indeed. Wooly bears don’t care much about winter though, because they produce their own antifreeze and can freeze solid. Once the temperature rises into the 40s F in spring they thaw out and begin feeding on dandelion and other early spring greens. Eventually they spin a cocoon and emerge as a beautiful tiger moth. From that point on it has only two weeks to live but I’d bet that it lives a rich, full and satisfying life.

The last time I was up here in August the backs of my legs were bothering me enough so I was a little apprehensive about the trip down but on this trip they felt fine. I didn’t fly down the trail to catch up with the people you see there ahead of me but I did okay.

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive. ~Eleanora Duse

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The highpoint of my fall foliage viewing comes at Willard Pond in Hancock. I usually visit the pond just before Halloween but this year the trees in lower elevations told me I might want to visit a little earlier. Beeches and oaks predominate here and they seemed to be changing earlier in the low places. If I was to go by the road to the pond I had made a good decision, and it was likely to be a very beautiful afternoon.

Willard Pond is a wildlife sanctuary under the protection of the New Hampshire Audubon Society and it is unusual because of the loons that nest here. There are also bears, moose and deer living here, as well as many bird species, including bald eagles. I’ve never seen a loon here but on this day I heard their haunting cries from clear across the pond. There are no motorboats allowed here so it’s always very quiet. All you hear is the wind and if you’re very lucky, a loon or two.

That’s where we’re going; along the shoreline at the base of that hill.

Here’s a closer look at the hill. The oaks and beeches looked to be in peak color.

I had a little friend join me on the trail. Chipmunks often follow along with people, hopping along from rock to log, chipping the whole way. If I was a hunter I wouldn’t like that because they alert all the other forest creatures that you’re coming. We have billions of acorns falling this year so these little guys won’t have to work quite as hard. Maybe that’s why he had time to follow along with me.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) in red and striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) in yellow made for a pretty scene along the trail.

Speaking of the trail; in most places along its length it is one person wide because the hillside comes right down to the water. It can be wet at times and is always very rough and rocky, so good hiking boots are a must. You can’t see it very well in this photo, but it’s there.

In places huge boulders seem ready to tumble down the hillside, but they have probably rested in the same spot since the last ice age. This one is easily as big as a one car garage. These huge stones are one reason the trail has to be so narrow; no machine I know of could ever move one. Sometimes you have to weave your way through them to move down the trail.

Last year I was a little late and many of the leaves had fallen but this year even the maples still had leaves and the forest couldn’t have been more beautiful. It’s the kind of place you wish you could spend a week in.

Boardwalks are well placed so your feet stay dry but this year it has been so dry not a trickle came down from the hillside.

The trail I follow is on one side of a U shaped bay so you can look across and see another hillside, just as beautiful as the one you’re on. I don’t know if there is a trail on that side but I’d like to find out one day.

There were kayakers on the pond but they were quiet for the most part. A place like this makes you want to speak in whispers, so I wasn’t surprised.

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) still bloomed along the pond edges, warmed by the water I would imagine.

Sometimes the trail leads you to just a few feet from the water’s edge.

Leaves were falling by the hundreds but the trees didn’t seem at all bare.

They certainly weren’t bare on the hill across the bay.

I took far too many photos while I was here but it’s hard to stop. Around every bend in the trail there is more of this.

This burnt looking area on a yellow birch was a chaga fungus (Inonotus obliquus) that has been here for years. This fungus has been used medicinally in Russia, China, Korea and Japan for centuries, and it is said to be packed with vitamins and minerals. Recently it has shown promise in cancer research, reducing the size of tumors. In Siberia it is said to be the secret to long life.

I saw some brightly colored turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) on a log. They were a little dry but pretty nonetheless.

A last look at the amazing colors found in this beautiful place.

The old wooden bench has seen better days but I sat here for quite  a while, listening to the breeze and the loons and the gentle lapping of the water. You can step outside of yourself here without even realizing it because you become totally immersed in the beauty of the place. I find that time often seems to stand still here, and what I think was an hour was often really two or three. That was the case on this day and I got back much later than I thought I would, but that was fine.  

Being in the forest can change everything and it can heal a lot of ills. I hope all of you will have a chance to experience the great joy and serenity found in places like this. 

Time doesn’t seem to pass here: it just is. ~J.R.R. Tolkien

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There is a rail trail in Swanzey that runs between the main road and the river and the trees along it often change into their fall colors slightly earlier than others, so last weekend I decided to go and see if fall had paid a visit yet.

It was a beautiful day, with full sunshine, temps in the 60s, and very low humidity. Asters in blue, purple and white lining the trail helped beautify the hike.

These blue ones were small; about the size of a regular aspirin, but beautiful.

I saw what I thought might be Jack O’ Lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus olearius) growing from a log. These mushrooms usually grow in large clumps and get their name from their bright orange color. They are toxic and unfortunately are sometimes confused with chanterelle mushrooms. Jack o’ lanterns probably won’t kill but they can put you in the hospital for a time so mushroom foragers would be wise to know them well. This mushroom is also bioluminescent, and the gills are said to glow with a faint blue-green light in the dark.

There are a few nice old box culverts out here but the railbed is about 50 feet above the streams that run under them so they’re hard to get photos of. To see this one I only had to scramble down a 10 foot embankment so it was relatively easy. It still works just as the railroad engineers designed it 150 years ago. There are massive amounts of soil over it but the thick granite slabs haven’t moved an inch. These are called box culverts because they have 4 sides like an open ended box.

There’s a good chance that the granite for the box culverts came from this ledge that the railbed was cut through. Railroad stone masons often used stone that was as close to the project being built as possible. They didn’t want to haul it very far.

Long, straight drill holes still show in the face of the ledge. This one was probably drilled with a steam drill. Once you had a hole you filled it with black powder, lit the fuse and ran as fast as you could go.

I was happy to see a lot of pink lady’s slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) with seed pods out here. I’ve got to remember to come back in June to see if I can find others blooming.

Lady’s slipper seeds are very small and each seed pod can contain as many as 20,000 seeds. The seeds have no stored starch for food so they have to rely on certain fungi in the soil to grow, and without the fungi the plant won’t make it. That’s why digging them up to plant in gardens never works; the symbiotic connection between orchid and fungus is lost. It can take 10-15 years for a lady’s slipper grown from seed to flower. Setting seed like this example has done weakens the plant enough so it probably won’t blossom again for a year or more, so each plant only sets seed about 5 times in its lifetime.

The most unusual thing I saw on this outing was a native turtlehead plant (Chelone) with bicolor blossoms in lavender and white. I’ve seen pink turtleheads and white turtleheads but I’ve never seen this one. I’m guessing that it must be a natural hybrid, created by the bees. It was pretty and I would be happy to have it growing in my own garden.

The turtlehead’s blossoms had just started to open.

Chanterelle wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe cantharellus) grew on a moss covered stump. These mushrooms are quite small; I don’t think I’ve ever seen one much bigger than a penny, so you have to look closely and carefully to find them. Every time I see them they are growing in groups either on a stump or a log. They’re fairly common at this time of year.

One of the people who live along the rail trail built a bridge over the drainage ditch so they could get to the trail. They’re lucky; I’d love to be able to reach a rail trail from my back yard.

This trail is popular with bike riders. I didn’t count how many passed me but it was quite a few. I was the only one walking.

I saw a lot of fallen trees out here too. The top of this big poplar was hanging by just a few branches onto a white pine it had fallen against. It didn’t look like it would take much of a breeze to bring it all the way down and I hope nobody is under it when it happens.

Even without much in the way of fall colors there was still plenty to see out here, like this maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora.) Lichens and mosses start calling to me at this time of year because once the leaves fall they become more visible. As the name implies the maple dust lichen grows on the bark of maples but I’ve also seen it on beech, oak, basswood and poplar, so don’t be afraid to look for this one on just about any tree. They can be large and easy to see at about 3/4 of an inch and the white fringe around their perimeter makes them easy to identify. They’re pretty little things that are worth searching for.

Before I knew it I was at the old trestle over the Ashuelot River, which was my turn around spot. The wooden deck and side rails have been added to many trestles by snowmobiler clubs for safety. The decks make these old trestles much easier to cross.

Trestles give you views of the river way out in the middle of nowhere that you’d most likely never see if the trestles weren’t there and that’s one of the things I like most about rail trails. I didn’t see much fall color on this side of the trestle, just some trees on the yellow side of green.

But on the other side of the trestle some trees were very yellow. Maples, I think. It’s odd how colors can vary so much in just a few yards.

On the way back there was another yellowish tree up ahead on the left but all in all I can’t say that fall has come to this section of trail just yet. Before too long though, there will be reds and oranges along with the yellows. I have to say that I’m in no hurry. I love to see the fall colors but I’m not too crazy about what follows. I hope you’ll have a gloriously colorful fall season wherever you may be.

Summer is leaving silently. Much like a traveler approaching the end of an amazing journey. ~Darnell Lamont Walker

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Each of the past two years, on the last weekend in October I’ve made the trip to see the fall foliage at Willard Pond in Antrim so, not wanting to break tradition, I visited the pond last Saturday. As this shot of the road to the pond shows, a lot of the leaves had already fallen, but the bare trees are maple trees and I was here to see the beeches and oaks.

I wasn’t disappointed. These beautiful beech trees greeted me as I pulled into the parking area.

Willard pond is a wildlife refuge so it wasn’t surprising to see a sign like this. I wish I could see the actual loons instead though.

I always walk by the actual trail head and go down to the boat landing because you get a good view of the hillsides from here. The trail I’ll follow will hug the shoreline in the distance over a large part of its length. I was hoping the pond would have a mirrored surface but it was breezy and you can’t have everything.

From here the trees didn’t have quite the same eye popping color that they’ve had in previous years and I wondered if the warm October weather had held them back a little.

The colors seemed a little more intense when the sun shined directly on the trees. They looked to be mostly beech, oak, and many bare maples. I’ve decided I’ll come here earlier next year to see the maples and then again later on to see the beeches and oaks. I’d love to see all the colors of those maples.

My favorite view of a forest is from the inside, so down the trail I went.

The beeches and oaks were absolutely beautiful. This is why I come here at this time of year, every year. I can’t think of another forest that is dominated by beech, oak, and maple like this one is. As is always the case when I come here I couldn’t stop taking photos of the trees.

There are hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) all along the trail and many had beautiful red leaves, which is something I’ve never seen on this native viburnum. Usually the leaves are splotchy maroon and green or yellow but never red that I’ve seen, not even here at the pond. This shrub has a good name because it grows long stems close to the ground that crisscross each other and get covered by fallen leaves, and if your feet get tangled in them they will hobble you and you could find yourself face down on the ground rather quickly. It has happened to me a couple of times so I don’t walk through them now. I always walk around them.

Another native shrub with a lot of red in it is the highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum.) Even the witch’s broom that grows on them is red when young. Witch’s broom is a deformity that is described as a “dense mass of shoots growing from a single point.” When witch’s broom grows on blueberries it is caused by a fungus called Pucciniastrum goeppertianum. This fungus spends part of its life cycle on balsam fir (Abies balsamea.) When it releases its spores and they land on the stems and leaves of the blueberry it becomes infected. It overwinters on blueberries and again releases its spores in the spring, and these will infect more balsam ferns and the cycle will begin again. I’ve worked with infected blueberry bushes and in my experience the witch’s broom doesn’t harm the plant.

But I wasn’t thinking about witch’s broom or fungal spores on the trail. I was admiring the beauty of the blueberry foliage, which in this case was orangey red. It can be anything from yellow to deep purple and is one of our most beautiful native shrubs for fall color.

There are many small streams flowing down the mountainside to the pond and they cross the trail, and that reminds me to tell you that you should wear good stout hiking boots when you come here. There are many stones, roots and other obstacles in the trail so this is not the place for sneakers or flip flops. I have waterproof boots, and they’re even better here.

When the streams are too wide to step across bridges help make the hike easier, but other than a bridge or two, blazed trees, and the marks of a saw on a tree that might have fallen across the trail, there are few signs of man here. It is for the most part natural and rugged. And very beautiful.

Several species of sphagnum moss grow along the trail, as if to remind you how very moist the soil is. These plants, approximately 380 species according to Wikipedia, can absorb 16-26 times their own dry weight in water. They are called peat mosses and are found in peat bogs, forests and tundra in both the north and south hemispheres. I see them everywhere but don’t usually say much about them because they can be very difficult to identify accurately. Because of its great absorbency peat moss was used as diaper material by Native Americans. It has also been used for centuries as a wound dressing, due to its natural ability to inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi. Peat bogs were also once used to preserve food, and 2,000 year old containers of things like butter and lard have been found in them.

Motor boats aren’t allowed on Willard Pond but these two kayakers made me wish I had brought my own kayak. How beautiful it must be to see these flaming hillsides from the water.

There are some huge boulders here and by huge I mean house size. They’re bigger than any I’ve seen anywhere else and it makes me wonder why. They’ve tumbled almost right down to the water and there are places where you have to squeeze through a two boulder pinch point. They’re fascinating things to look at because they have all kinds of things growing on them.

One thing you can find growing on the boulders is polypody ferns (Polypodium virginianum.) Polypody fern is also called the rock cap fern, for good reason. I’ve never seen them growing anywhere but on stones. They are evergreen and very tough, and can be found all winter long.

The spores of polypody ferns grow on the undersides of the leaves in tiny mounds called sori, which are made up of clusters of sporangia, which are the receptacles in which the spores are formed. The sori are naked and lack the protective cap (insidium) found on many ferns. The sori are often a beautiful orange color and look like tiny baskets of flowers but it looked as if these examples had already released their spores and were going by.

If this boulder isn’t called table rock it should be. It was big, and flat enough to build an average size garden shed on.

Fern roots reminded me of a porcupine’s tail. I think it might have been a sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) but I don’t see many of these so I’m not 100% sure.

There is a new thing, or maybe it’s a very old thing with a new name, called forest bathing. To practice it you go into a forest and walk slowly. You breathe in the forest air and open all of your senses and just be part of the forest. Once again I find that I’ve been doing something for my whole life without knowing it had a name, but practitioners say that forest bathing reduces blood pressure, improves mood, increases your ability to focus, and accelerates recovery from surgery. All of these benefits have been studied quite extensively, and there is even evidence that trees give off compounds that boost our immune system to help with things like fighting cancer. They also say that being in a forest gives you a deeper and clearer intuition, an increased energy level, and an overall increase in your sense of happiness. I’d have to agree. I’ve always believed that nature has very strong healing powers, and to reap its benefits you need do nothing more than just go and walk or sit in the woods.

This is the view from the little bench in the previous photo. It’s a beautiful place to sit and soak in the beauty. In general it is very quiet and serene at Willard Pond; much more so than the other ponds I visit. All you hear is birdsong and the lapping of the waves.

If you sit on the bench and turn around 180 degrees, this is what you see.  It’s hard to say which view is more beautiful. I like them both and I could sit and stare at either one for hours.

This place takes me out of myself more than any other that I visit regularly, and every time I’ve come here I’ve been shocked by how much time had passed. On this day I was here for a good part of the day, and it seemed like only an hour or two.  If you let yourself go and let yourself become immersed in your surroundings, that’s often what happens. It’s very refreshing, as if you’ve recharged your batteries.

I hope that everyone has their own special forest that they can easily get to. If you can, try to make regular visits to it. Don’t turn it into a job; just walk through and relax and enjoy the beauty of nature. After just a surprisingly short time I think you’ll notice that you’re becoming a different kind of person. Happier, more at ease, more energetic, and less stressed. You might notice that you are beginning to see with different eyes, and that your mind has quieted. One of the benefits I most enjoy from being in the forest is the seemingly endless supply of simple joy. I do hope you’ll find the same in your own forest.

It was in the forest that I found “the peace that passeth all understanding.”  ~Jane Goodall

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