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Posts Tagged ‘Fallen Trees’

I couldn’t remember the last time I was at Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene so last weekend I thought I’d take a walk up the old abandoned road to the falls that are at the end of it. As far as I can tell the old road was laid out in the 1700s and was abandoned in the early 1970s when a new highway was built-literally right across the existing road. Nature has been taking back what is hers ever since and the old road slowly gets narrower as the plants and trees grow in toward its middle where the sunlight is. It is kept open to the public as a nature trail and follows Beaver Brook, so named because of the beavers that once thrived here.

It was cold the night before and was still cold when I started out. Below freezing weather had created ice here and there on the brook, mostly in areas that don’t get much sun.

I like to come here because I can find things here that I don’t see anywhere else, like this smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens.) Actually I see this lichen just about everywhere I go but nowhere else are its fruiting bodies (apothecia) so blue. The blue color comes from the way the light falls on the waxy coating that covers the black outlined apothecia and often when the light is just right the stone they grow on appears golden, which makes for a very beautiful scene.  

Plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) Is another reason I come here. This is the only place I’ve ever seen it so when I want to see how it changes as it grows I have to come here. Today I discovered that it must be evergreen because we’ve had over a week of real cold weather, with nighttime temperatures sometimes in the single digits, and it was still as green as it is in May.

I like the crepe paper like leaves of this sedge. The prominent midrib, two lateral veins, maroon bases, and puckered look of the leaves are all used as identifying features for plantain leaved sedge. The leaves can be up to a foot long and an inch wide and I can’t think of another sedge that has leaves that look quite like these. I’ve read that it likes cool shady places where the humidity is relatively high. There is a stream just a few feet from where this one grows.

There are calm pools along Beaver Brook and this is one of them. It had a thin skim of ice along the stream banks but it still caught the forest in reflection.

Where the water splashed and dripped, icicles grew in long fingers.

In places the old guard posts and cables survive. These posts used to have to be hand painted black and white, one by one, all the way along this and every other road in the county. Of course it was a lot more open here then, when the forest wasn’t allowed to grow so close to the road.

The guard rails were a necessity on a narrow, two lane road. You didn’t want to drive into the brook because in places the embankment is quite steep. This is a view across the brook to the hillside beyond. There is a boulder fall there and when we get enough rain a stream runs down through and over it. On this day there was only ice.

The utility pole in the distance is broken off at the base and it leans precariously toward the brook. I think it will eventually fall into the brook if something isn’t done. It looks like it might be taking these two poles with it.

I’m not sure what these electric lines power but whoever receives their power from them must be frequently in the dark because every time I come here there are trees on the wires. In fact there are fallen trees all through here.

Here was a huge pine tree in the brook. It had fallen with its top pointing perfectly downstream. Whether or not it will dam up the brook is anyone’s guess but it looked to be about 100 years old and was big enough so I doubt the brook will be able to move it, even in flood.

Beech nuts and their husks littered the old road. There are lots of beech trees here and this seems to be a mast year, so the forest animals will eat well. Native Americans ate beech nuts raw but they contain toxins that can be removed by cooking, and they are said to taste better when roasted.  Early settlers pressed the nuts and used the oil for lamp oil and as a substitute for olive oil.

In this light it was easy to see how the golden birch (Betula alleghaniensis) came by its common name. There are many of them here right alongside the road and they make a beautiful contrast on winter afternoons when the snow is deep blue in the shadows. These trees like it cool and moist and are often found near streams and ponds. They can also stand a lot of shade so a cool, shaded forest is perfect for them. Golden birch is also called yellow birch, and Native Americans tapped this and other birch trees for their sap, which they boiled down into syrup. They also made a medicinal tea from the bark.

We have several vase shaped evergreen ferns and a few species grow here. This one was a little flat but it was still green.

The two rows of spore cases (sori) growing on the underside of the sub-leaflets and the large brown scales on the bases of its stalks told me this was the evergreen wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia.)

Black raspberry leaves (Rubus occidentalis) provided some late fall color.

There was ice on the ledges and it wasn’t a surprise.

The groundwater that created the ice in the previous photo is slowly bringing down the ledges, which are weakened and shattered after close to 300 years of freeze / thaw cycles. This big rockfall could have killed anyone standing under it so I don’t get too close to these ledges anymore. Most of the stone here is feldspar, which is why it appears white in the photo. Feldspar is a soft rock when compared to quartz or granite and it can be split with a sledge hammer. When you strike it with a hammer it has a very unusual smell.

Beaver Brook cascades over ledges into a small, shaded pool that was once a popular swimming hole. There seems to be a lot of conflicting information about how high the falls are; I’ve heard everything from 10 feet to 100 feet, but I’d guess that they are closer to 30 to 40 feet and maybe 50 if you include the part that isn’t visible in this photo. They’re big enough to make a roar that can be heard from a distance.

Up above the falls there is a small turn off; I guess you’d call it a rest area, where cars could have pulled off the main road. The guard posts seen in this photo would have stopped a car from tumbling into the falls, but just beyond the last one you could walk right off the edge and fall into them if you weren’t paying attention. That’s probably why I can’t remember my father ever stopping when he drove through here on our way to see relatives. I was what you might call a “handful” when I was a boy and he probably thought he’d have to fish me out of the brook if he let me out of the car. A few years back a teenage boy was fishing up here and fell in and was swept over the falls. He was lucky to come away with only some bruised ribs and a broken arm.

Right before the turnoff is a fairly good side view of the falls when the leaves have fallen. In fact I think just after the leaves fall is the best time to come here because you can see the falls from the old road, and that’s important if you happen to be a little too creaky to slide down the steep embankment to the brook. Soon it will be winter and the roar of Beaver Brook will most likely become a whisper under the ice for a while; some winters even the falls are muffled by the ice.

But for now you can still see the old no-passing lines in the road. I could do 5 posts on this place and still not show you all of the beauty found here, so if you live nearby I do hope you’ll pay it a visit. It isn’t far from the center of town, which makes it a perfect nature spot for anyone living in Keene.

It’s amazing how quickly nature consumes human places after we turn our backs on them. Life is a hungry thing. ~Scott Westerfeld

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Last weekend I decided to visit Yale forest in Swanzey, and I chose the part of the forest with the old paved road running through it. Yale University has owned this parcel of land since the 1930s and allows public use. The road was once called Dartmouth Road because that’s where it led, but the state abandoned it when the new Route 10 was built and it has been all but forgotten ever since.

There were a lot of leaves down so you couldn’t see the pavement that still exists here. Yale founded a school of forestry and environmental studies in 1900 and owns parcels of land all over New England. Alumni donated the land in some cases and in others the University bought or traded other land for it, and in time good sized pieces of forest were put together. This particular parcel is 1,930 acres in size. Since logging vehicles occasionally come through here the pavement is slowly being broken up and nature is taking it back.

Beech trees were beautiful along the old road but even they are starting to change.

Even so it was a beautiful time to walk through here.

Even deer tongue grass wore its fall colors. Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) gets its common name from the way its leaves resemble a deer’s tongue. It’s one of the earliest denizens of the forest floor to start showing its fall colors. Purples, yellows, oranges, and other colors can often be found in its leaves.

I also saw a beautifully colored puffball far beyond “puffing.” It had split wide open and was full of grayish spores. When raindrops hit these spores they are splashed out, and I’m guessing there will be a fine crop of puffballs here next year.

A lot of maple leaves had fallen but a few trees held on, and they were beautiful.

I saw a few maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora.) Plain and undressed without the fussiness of other lichens, it is beautiful in its simplicity. But how does it reproduce? I’ve never seen any reproductive structures of any kind on it so I had to look it up. The answer is that it does have apothecia, but very rarely. It also has “a thin patchy layer of soredia,” though I’ve never noticed it. The white fringe around the outside is called the prothallus and using it is a great way to identify this lichen, because from what I’ve read there isn’t another that has it.

Yale University did some logging in this part of the forest a few years ago so it’s thin in places but there are plenty of young tree coming along.

A large pile of logs was left behind from the logging. I’m not sure why.

One of the most noticeable things about this walk were all of the fallen trees. I must have seen at least a dozen of them, including this maple.

In two places huge old pine trees had fallen. We had strong winds just a while ago and it looked like these trees had been blown over. Trees like these are bad news when they fall across a trail because you can’t go over or under them due to all the branches.

The rootball on this fallen pine was taller than I was and it left quite a crater in the forest floor when it was torn up. There were many fallen trees right in this area and I was forced to go quite far into the forest to get around them.

I noticed a lot of pine bark beetle activity on the branches of these trees. Not only do the beetles transmit disease from tree to tree, if they chew one of their channels completely around a branch it will die from being girdled. These beetles are small and range in size from about 1/10 to 1/4 of an inch in length, but they can do a lot of damage when enough of them are in a forest. Dead branches mean no photosynthesizing which will weaken the tree and eventually it will die. For those who have never head the term; girdling of a branch or tree happens when the phloem and bark has been cut around its diameter in a complete circle. Native Americans and then early settlers used girdling to remove trees from fields and pastures and it is still used by some today.

Fungi of any type on a standing tree is a sign that something is wrong, and these branches had a lot of jelly fungi on them.

But in spite of the blowdowns the forest is recovering well from the logging. There are lots of new hardwood shoots coming along and they will make excellent browse for deer and moose.

When you’re close to where the old road meets the new Route 10 a stream cuts its way through the forest.

On this day I was once again able to step / hop across the stream but I’ve seen it when I couldn’t.

Once you’ve hopped the stream the road becomes a closed in trail. I could hear cars going by on the nearby highway.

Moments after crossing the stream you come to what was once a beaver pond on the left side of the road, but it was abandoned quite a while ago by the looks. This place is unusual because when the beavers were active there were ponds on both sides of the road, or one large pond with a road running through it. It seems kind of an odd place for them to have built in.

Beavers, from what I’ve read, will work an area in what averages thirty year cycles. The first stage is damming a stream and creating a pond. The flooding kills the trees that now stand in water and the beavers will eat these and the other trees that surround the pond. Eventually the pond fills with silt or the beavers move away and the dam fails. Once the land drains it will eventually revert back to forest with a stream running through it and the long cycle will repeat itself. Many other animals, birds, fish, amphibians, waterfowl and even we humans benefit from beaver ponds. I’ve seen mallards here in the past but there were none on this day.

Until this walk I knew of only one place to find field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) so I was shocked (and happy) to see them blooming here so late. On field milkwort flowers what look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green and I’ve noticed that the color can vary considerably from plant to plant. They were a perfect ending to a beautiful forest walk.

He who does not expect the unexpected will not find it, since it is trackless and unexplored. ~Heraclitus of Ephesus

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Years ago I tried to do a post on Chesterfield Gorge, which lies over in Neighboring Chesterfield New Hampshire ,but it was really too dark there for the light gathering capabilities of my camera and I gave up on the place. Until recently that is; a helpful reader wrote and told me that our terrible storms this summer had toppled some trees and let in much more light, so last Saturday I went to see for myself. There was indeed more light available and I was finally able to get some passable shots of the gorge.

Chesterfield Gorge was created by Wilde Brook and it is said that it has taken it many thousands of years to cut through the bedrock to where it is today. The cool, shaded gorge has been enjoyed by locals for hundreds of years and in 1936 a local farmer named George White bought the land to be sure it would be forever preserved. It eventually became a state park and now anyone can enjoy it at no cost. There were many people here on this day including lots of children, which always gladdens my heart.

In places you’re high above the canyon that the brook has made and in the most dangerous areas the state has put up fencing to keep people back from the edge. But people will be people and some are foolhardy enough to climb the fences just so they can “get a little closer.” Not me; no photo is worth that fall.

The last time I came here there was only one bridge across the gorge because the raging waters of the brook had washed the upper bridge away. Happily I found a new one in its place this time. Though Wilde Brook seems placid enough it can quickly turn into a monster, so I’d never come here right after the kind of storms we’ve had recently. Over a foot of rain has now fallen in some places in just 4 weeks.  The brook starts at small ponds upstream and flows down into Partridge Brook in Westmoreland.  The last time I visited Partridge Brook I found that it also had raged and had scoured its bed right down to bedrock in places. It had also completely altered the landscape and had caused some serious flooding.

One of the trees that fell was a very big and old golden birch. There are many of them in this forest.

Sawdust on the inside of the fallen birch points to carpenter ants. I’m guessing that it probably had woodpecker holes as well because they love carpenter ants. Note the hollowed out space where the tree’s heart wood should have been.

Dry rot in the heart of the fallen birch pointed to fungi, and there were plenty of different mushrooms growing all over the fallen logs. The fungi rot the wood, ants move in, and before long a 100 foot tall tree is completely hollow inside. Add 60+ MPH winds and a lot of them come down; hopefully not on houses.

Some of the older birch logs displayed this wavy pattern. I think it was in the inner bark but I’m not positive, and I don’t know why it would be on only parts of certain logs. It was beautiful, like it had been sculpted.

I saw a lot of tiger’s eye fungi (Coltricia perennis,) also called fairy stools.  This one shows how the velvety cap reflects the sun and makes it look shiny. These are very pretty little mushrooms that vary in size and color. This one was probably an inch across and might have stood an inch tall.

I also saw lots of yellow spindle coral fungi (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) growing along the trail. These fungi almost always grow in tight cluster like these examples but I did see a single “finger” here and there.

Many trees had fallen into or across the gorge. It didn’t look like there was any way to get them out or to even cut them up. What will most likely happen is the next flood will wash them away.

The lower bridge is smaller than the upper one. It’s apparently also less likely to wash away, though I’m not sure why it would be.

I was surprised to see how low the water was by the lower bridge, but even so in places it still ran with enough force to knock a person down.

Here was a small, dammed up pool that looked perfect to cool off in. I often find these shallow pools that have been made by someone damming up a stream or brook with stones they’ve found just lying around. It’s hard to tell how long they’ve been there but I do know that people in the 1800s weren’t so very different than we are today when it came to recreation.

I’ve had some breathing issues lately so I’ve avoided hill climbing in the hot, humid weather we’ve had, but I had forgotten what a hike it was all the way down there and then back up again. I had to stop and pretend I had seen something interesting a couple of times while I caught my breath but I did surprisingly well. If this Louisiana weather ever leaves us I’ll have to start climbing again.

I kept taking photos of the gorge, trying to show how deep it really is. The safety fence at the top of the photo is about 4 feet high, so that should give you a sense of how far the drop to the water would be. I wish I could have gotten a closer look at all the plants on that cliff face, but it wasn’t possible.

Here’s one of those interesting things I saw while I stopped and caught my breath. At some point someone had bent a piece of iron into an S shape and hammered it into the end of this post. It looked quite old but I can’t guess what it meant.

Near the post was what looked like an old well cover. That’s something you have to be careful of in these woods because the wooden covers have often been there for a very long time and are rotted. And they’re often covered by leaves, so you have to pay attention, especially when near old cellar holes.

I saw lots of tree roots on the trail. I think the recent heavy rains have washed a lot of soil away from them, and that weakens their holding power so when a strong wind blows, down they go.

Some of the tree roots looked as if they had been carved and polished by an artist; so beautiful you wish you could take them home. I can’t guess how many years and how many feet it would take to do this.

I’ve chosen this little mushroom as the prettiest thing I saw on this day, but not just then; I’m seeing them everywhere I go this year and that seems a little odd since I can’t remember ever seeing them before. I love its colors and its waviness. I think it’s called the smooth chanterelle (Cantharellus lutescens) but I couldn’t guarantee that. There are a few chanterelle mushrooms that look a lot alike.

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanates from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.  ~Robert Louis Stevenson

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