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Posts Tagged ‘Film on Water’

Anyone who has read this blog for very long knows I like to play on the banks of the Ashuelot River, which meanders through several local towns. Though when I was a boy it was terribly polluted, now people fish for trout along its banks and eagles can sometimes be seen flying over it. That’s why a few years ago I was disturbed when I saw an oily sheen on the water that filled my footprint on the shore. It looked much like the puddle I found on the shore in the photo above and I posted it on this blog, saying how I was hoping I’d never see such a thing on these riverbanks again. Then happily, thanks to several knowledgeable readers, I found out that this sheen might easily have come from natural sources. Iron rich ferrous hydroxide that occurs naturally in soil can cause the oil like sheen on water, as can bacteria which generate hydrocarbons in oxygen depleted soil. I was very happy to hear that because though I don’t want to see this river polluted, I do think that this film on the water is beautiful. Just look at those colors.

While I was at the river, I spotted trees that had grape vines loaded with grapes growing in them. Wild river grapes (Vitis riparia) like a lot of rain, and I know that because we’ve had a lot of rain and I’m seeing more grapes than I’ve ever seen before. The odd thing about it though, is how the birds don’t seem to be eating them. These grapes are a favorite of many birds and they are often gone even before I can get a photo of them, but on this day I didn’t see that a single one had been picked. That’s a little disturbing.

Also disturbing is how none of the Oriental bittersweet berries (Celastrus orbiculatus) have been eaten. They are another favorite of the birds and they disappear as quickly as the grapes, so why aren’t they? This vine is very invasive and can strangle trees to death so I don’t want it to spread, but I do wonder about the birds.

While I was there wandering along the river, I took a shot of the Thompson covered bridge, named after playwright Denmon Thompson, who was a native son, and built in 1832. The bridge design is known as “Town lattice,” patented by Connecticut architect Ithiel Town in the early 1800s. The open lattice work lets a lot of light into the bridge and this is unusual because many covered bridges are dark and cave like. In the 1800s being able to see daylight inside a covered bridge would have been the talk of the town. The Thompson Bridge is considered by many to be the most beautiful covered bridge in New England but the person who ran the wires must not have known that.

This bridge is known as the Cresson Bridge, also in Swanzey and also crossing the Ashuelot River. It was opened to traffic in 1859 and I wanted you to see it so you could get an idea of how dark it was inside these old covered bridges. The tiny square windows didn’t let in much light, and that’s why Town truss bridges like that in the previous photo were such an innovation, and why they were so welcomed by the traveling public. By the way, back in those day traveling was done by sleigh in winter, so snow had to be shoveled onto the plank floors of covered bridges so sleigh runners would have something to slide on. What a job that must have been.

I finally found a blue bead lily plant (Clintonia borealis) with a ripe berry on it and now you know why I call it “electric blue.” That might sound like the title of a Jimmy Hendrix song but it is a very unusual shade of blue, to these eyes at least. It seems to sparkle in the right light and it is a deer magnet. From seed to berry can take 14 years, with two of those years taken up by seed germination. This is not a fast-growing plant.

I went to see Baily Brook Falls up in Stoddard and was surprised to see how little water was actually falling. With all of the rain we’ve had I thought they would be roaring. I have a feeling that beavers are involved and if I walked upstream, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that they’ve dammed up the stream.

Since Bailey Brook Falls werent roaring I went to where I knew I’d hear the roar of water; the outflow dam at Swanzey Lake.

I’m always amazed by what I see when the leaves start falling. Here was a wasp nest as big as a soccer ball up in a maple tree, and I had been walking under it several times each day all summer long without seeing it. I’d bet its residents saw me though, and I’m glad they decided we could coexist. I was pruning a large rhododendron once that had a similar nest in the center of it. By the time I was able to stop running I had been stung on the back several times.

When the leaves fall from the trees the wind has greater force as it whistles through the bare branches and inevitably, small bird nests like these get blown out. I don’t know what bird made this one but you could barely have fit a hen’s egg in it. It was as light as a feather and very well made of grass.

I saw a spider web on a lawn and it reminded me of the synapses in my own brain. One of the questions that has been nagging at that brain for quite a long time is why nature uses the same shapes over and over again.

I looked down into the heart of a yucca plant and thought of the Native Americans who used every single part of this plant. They pounded the leaves and used the strong fibers inside them to weave sandals, cords, belts and baskets. They also ate the flowers and fruit of the plant. The sharp points at the tips of the leaves were used as sewing needles and the roots were peeled and ground and mixed with water to make soap for washing their hair and treating dandruff.  Sap from the leaves was used medicinally to stop bleeding and heal sores. Not a bit of it was wasted.

I found this colony of wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) on an alder limb in a swamp one recent day. Wooly alder aphids grow a white, filamentous waxy covering that looks like it’s made up of tiny white ribbons. A colony of them looks like white fuzz on the alder’s branches and this white fuzz helps protect them from the eyes of predators. They are sap sucking insects which secrete a sweet honeydew on the leaves and branches of plants. This honeydew attracts a fungus called black sooty mold, but since the mold grows only on the honeydew and not the plant, it doesn’t harm plants. The aphids themselves will do far more harm because they can literally suck the life out of a plant.

I’m not sure if the aphids with dots in this photo I took previously always look that way, if they haven’t grown the white waxy covering yet, or if they’ve lost the covering for some reason. They are very small; not even half the size of a house fly. I find them usually on the undersides of alder branches. If you are lucky enough to catch these insects in flight, they look like tiny white fairies. In fact another name for them is “fairy flies.” This is the best time of year to find them.

Here is something quite rare, unfortunately. American chestnuts were one of the most important forest trees, supplying both food and lumber. An Asian bark fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) was introduced into North America on imported Asiatic chestnut trees and the disease all but wiped out over three billion American chestnut trees. New shoots often sprout from chestnut roots when the main trunk dies so they haven’t yet become extinct. Unfortunately the stump sprouts are almost always infected by the Asian fungus by the time they reach 20 feet tall but since some trees do bloom maybe these particular examples are growing from chestnuts. I found these three or four young trees a few years ago and have watched them get bigger over the years. They look very healthy so far. Though the leaves resemble beech leaves they are much bigger with very serrated margins. Many botanists and other scientists are working on finding and breeding disease resistant trees and maybe these trees will one day fit the bill. If you happen to find any you might want to keep an eye on them.

A tree “marriage” happens when two trees of the same species rub together in the wind. When the outer bark is rubbed off, the inner cambium layer of the trees can become naturally grafted together and they will be married from then on. The process is called inosculation and isn’t as rare as we might think. This example is special because it looks like the very tip of a branch on one trunk grew directly into the other trunk. It must have taken many years of strong winds and bark rubbing before they could grow together as they did.

Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night. If you’re in or near the woods at night in winter you can often hear the trees splitting and cracking, and sometimes it’s as loud as a rifle shot. Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter. When this repeated healing and cracking happens over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen in the photo. I’ve seen them on several different species, so I don’t think any one species is more or less susceptible to cracking than others. It’s more a matter of how the sunlight falls on a tree’s trunk. Wrapping an ornamental tree’s trunk loosely in burlap in winter can help prevent the bark splitting.

If you grow stone fruits like peaches, apricots, plums or cherries then you should know the disease called black knot. It is caused by a fungus called Apiosporina morbosa. This fungus grows in the wild and its spores can be spread by rain or wind. The spores will typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like that in the above photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring. Black cherry seems particularly susceptible to the disease.

I saw a hollowed-out stump that was slowly filling with fallen leaves beside a trail. From what I’ve read in the book Bark; a Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast, by Michael Wojtech, eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) are the only trees with stumps that will rot away from the inside out. It’s an interesting thing that I don’t see that often.

You would think that with all the rain we’ve had I’d be seeing slime molds everywhere, but actually I’ve seen very few this year. I believe the orangey brown material in this photo was once an active slime mold but by the time I found it, it was dry and hard. There are many different orange slime molds so it’s impossible to tell which one it is but it was still interesting. It shows how a slime mold will spread over its immediate surroundings, looking for food. Slime molds “eat” tiny unseen organisms such as bacteria and yeasts, and they are also said to help decompose leaves and rotting logs.

I’ve seen many thousands of pixie cup lichens (Cladonia pyxidata.) They’re the ones that look like tiny golf tees, but I’ve always wondered what they looked like when they first started forming. Did they always look like golf tees? I didn’t think so but I couldn’t say why. Then one day I thought I had found the answer. As you can see in this photo the little golf tees start life looking like simple pegs. You can see a few with tiny “cups” just starting to form. Pixie cup lichens are squamulose lichens with fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. Squamulose means they have scale like lleafy obes that often overlap like shingles. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are called podetia. Podetia means a stalk like growth which bears the spore bearing fruiting bodies. Finally, frucitose means a lichen with bushy, vertical growth. It is thought that some colonies of pixie cup lichens might be as old as 4,500 years. It’s good I think, to know a little more about these tiny life forms that see everywhere I go.

A boulder on the side of the road was covered by moss and though that might not seem surprising or earthshaking, it caught my attention.

Picture yourself in a small, single engine plane flying low over the treetops in the Amazon jungle, and you’ll understand why I was fascinated by this mossy boulder. I imagined that scene would look a lot like this.

Here’s a little hint of what’s to come. We finally had a frost, more than a month after our average first frost date and the second latest since such things have been recorded. But we haven’t had a freeze, and that means we still have colorful leaves on some of the trees.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

Thanks for coming by.

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Last Saturday I walked along the Ashuelot River in Keene, hoping to find some marsh bellflowers. As this photo shows, I sure found plenty of pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata.) Beautiful ribbons of it lined the banks. They are probably why I see so many ducks and geese here. Ducks eat the seeds and geese eat the leaves.

The water was about as high as it gets thanks to some very heavy rain throughout the month of July. Another foot or so higher and in places it would have been over the trail.

Luckily most of the trail stays high and dry but I found the side trail I needed to use to see the marsh bellflowers was under about 6 inches of water, so I couldn’t get to them or the mad dog skullcap plants that live there. With my lungs I can’t be falling into rivers. I doubt I could swim ten strokes.

I did see a buttonbush shrub (Cephalanthus occidentalis) up to its neck in water but it was blooming. I know another plant along the river in Swanzey that is sometimes under water when the river is high, but it doesn’t seem to bother it.

The small flowers of tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) are more white than blue this year from what I’ve seen so far. This plant has an odd look, sometimes reaching ten feet tall with flowers hardly bigger than a pencil eraser at the very top. Luckily this flower was just about at eye level, because the stalks of this plant don’t take kindly to being bent. They’ll often snap right in two.

I’ve seen thousands of Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) buds this year but not a single flower yet. That’s okay with me though, because I’ve always thought the buds were as pretty as the flowers. They seem to have a deeper color.

There is a bumper crop of blueberries this year. The bushes are loaded with berries anywhere I go so all the critters will be happy. I’ve noticed that the birds aren’t paying much attention to them yet though.

Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) grew here and there but it doesn’t seem to be doing well along this trail this year. The plants looked a bit weak and kind of ragged.

I saw quite a lot of Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) plants along the trail but this was the only one I saw with fruit. After a time these green berries will become deep, purple-black. And then they’ll disappear. I think turkeys get them before anyone else. A good healthy plant can stand just about as tall as a turkey’s eye is from the ground.

As I say every year; spring and fall begin on the forest floor. This Indian cucumber root illustrates what I mean.

“But it’s only August,” you say. “Surely the Indian cucumber root was a fluke?” Unfortunately, that argument can’t stand; this tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) also whispered hints of fall.

And so did this sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis.) Soon all of the squirrels and chipmunks will be gathering their nuts and seeds. Who needs a calendar?

I couldn’t decide which was prettier, this royal fern or its shadow, so I took a photo of both.

A depression in the woods was filled with water but the water had a strange cloudy film on it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before and I can’t imagine what caused it, way off in the woods like it was. It wasn’t oily and it didn’t look like dust. I thought of mushroom spores but it would have taken a lot of mushrooms to do this.

Clubmosses also release spores that float on water but not this one. It looked like it was finished. An interesting thing about clubmoss spores is how, if you fill a glass with water and cover the surface of the water with spores, when you stick your finger in the water and pull it out again it will be covered in spores but will be perfectly dry. Clubmoss spores are waxy and hydrophobic, which means resistant to water. They are also extremely flammable, and once made up the flash powder used to create the flash photographers used to take a photo.

The oak tree that the beavers girdled is done. I don’t know why beavers do this to trees and then leave them standing. After all, the succulent buds and branches are a big reason why they cut trees.

There won’t be any buds on this tree, and the branches will be dry. There wasn’t a leaf on them. Soon the dead branches will begin to fall, and they’re right above the trail.

It’s really too bad that beavers don’t eat Canada mayflowers, because there are many thousands of them on the floor of any forest I visit. They’re a native plant but they act like an invasive plant by creating monocultures that keep other plants from growing. I’ve seen huge stands of nothing but Canada mayflower. And may heaven help you if they get into your garden. Those speckled berries will be bright red and ripe soon, and they’ll disappear quickly.

The closed or bottle gentians (Gentiana linearis) that grow in one spot along the trail looked to be in good shape. Narrow leaf and closed gentian flowers look identical, so you have to look at the leaves carefully to tell the difference. Closed gentian leaves are wider and have a different overall shape than those of narrow leaf gentian. This plant is relatively rare in this area.

And there was the bridge. It crosses what is usually a small stream but on this day the water was licking at its sides. The water level in the river hasn’t dropped much and we’ve had more rain since that day, so I hope it hasn’t washed away.

This photo from last year shows the marsh bellflower (Campanula aparinoides) I came to see. I hoped to get some better shots of the flowers but that probably won’t happen this year without a boat, because it just keeps on raining. Luckily this plant is a perennial so unless the entire riverbank where it grows washes away, I should be able to find it next year. I can’t say how rare it is but I’ve never seen it anywhere but here in this one spot, and I’ve been walking these riverbanks for over 50 years.

Pleasure is spread through the earth in stray gifts to be claimed by whoever shall find them. ~William Wordsworth

Thanks for stopping in.

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