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Posts Tagged ‘First Snowfall’

I started doing these “looking back” posts for two reasons; I thought it would be fun to see the different seasons pass all in one post and I also thought they would be easy, because I wouldn’t have to take any photos. I was right and wrong, because they are fun but they aren’t easy. Picking a few photos out of a choice of hundreds of them can be tough, so I decided to choose the best examples of the what the month at hand brings. January for instance is a month most people in New Hampshire expect to be cold, and that’s what the above photo shows. It was a cold month; I wrote that record breaking, dangerous cold had settled in and lasted for a week. It was -16 °F the morning I wrote that post, too cold to even go out and take photos.

But even cold weather has its beauty, as this January photo of ice shows.

There was no thaw in February, as this beech leaf frozen in ice shows.

But February had its moments and it did warm up enough to snow.  This storm dropped about 7 inches of powder that blew around on the wind.

March is when the earth awakens here in New England and it is the month when you can find the first flowers blooming, if you’re willing to look for them. Sometimes it’s too cold for all but the hardiest blooms like skunk cabbage, but last March the vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) was blossoming.

Crocus also bloomed in March. This strange one looked as if it had been cut in half lengthwise.

April is when nature really comes alive and flowers in bloom get easier to find. I saw these female American hazelnut flowers (Corylus americanus) blooming on the 18th.

By the end of April there are so many flowers in the woods you really have to watch where you step. I found these spring beauties (Claytonia virginica,) part of a huge colony, on April 25th. Trout lilies, coltsfoot, violets, dandelions, and many other flowers first show themselves in April. I’m very anxious to see them all again.

Though we see flowers in March and April it doesn’t usually truly warm up until May, and that’s when some of the more fragile flowers like these beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) appear. Bluets, lily of the valley, honeysuckles, blue eyed grass, starflowers, wild azaleas, lilacs, trilliums, wild columbine and many other flowers also often appear in May.

Flowers aren’t the only things that appear in spring; some of the most beautiful things in the forest go completely unnoticed, like breaking tree buds. As this just opened bud of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) shows, opening buds can be every bit as beautiful as flowers. Many other buds like beech, oak, maple, and elm also open in May and are just as beautiful. I hope you’ll look for them this spring.

One of our most beautiful aquatic flowers, the fragrant white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata,) comes along in June. These plants bloom in still, shallow waters of ponds and along rivers. Each blossom lasts only three days but the plants will bloom well into September. Some say the blossoms smell like ripe honeydew melons and others say more spicy, like anise. It’s their beauty rather than their fragrance that attracts me and that’s probably a good thing because they’re a hard flower to get close to.

June is also when a lot of trees like oak, ash, willow, hickory, and others release their pollen to the wind and it ends up coating just about everything, including the surface of ponds, which is what this photo shows. The white petals are from a nearby black locust tree which had finished blossoming.

In July I saw a fly that was willing to pose. By the time the heat of July arrives insects like black flies and mosquitoes aren’t as bothersome as they were in the cooler months, but ticks are still a problem. Other insects of interest are monarch butterflies which often start to appear in July. I’ve seen more of them each year for the last two or three.

One of the things I most look forward to in July is the blooming of the greater purple fringed bog orchids (Platanthera grandifolia) I found growing in a swamp a few years ago. It is easily one of the most beautiful flowering plants I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a few. At one time there were so many of these plants Native Americans made tea from their roots, but I’ve only seen two plants in my lifetime and those grow almost beside each other, so I’d say they are very rare in this area.

Many mushrooms usually appear in spring and then there is a bit of a lull before they start in again in late summer, but spring of 2018 brought a moderate drought so I had to wait until August to find beauties like this reddening lepiota (Leucoagaricus americanus.) This is a big mushroom with a cap that must have been 4 inches across. It is said to turn red wherever it is touched.

August is also when our roadsides start to turn into Monet paintings. The larger wildflowers like goldenrod, purple loosestrife, Joe Pye weed and boneset all bloom at once and put on quite a show.

Though fall can start in the understory as early as July when plants like wild sarsaparilla begin turning color it doesn’t usually happen with our trees until September. That was when I saw these maples along the Ashuelot River.

September is also when the New England asters begin to bloom. They’re one of our largest and most beautiful wildflowers and though my favorites are the dark purple ones seen in this photo, they come in many shades of pink and purple.

Fall foliage colors peak in mid-October in this part of the country and that’s when I saw these young birch trees clinging to stone ledges in Surry. The blue color came from the sky reflecting on the wet stone, and it made the scene very beautiful.

You can still see plenty of beautiful roadside wildflowers in October but this is the month that usually brings the first real freeze, so by the end of the month all but the toughest will be gone.

But there is still plenty of beauty to be seen, even in November. Very early in the month is the best time to see the beeches and oaks at Willard Pond in Hancock. This is easily one of the most beautiful spectacles of fall foliage color that I’ve seen and I highly recommend a visit, if you can.

We don’t usually see much snow in November but in 2018 we hadn’t even gotten all the leaves raked when winter came barreling in. We had three snowstorms, one right after another, and that made leaf raking out of the question for this year. There is going to be a lot of cleaning up to do in spring.

December started out cold but it didn’t last, and all the ice this ice climber was climbing was gone just a week later. They (ice climbers) call this deep cut railbed “The icebox” but this year maybe not. I’ll re-visit it sometime this month and see.

As of right now, 40 degree daytime temperatures are common and the witch hazel still blooms, so this is my kind of winter.

The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you’ve come. ~Mick Kremling

I hope everyone has a very healthy and happy 2019. Thanks for coming by.

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One of the things I’ve seen (or felt) this time around is cold, and lots of it. The record cold of the second week of November came as quite a shock after the record warmth of the first week of the month. I was surprised when I found these frost crystals on my windshield one morning.

Ice needles by the thousands thrust up out of the saturated soil near a stream. An awful lot of things have to come together perfectly for ice needles to form. First, there has to be groundwater present and the temperature right at the soil surface has to be below 32 degrees F. The groundwater remains thawed until hydrostatic pressure forces it out of the soil, where it then becomes super cooled and freezes instantly into a needle shape. As more water is forced out of the soil it freezes at the base of the needle and it becomes longer and longer. As this photo shows there are often so many needles that they freeze together and form ribbons. Each needle is hexagonal in shape and the longest one ever found was over 16 inches long. These examples were probably 3-4 inches long.

This is what soil with ice needles growing in it often looks like from above, but more important is the crunching sound the needles make when you walk on them. More often than not I find them by sound rather than by sight. They are very fragile and break easily, and if just the merest hint of sunlight falls on them they melt, so look for them in the shade.

Ground water seeping out of stone ledges formed icicles and that reminded me that it’s almost time to visit the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland, where the icicles grow into ice columns as big as tree trunks.

Ice isn’t the only thing we’ve seen here lately. The first real snowfall measured an inch or two in some places. This is what my ride to work looked like early one morning. When snow falls on thawed ground it melts rather quickly. The soil doesn’t usually freeze here until December, but it can vary. In a cold winter with little snow it can freeze down to nearly four feet deep.

The snow was on the wet side rather than dry and powdery so it stuck to every single twig and stalk in the forest. One of my favorite quotes by Scottish author William Sharp says “There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow. It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.” I agree, and that’s what this day was like. You don’t just see beauty like this. You feel it—you give yourself to it, and it becomes part of you.

At the Ashuelot River ice baubles formed on overhanging shrub branches. They are very colorful in the sun and it looks like someone has hung prisms from the branches the way they flash different colors.

As the river water splashes up onto a twig, drop by drop a teardrop shape (usually) forms. The ice they’re made of is as clear as polished crystal, and very reflective.

There was pancake ice in the river below the falls. It forms from the foam that the falls create. The foam becomes slushy and breaks into small pieces and freezes, and the current spins the irregularly shaped pieces into more circular shapes.

The constantly moving circles of river foam bump into each other and form rims, and they start to look like pancakes. Most are about the size of a honeydew melon but they can be bigger or smaller. From what I’ve read pancake ice is rare outside of the arctic but I see it here (and only here) every winter. In the arctic these frozen “pancakes” can pile on top of one another and in some areas 60 foot thick ridges of them have formed. Here though, they simply float off down the river.

White ice, so I’ve read, has a lot of oxygen in it. It is paper thin and tinkles when it breaks and I usually find it on mud puddles, but only at the start and end of winter. I love it because it always reminds me of spring, and that’s when I used to ride my bike through puddles of it when I was a boy.  You can see some amazing things in this ice. I’ve seen everything from eagle silhouettes to solar systems in it.

This is something I’ve never seen. The foam in a stream froze into formations at the base of a tree and they looked remarkably like turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) My thoughts on what kind of currents it took to make them would be a guess but maybe the stream water splashed against the roots and created ripples of foam, and then the foam froze as the ripples left the shore.

Speaking of turkey tail fungi, I’ve seen some beautifully colored examples this year. Turkey tails are among the most colorful fungi and also one of the easiest to find, and they grow in nearly every state in this country and throughout Europe, Asia, and Russia.

Their colors are described as buff, brown, cinnamon, and reddish brown in mushroom books but they come in many more colors than just those. Blue and purple are two of my favorite colors, but turkey tales wearing those colors are rare in my experience. I probably see one blue one for every five hundred brown ones.

Their concentric bands of color are what make turkey tails so beautiful but beauty isn’t all they have going for them. They’ve been used medicinally in China for thousands of years and in this country the food and drug administration has approved them for cancer treatment trials.

I saw some strangely colored but beautiful trumpet shaped mushrooms on a dead elm tree. I think they were frozen solid. Maybe that’s what made them so beautifully colored.

We’ve had a year with more cones on the evergreen trees than anyone has ever seen before. Great bunches of them weighted down the uppermost branches of the white pines (Pinus strobus) until they finally opened, dropped their seeds, and fell to the ground by the thousands. I decided to check into why there were so many and it turns out that the drought of 2016 has a lot to do with it, because that’s when the cones actually formed. Often, when a plant is stressed out enough to “think” that it’s dying it will produce larger than normal amounts of seed to ensure the continuation of the species, and it looks like that is just what our evergreen trees have done. Every single person I’ve talked to says that they have never seen so many cones.

Unfortunately something else that has been very noticeable to everyone is the sticky sap, called pitch, which has been falling from the white pines. It has gotten all over everything and is very tough to clean off. You can’t sit at a picnic table without sticking to the benches and you can’t drive your car down the road without finding large gobs of sticky pitch all over it. I’ve had to clean it off my car twice now and I can say that it doesn’t come off easily. The above photo is of a log with gobs of pitch all over it. As it dries the pitch turns white and as the weather cools and the pitch ages it often turns a bluish purple color. Turpentine is made from the resin of pine trees, and turpentine is just about what it takes to get it off.

The inner bark of this fallen Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) was so intricate and beautiful all I could do was stand and stare. And when I came back to my senses I remembered to take a photo.

As I hope this post has shown, even after the flowers have gone and the leaves have fallen there are still plenty of beautiful things to see out there. All of the beauty we don’t see in the warm months seems to be amplified or magnified in the cold months. The crisp blue of the sky, the golden light of the rising and setting sun, the greens of the mosses; all seem more vibrant. Even stones can be beautiful, as this one was. I don’t know what was in the geologic soup that it came from but it’s very different than most other stones in this area and very beautiful, and I found myself wishing it could come home with me.

Last year I must have driven to my favorite mountain viewing spot to see if there was snow on Mount Monadnock at least four times before I finally saw it snowcapped but this year there it was, and I took this photo on my way to work one morning with no extra effort at all. As a bonus a bald eagle flew by but it was far too fast for a photo. Though it looks like Dublin Lake in the foreground was frozen over it wasn’t. The sun hadn’t come up yet and I think it was just the low light that made it look that way.

By the time I had driven to Hancock the morning sun was just kissing Monadnock and turning the scattered patches of snow to gold. Mist gathered in the valley below and the scene was so beautiful I almost forgot I was on my way to work. When the sun rises or sets change happens quickly and it’s hard to pull yourself away.

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone here in the U.S. has a safe and happy Thanksgiving Day tomorrow and don’t forget; a walk in the woods is a great way to burn off all those extra calories.

 

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1. Dandelion

The weather people said we were in for a growing season ending killing freeze last Saturday night so I went looking for late bloomers before it happened. I’ve seen dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) blooming in January so I wasn’t real surprised to see one in October, but over the last two years these flowers have been very scarce. I saw 5 or 6 on this day though so I wonder if the very hot temperatures we’ve had in summer lately have something to do with their scarcity, as some of you suggested the last time I mentioned not seeing any.

2. False Dandelion

The flowers of false dandelion (Hypochaeris radicata) look much the same as those of true dandelions in a photo, but in the field they are much smaller and stand on 6-8 inch long, wiry stems.  Its leaves look like smaller and narrower versions of dandelion leaves. The plant is also called cat’s ear, possibly because of the bracts along its stem that look like tiny cat’s ears.

3. Knapweed

Spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa) is terribly invasive and hated by pasture owners but its flowers are beautiful. This plant is native to Europe and Asia and was accidentally imported in a hay seed shipment in the late 1800s. One reason it is so strongly disliked is because it releases a toxin that can hinder and prevent the growth of neighboring species. It grows in all but 5 states. Though mowed down earlier by highway crews these plants bounced right back and are again covered with flowers.

4. Bumblebee on Knapweed

It must have gotten too cold for this bumblebee because it died as it lived, hugging a flower.

5. Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) sometimes has a second blooming period like yarrow does. Though the flowers are smaller and not as tall they can almost fool you into thinking that it’s summer again.  When freshly cut Queen Anne’s lace flowers will change color depending on the color of the water in which they are placed, so if you put a bouquet into purple water you’ll have purple Queen Anne’s lace.

6. Pee Gee Hydrangea

The pee gee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) is a “panicled” hydrangea, meanings its flower heads are cone shaped rather than round. These plants grow into large shrubs sometimes reaching 10-20 feet tall and nearly as wide. Though originally introduced from Japan in 1862 this plant is thought to be native by many and is a much loved, old fashioned favorite. What I like most about this hydrangea is how the flower heads turn a soft pink in the fall. When they’re cut and dried they’ll hold their color for quite a long time.

7. Goldenrod

Goldenrods (Solidago) still bloom but now the flower heads are smaller and they’re spottily seen here and there rather than everywhere like they were a month ago. According to English apothecary and botanist John Gerard in 1633 goldenrod was “strange and rare” in England and “the dry herbe which came from beyond the sea sold in Buckler’s Bury in London for halfe a crowne for an hundred weight.” It was highly regarded of as a cure for bleeding ulcers and for healing bleeding wounds. The plant must also have been very valuable to early colonials but seeds must have found their way to England because it was eventually found growing wild there and the bottom fell out of the imported goldenrod business.

8. Slender Fragrant Goldenrod

Slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is one of the easiest to identify because of its scent, which is said to resemble anise and sassafras. Since I’ve never smelled anise and sassafras I can’t confirm this, but its fragrance is pleasant so I always bend to give it a sniff when I see it. This plant closely resembles lance leaved goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia) but its leaves are narrower and have a single vein in each leaf. Lance leaved goldenrod leaves have 3-5 veins.

9. Red Clover

Red clover (Trifolium pretense) is very cold hardy and make up some of the latest blooming flowers we see here. I’m never disappointed when I stop to take a closer look at these beautiful little flowers. Though it isn’t a native plant Vermonters loved it enough to make it their state flower. It’s easy to see why; some flowers seem to glow with their own inner light and this is one of them.

10. Asters

Asters of every kind bloom here and after seeing so many you can find yourself thinking if I’ve seen one I’ve seen them all, but this one stopped me in my tracks because of the central blue / purple disc flowers. The center disc flowers of an aster are (almost) always yellow or brown and I can’t remember ever seeing any that were this color. The flowers were quite small; no more than 1/2 inch across with ray flowers that had an odd curving habit. If you know this aster’s identity I’d like to hear from you. I’ve looked in books and online and haven’t found anything like it.

11. Gray Dogwood

Since it blooms in early June seeing gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) blooming this late in the year was a surprise.  An unusual thing about this shrub is its white berries. White usually signals that the fruit is poisonous, like those of poison ivy, poison sumac, or white baneberry, but though I’ve read that gray dogwood berries aren’t edible I haven’t read anything saying they’re poisonous. Birds certainly love them and gray dogwoods make an excellent choice for those trying to attract them. Though the flowers in this photo look a little sad an 8 foot tall gray dogwood covered with white blossoms in June is a sight not easily forgotten.

12. Black Raspberry

Black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis) flowers in October were as much of a surprise as dogwood flowers. Though it seemed to have only three petals instead of five the flower in the upper right had plenty of anthers. This plant prefers disturbed ground and I see it everywhere. One way to identify it is by looking at the undersides of the leaves, which are whitish and tomentose, which means kind of matted with flattened hairs. Raspberry and blackberry leaves have green undersides.

13. Snow on Sedum

Those are snowflakes and ice pellets on that sedum. Only the toughest plants will bloom from now on.

14. Aconite

David Marsden of The Anxious Gardener blog wrote a great post on aconite (Aconitum napellus) recently. He highlighted the plant’s toxicity in an informative and fun to read post and reminded me of a large group of aconite plants that I found growing in a children’s park once. I decided to go back and see if they were still there and as the above photo shows, they were. The plant can take a lot of cold and its blooms appear quite late in the season. Though beautiful the plant is extremely toxic; enough to have been used on spear and arrow tips in ancient times. In ancient Rome anyone found growing the plant could be put to death because aconite was often used to eliminate one’s enemies.

15. Aconite

A side view of the blossom shows why aconite is also called monkshood. It’s a beautiful thing but I question the wisdom of growing it in a children’s garden.

16. Daisy

I saw this daisy like flower blooming in a local park when snow was falling. It looked like a Shasta daisy on steroids, growing two feet tall with tough leathery leaves that looked much like Shasta daisy leaves. After a little research I think it might be a Montauk daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum,) also called Nippon daisy, which tells me that it must be from Japan. It was blooming beautifully after a 28 °F night, so it’s certainly cold hardy. Those are ice pellets on its petals. If only it was a Shasta daisy just come into flower in June.

May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty all the days of your life. ~Apache Blessing

Thanks for coming by.

 

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