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Posts Tagged ‘Fitzwilliam New Hampshire’

It takes about a half hour to get there from my house but the trip to Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire is always worth the effort at this time of year. It’s out in the middle of nowhere and is one of those places that approaches what true wilderness must have looked like before European settlers arrived. It is a botanical park; the only one of its kind in the state. People from all over the world come here to see the native rhododendrons (Rhododendron maxima) that grow here. The park contains the largest grove of these rhododendrons known to exist in New England. Common in south eastern states, they have reached the northernmost point of their growth here. Rhododendron state park was even designated a national Landmark in 1982.

This native rhododendron isn’t like others; it blooms in mid-July rather than in spring. The land that they grow on is low and often quite wet and I think that’s why they have been left alone since Captain Samuel Patch settled here in 1788. The higher surrounding land was farmed but not where the rhodies grew. In 1901 a subsequent owner almost had the land logged off for timber but instead it was bought and given to the Appalachian Mountain Club with the stipulation that it be protected and open to the public forever after.

The National Park Service calls them pink, but I see white when I look at the blossoms and though most of these plants are quite tall it is still easy to get close to them. Though the plants are much bigger than your average rhododendron the flowers and flower clusters are pretty much the same size as those found on other rhododendrons.

I did see lots of pinks and purples on some of the buds, and on the backs of some of the blossoms.

Included in the park is the center chimney cape that Captain Samuel Patch built with his son sometime before he died in 1817. Captain Patch served in the Revolutionary war and took part in the battle of Bunker Hill and, though his house has changed hands a few times since being built, it looks to be true to its original footprint. Surrounding it are a few garden beds containing various plants, including this moth mullein. Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria) gets its common name from the way the flowers’ stamens resembled moth antennae to the person who named it. This plant was introduced from Europe and found in Pennsylvania in 1818 and immediately escaped gardens to become a roadside weed now found in every state except Wyoming and Alaska. It isn’t very common in this area however. I only know of two plants and they grow right here at the old Patch place. Its flowers can also be white.

If you visit the park be prepared to be surprised. I remember being shocked at the size of the rhododendrons the first time I came. People are interested; the parking lot was full of cars on this day. I saw many children on the trails too, and since getting children on the trails is one of the main things this blog is about, I was very happy to see them.

The big plants tower overhead in places and in a good year the white blossoms are everywhere you look. Anyone who loves rhododendrons or serious collectors of the shrubs should definitely see this.

Of course, rhododendrons aren’t all there is to see. There is a wildflower trail here as well and I saw many plants here that I had never seen before the first few times I came. Wildflowers bloom throughout the 2,723-acre park from early April into October. False Solomon seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) like the one in this photo are through blooming but they have plenty of fruit at this time of year. They can reach three feet tall where they’re happy.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal turn from green to red and for a short time they are speckled with both colors.  I’ve read that soil pH can affect the fruit color, but I think that means a deeper or lighter red. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica,) is one of our native wintergreens. It get its common name from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds; especially shin wounds, apparently. Like several other wintergreens it contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used for many of the same ailments. Its nodding white, waxy flowers are fragrant and usually appear near the end of June. I find them in sandy soil in forests under pines.

I saw the fruiting bodies of a coral slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, V. porioides.) These objects that resemble geodesic domes are so small that I can’t see any of the detail until I zoom in on them with a camera. They are very fragile; a single swipe of a finger can destroy hundreds of them.  According to my mushroom books this slime mold is “very common and fruits in scattered clusters on well-rotted logs.”  That’s exactly where these grew.

Also known as rosebay and great laurel, these rhododendrons normally reach a maximum height of 15 feet but may become “tree like.” In the park their branches intertwine as they grow and for the most part you wouldn’t ever get through the thicket they’ve formed.

You may feel a bit small as you wander through and under these giant plants. Visitors might find that the common landscape shrubs they are used to seeing never seem the same again. 

A 0.6 mile-long, wheelchair accessible trail meanders around and through the grove and allows visitors close up access to these beauties. This is a good viewing spot, and popular; I had a hard time getting a photo of it with no people on it.

This is one of the views from the bridge in the previous photo. Rhododendrons as far as the eye can see.

There are also Mountain Laurels here but they bloom as much as a month earlier than the rhododendrons.

A hoverfly worked over a dewberry blossom and didn’t seem to mind me watching.

Other insects went unseen but their pathways told their stories. The thought of an insect so small that in can eat its way between the upper and lower surface of a leaf boggles my mind, but I see leaf miner trails everywhere I go.

Rhododendron State Park is open all year during the daytime but isn’t maintained in winter. During the summer months from May through October, you may find a State Park Ranger at the park. He or she is there to answer questions and to collect the $4.00 per visitor admission fee. When there isn’t a ranger on duty you can find the collection box shown above near the trailhead. Part of the money collected I assume is used for trail maintenance, so it’s important. I saw several trees that had fallen across the trail and had been cut up. Children and seniors are admitted for free. Pets are not permitted on the wild flower trail or other nature trails, but I think they can still be taken to other parts of the park. Just follow the instructions on the many signs and maps found throughout the park. The best time to see these spectacular rhododendrons in full bloom is mid-July.

On my way hone I stopped in the town of Troy to admire one of my favorite views of Mount Monadnock. I’m sure there were plenty of sightseers over there too; it is said to be the second most climbed mountain, after Mount Fuji in Japan.  

I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling.
~Jack Kerouac

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1. Depot Building

I visited a rail trail recently that I hadn’t been on for many years. This is where we start; at the depot in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and other notables passed this way on their way north out of Fitchburg, Massachusetts to the town of Troy, New Hampshire where they then hiked to Mount Monadnock to climb it.

2. Signal Light

This depot still has its colored glass signals on top of a high pole. The meaning of three of the colors is much the same today as it was then; green meant it was safe to proceed, yellow meant an impending stop or speed reduction, and red meant come to a full stop. Blue meant that another track met the track you were on. Purple was used for derails at one time, but became obsolete. Amber was used in foggy conditions and white or clear meant restricted conditions. These colors are also still used by railroads today. Since I’m color blind I’ll let you sort out which is which on this signal.

3. Lady's Slippers

I was surprised-actually shocked is more accurate-to find pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) still blooming out here, and they were everywhere. These plants have bloomed longer this year than I’ve ever seen. It could be because of the cool, damp weather we’ve had but I don’t really know.

4. Granite Waste Piles

Before you’ve walked too far you come to a pond, and as you look around you see that things aren’t quite right.  Nowhere else in this part of the state that I know of will you see piles of granite lining the shore of a pond like they do here. I wonder what Thoreau thought of them.

5. Bog Laurel

Bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia) grows on the banks of the pond. As I walked toward it to get some photos I startled a young mallard. It couldn’t fly but it sure could swim in circles fast and made quite a racket. I felt bad about scaring it so I took a couple of quick shots of this beautiful laurel and left.

6. Excess Granite

If you know the way to get to it, you can find an old abandoned granite quarry out in these woods. I always wondered what happened to the excess granite in a granite quarry, and now I know. When they weren’t dumping it on the shores of the pond they were stacking it up to make walls. This one was at least 10 feet high and 3 times as long.

Fitzwilliam granite is of very fine grain and has an even color and a very low iron content, which means it doesn’t stain and discolor over time. Some of the buildings that were built with Fitzwilliam granite are the State Capitol of Albany, N.Y., the Public Library at Natick, Mass., the Union Depot and Court House in Worcester, Mass., the Union Station, Washington, D.C., Marshall Field’s, Chicago, Ill., and the City Hall and Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ.

7. Iron Rod in Stone

This bent iron rod in a block of granite was about an inch in diameter and my arm would have fit into the opening it made right up to the shoulder, with room to spare.

8. Carved Granite

I was surprised to find beautifully carved granite out in these woods. In the 1800s this was done with hammers and chisels, but the really remarkable thing about the French cove carving shown here is how it was carved into a curved block of stone. It’s hard to see in the photo but as you look down the length of the carving the far end is lower than in the foreground, so the block was cut into a large radius with a molded edge added. It must have been meant for a building. Too bad to do all that work and then just leave it here.

The granite industry was very important to Fitzwilliam for more than 50 years and many of the stonecutters that settled here were from Scotland. At their peak about 400 men worked the quarries. Stonecutters were paid a minimum of $2.00 per day.

9. Beaver Tree

Beavers miscalculated and felled this tree in the wrong direction so it got hung up on others that were still standing.

10. Quarry View

If the beavers had made their cut on the other side of the tree it would have dropped right into this granite quarry, which is now filled with water. A quarry in an area with a shallow water table begins to fill with groundwater almost as soon as it is started and has to be continually pumped out while the stone is being quarried. In the early 1800s windmills or steam engines often powered the pumps but they could only do so much. As the quarry gets deeper more and more groundwater flows in and when it becomes too difficult or too expensive to pump it out it is abandoned and fills with water. You can see large blocks of granite and trees just under the surface a few feet out from shore. These hidden objects make this a very dangerous place to swim, but I and many others used to do so.

11. Feather and Wedge Holes

For some reason the workmen went to all the trouble of splitting this huge block of granite and then left it here. Lucky for us though, because it illustrates perfectly how feathers and wedges were used to split stone. First, 3-4 inch deep holes were drilled (by hand) in a line where the split was to take place. Then feathers and wedges were placed into each hole and tapped down with a hammer until the stone split.

12. Feathers and Wedges

This photo from Wikipedia shows various sizes of feathers and wedges. The curved pieces are the feathers and the wedge is driven in between them. As happens in splitting wood, the force from the wedges being driven ever deeper splits the stone.

13. Splitting Holes

This photo shows the half holes that remain after the stone is split. Most were about as long as, and the same diameter as my pointing finger. There was once a railroad spur that connected this quarry to the rail line that ran near here but its presence has all but disappeared. Quarries boomed by the mid-1800s, producing paving blocks for previously rutted and mucky city streets. Many millions of 4″ X 8″ X 11” cobblestones were produced in quarries all over New England.

14. Quarry Ledges

During its operation a lot of granite was taken from this quarry. Some of the ledges in this photo are 100 or more feet from the water. To give you some sense of scale-that’s a full size white pine tree leaning against that far wall. Since I fell out of a tree and shattered my spine when young I wasn’t able to jump from anything much higher than the soles of my shoes, but I used to swim here nonetheless and I’ve seen many people jump from those ledges. I remember being told that the water was hundreds of feet deep and that there were cranes and steam shovels and even cars that you would get tangled up in if you swam in the wrong places, and I remember the feeling of apprehension that came over me whenever I swam here. If the truth were told I never really did enjoy it much, but being able to overcome your fears is powerful medicine for a teenage boy.

Recently some professional divers dove here to see what they could find and their report was what you’d expect; silt covered granite under water about 40 feet deep, with some pocket change glistening on the stones. There were no steam shovels, cranes or cars down there.

16. Fallen Tree

Today all of the old ghosts have evaporated from this place and it seems much like any other swimming hole, but no shouts bounced off the granite walls and nobody swam.  As I sat on a sun warmed slab of granite I thought back to an old Twilight Zone episode in which the residents of an old folks’ home became children again by playing the games that they’d played in their youth. But even so, I didn’t swim either.

No matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. ~Haruki Murakami

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I just finished reading Monadnock, More than a Mountain by Craig Brandon. In it he tells of how, throughout history different artists have painted the mountain from different sides, and how a few had traveled around the mountain painting it from all sides. That sounded like a fine idea to me and, since I have never seen it done before, over the last few weeks I’ve traveled to several towns that surround the mountain to take photos from each one.

The unusual thing about 3,165 ft high Mount Monadnock is that it can be seen from each town in the area, which collectively make up what is known as the Monadnock Region. The purpose of this post is to show how much the mountain changes from town to town-sometimes after driving just a few miles down the road. I’ve lived here nearly my entire life and even I was surprised by how much it changed.

1. Monadnock From Jaffrey

Much of Mount Monadnock lies in Jaffrey, New Hampshire so I thought I’d start off this post with a view from there. This is the south eastern face of Monadnock.

 2. Monadnock From Jaffrey

At this spot in Jaffrey you are just about as close to the mountain’s south eastern flank as you can get without actually being on it. This is where you get a real sense of how massive Monadnock really is.

 3. Monadnock from Gilmore Pond in Jaffrey

This view of Monadnock’s eastern face from Jaffrey can make you wonder if you’re looking at the same mountain that you saw from other directions, so different is its outline.

 4. Monadnock from Perkin's Pond in Troy

Perkin’s pond in Troy, on Monadnock’s western side, is the place someone with a new camera goes to try landscape photography. I can’t imagine how many photos have been taken of Monadnock from this spot, but the number must easily be in the millions. On a weekend at this time of year you almost have to wait in line for your turn. On this day there was an artist here painting the mountain and she had the best viewing spot. 5. Monadnock from Troy There are other fine views to be had in Troy. I was surprised by the even separation of foliage colors here, as if someone planted a row of maples, then a row of oaks, then a row of pines, etc. all the way up the mountain. I’m not sure what would have caused this.

 6. Monadnock from Fitzwilliam

Just down the road from Troy is Fitzwilliam, with a few good views of its own. This was taken at Rockwood Pond. Mount Monadnock is so loved by the public that, each time over the years that it has been threatened by loggers, developers, radio stations and others, money has poured in from all over the world to buy the threatened acreage and protect it. Though never 100% safe, the mountain will be well protected in the future. Most of it is now owned by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

 7. Monadnock from Rindge

The view from Rindge is a very pretty one of Monadnock’s southern flank. I just discovered this view while taking photos for this post.

 8. Monadnock from Mount Caesar in Swanzey

Sometimes you have to climb a mountain to see a mountain as I did one morning just as the sun broke through the dense fog on top of Mount Caesar in Swanzey. Swanzey lies to the northwest of Monadnock.

 9. Monadnock from Harrisville

Harrisville has some beautiful views of Monadnock from the north. This one is from a place called Child’s Bog, known for its great fishing.

 10. Monadnock From Sucker Brook in Nelson

I had heard stories of a great view of Monadnock to be had at a place called Sucker Brook Cove Sanctuary in Nelson, New Hampshire so I went there and found that it was indeed an excellent view, with Silver Lake in the foreground. The light would have been much better if I had gone there in the morning though, rather than in the afternoon. This view is from the north.

 11. Monadnock from Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard

This view of Monadnock is from the top of Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard, which is the northernmost point in my travels around the mountain. The weatherman said we would have wall to wall sunshine on the day this was taken, and I believed him. When I started this trip I saw sunshine but once I had climbed to the top of Pitcher Mountain there wasn’t a sunbeam to be seen.

 12. Monadnock from Marlborough

One of my favorite views of Monadnock is from this spot in Marlborough, New Hampshire. The sun breaking through the clouds made a patchwork of colors on the western face of the mountain on the afternoon that this was taken.

 13. Monadnock from Dublin

This is a view from Dublin. This is another good place to see the mountain’s great mass. This is the first photo taken with my new cell phone to appear on this blog. The phone camera has a much wider angle than either of my other cameras and it does a pretty good job. Speaking of cell phone photos, if you’d like to see some amazing ones you should pop over to Marie’s blog. You can get there by clicking here. You won’t believe her photos were taken with a cell phone camera, but they were.

 14. Monadnock from Dublin

This view of Monadnock from Dublin is a favorite of photographers. I took this photo with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7, which is the camera that I usually use for macros.

 15. Monadnock from Dublin

Some days you just have to wait for Monadnock to peek out from its blanket of clouds, as this view from Dublin shows.

 16. Monadnock Summit

When he climbed it in 1860 Henry David Thoreau complained about the number of people on the summit of Monadnock. Nothing has changed since. On a typical Columbus Day weekend in October it is not unusual to find that it is standing room only on the summit. It is estimated that 100,000 people per year climb the mountain, making it the most climbed mountain in the United States and the second most climbed in the world after Mount Fiji in Japan. On the afternoon that this photo was taken you could see climbers on the summit, just as you can on most days.

 17. Monadnock from Keene

My favorite view of the mountain is of course the one I grew up with and have seen each day for the better part of a lifetime. I’ve lived in other places but you don’t miss the mountain until you can no longer see it, and I’ve always come back. To me this view from Keene is the best one, but anyone in any town in the region would probably say the same about their view.

 18. Monadnock Region Map

This map of the Monadnock Region might help you see how the towns that the above photos were taken in are related to each other, and to Monadnock itself. The town names are underlined and Mount Monadnock has a black triangle beside it. It is about 19 miles (30.6 Km) from Keene to the mountain.

If you’d like to learn more about the towns mentioned in this post you should take a look at Laura Mahoney’s blog Touring New Hampshire. I think you’ll find excellent photos and descriptions of every town here. You can get there by clicking here.

Those who climb to the peak of Monadnock have seen but little of the mountain. I came not to look off from it, but to look at it. The view of the pinnacle itself from the plateau below surpasses any view which you get from the summit. ~Henry David Thoreau.

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It takes about a half hour to get there from my house but the trip to Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire is always worth the effort and is a trip I try to make at least once each week at this time of year. It’s out in the middle of nowhere and is one of those places that approaches what the true wilderness must have looked like before European settlers arrived.

 1. RSP Sign

This park is a true botanical park and the only one of its kind in the state. People from all over the world come here to see the native rhododendrons (Rhododendron maxima) that grow here. The park contains the largest grove of these rhododendrons known to exist in New England. Common in south eastern states, they have reached the northernmost point of their growth here. The park was designated a national Landmark in 1982.

 2. RSP Marginal Wood Fern

Paths are wide and level in most areas. They are also shaded for the most part, and lined with marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) and many other plants.

3. RSP Wildflower Sign

Signs clearly mark the trails. I took a photo of this one because I come here for the wildflowers rather than the rhodies. Most wildflowers that grow here are quite common and what you would expect to find in New England. Partridgeberry, teaberry, wild sarsaparilla, bunchberry, blue bead lily, pink lady’s slipper, painted trillium and many others too numerous to list grow here. There are other orchids besides lady’s slippers, but they are very hard to find.

 4. RSP Rhododendron Grove

This native rhododendron isn’t like others-it blooms in mid-July rather than in spring. The land that they grow on is low and often quite wet and I think that’s why they have been left alone since Captain Samuel Patch settled here in 1788. The higher surrounding land was farmed but not where the rhodies grew. In 1901 a subsequent owner almost had the land logged off for timber but instead it was bought and given to the Appalachian Mountain Club with the stipulation that it be protected and open to the public forever after.

 5. Native Rhododendron Maxima

The National Park Service calls them pink, but I see white when I look at the blossoms. Though most of these plants are quite tall it is still easy to get close to the blossoms.

6. RSP Trail

The trunks of the shrubs grow in impenetrable thickets in places, and are so tall that you walk through “rhododendron tunnels” as you follow the pathways.

 7. RSP Mushroom

 With all of the large leaves of the rhododendrons overhead reaching for the sun it can be quite dark in some areas. That is why this park is also one of my favorite mushroom hunting places.

8. RSP Slime Mold

You know there isn’t much sunlight reaching the ground when you see slime molds. Sunlight is their number one enemy.

9. RSP Tiny Orange Mushroom

Some of the most interesting things here are small and hard to see. I’ve seen people walking the paths quickly as if they were in a hurry to be out of the park, and I often wonder how much they might have missed. This is the kind of place where you need to walk very slowly while scanning the woods along the sides of the path if you are to see very many wildflowers. I just found an orchid growing right beside the path that I must have walked by at least 20 times last year without seeing. It’s a small thing that isn’t blooming yet, so it doesn’t appear in this post. I’ve also found other plants here that I haven’t ever seen anywhere else.

10. RSP Stone Wall

What makes this place so special for someone like me is how the land has gone virtually untouched by man since at least 1901 because there are certain plants that absolutely refuse to grow in anything but old, undisturbed soil.  Unless a tree falls across a trail nature is allowed free reign here. As you can see in the photo a tree fell on a stone wall a long, long time ago and was left where it fell. This kind of hands off approach is important to many species of plants, and you really never know what you’ll find here.

 11. RSP Pipsissewa

Seeing pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellate) growing in sunny spots was one of the clues that I might see something even more special. I’ve noticed that this is a plant that prefers growing in undisturbed soil.

12. RSP Striped Wintergreen

Only another plant hunter will understand how my pulse quickened when I saw this striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculate) with flower buds. This plant is rare in all of New England but seems especially so in this corner of New Hampshire. I know of only two small plants and I’ve never seen them bloom until now. Someone from Connecticut wrote to tell me that they knew of a few colonies there on undisturbed land and I have also heard of isolated colonies in New York where it is listed as exploitably vulnerable, meaning when people see it they pick it or dig it up. The plant grows as far west as Illinois, but it is endangered there and also in Maine.

If you happen to see this plant please do not dig it up or pick the flowers! It will not grow in your garden, so leave it in the forest for the rest of us to enjoy.

 13. RSP Striped Wintergreen Blossom

 There is a fairly good chance that if you live in New England, you have never seen this flower. This was my first ever glimpse of it and I was surprised to see how much the blossom looked like that of pipsissewa. I shouldn’t have been though, because both plants are native wintergreens. If you’d like to see the pipsissewa blossom just click here.

 14. RSP Striped Wintergreen Blossom 3

I hope the small flies that are on the blossoms are pollinators so the plants will set seed.

15. RSP Patch House

Included in the park is the center chimney cape that Captain Samuel Patch built with his son sometime before he died in 1817. Captain Patch served in the Revolutionary war and took part in the battle of Bunker Hill and, though his house has changed hands a few times since being built, it looks to be true to its original footprint.

 16. RSP Sign

The house is closed to the public but what I like most about it is its old gardens that contain some very old plants like valerian and wood betony. This is also the location of the only moth mullein plant that I know of.

If you’d like to read more about the park just click here. I’ll be going back there today hoping to find an orchid finally blooming. I’ve been waiting for 6 weeks to see its flower.

The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity; it provides protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axeman who destroys it. ~ Gautama Buddha

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