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Posts Tagged ‘Grape Tendril’

In spring it doesn’t matter where you walk because everything is fresh and new and beautiful, but there were some things I wanted to see that I couldn’t see anywhere else, so I chose the old rail trail up in Westmoreland where the wild columbines grow. It’s the only spot I’ve ever found them in.

The first thing I saw was a stream running perpendicular to the trail, and when you’re on a railbed that can mean only one thing; a box culvert.

Box culverts carry the water under the railbed and have a roof made of thick slabs of granite, sturdy enough to carry the weight of a train. This is an odd one though, because one of the side walls is less than 90 degrees; not parallel to the other side wall. Also, if you look at the horizontal piece of granite you see there is a piece of track propping it up. These are things I’ve never seen on any other box culvert, and I’ve seen a few.  Another very odd thing about this setup is, the stream never comes out on the other side of the trail. Somehow, it goes underground or into a well. There are two huge pieces of granite slab on the opposite side of the trail covering something big.

But the strange box culvert wasn’t what I came here to see. One of the things I wanted to find out was if the red elderberry buds (Sambucus racemosa) had broken. Not only had they broken, they were already showing small clusters of flower buds. They remind me somewhat of lilac flower buds at this stage.

When red elderberry leaf buds break several (usually) purple leaflets come up out of the bud. Each “finger” of the tiny purple leaflet is rolled into a tube when it comes out of the bud, but will quickly unfurl and turn green in the sunshine.

And here was another stem that had leaves unfurling. It doesn’t look like much until you consider that just a month ago, all of this was packed inside of a bud just slightly larger than a pea. Once the buds break things happen quickly.

There are a few railroad artifacts along this trail, including this old signal base.

The place where the columbines grow isn’t far, about a mile out, and it’s an easy walk. There is a lot to see here, and there are always lots of birds to hear. I like places like this, especially on a beautiful spring day.

But you’ve got to stay awake and aware out here, because this is where I ran into the biggest bear I ever hope to meet up with.

I’ve thought about that encounter, and I think the bear just happened to be in this spot because one of the biggest beech trees I’ve even seen stood here, and I think the bear was probably just gobbling up all the fallen beechnuts from it. With a tree that size there must have been thousands of them. But then a storm blew through and the tree must have been weaker than it looked, because one trunk fell here, across the trail, and the other fell the opposite way. That stump and part of the trunk is all that’s left. Someone came out and cut it all up, but left the parts that were too big and heavy to move behind.

There are also wild grapes growing here. Something else for birds and animals to eat.

Marks from the big steam drills the railroad used are everywhere. Drill a hole, pack it with black powder, light the fuse and run as fast as you can go. I have a cannon that my father gave me that I use black powder in and I found that you had better run and hide behind a tree after you light the fuse because it has no carriage, and once the charge goes off it will fly through the air. It will fire a ball the size of a pinball machine ball, and it will bury that ball so deep in a chunk of maple you can’t dig it out. When they blew these ledges, the sound must have been deafening because that cannon can be heard from a long way off.

There was a lot of stone to take care of on this section and once they had the ledges cut back away from the rails they left them as they were, and now 150 years later they are home to some rarely seen plants.

Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is one of those plants, rare enough in this area so that I’ve never seen it anywhere else. It should bloom around the first of May or the last week of April, depending on the weather.

You’ve got to watch for loose stone above you near these ledges, though. This pile of stone had fallen not too long ago, and I think it landed right where the only blue cohosh plant I’ve ever seen grew.  

I’ve never gone very far beyond the ledges but this was a beautiful day and I had time so I decided to explore a little.

I saw a little brown mushroom growing on a very rotten black birch (Betula lenta) branch.

I think it might have been in the suillus clan. They only grow in soil from what I’ve read, but this branch had rotted down to very near soil. The only thing holding it together was the bark.

I saw an old road leading into the woods.

There were gate posts on either side, far enough apart for even a car to drive through. There was also a stone wall with a built-in break in it at this spot, so this road has been here for quite some time.

The road went into the woods for a short way and then turned sharply to the left, going downhill. The woods, mostly pine and hemlock, were thick and dark. Someday I’ll have to follow that old road, but not on this day. It’s too dark in that forest for sun lovers I think, but there could be a lot of pink lady’s slippers, as well as goldthread and other shade tolerant plants, but it’s too early to find any of them now.

I turned back and once again stopped at the ledges, at the place where a large clump of purple trillium grows. It was too early for trillium too, but it’ll be along in a week or two, probably. It grows fast and usually blooms when the columbines do so I’ll have to come out here again soon. I noticed that a lot of young trees had found enough soil to grow in on the ledges.

One of the trees growing on the ledges was striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum,) and most of the buds I saw on them showed cracks in the bud scales, just like those seen here. That means bud break will happen before too long and that gets me excited.

Striped maple buds are among the most colorful in the forest and quite different looking than other buds I’ve seen. They can be pink, orange, yellow or any combination of those colors and they are always velvety soft. This shot from last year shows them in all their glory.

This tiny moss grew on a section of ledge where water dripped constantly but didn’t look at all wet. It caught my eye because it was so bright, but it was so small I had to use full microscope mode on my camera to get just a poor shot of it. After 3 or 4 days of trying off and on to identify it, I haven’t had any luck so far. If you happen to know what it is I’m sure other readers would be happy to know.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
 ~Robert Frost

Thanks for stopping in.

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Last Sunday I decided to skip climbing and walk a familiar rail trail instead. Though it had been a warm week it was a cold enough weekend to have ice on the trails and I left my micro spikes at work, so climbing was out. I was still happy to be on this trail though because I’ve walked here since I was just a boy. At that time trains ran through here though, so it’s always a different feel. 

Right off I saw the beautiful blue of black raspberry canes. I think I must have been 12 or 13 before I got serious enough about plants to begin reading botany books but before that I read anything by Henry David Thoreau because I loved how he was so interested in nature. I suppose I loved that about him because I was interested in the same things, and it was here along this trail that I began to wonder about the things I saw, just like he did in Concord, Massachusetts. I wondered for instance, why these canes were blue, and I found that they had a waxy coating that protected them from getting too much sunlight. You could wipe it right off the cane, and like any wax it would melt and disappear in the summer heat. That’s why this beautiful color is seen more in winter than in summer. It’s my favorite shade of blue.

The wind roars over the hills to the west and blows through here with what is sometimes quite a strong wind and these virgin’s bower seed heads (Clematis virginiana) were blowing all around when I took their photo. Of course this is just what the plant wants, because it grows those long feathery filaments called styles on its seeds (fruits) so the wind can carry them long distances. This is a common but pretty native clematis that drapes itself over shrubs and climbs into trees all along this trail.

Bright yellow fringed candle flame lichen (Candelaria fibrosa) grew on an old black cherry. People worry that lichens will hurt a tree but they simply use tree bark as a roosting place much like a bird would, and don’t harm the tree in any way. A tree’s bark will often grow in ways that allow the tree to shed any rain water quickly in what I think of as vertical streams, and you’ll often find lichens growing right alongside these streams, as these were. This particular lichen is said to be very sensitive to air pollution, so seeing it is a good sign that our air quality is good.

Some of the trees that might have been saplings when I first came through here 50+ years ago are already dying. I’d guess they’re American elms, which are still falling to Dutch elm disease. Keene was once called the “Elm City” but no more. There are very few left.

There are grape vines in the trees everywhere out here and this was the first place that I ever noticed how much the forest smelled like grape jelly on warm fall days, thanks to the overripe fruit. There were lots of different kinds of native fruit out here and I suppose that was why I used to see so many Baltimore orioles.

I checked the hazelnuts (Corylus americana) to see how spring was affecting the catkins. They’re taking on a more golden color, as these show. You can also see the edges of bud scales, and that means they’re starting to open. Before long we’ll see strings of golden male hazel flowers everywhere. Then I’ll start looking for the tiny female flowers. A male hazelnut catkin more or less, is a string of flowers which will open in a spiral pattern around a central stem. The pollen these flowers produce will be carried by the wind to the sticky female flowers and we’ll have another crop of hazelnuts.

I’m seeing maples hanging onto their leaves more these days than I have in the past. At least it seems that way.

I don’t remember ever seeing smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) growing here when I was a boy but they’re here now, though not in the same numbers as staghorn sumac. These berries don’t get anywhere near as hairy as staghorn sumac berries do but the plants still look alike and are easy to confuse if you don’t look closely for the hairy stems of staghorn sumac. Smooth sumac leaves turn bright red in the fall and produce a rich brown dye. Birds supposedly love them but the berries are usually still there in spring until the migratory birds come through.

I was going to say the same thing about staghorn sumac berries (Rhus typhina) not being eaten but I happened upon a flock of robins that were gobbling them up. You can see one sitting on a sumac in the center of this photo. My camera doesn’t have enough reach to do birds the right way, so you might have to hunt a bit. Evening Grosbeaks, Bluebirds, Cardinals, and Scarlet Tanagers also eat these berries.

The seed eaters haven’t hardly touched the black-eyed Susan seeds (Rudbeckia hirta,) which seems odd. In my yard they go fast.

The tiny, seed-pearl like seeds of curly dock (Rumex crispus) were going fast. This little bit was all that was left on a three foot tall plant. Once these seeds mature they can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. The leaves are rich in vitamins A and C and can be eaten raw or cooked. The plant’s common name comes from their curly edges.

I’m seeing lots of pussy willows now. I found a new spot where there were lots of bushes.

But I haven’t seen any of the yellow willow flowers coming yet. Maybe this weekend.

 Willows often have pine cone galls on them, caused by a gall midge (Rhabdophaga strobiloides). The midge lays an egg in the terminal leaf bud of a willow in early spring and the larva releases a chemical that tricks the willow into creating this gall instead of leaves. The midge spends winter inside the gall and emerges in the following spring, so the entire cycle takes a full year. It is fascinating things like this, found all along these railroad tracks, which kept me interested in nature when I was a boy. I saw something new almost every time I went out, and I still do.

Here was an icy spot on the trail but most of it was easy walking.

This is just an abstract shot of puddle ice that I saw. I was fascinated by the perfectly round “jewel” that grew in the ice.

Last year’s grasses were on ice and I liked their stained glass look.

Mosses were glowing in the sunshine. We think of mosses as shade lovers but everything needs sunlight, even if it’s only an hour each day.

I wanted to walk on this trail not only for the memories but also to see the Frosted comma lichen (Arthonia caesia) that lives here. I looked and looked for a dime size white spot on a maple tree but I couldn’t find it. It’s a beautiful thing and this photo taken previously shows the only example of it I’ve ever seen. I’ve found it twice, but today wasn’t the day. The only other lichen I know of with blue fruiting bodies is the smoky eye boulder lichen and that one has blue apothecia only in a certain light. The spherical fruiting bodies on this lichen, called ascomata, are blue in any light and they don’t change color when they dry out. They are also very small; each blue dot is hardly bigger than a period made by a pencil on a piece of paper, so lichen hunters need to carry a good loupe or a camera that is macro capable.

Instead of the beauty of the lichen I settled for the more stark beauty of the moon. In made me remember how, in the summer of 1969 I ran outside after we had landed on it. I thought I might see the lunar orbiter going around and around it, but I never did.

My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth’s loveliness. ~Michelangelo

Thanks for stopping in. Stay safe, everyone.

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