Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Hancock New Hampshire’

I’m starting this post on aquatics with blue vervain (Verbena hastata,) only because I like its color. It isn’t a true aquatic but every time you find it there will be water very nearby. Blue vervain provides a virtual nectar bar for many species of bees including the verbena bee (Calliopsis verbenae.) Butterflies also love it. It likes wet soil and full sun and can reach 5 feet when it has both. I find it in wet ditches, on river banks and just about anywhere where the soil stays constantly moist.

Wild calla (Calla palustris) is also called water dragon or water arum, and it is a true aquatic. It is an arum like skunk cabbage or Jack in the pulpit, both of which also like wet places. I don’t know if I could say this plant is rare but it is certainly scarce in this area. It’s the kind of plant you have to hunt for, and you have to know its habits well to catch it in bloom. Like other arums its flowers appear on a spadix surrounded by a spathe. The spathe is the white leaf like part seen in the above photo. This plant is toxic and I’ve never seen any animal touch it.

I missed the tiny greenish white flowers this year. They grow along the small spadix and are followed by green berries which will ripen to bright red and will most likely be snapped up by a passing deer. This plant was in the green, unripe berry stage. One odd fact about this plant is how its flowers are pollinated by water snails passing over the spadix. It is thought that small flies and midges also help with pollination, because the odor from the blossoms is said to be very rank.

Pickerel weed is having a bad year and gone are the beautiful ribbons of blue flowers along the river’s banks. I’m not sure what is causing such a sparse bloom but I hope it rights itself because large masses of this plant in bloom can be truly spectacular.

One of the things that always surprises me about pickerel weed is its hairiness. I don’t expect that from a water plant. Its small blue / purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Once the flowers are pollinated and seeds have formed the flower stalk will bend over and drop the them into the water, where they will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate. If you see pickerel weed you can almost always expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid, though I’ve heard that plants occasionally grow in water that’s 6 feet deep.

I haven’t seen any berries yet but elderberries (Sambucus nigra canadensis) have bloomed well this year so we should have plenty. This is another plant that doesn’t grow in water but it grows as close as it can to keep its roots good and moist. This native shrub can get quite large and its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.

A floating plant that is attached by roots to the pond or lake bottom is an aquatic, and that description fits floating hearts (Nyphoides cordata) perfectly. Floating hearts have small, heart-shaped, greenish or reddish to purple leaves that are about an inch and a half wide, and that’s where their common name comes from. The tiny but very pretty flowers are about the size of a common aspirin and resemble the much larger fragrant white water lily blossom. They grow in bogs, ponds, slow streams, and rivers. This flower was having trouble staying above water because it had rained and the water level had risen.

Forget me nots are not an aquatic plant but I keep finding them in very wet places. This one grew right at the edge of a pond so its roots must have been at least partially in water. The ground they grew in was also so saturated my knees got wet taking this photo. Many plants that are thought of as terrestrial are able to tolerate submersion in water and can live where they’re exposed regularly to water and from what I’ve seen, this is one of them.

Water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) is probably the rarest of all the aquatics that grow in this area. I still know of only one pond it grows in and there are only a handful of them there. I’ve read that the plant has the unusual ability of removing carbon dioxide from the rooting zone rather than from the atmosphere. It is said to be an indicator of infertile and relatively pristine shoreline wetlands. This year I saw only 4 or 5 plants in a small group. The small, pale blue or sometimes white flowers are less than a half inch long and not very showy. They have 5 sepals and the base of the 5 petals is fused into a tube. The 2 shorter upper petals fold up. I’ve read that the flowers can bloom and set seed even under water. True aquatic plants are plants that have adapted to living in aquatic environments (saltwater or freshwater) and this one has adapted well.

I saw a strange looking bubble which had ripples coming from it, as if it were moving. It was in a pond, just off shore.

Of course if you go looking for aquatic plants, you’re going to see dragonflies like this widow skimmer.

I’m also seeing lots of what I think are spangled skimmers this year. On this day all of them were watching the water.

Pipewort plants (Eriocaulon aquaticum) are also called hatpins, and this photo shows why perfectly. Pipewort plants have basal leaves growing at the base of each stem and the leaves are usually underwater, but falling water levels had exposed them here. Interestingly, this photo also shows the size difference between a floating heart, which is there in the center, and a standard water lily leaf, which you can just see in the top left. Floating hearts are tiny in comparison.

Pipewort stems have a twist and 7 ridges, and for those reasons it is called seven angle pipewort. The quarter inch diameter flower head that sits atop the stem is made up of minuscule white, cottony flowers. I think it’s interesting how their leaves can photosynthesize under water.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter if there are any flowers in view. The light is enough.

I saw what I thought was a pretty clump of grass right at the very edge of the river bank but when I looked closer, I saw that it wasn’t any grass that I had ever seen before and I think it is reed sweet-grass (Glyceria maxima,) which is invasive. It is native to Europe and Western Siberia and is a semi-aquatic, perennial grass with unbranched stems that get up to 8’ tall. There is a reddish tint on the lower parts of the stems. This plant towered up over my head but I can’t swear it had red on the stems because I have trouble seeing red. Reed sweet-grass invades wetlands and crowds out natives, and is not suitable for nesting. It is also a poor food source for our native wildlife.

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) grows in the form of a small shrub and is in the spirea family, which its flowers clearly show with their many fuzzy stamens. It’s a common plant that I almost always find near water.

Meadowsweet flowers are fragrant and have a sort of almond-like scent. A close look shows that clearly, they belong in the spirea family. Before long their pretty purple cousins the steeple bushes will come along.

In my opinion swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is the most beautiful milkweed of all. It grows onshore but a few yards away from the water’s edge on land that rarely floods. Many insects were visiting it on this day. I know of only a single plant now, so I hope it produces plenty of seeds. The flowerheads always remind me of millefiori glass paperweights.

Swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are not true aquatics but they do grow close enough to water to have their roots occasionally flooded. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. Their name comes from the way their bright color lights up a swamp, just as they did here.

Swamp candles have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. Each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are also often streaked with red and this is common among the yellow loosestrifes. Reddish bulbets will sometimes grow in the leaf axils. I’ve read that our native yellow loosestrifes were thought to have soothing powers over animals so people would tie the flowers to the yoke of oxen to make them easier to handle.

Pretty little sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) will sometime grow in standing water but only when it rains and the water level rises. By choice they live right at the water’s edge. On the day I saw these I saw thousands of flowers blooming on the banks of a pond.

Here is a closer look at the flowers. Sheep laurel is part of the Kalmia clan, which in turn is part of the very large heath family, which includes rhododendrons, blueberries and many other plants. I know of only three Kalmias here and they are Mountain, Sheep and Bog laurel. The flowers of all three, though different in size and color, have ten spring loaded anthers which release when a heavy enough insect lands on the flower. It then gets dusted with pollen and goes on its way.

You can always tell that you’ve found one of the three Kalmias by looking at the outside of the flower. If it has ten bumps like those seen here you have found one of the laurels. Each bump is a tiny pocket that the tip of an anther fits into. If the flowers are anything but white it is either a sheep or bog laurel. If the flowers are white it’s a mountain laurel, though I’ve seen mountain laurels with pink flowers in gardens for the first time this year.

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) are having a good year, I’m happy to say. They’re one of our most beautiful native aquatics. If you could get your nose into one you might smell something similar to honeydew melon or cantaloupe, but getting your nose into one is the tricky part.

I went to a local pond and saw what I thought were two-foot-tall white flowers on an island offshore. The pickerel weeds growing near the island told me the water could be up to six feet deep, so I certainly couldn’t wade out to them. My only choice was the zoom on my beaten-up old camera so I put it on the monopod and gave it a shot. When I looked at the photo I was stunned to see that the flowers weren’t white, they were pink. That was because they were rose pogonia orchids (Pogonia ophioglossoides,) a most rare and beautiful flower that I had been searching for in the wild for probably twenty years. And here they were, at a pond I had visited a hundred times. Why had I not seen them before? Because I had never come to this exact spot on the shore at this exact time of year before. That’s how easy it is to miss seeing one of the most beautiful flowers found in nature in bloom.

I’m sorry these are such poor photos but if you just Google “Rose Pogonia” you will see them in all their glory. This is a fine example of why, once you’ve started exploring and studying nature you feel that you really should keep at it, because you quickly learn that right around that next bend in the trail could be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. I hope you have found that this is true in your own walks through nature.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds. 
~
Edgar A. Guest

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Every year around Halloween I go to Willard Pond over in Hancock to see what in my opinion, is some of the most colorful foliage in the region. Every year I tell myself that I’ll come back in the spring to see what it looks like then but I never have, until now. We’re going to be walking through a beautiful hardwood forest of oak, beech, and birch right along that shoreline over there behind that boulder.

Though the forest looked leafless in that previous shot there were plenty of spring leaves to see. This is the start of the trail that I follow. It is called the Tudor trail but I think I would have named it serenity, because that’s where it leads.

There were lots of new, velvety oak leaves.

Shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) still bloomed.

Ferns were in all stages of growth.

And everywhere you looked there were the big white flowerheads of hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides). It was hard to get a shot of them in the bright sunlight so I had to underexpose this shot. White is a tricky color for a camera on a sunny day. I’ve had several questions about cameras and how to use them lately and if this situation seems tricky for you, you might want to read about “bracketing exposures.”  It’s a simple tip that covers a lot of bases and helps you get more used to changing the settings on your camera.

Another native viburnum, maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), showed how it got the name. In the fall these leaves can turn pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

The beavers had cut down a big beech and were in the process of stripping all its bark from it.

I stopped to look at the hillside across the pond with its soft, hushed hints of green. I saw what I had suspected; that this place is beautiful no matter what time of year it is. I could hear a loon laughing and giggling over there somewhere and I wondered what the early settlers must have thought when they first head loons. With all of their many superstitious beliefs it must have scared them half to death. If you’d like to hear what I heard, just click here: www.loon.org/the-call-of-the-loon/

A fly fisherman was fishing for trout from his kayak and he heard the loon too. The loon was most likely also fishing for trout. Willard pond is considered a trout pond and there are rainbow and brook trout, as well as with smallmouth bass. No boats with motors are allowed, and fly fishing is the only form of fishing allowed. Since it is part of a wildlife sanctuary the land surrounding the pond can never be developed. It is about as close to true wilderness as you can find in this area and it is beautiful.

Several times when I came here in the fall, I saw the seed heads of rhodora (Rhododendron canadense). They’re one of our most beautiful shrubs and I hoped to find them in bloom, but all I saw were buds. I had to go back to get these photos of them but it was worth it because this is not a common shrub.

Rhodora is a small, two-foot-tall native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear just before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. They bloom just before irises in this area, and by mid-June their flowers will have all vanished. Henry David Thoreau knew it well, and wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color.” He would have loved this place.

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum commutatum) grew all along the trail and on some of the boulders. I saw plenty of buds but no flowers yet. In the fall dark blue or purple berries will hang where the flowers were.

I’m including this view of the trail to show that if you come here, you’d be wise to wear good sturdy hiking boots. Mud, stones and roots are some of the things you’ll have to scramble up and over. I tell you about trail conditions in these posts so you won’t get here and wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. I often wish someone had done the same for me. Every hike has its own set of challenges, and their difficulty seems to increase with age.

For years, each fall I’ve seen what I thought was a species of dicentra growing on a boulder. But which boulder, I wondered on this trip. Then up ahead I saw that a tree had fallen across the path, stopped only by a boulder. When I got to the boulder sure enough, it was the boulder with the plant I was looking for on it. Luckily the tree hadn’t crushed the plants, so I was able to see them flowering. I could see that they weren’t dicentra.

Though I could see that they weren’t dicentra I didn’t know what they were because I had never seen them before. I took photos of the flowers and leaves from all sides as I always do and when I got home, I found that they were pale cordyalis. (Corydalis sempervirens.) They are a native which, from what I’ve read likes sandy, stony soil along pond and river banks. They are also called rock harlequin and why is perfectly clear, since this one grew on a boulder.

The small flowers of pale corydalis have two pairs of petals, which are bright pink with yellow tips. Some were white, but I’m not sure if they fade to white or come out white and turn pink. They are a biennial, which means that the plants appear in the first year and flower in the second. Flowers are small and appear in clusters (Racemes). They are related to Dutchman’s breeches, which is a native dicentra.

When I got home and saw this photo I took of the forest I thought my camera had lost its marbles, but then I checked the shots I took with the other two cameras I carried and they all showed the same; the most intense green I’ve ever seen. Colorblindness makes it hard to understand what color I’m seeing sometimes and sometimes the colors I see just don’t seem possible. “Find that on a color wheel” my mind taunts.

I’m always awe struck by this huge boulder. In relation to the glacier that scraped it up and brought it here it must have been little more than a grain of sand, and it’s hard to even imagine that.

Violets grew out of the moss on a stone at the water’s edge.

Blue flag irises grew close enough to the water to have wet feet, and that’s what they like. I haven’t seen any in bloom as of this post.

Over the years a few people have told me what I’ve missed by not following the trail past this old oak with its rickety little bench but I’ve seen, heard and felt enough, and I usually have more photos than I would want or need by the time I get here, so this is where I end my hike. I could go on to what is called “the point” or I could climb Bald Mountain, but I don’t feel a need to do so. This spot always calls to me to come and sit so that’s what I do, and it has always been enough.

I sit on the ground these days because the bench is getting wobbly, but it doesn’t matter. The view is the same and the sounds are the same. There is just the lapping of the waves and bird song, and maybe an occasional chuckle or hoot from a loon.

I watched the shadows from the waves move over the stone covered pond bottom. There was just enough of a breeze to kick them up a bit and thankfully, to keep the biting bugs away. In this region you would be hard pressed to find a day when there wasn’t a breeze coming across a lake or pond.

The one thing that is most abundant here is silence, and the simplest lesson nature teaches is the most valuable: silence heightens awareness. Once we have learned this silence becomes the teacher, and silence teaches peace. When I come upon the kind of beauty that makes me quiet and still, be it a tiny flower or a mountain top, I find that peace is always there, waiting. I do hope that you find the same.

The best places aren’t easy to see; instead of following light one must follow silence. ~Hanna Abi Akl

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Here on my first day of retirement I don’t think the reality that I have nothing I have to do and nowhere I have to go has fully sunken in yet. Maybe I’ll need time to decompress after 50+ years of working. It was an odd career that went from gardener to mechanical engineer and then buildings and grounds maintenance. Though I started out fine with maintenance nearly 7 years ago I didn’t end fine. The job, always a dirty and dusty one, became increasingly difficult due to weakening lungs and I could feel myself slowing down, so it was time to go. One of the more pleasant memories of those last 7 years that comes to mind is of the many beautiful things I saw on those 25-mile drives to and from work; like clouds of mist rising up out of the forest in Marlborough, or the morning sunlight turning the snow-covered peak of Mount Monadnock to pink and orange. These sights were always unexpected and, though the drive wasn’t always welcome, they always were.

When I finally got to work each day, there on the shores of Half Moon Pond in Hancock, it wasn’t that uncommon to find something like this waiting. Each morning I would cross the road and stand on the shore in the quiet and watch as the sun rose behind me. It was a wonderful way to start the day and it wasn’t long before I felt that I had stumbled into paradise. I might not miss the work but I will miss the place.

You could feel an energy on the shores of the pond; an infectious childlike spirit, and that’s because children have come here for over 100 years to learn about and enjoy nature. The land, all 700+ acres, is known as The Sargent Center for Outdoor Education, owned by Boston University and currently in use by Nature’s Classroom, which is an outdoor environmental education program. Children, musicians, artists and other groups come from all over the world and the happy shouts and laughter of children can be heard all day every day, almost all year round. It was like music to me and I loved hearing them and seeing them having so much fun, but then covid came along and everything had to stop for a time. I can’t see that the place will ever stop attracting children though; after a fallow year in 2020 they returned for 10 weeks last summer and this summer looks like it will be even better.

The children come to what we call the camp to learn about nature and though that wasn’t my reason for coming, I learned right along with them. This was the first place I had ever seen dragonfly nymphs clutching the pond weeds, waiting to shed their exoskeletons. Once free they are apparently disoriented for a time. (I know how they feel) I had them land on me several times over the years and their empty shells, called exuvia, can be found here and there all along the shoreline.

This was the only place I knew of where I could get close enough to the big mother snapping turtles to see them laying their eggs. It was a slow, seemingly exhaustive process.

Before I went to work there, I had to drive for half an hour to see a rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) in bloom but that first year I found them along the shoreline. I was able to get to know them like I never could before. They’re one of our most beautiful early spring flowers and it was great to know that I could now find them with ease.

The same is true for sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia). I used to have to drive for miles to find it and even then I had a hard time, but there it was right on the shore of the pond. This is another relatively rare and beautiful native shrub which blooms later than the rhodora. Our native laurels have 10 anthers that fit into tiny pockets and spring out when an insect lands on the blossom, dusting it with pollen. The thought of it always fascinates me.

Before I started working at the camp the only way I could see a beautiful marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) was from a kayak, and if you’ve ever tried taking photos while sitting in a kayak you know how that went. Here, I could walk right up to them and see them in all their beautiful glory. It’s a relatively rare plant so I was happy to find them growing right along the shoreline. This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our others St John’s worts are yellow.

A little further up on shore I found my favorite milkweed, swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). As I watched over the years one plant became two, and the first plant grew more and more flowers. The pretty flower clusters always remind me of millefiori glass paperweights.

Humble little Narrow leaf cow wheat plants (Melampyrum lineare) grew and bloomed by the hundreds there. I know of only one other place to find them and they don’t grow well there. This little, shoe top high plant may look innocent but it has a secret; it is a hemiparasite, which is a plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants. It seems to want more than its share. 

One year I cut a large area of brush right along the pond edge to open up a view and the following year I was surprised to find it full of wildflowers, including the beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) above. This is one of the last of our spring ephemeral flowers to bloom and it’s a signal that it’s time to start looking for flowers out in the sunny meadows rather than in the woods. Other plants that grew in this spot were pink lady’s slippers, painted trillium, blue bead lily, and partridge berry.

In certain places in the camp woods you can sometimes find large colonies of painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum). Throughout my experience I have found only one or two plants here and there, so finding large numbers of them here in this place was surprising. And beautiful; painted trilliums are our most beautiful trillium, in my opinion. They will bloom in May, just about the same time as the rhodora we saw earlier.

I was also surprised to find so many broad leaved helleborine orchids (Epipactis helleborine) growing at the camp because I normally see so few of them. They were introduced from Europe in the 1800s and almost immediately escaped gardens and are now considered an invasive orchid; the only one I’ve ever heard of. Scientists have discovered that its nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature, and wasps have been seen moving away from it in a kind of staggering flight. Strangely, the plants have chosen to grow in the shade around building foundations.

Since I’m colorblind, before I started working at the camp I had seen only one cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and that was only because a kind reader had sent me directions to it. But it was across a stream, so I could never get close to it. When a red cardinal lands in a green tree it disappears to these eyes, so I almost stepped on the plant in this photo before I saw the red flower. It grew in a peaceful place beside a stream at the camp. It was a real treat to finally see them up close after so many years of looking for them but now I know that I should stop looking, because the only way I’ll ever find them is by luck. If I should happen to stumble across them again well, that will be a lucky day.

Another plant that I had never seen before working at the camp was the ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi). Like the cardinal flower it is a plant I searched for for many years. I stumbled across it growing in a lawn, which is the last place I’d have thought to look for it. Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S. this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England.

As I think back on my time at the camp, I can see that it was really just one discovery after another, and I could probably fill two posts with all the “firsts” I saw, like the eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) above. Its “eyes” are really just eye spots, there to mesmerize and confound predators. It has a spine that it can click and use to propel itself away from predators, and it used it to jump and hit me in the back, otherwise I’d have never seen it. One day a bobcat walked past a group of us from just feet away, and one morning I saw a young moose come up out of the pond. Several people told me that a black bear walked just 10 feet from me when I was blowing leaves one day, but I never heard or saw it. This was also the first and only place I ever heard the song of a whippoorwill. It really is a magical place that is filled with natural wonders, and I’m very grateful to have had the chance to spend time there.

Another wonder was the cluster of Dryocosmus deciduous galls I found on a red-oak leaf one day. These galls are created when a tiny wasp in the Dryocosmus genus lays eggs on the midrib of a red oak leaf. Each tiny gall has a single larva inside. As the scientific name reveals, these galls are deciduous, and fall from the leaf before the leaf falls from the tree. I remember how amazed I was when I read that about them.

One of the jobs I had at the camp was mowing a 13-acre meadow. The first time I mowed it I noticed that there were one or two chicory plants (Cichorium intybus) in it, so I started mowing around them. Year by year their numbers increased until last year there must have been 15 plants, all blooming together. Several people asked me about them over the years and I think everyone enjoyed the blue flowers, even though they looked a little odd out in such a big expanse of grass.

The meadow that I mowed was full of tiny black insects which I think must have been weevils. There were so many thousands of them I could feel them peppering any uncovered spot on my body as I mowed, so I had to always wear glasses and keep my mouth closed tight. But mowing was when I first noticed something strange; a group of dragonflies would fly alongside the tractor, a few on either side, and every now and then one or two would peel off for a moment or two before coming back to rejoin the group. I realized then that the dragonflies were eating all the insects that were being scared up by the mower. I also realized that they were intelligent creatures. They must also have some type of a memory, because they flew along beside me every time I mowed the meadow in summer. The one in this photo was so used to me mowing I rode right up to it and took this shot with my macro camera as it perched on a chicory plant. If a fish can learn to come when it is called at feeding time, why can’t a dragonfly?

Because I spent most of my time outside, I could keep a close eye on the local monarch butterfly population, which seemed to rise and fall quite a lot from year to year. Last summer seemed to be a good one for them and I hope the future will be kind to them.

I realize as I work on this post how much there was to see and discover in an area smaller than the center of an average small New England town. It’s just amazing, but it isn’t just the beauty of it all; it’s also the rarity of the things found here, like the dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) flowers above. I’ve seen them in exactly one other place in over 50 years of wandering through nature.  

And then there is the purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) I found growing beside a trail through a swamp one day. People had been walking by it without seeing it perhaps for years and if I hadn’t caught just a glimpse of color out of the corner of my eye, I would have done the same. If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never forget how I felt that day. I think it has to be the most beautiful flowering plant I’ve ever seen in these New Hampshire woods.

All of the animals, plants, insects, and amphibians that have made this place their home is what makes it so special. Just think of all the children, more than a hundred years’ worth of them, who came to this place and might have seen one, two or all of the things in this post. Think of how much they might have learned. This place, full of beauty, wonder and enchantment, should always be here for them.

Last year a group of artists came to stay for a week and my co-workers cajoled one of them into doing an oil painting of the bog orchid, which they gave me on my last day. It was a great gift and it now hangs here where I’ll see it every day. Though I doubt I could ever forget the camp, this painting will make sure I don’t. I hope many people who pass through the camp will get to see and admire the flower that inspired it, especially the artist. He did the painting from a photo that I had taken.  

There was a time when I could sit in the quiet of dawn on a summer morning and listen to the birds sing through the open windows, and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing again more than anything else. In the evening I can walk to the stream down the road and watch the sunset turn it to liquid gold, and then when it gets dark I can sit outside and watch the stars while listening to the the spring peepers. These are some of the things that are most important to me, and I’ll have time now to do them and anything else that comes to mind. The possibilities are infinite.

One sweet dream, came true today. ~The Beatles

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

The roller coaster changes between winter and spring go on in this area. Yesterday I was taking photos of Johnny jump ups and today as I write this it is 30 degrees F.

But the cold won’t hurt the early spring plants any, especially those in the pansy family like viola tricolor. They’re hardy, and built for cold finicky weather, and that’s why you’ll often see them blooming away beautifully in window boxes in March. I have to say I was quite surprised to see them blooming in February though. I think that is a first, but after two or three days in the 50s they responded. This is why, when I talk about spring on this blog, I’m not talking about calendar spring. I’m talking about the spring that the plants and trees and birds tell me is here now.

Except for an ice shelf over there on the left the ice has melted off the stream that runs through the skunk cabbage swamp. It was blue and beautiful on a sunny day.

And the skunk cabbages are growing quickly. Soon the spathes like the one seen here will open to reveal the spadix, which will be covered in tiny, pollen bearing flowers.

It rained hard the night before this was taken and instant ponds popped up everywhere. That’s a good sign that the soil under them is still frozen. Since the water can’t soak into the ground and has nowhere to go it ponds up in the low spots. This one was huge and I was surprised there were no ducks in it.

After it started to cool off again, I went to a waterfall to see if any ice had formed. I wasn’t disappointed.

Everything on the shoreline was covered with ice.

This grass plant had grown ice on its leaves that was thicker than my thumb, all from splashing drops of water. When I see ice like this I think of a candle. A candle starts with a wick, which is dipped again and again into melted wax. In this case each blade of grass is like a wick, splashed over and over by water.

This stone was covered in round spheres of ice. I can’t explain the mechanics of how this ice forms but I do know that splashing water creates it.

There was also plenty of white puddle ice to be seen. I’ve read that it is oxygen that makes the ice white like this. Microscopic bubbles, I suppose. It held the memory of what looked like a current.

This was a surprise and it was flowing right out of the ground just where I stood. I thought it was bright red but my color finding software sees rosy brown, chocolate and dark salmon pink. Though it looks strange it’s really just groundwater that has leeched out various minerals in the soil. Most of those minerals I’d guess, are iron oxide based. There are probably bacteria present as well and I’d guess that the heavy rain we had flushed everything out of a groundwater reservoir of some kind. Scientists say it’s all non toxic and harmless, but I admit it doesn’t look it.

I can remember as a boy seeing the Ashuelot River run almost the color of that seep in the last photo, when the woolen mills in Keene released their dyes into it. It ran all the colors of the rainbow, but when I need to think of a good success story I think of the river, because over the years it was cleaned up. Now trout swim in it once again and bald eagles fish here. We humans can accomplish quite a lot when we put our minds to it.

The river looked fairly placid in that previous shot but this is what was going on downstream. The camera made the water look dark but it was really chocolate brown from all the soil that is washing into it from flooding. This section looked to be about twice its normal width and it roared mightily.

Instead of a roar the ice on Halfmoon Pond in Hancock pings, creaks and twangs, especially when the wind blows. It was covered in melt water recently and looked like a mirror. It will freeze and thaw until one day, it won’t freeze any longer. I still think that ice out will happen in March this year.

When warm air flows over the cold ice sometimes the pond creates its own fog. Just another hint of spring that I enjoy seeing.

The witch hazels didn’t dare to unfurl their petals on this cold day. It’s kind of amazing how they can pull their long strap shaped petals back into such tiny buds but they’re fairly accurate. I’ve seen them get frost killed in the past but that doesn’t happen often. Each fuzzy bud that the petals come out of is less than the diameter of a BB that you would put in an air rifle. That’s 0.177 inches so I’d guess the buds are about an eighth of an inch, or .125.

The reticulated iris (I think) had grown some in the week since I had seen them last, and so had the daffodils. The seed pods you see are from redbud trees. These spring flowering bulbs grow under them.

Tree buds were calling to me as they always do in spring but I couldn’t see any signs of swelling in the pretty blue buds of the box elders. This tree in the maple family has beautiful flowers in spring so it’s always one of those I check regularly. They’ll bloom just after the red maples do.

These are the beautiful sticky, lime green female box elder flowers, for those who haven’t seen them. I’ll be waiting impatiently for both them and the red maple flowers. Box elders usually flower in April and red maples sometimes by mid-March. It all depends on the weather.

Speaking of red maples, here are some of their flower buds. I can see a little movement in them. The bud scales are starting to ease and open but I hope they won’t because it’s too early. I’ve seen trees with every flower killed by frost but nature has that all figued out, and not all trees bloom at the same time. The bloom times are staggered over several weeks, so if a killing frost happens not all tree flowers will be damaged by it.

I walked past the European beech I know of in Keene and saw its seed pods all over the ground, falling I suppose, to make room for new ones.

They were all empty, even the ones still on the tree. No wonder there are so many happy squirrels in that area.

Many, many years ago someone went around Keene with a stencil of a foot and spray-painted small feet here and there throughout town. I was surprised to find one still in good condition one day. It told me to stay on the trail. Keep walking and keep seeing the wonders.

It doesn’t take much to make my heart soar in spring; seeing sap buckets hanging on the sugar maples will do it every time. Though this post might seem to be all over the place, with flowers and ice and snow, that’s what spring is in New Hampshire. We are in the push-pull transition time between winter and spring and right now, winter is making a comeback. We are expecting a foot of snow as I finish this post, but it won’t last long and spring will win out as it always does. The trees producing sap means the ground has thawed and soon everyone will be wearing a smile. If you ask most of them why they’re smiling chances are they won’t be able to tell you but it’s just that spring tonic. It just makes you happy, for no particular reason.

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month. ~Henry Van Dyke

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

I don’t know about anyone else but I am really itching for spring to come this year. I knew I shouldn’t have snapped that sugar maple twig a while back because I knew if it dripped sap it would begin. “It” being spring fever, which I seem to catch every year at about this time. I find that one of the best ways to alleviate it is to go and find spring, so that’s what I do. I always learn by doing this; one of the first things I saw was a henbit plant, which had come through winter beautifully green and as healthy as it was in September, so I’ve learned how cold hardy they are. I’ve never seen the light shining out of one before though, like it is over there on the left. Henbit blooms quite early, so it shouldn’t be long.

Hollyhocks also come through winter with a few green leaves. At this time of year any green thing is worth more to me than a sack full of gold. Actually that’s true at any time of year.

I told you a while back that the daffodils I saw in the snow had made a mistake and would surely die, but it was I who made the mistake because here they are again, looking heathier than ever. It’s easy to forget that plants that come up in spring when it’s cold have built in defenses against the cold. Unless it is extreme below zero cold. In that case the snow can actually protect them from the cold and I think that must be what happened here.  

The ice pulled back and almost immediately the shoots of what I believe are reticulated iris came up. That’s the story this scene told to me and it’s most likely accurate because I’ve seen reticulated iris blooming in the snow. They are one of our earliest spring bulbs, often blossoming before crocuses.

Ice melts in mysterious ways sometimes.

While some mallards were swimming away other braver birds were hanging out on the ice at the edge of a small stream. I suspect they must have been citified birds because they weren’t anywhere near as skittish as their country cousins are. All I had with me for a camera was my phone and my small point and shoot so this isn’t a very good shot. It says spring to me though, and that’s why it’s here.

I went into the hummocky swamp where the skunk cabbages grow. I was fairly sure I’d come out of here with wet feet because I had forgotten my big boots but surprisingly, I stayed dry. I didn’t even have to dance from hummock to hummock like I will have to later on when all that snow and ice melt.

There is nothing worse than trying to keep your balance while squatting on a hummock like a garden gnome, so I was very happy that I didn’t have to do that to get this shot of a skunk cabbage melting its way through the ice. Through a process called thermogenesis skunk cabbages can raise their internal temperature to as much as 70 degrees F. in the flower bud to melt their way through Ice and snow. That’s the splotchy maroon and yellow flower over on the left. The outer splotchy part is the spathe and inside is the spadix, which holds the flowers. They should be blooming soon.

I got lost in the curled tip of a cinnamon fern for a bit, trying to get a shot of what I saw.

Skunk cabbages aren’t always easy to find. I took this photo of a melted spot in the swamp to show you that it was warming up and I thought that it was too bad there wasn’t a skunk cabbage in the shot. When I got home and looked at the photo, I got my wish. The finger like growth on the left is the skunk cabbage I didn’t see, even though I was looking right at it.

This might not look like much but this is how winter often ends here, with the south facing slopes melting off first. It’s always nice to see it happening. Of course we could get another two feet of snow tomorrow, but that can’t change the fact that it is warming up and the ground is thawing.

Tree melt rings are another good sign of spring’s approach. I’ve read that they happen when trees reflect the heat from the sun enough to melt the snow around them.

I was hoping that I could get this shot full of dark eyed juncos, which line the bare sides of the roads in winter and spring, picking seeds from between the stones, but I’ve seen just a few birds this year and most of those were here in my own yard. I don’t like the thought of our birds disappearing and I hope that it’s just my imagination, but it seems like it was just two or three years ago when they were everywhere for most of the winter.

Mud is another sure sign that spring is near hereabouts. Though it makes an awful mess on cars, shoes, and anything else that gets near it, I think most of us are happy to see it. Mud season doesn’t last all that long, usually.

I happened to walk past a Cornelian cherry shrub and thought I’d check to see how it was coming along. I didn’t see any signs of its early yellow flowers yet but it’s an early bloomer.

I walked past the Cornelian cherry to get to the vernal (spring blooming) witch hazels and I saw flowers there. Here were some petals just about to unfurl from the bud.

And here were some almost completely unfurled. What a beautiful thing to see after this cold and icy winter we’ve had. Spring, even the thought of spring, warms my insides first.

And the flowers were even spilling pollen onto their petals already, hoping to entice an early bee or two. I haven’t seen one yet but it shouldn’t be long. These flowers are normally very fragrant but I couldn’t smell them om this day. I think more sunshine and warm days will bring out the fragrance.

I saw the moon in the afternoon sky and though I didn’t have a tripod with me I thought I’d try to get a shot of it. Surprisingly, this is the result. It’s grainy but at least you can tell it’s the moon. The first full moon in spring is called the worm moon here because the ground is thawed enough for earthworms to be active again.

I think for me spring, more than anything else, means softness. In winter in New England everything freezes and contracts and gets very hard. The ground is like concrete for months but in spring things begin to loosen and soften. It’s a soft, sweet time and I’m very much looking forward to it. I hope spring is wonderful wherever you are.

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. ~ John Galsworthy

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

You might have read in the last post that I have bought a new camera. I had a couple of quick photos I took with it that I added to that post but I always like to put a camera through its paces and see what it can do before I start using it for day-to-day blogging, and that’s what this post is about. I was happy to see what it can do with window frost in microscope mode. This is one of the best shots of frost I’ve ever taken. I love seeing things like this that are right there in plain sight but are rarely seen. How something so flat can look so 3 dimensional I don’t know, but it was beautiful.

These frost crystals were on the mirror of a truck. I’ve never seen them grow curved like this. The detail was so fine It was as if they had been etched into the glass.

To think that something so beautiful could live on the mirror of a truck. It’s a good example of why I always try to be aware of my surroundings and look closely at whatever is near. You never know what you might see. Life life has put beauty in our path at every turn but if we don’t see it, we have only ourselves to blame. Because this was a mirror you can see the reflection of the camera lens behind the crystals in some of these shots. It’s a bit distracting but there wasn’t any way to hide or camouflage it.

Here was another curvy frost crystal on a mirror. They’re very beautiful but also delicate; one warm breath or a ray of sunlight and you’ve lost your subject.

This shot is of sunlight coming through a frozen jelly fungus, which is always a hard shot. I should have tried for better depth of field. If you ask it to, this camera will use photo stacking to improve depth of field, and I’ve heard that it is amazing. I’m going to have to try it.

This small icicle was full of bubbles and it was also smaller in diameter than a pencil. This camera really excels at macro photography and since that’s what I bought it for, that was what I was most interested in.

This is the midrib of a feather.

Here was the seedhead of a purple coneflower. Birds, I’d guess finches, had been eating the seeds and revealed the beautiful spirals hidden inside.

I saw a cocoon of some sort on an old door where I work. It was cottony and full of holes, and as big around as my finger and maybe an inch and a half long. I saw what looked like tiny flies on it. If you know what insect made it, I’d like to know.

Whatever they were they were too small to get a good shot of, even in microscope mode. I don’t know if they came from this cocoon or were just stuck in its wooliness. In any event they were no longer alive.

I’ve been trying to get this shot looking down a beech leaf off and on since last fall and the new camera pulled it off with ease, though the depth of field could have been better.

The last Olympus camera I had, the Stylus TG-870, wasn’t worth much when it came to landscapes, at least in my opinion, so I wanted to test its zoom capabilities. This oak leaf frozen in the ice was shot at full zoom in auto mode. I thought the camera did a fair job of it.

This shot of dry rot on a standing dead tree was shot in microscope mode from about 4 inches away. I was surprised because I thought you had to be closer to the subject to use microscope mode. This camera hs two macro modes and three microscope modes and you can get as close as 1 cm. The missing piece of wood was about as big as an average postage stamp and for microscope mode that’s huge, so I probably didn’t need to use it.

I found a tree full of lichens. This is where I would need microscope mode again.

My first choice was a beautiful star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris.) It was maybe three quarters of an inch across. It was cold at about 20 degrees F. and this lichen was in the shade. Now that I see the photo it looks like there was frost on the apothecia.

I think this was the Eastern speckled shield lichen (Punctelia bolliana.) According to what I’ve read it grows on the bark of deciduous trees, has a bluish gray body with large brown apothecia, and has brown to black dots (pycnidia) on the surface of the body. I think this one checks all of those boxes.

I would call this color bright red but the Eastern speckled shield lichen’s description says the apothecia should be brown, and my color finding software sees rosy brown, so I can’t argue. What you see here averages about .08 to .12 inches across. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to get this close to a lichen and I don’t know of a DSLR lens that could.

This shot of a smoky eye boulder lichen is another example of what microscope mode will do. I never knew this lichen’s apothecia sat on top of the body (thallus) in that way. I’m going to have a lot of fun using this camera but I should take a little more time and use a tripod. I also want to try stacking in microscope mode. It will stack as many as 7 shots together for amazing depth of field.

These are the bracts that the flower petals come out of on a witch hazel. They are tiny little cups that I could barely see, but the camera found them. I hope to see petals on the spring blooming witch hazels soon.

This camera’s lens is an F 2.0, which is considered a “fast” lens. That means it has good light gathering capabilities due to a larger aperture, so I tested it one recent early morning at this stream. I’ve had to lighten the photo just a bit but at full zoom in what was barely dawn, it did fairly well for a point and shoot camera that is smaller than a 3 X 5 card. All in all so far, I’m really happy with it and I think I’m going to have a lot of fun with it. The fact that it will do landscapes is a pleasant surprise. In case you missed it in the last post, the camera is an Olympus TG-6. It is a field camera that many scientists use in the field because it is so tough. It is water, dust and shock resistant, heat and cold resistant, and it takes incredible photos, either on land or under water. If you’re interested in macro photography this is a relatively inexpensive camera that will take you anywhere you’d care to go.

The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera. ~Dorothea Lange

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

We’re coming back into the time of light, when the long dark nights of winter shorten and the days lengthen minute by minute each day. Dawn comes earlier now, and I just happened to be there one day when it did. As I watched I saw its beautiful light spill over the wind sculpted snow, and I forgot how cold it was. Can you love light? When you’ve spent a lot of time in darkness, yes you can.

I’ve seen films that showed the sun coming up over high mountain peaks like those in the Himalayas, so it was easy to imagine that I was there among the highest mountains when I looked at this scene but no, it was just plowed up snow.

Where I work enough snow fell to plow but where I live we barely saw three inches, so there was quite a difference over just 25 miles. On these -10 degree F. mornings when the snow squeaks underfoot and an intake of breath has sharp edges to it I don’t go out and play for long. In fact I just jumped out of the truck I was driving and took this quick photo with my phone. Plowing made the snow look deeper than the 6 or so inches that it was.

The long tree shadows were a beautiful shade of blue and I can see that now because of a wonderful art teacher who, with the help of color wheels and oil paints showed me that they were not the gray color that I saw, but the beautiful blue seen here. Ever since, for all of my life, every time I’ve seen blue shadows in winter I’ve immediately thought of Norma Safford. She was a patient, caring teacher who showed a colorblind boy how to really see, and she was so well loved that she even has a road named after her. We should never believe that those little, off hand things that we do for each other don’t have the power to grow into very big, life changing things.

I can’t show you the wind but I can show you what it does, so here is another look at the wind sculpted snow. If you’re interested, the wind came from the left.

The wind can fool you. In this instance it came from the back of the tree.

And here it came from the left side of the stone.

Beech leaves shivered and whispered in the wind, and they were beautiful. We’re so fortunate to have a tree that is beautiful at all times of year.

I know I just did a post on lichens but I hope you’ll bear with me, because the next few shots are actually more about trees than the lichens that grow on them. The green web like pattern on this old white pine is caused by lichens, and the reason they grew this way is because between the plates that make up the bark there are channels that help shed water away from the bark of the tree. These channels can be thought of as streams, and just like when a stream runs through a desert the growth of mosses and lichens on tree bark often appears on the “banks” of these vertical streams.

Here is a closer look. If you stand in the rain and watch, you’ll find that the water that runs down this tree will follow almost exactly where the growth is.

And here are the “shrubs” that grow on the banks of the “streams” on this particular tree; beard lichens. You can see one of the deep channels in the bark in this shot.

So, the next time you happen to see mosses or lichens growing in a more or less vertical row on a tree you’ll know where the water runs off in a rain. If you’re actually out in a rain look also at the base of the tree. You might see what look like soap bubbles, which are caused by the rain washing off all of the salts, acids and other particles from the air that coat the bark surface. It’s a kind of soap.

Fine, powdery snow will sometimes also find those same channels.

If you look at a female white pine seed cone aerodynamically you would guess that they would always land in the snow just like this one has, but they don’t. Many land with their smaller tip down, buried in the snow. Since I’ve never seen one actually falling through the air I can’t say why that would be. Pine cone scales open in dry weather and close in wet weather to protect the seeds inside,  so maybe the ones that fall point down are closed at the time. That would reduce drag. You can actually watch the scales open and close if you put a cone in a bowl of water. While in the bowl it will slowly close, and then when you take it out and let it dry it will open again, just like a flower. White pine cones are the state flower of Maine, by the way.

A wound on a white pine looked like someone had hung a medallion on the tree. I counted the rings on the wound and the closest I could come with any real accuracy was 80, so if the limb that was cut off was 80 years old I’d guess the tree it was on has to be at least twice that, based on size alone. It’s a big tree. What I found interesting was how most of the growth on the limb had formed down toward the ground, so its growth was off center.

One of my earliest memories is of watching the buds on the lilac that grew at the corner of the house. I’ve always been drawn to buds, especially in late winter, but I’ve never really known why. Then I bought a new camera and of course one of the first photos I took with it was of buds; the beautiful red elderberry flower buds seen here, each about as big as a pea. A day or so later I opened this photo on my computer and my first thought was “the miracle of life.” Now I might have a clue about why I was drawn to buds as a boy; I wanted to see the miracle of life, and if you watch the same buds over the course of a few weeks you can indeed see the miracle of life unfold right before your eyes when the bud scales open to reveal the tiny flower or leaf buds within. So I’ve put this photo here so you too could see the miracle. Maybe with breakfast on this day, maybe before bed; just see how beautiful life is. Just gaze at the miracle of life for a bit. See every little nuance; see how perfect it is. See that all of life is a miracle.

Of course once I got started with the new camera I couldn’t stop, so I found some male sweet gale catkins, with their pretty triangular bud scales. For anyone who wants to know, the new camera is an Olympus TG-6. It is a field camera that many scientists use in the field because it is so tough. It is water, dust and shock resistant, heat and cold resistant, and it takes incredible photos, either on land or under water. I use it almost exclusively for macro photos like the one above. Each catkin seen here is about a quarter inch long and I can see details in them that I’ve never seen. Leading off from the bottom of a catkin for instance you see one bud scale and then two, and then one and two again all the way up, overlapping just like roof shingles to keep the rain out.

When jelly fungi dry out, they can look like a little dry flake of color on a tree branch. This branch was about the diameter of a pencil, so that should give you an idea of how small the jelly fungus was. You can find them on branches on the ground under trees, especially oaks, in winter on top of the snow. Sometimes, rather than dried out they’ll be frozen solid as this one was. Whether frozen or dry though, they can be revived.

This is that same jelly fungus after I put it in a cup of tepid water for about 15 minutes. At this stage it was back to its normal self and felt just like your ear lobe. It had also swollen to maybe half again the size it was in the previous photo. This is a fun, simple experiment for children to do.

Chipmunks seemed to be trying to make figure eights in the snow. I can’t even guess why. Maybe they were just so happy that spring is near, they had to come out and play.

I like to stop at this place on my way to work each day to just take a few moments to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature before the day begins. While there I’ll often take a photo or two but since I’m retiring soon, this will probably be one of the last times we get to see it. I’ve shown it to you in all four seasons, and I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing what has been a special place for me for the past 7 years. The next “big thing” on Halfmoon Pond will be ice out, which usually happens in April but has been happening earlier over the past few years. I have a feeling it’ll happen in March this year.

One of the reasons I feel that ice out on the pond might happen in March this year is because those are daffodil shoots coming up through the snow. Or more accurately, they came up and then it snowed. No, this doesn’t mean that I’ll be showing daffodil blossoms here soon, because these shoots have made a mistake and they will surely die. But what this does mean is spring is stirring. If it wasn’t these daffodils wouldn’t have come up. We’ve had two or three days in the 40s F. and I’d guess that must be when they came up. I do know for sure that they weren’t there in mid January.

Here is something that will warm the heart of any New Englander. On Thursday February 2 the temperature was 42 degrees F. so I snapped a twig on a sugar maple tree just to see what would happen. I went back about a half hour later and lo and behold, there was sap dripping from it. And so it begins; spring is right around the corner.

When I am nowhere, casually wandering about, I feel I am where I need to be. ~Marty Rubin

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

To open this post I should let newer readers know that I’m not a lichen expert. Though I do make mistakes I try hard to be accurate when identifying them. I started doing lichen posts because I enjoyed seeing them and I thought you would, too. They’re easy to find because they grow virtually everywhere, and it’s nice to see their bright colors and unusual shapes in winter. Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) for instance, is a beautiful bright yellow, cheery lichen that grows on stone.

Many lichens produce spores as a means of reproduction and that’s what this one was doing when I saw it. The little round bits that sometimes look like the suckers on an octopus are called apothecia, and that’s where the action is. Many lichens, for reasons I don’t know, like to produce spores in winter, so this is a good time to look for them. This lichen in my experience doesn’t often have them, so I got lucky.

Peppered rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) also likes to grow on stone in full sun and I find a lot of them on old stone walls. They’re a good introduction to lichen study because their brown apothecia are large and easy to see without aid. Lichens are made up of a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. Technically their apothecia are “fungal reproductive structures, in which the fungus reproduces itself through the production of spores.”

My original thoughts for this post included finding lichens I hadn’t seen before, but then I thought no, I don’t want readers to have to find specific tree species or to have to climb a mountain to see these lichens so I stayed with more easily found lichens, like these pebbled pixie cups (Cladonia pyxidata) I saw growing right beside the road I was walking on. They like to grow on soil or rotting stumps and logs and though very small they grow in groups, so that makes them easier to see.

Though pixie cup lichens are squamulose they have fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are its podetia. “Podetia” describes a stalk like growth which bears the apothecia, or fruiting bodies. Some examples might have some almost microscopic reddish dots around the rim of the tiny cup, which are its apothecia. Finally, frucitose means a lichen has a bushy, vertical growth. Since this example has squamules even growing inside the tiny cups it must be a pebbled pixie cup lichen.

You might notice that some of these photos aren’t as sharp as they could be and that’s because I think I’ve worn out another camera. My little Olympus Stylus TG-870 has just about given up the ghost I think, so I’ve had to order a new camera. I hope you’ll bear with me while this issue irons itself out. I think this must be the fourth or fifth camera I’ve gone through in the nearly eleven years of doing this blog, but they have a rough time of it in the woods.

I reminded myself, by taking this photo of a candle flame lichen (Candelaria concolor,) that it is not a great idea to shoot the color yellow in full sun.  But you can see the details, and that’s what matters. You should look for this lichen on the trees next time you go to a shopping center, because it is found on the bark of deciduous trees in open areas. From what I’ve seen it doesn’t mind car exhaust, which is unusual because most lichens are sensitive to poor air quality. Look for the bright color rather than size first. The example seen here was growing on an ash tree and was smaller than a penny.

I find what I believe are rosy saucer lichens (Ochrolechia trochophore) growing on smooth barked trees like maples, and I see them everywhere I go, winter and summer. In fact it’s safe to say that I probably see more of this pretty little lichen than any other. Its apothecia are not subject to cold or dryness, apparently, because they never seem to change. This particular lichen must produce huge amounts of spores.

Script lichens are a good example of how lichens can change according to the season. When I see them in summer, they look like barely noticeable gray spots on trees but in winter their apothecia start to show. The blackish lines are its apothecia, and long apothecia that look like a pair of lips are called lirellae. The grayish part is the body or thallus. This one is very common and easy to find in this area and I believe it is the common script lichen (Graphis scripta.)

Golden moonglow lichens (Dimelaena oreina) fooled me this year. I always thought they would only grow on smooth surfaces like stone benches or gravestones but this year I found them on some very rough stone. This is a pretty lichen that I’ve read can get quite large but I’ve never seen one more than an inch or two across. They don’t seem to change color when they dry out like many other lichens do. This one was producing spores and that’s something I don’t see this lichen do very often.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) like to grow on old stone walls in full sun, but I’ve also found them on mountain tops. Years ago I found a beautiful example on a gravestone and never found another anywhere else. Now I see them everywhere I go so it shows me that I have to train my eyes to see the very small.  

And this example was very small indeed. The orange pad like structures are its apothecia and the roundish gray bits are its body, which in this case are called squamules. What you see here would have easily fit on a penny with plenty of room to spare. Next time you’re near a stone wall take a close look. You might be surprised by what you see.

Sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima) is a pretty, bright colored lichen that gets its common name from the way it grows on concrete sidewalks. It is a lime lover and concrete sidewalks have lime in them, so when you find it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it too. This stone, my favorite “go to” stone to see this lichen, is almost completely covered by it. What is a bit odd about it is how this is the only stone in this wall like it.

A closer look at the sidewalk firedot lichen showed how it is another lichen made up of tiny specks, some of which are its dry apothecia. They are very small so you really need a loupe or a macro lens to see them clearly.

Another of my favorite lichens is the star rosette (Physcia stellaris) because when you look at it you often find that it appears to be looking back, with its big, dark apothecia. But they aren’t always dark; sometimes they’re gray and sometimes they appear more blue than gray. That’s because though they are actually dark brown, they have a powdery wax coating that can cause their color to change depending on the light. Plant parts with this powdery waxy coating are said to be pruinose and a good example of it is the “bloom” on blueberries, grapes, plums, and other fruit. On this day this example’s apothecia didn’t appear to have any pruinose coating at all.

Here was an example that illustrates how a lichen can change due to weather or even over time. That’s why it’s best, when you find some that interest you, to look at them every now and then in different weather conditions to see how they change. Some might not change at all but many do.

The tufted ramalina lichen (Ramalina americana) has a green body (thallus) with flattened strap like branches and white fruiting bodies (apothecia.) They are very susceptible to air pollution and many have died off but oddly, I find them growing in a parking lot surrounded by cars. I’m not sure what that means but generally lichens are a good indicator of air quality. If you see a lot of them in your area that most likely means that your air quality is good.

If you see a tree that looks as if someone threw a bucket of white paint at it you could be seeing a whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena.) On the other hand, you could be seeing a white fungus called the white stain fungus (Julella fallaciosa.) That’s where looking closely comes in; if you see what look like small black dots or rings in the white field, it is most likely the fungus. Neither the fungus or the lichen will hurt the tree. Just think of them as birds that have found a good place to perch, because that’s all they’re doing.

This tree had me baffled. I thought it was covered with some kind of lichen but I had never seen one this color envelops an entire tree before, so I had to send the photos to my friend who wrote a book on lichens. Not surprisingly he knew right off what it was.

A photo of the tiny, almost invisible apothecia helped with his identification.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when he said that it was my old friend the maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora,) because every one I had seen previously looked like the one in this photo. He said that the individual thalli (the bodies) of these lichens can grow together to cover large swaths of a smooth tree trunk. This is especially true on young maple trees with very smooth bark, which of course is what this young tree was. Lichens always find a way to amaze me, no matter how many of them I see.

This lichen was going to appear here as a mystery lichen but at the last moment I sent photos to my lichen identifying friend and he came back with Ropalospora viridis which has no common name. Since that was the one I had chosen out of his book I was happy to have the confirmation. Lichens can be tough to identify but as I’ve said here so many times before, you don’t have to know its name or even that it is a lichen to appreciate its beauty. That is the most important part; just being aware of and enjoying the beauty that is all around you.

This lichen doesn’t have apothecia. Instead it has bright, lime green soredia, which are tiny balls of cells that break off and start new lichens. Many lichens have asexual means of reproduction and this is one of those. It’s a pretty little thing that I’m sure will be hard to miss now that I’ve seen it.

There is always at least one unknown in my lichen folder and this is today’s example. At first I thought the ghostly white circle on a tree was the fringe of a maple dust lichen, but where was the rest of the lichen? Then I thought it might be slime flux, which is a weeping wound on a tree also called bacterial wet wood. It looks like a wet stain running down the bark and can be white, black, orange, brown and other colors. I’ve been aware of it and have seen it on various trees throughout my life but I’ve never seen what it looks like when it just starts, and I wondered if that was what I was seeing here. In any event both I and my lichenologist friend are baffled by this one, so if you happen to know what it is, we’d really love to hear about it.

I hope you’ll look at and enjoy the lichens in your area. You won’t have to look hard because they are literally everywhere.

For anyone interested here is the ordering information for the lichen book I’ve been speaking of throughout this post. I’m sorry that I couldn’t get it to you in the original post.

From the tiniest grain of sand to the large sun in the sky, all are here to teach us. ~Pam Torres

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

This post won’t be as cold as the last one from the Westmoreland deep cut but you might still want to keep your sweater on. It’s -10 F. as I start this post but the above photo of the outlet on Half Moon Pond in Hancock was taken on a balmier 20-degree morning just after an ice storm. We’ve had a few of those as well.

I think I’ll remember this winter as one of near constant ice. It is everywhere and seems to cover everything, as this poor lowbush blueberry shows. The ice is keeping me from climbing any hills and making me check to see if I have my micro spikes any time I go outside.

I took a few steps out onto the ice of Half Moon Pond without spikes on and found it so slippery I thought I’d have to drop to my knees and crawl back to shore. It was all I could do just to stand still but the skaters loved it. One even had a sail, so the wind did all the work. If you need wind, this is the place to come. Sometimes the wind will scream across the pond with enough force to nearly tear a half open door right off its hinges. It howls through here and makes a howling sound, just like in the movies. I always wonder if Native Americans were afraid of places with howling winds and twanging ice like this place has. When that ice starts in with its creaking, twanging and pinging it can sound downright eerie, but you do get used to it.

I decided to stay on shore where I could stand upright and marvel at the designs in the ice. I can’t imagine what would have made such strange shapes.

Before the pond froze over as each wave reached the frozen sand on shore its leading edge would freeze and over time all the frozen wave edges intertwined and created these rope-like structures. This was the first time I had ever seen this happen.

I tried a few times to show the way the ice on the trees reflected the light in colors, as if millions of tiny prisms lined the branches, but though it’s an easy thing to see making the camera see it is not quite so easy. That’s too bad because it can be one of the most beautiful scenes found in nature in the winter.

In a recent post I did on buds I told how the bud’s scales protected the bud from water and ice infiltration, but after seeing something like this it always amazes me that the buds can survive at all. The new leaves and flowers that appear in the spring though, show that they’re a lot tougher than we might think.

Not a single bud or branch can escape ice like this. Anything over a quarter inch in ice thickness starts bringing down branches, and the branches bring down power lines. That’s why an ice storm can be such a terrible and beautiful thing.

The ice I could get close to looked quite thick but I didn’t see too much damage from this storm. I saw just a few smaller limbs down.

I saw a long-necked dinosaur eating an oak leaf in a frozen puddle.

This was the scene in another puddle. I can’t imagine how such things happen. It’s as if the skin of the ice is disappearing and leaving behind its skeleton.

Little bluestem grass looks so fragile, but here it took a plow full of heavy wet snow and didn’t flinch. I love to see a field full of little bluestem in the snow.

This is another failed attempt at showing you all of the colors that shine out at you from an icy forest. One day I hope to capture it because it’s a very beautiful thing to see. It’s one of those things in nature that make you just want to stand and look and marvel at the incredible beauty that surrounds us.

But most times, rather than just standing and looking into the woods I like to go into them, because things like this are much easier to see. This is one of the reddest examples of red bark phenomenon that I’ve ever seen. The color is caused by algae growing on the tree bark, and it being studied by scientists all over New England. It isn’t always red; it can be orange as well. It affects all kinds of trees, both conifers and deciduous, and many different species. It can also appear on stones and is even present in many lichens. So if you see a tree with red bark there isn’t anything wrong. It’s just algae looking for a place to perch. What might be wrong I’ve read, is what is causing the algae to want to perch on tree bark in the first place. It is a relatively recent phenomenon, happening within the last 20 years. Some think climate change, others simply don’t know. I notice it more and more, especially on eastern hemlock trees.

NOTE: A knowledgeable friend tells me that this red bark could also be the tree’s “under bark” which can become exposed when woodpeckers go probing for larvae on a tree. I’ve never heard of this so I’ll have to look more closely next time I see it. If this was done by a woodpecker that was a determined bird, because it was a very large area on the tree.

Here was something I had never seen; a large hemlock scar had healed nicely but it was covered with white frost, while frost couldn’t be seen on any other part of the tree. It’s something I can’t explain. Maybe the bark of the healed wound was moister than the older, thicker bark that surrounded it. Somehow, something attracted the frost.

One of the many things I see in winter is how the sun has heated a leaf or a twig enough so it melts itself down into the snow. This was a hemlock twig, which was barely larger in diameter than a piece of cooked spaghetti. How so much heat can be absorbed by what is a relatively small area is unknown to me, but I see it happen all the time.

I saw a strange something or other on a tree and though I had a feeling that it must be a lichen, I wasn’t sure. I had never seen anything like it so since I have a friend who has literally written the book about the lichens in his area, I sent him photos. He almost immediately identified it as Trypethelium virens, which I later found out is called the beech sucker or the speckled blister lichen. They grow on beech trees and the best time to spot them is in the winter, so that’s another good reason to go into the woods in winter. It’s a pretty lichen that was quite large and easily seen; maybe 2 inches across.

I found a curious little forest sprite face peeking out from the fringe of this example. From what I’ve seen online the appearance of this lichen can vary by quite a lot.

I went to the Ashuelot falls to get some shots of ice pancakes but I was too late. The river had frozen over and all I saw were icebergs at the floor of the falls. It was still a worthwhile trip though, because the water going over the falls looked like honey in the sunlight.

While at the river I saw black locust seed pods blowing around on top of the snow. They always seem to fall from the trees in the winter so there was nothing remarkable about that. What is remarkable is how such a big tree can come from such a small seed. They can’t be much more than a quarter of an inch long. They are obviously in the legume family along with beans, peas and so many other plants.

I’ve always loved how the white snow makes water look so dark in winter, so I hung by the side of this dark pool long enough to almost make me late for work. Of course I tried to get that perfect photo, and never did.

This last shot is from nearly the same spot as the first one in this post. It shows the difference over the course of almost a month and surprisingly, except for the addition of a little snow in this last shot, it didn’t change that much. Since we’re supposed to be in for a good old fashioned nor ‘easter today, it may change quite a lot. Stay warm and stay safe, wherever you happen to be.

Nearness to nature keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt, and in touch with the unseen powers. ~Charles Eastman

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

I’ve met people who thought that buds appeared in spring just before the leaves came out but no, buds actually form in late summer, when trees begin storing reserves to help them get through winter. The period is called lignification and it happens when trees stop their active growth cycle. One of the ways to identify trees and shrubs in winter is by their buds. The size and placement of buds as well as the number of bud scales (cataphylls) can all help with identification. Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some just one scale called a cap, and some buds have none at all. Buds that have several scales are called imbricate and have scales that overlap like shingles. I’m starting this post with some unusual trees that aren’t often seen in this area, and the bud shown above is a sweet gum bud. It is a good example of an imbricate bud. It is also a good example of a rarity here.

Sweet gum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) are easily identified by their unusual seed pods, above, and by the large size of their buds, which can be green, red or orange. I’ve read that Native Americans used the hardened resin from these trees for chewing gum. The resin was also used in a tea to calm the nerves and, when powdered and mixed with shavings from the tree, was used as incense by the Maya. The resin is said to look like liquid amber, and that’s where the first part of the scientific name, Liquidambar comes from.

Another tree you’ll have a hard time finding in this area is the European copper beech (Fagus sylvatica purpurea.) I’ve looked at its buds before in March and maybe they were swelling up to prepare for bud break, but they seemed bigger than those on our native trees. This year in January they really don’t look much different than our native beech buds. Long and pointed, they are a different shape than the sweet gum bud we saw but are still imbricate buds because of their shingle like, overlapping bud scales. They’ll open with maroon foliage, which over time will become a beautiful bronze / purple.

I love the bark on this old beech tree. It reminded me of an elephant’s skin. This tree lives on the grounds of the local college and there is another in Dublin, but otherwise I don’t know of any other European beeches in this area.

Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula Tibetica) is another tree you might have a hard time finding but if you had studied your buds, you would recognize these big, shiny red buds as more imbricate buds. A gummy resin often fills any spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. If water ever reached the bud and froze it could kill or damage it, so nature found a way to prevent that from happening. The shape of many imbricate buds also ensures that water will run off, rather than stay on the bud. Bud scales also help prevent moisture loss. These buds are very pretty, in my opinion.

The bark of a Tibetan cherry is very interesting. It is also called the paper bark cherry because of the way its bark peels as it ages, much like a birch. It is used as an ornamental tree as much for its bark as for its flowers, which are similar in shape and size to other ornamental cherries. The mahogany bark has very long, closely spaced lenticels that give it an unusual appearance. Lenticels are corky pores that allow gases like oxygen to reach the living cells of the bark. Without enough oxygen bark can die, so it “breathes.”

The most unusual tree bud to appear in this post is that of the ginkgo, which I find at the local grocery store, of all places. The short shoots bear terminal buds that are small at less than an eighth of an inch, with room for just two overlapping scales. A bud with only two overlapping scales is called two ranked. You can see how the terminal bud and many leaf scars are crowded together. Ginkgo is considered a “fossil tree” that has been on earth for millions of years. It is also considered the oldest living seed plant. It is said to be capable of living several hundred years, and there are trees in China that are thought to be at least 400 years old.

Buds with two scales that meet but do not overlap are called valvate buds, and a good example of a valvate bud can be found on nannyberry shrubs (Viburnum lentago). Though the scales in the photo do happen to overlap somewhat normally they would not, so they are still considered valvate. Nannyberry is one of our few native viburnums with edible fruit. They can get quite tall, almost the size of a small tree. According to the book The Origins of English Words “nannyberry” is also called sheep berry and that name comes from its fruit, which is said to resemble sheep droppings. The nanny part of the name comes from the nanny goat. Squirrels and birds are said to eat the fruit but I see huge numbers of them still on the bushes well into winter.

Cornelian cherry buds (Cornus mas) are also good examples of valvate buds. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the two scales part to let the bud grow. What confuses me about this shrub is how the two outer scales never seem to be completely closed. It doesn’t seem to matter though because they always flower beautifully. Some bud scales like these are hairy and some are covered with sticky resin that further protects the bud. Cornelian cherry is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts.

One bud scale covering a bud is called a cap, and magnolia bud scales are good examples of that. Magnolia flower buds are described as “densely pubescent, single-scaled, terminal flower buds” and that’s what we see here. The hairy single scale will fall off when the bud inside has swollen to the point of blossoming. Once the plant flowers the ground under it will be littered with these hairy caps for a short time, so if you’d like to see one up close that’s the time to look.

I was lucky to find a seed pod on the magnolia that I looked at but unfortunately it was quite dry. I’d like to find a fresh one because I’ve read that they’re full of bright red seeds. I’ll look for one this spring to show you.

Big, black and pointed mountain ash buds (Sorbus americana) fooled me into thinking they had a single cap like bud scale at first, but they actually have several overlapping scales which are quite sticky. I finally got a photo that shows this. You have to look closely at buds to see what is really going on, so it helps to have a loupe or a macro lens.

The terminal buds on a Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) are oval shaped and imbricate with many bud scales. Sometimes the scales pull back from the bud (reflex) as these did, creating what look like tiny green flowers. In a way they remind me of the male flowers on a haircap moss, but of course they’re much bigger.

Here is a look at the side of the bud in the previous photo. Evergreen buds can be very sticky, but I’ve noticed that much more sap or resin flow occurs on warm days. On a cold day in January these buds were hardly sticky at all. You can also see the rows of whiteish breathing pores (stomata) on some of the needles in this shot. Carbon dioxide, oxygen, and water vapor enter and exit the tree through these tiny openings. There are many millions of them on a single tree.

If you see that some of the branches on your Colorado blue spruce are a bit deformed like those seen in the above photo your tree has the Eastern spruce gall adelgid living on it. They cause crab claw like galls but don’t do any real harm to the tree. I’ve had them on a tree in my yard for years now and it is still as healthy as the day I planted it. By the way, a blue spruce can be green.

If I had to choose a favorite tree bud the flower buds of the red maple (Acer rubrum) would have to be at the top of the list. They’re very beautiful but more than that, they are one of my first signals that spring has finally come. It doesn’t matter what the calendar says, when I see red maple flowers, I know winter is over. Of course sometimes they get a little over anxious and will get frost bitten, but more often than not they’re a reliable indicator. Each small flower bud has four pairs of bud scales.

Sugar maple terminal buds (Acer saccharum) appear on the end or terminus of a branch. The larger, pointed, very scaly bud is flanked by lateral buds on either side. The lateral buds are usually smaller than the terminal bud and the twigs and buds are brown rather than red like silver or red maples. These buds have imbricate bud scales and they show the whitish, sticky resin that “glues” one scale to another.

Norway maple (Acer platanoides) buds are also imbricate but instead of sticky resin on the edges of its bud scales they have a fringe of fine hairs which help shed water. These buds are relatively large and easy to study using a hand lens, so they’re perfect for children in the field.

Buds that have no bud scales but are very hairy like those seen on witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana,) are called naked buds. The hairs take the place of bud scales when it comes to protecting the bud and it works well. Other naked buds are found on staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) and the native viburnum called hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides).

Witch hazel flower buds are also very hairy, but rounder than its leaf buds. It won’t be long before the yellow or orange strap like flower petals appear on the spring witch hazels. It’s something I’m impatiently looking forward to.

I know that not everyone gets as excited over buds as I do but I also know that there are children who read these posts so I often have them in mind when I do a post like this one. I hope something like a post on buds might help jump start a child’s interest in nature. They aren’t that complicated and hopefully bud scale terminology won’t seem too intimidating.

If you are interested in learning about tree and shrub buds, start with one in your own yard that you are sure of, like a maple tree or even your rhododendron, and then branch out to those you don’t know well. The following information might help to get you started:

A bud scale is made up of modified leaves or stipules that cover and protect the bud in winter. Usually the number of bud scales surrounding a bud will help identify a tree or shrub.

Imbricate bud: A bud with numerous scales that overlap each other like shingles.

Valvate bud: A bud with two or three scales that do not overlap.

Two Ranked Bud: A bud with two scales that do overlap.

Caplike bud: A bud with a single scale that comes off in the spring.

Naked bud: A bud with no scales.

If you find that you have the itch to learn even more about buds and trees, this little book is for you. I’ve had my copy since I was a teen but it’s still in print. It is very helpful and easy to understand.

Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the stars and the mountains above. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.  ~David Polis

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »