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Posts Tagged ‘Hill Climbing in New Hampshire’

I don’t know why but every now and then I’ll feel a pull from a certain place, almost like I imagine a salmon must feel when it has to return to the stream it was born in. On this day the pull came from the High Blue trail in Walpole. I know better than to try to ignore the pull because it’ll just get stronger as time goes by, so off I went to Walpole. The strongly contrasted, sun dappled woods were just what my camera can’t seem to cope with so some of these photo are poor, like the one above of the trail.

I forgot to take more photos of the trail because I gained some helpers along the way and they kept me preoccupied with a hundred different things; everything from chasing chipmunks to stopping and pricking up our ears to listen to whatever was going on in the woods. One helper was a black Labrador retriever and the other…

…was a chocolate lab, apparently the black lab’s sister or maybe his girlfriend, I don’t know. They were very friendly these two, but only the chocolate lab would let me pet her. The black lab would stand close enough to touch but wouldn’t let it happen, so I let him be and just talked to him.

Every time I stopped to take a photo they came running back down the trail and whirled around me like a dust devil before racing back up the trail. They were trying to hurry me along, even though I told them several times that I was here to take photos and see the countryside. It was a cool morning and I don’t know if there was heavy dew on this grass or leftovers from the previous day’s rain, but I’m surprised that this photo came out at all since I had a cold wet nose in my ear when I snapped the shutter.

There are a lot of hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) along the trail and they were showing their fall colors. Hobblebush is one of our most beautiful native flowering shrubs in the spring, and they aren’t bad in the fall either.

Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) were wearing their fall pale greens and whites.

I took a left at the sign and my new friends ran ahead as if they knew the place better than I did.

But they didn’t know everything. They both stopped suddenly at this spot and froze, pricked up their ears and stared into the woods before bounding off toward whatever it was they heard. The black lab went in first and the chocolate followed and I stood with all my senses on high alert. There are bears up here and though I had a can of bear spray with me I was still a bit apprehensive.

Last year I found that a lot of corn had been eaten from this cornfield and there were a lot of bear droppings in the area, so I pay real close attention to my surroundings when I’m up here. I was glad to have the dogs with me. I doubt a bear would have tangled with two dogs unless it was protecting cubs.

The corn was ripe and ready, but since it’s used for silage it can be cut and processed at any time. Animals will take a lot of it if this year is anything like last. Bears, deer, raccoons and many other animals and birds love corn.

Something big and heavy had flattened a few cornstalks.

The dogs finally came back and seemed fine but I noticed that some of the frolic appeared to have gone out of them. Maybe they were just getting tired; they had been doing a lot of running. While they were out carousing I had been taking photos. I think this one shows a calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum,) which is one I’m trying to learn this year. I figure if I learn one new one each year by the time I’m 80 I might know them all. Of course by then I probably won’t be in the woods and won’t care anyway. This aster is difficult because it resembles a couple of others, but of course that’s true with many asters.

Before you know it you’re at the 1,588 foot high overlook that looks out over the Connecticut River Valley into Vermont. I could see Stratton Mountain clearly so there was no haze. The last time I was here in June it was so hazy I could barely see beyond the valley. I was hoping for a white puffy cloud kind of day so I could take photos of cloudscapes as well as landscapes, but instead it was a ragged purple cloud day. Two of them stayed in place as if someone had pasted them on the sky.

The light seemed a little flat to the camera, apparently. I could see the shading between the hills that I like so much but the camera couldn’t catch it. Luckily the dogs had found a chipmunk hole under a boulder out in the woods and were digging away, furiously. Silly dogs; I’ve never seen or heard of a dog actually catching a chipmunk. They’re very smart little animals and the bite on the nose that the unlucky dog would get wouldn’t be worth it.

I could see the ski trails on the right side of the mountain but thankfully they weren’t white. I suppose before too long it will be cold enough for them to start making snow. I’m hoping the natural kind will wait a few more months or stay on that side of the river. Odd that you can’t see a single colored leaf in this shot, though there must have been thousands out there.

I had to visit the small pond that lives up here before I went back down the mountain. As I expected it was covered completely in duckweed. Covered until the dogs decided to go for a swim, that is. But that was fine because they broke up the mat of green and let some blue in.

Clubmosses have grown their clubs and that means they are busy producing spores. There are lots of clubmoss plants up here and I think at last count I had seen 4 different species. I think this one is ground pine (Lycopodium dendroideum,) but despite the name the plant has nothing to do with pines or any other tree. Each leaf looks more like a scale than a leaf and is called a microphyll. A microphyll is a leaf with a single, unbranched vein. Clubmosses won’t grow where the temperature is too warm so when you see them in the forest you know you’ve found a relatively cool spot. They have been on earth for about 200 million years, and once grew to tree size. The spores and a tea made from the leaves were used medicinally by Native Americans to treat headaches, nosebleeds, skin ailments, and to aid digestion.

Clubmosses are vascular plants that produce spores instead of flowers in yellowish club shaped structures called strobili. The spores can take up to 20 years to germinate, but the plants also reproduce by long horizontal underground stems. When the spores are ready to be released each triangular scale will open along the length of the strobilus, and the wind will do the rest.

I saw a lot of beech drops (Epifagus americana) here. These plants are parasitic on the roots of American beech (Fagus grandifolia) and take all of their nutrients from the tree. Because of that they don’t need leaves, chlorophyll, or sunlight so what you see is a naked stalk with tiny blossoms on it.

Tiny pinkish purple beech drop flowers have a darker purple or reddish stripe. This one had a yellow pistil poking out of it but most don’t. I think this is only the second time I’ve seen this. Beech drops are annuals that grow new from seed each year but scientists don’t know much about how the flowers are pollinated.

I think the strangest thing I saw on this hike was this lichen I found on a tree. Something had scratched or chewed through the white outer layer to the reddish brown layer beneath. There are animals that eat lichen like reindeer, moose, and even white tailed deer, but none of them did this. This lichen was small at maybe a half inch across, so whatever made these marks was also quite small, like a mouse or a bat, or a chipmunk.

Once I saw the marks in the lichen in the previous photo I started looking a little closer and here was another one with the same kind of marks. I’ve never seen this before and I can’t even guess how the marks were made.

The dogs have an owner and she was waiting for us when we reached the trailhead; not looking very happy. I explained that her dogs had been keeping me company but it was an old story for her. They live close by and apparently every time the dogs hear a car they run off to see who it is. I didn’t say anything but it is legal in this state to shoot dogs that are loose in the woods, because they can form into packs and chase down and kill white tail deer. Letting dogs run loose is illegal and if caught dog owners can be fined big money. I’m sure the owner of these dogs knows all this but I’m not sure how the dogs keep getting loose. I think I’d tie them up or walk with them. I’d hate to see such friendly and beautiful dogs come to harm.

Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring—it was peace. ~Milan Kundera

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Last weekend I remembered that I hadn’t climbed any hills in a while so I chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. The trail starts in a meadow / hayfield and I was surprised to see a path starting to wear into the grass. I suppose it must be becoming a popular climb even though I rarely meet anyone here.

There was a nice display of big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) and gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) along the edge of the field. The big, hand sized, heart shaped leaves helped me identify the asters.

The trail starts out narrow and level but before long it widens and angles uphill.

A ray of sunshine had found a colony of shining clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum) and made it shine even more. This clubmoss is unusual and easy to identify because it is unbranched and grows fairly erect.

Cockscomb or crested coral (Clavulina cristata) grew on the side of the trail. Crested corals have branches that end in sharp tips and these tips will often turn brown, but these examples were still nice and white. It had rained all day the day before so it might have been very fresh. I’m not sure what the tiny yellow fungus in the background was.

The names pinwheel and horsehair mushroom are interchangeable and go by the scientific name of Marasmius rotula. They grow on decaying leaves and decaying wood and can appear overnight after a good rain. They are very small and rarely grow larger in diameter than a pea. This one grew on last year’s leaves and was easily the largest I’ve ever seen with a diameter equal to that of an aspirin.

Another record mushroom in my book was this hemlock varnish shelf fungus (Ganoderma tsugae.) It was larger than a dinner plate and I’d guess quite old. Its common name comes from its shiny cap which usually looks like it has been varnished, but this example was very dirty. This mushroom is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

The trail goes gently uphill until we near the summit where the grade is steep. It’s very dark through this section of forest because of the overspreading evergreen branches of pines and hemlocks.

If you look closely at the tree to the left of the trail in the previous photo you can see that it is full of woodpecker holes. This photo shows how the wind carried mushroom spores into one of those holes and they grew there, fruiting on this day or the day before. This is how fungi infect and almost always kill the trees they grow on. All it takes is a small wound, and that’s why wounds on expensive ornamental or fruit trees should be quickly treated.

When trees die they eventually fall and I saw several down across the trail. This hemlock was the largest. Note all the tree roots on the trail where the soil has washed and worn away. They can be very slippery after a rain and I slipped on them a few times on my way down the hill.

Hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata) and crowded parchment fungi (Stereum complicatum) battled for space on a fallen limb. There was plenty of room for both to the right and left but crowded parchment fungi often covers entire logs, so it wants all the space.

Yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia) gets its common name from the yellow bits of the universal veil on its orange cap. The universal veil is made of tissue and completely covers the young mushroom. As the mushroom grows it eventually breaks through the membranous veil and pieces of it are left behind on the cap. Rain can wash them off so I was surprised that they have stayed in place on this example. This mushroom is in the amanita family and is considered toxic. The amanita family contains some mushrooms that can kill if eaten, so I never eat any mushroom that I’m not 110% sure is safe. In truth I’m not crazy about mushrooms anyhow so their toxicity is a non-issue for me.

Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) was showing its fall colors. This plant has small black berries but this example didn’t have any. Little is known about what animals eat the berries but it is said that the Native American Iroquois tribe used the crushed dried berries and leaves to treat convulsions in infants. Native Americans also ate the roots of the plant, which taste and smell like a cucumber. I accidentally scared a turkey away and I wondered if it was that bird eating all the berries. I also saw plenty of blueberry bushes but not a single one had a berry.

This fungus grew right on the ground and looked like it was pretending to be a pizza. I haven’t been able to identify it.

I didn’t expect the views to be very good due to the previous day’s heavy rain, so I wasn’t disappointed when they weren’t. It was very hazy but you can still see the trees; countless thousands of them. I didn’t see much leaf color yet though some seemed to be lightening up to a yellow green.

Out of several shots of the views I took this is probably the best as far as lack of haze.

As I stood scanning the trees for signs of fall color a large shadow crossed over me and when I looked up I saw a flock of what I think were turkey vultures circling silently above me. They looked to be huge, and there had to have been 7 or 8 of them. Big birds flying across the skies; throwing shadows on our eyes. These words from Neil Young’s song Helpless played in my mind as I watched them soar.

These aren’t very good photos but my getting-photos-of-birds-in-flight skills are just about nonexistent. What struck me most about these birds other than their large size was how absolutely silent they were. They never made a sound the whole time I watched them; there wasn’t even the sound of wind in their feathers even though they flew so close once or twice it seemed like I could have reached out and touched them.

Because of the previous day’s rain many of the little toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) that live up here were their natural green color and plump with plenty of moisture. When wet the greenish color of the algae that is present in the lichen comes through on the surface. The tiny black specks in its lower left corner are its disc shaped fruiting bodies, called apothecia, where its spores are busily being produced so a new generation of toadskins can get their start.

When wet toadskin lichens are rubbery and pliable and feel much like your ear lobe but when they dry out they are much like a potato chip, and will crack just as easily.  Like many lichens they also change color when they dry out, like the dry example in the above photo shows. The warts on its surface are called pustules and on the back of the lichen there is a corresponding pit for every pustule. Each lichen is attached to the rock at a single point that looks much like a belly button, so this is an umbilicate lichen. This example’s belly button is the bright spot that looks like a sun in a solar system.

I’ve written several posts about Tippin Rock, which is the 40 ton glacial erratic that lives up here, so I was going to just pass it by without taking a photo, but then I saw something I hadn’t seen before. At first I thought I had come upon one of those benevolent forest sprites whose job is guiding creatures who pass through the woods and protecting the forest, but instead it was Gus. “Are you tipping that rock?” I asked, and Gus giggled and said no, it was his father making it tip. Gus is a happy little guy who was overcome by bursts of great joy each time his father made Tippin Rock tip. It’s truly amazing to see 40 tons of granite rock gently back and forth like a baby cradle and Gus was having a ball riding the huge stone but truth be told, his dad was looking a little winded. From what I gathered Gus and his dad and their dog Annie had come up here specifically to tip the rock, and tip it did, again and again and again. Once I thought it might actually tip off its natural keel and never move again but Gus rode it out and everything was fine.

I don’t get many chances to show a person’s size in relation to the big boulder so I was grateful when Gus’s father graciously said that I could take a few photos. Gus is a very bright, joy filled five year old who is as cute as a button. He told me that he likes school and loves his teacher very much, and I told him that I’d bet that his teacher loved him right back. Gus also told me that he and his family were having a dinner party the following evening and said that I should come so he could show me around, but I left the family to their fun and headed off down the hill.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how I harp about people getting into the woods so it was a real pleasure meeting Gus and his dad and their dog Annie up there; easily the high point of my entire weekend. I hope Gus grows up to be a great lover of nature; he’s certainly off to a great start.

If you wish your children to think deep thoughts, to know the holiest emotions, take them to the woods and hills, and give them the freedom of the meadows; the hills purify those who walk upon them.  ~Richard Jefferies

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I’ve been wanting to show you something so last Sunday I decided to climb Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey to see if I could see what I had in mind. Usually when I think of climbing a hill to show you something it doesn’t work, but I’ll keep trying. We start by crossing this hay field / meadow.

There were violets in the grass. There were also buttercups but my photos of them aren’t good enough to be shown here. I think this is a dog violet (Viola conspera) but I usually avoid trying to identify violets because there are so many and they all seem to look alike.

The grasses are starting to flower. Many grasses are beautiful and interesting when they flower, but it’s an event that I fear most of us miss.

Once we’re through the meadow and into the woods everything becomes very green, including the light through the new spring leaves.

There were thousands of starflowers (Trientalis borealis) along both sides of the trail. They are a woodland plant that doesn’t mind shade, so the leaves overhead don’t bother them.

I saw my first mushroom of the year but I don’t know its name. Someone wrote in once with a positive identification of this one but I can’t remember the name they told me or the date of the post it appeared in. There are an awful lot of mushrooms on this blog but finding a specific one can be tedious if you don’t have a name to search for.

Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) were growing here and there. The plant gets its common name from its small white, carrot shaped edible root, which tastes like cucumber. Native Americans used it for food and also used it medicinally. The Medeola part of the plant’s scientific name is from Medea, a magical enchantress from Greek Mythology. It refers to the plant’s magical curative powers. These should be flowering in early July.

Botanically speaking a whorl is an “arrangement of sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point and surround or wrap around the stem,” and nothing illustrates this better than Indian cucumber root. Its leaves wrap around the stem arranged in a single flat plane, so if you saw them from the side theoretically you would see an edge, much like looking at the edge of a dinner plate. If any leaf or leaves in the arrangement are above or below others it’s not a true whorl.

I saw a few pink lady’s slippers budded but they usually won’t bloom until June. Some think they’ve found a pale yellow lady’s slipper when they see the buds are at this stage. This native orchid is our state wildflower.

As we get deeper into the forest it gets darker because of the canopy, and there is much less undergrowth.

There is a surprising openness in a dark forest overshadowed by evergreen hemlock and pine branches. I’ve heard that the same is true of jungles, because very little sunlight reaches the forest floor.

I saw a hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) with some young hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) growing on it. This mushroom’s common name comes from its shiny cap which will come later, and which looks like it has been varnished. You can tell that they’re young because of the white / tan color on their outer edges. As they age they will lose the whitish color and become deep, shiny red. This mushroom has been used medicinally in China for thousands of years. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

This hemlock didn’t have any fungi on it but it must have had insects inside it because the woodpeckers were having their way with it. A while ago I split a log that had thousands of big black carpenter ants in it and for a woodpecker they’re a delicacy.

The bedrock forms ledges here that appear to have risen from the surrounding terrain, creating caves under the overhangs. They aren’t big enough for bears but a porcupine, raccoon or even a bobcat might call them home.

When the trail reaches its steepest you know you’re very near the summit.

I gave a nod and a click of the shutter to Tippin Rock as I passed. The 40 ton erratic gets its name from the way it will “tip” if shoved in the right spot. It actually rocks back and forth very slowly, like a pendulum. I didn’t have time to wrestle it on this day but if you’re interested you can just type “Tippin Rock” in the search box over on the top right and you’ll be taken right to all the posts I’ve done about it.

This is what I wanted to show you; the forest canopy awash in spring greens. With the oaks and hickories finally chiming in all of the trees now have their new leaves. This is why the spring ephemeral wildflowers are done blooming in the forests. From now on it will be mostly meadow and roadside flowers.

We aren’t in the clouds up here but we are in the tree tops. How many shades of green can there be?

The forest seems to go on forever. Sitting alone up here with the breeze and birdsong I often find myself wondering what the early settlers might have thought when they looked out over something so vast and unbroken. I also wonder if I would have had the courage to face it. There were no houses out there, no stores, and no roads. Only what you carried; that and your own ability were all you could really rely on.

I sit with my back against the little toadskin lichen’s (Lasallia papulosa) boulder when I take photos of the views, so of course I have to spend some time with them. Most were surprisingly dry in spite of all the rain but still beautiful nonetheless.

Some plants seem to shine with the light of creation and some lichens are no different. Sometimes you can see entire solar systems on the face of a toadskin lichen.

It looks like Mister Smiley Face is growing a mossy beard. I hope it doesn’t get too out of control. We always smile at each other on my way down.

I hope you enjoyed seeing the spring forest from above.

To see what others cannot…
You must climb the mountain.

~Ron Akers

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1. Trail

We haven’t had very many warm sunny days here this spring so when we do I try to make the best of them.  On one recent beautiful spring day I decided to climb Hewes Hill in Swanzey. A 40 ton glacial erratic sits on top of the hill along with some toadskin lichen friends that I like to visit occasionally.

2. Snowy Woods

The woods and the trail were snow covered by about 6 inches of snow but in the shade the crust was strong enough to walk on, so it was almost like walking on pavement.

3. Snow Melt

The snow had melted away from every tree trunk. I showed this in a post I did recently and several of us agreed that this must be caused by the sun heating up the tree bark which, if you really think about it, is pretty amazing.

4. Oak Leaf

This eastern hemlock caught an oak leaf and didn’t want to let go.

Hemlock Wound

According to the book Bark by Michael Wojtech, eastern hemlock is the only tree in the northeastern U.S. that produces wound tissue (cork) in annual rings that can be counted like rings of wood. I counted about 21 years that it took this wound to heal. But my question has always been, how do trees out in the middle of nowhere, away from human activity, get these wounds in the first place?

6. Deer Print

Deer are smart animals. They let humans do the work of breaking trails through the snow and then packing it down, and then they just follow along.

7. Sign

Before too long you see the sign that “captain obvious” must have put up.

8. Tippin Rock

I say that because there aren’t many rocks this big in the immediate vicinity. In fact there aren’t any. For those new to the blog, this glacial erratic gets its name from the way it rocks (tips) back and forth if you push it in the right place. I’ve never been able to move it but I’ve talked with someone who saw a group of kids all stand on one end to make it move. If you look closely at the underside you can see that it comes down to a point like the keel of a boat.

When you think of all that had to happen for a glacier to set a 40 ton boulder down on the single flat piece of rock on a hilltop in New Hampshire so it would be perfectly balanced it becomes close to impossible to believe, but there it is.

9. Crack in Rock

Something I never noticed before was this large crack that runs from top to bottom of the rock on one side. It doesn’t go all the way through though, so I don’t think tippin rock is in any danger of cleaving itself in two.

10. Ledge Ice

There are some good views up here but you can’t see them from tippin rock. To get to the ledges where the views are you have to walk another 10 minutes or so through the woods past a lot of stone outcrops that still have a lot of ice on them. The trail itself was very icy on this section as well.

11. Rest Spot

There were some dry spots to sit and catch your breath or to just listen to the forest. The birds were singing happily this day.

12. View

Since the views look off to the south southwest, afternoon is not the time to come up here and take photos, but I always try anyway. There is something about this place; it’s peaceful energy maybe, which is different than all the other hills I climb. It makes me feel like just being here is what’s really important, and that the photos don’t really matter. Though I’ve never really gotten a good photo from up here, neither have I ever come away feeling disappointed.

13. View

It was so sunny and warm up here that it felt like summer and not spring was right around the corner. I could have sat here for days.

14. Toad Skin Lichen

Though the views are beautiful  they are really secondary to my real quest, which are the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) I’ve found them only on hilltops so being able to see them always comes with a price. This one was reddish orange, which is a color I’ve never seen among them. I thought that it could have come from an algae coating, which is common among some lichens, but the book Lichens of North America says that it is a pruinose coating similar to that on plums and grapes, but red instead of white.  I never knew a pruinose coating could be anything but white.

Toadskin lichens are umbilicate lichens, meaning they attach to the substrate at a single point, and that point can be clearly seen in the upper third of this example. This lichen was about as big as a penny, or about 3/4 of an inch.

15. Toad Skin Lichen

These toadskin lichens are pea green when they’re wet, and when they dry out turn ashy gray to almost white. This one was very dry and crisp but I chose this photo because the lichen’s fruiting bodies (apothecia) are so easily seen. They look like tiny black dots scattered over the surface. The bumps that look like the warts on a toad are called pustules, and they look like indentations from the underside.

16. Toad Skin Lichen

This close up shows a better view of the toadskin lichen’s apothecia, which are tiny black discs with a sunken center that makes them look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) 0f the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. If I could magnify them enough we’d see clear to brown muriform spores in each apothecia. Muriform means they are “wall like” with internal cross walls that make them look as if they were made of brick and mortar. What strange and fascinating things nature will show us if we just look a little closer.

I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything. ~Alan watts

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