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Posts Tagged ‘Hill Climbing in Winter’

Last Sunday was supposed to be a nice day so I thought I’d go for a climb up Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. When I left the house it was 40 degrees and two hours later it was 50 degrees, so for December in New Hampshire it was a beautiful and unusually spring like day.

I’d guess, from all the woodpecker holes, that this hemlock is full of carpenter ants. The rectangular holes were made by a pileated woodpecker, which is our biggest.

We’d had quite a rainstorm the day before and the weather people said we’d had 60 mph wind gusts overnight, so I wondered if that was why this old tree was leaning so badly. I don’t remember seeing it when I came here last fall.

An old hemlock had a leaf shaped scar on it. Fully healed, I’ve heard that you can count the rings to know how long it took for the scar to heal. If I’ve counted accurately, I think this one took about 20 years.

Though sunshine breaks through here and there this forest is generally quite dark due to all the conifers.

I said in the last post that the yellow crust fungus I showed I had only seen on conifers, but here it was on a dying birch. As I said then, though I once believed it was the conifer parchment fungus (Stereum sanguinolentum,) now I’m not so sure. The examples I see are always very dry and thin, almost as if they were part of the bark. This example almost looks like a lichen but I would doubt that.

Growing right beside the birch was an eastern hemlock and here was the crust fungus on it as well. I wonder now if it will grow on any tree.

The trail just before you reach the summit is the steepest part. It seems to usually be that way on our hills.

I was finally able to get a shot of Tippin Rock and the sign pointing to it. I always have to laugh at the sign because it seems to me that nothing could be more obvious.

The people who climb this hill almost always do so to see Tippin Rock, and I’m sure they know what they’re seeing. It’s like having a sign saying “The Sky.”

Since I found this crack in the stone a few years ago, I haven’t been able to stop inspecting it every time I come here. It goes almost all the way around the boulder, so it’s probably a good thing that most people don’t know how to get the huge stone moving. Until I saw it rock slowly back and forth like a baby cradle, I thought the legend was probably just a story but no, it really does move.

The top of this hill is solid granite where the glacier dropped Tippin Rock. I’m always stunned when I think of all that had to happen, not only for a 40-ton boulder to be up here at all, but for it also to be perfectly balanced enough to rock back and forth on a bed of flat, level granite. The bedrock is exposed right at the surface so nothing but mosses and reindeer lichen can get a foothold, and that’s why the big stone sits in a clearing all by itself, almost as if man placed it there. Maybe in a few thousand years there will be enough soil for trees to grow.

Usually in December I would expect to see icicles on the ledges up here, but not this year. Not yet. You can see how the stone is wet from groundwater though so as soon as it gets cold enough, they’ll be there.

My camera wanted to focus on the tiny hemlock needles it saw rather than the comparatively huge barred owl that sat behind them so this isn’t a very good shot of the bird, but it does show that they are up here. I watched it fly silently through the forest and land on that tree but when I bent to fiddle with my camera settings, off it went.

I tried to do the Limbo under this hemlock that had fallen across the trail but I failed miserably so I just went around it on the way back.

I couldn’t shoot the view to the left because that was where the bright sunshine was, and the view to the right is blocked by trees, so this is it.

I went to see how the toadskin lichens were doing. Some were pea green and happy but most were not.

Considering all the rain we’d had the day before I thought all the lichens would be at their best but many had already gone from green to brown and even more were already ash gray. This told me that these lichens don’t even stay moist for 24 hours after a rain, and that’s amazing.

There are blueberry bushes up here, and also wasps. Blueberry stem gall forms when a shiny black wasp called Hemadas nubilipennis damages a bud while laying her eggs on a tender shoot. The plant responds to the damage by growing a kidney shaped gall around the eggs, and this is where the larvae will overwinter before emerging as adults in the spring. This example was a highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) but this wasp isn’t choosy and will also use lowbush plants (Vaccinium angustifolium.) The galls do no real harm to the plants. I think this one was empty, because of all the exit holes.

I was kneeling down getting a shot of a face on a log when a father and his little boy came along. The boy asked me if I was chopping the log and I told him no, I was looking at the face on it. He couldn’t have been more than four or five and when I said “see the face?” his eyes got wide and his mouth dropped open, and I’m afraid that it might have scared him. He didn’t say anything about the face but he told me he and his dad were going to Tippin Rock. I said I had just come from there and told him to have fun, and we went our separate ways. I hope the little guy doesn’t have bad dreams about the face on the log. It reminded me of the painting “The Scream” by Edvard Munch. An interesting though disturbing side note about that painting was how Edvard Munch said he had sensed an “infinite scream passing through nature,” and that’s why he painted it.

Anyhow, I wished I had been kneeling by Mister Smiley Face when the boy came along. He couldn’t scare anybody.

Once you really commence to see things, then you really commence to feel things. ~Edward Steichen

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I’ve been itching to climb a hill for a while now but the weather has kept me away. It has warmed up enough to rain several times this winter and then it has gotten cold immediately after and ice has built up just about everywhere. Finally for the last 3 or 4 days of last week it warmed up and didn’t rain so I thought I’d climb Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey last Saturday. It was relatively warm at about 36 degrees F. and the trail of footprints through the pasture showed that I wasn’t the only one with an itch to climb.

As I thought there might be there was ice on the trail, but at the start it was only in spots and I had my Yaktrax on, so I didn’t worry about it.

Other parts of the trail were snow covered. I stopped to admire a beech tree that was caught in a ray of sunshine.

I saw a curious stone with moss growing in concentric rings around it. I’m guessing depressions in the stone gather water and stay wet longer than the rest of the stone, and the moss is attracted to the moisture. The same happens vertically when the natural channels in tree bark become small streams when it rains. Mosses grow along these vertical streams, and so do lichens and algae.

I almost turned back when I saw this much ice but after scratching my head for a moment or two I decided I’d climb in the woods beside the trail for a while, and once there was no more ice I’d return to the trail.

Just so all of you who wear Yaktrax know; you can slip and fall with them on. I almost went down in this spot.

The forest didn’t look too bad to walk through. It was snowless and open in many areas but here is another warning about Yaktrax: sticks can get in between the Yaktrax and the sole of your boots and get caught there, so when you try to move forward your trapped foot stays where it is and you go down face first. The solution is to walk slowly, which I do ayway. Walking slowly is the only way to see those interesting “hidden” things in a forest. Walk at a toddler’s pace and you’ll see some amazing things. Hurry along to the end of the trail and you’ll see nothing.

I saw quite a few interesting things, including this cocoon attached to a beech bud. I’m calling it a cocoon instead of a gall because it was attached to the bud with silk. I don’t have any idea what insect made it or why it would be so exposed, out at the tip of a branch on a terminal bud like it was. It seems like a poor choice to me, but I could be very wrong. Maybe the sunshine in that spot keeps it warm.

Some things I saw were’t so quite so interesting, like this fallen hemlock I had to find my way around.

I couldn’t find the stump that the hemlock had broken off from until I looked up. It was actually the top of a huge tree that had broken off way up there. I was glad there was no wind on this day.

Before the hemlock lost its top it made sure that many children would follow, as this grove of young ones beside it revealed. It was as hard to get through it as it was to get over the broken tree top.

And then the ice came up off the trail and into the woods and I began to question my judgement in doing this. I almost threw in the towel and called it a day in this spot but instead I moved further into the woods for a while.

Finally, after climbing nearly the entire trail in the woods, just before the summit the ice was gone and I walked comfortably on frozen soil again. This is the steepest part of the trail so I was very happy to see it ice free. The reason for so much ice on is because the trail never sees direct sunshine and when it rains all the water runs down it as if it was a stream. Layer by layer the ice builds in thickness each time it rains and the only thing that will get rid of it is a few days of 50 degrees or more. We reached 61 degrees Tuesday and are supposed to reach 70 degrees today, so all of the ice you’ve seen here is probably gone now.

With a nod and a tip of my hat I passed the 40 ton glacial erratic called Tippin Rock that lives on the granite slab that is the summit. It’s called that because you can indeed tip the behemoth and watch it rock slowly back and forth like a cradle. I’ve written about it several times so if you’d like to know more about it, just type “Tippin Rock” in the search box there on the upper right of this page.

The trail passes Tippin Rock and leads to the granite overlook where the views are seen. I saw that there was a big old maple tree slowly falling over. When it finally makes it all the way down it will block the trail. There were many fallen trees here on this day. I just went aroud this one.

There were ice falls on the ledges. This ice was as clear as window glass and there was a lot of dripping going on. You don’t realize just how much groundwater is in a place until you visit it in winter. Though it seems dry in summer there is seeping groundwater everywhere in this forest.

The view on this day was hardly worth taking a photo of because the sun always shines directly at you in the afternoon in this spot, but I did want you to see what you’re faced with when you look out at it: a vast forest, too big to even comprehend. Though it couldn’t really be called unbroken it seems like it is, and waves of lonesomeness can ripple through you when you see it. It’s as if you’re the only person within many miles and that must have been a very sobering thought for the people who settled this land, because except for the Natives they really were the only ones here. They had nothing and no one to rely one except themselves and what they carried, so looking out over something like this must have made them wonder exactly what they had gotten themselves into.

But as far as this day went I knew that as soon as I climbed back down I wouldn’t be the only one anymore, and since I believe that solitude is good for the soul I love to spend time in high places like this where there is nothing except you, the land, and the breezes. Any troubles you may have in life look much smaller from up here, and you can be emptied of them while you relax into the silence.

It seems like it has been a very long time since I last visited my little friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) so I was happy to sit with them for a while. This one was partially covered by ice but it had water dripping on it so it was very happy, and I know that because of its color. When everything is going right a toadskin lichen will be pea green and pliable, like an ear lobe. The dark spots on the body of the lichen are its disc shaped apothecia, where its spores are produced. A fruiting lichen is a happy lichen, because when you’re a lichen it’s always all about making more lichens.

When toadskin lichens dry out they get crisp like potato chips and turn an ashy gray like this one. They’re not very happy at this stage but if nothing else lichens are patient beings, and they will just wait until it rains or snows so they can become pea green and rubbery again. Toadskin lichens are umbilicate lichens, which means they attach to the stone at a single point, and this one displayed what I call its belly button beautifully; it is the sun at the center of its solar system. Though they aren’t at their happiest I think these little lichens are at their most beautiful when they’re dry like this one, and I’ve lost myself inside that beauty many times.

I went a little further along the trail and visited the ledges where the rock climbers climb. I thought I might find some big ice here but instead I found a small pile of slush at the base of the ledge, so that means the sun is warming this huge mass of stone. To give you an idea of how big it is; that pine tree is probably about 75-100 years old. Someday I’m going to go up there and see what I can see.

But for now it was time to head back down Hewe’s Hill and, though climbing down is almost always harder than climbing up, on this day it was doubly hard and I think I’ll wait until it warms up before I climb again. But I made it up and down without falling and I saw some amazing things, so it was great day to be in the woods. I went home happy on rubbery legs.

The splendor of Silence,—of snow-jeweled hills and of ice. ~Ingram Crockett

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