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Posts Tagged ‘Hoar Frost’

Santa brought me some Kahtoola Micro Spikes for Christmas this year, so of course I had to try them. On the day after Christmas I decided that climbing Pitcher Mountain over in Stoddard would be as good a trial as any and as luck would have it the trail was covered in snow and ice. I’ve heard a lot of good things about micro spikes and I have to say that I won’t be without them from now on. I purposely walked over ice with them on and didn’t slip or skid at all.

I found this photo online for those who haven’t seen micro spikes. They really grip.

The message was a good one but was a little late, I thought. Or maybe it was me who saw it too late.

There was quite a pile of wood chips at the base of a dead tree, so I looked up.

Sure enough a pileated woodpecker had been looking for lunch. Pileated woodpeckers are our largest woodpecker and you can tell their holes by the more or less rectangular shape. The unusual thing about this was the perfectly round holes made by a smaller woodpecker inside the pileated woodpecker holes. I’ve never seen this before. The smaller bird was smart to let the bigger bird do most of the work. If there are carpenter ants inside they’re usually in the heartwood of the tree.

Before you know it you’re at the meadow where Scottish Highland cattle sometimes graze. I didn’t see any on this day though.

The trail takes a sharp left at the meadow and gets a little steeper. So far legs, lungs and micro spikes were all working well but the snow had melted on this leg of the trail.

The crunchy, frozen soil told me I was walking on ice needles and there were plenty of them to see. A lot has to happen for these to form but I’ve explained it many times, so I’ll spare you this time. It has to be cold for them to form, with the temperature right at 32 degrees at the soil surface. Air temperature was about 22 degrees F. when I started.

Hoar frost grew around the mouths of chipmunk and snake holes in the soil. The earth’s warm breath meeting the cold air of winter.

Stone walls made me think of the Pitcher family, who settled here in the 1700s and most likely built this wall. They gave their name to this mountain.

One of my favorite places marks the second sharp left turn along the trail. After essentially living in a forest all of my life wide open places like this one seem almost other worldly. It’s just you, the earth and the sky. Minimalism at its finest.

Quite often you’ll find a place where the ground looks like it has heaved up and around stones. The stone sits at the bottom of a hole that is usually shaped exactly like it is, so it also looks like the sun has heated the stone enough for it to melt down into the frozen soil. I doubt that is the answer though because the sun would heat the surrounding stones as well, but they haven’t melted into the soil. I think the ground must have heaved up and lifted all the soil and smaller stones that surrounded the bigger one. I saw that this had happened in several places along the trail.

The inner bark of staghorn sumac is sometimes brightly colored like the thin strip at the top of this piece, which my color finding software tells me is coral and salmon pink along with a little orange. I saw that colorful strip and peeled the section of bark it was on. I was surprised to see that the inner bark still attached to the wood was Indian red, dark salmon pink, and a lot of sienna. Why this bark colors like this when the tree dies, I don’t know.

When bark is removed from a tree, as long as the tree isn’t girdled it will live and try to heal itself, but I’ve been watching this young staghorn sumac for a few years and it hasn’t healed at all. I think that’s because deer are using it to rub their antlers on, because the wound on the tree is always fresh. Male white tail deer, called bucks, rub their antlers on trees for different reasons, but it seems fitting that they would choose a staghorn sumac. Staghorn sumacs get that name because of the hairs all along their stems that resemble the velvet on a stag’s antlers. Maybe this deer thought he was fencing with another deer.

You can get a glimpse of the fire tower through the trees in some spots. The sunshine was glaring off the windows on this day.

The old ranger cabin is having a relatively easy winter so far but I’m sure it has seen winters up here when the snow almost buried it. The concrete piers and blocks it rests on have all shifted and I wonder how much longer it will be able to resist the pull of gravity. I wouldn’t be surprised to climb up here one day and find that it had tumbled down the mountainside.

The fire tower must be manned at some point during the year but I’ve only seen people in it once out of all the times I’ve been up here. There were a lot of people up here that day and they all wanted to get into the tower, so I passed on it.

It can be very windy up here so the tower is tied down to the bedrock by steel cables. The tie down shown was used for the original tower, which burned in 1940 in one of the worst forest fires this state has ever seen. 27,000 acres burned, including all the trees on this summit.

The views weren’t too bad but it was windy and that made it feel colder so I didn’t stay long.

I liked this view because you could see how snowy the distant hills were.

There was ice on the summit but I didn’t worry about slipping with the micros spikes on. They even seem to make walking on uneven stones easier.

A close look at the bedrock on the summit shows that it is almost entirely covered by lichens.

One of my favorite lichens that grow here is the common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina.) This pretty lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and it was once used to dye wool yellow in Sweden. How they ever got it off the stones, I don’t know.

Perhaps there’s no better act of simplification than climbing a mountain. For an afternoon, a day, or a week, it’s a way of reducing a complicated life into a simple goal. All you have to do is take one step at a time, place one foot in front of the other, and refuse to turn back until you’ve given everything you have. ~Ken Ilgunas

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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My small climb up along 40 foot falls that I wrote about in my last post inspired me to try something bigger, so last Sunday I decided to climb Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. A diagnosis of COPD took the wind out of my sails for a while and I wondered if I’d ever climb again, but the medicines they have given me seem to work well and I was able to climb on this day at least as well as I could last year. I started by walking through this frosty meadow.

At about 20 degrees F. it was cool but there was little snow to be seen, so I hoped for a trail without ice. This trail is well traveled and ice is always a problem when constant foot traffic packs down snow and turns it into ice.

Thankfully the trail was ice free, probably because the hemlock boughs overhead have kept a lot of the snow from falling on it. We’ve also had rain and warm temps and I’m sure that helped. I was glad to see it, because I’ve been here when the ice was so bad here I had to leave the trail and go into the woods to make it up the hill.

I think it was about 10 years ago when this hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) was wounded, and I think that because I counted the rings on the scar. I’ve read that hemlock is the only tree that heals scars with growth rings that can be counted.

I also saw a large number of hemlock trees with this yellow crust fungus on them; more than I’ve ever seen. I believe it is the conifer parchment fungus (Stereum sanguinolentum,) which is also called the bleeding parchment because of the red juice they exude when they’re injured. The examples I saw were very dry and thin, almost as if they were part of the bark, and though I tried to scratch one with my fingernail it remained undamaged. Conifer parchment fungus causes brown heart rot, which is a reddish brown discoloration in the wood of conifers. This tree and many others I saw won’t be with us much longer, I’m afraid.

More ice needles than I’ve ever seen in one place grew all along the center of the trail, meaning the soil was saturated. Groundwater at the soil surface is one of the requirements for ice needle growth, and the other is a below freezing temperature right at the very surface of the soil while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces super cooled groundwater out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a needle shape. As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. Each needle is hexagonal and several will often freeze together into ribbon like bands like those seen here. As they grow they sometimes force the forest floor to heave up, which can be seen happening here.

There are many small holes in the ground made by chipmunks, snakes, and other animals, and these holes often grow hoar frost around their openings. This frost forms when the warm moist breath of the earth meets the cold air at the surface.

The trail gets darker in spots because of overhanging evergreens but on this day it clouded over and made it seem even darker.

I saw some colorful bracket fungi growing in the crack of a tree but I’m not sure what they were. I am sure that they were frozen solid, whatever they were.

I couldn’t account for the beautiful colors of this fallen limb, and I still can’t even guess what would have caused it except weather and age.

A blue jay lost a feather at some point, but on this day the woods were totally silent with no bird songs and no chatter from chipmunks or squirrels. It seemed very strange to have it so quiet.

The steepest part of the trail is near the summit so I knew I was almost there at this point. I was huffing and puffing but no more so than last year or the year before so that was a pleasant surprise. I do know that nature can heal because I’ve experienced it but I don’t know to what extent that healing can happen. I think maybe the only thing that is holding me back is me, but I’m keeping an open mind and believing, and will be very grateful each time I reach a summit.

You don’t realize how much water travels through the soil under our feet until winter. There really is an incredible amount of water moving about in this area, even on our hills.

My daughter and son in law were with me on this climb and all of us tried to move the 40 ton glacial erratic named Tippin Rock, but it wouldn’t budge. I think it was frozen right to the bedrock it sits on. I was a little disappointed because I wanted them to be able to see it move. For new readers, this boulder rocks back and forth just like a baby cradle when you push on it in the right spot, but apparently not in winter.

The big stone has quite a crack in it and someday it might be two stones, which would be too bad. It is a local legend.

The sun had gone, the sky was milk and the views were poor, but since the view isn’t why I climb it was little more than a passing annoyance.

One thing the views from here always show though, are the endless miles of unbroken forest stretching out in all directions. When you stand in such a place you can’t help but wonder, if it was 1760 and you stood here with only an axe head and a gun, what would you have done? It must have been just a bit overwhelming.

I’ve had a great fear of heights since I fell out of a tree and fractured my spine when I was young  so this is as close as I dared to get to the cliff edge. I wanted to show you what a forest looked like from above, but this is the best I could do. You can believe me when I say that this is a drop you would never survive.

There are some huge granite outcrops up here. That tree is a fully grown white pine.

I saw lots of amazing things up to this point but the main reason I chose this hill to climb was so I could visit my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) Though I expected them to be very dry from lack of rain or snow a few surprised me by being deep, healthy green. This is their natural color when they’ve had plenty of water and are happy. These lichens attach themselves to stones at a single point that resembles a belly button, and that means they are umbilicate lichens. I always feel as if I’m looking deep into infinity when I look at a toadskin lichen and I may be; there are many who believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and therefore immortal.

Though I doubt toadskin lichens like drying out I kind of like the way they look in their dry, ashen state. They are much like a potato chip when dry and they’ll break almost as easily so I only touch them when they’re green and pliable.

These toadskin lichens were under a good two or three inches of ice and that ice acted like a magnifying glass. Those black spots on the upper one are the lichen’s apothecia where its spores are produced, and without ice magnifying them they’re about the size of the head of a common pin. It’s kind of amazing to see them so big in a photo.

Only in the woods was all at rest for me, my soul became still and full of power. ~Knut Hamsun

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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After posting the 2 part blog post just before Christmas about searching a new rail trail to find ledges where huge icicles might grow I realized that many readers might have no idea why I would be looking for such things, so I visited one of my favorite rail trails in Westmoreland. This is a deep cut that was blasted through a hillside in the mid-1800s so the Cheshire Railroad could get to Vermont. Groundwater constantly seeps through fissures in the stone and in winter it freezes into huge ice columns as big as tree trunks.

The size of the ice columns can be quite amazing but sometimes the minerals in the groundwater color them and make them even more amazing. The walls of this man made canyon soar up to 50 feet high in places so the ice columns also get very tall. They must be perfect for climbing because the New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club comes here to hold ice climbing clinics.

As luck would have it they were there climbing the ice on this day. Though I didn’t ask I’m assuming that the climber in this photo was relatively new to climbing, because he was on ice that wasn’t very tall. I met climbers here last year who described this kind of climb as a “baby climb.” Just to get used to it, I would think. I try not to be too intrusive or distracting when I see climbers so I don’t ask to many questions for fear of breaking their concentration.

If you are wondering what became of all that blasted stone, in this case the railroad used it to build mighty retaining walls along the sides of the cut where there was hillside soil that had to be held back.

This view is of the opposite end of the canyon from where the ice climbers climb. Though the ice here is nearly as big as on the other end I’ve never seen them climb here, and it wasn’t until this year that I finally figured out why.

At least I think I know why they don’t climb here. The drainage ditches are full of water on this end of the canyon and there is no water in them where the climbers climb. These ditches are almost knee deep in places and I’d hate to climb down an icicle and find my feet in frigid water. This is the section where most of the interesting plants grow though, so when I need to get close to the walls I put on rubber boots and walk in the ditches. I don’t do it often because of the danger of falling ice and stone, but I’ve done it a few times.

These drainage ditches were designed to carry water out of and away from the rail bed, so the water is always flowing like a stream, and the movement keeps the ice columns from growing any further than the surface of the water. It looks like they have been cut off right at the water’s surface all the way down the ditches.

It’s always cold here in winter and it often gets cold enough to freeze the surface of the drainage ditches, and that’s what happened in a few spots on this day. Where they had frozen over long feathers of hoar frost had grown. Without thinking I hold my breath when I’m taking photos of these beautiful, fragile things because all it takes is the warmth of a stray breath to destroy them.

In some places the hoar frost had grown into sharp looking needles. It’s odd to think of frost growing on ice but it happens quite frequently when conditions are right. Humidity seems to play a large part in it.

I’ve learned much from this man made canyon and one of the chief things among them is how cold can change the appearance of stone. It brings out colors in the stone for instance, that aren’t seen when it’s warmer. Colored stains from over a hundred years of seeping, mineral laden groundwater appear as if by magic when it gets cold.

But do the minerals color the ice? I think they do, because I can’t think of any other thing that would. And the color doesn’t come in just green; I’ve also seen orange, blue, brown, and even black ice here. The blue ice is colored by its own density and clarity and by the way it reflects light, but the other colors must come from some foreign material. Brown ice for example, might simply be colored by soil. Orange ice could be colored by the iron in the stone. There’s a lot of it here.

You can see in places how the mineral laden water colors the snow as well as the ice.

Ice isn’t the only reason I come here. There are many unusual plants here that I don’t see anywhere else, and one of them is the green algae called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it’s called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta-carotene color them orange. It’s the same pigment found in carrots, but in this instance it hides the green chlorophyll in the algae. I couldn’t get close enough to show it but these algae are very hairy. Though I’ve seen orange ice here it wasn’t where the few colonies of algae grow so I doubt they have anything to do with coloring ice. I keep hoping to see the algae producing spores, but so far I haven’t had any luck. In certain parts of the world algae have produced enough spores to color the rain. If you ever hear of red rain falling chances are it’s because of algae spores.

Another plant that I come here to see is the beautiful, reptilian, great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum.) This liverwort gets its common name from its clean, fresh scent. It is the only liverwort with this reptilian appearance, so it’s easy to identify. They grow on these ledges by the thousand, constantly watered by splashing groundwater. They like a lot of water but it has to be absolutely clean and unpolluted, so finding this liverwort is a good indicator of very clean water.

White tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata) also grew in an area where it was constantly splashed by dripping groundwater, and the tiny water droplets made it even more beautiful. One of the first things you notice here in this icy canyon is the sound of dripping water. It seeps and drips year round, winter and summer, through the entire length of the canyon and the sound can be very pleasing or very annoying, depending on your mood. I’ve met people here who described it both ways. There are those who feel that the sound of water intrudes on the peacefulness of a place I suppose, but to me it is like a musical gift from the earth.

Can Ice be beautiful? Oh yes it can, and these windblown icicles looked every bit as beautiful as Lalique crystal to me. For those who may not know, Rene Lalique was a French glass designer who practiced his art in the Art Noveau period (1890-1910.) He is known today for his opaque, matte finish glass, which can look much like these icicles. He was completion for Louis Comfort Tiffany, so if you received a piece of Lalique crystal for Christmas you are very lucky indeed.

Unfortunately, though the opaque finish on Lalique crystal means good things, on ice it does not; especially if you happen to be an ice climber, because ice that looks like this is rotten and unsafe. Ice becomes rotten when water, air bubbles, and/or dirt get in between the grains of ice and cause it to honeycomb and lose its strength. Instead of a sharp ringing crack when it is struck it produces more of a dull thud. The grayish white color and matte finish are a sure sign of rotten ice, and a good sign that you should stay away from it when it’s hanging over your head.

Each winter I come here and stand in awe of the old lineman’s shack, which still stands against the weight of the snow even though it lacks half its roof, a wall and a half, and most of its floor. It has stood here for well over a century and is the very definition of well built. If it wasn’t for people slowly pulling it apart I have no doubt it would still look just as it did when it was built.

The sun was getting lower and a single ray fell on a green icicle. Though it lit up the icicle it had no heat to melt it, and this reminded me how very cold it was here on this day. This canyon usually runs about 10 degrees cooler than it is on the outside and it was 27 degrees F when I came in, so it was no wonder that my toes were cold. I always have to be careful that I don’t wander too far out of myself and get lost in this winter beauty because frostbite is always close by.

With a last look at some beautiful little frost feathers back out into the world I went, hoping that it would be just a bit warmer there. I’ll have to return in a month or two when the icicles should be as big as trees.

In the winter the world gets sharp. Beautiful things happen. ~Peter Fiore

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. Thanks for coming by.

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1. Hoar Frost

I thought the colors of the wet leaves and tiny feathers of hoar frost in this puddle were very beautiful. Hoar frost forms when twigs or other things coated in warm water vapor meet cold air. I’ve been to this place before and the water here never seems to freeze. It seeps in a small rivulet all year round and sometimes even feels warm to the touch. That could be an illusion though, because when the air temperature hovers just above zero many things feel warm.

 2. Goldenrod Seed Head

Goldenrod lived up to its name when a ray of golden sunshine fell on it. There seem to be plenty of seeds left for the birds but berries and other fruits are going fast. I’ve read that in cold like we’re having now they look for what has the highest fat content first.

3. Burning Bush Berries

There are still berries on the invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) near the river. Birds seem to wait until spring to eat these. Even though they don’t seem to be a first choice birds sure do spread the seeds around and there are large swaths along the riverbank where almost nothing but burning bush grows. They have shaded out and overcome almost all the native plants in that area.

4. Blue Ashuelot

The Ashuelot River taught me that if I took a photo of it with the sun over my shoulder it would be very blue and on this day it didn’t disappoint. I was standing on a bridge when I took this and the river on the other side of the bridge, just a few feet away but with the sun in front of me, was gunmetal gray and looked completely different.

5. Mallard Pecking a Stone

Even though she had to have seen me standing on the bridge a female mallard came floating downstream, quacking loudly. I watched her dive several times and then she swam over to a rock and started pecking it, like a woodpecker pecks at a tree. It was a loud enough tapping to echo through the woods and I couldn’t figure out what the attraction was until I saw that she held an acorn in her beak and was trying to crack it open on the rock. I’ve read that ducks eat acorns but I’ve never heard of them cracking them open on rocks. Maybe this one was smarter than your average duck.

 6. Liverwort on Maple

When it gets cold dark, almost black spots appear on the bark of trees. They are really there all the time but are kind of a reddish color and not quite so noticable at other times of year when there are so many other things to see. Those who think they’ve never seen a liverwort might want to stop and take a closer look at these dark blotches because they are Frullania liverworts, one of the few liverworts that can thrive in dry places.

7. Liverwort on Maple

There are about 800 species of Frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. Tree cutters on the other hand might find that they itch a bit after handling logs covered with this liverwort because it can cause something called woodcutter’s eczema. This eczema, called phytodermatitis (basically an itchy rash,) haa been seen in loggers and others who regularly handle logs or cord wood with this liverwort on them. It doesn’t sound like anything serious and usually disappears in two or three weeks once the person stops handling logs, but how do you get a logger to stop handling logs? It sound like they’d better wear gloves and long sleeves.

8. Vole Tracks-2

Vole tracks in my yard made it look as if the snow had been zipped up. Look closely and you’ll see that this pattern echos that found in the frullania liverworts in the previous photo.Nature seems to use many of the same patterns over and over, but in very different ways.

9. Lichen Garden

A pine tree fell and as I looked it’s branches over I was astounded by the number of different mosses and lichens that had been growing way up in the topmost part of it. In the book Gathering Moss author Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about a field expiriment involving chipmunks and sticky paper. When the chipmunks ran across the sticky paper whatever was on their  paws stuck to the paper, and she found that many mosses travel by way of chipmunk paws. It’s one explanation for how mosses can grow so high up in trees, and I wonder if it applies to lichens as well. Of course both lichens and mosses release spores that are borne on the wind, so that’s another way that they must use to find their way into the tree tops.

10. Pixie Cup Lichen

Pixie cup lichens are squamulose lichens with fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. Squamulose means they have scale like lobes that often overlap like shingles and the green leafy bits in the above photo are the squamules. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are called podetia. Podetia means a stalk like growth which bears the apothecia, or fruiting bodies. Finally, frucitose means a lichen with bushy, vertical growth. Since this example has squamules even growing inside the tiny cups it must be a pebbled pixie cup lichen (Cladonia pyxidata). Pixie cups grow on the ground and rotting logs and stumps. Some also grow in stone. No, I don’t carry all of this information around in my head; it all comes from the book Lichens of North America.

11. Oak Tree

I think most of you who read this blog know that I’m colorblind. That’s why I didn’t trust my own eyes when I drove by this oak tree and saw that it was full of pink leaves.  Pink leaves? It can’t be, they have to be brown, I thought.

12. Oak Leaves

Imagine my surprise when my color finding software looked at these leaves and saw salmon pink in both dark and light shades. Maybe I can trust my own eyes after all. Of corse, the color finding software doesn’t say that every leaf is pink-it just sees pink here and there. It also sees orange, several shades of brown including tan and chocolate, green, gray and Navaho white. What if I were to take up a paintbrush and paint an oak tree with all of those colors in its leaves-would you all think I had been out in the sun too long?

13. Shadows on Snow

The oak tree with pink leaves reminds me of the time my art teacher in high school, a wonderful woman named Norma Safford, told me that snow shadows should be blue. I argued that they should be gray because that’s what I saw. It was photography that finally showed me that Mrs. Safford had been right all along. Somehow my vision has been corrected in that area at least, because I now see blue snow shadows in person as well as in photos.

 14. Ashuelot Falls

The setting sun tried to turn the Ashuelot River falls to molten gold one afternoon but old man winter wasn’t having any of that and he won the battle.

15. River Ice

It always pays to slow down and take a closer look at nature, even when all you see is ice. I couldn’t even begin to count how many times I’ve thought Huh, would you look at that.

Outdoors is where the great mystery lies, so going into nature should be a searching and humbling experience, like going to church. ~Skip Whitcomb

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Dim Sun

The old saying says that you should make lemonade when life gives you lemons, so when life gives me cold I take photos of the ice. The one above shows what a little glimpse of sun on a cold, cloudy winter day looks like. There seems to be little real heat coming from it but I suppose if it wasn’t there we’d know what cold was really all about. We’ve seen the temperature fall to as low as -12 °F (-24 °C) so far, and there’s a lot of January left.

2. Window Frost

In the old house I grew up in the curtains would blow in the breeze even when the windows were closed and frost grew on the windows all winter long, so I grew up admiring all of the different shapes that can be seen in ice. They can be very beautiful and I still admire them.

3. Window Frost

Ferns, flowers, trees; window frost can take on almost any shape and I’ve always wondered what made them grow in the shapes that they do. I finally found the answer at Snow Crystals.com: “Window frost forms when a pane of glass is exposed to below-freezing temperatures on the outside and moist air on the inside.  Water vapor from the air condenses as frost on the inside surface of the window. Scratches, residual soap streaks, etc., can all change the way the crystals nucleate and grow.”

4. Streamside Ice

Fingers of ice suspended above the water of a stream revealed how much the water level had dropped since they formed.

5. Riverside Ice

The same drop in water level can be seen along the river, but the ice here shows it in a different way. In rivers and streams ice always seems to start forming on the banks before working its way toward the middle but on lakes and ponds it is just the opposite; it starts forming in the middle and works its way towards shore. I’m sure that the movement of the water in rivers and streams has a lot to do with it, but there must be more to it than that.

Last winter the river rose higher than I’ve ever seen it in this spot due to down river ice jams blocking the flow, and thick ice covered everything that can be seen in this photo. It was like an ice covered wasteland and you couldn’t tell where the land stopped and the water started. Best to stay off that kind of ice.

6. Ice on Rocks

I thought it was strange that all of the larger stones along the river were coated with ice but the smaller stones weren’t. I would have guessed that it would be the reverse, because it seems like the larger stones would absorb and hold more heat from the sun and keep the water from freezing. Could it be that the larger stones take longer than the smaller ones to absorb that heat?  Just another of nature’s mysteries to add to an ever growing list.

 7. Ice Needles on Stream Bank

Along another small stream I saw more ice needles than I’ve ever seen in one place. There were many millions of them growing out of the gravel, all along its banks. Usually I see ice needles that are coated with the soil that they grow out of but these were surprisingly clean because of the gravel.

8. Ice Needles on Stream Bank

They were also the longest ice needles that I’ve seen. Many were 6-8 inches long. When the air temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit right at the soil surface and the soil and groundwater remain thawed, hydrostatic pressure can force the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. From what I’ve seen the needles almost always freeze together and form ribbons like those seen in the above photo.

9. Ice Needles on Leaf

Ice needles are very fragile, as you can imagine. I wanted to move a leaf so I could get a better shot of some needles but when I moved it the needles went with it. You can see how they’ve attached to the underside of the leaf along with some hoar frost that has grown there. I was surprised to find that ice ribbons weigh next to nothing-little more than the dry leaf they were hanging from, so it must take very little water to make them.

 10. Ice Patterns

The whiter the ice, the more air bubbles were trapped in it when it froze. That explains the color, but what explains the long, needle like crystals and the strange pinging noise it makes when it breaks? There might be answers to those questions out there, but I haven’t been able to find them.

 11. Frosted Fern Leaf

Hoarfrost grows whenever it’s cold and there is a source of water vapor nearby. When it is below freezing the water vapor from unfrozen rivers and streams often condenses on the plants all along their banks and covers them in hoarfrost, as this fern leaf shows.

12. Frost on a Leaf

More examples of hoarfrost.  It looks so very delicate that I often have to remind myself to breathe while I’m taking its photo.  One touch of a warm finger, a ray of sunshine, or a warm breath and they’re gone.

13. Ice Patterns

Ice can be very abstract. This streamside example had a lot of large bubbles frozen in place and it showed a surprising amount of depth as well as abstraction and it reminded me of the old black and white Twilight Zone TV episodes from the 60s. I can see an eye and a set of teeth and a flying bird and a fish skeleton and several other things in it so you see, ice can even give us the imagination of a child again, at least for a little while. I can’t think of many gifts greater than that one.

14. Icy Rocks

Ice can also reveal the hidden groundwater that seems to seep out of the soil year round but is nearly impossible to detect until it freezes. Once winter shows us where it is if we can remember to return to the spot in the summer we might find some interesting plants there. Some orchids, certain liverworts, and other fascinating plants like to grow where water constantly seeps. In this spot the liverwort known as greater whipwort (Bazzania trilobata) grows in abundance.

15. Frozen Waterfall

In this photo the ice seems to be letting us see into the future. I can see a couple of large boulders and even a tree or two being toppled by this stream before too long.  Of course because of the way ice expands it might set things to tumbling before it even has a chance to melt.

Ice burns, and it is hard for the warm-skinned to distinguish one sensation, fire, from the other, frost. ~A.S. Byatt,

Thanks for coming by.

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This post is about firsts as much as anything else; the first post I’ve ever done in black and white and the first post that’s been about photography more than the subjects of the photos. This is also the first time I’ve had to see things so very differently, and for that I have Patrick Muir to thank. Patrick has a blog called Patrick’s Garden, which you can visit by clicking here. He saw the first black and white photo to ever appear on this blog and challenged me to do an entire post in black and white, so Patrick, this one is for you.

 1. Dead Tree in Ice

I thought I’d start at the beginning with this photo of a dead tree that I posted back in December. Though I admire photos by people like Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange I haven’t ever been very interested in black and white photography, but then I saw a black and white photo on Tootlepedal’s blog (another one worth a visit) and thought it might be fun to give it a try. I found out by doing this little project that color can actually be a distraction and a hindrance, and sometimes you don’t really see until you remove the distraction.

 2. Dim Sun

Often in winter the world is more black and white than anything else so it was no work at all to turn the photo above and the first photo of the dead tree to black and white. If I showed both the color and black and white versions side by side you could barely tell which was which.

 3. Pixie Cup Lichens

These pixie cup lichens (Cladonia asahinae) are the color of wood ash but many times they look almost white in a certain light. They have a granular, pebbly surface and the absence of color makes it much easier to see.

4. Japanese Knotweed Seed 

This is the seed pod of Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum). The plant itself is a terribly invasive weed that is almost impossible to eradicate, but its tiny whitish seeds have three wings that fly 120 degrees apart, and make up a papery husk around the seed. I never noticed the texture of their wings until I saw them in black and white.

 5. Icicles  in Black and White

Ice and water seem to make good candidates for black and white photography. The icicles are much easier to see.

6. Mushrooms on a Log 

Long time readers of this blog have probably heard me talk about my colorblindness at one time or another. The kind I have isn’t severe but, though I can see red and green traffic lights, if a red cardinal lands in a green tree he disappears. The above photo was rejected because it was (to me) monochromatic, showing only varying shades of brown. The mushrooms almost blended into the background but in the black and white version they really stand out.

7. Tree Wound 

Tree wounds can be interesting but this one seems even more so in black and white. The absence of color helps me to think more about shape and texture.

 8. White Poplar Leaf

If you find something that looks like a maple leaf but has a deep green upper surface and a pure white underside, it is a leaf from a white poplar (Populus alba). Making this photo black and white did nothing to the leaf-it really was as snow white as it appears in the photo.

 9. Mushroom Gills

I like how the texture of the oak leaf that this tiny mushroom cap is sitting on becomes almost reptilian when seen this way.

 10. Hoar Frost

The dark water and white hoar frost again meant little change when this photo became black and white.

11. Gray Birches in Winter 

This photo of gray birches (Betula populifolia) was another one that showed little change from color to black and white.

12. Lowbush Blueberry Blossoms 

Last September, on a very foggy morning, I climbed Mount Caesar in Swanzey and found a lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) blooming long after any blueberry should have been. I posted the color version of this photo then, but I like the black and white version more. The water droplets make sense because of the dense fog, but I still can’t figure out what would have caused the bubbles on these tiny blossoms.

This was a fun post, if for no other reason than forcing me to climb out of my comfort zone and try something new. I feel though, because black and white photography is very easy in the winter when the world is black and white, that I’ve cheated a bit, so I’ll do another black and white post in the summer or fall. I have a feeling that will be a real challenge.

To see in color is a delight for the eye but to see in black and white is a delight for the soul. ~ Andri Cauldwell

Thanks for coming by. 

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Long time readers will recognize this place but for you newer readers who are interested, last summer I did what turned out to be a popular two part post on an old abandoned road that we have here in Keene. Since people seemed to enjoy it I thought they might be interested in seeing what the area looks like in winter. If you missed the original posts or if you’d like to see what the area looks like in summer just click here.

1. Old Road Start

This is the starting point. Rather than break a trail through fresh snow I let the cross country skiers and snowshoers get here first. I was able to walk on nice, packed snow with just hiking boots on.

2. Frozen Brook

The road follows Beaver Brook, named for all of the beavers that once lived here. In places the ice had completely covered the brook and in others it was close to doing so.

3. Frost Covered Shrub

Down near the water every twig was covered in hoar frost.

 4. Hoar Frost

Hoar frost grows just about anywhere when there is enough moisture and it is cold enough. Here the delicate, feathery crystals grew at the edge of a puddle. Just a single warm breath is enough to destroy their beauty, so I wrapped all but my eyes up in a scarf before kneeling in the snow to take this photo.

 5. Moss and Snow

The feathery patterns in the hoar frost were repeated in this delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum.) Though this moss has the word delicate in its name in my experience it is quite tough. Snow and ice don’t seem to bother it at all.  It is also one of the prettier mosses, in my opinion.

6. Frozen Waves

In places the brook looked like it had flash frozen, with even its small waves captured in the ice. Once again I saw the feather pattern that I had seen in the hoar frost and delicate fern moss. It’s interesting how nature re uses some of the same patterns again and again.

7. Icicles

There were plenty of groundwater icicles on the ledges, but there was also still enough rock exposed to allow some lichen hunting.

8. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

Smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaeralescens) are crustose lichens that grow well here. The gray fruiting pruinose discs surrounded by black borders are very striking. A pruinose surface is one that is covered by white powdery granules and looks as if it has been frosted or dusted with powdered sugar. In this instance the surface reflects light, so these apothecial bodies often appear to be blue instead of gray.

9. Mountain Haircap Moss Capsules

Mosses also grow on these ledges. This example of mountain haircap moss (Polystrichastrum pallidisetum) had open spore capsules (sporophytes). When immature these capsules are covered by a hairy hood that resembles a stocking cap, and that’s how the name haircap moss came about. This moss is very similar to common haircap moss (Polytrichum commune). The chief difference between the two is a disk at the base of the spore capsules. Common haircap moss has this disk and mountain haircap moss does not.

10. Old Road

I took this photo to show how close the brook is to the road. I’ve met people up here who have told me that they remembered seeing the water up over the road in spring. Evidence that the brook is slowly eating away at the road can be seen all along it.

 11. Brook Ice

Ice dams had blocked the brook and created large pools behind them. This one had the flow down to little more than a trickle.

12. Beaver Brook Falls

I’ve spoken with a few people that I’ve met here and I think a lot of them come simply to get a taste of nature. Others though, come to see Beaver Brook Falls, which usually splashes into the pool below with a roar. On this day it was partially frozen and the water was falling behind a curtain of ice, so the roar had been reduced to little more than a splash. This isn’t a great shot of the falls but the steep path down to the brook looked treacherous, so I snapped what photos I could from the road. Even though this area isn’t that far from downtown Keene a twisted ankle out here alone could quickly turn serious, so I decided to play it safe. If you’d like to see and hear the falls in summer, just click the link at the start of this post.

The sole criterion is to walk with the senses, with hands that feel, ears that hear, and eyes that see. ~ Robert Browne

Thanks for coming by.

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