Posts Tagged ‘Ice Dams’

We’re still having the up and down weather we’ve had for a month now, with freezing temps one day and melting the next. This branch sticking up out of the Ashuelot River had a record of both how much the water has gone down and how long it had been freezing in that spot. It looks like it’s been about a foot of water, but how much time has passed I don’t know. Soon we’ll have above freezing temperatures during the day and below freezing at night, and that will be the age old sign to start tapping the maple trees. Once the sap flows the earth has warmed and spring is here, no matter what the calendar might say.

Native Americans showed the early settlers how to tap trees for their sap and boil it down into syrup. Though we tap mostly maples they tapped birches as well. They had been doing so for about 12,000 years along this river, according to archeological evidence. In fact if it wasn’t for natives the settlers probably wouldn’t have survived here. -30 degrees F. can be a real shock to one’s system if they aren’t prepared for it. I took the above photo because it shows what it might have looked like back then, and because I loved the blue of the river.

This stone has bothered me for a very long time. It sits at the entrance to a local park and has what looks like the tracks of a small animal all over it.

Here is a closer look at what look like animal paw prints to me. I can’t imagine how they would have gotten on this stone because it doesn’t look like it is a sedimentary stone, which means it was probably never mud and therefore not soft enough for an animal to leave its tracks in. On the other hand maybe they’re just some kind of inclusion in the stone and not animal tracks at all. Though the photo doesn’t show it clearly they are depressions, just as if they were indeed a paw print.

I saw a sedum seed head that looked more colorful than the flowers that were here 3 months ago. I think they were pink.

Some trees are taking on that magical golden color that only happens in spring. Willows especially will do it but I don’t think this was a willow. I couldn’t get close enough to its buds to tell.

Hydrologically speaking a seep is a wet place where water reaches the surface from an underground aquifer. This seep is a warm one; in all the years I’ve known it I’ve never seen it completely freeze. Seeps don’t have a single point of origin like a spring, instead they form a puddle that never dries up and doesn’t flow. They’re an important water source for many small animals and birds and unusual plants and fungi can often be found in and around them. I’ve found some interesting fungi like swamp beacons and eyelash fungi in seeps.

When ice formed on a mud puddle it must have cracked, because this is the pattern it left in the mud of the puddle after it melted.

This tree showed the height of the water but the odd thing was there was no water, so there must have been flooding there at some point. Flooding is common at this time of year, especially after a couple of warm days when the ice on rivers and streams melts. Then it freezes again and becomes a solid mass which can dam up any flowing water course. Ice dams can be very dangerous and so far this year there have been a few north of here which have caused some flooding.

I was disappointed in this photo of a field of little bluestem grass showing through the snow. In the sunshine it was a beautiful golden color but try as I might the camera just couldn’t see what I saw. I guess you’ll have to take my word for it, or maybe you’ve seen it yourself. It is stop-you-in-your-tracks beautiful.

In places like the northwest and Scotland you expect to see trees festooned with ferns but it’s a rare sight here. Apparently though, this polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) didn’t know that and took root on an old white pine. It seems strange to me that more ferns don’t do this.

The snow on this stump showed the depth of the latest snowfall, but what it didn’t show is the crust that formed after it rained on top of the snow. It’s a shiny, slippery, solid crust that will almost support you when you walk on it, but not quite. You step on it with one foot and it supports you until you lift your other foot, and then you plunge through the crust with the first foot. I wanted to go out hill climbing but even on flat, level ground walking in this stuff is just exhausting work.

The slab that the sun is shining through is a good example of the crusty snow. The crust is about an inch and a half thick and it is hard to manage, even with a plow. To shovel it you have to cut it into square, manageable pieces then move the pieces one at a time, but you’d better do it right after the precipitation stops or you’ll face even more ice. It’s a mindless task but mindless tasks can be valuable because since you don’t have to think when you are doing them, you can think higher thoughts. You can for example think about how lucky and very grateful you are to be alive and to be able to shovel snow.

Stilted trees grow from seeds that fall on a rotted log or stump and grow their roots around the stump or log. Once the stump or log rots away what is left is a tree that looks like it’s standing on stilts. The strange thing about this stilted tree though, is how it grew over a stone wall. It’s the first I’ve seen do that.

I saw some poison ivy the other day and it was wearing its vine disguise. Poison ivy can appear as a plant, a shrub, or a vine and if you’re going to spend much time in the woods it’s a good idea to know it well. In the winter a vine like this can help identify the plant because of the many aerial roots that come directly out of its bark. It’s best not to touch it because even in winter it can cause an itchy rash.

Vines like bittersweet, grape, and the trumpet creeper vine (Campsis radicans) shown here do not have aerial roots. They climb by twining themselves around the tree. I like the rings on this vine’s bark, like a ring shank nail. It’s something I never noticed before but this vine is quite old, so maybe that’s why.

The seed cones of gray birch trees (Betula populifolia) are often called female catkins, but botanically speaking they are strobiles, and a strobile holds seeds, not flowers. Though birch seeds ripen in late fall they are still common into late winter, even as other plants with catkins like alders and hazelnuts are starting to flower.

Each strobile holds many tiny bracts and seeds and birds seem to love them. What looks like a twig on the right is what is left, the core of the strobile, after all the seeds had been eaten from it. I’d guess that some of the seeds and bracts were blown about by the wind as well. They’re very thin, light, and papery.

There is always something on any walk in the woods that can’t be explained and this is one of them. This clothespin was clipped to a branch of a shrub that grew next to a trail. Maybe it’s there so you could leave a message for the next trail follower, if you were so inclined.

Never has the earth been so lovely or the sun so bright as today. ~Nikinapi, an Illiniwek chief

Thanks for stopping in.

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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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