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Posts Tagged ‘Ice Formations’

Quite often I get an irresistible urge to be in the woods and, since I’m lucky enough to be able to find woods in any direction I travel, getting there is no work at all. The thought hit me the other day that I hadn’t been to Goose Pond in Keene since last year, so that’s where I went last Sunday. I also wanted to see how deep the snow was in the woods and since this is a five hundred acre wilderness area I would certainly be able to see plenty of woods. As the above photo of the trail to the pond shows, there was no snow in this area.  Odd since Goose Pond isn’t that far from Beaver Brook, where I saw plenty of snow in the woods just the day before.

The pond was still mostly frozen over. It’s interesting how ponds and lakes start melting at the shore and work toward the middle, and rivers start in the middle and work toward the shore.

Goose Pond was called Crystal Lake and / or Sylvan Lake in the early 1900s. The pond was artificially enlarged to 42 acres in 1865 so the town of Keene would have a water supply to fight fires with. Wooden pipe fed 48 hydrants by 1869 but the town stopped using the pond as a water supply in the 1930s, and in 1984 it was designated a wilderness area. The vast forest tract surrounding the pond has been left virtually untouched since the mid-1800s. The deciduous trees over on the left shoreline are red maples. You can just see some red in the branches from the opening flowers.

Even in the winter the trail darkens quickly due to all of the pines and hemlocks.

There are stone walls here and there along the trail around the pond. They tell the history of the place. It’s hard to believe that much of this land was cleared for sheep pasture by the early 1800s, but it was. These walls have most likely been here for over 200 years.

I’m reading the book The Hidden Life of Trees and in it author Peter Wohlleben speaks of how much strain a tree that is bent like the one in the above photo is under. As he explains it a curved trunk has trouble simply standing upright because “The enormous weight of the crown isn’t evenly divided over the diameter of the trunk but weighs more heavily on the wood on one side.” He also explains that “Evenly formed trees absorb the shock of buffeting forces, using their shape to direct and divide these forces evenly throughout their structure.” If you are interested at all in trees, this is the book for you.

I saw lots of trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) along the trail. This creeping evergreen is also called Mayflower, though it often blooms earlier. It was one of my grandmother’s favorite flowers.

Some of the trailing arbutus plants were well budded. These small white flowers are extremely fragrant and were once collected nearly into oblivion for nosegays. It is one of those plants that has a close relationship with fungal hyphae in the soil and will not grow unless the fungus is present, so digging it up to transplant somewhere else is a waste of time. It’s also illegal in some areas.

There are many streams flowing down off the surrounding hills to the pond and in two spots there are bridges, but in many places you have to cross by hopping from stone to stone or simply walking through the water. I always wear good water proof hiking boots when I come here. On this day I saw some college age people going down the trail wearing bright white sneakers. I can guarantee that they weren’t white when they came out of the woods, and they probably weren’t dry either.

This bridge was chained to a nearby tree, not against theft but flooding. There has been severe flooding here in the past. It would be an awful lot of work hand carrying enough lumber to build a bridge all the way out here so I don’t blame them for not wanting to have it washed away and smashed on the rocks.

I could have sat here all day just listening to the chuckling and giggling of the stream and the joyous, excited birdsong but it wasn’t warm on this day and there was a stiff wind coming off that ice, so I had to move on after too short a time.

I saw the pine tree that was hit by lightning last year. The bolt blew the bark right off the trunk in strips, and pieces of the strips still lay by its roots. It also followed a large root right into the ground, leaving the same trace on it.

A birch polypore (Formitopsis betulina) was coated with ice. Someday I’m going to try drying one of these mushrooms and sharpening a knife with it because another name for it is the razor strop fungus. Even more useful than its ability to sharpen a knife though, is its antiseptic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It contains betulinic acid, which is a compound that has shown to also promote the death of cancer cells. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years.

Soon the island will be surrounded by water again instead of ice. I’d love to be able to explore it to find out what kind of plants grow there. I’m guessing that they aren’t much different than those that grow here on shore, but you never know.

Great long ice crystals grew in the cold night and were melting now. That’s how this entire winter has been; cold enough to snow one day and then warm enough to melt it all over the next few days. Then comes another storm, but that cycle seems to have finally been broken now.

There are many side trails here and some are very easy to get onto without realizing it, but it would still be hard to get lost if you pay attention and stay on the trail that circles the pond. If the pond is on your right when you start it should be on your right all the way along the trail until it ends, because you have just walked in a circle. Maybe it took you a while to do it but it’s still just a big circle. Even so I have met people here that seemed to have no idea where they were or which way to go. It just goes to show that what seems simple to some of us might not be so simple to others. I’ve been lost in the woods before too, and it can be unsettling, to say the least.

I knew right off what the small black lumps all over this beech stump were.

Annulohypoxylon cohaerens fungus forms hard black lumps on beech bark. The fruiting bodies seen here are “cushion like round or flask shaped masses of fungal tissue with nipple or pustule shaped pores.” Each body is very small; less than half the diameter of a pea. They usually grow on fallen beech logs but these were on a standing stump. It originally took me three years to identify them.

The trail had ice on it here and there but this is mostly level ground so it wasn’t bad. Next winter I’ll have micro spikes, hoping all the while that I don’t need them.

I saw the unnatural stone that lives in the middle of the trail, toward the end if you go clockwise around the pond. Of course I can’t prove it isn’t natural but I’ve worked with a lot of stone and I’ve never seen such a perfect 90 degree angle and such smooth faces on a natural stone. I can’t imagine how it got way out here or why.

This is a special place for several reasons. First is because it’s the only place I know of where you can actually get a photo of the woods while you are in them. An old pine fell and opened a hole in the canopy and that lets in enough light for a shot of something I am rarely able to get on film. Taking a photo of a forest while you’re in it is a lot harder than you might think, because of all the trees. Another reason this spot is special is because the only example of a northern club spur orchid I know of grows here. I found it about 4 years ago and hope to see it bloom again in July. The final reason this place is special to me is because it’s so beautiful and peaceful here. If you feel the need to just sit and “soak” in the woods this is the place to do it. I hope you have a place like it.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

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The word “Ashuelot” is pronounced Ash-will-ot if you’re from this area or Ash-wee-lot if you’re from away. The word is a Native American one meaning “collection of many waters.” For years I read that the word meant “the place between” but that didn’t make a lot of sense. “A collection of many waters” makes much more sense because that’s exactly what the river is. Wandering the banks of the Ashuelot is something I’ve done since I was too young to even retain the memory of doing so, and I do it often. On this day I was happy to see that the ice shelves had melted and the sandy / stony shoreline was back. The river has been very high for over a month and it’s good to see it finally ready to absorb the next big rain storm, which should come sometime in April unless that month has gone haywire too.

I stopped to admire some ice formations and take some photos so I wouldn’t have to try and explain how cold it was. Actually it wasn’t bad in the sunshine when the wind wasn’t blowing but it was blowing almost constantly along this stretch of river, so it was a day to be wrapped up like you would be in January.

The ice had formed discs on every twig that was in the water and this was remarkable only because the ever splashing water usually forms icy tear drop shapes on the twigs. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen these disc shapes here before.

Here is what I’m more used to seeing. Ice baubles I call them, but there weren’t many to be seen. They happen because of the way the current makes the water constantly rise and fall along the shoreline, so one second the twig is in the cold air and the next it’s under water. The runoff freezes and layer by layer and an ice bauble is made. It reminds me of dipping a wick in melted wax over and over again to make a candle.

This is where I come to practice my wave catching skills but there were none to catch on this day because the water was too low. It has to be at just the right height for good waves to form. Too low or too high and there are no waves. I took some photos anyway though, because the water looked like satin as it poured over the unseen stones that cause the waves.

Oak leaves huddled together as if to warm each other in the chilly breeze. I love the warm, orangey brown color of last year’s oak leaves, but I won’t be sorry to see them finally fall.

The oak buds seemed to be swelling a bit but it was hard to know. Oaks are one of our latest trees to leaf out in spring.

I saw a chubby little bird in a bush which looked like it was hoping I wouldn’t see it. I think it was a dark eyed junco but I’m not 100% sure of that. I see these small dark colored birds feeding in flocks along roadsides where the snow has melted away from the pavement , exposing the soil and grass. I’ve read that dark eyed juncos come here as winter sets in and leave in spring, so they must like the cold. There are said to be about 630 million of them from Alaska to Mexico, and all across the U.S. from coast to coast.

I wondered if the juncos were eating the sumac seeds so I had to look it up. Apparently they eat smaller seeds like those of grasses, lamb’s quarters and the like, and in warmer months they also eat insects. Robins, blue jays, grosbeaks, ruffed grouse, cardinals and other larger birds eat the sumac fruit, but it never disappears here until spring.

I went to visit the Ashuelot Falls on West Street in Keene. I used to fish here quite often when I was a boy but back then the river wasn’t as clean as it is now so I didn’t catch that many fish. An occasional perch or dace was about it but that was fine, because my being here really didn’t have much to do with catching fish anyway. I’d let a forked stick hold my pole while I explored the river bank. Now they catch trout here, I’m told.

I wouldn’t have been surprised to see ice pancakes in January but this was March, so I was surprised.

Ice pancakes form when the river foam stirred up by falls or other turbulence comes together into a misshapen lump. As the current moves the misshapen lumps they bump and jostle each other until all the rough edges are shaved off and they’ve become round like a pancake. Then they begin to freeze and their edges build up into rims.

Here is what an ice pancake looks like when it starts life, before its friends smooth out all those angles.

Canada geese waded in the shallows. More and more of them are returning to nest and raise their young in the reed beds along the river. There is always one lookout standing tall while the others preen, sleep, or eat and they count on their lookout to sound the alarm. I wondered if most of these birds even knew I was there.

My pointing the camera at them was too much for one or two of the geese and they swam off quickly.

Normally a river gets deeper as you go toward its middle but a sandbar has grown here, so the water in the middle is quite shallow. Not good for navigation but the geese know they can stand here rather than swim and they take advantage of being able to rest while still in the water. The shading from dark to lighter brown in this photo shows where the sandbar is.

A maple tree had been pecked full of holes by an unseen woodpecker.

I didn’t have to see this woodpecker to know it was a pileated woodpecker, which is our biggest. Its holes are large and almost always rectangular. All of the holes in the previous photo would fit inside this one with plenty of room to spare.

The hole in this old red maple (Acer rubrum) was the biggest of all but I doubt very much that it was made by a bird or an animal. I think the river has washed the soil out from under it.

The hole was plenty big and roomy enough for me to comfortably sit in, almost like a hobbit.

I knew the old tree was a red maple by its buds. The bud scales in many of these examples had pulled back to reveal the many pinkish flowers inside. Those over on the left were even protruding a bit from the bud, but it was still too early to tell if they were male or female blossoms. It’s a good thing they hadn’t fully opened because the temperature fell to zero degrees on this night. The cold isn’t going to leave quickly this year but today is the first full day of spring, even if it doesn’t seem it.

I was born upon thy bank, river,
My blood flows in thy stream,
And thou meanderest forever,
At the bottom of my dream.
~Henry David Thoreau

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It was a nice warm sunny Saturday when I set out for the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene and the weather people said it would be sunny all day, but as soon as I got there clouds moved in and decided to stay for a while. Actually the clouds stayed the entire time I was there and the sun didn’t show itself again until I left.

This was the only blue sky I saw the entire time I was there.

But the trail was well packed down and not really as icy as it looks here.

Beaver Brook was roaring. In the summer it giggles and chuckles along beside you but in the winter it roars, and that’s all you hear. Unless it’s covered by ice; when it’s iced over it whispers and is quieter than at any other time.

The brook hasn’t been completely iced over this winter that I’ve seen, but huge ice shelves had formed here and there. You can see how there is nothing under the shelf but air, so it walking out on it would be a foolish thing to do.

The ice shelves had teeth.

I have a lot of old friends living here along the brook, like this smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens.) I see this lichen just about everywhere I go but nowhere else are its fruiting bodies (apothecia) so blue or its body (thallus) so golden. The gold color comes from the minerals in the stone I think, and the blue color comes from the way the light falls on the waxy coating that covers the apothecia. Whatever it is that causes the colors in this particular place, this lichen is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen and this is the only place I’ve ever seen it look like this.

I also stopped to visit the only example I’ve ever seen of stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens.) This is a boreal moss that grows quite far north into the arctic and I’ve seen it here covered with ice, but it isn’t as delicate as it looks and it always comes through winter unscathed. When it’s dry it has a shiny sheen and that’s most likely why another common name for it is glittering wood moss. New growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s growth and that’s where the “stair step” name comes from. It’s a beautiful moss and I wish I’d see more of it.

The rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) came through winter looking fine and I was glad of that because this is the only example of it I know of. I did find another small patch on a stone in Swanzey once, but I can’t remember where. It’s nice to know there are more of them out there but I’d still have to call this moss rare. I love its little aspirin size rosettes of leaves that someone thought looked like roses. They look more like dahlias or chrysanthemums to me, but they’re beautiful no matter what we choose to call them.

There were some impressive ice formations on the ledges and I was surprised, because they don’t usually grow so big here. With the up and down weather we’ve had this year though, I probably shouldn’t be surprised by anything weather related.

Last time I came here the brook was flooding in places and it was a downright scary thing to see. The water mark on the far embankment showed just how high the water had been, and I’d guess that it was a good 6 feet higher than it was on this day. I met an old timer up here one day who told me that he had once seen the water over the old road. That’s something I hope I never see.

In places the snow had melted and revealed that there really wasn’t that much covering the road. Since we’re supposed to have warm days all week there’s a good chance that the road will be snow free this weekend.

Where the snow had melted you could see part of the old double yellow no passing lines.

Off on the side of the road a branch had fallen, and it was covered by what I thought at first was milk white, toothed polypores.

But the spore bearing surface of this fungus was more maze like than toothed, so that had me confused until I got home and was able to see the photos. After some searching I came up with what I think is a crust fungus called the common mazegill polypore (Datronia mollis.) It may be common in some places but I think this is only the second time I’ve seen it.

A little further up the road I found another fallen branch that was covered with inch in diameter, colorful crust fungi which I think were young wrinkled crust fungi (Phlebia radiata.)  These are winter mushrooms and that’s the only time I ever see them. They aren’t common; I’ve only found them three or four times. As they age the center of the fungus becomes very wrinkled, and that’s where their common name comes from.

There isn’t anything odd or rare about tinder fungi (Fomes fomentarius,) but a closer look at this one revealed something that was both odd and rare, at least in my experience.

There were squirrel teeth marks ( I think) all over one of the colored bands on it. Recently I’ve seen the same thing on a few lichens and have found that squirrels do indeed eat lichens, and I’ve seen them eating mushrooms but I’ve never seen them do this. It made me wonder if it was algae they were after, because algae grow on both lichens and fungi. I can’t imagine what else they’d get out of scraping their teeth over this fungus unless it was to keep their ever growing teeth in check. Tinder fungi are very tough and woody, so maybe the animal was simply trying to wear down its teeth.

Another fallen branch displayed what I thought from a distance were shield lichens but once I got closer I realized they weren’t anything I had ever seen.

They were obviously not lichens at all, but instead some type of hairy fungi.

They grew like bracket fungi and their spore bearing surfaces were maze like and faced outward. Each flower like cluster like the one shown above couldn’t have been more than three inches across, so they weren’t very big. They were pliable and rubbery to the touch, and felt much like an ear lobe. They look very pink to me but my color finding software tells me they’re mostly tan with some peach puff and dark salmon here and there.

They didn’t have to be big to be beautiful and I thought they were very beautiful things, but after looking through 4 mushroom books and spending several hours online I can’t find anything that even looks close to them, so they’ll have to remain a mystery for now. Maybe one of you knows their name. If so I’d love to hear from you.

A path well-traveled may still yield secrets that only one person may discover. ~Anthony T. Hincks

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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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Recently we saw nearly 2 inches of rain fall in one day and the placid stream, which is actually called Bailey Brook, that you see in the above photo flooded to cover all of the land seen in the photo and much more. Now that it had returned to normal I decided to follow it for a time and see what kind of damage the flooding had done.

I saw some delicate ice formations.

And stream ice made up of long crystals.

Large chunks of ice had found a place to rest when the flood receded and there they sat scattered here and there, reminding me of glacial erratics.

In some places I thought I was walking on land until my foot went through the ice and found water. From the ice surface down to the soil surface was about 6-8 inches with nothing but air in between, so the stream rose at least that much in flood.

There is a lot of drainage going on in this area and smaller streams meet the main stream in several places. Generally it’s a happy place and a great place to walk with the stream chuckling and giggling beside you, but it can also be a place of great danger when enough rain falls. I’ve seen it flood and go up and over roads in just a matter of a few hours, so you don’t walk here until you’re sure the stream has calmed down after storms makes it rage. First it happened once in ten years, then a couple of more times over the next five years or so, and now it seems to happen each year.

There are still plenty of beech leaves around and I’m glad of that because they add color to the landscape.

A single beech leaf fell and became frozen in the ice. It was a beautiful thing, and it looked like someone had painted it there. It would have been one of the impressionists like Monet or Renoir who would have painted it, I think. It was more light than leaf.

There was something I wanted to see but I had to climb a small hill to get to it. The hill ends right at the stream so there is no level land to walk on. I got up the hill without too much trouble by hugging trees and pulling myself up, but under those leaves was nothing but slippery, solid ice and the only way back down the hill was sitting down and sliding in what I’d guess was a very undignified manner.

But it was worth it because I got to see the horsetails (Equisetum hyemale) that grow along that section of stream. These are ancient plants that are embedded with silica. Another common name is the scouring rush because they are sometimes used to scour pots when camping, and they are also used for sanding wood in Japan. I like the way they look as if someone had knitted them fancy little socks.

There are lots of river grapes growing here along the stream and they are very easy to identify because of their peeling bark. Exfoliating bark is very common on the older wood of many types of grapevines and happens naturally. Older bark cracks from the growth expansion of the newer bark beneath it and eventually the older, cracked bark peels off in strips.

On warm days in the fall this entire area smells like grape jelly because of all the overripe grapes. Birds and animals get most of them but they missed a few, as this photo of a freeze dried grape shows.

I read an article recently that spoke of how we as a people are losing our connection to nature. As of 2008, according to the United Nations, half of all human beings lived in cities and in the U.K. a typical 8 year old child is better at recognizing video game characters than common wildlife. The article mentioned how, not that long ago, people knew trees as well as they knew themselves because they relied on them for heat, shelter, food, and many other things. The article suggested that getting to know trees would be a simple way for people to reconnect with nature, because there are very few people who don’t see trees every day. I suggest starting with easy ones or ones you already know, like the muscle wood tree in the above photo. It’s easy to see why it’s called muscle wood (Carpinus caroliniana.) See how its “tendons” ripple beneath its “skin”? Muscle wood is also called American hornbeam, and its wood is very dense and hard, but learning to identify trees by their bark isn’t hard, and it’s fun. Books like Bark by Michael Wojtech are a great help. You’d be surprised how quickly you would be able to name all of the trees in your neighborhood after a short time.

Here’s another easy one. Yellow or golden birch (Betula alleghaniensis) has peeling bark like a white birch but its bark is kind of reddish brown, which in the right light looks golden. They like cool, moist soil and are usually found near streams and ponds. They can also stand quite a lot of shade so growing here beside this stream in a cool, shaded forest is just about the perfect place for one.

There are a lot of insects after these trees along the stream, including bark beetles. These beetles excavate channels in the wood and when these channels completely encircle the wood the branch or tree has been girdled. Once girdled moisture and nutrients can no longer move freely through the cambium layer. When moisture and nutrients can’t move from the roots to the crown of the tree and back again the tree will die. I see a lot of fallen white pine (Pinus strobus) limbs with bark beetle damage.

Woodpeckers tell me that this standing dead hemlock tree is also full of insects. In large numbers, apparently.

Bittersweet vines twine around tree trunks; they don’t grow straight like this. There is no exfoliating bark, tendrils, or branching like a grape vine would have, so they can’t be that. Since there are no tendrils it isn’t Virginia creeper either. Those are the “big three” native vines that I would expect to find here but if the examples growing up this pine tree aren’t one of them what are they? Poison ivy, that’s what, and it’s a good idea to leave vines you don’t recognize alone until you’re sure of their identity. Poison ivy isn’t poison and it isn’t an ivy. Way back in the early 1600s Captain John Smith thought it looked like the English ivy he had left behind in England and, since it made him itch, thanks to him it became known as poison ivy. The urushiol the vine contains is considered an allergen and there is nothing poisonous about it, but is sure can make you itch and it will give you a rash that might last for weeks. You can get the rash from any part of the plant, including the naked stems seen here.

We’ve probably all heard the old “Leaves of three, let them be” saying about poison ivy, but the plant has no leaves in winter so “Hairy vine, no friend of mine” has to do when there is snow on the ground.  “Hairy rope, don’t be a dope” might work too. The roots seen in this photo are how the poison ivy vine clings to what it climbs, and there will often be a thick mat of roots all along the stem. But not always; poison ivy can grow as a vine, a shrub, or it can creep along the forest floor. It’s wise, if you plan on spending time in a New England forest, to study the plant and know it well. I usually get a small rash on my knees each spring from kneeling on unseen vines growing under the forest litter when I’m taking photos of early spring wildflowers, and I know it well. I’m lucky enough to be little bothered by it but I’ve known people who were hospitalized because of it.

Everywhere I go I see lichens that look like they’ve been chewed on and I’ve tried to find out why with limited success. Reindeer eat lichens but we don’t have reindeer in these woods, just white tails. I’ve seen squirrels eat mushrooms and since fungi are an important part of a lichen I thought that they might be the culprit, but I’ve never found anything in print about it until researching this post. According to a website called “What Do Squirrels Eat” http://www.whatdosquirrelseat.org squirrels have expanded their palates and will eat just about anything, including what we and our pets eat. It also says that they do indeed eat lichens, so I can finally put the chewed lichen mystery to bed.

But it’s rare day when you hike through a forest and do not come away with a mystery, and this was today’s mystery. From the opposite side this looked like a hard gray lump, smaller than the first joint on my little finger, on a poplar limb. When I looked at the underside I saw what appears in this photo. Though I’ve searched for a few days for an identification so far I have no idea what insect made and hatched from it. I’m guessing that it was some type of gall wasp. It might take a few years but one day I’ll find out more about it. In the end I went home happy, because I saw all kinds of interesting and beautiful things and surprisingly, saw no real flood damage at all.

Study how water flows in a valley stream, smoothly and freely between the rocks. Also learn from holy books and wise people. Everything – even mountains, rivers, plants and trees – should be your teacher. ~Morihei Ueshiba

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By now you might think I’d had enough of ice but there is a special place called the ice box in Westmoreland, just north of Keene, that I couldn’t go long in winter without visiting. I was here a month ago at the end of December but the ice, which often grows as big as tree trunks, hadn’t grown much by then. This is a deep cut through solid rock made by the Cheshire Railroad back in the mid-1800s which has become a popular spot for learning how to ice climb. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club holds ice climbing clinics here and on this day there were more climbers here than I had ever seen.

They were young and old and from what I gathered, all skill levels. As I usually do I just wandered through quickly, snapping the shutter now and then. I worry about distracting the beginning climbers so I don’t often speak to anyone or even stand and watch. I’ve asked in the past if my use of a camera bothered them and they’ve always said no, but that wouldn’t make me feel any better if someone fell because they were wondering what I was doing instead of paying attention to what they should have been doing.

What I’d like to ask them is why they don’t ever seem to climb the colored ice. It’s possible that it isn’t as stable as the clear or blue ice. Even though blue ice is the densest they seem to stay on the clear ice when climbing. I’ve read that ice is plastic and actually has quite a lot of give and movement, so maybe that has something to do with it. All of the bags and packs that you see in this photo are what the ice climbers use to pack their ropes out here. They use lots of rope!

These ledges soar up to what I would guess is about 50 feet in places and the ice columns sometimes reach all the way to the top. As I’ve said, they can also grow to the size of large tree trunks and they can be amazing things to see.

Sometimes it isn’t just their size that makes the ice columns amazing. It’s their beauty as well.

I believe that the colors in the ice come from mineral seepage in the groundwater that forms the ice columns, and I believe that simply because I can’t come up with any other plausible explanations. I’ve seen brown ice, green ice, orange ice, blue ice, red ice, and even black ice on these walls, so there must be some kind of mineral soup going on here.

I should say that I know regular readers of this blog have heard me say these things many times but there are new readers coming on board all the time, so I hope you’ll understand why I keep repeating what I say about this and some of other places I visit. This place especially, seems to fascinate those who haven’t ever seen anything like it. It really is quite amazing even to me, and I’ve seen it countless times.

I like the far southern end of the canyon; the end away from the climbers, because there is never anyone here. I think it might be because the ice receives too much sunshine on this end and it melts and fills the drainage ditches along the sides of the trail. I wouldn’t want to climb down an ice column and suddenly find myself standing in two feet of freezing cold water.

In years past I’ve seen huge ice columns colored reddish orange but this year I only saw those colors in the mineral stained stone. You can see in this photo how the groundwater seeps directly out of fractures in the stone.

I saw plenty of tan ice that had a few orangey streaks, but no orange ice.

There was so much ice in some spots you couldn’t see the stone that it hung from.

This photo shows the drainage ditches, which are frozen over at times and clear of ice at other times.

I saw some waves that had been frozen in place. There are small fish in these drainage ditches but they’re very fast so I’ve never been able to get a shot of them.

The ice over the drainage ditches is often thick enough to stand on, but you want to make sure you have high rubber boots on if you do. I’ve plunged through this ice before and found myself almost up to my knees in the cold, wet ditch.

Wherever the water touches the ice columns they melt, and they tell the story of how the water rises and falls in the ditches. We had a recent day with almost 2 inches of rain and there was plenty of evidence of flooding here.

This is one of two places where the water in the ditches rose so high that it washed parts of the railbed away. This was disheartening to see because the same thing happened last winter and the local snowmobile clubs had to put in a lot of time and effort last summer to fix it. They keep these trails open on their own time with their own tools without pay, and that’s why I always remind people to donate a little to their local snowmobile club, if and when they can.

The rushing water scoured away the finer material on the rail bed and exposed the gravel base. Chances are good that this hasn’t been seen in about 150 years, since the railroad workers put it down. It’s interesting to see that most of this stone isn’t made up of pieces of blasted rock from blasting the canyon through the hillside. These stones are more what I’d expect to see on a river or stream bank. So where did they come from? There must be a very big hole somewhere.

I thought I had chosen a good day to come here because it was sunny and approaching 50 degrees. It was a beautiful spring like day but somehow I never gave a thought to the fact that the ice would be melting because of it. But it was, and in places it was melting fast and falling from the walls. This rotten ice was a sure sign that things were changing due to the warmth. Ice is rotten when air bubbles or dirt particles get in between the ice crystals and weaken the bonds between them. It gives the ice a gray, opaque, “sick” look. When you tap on it you hear more of a thud than a good ringing rap.

This wasn’t good and it convinced me that I’d better get out of here, because an ice column had fallen and reached the center of the trail. I always walk in the center of the trail, thinking that if ice ever fell it would never reach me. So much for that theory.

I put a glove on one of the pieces of fallen ice column to give you an idea of how big they were. They were easily big and heavy enough to crush and kill if they ever fell on someone.

All of this freezing and thawing takes its toll on the ledges and stones fall from these walls too. The water gets into the cracks in the stone and expands when it freezes and shatters the stone, as can be seen in this photo. Stones big enough to crush cars have fallen from the walls in the past. I hope I’m not here when the next one comes down.

As I always have I stop and stand in awe of the old lineman’s shack which, even with one wall and half its roof gone still stands. It’s slowly getting worse though and I doubt it will make it through one more winter. I often wonder if they stored shovels in the shack so they could shovel out this canyon when it snowed. I’ve seen photos of train locomotives with big plows on them but where would they plow the snow in a canyon barely as wide as the train was? I think they must have had to shovel it, at least some of it, and I can’t even imagine what back breaking work that must have been.

After one last peek at the ice climbers my time here was done.

There are places which exist in this world beyond the reach of imagination. ~Daniel J. Rice

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This photo of Half Moon Pond in Hancock only tells half the story because there is still plenty of snow out there, but one day we had a lot of rain that immediately froze into ice and now it’s hard to get into the woods without Yaktrax or some other non-slip grippers on your boots. Where there is still snow there is a thick, icy, and very slippery crust on it. I’ve wanted to climb a hill but I’m a bit put off by the ice. If I was a skater I think I’d be very happy right about now.

I saw this curious lens like formation in some puddle ice. I can’t even imagine how it would have formed.

You can see all kinds of things in ice and I found an owl in this section of puddle ice. It’s on the right, tilted slightly to the left.

Here is a closer look at the owl. There is blue around its eyes and a V shape between them. You can see some amazing things in puddle ice, from distant solar systems to frozen currents, and I always stop and give it a close look. In fact I’ve been known to get down on my hands and knees for a closer look but I found that I was disrupting traffic when I did that, so now I can only do it in the woods. “What is that nut doing kneeling on the side of the road?” I imagined the people wondering as they slowed to see. “Why, he’s taking pictures of a mud puddle!!” It takes all kinds, doesn’t it?

I found this strange ice formation on the river’s shore. I don’t know how it formed but I’m guessing that those branches had something to do with it. It reminded me of the Roman temple ruins I’ve seen photos of. Ice is an amazing thing that surprises me almost every time I look closely at it.

But enough with the ice; it’s giving me a chill. I found a grape vine hanging on for dear life, but it has nothing to worry about. River grapes (Vitis riparia) are also called frost grapes and they’ve been known to survive temperatures as low as -57 degrees F, so our paltry 20 below zero readings this year hardly bothered them at all. Their extreme cold tolerance makes their rootstock a favorite choice for many well-known grape varieties. If you grow grapes there’s a good chance that your vines were grafted onto river grape rootstock. I looked for some leftover grapes on this vine but the birds have taken every single one this year. I wouldn’t wonder; the poor things have had to suffer through two weeks of below zero weather this winter.

We have a bird here in North America called the acorn woodpecker and it makes its living stashing acorns in holes it has drilled into trees, utility poles, house siding, or any other wooden object. But they are a western bird and we don’t have them here in the east, so what bird put this acorn into this hole in a birch tree? After a little reading on the subject I found that many woodpeckers do this, though not on the same grand scale as the acorn woodpecker, apparently. In fact jays, nuthatches and even chickadees stash acorns in holes but they can’t drill the holes like a woodpecker can, as far as I know. In the end I can’t say which bird put this acorn in the hole. Maybe a woodpecker drilled the hole and another bird hid the acorn. In any event if I ever see an oak growing out of a birch I’ll know what happened.

I’ve always loved seeing birds but I knew early on that I could never really study them because of colorblindness. Still, I’ve learned an awful lot about them by blogging, and one of the things I’ve discovered is that the same birds in different parts of the country have different habits. In the Midwest for instance, birds will quickly eat all the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) berries they can find, but here in New Hampshire they pretty much leave them alone until spring and it’s common to see sumac seed heads still full of seeds even in April. I’ve read that sumac berries are very low in fat and that’s why birds shun them, but that doesn’t fully explain it. Sumac berries in the Midwest have the same amount of fat that those in New Hampshire do, so it must be something else. Maybe it’s the super abundance of other foods we have here. It could be that the birds simply don’t need to eat the berries until the supply of other foods runs out.

A television naturalist noted that a half a loaf of bread provided all the food a large troop of baboons needed for an entire day. They could steal and eat a loaf of bread in a half hour and play for the rest of the day, or they could forage for natural foods all day and not have time for anything else. “Which would you do?” the naturalist asked, and that got me wondering about invasive plants like the Japanese barberry in the above photo. These plants form huge thickets and are loaded with berries, so why would a bird expend energy flying from tree to tree all day foraging for food when it could simply sit in a barberry thicket and eat its fill in an hour? That’s a big part of the reason invasive plants are so successful, I think.

Though American basswood (Tilia americana) trees are native to the eastern U.S. I never find them in the forest in this area so I really don’t know that much about them. I never realized that their seeds were so hairy and I didn’t know until I did some research that chipmunks, mice, and squirrels eat them. Birds apparently, do not. Virtually every basswood tree that I know is used as an ornamental shade tree and that might be because they are one of the hardest trees to propagate by seed. Only 30% of their seeds are said to be viable, and that might account for their scarceness. Surprisingly, the foliage and flowers are both edible and many people eat them. Native Americans used the tree’s pliable inner bark to make ropes, baskets, mats and nets. Bees love the fragrant flowers and basswood honey is said to be of the highest quality.

The smooth carrion flower (Smilax herbacea) vine can reach 8 feet long, with golf ball size flower heads all along it. The female flower clusters when pollinated become globular clusters of dark blue fruit. The berries are said to be a favorite of song and game birds so I was surprised to find several clusters of them. Raccoons and black bears also eat the fruit, so maybe the bears will get some when they wake up in spring. Native Americans and early colonists ate the roots, spring shoots and berries of the vine but after smelling its flowers I think I’d have a hard time eating any part of it. Their strong odor resembles that of decaying meat.

How do you show the wind in a photograph? I thought this downy feather stuck on the tip of a branch would show how windy it was on this day but I had the settings on my camera set to stop even a feather being blown about by the wind, so I guess you’ll just have to believe me when I say it was very windy. Wind is often the nature photographer’s enemy, but you can sometimes find ways around it.

It seems odd that a tree like the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) would have such tiny buds, because everything else about the tree is big. It even has big leaf scars, and that’s what this photo shows. But the bud that appears just at the top of the leaf scar is so small you can barely find it. The tree has huge heart shaped leaves that are the biggest I’ve seen, and great trusses of large flowers which become string bean like seed pods that can be two feet long. Catalpa wood is very rot resistant and railroads once grew great plantations of them to be used as railroad ties. They are still used for utility poles today.  Midwestern Native American tribes hollowed out the trunks of catalpa trees and used them as canoes, and the name Catalpa comes from the Cherokee tribe’s word for the tree. Natives made tea from the bark and used it as an antiseptic and sedative. Parts of the tree are said to be mildly narcotic.

Where I work we’ve seen hundreds of what we thought were stink bugs. They started coming indoors when it got cold and got into smoke detectors, light fixtures and heating ducts. Once I had this photo I was able to look them up and I found that they weren’t stink bugs at all, even though they do have an odor if they’re crushed. Instead this is the western conifer seed bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis.) This insect sucks the sap from the developing cones of many species of conifer. It is native to North America west of the Rocky Mountains but has expanded its range and is most likely here to stay. Though they are a minor pest when it comes to conifers they can be a major pest indoors, because they can pierce PEX tubing with their mouth parts and cause leaks. If your house happens to be plumbed with PEX tubing you might want to vacuum up as many of these insects as you can find when they come indoors in the fall. They can’t bite but they can spray a bitter, stinky liquid when they’re threatened.

Split gill fungi (Schizophyllum commune) are winter fungi that appear in late fall. They are covered by what looks like a wooly fur coat. Because they are so hairy they are very easy to identify. They are usually about the size of a penny and I find them on dead branches. They are very tough and leathery.

The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds of tissue on its underside that split lengthwise when it dries out. The splits close over the fertile spore producing surfaces in dry weather and open to release the spores when they’re rehydrated by rain. I’ve never seen one that was this furry on its underside. Split gills grow on every continent except Antarctica and are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. Scientists have isolated a compound from it that is said to inhibit the HIV-1 virus.

This is the only clear shot I’ve ever gotten of the open split in the underside tissue of a split gill fungus. Though called gills they really aren’t. It’s just this mushrooms way of increasing its spore bearing surface and thereby increasing its spore production. It’s always about the continuation of the species, whether we talk about fungi, fig trees, fish, falcons or fireflies.

The spidery twigs of lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) make them very easy to identify in winter. They had a fantastic crop last year, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do this year. Quite often when a plant produces a bumper crop one year it has to rest for a while in following years. It can take as long as 5 years for some plants to recover.

It’s hard to believe that anything could live on tiny tree buds but deer can, and they do. Of course, that isn’t all they eat but buds are part of their diet. Winter forage isn’t very nutritious though and deer burn considerable amounts of the fat that they put on in the fall. They can add as much as 30 pounds of fat in a good year but then burn it all just getting through winter. In a winter as harsh as this one has been many may not make it through. You can tell that a deer has been at this twig by the way it is roughly torn. Deer have incisor teeth only on their bottom jaw and these teeth meet a hard pad of cartilage on the front part of their upper jaw, so they can’t bite cleanly like we do. Instead they pull and tear. They also have top and bottom molars but they are quite far back in the mouth and are used for chewing rather than biting.

We’ve had days warm enough to send me off looking for witch hazel blossoms but I didn’t see any. Instead I saw a lilac bud that was as green as it should be in spring and which seemed to be thinking about opening. I hope it changed its mind because we could still have plenty of winter ahead of us. Traditionally February is said to be our snowiest month, so this little bud might have made a mistake. On the bright side it’s time to say goodbye, and possibly good riddance, to January.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

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