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Posts Tagged ‘Ice Formations’

This post will be the last with ice in it for a while, but scenes like this one were still common just two or three weeks ago. Beaver lodges can be quite big, with the floor a couple of inches above the water level. On the floor they scatter a 2 or 3 inch deep bed of dry leaves, grass, shredded wood and other materials to keep the floor dry. They don’t hibernate. They can swim under the ice but they can’t hold their breath forever so they can’t stray far from their lodges in winter. Their winter food is green branches and twigs they anchor into the soft mud around the lodge. When hungry they dislodge a branch, which stay green in the cold winter water, and drag it into the lodge.

This winter I’ll remember for its ice. It was everywhere. It was terrible to walk on but often beautiful to see.

But ice melts, and in this photo it is doing just that on Half Moon Pond in Hancock. The ice usually melts off around mid-April but this year it happened about two weeks early due to above average temperatures and record breaking warmth.

This snowbank raised what looked like a defiant fist and seemed to say “I will not melt”! But it did melt; they all did.

In fact the ice and snow melted so fast the sign removal people couldn’t keep up.

The Canada geese knew the thaw was coming and they were here almost immediately after the ice melted. Many ducks have returned as well, and I’ve heard spring peepers, wood frogs, red winged blackbirds, and the beautiful but sorrowful sounding fee-bee mating call of male black capped chickadees.

I’ve been watching buds, like this blueberry bud. It always amazes me that a plant with blue fruit can have so much red in it. I think the white stripe running up the stem and around the base of the bud might have been frost.

Lilac buds can also have a lot of red in them. They’re starting to swell noticeably now.

Red elderberry buds are also getting bigger by the day. The deep purple fingers of unfurling leaves are beautiful as they come from their buds in the spring. It won’t be long now.

I think the buds of sweet gale have elongated some but they’re so small it’s hard to tell. They’re pretty little things. This small, very aromatic shrub is also called bog rosemary. I find it on the shorelines of ponds along with leatherleaf, alder and rhodora.

How beautiful the leaves of swamp dewberry are in spring before they turn green and start photosynthesizing. Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing plant with fruit like a black raspberry and its stems are every bit as prickly. It also looks a lot like a strawberry when it’s in bloom and because of its strawberry like leaves, which are evergreen. This is a plant that can trip you up when hidden by snow. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for this plant, including treating coughs, fever and consumption. Swamp dewberry, as its name implies, is a good indicator of a wetland or moist soil that doesn’t dry out.

We lost a huge old pine tree where I work and I wanted to get photos of it because if you look closely you can see that the bottom half was completely hollow. A big pine like this one fell on a friend’s barn a few years ago and cut it right in half. A snow blower parked inside was crushed down to a jumble of mashed metal.

The scary part of this tree falling was how it fell right next to one of our roads. Thankfully there was no one going by at the time. When it fell it took two or three other smaller trees with it.

I saw a small delicate feather stuck on the bark of a tree and wondered if it might be a nuthatch breast feather. We have lots of them where I work. The rose breasted nuthatches are so fearless that one day I almost stepped on one. I’m glad I saw it at the last minute.

Blue jays stayed here all winter long; the first time I’ve ever seen this. And there were large flocks of them. Many people in the area were commenting about how unusual it was.

I found a beech leaf and a pinecone twirling slowly in the breeze at the end of a strand of spider silk. Since both leaves and cones fall from trees I’m guessing that they fell through a spider’s web. I’ve read that spider silk is five times as strong as the same diameter thread made of steel. I’ve also read that, if you had a piece of spider silk the same diameter as a pencil, it would be strong enough to stop a Boeing 747 in flight. It’s always good to have a little awe in our lives, I think.  

Here is one of the strangest things I’ve ever found in the woods. I said “Oh, a bird’s nest” and walked over to it. I could see bits of yarn and string like a bird would use but something didn’t look right. It was too perfectly round.

And it was as hard as a rock. That’s because it was a ball with the outer covering torn off. If you’ve ever taken the covering off a baseball you’ve seen this same thing, because this was indeed the inside of a baseball.

The inside had been hollowed out like a bird’s nest and I have to say that I have no idea how it got its outer covering removed or how it got stuck in the crotch of a willow tree. Did someone hit a homerun that landed in a tree? Did someone put it there hoping birds would nest in it? It’s a mystery to me.

Tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuatus) does just what its name sounds like it would; it grows at the base of trees and makes them look like they’re wearing green stockings. It can also grow on soil or stone and can form extensive mats. This was a beautiful example of it. Jut look how it glows.

Tree skirt moss grows up to 3 feet high around the bases of hardwoods, especially oaks. Knowing where certain mosses prefer growing, whether on soil, stone or wood, can help with identifying them. This moss is very changeable and changes its appearance depending on how dry it is. This example was moist and happy.

This one is for Ginny, who last fall said she couldn’t imagine what a leaf pile the size of a box truck would look like. These are all the leaves that were collected last season where I work.

Of course the pile has settled some over the winter but that’s still a lot of leaves. It takes three full months to collect them all; maple, birch, basswood, oak and beech mostly, and once they decompose we use the resulting compost for lawn patches and what have you. You can just see the top of an older pile in the background that we have dug into.

My little friend here and his cousins try to collect all the acorns and pinecones that fall but we had another mast year and there must be millions of both still left to cleanup. I’ve read that mast years happen when the trees are stressed and I’d guess that drought over the past couple of years would have stressed them severely.

I do hope everyone has a healthy and happy Easter and I hope the sun shines for you, wherever you are.

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

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Last Sunday I went to Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard for a climb but it was still far too icy for me so I turned around and instead went to Beaver Brook, which is something I haven’t done since January. There was ice there too, but I didn’t have to climb on it. There was also abundant springtime sunshine, as you can see.

The plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) that grows there was looking good and it won’t be long before it blossoms. This is the largest sedge I know of and this is the only place I’ve seen it. I like its crepe paper like leaves.

I brushed the leaves carefully away from where the Solomon’s seal plants (Polygonatum biflorum) grow and sure enough, there were pink shoots up out of the soil. By the time the purple trilliums bloom these shoots will be 6-8 inches tall and just starting to leaf out.

The pink buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are swelling and elongating. It happens fast and it won’t be long before bud break in April.

Native hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) blooms in May bud its buds don’t show any signs of movement yet. This plant’s buds have no bud scales so they’re considered naked buds. Instead of bud scales they use thick, wooly hair for protection.

The buds of mountain maple (Acer spicatum) are much smaller than those of striped maple, and very red and hairy. Striped maple buds are smooth. Those red bud scales will open in April to reveal a bright orange bud.

I was glad I wore my micros spikes. There was ice here and there on the road and it would have been nearly impossible to walk on without spikes. I’ve fallen on ice twice since December so I won’t be sorry to see it all melt away.

A branch fell from an oak before its acorns had time to mature so they were no bigger than your shirt buttons. The cap forms first, as we can see here.

I’ve discovered an app called “Google Lens” on my phone that I didn’t know it had. According to the blurb “Google Lens is an image recognition technology developed by Google, designed to bring up relevant information related to objects it identifies using visual analysis based on a neural network. In other words it will help you identify plants and other things. I thought I’d put it through its paces and see what it could do, and I started with stairstep moss (Hylocomium splendens), which it correctly identified. I was impressed; this is the only example of this moss that I’ve ever seen.

It did not identify delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) correctly. It thought it was more stairstep moss.

Google lens identified this dog lichen as the membranous dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea), which I believe is incorrect. If I remember correctly an expert told me it was the scaly pelt lichen (Peltigera praetextata.) Still, the fact that it knew it was a dog lichen is impressive. Dog or pelt lichens will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was.

There is a huge boulder fall just above where the dog lichen lives so I didn’t want to dilly dally. This is the kind of place where you find yourself hoping there won’t be an earthquake. We do have them here in New Hampshire.

The Google lens couldn’t identify the smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) but it did know it was a lichen after a misstep or two. Though I tried several times it kept saying that it was a Lecanora lichen. I think the blue color of the apothecia led it astray because once it thought it was seeing a cobalt crust fungus.

The Google lens was right on the mark with script lichen (Graphis scripta) but it’s a relatively easy lichen to identify.

There was a large ice fall in the woods on the other side of the brook. It’s hard to tell in a photo but that would be quite a climb.

It’s interesting to note how the brook on the right is always in the shade while the hillside to the left is always in full sun. That’s why all the ice is over on the right and there isn’t any to be seen on the left hillside. Not surprisingly, all the spring ephemeral flowers that grow here are found over on the left. Where the snow and ice melt first, that’s where to look for the earliest spring flowers, but you have to study a place to know that. That’s one reason I visit the same places over and over.

There were still fingers of ice in the brook. Most of the ice that covered the brook this year looked to be about a foot thick; less than half what it usually is. Since it rarely sees sunshine the brook can be so covered by ice you can’t hear it any longer. It’s quite an eerie thing to walk here when that happens.

I admired the exposed roots of a golden birch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that it had fallen before long.

Both Google lens and I failed to identify this strange, hard button on a log. It was obviously some type of fungus. The lens said it was a birch polypore which, since it was growing on an oak log and the wrong form, was incorrect. I think it was the button stage of some other kind of bracket fungus.

There were two of them on the log and you could see old bracket fungi between them but there wasn’t much there to help with identification. In the end on this day Google Lens was right about 50% of the time but I had given it the hardest things to identify that I could find, so I have to be fair and say that I think it has great potential, especially with flowers. I’m anxious to try it on spring ephemerals.

I saw another huge icefall even bigger than the first. It was very impressive, but it will be gone soon.

Last time I was here in January I told myself I wouldn’t climb down the steep embankment to the falls but I did. This time I told myself I might but I didn’t. I was able to see them through the trees though, and I could certainly hear their roar.

Nature is light, and by looking at Nature in her own light we will understand her. Visible Nature can be seen in her visible light; invisible Nature will become visible if we acquire the power to perceive her inner light. ~Paracelsus

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Have you ever gone outside on a spring morning and found the day so beautiful you wanted to throw out your arms and shout thank you? That’s what this day started like, with a beautiful blue sky and wall to wall sunshine. And with all of the red maples so full of red buds; I knew I had to go and find some flowers.

But it was still a little cool and I was afraid most flowers wouldn’t have opened yet, so I went to the river. I found ice baubles had grown over night on the shrubs that line the riverbank, so it had gotten colder than I thought.

The ice baubles form when river water splashes onto a twig or anything else and freezes. Slowly, splash by splash often a round ice ball will form. They’re usually as clear as crystal but these seemed to have a lot of bubbles in them.

There were waves on the river so I thought I’d practice catching one with my camera. I don’t use burst mode; when each wave comes I click the shutter, but it isn’t quite as easy as it sounds because there can be three or four small waves between big ones, so you have to sync yourself to the rhythm of the river. Sometimes you get a miss like this shot was. Just a bit too early for a really good curl but I love the colors.

And sometimes you’re a little too late. I find that there are times when I can “give myself” to the river and get shot after shot of breaking waves. I can’t really describe what giving myself to the river is, but your mind clears and you shoot each wave almost without really trying. I sometimes call it stepping out of myself or losing myself, and it’s always wonderful when it happens. You find that you can do things you didn’t know you could do, like reading waves.

As I was leaving the river I saw a bit of ice in a depression in a boulder. It looked like it had a face in it. Was it an elf? It was wearing a stocking cap, whatever it was.

Wildflowers are coming along and I saw my first dandelion. Since I found one blooming in February last year I’ve now seen dandelions blooming in every month of the year. Believe it or not I have more trouble finding them in summer these days than I do in the colder months. I know many people think of dandelions as weeds but to me all flowers are beautiful and there’s nothing cheerier than a field of dandelion blossoms in March. In fact one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen was a field of dandelions and violets all blooming together. My grandmother used to cook dandelion greens like spinach for me, so I suppose they’re part of me.

I also saw henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) blooming. Henbit gets its common name from the way chickens peck at it. The plant is in the mint family and apparently chickens like it. The amplexicaule part of the scientific name means “clasping” and describes the way the hairy leaves clasp the stem. The plant is a very early bloomer and blooms throughout winter in warmer areas. It’s from Europe and Asia, but I can’t say that it’s invasive because I rarely see it. I’ve read that the leaves, stem, and flowers are edible and have a slightly sweet and peppery flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked.

Here is what the foliage of henbit looks like for those who have never seen it. I find growing along with ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), which the foliage resembles in shape but not in habit. Henbit stands taller than ground ivy and the leaves are a different shade of green in early spring. Those of ground ivy lean more toward dark purple in early spring.

I also saw what I think were some very crinkly hollyhock leaves. I don’t know if they appear very early or if they live under the snow all winter.

We who live in New England have a fifth season called “mud season” and it is upon us now. Sometimes it can really be brutal; in the old days schools were often closed for a month because of it.

Here is a view, courtesy of the Cheshire County Historical Society, of what mud season can do. This was taken in Westmoreland, New Hampshire sometime in the 1940s. Gravel roads become a sea of mud and very little in the way of motorized transport can get through it. It begins when the upper foot or two of soil thaws but anything under that stays frozen. Water can’t penetrate the frozen soil so it sits on top of it, mixing with the thawed soil and making dirt roads a muddy quagmire. It’s like quicksand and it’s hellish trying to drive through it because you’re usually stuck in it before you realize how deep it is.

Snowdrops were living up to their name up in Hancock where there is still snow. When I was gardening professionally not a single client grew snowdrops and as far as I know nobody in my family did either, so I don’t know them well. I do know that they’re scarce in this area; I see small clumps of 4 or 5 flowers here and there every spring but not the huge drifts of them that I’ve seen online. They simply don’t seem to like it here and that could be because they aren’t used to our kind of below zero cold. I’ve read that they’re in the amaryllis family so maybe that’s why.  

I went to see the budded daffodils that I saw last week. I was sure they’d be blooming but not yet. We’ve had a coolish week so maybe they’re waiting for that silent signal. I have a feeling these will be white daffodils because of the bud shape. Of course they might not open at all; I once worked for an English lady who complained about bud blast in her white daffodils. Most springs they would start to open and then, just as they were showing a little color they would die off. Either a freeze or a hot spell can cause it and these have been through both. White varieties appear to be much more susceptible to bud blast than the yellows.

Tulips are growing fast. These had doubled in size in a week.

One of my favorite spring bulbs, the reticulated iris, doesn’t seem to be doing well this year. Or maybe they’re just Petering out. I’ve never grown any myself but I’ve heard they just fade out after awhile.

I went to see if the skunk cabbages were showing any foliage growth yet but didn’t see a single leaf. The ground had thawed in their swamp so rather than kneel down it wet mud I sat on a hummock beside them to get this shot with my phone. I thought about that silent signal as I sat there; the one that calls the red winged blackbirds back and makes the spring peepers peep and the turtles come up out of the mud. It’s doubtful that the signal is heard by the critters, I thought, so it must be felt. But if that is so, why can’t I feel it? But then I thought about how I wanted to throw out my arms and shout my joy that morning and wondered if maybe I did feel it and just didn’t know it. The things that come to mind when you’re sitting on a hummock in a swamp.

I would have bet breakfast that the willows would be in bloom but they held back like the daffodils. In fact many things are holding back but this week is supposed to be in the 50s and 60s, so that should coax all the plants that haven’t dared to dip their toes into spring to finally jump in with a splash.

The violas were still blooming just the way they were a week previous, so the weather doesn’t bother them at all. The pansy family is made up of cool weather lovers anyhow, so I wasn’t surprised.

The witch hazels were still going strong too. What a glorious fragrance!

Crocuses certainly aren’t holding back. Blue (purple?) ones have joined the yellows I saw last week. The gardener is going to wish he’d raked those leaves before the flowers came up. Now he or she is going to have to hand pick them.

This one is certainly purple, and very beautiful as well. The first crocuses of the year just do something to you. They let you know that yes, spring really is here despite the forecast.

These crocuses grow under redbud trees and don’t see sunlight until the afternoon so they hadn’t opened yet. I was disappointed until I saw how beautiful the unopened blossoms were, and then I didn’t care. How lucky we are to have such beauty in our lives. And everywhere you look, too. It really is a wonder we can get anything done.

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! ~Sitting Bull

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In typical March fashion the first week of the month was cold and very windy, so it came in like a lion. Everyone I know is hoping it goes out like a lamb but meanwhile the snow is still melting, and with sixty degree temperatures expected in the near future I’d guess that this scene will be snow free by the weekend. I’ve been itching to climb again but with all the ice that came with February I haven’t done it.  Instead last weekend I went wandering, just to see what I could see.

I wondered if the red winged blackbirds had returned so I went to a place I knew they’d be if they had, but I didn’t hear them. I did see that ice had re-formed on the stream though.

There are plenty of cattails for them to build nests with when they do come back. There is a pond I go to where I can walk right along the edge, just where the cattails grow, and I often scare the female red winged blackbirds when I do, so I know that the nests are tucked down in the stems, quite close to the water. I’ve seen females picking large grubs out of the previous year’s decomposing stems as well, so nature has provided everything they need in a cattail stand; both food and nesting material. They’ll be back before long.

 I saw a group of mallards and as usual they were rushing away as fast as they could go. Usually when I get shots of mallards I see more tailfeathers than anything else. They’re very skittish in these parts.

I believe these were willows but they grew on the far side of another stream so I couldn’t get close to them, but many of the willows that grow here have yellow or yellowish branches in spring. I thought their color was very spring like and beautiful whatever they were, so I was happy to see them. They made an impressionistic scene, I thought. Or maybe post-impressionistic; I can see Van Gogh painting it.

I went to the river thinking I might see some interesting ice formations but I think the water was too high for them. Instead I admired the beautiful texture and colors of the water. It really is amazing how the appearance of river water changes. It’s very dependent on the quality of the light.

Closer to shore the sunlit ripples were hypnotizing.

A fallen tree had washed downriver and become stuck on the rocks, and it showed just how cold it was.

This ice is so clear it can’t be seen, but those bubbles were trapped under it.

This ice was anything but clear. I couldn’t tell if the patterns I saw were part of the ice itself or what was under it, but I liked them.

Much like beech and oak leaves do, black locust seed pods (Robinia pseudoacacia) often fall in spring and this one had landed in an icy footprint. You often see these pods with one side gone and the seeds open to the elements, just as these were.

The tiny brown seeds of a black locust look like miniature beans and that’s because they are in the same legume family. Their coating is very tough and they can remain viable for many years. They’re also very toxic and should never be eaten.

There is a stone in a local park that has what appear to be paw prints in it. Not on it; they’re actually depressions in the stone. They’re small like a housecat’s paw and I can’t imagine what might have made them or even if they really are animal prints, but seeing them always gets me wondering. Maybe they were just gas bubbles that popped as the magma that the stone came from was cooling, or maybe they’re impressions from ancient leaves that fell in mud that hardened. I didn’t bother to try to figure out if the stone was sedimentary or igneous but maybe one day.

Speaking of stones, here is a well made stone wall to contrast all the “thrown” and “tossed” walls I’ve shown on this blog. This is just the kind of wall I used to build; a puzzle made of stone, and I miss being able to do it.

I saw a beech tree, large and fairly old, with buds on it that are quite different from our native beech buds. Instead of thin, long and pointed like a native beech it was short and more round, so I think it must be a European beech (Fagus sylvatica). I’ve read that they can escape cultivation but this one lives on the grounds of the local college, so I can’t say it has done that. I’ll have to get a look at its leaves later on.

Native nannyberry buds (Viburnum lentago) with their two bud scales are good examples of valvate buds. These buds always remind me of great blue herons or cranes. Nannyberry is another of our native viburnums but unlike many of them this shrub produces edible fruit. Native Americans ate them fresh or dried and used the bark and leaves medicinally.

While I was thinking of buds I thought I’d check on the red maple buds (Acer rubrum). I didn’t see any open yet but the outer bud scales are definitely pulling back.

I saw a skunk cabbage spathe (Symplocarpus foetidus) that had opened so of course I had to look inside at the spadix.

There were plenty of flowers on the spadix and they were releasing pollen already. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. The male stamens grow up through the sepals and release their pollen before the female style and pistil grow out of the flower’s center to catch any pollen that visiting insects might carry from other plants. The spadix carries most of the skunk like odor at this stage of the plant’s life, and it is thought that it uses the odor to attract flies and other early spring insects.

Lots of animals have been waiting all winter for anything green so I’m sure they’ll be happy to see green grass again. I’ve seen both porcupines and muskrats eating dead grass in winter.

I went back to see how the cold had affected the spring blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) and found that all of the petals had rolled themselves back into the wooly buds so they didn’t get damaged. With 60 degrees right around the corner I’m guessing that they’ll be in full bloom by the weekend.

The thing that surprised me most was finding crocuses showing color. Though this flower bed isn’t in my yard I know it well enough to know that it has quite a few reticulated irises in it and they have always bloomed before the crocuses. Maybe the gardener pulled up all the irises? I don’t know.

Wandering souls discover sleepless dreams. ~Paul Sachudhanandam

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For this post I’m going to try to take you through February, starting with the photo of puddle ice above. February was a cold and icy month but beautiful too. The average February temperature usually runs between 16.5°F (-8.6°C) and 31.5°F (-0.3°C) so ice doesn’t come as a surprise.

February was also a snowy month with storm after storm coming through. According to state records in Concord, the state capital, on average snow falls for 10.2 days in February and typically adds up to about 7.36 inches. We’ve had all of that, as the waist high snowbanks on the side of the road I travel to work on show.

The snow and ice might have built up but the finger of open water in Half Moon Pond reached further out into the pond each day. In February days have the least amount sunshine with an average of only about 4 hours per day, so things like this take time. The clouds seen in this shot are typical on an average February day.

But the sun does shine and slowly, the days get longer.

I’ve read that the reflection of sunlight from snow can nearly double the intensity of the Sun’s UV radiation. This photo of a fertile sensitive fern frond was taken in natural light that was reflecting off the snow and it looks like I used a flash.  

Here is another sensitive fern fertile frond which has released its spores. This was another attempt at catching sunlight on snow. It isn’t easy to do because it’s so very bright. If you stare at it too long you can experience snow blindness, which thankfully is usually only temporary. Still, bright sunlight on snow isn’t good for the eyes especially if you have glaucoma, so I try to always wear sunglasses.

Animals like turkeys, deer and squirrels have been digging up the snow looking for acorns.

And then one day the sunshine was different; it felt like a warm breath, and the melting began in earnest. That’s how spring always begins, but it is something that can never be proven to those who don’t believe. It doesn’t matter if it is February, March or April, spring always begins with that sense; the knowing that something has changed. You feel it and you know it but you can’t explain it, even though you know that from this point on there will be other, more visible signs.

Anything dark colored like this white cedar branch absorbed warmth from the sun and melted down into the snow.

Here a basswood tree limb was doing the same.

At this time of year each tree in the forest may have a melt ring around it as the basswood in the above shot does. A study done by Emeritus Professor of Botany Lawrence J. Winship of Hampshire College, where he used an infrared thermometer to measure heat radiated by tree trunks, found that the sunny side of a red oak was 54 degrees F. while the shaded side was just 29 degrees F. And the ground temperature was also 29 degrees, which means it was frozen. This shows that trees really absorb a lot of heat from the sun and it must be that when the heat is radiated back into the surroundings it melts the snow. The professor found that the same was true on fence posts and stumps so the subject being alive had nothing to do with it, even though a living tree should have much more heat absorbing water in it.

As the snow melts things that fell on it months ago reappear, like these basswood berries (actually nutlets). That bract is a modified leaf, called a tongue by some, which helps the berries fly on the winds. These didn’t make it very far from the tree however. Native Americans used many parts of the basswood tree, including the berries, as food and also boiled its sweet sap. The fibers found in the tree’s bark were used to make twine and cordage used for everything from sewing to snowshoes. In fact the word “bass” is a mispronunciation of the Native word “bast”, which is their word for one of the types of fiber made from the tree.

No longer moistened by snow melt, this moss growing on a stone was looking quite dry. From here on out it will have to depend on rain.

As the sun warms stones many times you’ll see the frost coming out of them. That’s what the white was in this shot. It doesn’t usually last long so it’s one of those being in the right place at the right time things.

Maple syrup makers hung their sap buckets about the third week of February as usual. Nobody knows when or where sap gathering started but most agree that it was learned from Native Americans. They used to cut a V notch into the bark of a tree and then put a wedge at the bottom of the cut. The sap would drip from the wedge into buckets made of bark or woven reeds, or sometimes into wooden bowls. They would then boil it down until it thickened and became syrup. Since it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup sap gathering was and still is a lot of work.

Winter dark fireflies (Ellychnia corrusca) have appeared on trees. According to Bugguide.net, these fireflies can be a pest in sap buckets in the spring because they like maple sap, and they will also drink from wounds in maple trees. They like to sun themselves on the sunny side of trees or buildings, and this one was happy to do so on an old oak. Most fireflies live as larvae in rotting wood and forest litter near water and stay in the area they were born in, even as adults. They like it warm and humid but they weren’t getting much of either on this February day. They don’t seem to be afraid of people at all; I’ve gotten quite close to them several times.

Buoyed by sap flow and insect activity I thought I’d visit the swamp where the skunk cabbages grow and see if they were up yet.

They were up and that tells me the hazelnuts will most likely be flowering before long. Inside the skunk cabbage’s mottled spathe is the spadix, which is a one inch round, often pink or yellow, stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. I’d say it’ll be another week or so before I see them. The spathes seem extremely red this year. They’re usually a deep maroon color. Alder catkins, which are also a maroon / purple color, are also red this year, from here to Scotland. I can’t even guess why.

Of course I had to check the bulb beds, and there were indeed shoots up out of the soil. I’m not positive but I think these were crocus. Since I don’t own the bulb bed I can never be 100 percent sure.

Reticulated irises are usually the first bulb to bloom and they were up and looking good, but no buds yet.

In one bed daffodils seemed to be rushing up out of the ground.

These daffodils were about four inches tall, I’d guess. They looked a little blanched from coming up under the snow but they’ll be fine. They won’t bloom for a while though.

The willows are showing their silvery catkins so it won’t be long before the bushes are full of beautiful yellow flowers.

I hoped I’d be able to show you flowers at the end of this post and the spring blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) came through. I was beside myself with joy when I turned a corner and saw them blooming. We might see cold and we might see more snow but there is no turning back now. Spring, my favorite season, has begun in this part of the world. I might have to tie myself to a rock to keep from floating away.

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. ~ John Galsworthy

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Last Saturday was cold but clear with wall to wall sunshine. I decided to take a walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene to see if it had frozen over and was surprised to find that it had frozen over the whole length of the distance I walked.

It looked more like a pasture than a river.

I saw some strange animal tracks on the ice but I couldn’t get close enough to find out what animal they were from. They might have been from a rabbit or squirrel.

Wool grass (Scirpus cyperinus) likes wet places and grows here and there on the riverbank. Though its common name points to a grass this plant is actually in the sedge family. It is also called bulrush. Its seeds are eaten by waterfowl and muskrats will eat its roots. Native Americans used this plant to weave mats, bags and other utilitarian objects. I like its drooping habit.

Something that sets my blood racing at this time of year is bare ground, and I’m seeing more of it wherever I go. The sun gets stronger each day and no matter how many storms we have or how cold it is the snow will melt, starting on southern exposures. You can also see in this shot how the snow on the trail had been packed down by many feet. The going was easy as long as I stayed on the trail.

There were strange looking ice formations on the surface of the river.

There was some snow built up on the bent tree that lives out here. This tree never seems to get any larger.

I thought the beavers might have finished the job they started last fall on this huge oak tree but they’ve abandoned it. Girdling means that the bark has been removed around the entire tree and since the inner bark (cambium) is what carries nutrients and moisture to the crown, a tree cannot survive without it. Anything above the girdling will die.

It really is amazing what beavers can do with their sharp teeth. From what I’ve seen no wood is too hard for them.

I saw a girdled smaller tree and I can say for certain that this was not done by a beaver. I don’t know why anyone would do this unless it was the Keene Parks and Recreation Department wanting to remove trees along the trail. Girdling has been used to remove trees for thousands of years and the Native Americans who once lived and fished in this area surely used it to clear land. Once the trees died and fell on a piece of land the brush and trunks would be burned and the resulting wood ash and whatever rotting wood was left helped to fertilize the land for farming. Girdling is still used by foresters, horticulturalists and land owners today.

I saw many trees that had fallen naturally out here. In fact I see them wherever I go and most of them are white pines and red maples.

I was stopped by the bright, orange-brown color of a blueberry branch in the sunlight. I should have gotten a shot of its small red buds as well.

The sunlight was also caught in the trees and it was so beautifully golden against the deep blue of the sky.

I saw lots of oriental bittersweet berries (Celastrus orbiculatus) still on plants, and that’s a good thing. It means the birds aren’t spreading its seeds around.

Oriental bittersweet vines are as strong as wire and don’t expand as whatever they wrap themselves around grows larger. The alder with bittersweet wrapped around it in this photo will eventually be strangled to death unless something is done.

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 lighter reddish color and not quite so noticeable 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, lacy blotches because they are Frullania liverworts, one of the few liverworts that can thrive in dry places.

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. Its leaves are very small and hard to get a good photo of.

Something not quite so pretty as the frullania liverwort is the beech scale (Cryptococcus fagisuga) seen here. Excessive feeding by this scale insect causes two different fungi, Neonectria faginata and Neonectria ditissima, to produce annual cankers or blisters on the bark of the tree. The continuous formation of lesions around the tree eventually girdles it, resulting in canopy death.

You know it’s cold when pine sap turns blue, and we’ve had a cold February. It was about 25° F. (-4° C) on this day.

Yes it was cold but it was also a beautiful sunny day so I stood on the bridge for a while listening to the silence, which was broken only by birdsong and the occasional cracking of river ice. It would have been easy to lose myself and stand here for longer than I did but you have to watch that in winter because frostbite can be a possibility and once you stop moving you cool off fast.

On the way back I thought a contrail looked much like what smoke from a campfire might have looked like long ago. It wasn’t hard to imagine Native lodgings out there somewhere; archeological digs have shown Native Americans were here at least 12,000 years ago.

I decided to check on Ashuelot falls before leaving. They were all splash and foam and remained thawed for the most part.

There were some huge ice formations here and there though. This one looked like the arm and paw of a gigantic polar bear.

Above the falls I saw these strange tracks on the ice. They were big, easily as big as my hand, and I wondered if they might be moose tracks. Moose are occasionally seen in this area. They have even walked through Keene neighborhoods and down city streets. They also occasionally fall through the ice and it’s quite a job getting them back on dry land. An adult male moose can weigh over a thousand pounds.

The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first; be not discouraged – keep on – there are divine things, well envelop’d; I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell. ~Walt Whitman

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Since the last time I did one of these posts it has gotten colder; cold enough to freeze over our ponds and lakes in fact, as this morning scene from Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows. Many ice fishermen and skaters have been enjoying the ice this year. The ice has also been very vocal, and the pinging and twanging sounds I hear daily signal cracking of the ice. If you’ve never heard it the ice can sound eerie, but some people hear it as music. There is a good video with accurate reproduction of these sounds here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chxn2szgEAg
Nature just never ceases to amaze.

Pressure ridges have been building in the ice on the shore of the pond. It’s easy to think of ice as hard and rigid but it can be quite plastic and it moves around a lot.

Here was a window through the ice; a window into spring.

But it will be a while before spring arrives. We still have to get through February which, though it is the shortest month, can sometimes seem like the longest.

Of course cold doesn’t let snow melt so what looks like a lot of snow in this photo is what has built up over the course of two or three storms that have carried only three or four inches. “Nuisance storms” are what they’re called because, though the amount of snowfall is minimal and hardly worth shoveling or plowing, you never know what the next storm will bring so you’d better get out there and clean it up. It might be a nuisance but you feel better about having done it.

When the snow is light and powdery the wind can sculpt it into all kinds of shapes. That’s how these ripples were made.

I wonder if anyone knows what made these marks in the snow?

The marks were made by a pine cone, blown by the wind and rolling through the snow. I see this a lot.

Animals have started digging through the snow to find acorns and other seeds. I’m guessing these dig marks were made by a squirrel. They have a rough time in the extreme below zero cold we’ve seen lately.

Skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) are patiently waiting in their swamp for the weather to be right before showing their mottled spathes, but it won’t be long. Once the modified leaves called spathes have unfurled and the flowers on the spadix have produced pollen the shoot you see here will grow and unfurl and become the large green, cabbage like leaves that the plant gets its name from. Skunk cabbage, through a process called thermogenesis, can produce its own heat and melt its way through ice and snow. They are a sure sign that spring has arrived.

I’m seeing lots of blackberries hanging onto their leaves this winter, and I’m always happy to see them. These were a pleasing shade of maroon. To see actual leaves in January is a great gift, in my opinion.

When a sunbeam lights up a single bit of nature in a given area I pay attention, and on this day one fell on a golden birch. Golden sunshine on a golden birch; a gift of gold that warmed my spirit on a cold blue winter day.

Blue is a color I see a lot of in winter. Here the normally white or greenish white stripes on a striped maple trunk (Acer pensylvanicum) have turned blue. Since I’ve only seen this happen in winter I assume that it is the cold that does it. This native tree is also called goosefoot maple due to the shape of its leaves, and moosewood maple because moose eat its leaves. Another name that I haven’t heard much of is snake bark maple. Native Americans are said to have used the wood to make arrows, which would make sense because these trees grow very straight. They also used it medicinally to treat coughs and colds.

My favorite part of the striped maple at this time of year is its pink buds at the tip of orange branches. From this point until they leaf out they will get even more beautiful.

This photo taken previously what those striped maple buds will look like in late April or early May, just before they break and the leaves come out. A tree full of them is very beautiful.

A young striped maple’s bark is smooth and green or greenish brown with long white or whitish green vertical lines. As the tree ages the bark turns reddish-brown with darker vertical lines, as can be seen in this photo. It’s a tree that goes through many very visible changes and I like to watch them over time.

I saw an old river grape vine that was as big around as my arm. The bark on grape vines peels naturally and birds use it for nest building. North America has about 20 native species of wild grape and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so the grapes were used for juice and jelly or cooked and used in various recipes. Grapes were also used to dye baskets with a gray violet dye.

There is a disease of grapes called black spot disease, also known as anthracnose of grapes, but this isn’t it. This was like a thin black film on the vine that could be peeled off. I’ve searched grape diseases online for a while now and have found nothing like it. I’d hate to think there was a disease spreading among our wild grapes.

I believe that I do know what these black spots I saw on an oak log are; hypoxylon canker, which is a fungal disease of oaks. It appears as black, dead lesions on limbs, branches, and trunks and can kill the tree by causing white rot of the sapwood. The disease usually affects trees that are under stress or which have been damaged in some way. Signs are smaller leaves which are yellowing, along with a thinning canopy and falling twigs and branches.

I can remember when I was surprised to find a single maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora), the only one I had ever seen, but now I’m seeing them everywhere. I don’t know if they were always there and I didn’t see them or if they are spreading, but I’m always happy to find them. They grow usually on smooth barked trees like beech and young maples. Most that I see are an inch or so across but they can get larger.  I like their stark simplicity.

The white / gray fringe around the outside of a maple dust lichen is called the prothallus and using it is a great way to identify it, because from what I’ve read there isn’t another that has it. A prothallus is defined as a “differently colored border to a crustose lichen where the fungus is actively growing but there are no algal cells.” The brownish field or body of this lichen is considered a sorediate thallus, meaning it has powdery structures called soredia that can fall from the lichen and grow new lichens.

If you see this do not touch it, because this is what a poison ivy vine can look like in winter. 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. Other common vines like bittersweet, grape, and the trumpet creeper vine do not have aerial roots. They climb by twining themselves around the tree.

What I believe was a dead banded tussock moth was lying on a windowsill where I work. I was shocked when I saw the detail that my new phone camera captured. I think it has passed the macro test.

“Big deal,” I can hear someone say “it’s just an old leaf.” But to me, in the depths of winter when the world sometimes seems black, brown and white, a beautiful spot of color like this will stop me dead in my tracks. Can you be taken out of yourself by an old witch hazel leaf? Can you see that the beauty that you behold is in its essence, who you are? Can you melt into the gratitude that washes over you from having been given such a gift? Yes you can, and nature will show you how if you will let it.

Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude. ~A.A. Milne

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I hope you’re in a nice warm place while reading this because this post is full of ice like that in the photo above, and you might feel a little chilly by the time you’ve reached the end.

Last Sunday, about a month since my last visit, I decided to visit the deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland where the “big ice” grows each winter. The walls of the manmade canyon are 50 feet high in places and groundwater running through the stone creates ice columns as big as tree trunks. I wanted to see how much the ice had grown in a month.

It had grown quite a lot; enough to climb, in fact and by chance the Appalachian Mountain Club were training here today. They come here as soon as the ice is safe to train people in ice climbing. On this day the 25 degree temperature and 10 mile per hour wind made this place feel like an icebox, and that’s exactly what the climbers call it.

I was here for ice too; not to climb but to photograph, and I saw plenty.

There was an entire canyon full of it.

Some of the ice is colored various colors, I believe according to the minerals that happen to be in the groundwater.

There are plenty of mineral stains to be seen on the stones where groundwater has seeped out of cracks and it makes sense that mineral rich water would color the ice.

This slab of ice is huge and if it ever lets go of the rock it grows on I hope I’m nowhere near it.

I speak about “rotten ice” a lot when I come here so I thought I’d show you the difference between good, solid ice like that in the above photo and the rotten ice in the following photo. This ice is clear and very hard and will ring sharply if you tap on it. It has very few air bubbles and other impurities trapped inside it.

Rotten ice on the other hand is opaque, weak and full of impurities. 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. When you tap on ice that looks like this you hear a dull thud. The grayish white color and matte finish are a sure sign that you should stay away from it when it’s hanging over your head like it can do here.  

Falling ice is a real danger here; most of these pieces were big enough to have killed someone. This doesn’t usually happen until the weather warms in March though, so I was surprised to see it.

Then there are the falling stones. These fell very recently because they were on the ice of the frozen drainage channel. This always concerns me because I walk in or over the drainage channels to get to the canyon walls. That’s where interesting mosses and liverworts grow. If I had been hit by any one of those stones it would have been all over.

But speaking of the drainage channels, the ice growing on them was beautiful.

The opening photo of this post also shows ice that formed on the drainage channel, just like that in the above shot.

Here was something I’ve never seen; an icicle fell and stabbed through the ice on the drainage channel, and then froze standing up.

Last year’s leaves were trapped under the ice in places.

In other places the drainage channel hadn’t frozen at all. Here the sun was reflected in the water of the channel. I thought the colors were very beautiful. Like molten sunshine.

This spirogyra algae dripping off the stones was something I’ve seen but have never seen here. Spirogyra has common names that include water silk and mermaid’s tresses. It is described as a “filamentous charophyte green algae of the order Zygnematales.” I’ve read that they grow in nutrient rich places. They’re always interesting and I wanted to take a closer look but I didn’t have my rubber boots on so I couldn’t walk through the drainage channel.

Here is some spirogyra algae that I found last year. The strange thing that looks like a vacuum cleaner hose is a chloroplast, and its spiral growth habit is what gives these algae their name. There are more than 400 species of Spirogyra in the world, almost always found in fresh water situations. According to what I’ve read, when used medicinally spirogyra are known as an important source of “natural bioactive compounds for antibiotic, antiviral, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cytotoxic purposes.” As I said; they’re always interesting.

NOTE: A botanist friend has written in to say that chloroplasts are microscopic so the hose like thing is not one of those, but neither one of us can figure out exactly what it is. It’s a very strange thing to be seen under algae, that’s for sure. I wish we had studied algae in the botany classes that I had!

The orange red color in this shot is iron oxide, washed from the soil by groundwater. I thought the colors in this scene were amazing; otherworldly and beautiful. There was much beauty to be seen here on this day and it reminded me why I come here again and again.

As I always do I stopped at what is left of the old lineman’s shack. It was easy to imagine a group of workers huddled around an old potbellied stove in there on a day like this, but it would have had walls and a roof then. It was very well built and simply refuses to fall. They actually used railroad ties for the sills.

Here is a look at the inside of the shack. It’s too bad people feel the need to tear things apart, but it has probably been abandoned for close to 50 years now, since the Boston and Maine Railroad stopped running in the 1970s.

If you aren’t cold yet you must be a real trooper, but I thought I’d end with a warm shot of sunshine and blue sky just in case. With the wind chill the temperature was about 10 degrees F, and I was thankful that my cameras hadn’t stopped working. I was also thankful to be back in a warm car again even though I discovered that wearing a cloth mask is a good way to keep your face warm. Hopefully spring isn’t too far off.

It’s getting cold. Some of you will put on jackets from the last season. Check your pockets. You might  well find a forgotten, unfulfilled wish.
~ Ljupka Cvetanova

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Last Sunday I decided to visit Beaver Brook in Keene. It’s been so long since I’ve been there I didn’t remember when the last time was, so I thought it was time. There is a lot here to see and I wanted to check on a few things.

One of the things I wanted to see was the plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea). This is the only place I’ve ever seen it. Not only does it seem happy here but there are 5 or 6 new plants near it. The leaves on this plant are about 3/4 of an inch wide I’d guess, and they look like crepe paper. It will bloom in late April / early May when the purple trilliums bloom.

I also wanted to see the hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) that grow here. They are one of our most beautiful native viburnums when they bloom with hand size white flower heads in May. Luckily our woods are full of them. This photo shows the flower bud in the center and a new leaf on each side. Their buds are naked, meaning they have no bud scales to protect them, so they have wooly hair instead.

I was a little surprised that Beaver Brook wasn’t frozen over. It has been cold for the past couple of weeks, especially at night. There was still plenty of ice to see though.

Here was some foam that turned to ice, shaped like turkey tail fungi. This is the same kind of foam that forms ice pancakes in the river.

I liked the lacy patterns in this bit of ice. Ice comes in so many shapes and even in different colors, and it can be beautiful.

Here, ice baubles hung off a stone. When it’s cold like this ice will form on any surface that gets wet and with all the splashing going on here there are lots of wet surfaces.

Here were more ice baubles. Some can get quite long but I’d guess these were 5 or 6 inches.

The seep that is here wasn’t frozen but that didn’t surprise me. Hydrologically speaking a seep is a wet place where water reaches the surface from an underground aquifer, and this one stays just like this winter and summer. It rarely freezes solid and it never dries out. 

There are many trees around the seep and all had script lichens (Graphis) on them. Once you get to know a place and know the trees you begin to better understand the things that grow on them. By coming here and watching I’ve learned that the script lichens that grow here only show their apothecia (the dark squiggles) in the cold months. In the summer all you see are whitish growths on the bark. It really is amazing to me that all of this can disappear and reappear each year. Especially because when you look at them closely they look like scars or knife cuts in the body of the lichen. There are at least two different types here, and maybe three. They’re beautiful forms.

I think the greater whipwort liverworts (Bazzania trilobata) were frozen solid. Each one of these tiny worm like beings is about half the diameter of a pencil. A close look shows that they look almost if they had been braided. Each leaf on this leafy liverwort is only about an eighth of an inch wide and has three triangular notches at its base. This is where the trilobata part of the scientific name comes from. It means “having three lobes.” It’s very easy to mistake this common liverwort for moss so you have to look closely. I almost always find them on stone.

When young the female spore capsule (Sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra which protects it. it is very hairy and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually as the capsule ages it moves from vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra falls off but something must have gone wrong here because out of hundreds of capsules this is the only one I saw with the calyptra still in place. When everything goes well the spore capsule continues to ripen after the calyptra comes off and when the time is right the beaked end cap or lid called the operculum will fall off and release the spores to the wind.

I had to stop and check on the stairstep moss (Hylocomium splendens). It is also called glittering wood moss and it’s easy to see why. It’s a beautiful moss that grows on stones as far north as the arctic tundra. It seems fairly rare here; this is the only example that I’ve seen, and it doesn’t seem to be spreading. The name stair step moss comes from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. It is said that you can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps.

The brook, on the right, was in deep shade most of the way. That made getting shots of ice a challenge.

But the ice on the ledges was at least partially sun lit.

An evergreen fern was on ice, waiting patiently for spring.

One of the best examples of a frost crack that I know of can be found here on a golden birch. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree and its cells just under the bark expand. If nighttime temperatures are cold enough the bark will cool and contract rapidly, quicker than the wood underneath, and this stress on the bark can cause it to crack.  It’s fairly common to hear trees cracking with a sound like a rifle shot on cold nights.

A fallen golden birch dripped icy fingers.

Everything within 10 feet of the brook was covered in ice.

And it still has a month or so to grow even more.

I told myself all the way up here that I wouldn’t do it but then I met a man and woman who told me how beautiful Beaver Brook falls was, so I knew I had to see it. It’s quite a climb down here but I had micro spikes on so I wasn’t worried about slipping. You do have to worry about falling though because the path down is very steep and momentum will get you moving fast if you aren’t careful. Luckily there are trees to hang on to so I made it down without incident. Once there I found a very icy waterfall.

The sun just happened to be falling right on the falls, which helped with photos. It can be quite dark down in this natural canyon.

I remembered the year the falls was sheathed in ice, which almost completely deadened the sound. It was a bit eerie. Not today though; they fell with a roar and were a beautiful thing to behold. There was also a strong breeze coming up the brook toward the falls, so it was a bit chilly here.

Looking up from the brook I thought this might have to be the last time I climb down here. My trick knee seems to get a little trickier each time I do it.

But for now I didn’t want to think of such things because the sun was shining and there was beauty everywhere; even in a piece of icicle someone had dropped.

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

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I’ve heard stories about a deep cut rail trail up in Hancock New Hampshire for a couple of years now so last Saturday I decide to see what it was about. This railroad was different than the ones that I’m familiar with because it went out of business before the second world war and all of the steel, including the rails, bridges and trestles were sold off during the second world war to help the war effort. The original railroad, built in 1878, was called the Manchester and Keene Railroad. It was taken over by the Boston and Maine Railroad in 1893 and used until flooding damaged many of the trestles. Since replacing the trestles would have been extremely costly, the line was simply abandoned.

What I thought was a drainage channel was actually a stream. It was nice to have its music with me as I walked along.

The water was crystal clear.

Just as I was thinking that it was strange that the stream wasn’t frozen I ran into ice on the trail. I had my micro spikes on so I wasn’t worried about ice.

I like looking at the patterns in ice.

Ice can do amazing things and it can also be very beautiful.

I saw some unusual things out here and this was one of them. This wall is not holding back anything so it isn’t a retaining wall. It looks more like a loading dock but it’s too far away from where the rail cars would have been, so it’s original use is a mystery. Someone went through a lot of time and effort to build it though so it had some importance in its day.

Ice needles grew here and there by the thousands.

I saw the seed heads of heal all (Prunella lanceolata) so I know there are flowers out here. Heal all has been known for its medicinal value since ancient times and has been said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Native Americans believed the plant improved eyesight and drank a tea made from it before a hunt. There are Botanists who believe that there are two varieties of heal all; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America.

I saw the tracks of wild turkeys that had come out of the woods. Turkeys have a “toe” at the rear of their foot that leaves a little dot in the snow and though it’s hard to see in this photo, they are there.

There are whitetail deer out here as well.

The land sloped away on my right and an old stone wall marked what was once pastureland. Many of what are today forests were cleared pasture lands in the past. Most stone walls dates from the late 1700s to early 1800s. Many farmers went off to work in factories in the mid-1800s after the industrial revolution and gave up farming and their pastures slowly returned to forest, but I have a feeling this land was still being used for pasture when the railroad came through in 1878.

The original stock fencing, so common along these old railbeds, wouldn’t have been needed if the land wasn’t being used to keep animals on. You didn’t want animals on the tracks so many miles of this fencing was strung up along the railways.

And then there was this; a tunnel under the railbed. I doubted it was a culvert because there wasn’t a stream nearby so I think it was a passage for animals. A way to get them from one side of the tracks to the other without them having to cross the tracks.

It was all concrete. Concrete has been around since Roman times so it wasn’t a clue to age but I’d guess it had to have been built while the original railbed was being built. The roof wasn’t high enough to let a horse, cow or tractor through but it was plenty high enough for sheep. Sheep farming was very big in New Hampshire’s rocky ground in the 1800s so a passage under the railbed would make perfect sense. You wouldn’t want your flock on the tracks when a train was coming.

And here was the deep cut, snowier than I had hoped. I like to see what grows on these old exposed walls and that isn’t an easy thing to do when they’re snow covered.

It was easy to see what they did with all the stone from the cut. There are several of these big piles in the woods.

I wondered if they had blasted the stone and sure enough, there were the marks of a steam drill. The railroad workers cut through solid rock by drilling holes into the stone and then blasting. Holes like these were often drilled by steam power and are evidence that black powder rather than dynamite was used. Packing these holes with black powder and lighting a fuse was a very dangerous business and many were killed doing it. Dynamite wasn’t invented until 1866 so it was either black powder or brute force before that. Since this railroad was built in 1878 they might have used dynamite but I doubt it. It would have been far more expensive and harder to get than black powder. After the wall face was blasted away someone had to clean up tons of stone, and that’s how all the stone piles came to be in the woods.

There were signs of groundwater seeping through the stone and the staining on the snow pointed to minerals in the groundwater.

All in all though I didn’t see that this would be a good location for great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) because of the lack of water. They like to grow on stone that hangs over water. That way they get plenty of the humidity that they need.

But there were liverworts here; or at least I think so. I believe this example might be ciliated fringewort (Ptilidium ciliare). Wikipedia says the Ptilidium part of the scientific name comes from the Greek word ptilidion, meaning “small feather”. According to what I’ve read it is widespread in Canada, Alaska, the northeastern United States, Greenland, Iceland, and northern Europe. I’ve never seen it before, so if you know that I’ve given it an incorrect identification I hope you’ll let me know. I suppose it could be a very dry moss but I don’t get a moss feeling from it.

NOTE: A lichenologist friend told me that this liverwort is actually called  grove earwort or (Scapania nemorosa) . It’s great to have helpers.

I also saw an old friend; a single smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens), and the light was just right to show off some of its beautiful blue spore producing apothecia. Like jewels sprinkled on the stone; that’s what they always remind me of.

Broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) peeked out from under the ice.

I was surprised to find a red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) out here. These shrubs are on the rare side in this area so I hope nobody cuts it. From its purple buds in winter to its pretty white flowers in spring to its bright red berries in fall this is a beautiful native shrub. We had a beautiful well shaped example where I work until someone who thought they knew what they were doing hacked at it. Now there is a lot of dead wood on it and I’m not sure it is going to make it.

It looked like a mouse or chipmunk had done some house cleaning. Acorns keep a lot of birds and animals alive in these cold winters.

No matter how much fun you’re having it can’t last forever so I finally headed back down the trail, promising myself that I’d come back in the spring. I have a feeling this might be a good place to find some spring wildflowers. Because of all the deciduous trees a lot of sunlight must reach the ground in early spring and that’s what they like.

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod

Thanks for coming by.

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