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Posts Tagged ‘Ice Formations’

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

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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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

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

 

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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

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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1-road-start

When it snows enough to make hiking a little more work I like to follow Beaver Brook in Keene. It’s a popular spot with both nature lovers and dog walkers and it’s rare that someone hasn’t made a path for you to follow. Since the old road that is now a trail essentially ends at a waterfall it’s easy to guess where the trodden snow path will lead.

2-ledges

One of the other reasons I like to come here in winter is because of the easy access to the ledges that are close beside the old road. There are many mosses and lichens that grow on thede ledges and I hoped to see the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that grow here, but unfortunately on this day snow covered them all.

3-blue-lichen

Though I didn’t see any smoky eye boulder lichens I did see one of the lichens that taught me that lichens can change color. This lichen is normally an ashy gray color in summer but as it gets colder it becomes darker and darker blue. This is the darkest I’ve ever seen it and I wonder if that’s because of the below zero nights we’ve had. I haven’t been able to identify it but it’s very granular and scattered, with no definite shape.

4-stairstep-moss

The stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) that I only find in this place is very delicate looking but it can take a lot of winter ice and snow and grows as far north as the arctic tundra. It is also called glittering wood moss and sparkles when the light is right. It grows on stone here and seems to like places when it can hang over an edge.

5-beaver-brook

Another reason I like coming here in winter is to see the often spectacular ice formations that grow along the brook, but this year it has frozen from bank to bank early and the only ice seen was flat and shapeless. Beaver Brook itself had been all but silenced except for a giggle heard here and there where there were small openings in the ice. It’s very strange to walk in a place where you know there is always the sound of running water and then suddenly not hear it. Only ice can silence a stream or river.

6-ice

There wasn’t even that much ice on the ledges, and I finally realized that the ice that grows here must grow from snow melt rather than seeping ground water. If it’s too cold for the snow to melt as it has been recently, ice doesn’t grow. If the ice came from seeping groundwater it would keep growing no matter how cold it got.

7-ice-on-stone

The dribbles of ice on this stone looked ancient, as if they had been here forever.

8-patterns-in-stone

Even without ice on them the stones here are fascinating and speak of the countless eons of tremendous pressure that stretched and folded these hills into what we see today. The stones here were once a mineral stew and today many blood red garnets can be found.

9-fern

Evergreen ferns grow under the ledge overhangs and wait patiently for spring, when this year’s green fronds will finally turn brown and new shoots will appear. It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring, which gives them a head start over the competition.

10-large-boulder

Off in the woods across the brook stands a huge glacial erratic boulder. If it could be hollowed out two people could easily fit inside it with plenty of room to spare. One day an old timer I met here told me that there are people who cross the brook to climb it, but I’ve never seen them do so. He’s the same old timer who told me that he had seen the brook flood and cross the road, which is a very scary thing to think about because not too far from here is downtown Keene.

11-lichens-and-liverworts

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. As it gets colder these liverwort turn color until they become a dark purple; almost black, so they are much more noticeable in winter than in summer when they’re green. Some can get fairly large but this example was smaller than a tennis ball.

12-frullania-liverwort

The tiny leaves of frullania liverworts are strung together like beads. Some frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant but though I finally membered to smell a few they didn’t seem to have any scent at all. This liverwort can cause something called woodcutter’s eczema. This eczema, called phytodermatitis (basically an itchy rash,) has been seen in loggers and others who regularly handle logs or cord wood with it on them. It doesn’t sound like anything serious and usually disappears in two or three weeks once the person stops handling logs with liverworts on them.

13-script-lichens

Script lichens (Graphis) grow on tree bark all along this old road. The dark “script” characters are the lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) There are many script lichen species and each seems to prefer a certain species of tree. This photo shows the clear separation between three species. Though the dark fruiting bodies are all horizontal in these examples, their size and spacing is quite different. Script lichens are another lichen that seems to produce spores only in cold weather. In summer they appear as whitish or grayish splotches on tree bark.

14-script-lichens

I got excited when I saw this script lichen because I thought I had found the rare and beautiful asterisk lichen (Arthonia radiata) that I’ve been searching for, but I think the two fruiting bodies that look like asterisks were just an anomaly in what is a common script lichen (Graphis scripta.)  In a true asterisk lichen all of the fruiting bodies would be star shaped.

15-golden-birch

Many of the trees looked like they wore capes of ermine. Speaking of ermines, I searched for the otter slides that I’ve seen here in the past, but didn’t see any. The old road has steep hillsides along its length and otters come here to slide down them in winter.

16-guard-post

This road was laid out in the 1700s and was abandoned in the early 70s when a new highway was built-literally right across the existing road. Since then nature has slowly been reclaiming the area. Some of the old guard rails still stand but many have been swallowed up by the brook, which over time has eaten away the edge of the road.

17-big-snowball

From a distance I thought that a boulder had rolled down off the hillside and landed in the road but it turned out to be a huge snowball that someone had rolled. It was chest high and must have taken considerable effort to move.

18-fungus

Fall oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) grew on the trunk of a maple but were now frozen solid. These fungi cause white rot and are not a good thing to see on living trees. Oyster mushrooms are also carnivorous. Scientists discovered in 1986 that they “exude extracellular toxins that stun {nematode] worms, whereupon the mycelium invades its body through its orifices.” They also consume bacteria (Pseudomonas and Agrobacterium) in order to get nitrogen and protein.

19-moss-on-tree

We’ve all seen the deep channels in tree bark but what I didn’t know until I started researching mosses and lichens for this blog is how rainwater runs in these channels. They’re like small vertical streams and a frozen one can be seen over on the left in this shot. Mosses and lichens and even some fungi take advantage of these streams and grow beside them on the tree’s bark. By doing so they probably get a little extra water when it rains.

20-oak-leaf

An oak leaf had fallen on the snow. Its dark color will attract sunlight and that will heat it enough to melt the snow, and it will gradually sink in until it eventually disappears under it. Oak leaves are among the most water resistant leaves but being under the snow all winter is enough to waterlog even them.

21-approaching-falls

I made it to the falls which are over on the right out of the photo but I didn’t bother climbing down the embankment to take photos of them because they were frozen and hardly making a sound. It would have been a slippery climb for a shot of a big lump of ice and once I get down in there I’m never sure if I’ll get back out because it’s very steep.

The stripped and shapely maple grieves
The ghosts of her departed leaves.
The ground is hard, as hard as stone.
The year is old, the birds are flown.
~John Updike

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1-trail

We’ve had some cold nights and a little snow over the last week or so and it seems like winter might be here to stay, so I decided to visit the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland recently. Once the cold settles down inside this man made canyon it’s reluctant to leave, and spectacular ice formations grow here.

2-ice

The ice is fueled by the groundwater that constantly seeps through the bedrock that the railway workers hacked their way through in the mid-1800s, and ice columns as big as tree trunks are commonplace. I’ve seen huge ice columns here many times but I’ve never seen their birth, so that was the object of today’s hike.

3-ice

Ice was forming almost everywhere on the vertical walls of the canyon. It was very cold this day and even in the bright morning sunshine the ice wasn’t melting. That’s the secret of the why the ice grows to such giant proportions here; the temperature seems to stay about 10 degrees cooler in both winter and summer. On a hot July day the natural air conditioning is very welcome, but in December it can be like walking into a freezer so you had better be dressed for it if you plan on spending much time here.

4-ice

The groundwater seems to follow the natural lay of the stone and seeps between the layers winter and summer. The water doesn’t seem to ever stop seeping so when an icicle forms more and more water flows over it, increasing its length and girth drip by drip. There can be enough ice here in February to cover the stone ledges completely in many areas.

5-ice-climber

Unless you’ve seen them the ice formations are hard to imagine, so I’ve used this photo from last February to better illustrate the size of both the ice and the place. Last winter was mild so the ice shown is tame in comparison to previous winters but still, ice climbers came to train. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club holds regular ice climbing clinics here and seeing climbers on the ice is fairly common on weekends. I expect that I’ll see a few this winter.

6-waterfall

There is almost always the sound of water dripping here. Usually it comes from the seeping groundwater but in at least one spot water gushes through a rift in the wall with enough force to be called a stream. I wonder if a stream on the hillside above somehow changed course, because I doubt that the railroad engineers would have left it this way.

7-drainage-ditch

All that water has to go somewhere so the railroad built drainage ditches on either side of the railbed to direct it where they wanted it to go. The ditches have kept the railbed dry for over 150 years but I saw that a rockslide further down the trail had dammed up one side and now water is washing away the railbed. With no railroad to maintain these rail trails it’s now up to private groups like snowmobile clubs to do all the work. They do a great job but it they might not be aware of the washout.

8-rock-fall

This is a shot of where the rocks have fallen across the drainage ditch and dammed it up. What isn’t seen in this photo is how all the water in the ditch has been forced into the railbed, washing it away. The rocks are big and I’m sure are very heavy but I would think that two men with crowbars could at least slide them over enough to let the water through.

9-ledges

There are many mosses, liverworts, and other interesting things growing on these walls that I don’t see anywhere else so I put on rubber boots and walk across the drainage ditches to get close to them. I’ve seen large stones that have fallen into the railbed and in the winter falling ice is always a possibility, so I have to be very aware of what’s going on around me. I always look up before I cross a ditch to get to a section of wall to make sure that I’m not going to be standing under overhanging ledge like that seen in this photo. I’ve never seen one fall but fallen stones litter both sides of the trail all down its length.

10-liverworts

For me this is what makes coming here worth any small amount of risk involved; I can get close to so many plants that I’ve never seen before, like the great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) seen here. They are very particular about where they grow, insisting on just the right amount of light, humidity and temperature and they have found the perfect spot here, where they grow in great numbers. Though they are said to be common I never see them anywhere else.

11-liverwort-close

The great scented liverwort is also called the snakeskin liverwort, and with good reason. I love its reptilian skin and its scent, which is so clean and fresh it always makes me wish it came in a spray bottle when I smell it. Each more or less hexagonal leaf cell has a central pore over the top of an air chamber. On the floor of the air chamber are photosynthetic filaments called chloroplasts, and the pores through its skin let in enough light for the chloroplasts to do their work, which is photosynthesis. It’s quite amazing, as is all of life.

12-liverworts

Though the liverworts might seem fragile they are actually very tough as all of the plants that grow here have to be, because they are often completely encased in ice throughout the winter months. From what I’ve seen it doesn’t seem to bother them.

13-ferns

Any thoughts I had about the delicacy of our evergreen ferns went right out the window when I saw them growing here. They too are often covered in ice through the winter, but still green.

14-moss

Mosses also have to be able to withstand the ice. Curiously, though this one was surrounded by ice it was quite dry, as its twisted leaves show. I think it might be tall tornado moss (Tortella tortuosa) which has leaves that twist and contort when it dries out. It grows in the thin soil that forms on boulders and on rock ledges, and likes limestone.

15-algae

One of the strangest things that grow here  is a green algae called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll. It’s very hairy and produces spores which, when produced in high enough concentrations, can even color rain. I was just reading about a blood red rain that fell in parts of Spain in 2014. Many worried that it was a bad omen or extraterrestrial in origin, or a plague worthy of the Bible, but it was actually caused by the algae Haematococcus pluvialis. The same thing happened in Texas in 2013, in Sri Lanka in 2012, and in India in 2001, each seemingly caused by different algae. Yellow, green, and black rain has also been reported. It seems that colored rain can happen just about anywhere on earth when conditions are right. The blue in this photo is the sky reflected in ice.

16-mineral-staining

I’ve never seen colored rain falling in this place but I have seen plenty of colored ice, and I think at least some of the ice colors are caused by minerals in the groundwater, like the iron staining shown on the stone in this photo.  The ice here can be blue, green, red, orange, yellow, brown, and even black.

17-mineral-staining

Another example of mineral staining on the stone, this time in a sandy, orangey brown color.

18-colored-ice

And this photo from last year shows what the minerals can do to the ice. At least that’s my assumption. Neither I nor readers of this blog have been able to come up with any other theories except in the case of blue ice, which can become blue simply because of its own density.

19-linemans-shack

It takes a while to get used to this kind of cold again and by the time I had reached what’s left of the old lineman’s shack I couldn’t feel my toes any longer, so I thought I’d better do a little less lollygagging and more walking, and I trudged back down the trail at a high rate of speed (for me.)

20-ice

Watching ice melt might not be very exciting but watching it grow is, so I’ll be coming back here often throughout winter.

He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter. ~John Burroughs

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1. Ashuelot Wave

Last week we had about two inches of rain fall in one day so I went to the Ashuelot River to see how it was coping. It had taken on a lot of water and was rolling itself into some beautiful waves, but thankfully there was no flooding that I saw. It was also roaring loudly and you could hear the strange booming sounds that the stones tumbling along its bottom make. It’s one of those sounds that can be felt as well as heard, and it goes through you.

2. Ashuelot Ice

The stones on the river’s shoreline were covered in clear ice that caught the sunlight like prisms.

3. Ashuelot Ice

Splashing water formed beads on the rocks that the sun turned into beautiful polished jewels. These spherical beads form when drops of water splash onto the rock and freeze over and over again in the same spot, building up each sphere with successive hair thin layers of ice. And it can all happen in one cold night.

4. Ashuelot Ice

Ice baubles hung from every twig. This teardrop shaped one was as big as a baseball, or about 2.5 inches across. I watched this for a while and saw that it had formed from the bottom up. The river waves washed over the twig again and again where the lower larger part of the teardrop is and hardly at all where the upper smaller diameter is.

5. Icy Trail

Most ice is beautiful but some is not. Our trails have been plagued with a thick coating of ice for a while now. It makes getting through the woods difficult even with Yaktrax on but since it formed after we walked on the snow and packed it down, we have only ourselves to blame. I haven’t climbed any hills fora while now because of it, but I think I’ll try soon.

6. Forest

There were no hills here to climb. This forest is unusual for its lack of undergrowth. It is so shaded in places only mosses and fungi will grow on its floor.

7. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

In places that get a little more sun orchids also grow on the forest floor. This evergreen downy rattlesnake plantain came through winter slightly flattened but otherwise fine. I love it for its netted silvery leaves and if I could grow it in my garden I’d choose it more for its unusual foliage than its spike of tiny white flowers. Native Americans used the plant to treat snakebites, burns and many other ailments.

8. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Seedpods

The downy rattlesnake plantain’s seed pods hadn’t released their dust like seeds and looked to be filled to bursting.

9. Striped Wintergreen

Striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) has a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and is partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like our native orchids. It also explains their rarity. I read recently that the plant is considered rare in both New England and Canada. I keep finding more places where it grows but there are usually only a very few plants in any location.

10. Pipsissewa

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) is another of our native wintergreens and is a plant that never seems to change. It looks the same in winter or summer and the only time it really changes is when it is blooming. It is said that the plant’s common name comes from the Native American word pipsiskeweu which means “it breaks into small pieces.” This refers to the belief that pipsissewa would break up kidney stones. The Cherokee people would nibble on leaves for food and they also made an infusion of the leaves for fevers, and a poultice of the roots for pain. It is said to make a marvelous spring tonic, even for horses. I’ve read that when a horse became listless and didn’t want to work farmers would add pipsissewa plants to their hay and before long the horse would be kicking up its heels and ready for work again. Pipsissewa was also once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer.

11. Hazel Catkins

I thought I’d see if our native American hazelnut catkins (Corylus americana) were showing any signs of opening and releasing pollen. They weren’t but they were still beautiful to see. The catkins are the shrub’s male flowers and are a winter food for turkey and ruffed grouse.

12. Hazel Stem

If you aren’t sure if what you’re looking at is a hazelnut just look at the young twigs; they’re covered with reddish brown hairs which you can feel when you run your fingers over a twig. This photo also shows a female bud which will bloom in April. Female flowers appear on two year old branches and are tiny, with only their crimson stigmata showing. They are fertilized when the wind blows the pollen from the male catkins to them. From then on they will grow into hazelnuts, which are also called filberts.

13. Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts were used by Native Americans to flavor soups and were also ground into flour. The sweet meat can also be eaten raw and has a higher nutritional value than that of acorns or beechnuts. They are high in protein and many animals and birds eat them, including squirrels, foxes, deer, northern bobwhite, ruffed grouse, turkey, woodpeckers, and pheasants. Finding these examples still on the bush in February was a real surprise.

14. Skunk Cabbage

Not only do skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) raise their own temperature through a process called thermogenesis, but the dark color of their blotchy spathes attracts sunlight and that means they are also heated by the sun. This makes a nice cozy warming room inside the spathe where early insects can come and hang out and warm up. While they’re inside if they happen to bump into the spadix full of flowers and get pollen all over themselves, so much the better. There’s always a tradeoff and in this case both sides win.

15. Turkey Tails

I’ve seen more blue and purple turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) this year than I ever have, but these examples were shades of brown as they most often are. Wood decayed by the turkey tail fungus often has black zone lines or borders between where different variants of the species meet. These zone lines produce beautiful patterns in the wood, which is known as spalted wood. It is highly prized by woodworkers and a log full of spalted wood can be worth many times what one without any figuring is worth.

16 Thick-Maze Oak Polypore

If you’re a mushroom it’s all about spore production, and you increase spore production by growing as much spore bearing surface as you can. Some do this with gills and others like turkey tails and boletes do it with pores, which are long round tubes. Others like the thick-maze oak polypore (Daedalea quercina) pictured do it by creating a labyrinth. It was a beautiful little thing about an inch across growing on an oak log. The beauty in and of nature is always present no matter what time of year, and if we don’t see it it’s because we just don’t take the time to look.

17. Leaves Under Ice

Except for where it has been piled our snow is gone, even in the deep woods, but the ice remains. With all the sunshine and warmth it’s easy to lull yourself into thinking that spring is here, but we average about a foot of snow in March in this part of the state, so we could still see some. Since I work outside a lot I’m hoping not. I’m ready for spring.

When you reach the heart of life you shall find beauty in all things, even in the eyes that are blind to beauty. ~Kahlil Gibran

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1. Winter Woods

After more than 3 months of warmer than average temperatures we’ve finally had a real taste of winter here, with a few inches of snow and a couple of days and nights of bone chilling cold. The cold I could do without but it’s hard to imagine anything more beautiful than freshly fallen snow decorating everything in the forest.

2. Hemlock

Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) branches catch so much snow that there is often bare ground under them a day or two after a storm. That’s why white tailed deer bed down under them. Years ago when I smoked I used to stand under a big old hemlock in the front yard when it rained, and even in a downpour barely a drop of rain reached me.

3. Morning Clouds

I don’t know what it is but there is something about the hill on the far side of Half Moon Pond in Hancock that seems to attract sunshine. I have no way to explain what I’ve seen here but even on cloud covered days the clouds will often part to let the sun shine on it. I hope to climb it one day. Maybe the sun will shine while I take photos for a change.

4. Half Moon Pond at Sunrise

This photo is deceiving because even though the sun had just risen above the hills behind me it looked like it was rising behind the hills in the distance. It’s one more thing I can’t explain about how the light and shadows play on Half Moon Pond and the hills that surround it. Odd things happen here. This photo was taken in January just as the pond had frozen over, and what looks like water in the distance is actually glare ice.

5. Cattails

Wind plays a big part of winter and it can often mean the difference between bearable and unbearable temperatures, but how do you show it in a photo? This is one way; the prevailing winds showed these cattail leaves which way to grow.

6. River

Some see winter as dark and bleak and colorless, but there is much color and beauty to be seen if they’d only look around a little. I love how the white snow makes water look so inky black. If it hadn’t been so cold I could have stood there longer, admiring it.

7. Sunrise

The sun promised a warm day but it was a bitter cold morning when I stopped to get a shot of it with my cell phone. It did turn out to be a warm day in spite of the morning cold, though. In fact most of them have been on the warm side this winter, but not all; we’ve seen night temperatures drop to -15 ° F (-26 ° C.) Interestingly on this, one of the coldest mornings of the season, I heard the sad but beautiful Fee Bee mating call of the male black capped chickadee. Now I’m sure that spring is just around the corner, no matter how much more winter we see.

8. Ice Finger

When the water level of the river dropped it left a skirt of ice around this stone. Then the sun warmed the stone and the ice skirt melted into an icy finger that reached around it from its back side. I’m sure the icy finger had to attach to the stone somewhere, but it wasn’t anywhere that I could see. It must have been on the far side which I couldn’t get to because the river was so close.

9. Ice Finger

Another view of the icy finger, which looks to be just about ready to tickle the stone.

10. Canada Geese

Canada geese don’t seem to mind the cold. They appear to act the same, winter or summer, though I usually see them in flocks rather than pairs.

11. Canada Geese

As usual one stood guard while the other fed.

12. Ashuelot Falls

The stones at the base of Ashuelot Falls in Keene were ice covered, but since it was only about 15° F, I wasn’t surprised.

13. Ice Pancakes

Downriver from the falls ice pancakes were frozen into the ice covered surface. This view also shows the needless cutting of all the shrubs along the riverbank, most of which were silky dogwoods that robins and cedar waxwings enjoyed eating the berries from. The same thing happened last summer along the Ashuelot in Swanzey. I think this is driven more by ignorance than for any other reason, but I didn’t know that this kind of ignorance was so widespread.  I’ve heard that the Army Corps of Engineers has been here studying the dam for possible removal so the bank clearing might have something to do with that, but why they would need to cut everything so far from the actual dam is a mystery.

14. Ice Pancakes

Ice pancakes, according to Wikipedia, can grow to nearly 10 feet in diameter and can have a thickness of nearly 4 inches.  Each pancake has an elevated rim that forms when the frazil ice or slush that it is made from bumps up against other pancakes. Since these one foot diameter examples were frozen into the river ice I think they were done bumping together, at least for now.

15. Ice Formations

Since these formations didn’t have raised rims I’m guessing that they weren’t pancake ice. They looked more like paving stones.

16. Ice on Ice

I saw a kind of ice that I’ve never seen before. What I can only describe as light colored frost feathers grew all over the darker ice of a stream.

17. Ice on Ice

This is a closer look at the frost feathers from a photo taken with my cellphone. I wonder if anyone has ever seen something similar. Many of them stood vertically on the ice of the stream. I can’t imagine what caused them to form unless it was very high humidity on the surface of the stream ice.

18. Stone Frozen in Ice

A stone was trapped in the ice near the formations in the previous shot but since it probably wasn’t going anywhere I doubt that it cared. It’s interesting how the sun seems to warm some stones enough to melt the ice on them but others stay coated in it.

19. Puddle Ice

Nature laid the universe at my feet but I was too blind to see it until I looked at the photo I took of this puddle ice. It was only then that I saw the stars, asteroids, galaxies and distant nebulae, almost as if I was looking at a photo taken by the Hubble telescope. As Edward Abbey once said: There is beauty, heartbreaking beauty, everywhere. To that I’ll add: Even in mud puddles.

20. Sap Bucket

So far this winter has been an upside down one; warm enough to get sap flowing and witch hazel blooming before a bitter below zero cold snap and then 50 degrees and rain yesterday. When spring finally does get here there’s no telling how plants will react to such an overall warm season. My feeling is that they’ll be fine, but we’ll have to wait and see.  The first thing nature teaches is patience.

There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow. It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance. ~William Sharp

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