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Posts Tagged ‘Ice Needles’

Half Moon Pond in Hancock iced over but then it warmed up and the ice melted quickly. All that was left early one morning was the mist that was left from the melting. I wanted to get a shot of it but all I had was my cell phone. I decided to try it anyway, and this is what the phone’s camera saw. What I saw was not quite so much bright sunlight up in the clouds, though dawn was just breaking over the hills behind me. I liked what the phone camera saw though, and I hope you will too.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked quite far into the woods after seeing what I thought was a beautiful flower, only to find instead that it was a feather. But I’m never disappointed because feathers can often be as beautiful as flowers. These “blossomed” on a hazelnut twig and changed shape contantly in the wind. They were very fine and soft, like goose down.

I know these are bird tracks and I know the middle longer toe points in the direction the bird was facing but I don’t know why they were so long or what the lines behind them were about. It looked to me like the bird went into a skid when it tried to land. Their feet weren’t very big but there were many prints around the area and I’m guessing dark eyed juncos made them. You can often see flocks of sometimes twenty or more juncos along roadsides in winter, presumably looking for small seeds.

At work one morning I spotted a dark colored animal a little bigger than a house cat running from one of the buildings. It ran with a kind of loping gait like a mink but quite fast. One of the paw prints we found afterwards is in the above photo but we can’t know if it belongs to the animal we saw. There are lots of animals in these woods. But judging by the animal’s size and the way it ran like a big mink, we think it must have been a fisher cat. Fisher cats aren’t cats, they are members of the weasel family, and they don’t eat fish. They were hunted for their fur almost to extinction in times past and though they are making a comeback they’re very wary of man and aren’t often seen. They’re usually active at night so seeing this one in daylight was a rare thing.

I believe these turkey feathers tell the story of the fisher cat and why it was near one of the buildings. They were found near the spot it ran from. Fishers eat small to medium sized animals and birds, and will also eat beechnuts, acorns, apples and berries. They will also eat porcupines, leaving nothing but the hide and a few bones behind. In fact they’ll eat just about anything and I’ve heard they have a blood curdling scream when they’re on the hunt. Just for fun (?) I went to You Tube and listened to a fisher cat scream, and now I understand how some people have been scared half to death by them at night in the woods. It’s an eerie sound, and that’s putting it mildly.

A huge old oak tree died where I work and when it was cut down the butt end showed purple staining, meaning it has steel or iron objects like screws or nails in it. Sawmills look for this kind of thing when logging trucks bring in a load of logs and they’ll reject the whole load if they see it. This log was easily four feet across but it will never be sawed into boards.

I used to feel comfortable in the knowledge that any time I saw this platy bark in the shape of a target on a tree, I was looking at a red maple. But then last fall I saw a very old yellow birch with target canker that looked just like the example in the above photo. Now, I thought, I can’t be quite so sure of what I’m seeing, so I returned to the book Bark; a Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast, by Michael Wojtech. In it he does indeed say that red maple is the only tree in the northeast that develops target canker, so what of that birch? I don’t know every tree in the forest but if I can’t tell the difference between a red maple and a yellow birch, I’d better give up nature blogging. The answer I think, is to go back and find that birch and better document its bark.

Here is the only photo I took of the yellow birch I saw with target canker, which can be clearly seen on the tree. I can remember how surprised I was and thought that I must be mistaken but no, I’ve never seen maple bark peel and curl like that. The trick will be to find this tree again in a forest full of trees.

I had to go to the local car dealership to have my car serviced and while I was waiting, I noticed this piece of tree bark sitting on a counter. I was happy to find it there, not so much because of the bark itself, but because someone thought it was beautiful enough to show in the waiting room like an art object. It grabbed someone’s attention, as it did mine.

Because of all the rain we had this summer fruits, seeds and nuts are everywhere, including the poison ivy berries (Toxicodendron radicans) seen here. I’ve never seen so many of the small fruits on poison ivy vines. Though I like to get photos of them when they’ve turned white and are fully ripe, the birds eat them so fast I usually can’t find any. All parts of this plant can give you quite a rash if touched, so I try not to get too close. Even inhaling the smoke from a fire where it is being burned can cause severe throat issues.

I finally found some ice needles that really looked like needles. Usually they have been stepped on and look stubby, with squared off ends. A lot has to happen for them to form but they’re fairy common once you know what to look for. And what to listen for; the soil they grow in will crunch when it’s walked on. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape and that needles 16 inches long have been found, but most of the ones I see are less than 5 inches long. These might have been closer to 6 inches long.

I saw this feature in some puddle ice. It looked like the disc or lens shape froze and the water moving around it created waves. But how could this be? Wouldn’t all of the puddle surface have frozen at the same time? I don’t expect anyone to answer this; I’m just thinking out loud. Puddle ice is an endless source of fascination for me because it’s amazing what you can see in it.

I think weevils must have killed the terminal leader of this hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) and then two of its branches became new leaders, giving it a U-shaped appearance. I usually see this on white pine, not hemlock. White pine weevils do attack lots of other evergreen species like spruce and fir but I haven’t heard of them attacking hemlocks, so I can’t say what might have caused it.

Speaking of eastern hemlocks, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to look out a window at work to see gray squirrels trying to get at the seed cones. They’ll hang from the branch by their back feet and tail and grab the small cones with their front paws. I’ve seen four or five squirrels working a single tree, and one day I saw an eagle flying over the tree they were in. The squirrels disappeared in a hurry that day. When I look at this photo of a cone I wonder if man thought up roof shingles by looking at something like this.

The white stripes on the undersides of the flat hemlock needles come from four rows of breathing pores (stomata) which are far too small to be seen without extreme magnification. The stripes make the tree very easy to identify.

I found these squirrel tracks in my yard and I wasn’t surprised because there are also lots of hemlock trees here. I’ve seen chickadees eating the seeds but until this year I’ve never seen squirrels eating them.

Northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) also grows in my yard. There are many seed pods on the cedars and robins, common redpolls, pine siskins, and dark-eyed juncos eat the seeds. Many small birds use the trees to hide in and robins nest in them each spring. The open seed pods always look like beautiful carved wooden flowers to me. The Native American Ojibwe tribe thought the trees were sacred because of their many medicinal uses, and maybe they were. They cured scurvy for many a European.

A few years ago I started noticing what I thought looked like teeth marks on lichens and wrote and showed photos of it here. Now I’m seeing those same marks on certain fungi, like this tinder fungus. The squiggly lines in the top bluish portion are what I’m talking about.

I finally found out when a knowledgeable reader wrote in, that these lines and squiggles are not chipmunk or mouse teeth marks. He measured the marks and found that no American mammal had teeth that small. Instead they’re caused by algae eating land snails. Accoding to what I’ve read “squiggly lines or tiny fan patterns on rock or tree bark show where a snail has scraped off algae or fungi, leaving a paler spot. Smooth-barked red maple or American beech are good trees to check for snail or slug feeding tracks. You can look closely at mushrooms to see if a chewed area is found along with a slime trail.” The top of this mushroom did indeed look chewed. Snail mouths (radula) are raspy and are said to feel like a licking cat’s toungue if you hold one in your hand. That’s another mystery solved.

Just before dawn one morning the full moon hung over Half Moon Pond and reflected in the new ice. This was after the ice I mentioned in that first photo had melted. I think the pond has frozen over and melted three times now, which shows what roller coaster temperatures we’re seeing so far this winter. It’s beautiful but a little unusual as well.

As children, we are very sensitive to nature’s beauty, finding miracles and interesting things everywhere. As we grow up, we tend to forget how beautiful and magnificent the world is. There is magic and wonder for eyes who know how to look with curiosity and love. ~ Ansel Adams

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According to statistics November is on average the cloudiest month in this part of the country, but as you can see by the above photo not every day is totally cloudy. This was one of those blue sky, white puffy cloud days and I took this photo because of the clouds. That lower one was growing quickly and I thought it might become a thunderhead, but it never did. It just got bigger.

Many of the photos in this post were taken before the snowstorm I showed in the last post. Snow or not I won’t be seeing anymore fleabane flowers for a few months now. It’s just too cold now for flowers.

November can be a very cold month, when we start to really realize that winter is right around the corner. Frost on the windows helps remind us of that, and I caught this frost crystal growing on my car winshield. They’re beautiful things that most of us pay no attention to.

Ponds are starting to freeze up as well. Bright sunshine has little real warmth in November unless it is coupled with a southerly breeze.

I went to the river to see if any ice baubles had formed along the shore but I got sidetracked for a bit by the beautiful light.

I’ve never seen this stretch of water look gold and blue like it did on this morning.

It was like seeing molten light. None of these colors have been enhanced by me. Nature did all the enhancing.

And on another, colder day, there were ice baubles growing along the shore. If you’ve ever made a candle, you know that you dip the wick in hot wax over and over again, letting the wax harden between dips. If you think of the twigs as wicks, you can see how every wave crest “dips” the twigs in water and the cold air hardens that water into ice. Over time, ice baubles like those seen here form.

Twigs aren’t the only thing that the ice forms on. Anything that the water splashes on over and over will ice up.

The ice baubles are usually as clear as blown glass but on this day a lot of them had air bubbles trapped inside. Many of these examples were nearly round as well but they’re often more pear shaped. Along a river or stream is the only place I’ve ever seen them form in this way, though I suppose they could form anywhere where there is splashing water in winter.

On shore, the sun lit up an oak leaf beautifully.

Some of the biggest oak leaves I’ve ever seen belong to the swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor.) This is a rare species in the woods here but in 2010 the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services removed a 250-year-old timber crib dam in this section of river, and when they replanted the river banks, they chose swamp white oak as one of the tree species. Though the trees are barely 10 feet tall this leaf must have been 8 inches long. Brown is the fall color for the leaves of this oak. The New Hampshire state record for the largest swamp white oak is held by a tree in Swanzey. It is 67 feet tall and has a circumference of 192 inches. That’s 16 feet, so I’m not sure if even 4 people could link hands around a tree that size.

One characteristic of swamp white oak is peeling bark on its branches, giving it a ragged look. On young trees like these even the bark of the trunk will peel, as it was on this example. Planting this species of tree here makes sense because it is tolerant of a variety of soil conditions and can stand drought or flood. The only thing they can’t bear is beavers, and these critters have cut down and hauled off many of them.

When I was taking photos of this tree’s branches I looked down and sure enough, beavers had been at its bark. This tree is a goner, I’m afraid. It has been girdled.

At this time of year, when the soil starts to freeze but before any snow falls, you can often hear the soil crunch when you walk on it. That’s the signal that you should get down on your hands and knees and peer down into those tiny frozen canyons. If you do you’re liable to find ice needles there, because the crunching you heard was probably them breaking. Several things have to happen before needle ice can form. First there has to be groundwater. Next, the air temperature has to fall below 32 degrees F right at the soil surface while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape, and that needles have been found that were 16 inches long. The needles in these photos were 1-3 inches long I’d guess, and they were frozen into ribbons. They’re another of those gems of nature that many never see.

Puddle ice has been a friend of mine for a very long time. When I was a boy, after the snow melted in spring, I’d get my bike out and ride it to school. It was still cold enough for ice to form on the puddles and I used to think it was great fun to ride through them so I could hear the strange tinkling / crinkling sounds that the breaking ice made. I have since found out that the whiter the ice, the more oxygen was present in the water when it formed. These days instead of breaking the ice I look for things in it. This time I thought I saw a penguin in that curvy shape to the right of center.

I saw a pair of mallards but this is the only shot that came out useable. I thought this was unusual because usually one will tip up while the other stands guard and watches.

An oriental bittersweet vine had reached the top of a small tree and many of its berries had fallen into a bird’s nest, built where the branches met underneath the bittersweet. Birds love these berries but I think the bird that built this nest must be long gone for warmer climes. These vines are terribly invasive so the fewer berries eaten by birds, the better.

The birds have been eating the river grapes, finally.

They have plenty to eat. It has been an exceptional year for grapes and many other plants.

I love that shade of blue on juniper berries. A waxy coating called bloom reflects the light in a way that makes them that color. I always wonder how many gin drinkers know that the unique flavor in their drink comes from this plant’s fruits. Though they’re called berries, botanically speaking juniper fruits are actually fleshy seed cones. Unripe green berries are used to flavor gin and the ripe, deep purple-black berries are the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice, often used on game like venison, moose and bear meat. Birds also love them so they won’t last long.

The winterberries (Ilex verticillata) are covered with berries this year. This native holly holds its berries through the winter and they look great against the white snow. They have a very low-fat content and birds won’t eat them until other fruits with higher fat contents have been eaten. Other plants that fruit in the fall like maple leaf viburnum, high bush cranberry, and staghorn sumac also produce fruit that is low in fat content. That’s why you often see these plants with the previous season’s berries still on them in the spring. Due to the light of the day all three cameras I carried had a hard time with these berries but I wasn’t surprised because red is one of the hardest colors for a camera to capture.

I found a very old hemlock log. The branches had been cut off long ago but the stubs that were left were amazing in their texture. It was if someone had carved them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before.

Orange fan shaped jelly fungi (Dacryopinax spathularia) grew on the dark end of a log and looked like tiny lights. Actually they were more nose shaped than spatula shaped but I’ve found that fungi don’t always live up to what they were named. In the winter they’re a pretty spot of color in a white world.

But for color in winter turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) have to take the prize. These examples were beautiful, and they wore my favorite turkey tail color combinations.

I saw this foreboding sky at dawn one morning. I thought it was beautiful and I hope you’ll think so too.

In a few blinks you can almost see the winter fairies moving in
But first, you hear the crackle of their wings. ~Vera Nazarian

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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

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New year’s day dawned sunny but cool, with a promise of warmer temperature later in the day. Since rain had washed all the snow away I though it might be a good opportunity for a winter climb, so I chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. At about 11:00 am the trail across the field was still white with frost and hard to miss.

In the shade the previous night’s frost still clung to the plants.

And there was ice. I had my micro spikes with me but I hadn’t yet put them on because I had a feeling things might be different in the forest.

Some kind soul had built a boardwalk of halved logs over a wet spot. This wet area wasn’t here when I first came here but it seems to have grown over the years. I wonder if foot traffic had something to do with that.

Pretty brocade moss (Hypnum imponens) decorated many logs near the wet area. I often have trouble finding this moss when I do a moss post but apparently that’s only because I’ve been looking in the wrong places.

As I suspected the forest was clear of ice and snow. The snow on the trail had been washed away by rain before people could walk on it and pack it into ice, so we were back to bare ground.

I’ve always thought that the weight of snow was what flattened evergreen Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) down to the ground but according to an interesting article in Northern Woodlands Magazine science has found that  some cells in their lower stems die, forming a ‘hinge’ which allows the fern fronds to sprawl on the ground. What they gain by doing so is the warmer ground surface, which may keep them up to 18 degrees warmer than if they remained standing upright.

If you look at the leaflets on a Christmas fern you’ll see that each one looks like a Christmas stocking, each with a “toe.” This and their leathery look and feel make them very easy to identify. The name “Christmas fern” is thought to come from the early settler’s habit of using its fronds as Christmas decorations. Native Americans used them to treat chest ailments like pneumonia and to relieve flu symptoms.

Concentric boulder lichen (Porpidia crustulata) gets its name from the way its black apothecia grow in concentric (or nearly so) rings around their center. The gray body of the lichen forms a crust on stone and that makes it a crustose lichen. They grow in sun or shade and don’t ever seem to change color. This lichen is relatively rare here and I only see them once in a blue moon but here they were; four or five of them grew on a boulder I’ve walked by a hundred times.  As I’ve said before; I’m as amazed by what I miss as what I see.

There are lots of bent trees in this forest and I’d guess they got that way by having other trees fall on them when they were young.

The soil was crunching when I walked on it in places and I knew what that meant…

…Ice needles. Ice needles form when hydrostatic pressure forces groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. I’ve read that each hair thin needle is hexagonal in shape, and that needles have been found that were 16 inches long. The needles in these photos, frozen together into ribbons, were about 3-4 inches long I’d guess. 

There were lots of ice needles along the trail but many had been stepped on, probably by people who heard the crunching but never saw them.

A young tree root grew over a stone and lashed it down.

I stopped to admire the grain patterns on a hollow log. Wood like this is very beautiful in my opinion and I’m seeing more of it everywhere I go.

I saw several stilted trees on this day. Stilted trees grow from seeds that fall on a rotted log or stump and grow their roots around the stump or log. Once whatever it grew on rots away what is left is a tree that looks like it’s standing on stilts. Or about to run away.

And before I knew it there was Tippin Rock, the 40 ton glacial erratic that rocks like a baby cradle if you push in the right spot. Every time I think about all the things that had to happen for this boulder to be here on the summit my mind gets boggled. How thick can a glacier be, I always wonder.

Tippin Rock has a crack but I don’t think it goes all the way through. If it is rocked much more it might though. I’ve seen photos from the early 1900s of people standing by it so I’m guessing it has been rocked for quite a long time.

This was not a day for views, and that was okay. I had forgotten that the sun points right at you up here at this time of day. What looks like brush in the foreground in this shot is actually the uppermost branches of a mature oak tree.

Instead of looking out into the sun I looked down. As always I was fascinated at being so high above the tree tops, and I wasn’t surprised to find that my fear of heights was still healthy and strong.

Of course I had to say hello to my friends the toadskin lichens. Water dripped down the stones and fell on some of them and that meant they were their “normal” pea green color. They will not die without moisture but what you see here is what I think of as their happy state.

Many of them were dry and ash gray. Lichens are very patient beings and they will stay in this state waiting for rain for as long as it takes.

This one was drying out and was partly gray, and if you compare it to the one we saw two photos ago you can see how the shine has gone out of it. The tiny black dots are this lichen’s spore producing apothecia. Toadskin lichens attach to the rock at a single point that looks sort of like a belly button, and this makes them umbilicate lichens. It was once thought that they were a combination of fungus and algae, but science has learned that they are actually composite beings made up of several different organisms.

I hiked over to the ledges and marveled at the silence of the day. Not a bird call, not a breeze, not a chipmunk, no falling ice or water, nothing. But then while I was taking this photo I heard behind me and down below in the forest the loud crash of a tree falling. This was only the second time I’ve heard a tree fall without seeing it, but it’s a sound you can’t mistake for anything else. It always reminds me of the question “if a tree falls in the forest and there’s nobody there to hear it, will it still make a sound?”

I looked down again thinking I might see that fallen tree, and wished I hadn’t. That’s quite a drop.

After the butterflies had flown from my stomach I headed back down the hill and found a lady and her dog who were lost. She walked a lot faster than I do and had passed me a couple times at different spots, and was now coming back up the main trail looking for the side trail that would lead her out of the woods. I pointed her in the right direction and told her which tree and stumps to watch for. I didn’t see her again so I assume she made it home safely. I’ve been lost in the woods just once and I can say  that I’d rather have just about anything else happen, so I think I know how she felt.

If you wish your children to think deep thoughts, to know the holiest emotions, take them to the woods and hills, and give them the freedom of the meadows; the hills purify those who walk upon them.  ~Richard Jefferies

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Last Sunday I decided it was time to give my tired lungs a little more exercise by climbing 962 foot Mount Caesar in Swanzey. This is the longest climb that I do these days. I’ve done it many times, but not lately. The COPD I have makes it a little more difficult but I believe lungs are just like any other body part; they need to be used. This photo shows the start of the trail. The end of the trail at the summit is also granite bedrock. In fact after you’ve climbed it you realize that you’re on a huge granite outcrop with a little bit of soil on it.

Did you see that depression in the granite in that first photo? For years I’ve wondered if it was natural or man-made. “Man” would have been the red man; Native Americans had been here for thousands of years before Europeans and according to the town history of Swanzey, they are said to have used this mountain as a lookout. The Native Squakheag tribe (I think) burned the town to the ground in the 1740s but it was rebuilt some time later.

There are lots of reindeer lichens (Cladonia rangiferina) here. Huge drifts of them line both sides of the trail at its start. These lichens are quite fragile and should never be walked on.  Reindeer lichen is very slow growing at about an eighth to three eighths of an inch per year and if overgrazed or dug up, it can take decades to reappear. I’m guessing the large colonies found here must be hundreds of years old. The Native American Ojibwa tribe was known to bathe newborns in water in which reindeer lichens had been boiled.

I was surprised to see that native evergreen goldthread had melted its way through the ice in a shaded spot. Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. Native Americans showed early colonists how to chew the roots to relieve the pain of canker sores and that led to the plant being called canker root. It became such a popular medicine that the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other plant, and of course that meant the plant came close to being lost. Two centuries of being left alone have brought healing to Goldthread though, and today I see the tiny but beautiful white flowers quite regularly in April.

When I see soil configurations like this I know what to look for…

…Ice needles. I just talked about them in a previous post so I won’t go into great detail but as they grow up out of the soil they push up and lift any soil in their way, and you can tell you’re walking on them by the crunching sound the soil makes.

Quite often you’ll find a place where the ground looks like it has heaved up and around stones. The stone sits at the bottom of a hole that is usually shaped exactly like it is, so it also looks like the sun has heated the stone enough for it to melt down into the frozen soil. I doubt that is the answer though because the sun would heat the surrounding stones as well and often only one stone has done this. I think the ground must have heaved up and lifted all the soil that surrounded it. I saw that this had happened in several places along the trail. It’s a common sight in the spring.

It was a beautiful day to be in the woods. I saw many friendly people (and their dogs) and we all said the same thing; We were glad to see the end of winter.  

The beeches backlit by the sun made me want to just sit and admire them. They’re so beautiful at all times of year but especially in the spring and fall.

I didn’t see any signs of movement in beech buds but it won’t be long. By mid-May the newly opened buds will be the most beautiful things in the forest. It’s something I look forward to all year.

The old stone walls that line the trail tell a lot about the history of the place. At one time the flanks of this mountain were cleared of trees, most likely for sheep pasture. When the industrial revolution came along and farmers went to work in the mills all of that hard won pasture reverted back to forest. This means that most of the trees here aren’t much older than the mid-1800s, if that. They may have been cut again and again since that time.

There are still a few big trees left though; pines and an occasional oak. This huge old white pine was emptying itself of all the rotted wood within. I’m guessing that it’s probably full of carpenter ants but it can still stand and live for years, even when completely hollow. I wouldn’t want to be near it in a windstorm.

These seed heads at the edge of the trail caught my eye.

I moved a few leaves aside and found the orchid the seed heads were attached to; downy rattlesnake plantain orchids (Goodyera pubescens.) There are about 800 different species of Goodyeara orchids and telling them apart can be tricky because they cross pollinate and create natural hybrids. These leaves look fragile but they’ll remain green throughout winter. They’re a very pretty but also very small plant. Many aren’t more than two inches across.

In places the trail gets steep and an occasional side trail veers off, but all in all it’s an easy trail to follow. I’ll never forget the day I saw a high school aged boy run up the trail to the top and then he ran back down, all before I could even reach the summit. I think that I could have done it at his age but not now.

Signs help show you the way.

There is a an old , very large log near the summit and I often pretend that I’ve seen something interesting on it so I can stop and catch my breath. On this day I didn’t really have to catch my breath but I did see something interesting on it.

The green bits in the photo are eastern hemlock needles. If you know that tree that should give you an idea of how small these unusual growths were. A lichenologist friend looked at this photo and he said he’s quite sure they aren’t lichens. I’ve looked through every one of my mushroom books and haven’t found anything there either, so if you should happen to know what they are I’d love to hear from you. I used to collect cacti and succulents and they remind me of the succulent called “living stones” (Lithops) but of course they aren’t those.  

NOTE: A kindly reader has identified this mystery being as the Ceramic parchment fungus (Xylobolus frustulatus.) Many thanks to all of the kindly readers out there. You’ve been a lot of help over the years!

The views were hazy on this day, a good illustration of why I don’t climb for the view.

I was surprised to find that I had no fear of falling when I took this shot. Since I fell out of a tree and fractured my spine when I was a boy I haven’t been a great fan of heights, but I thought this cliff face was interesting enough to chance a couple of shots. I didn’t look down but if you look over to the bottom left corner of the photo you’ll get an idea of how high this was. You don’t want to go back down that way.  

When the light is right there’s a good view of Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey from up here. Of course the best photos are found where you have to dance a little closer to a cliff edge than I like.

All in all this day was as close to perfect as one could get. Full sunshine, warm temperatures, easy breathing and getting to see a whole solar system in a toadstool lichen no bigger than a penny would be hard to beat. I hope all of you will have such a day in your near future.

Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ~Anatoli Boukreev

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In my last post I said I had never seen a dandelion blooming in February but never mind; this one was blooming on Leap Day. Now I’ve seen them bloom in all of the coldest months of December, January and February. They’re a hardy plant, and pretty too.

The morning sunlight caught in the trees always makes me slow down on my way to work but on this day it was so beautiful I had to stop. There is little else like a spring morning; cool but with a hint of the warmth that the day will bring. Even as a young boy a morning like this one made me so happy I felt like I could become part of it; maybe I could float up into the trees with the birds and sing their praises along with them. I know just how they feel on such beautiful mornings, and I’ve known for a very long time. It’s about what a joy it is to be alive.

I was splitting wood at work and picked up a log and found these winter oysterling mushrooms (Panellus ringens) growing on it. At least I think that’s what they are after comparing them to photos and descriptions I’ve found online. I can’t find them in any of my mushroom books but I did see some examples found in Connecticut online. They’re small and said to be reddish brown but my color finding software sees more orange than red. They are a true winter mushroom that doesn’t mind the cold and they were as limber as my ear lobe. They’re said to be bioluminescent, but I have no way of confirming that.

Winter oysterlings have an off center stem. It seems odd how they grow with their gills up but in my experience mushrooms want their spore bearing surfaces pointed toward the ground and what I saw as up might have been down while they grew on the log. I didn’t see them until their log reached the wood splitter so it was hard to know how they grew. This photo does show how they’ve erupted out of a flattish mass.

When I split open another log I saw future fungi in the form of mycelium. For those who don’t know, mycelium can be compared to roots in the way that they reach out from the fruiting body of a fungus to search for moisture and nutrients. Botanically it is the vegetative structure of a fungus and the mushrooms we see above ground grow from it. They can be tiny or as large as a forest. The largest one known covers 2,385 acres in the Malheur National Forest in Oregon. Unfortunately it is from the Armillaria ostoyae fungus, which is parasitic on tree roots and will kill trees.

If you strip the inner bark (phloem) of an oak log you can find fibers that are useful in the making of lashings and cordage. Once the fibers are twisted together to make cordage they are quite strong and can be used for anything we would normally use string or rope for. The outer bark had fallen off this oak log naturally due to weather, exposing the fibers underneath. The phloem carries food to the rest of the tree so normally these fibers would run parallel to the length of the log but the weather must have had its way with these because they were all in a jumble as you see here. Native Americans turned tree fibers into threads and cords and made ropes, fishing lines, nets, mats, baskets and even shoes out of them.

Another red oak log just happened to split just right to reveal an insect’s egg chamber deep inside. When you see a woodpecker pecking at a tree this is what it’s looking for. I’m not sure what the insect was but before I split the log open there were about 30 larvae in this one chamber. Lots of protein for a hungry bird.

This is what a pileated woodpecker can do to a tree when it looks for those larvae in the previous photo. It had almost cut this dead beech right in half and wood chips littered the snow.

A beech log when cut revealed spalting. Spalted wood is evidence of fungal damage. Sometimes woods affected by fungi can become very desirable to woodworkers, and spalted wood is one of them. Spalting is essentially any form of wood coloration caused by fungi but there are 3 major types; pigmentation, white rot and zone lines. Sometimes all 3 can be present as they are on the end grain of the beech in the above photo. Pigmentation is the blue gray color, which is probably caused by bluestain or sapstain. White rot is in any areas that look soft or pulpy, and the zone lines are the dark, narrow lines found radiating randomly throughout the log.

This is what a spalted log looks like when it has been split. They can be very beautiful and when sawed into planks can be worth quite a lot of money.  

I’m seeing lots of orange crust fungi on the logs I’m splitting. I think they’re one called Stereum complicatum. It’s color is so bright it’s like a beacon in the woods and it can be seen from quite far away on fallen branches. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself” and that is often just what it does.

I picked up a log and put it on the wood splitter and saw what I thought was a leaf fluttering in the wind, and then I saw the legs and realized it was a butterfly. A butterfly in February? Apparently, and the closest I can come with an identification is the question mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis.) According to what I’ve read September laid eggs develop into the winter form of the butterfly, which appear in late fall and spend the winter in various shelters. This one had no shelter and hung onto this log for dear life in a strong wind. When I took  photos the log it was on was vibrating on the log splitter so this is the best of a bad lot. Its long white legs reminded me of the Rockette dancers.

Whenever I see spruce gum on a tree I always wonder who the first person was to peel it off the tree and chew it. When I see it I don’t think of chewing it, but someone did. If you gently heat the resin, which is called spruce gum, of the black spruce tree (Picea mariana,) it will melt down into a liquid which can then be strained and poured into a shallow pan or other container to cool. After about half an hour it will be hardened and very brittle, and when broken into bite sized pieces it can be chewed like any other gum. Spruce gum is antiseptic and good for the teeth. It has been chewed by Native Americans for centuries and was the first chewing gum sold in the United States.

Sweet gale (Myrica gale) is also called bog rosemary. It likes to grow on the banks of acidic lakes, bogs and streams. Touching the foliage releases a sweet, pleasant scent from its resinous leaves which have been used for centuries as a natural insect repellent. Though it is a native plant here it also grows native in Europe, where it is used as an ingredient in beer making in some countries. It is also used in an ointment used to treat sensitive skin and acne. Its buds are very pretty, but also very small.  They will open and flower in spring.

Two or three years the white pines (Pinus strobus) in this area had a mast year and tens of thousands of pine cones fell. This year strong winds have stripped branches from the trees and every one I look at is loaded with tiny undeveloped cones like the one in this photo, so it looks like we’re headed for another mast year for white pines. Mast are the fruits, seeds and nuts of trees and shrubs, which are eaten by wildlife. Hard mast is made up of nuts, seeds and cones and soft mast are berries, apples and such. A mast year means lots of food for wildlife like the white footed mouse, which carries Lyme disease, so they do have an impact on humans as well. This cone was about an inch long.

Here is something I’d bet most people never see; the open spore cases of the sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis.) This fern is a good wetland indicator and they grow all alongside streams and rivers in the almost always wet soil. Their shin high, spore bearing fronds full of round black spore cases make them very easy to see in winter but I rarely see them opened as these were.

This is what sensitive fern spore cases usually look like. Early colonists noticed that this fern was very sensitive to frost and they gave it its common name. It has toxic properties and animals rarely eat it, but some Native American tribes used its root medicinally.

A mud puddle had evaporated but it left these long ice crystals behind. Puddle ice is an endless source of fascination and beauty.

In my experience I’ve only seen ice needles in spring or fall before the ground freezes or after it has thawed, so these examples that I saw recently were a good sign of spring. When the air temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit right at the soil surface and the soil and groundwater remains thawed, hydrostatic pressure can force the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. From what I’ve seen the needles almost always freeze together and form ribbons, but few of these did.

Though this photo of Mount Monadnock may not look very spring like, down here in the lowlands most of the snow is gone and what’s left is melting quickly. The record keepers at the state capital say that February was 3.5 degrees above average, and that makes for a short winter. Flowers are starting to bloom and the red winged blackbirds have returned. The furnace runs less each day and grass is greening up in places, so though the calendar might not say spring yet all signs are certainly pointing to it.

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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On the night of Sunday December 1st, just after I visited the deep cut rail trail in the last post, it started snowing. And then every day for all of that week we had at least some snow falling. In my yard I had about a foot of it but some towns in the region saw as much as three feet. I stopped one snowy morning to take the above photo of the road to work. Every living thing was snow covered, settling in for a long winter sleep.

The swamp off the side of the road still showed some water but just a shadow of what it actually holds.

In case you’re wondering, it costs $80,000 per hour to remove all of this snow from state roads. That doesn’t include the cost to each individual town to remove the snow from town roads. It takes a lot of time and effort to move a foot of snow, but move it we must.

I love how the water looks so dark against the snow. Like a black mirror.

We actually got more snow than this. It settles quickly so you really should measure it just after it falls, but this was 2 days later. Still a foot even after settling. I’d say we got 14-15 inches total.

The sky looked like someone had painted the sun into it as an afterthought. It gave light but no heat. We’ve seen 7 degrees below zero F. so far.

This is another shot taken during a snow storm. They say that it snowed for about 48 hours but it felt longer than that.

The slushy snow on Half Moon Pond in Hancock absorbed water from the pond and glowed a strange color that looked green to me, but I was told that it was kind of tan.  

Finally the snow stopped but the strange colored ice was still there.

I saw some excellent examples of ice needles before it snowed and the crunch underfoot told me they were there before I saw them. They were some of the longest ice needles that I’ve seen. Many were 6-8 inches long.

When the air temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit right at the soil surface and the soil and groundwater remain thawed, hydrostatic pressure can force the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. From what I’ve seen the needles almost always freeze together and form ribbons like those seen in the above photo. I’d love to find a single one but so far, no luck with that.

Ice needles are very fragile, as you can imagine. They weigh next to nothing and just a warm breath or the swipe of a finger can destroy them. This is the same ice ribbon in the previous photo turned on edge.

The view out my back door was a little snowy.

Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey looked cold. I’m betting that the snow was deep up there, but I’d also bet that people were still climbing it. Monadnock is the second most climbed mountain on earth after Mount Fuji in Japan and it is climbed year round. The wind blowing through this spot at Perkin’s Pond in Troy can quickly chill you right to the bone, so imagine what it must be like up there.

So far the Ashuelot River in Swanzey remains ice free.

But ice shelves are forming along the Ashuelot in Keene. These ice shelves can be very dangerous once they get snowed on because it can be hard to tell where the land stops and the river begins. I’ve found myself standing on one more than once. Luckily I haven’t gotten get wet.

I stood on a bridge over the river and saw last year’s cattails through the ice.

The shadows on the snow were deep blue one day and they reminded me of a special high school art teacher who taught me to see rather than just look. To me, probably due to colorblindness, winter shadows looked gray but she convinced me that they were and should be blue. The odd thing about all of that is how, once I began painting them blue I began seeing them in blue, and I have ever since. Colorblindness is a very strange thing and it doesn’t behave as many people think it does. I can see red and green separately for instance but when a red cardinal lands in a green tree it completely disappears. Stoplights however are always red, green and yellow.

Speaking of yellow the bright yellow blossoms of witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) on a 25 degree f. day were a pleasure to see. Witch hazel is our latest blooming shrub, even blooming as late as January in a warm winter, so I wasn’t that surprised to see these blossoms in December. There were lots of them.

              

I’ve shown this trail many times in these winter posts but it has always been disturbed in the past, with the snow torn up by 4 wheelers or snowmobiles. This time except for a few deer tracks it was undisturbed and paved in golden sunlight. It was so beautiful I couldn’t bring myself to disturb it either, so I turned back and left.

By walking in a snowy forest you can really forget about this world, and every time you forget about this world you leave this world, and every time you leave this world you gain a very special wisdom that does not exist in this world. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I was shooting photos of a wintery Mount Monadnock when spring hopped into the photo in the form of a robin. He’s there in the grass on the left.

Robins are very curious birds, I’ve found. They seem to like watching what I’m doing as much as I like watching them. I had one let me stand right next to it just the other day.

A raccoon has become a regular visitor to where I work. Somehow it has damaged its paw and doesn’t seem to be able to see very well. We think it must be quite old for a raccoon but it still gets around fairly well and can still climb trees.

Two mallards hid in the reeds in a small roadside pond. While he watched me she tipped up and ate. She ate quite a lot, ignoring me the whole time.

They finally got tired of me watching them and swam off. Ducks and other waterfowl are very wary of humans in this area. They don’t swim right up to you when they see you like they do in other places because nobody feeds them, so getting photos of them is usually tough. This pair put up with me longer than most do.

Activity seems to have increased among all creatures except bees, which I still haven’t seen yet. Squirrels are certainly in abundance; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many. This one was hopping across a lawn when I tried to get its photo.

I’ve never seen so many pinecones fall as they have this year either. They’ve made a squirrel’s life pretty easy, as this large stone covered with pinecone scales shows. For some reason squirrels usually like to sit up off the ground when they eat and one or more of them ate a lot of pine seeds on this stone.

There was a storm brewing on an ice covered Half Moon Pond in Hancock on March 29th when this was taken.

This is what the pond looked like 14 days later on April 12th. We’re getting just about one sunny day each week and this one was that week’s day. The ice on the pond wasn’t completely gone but there was very little left. It has snowed again once or twice since that photo was taken.

I found what I thought was a toothed crust fungus, but this fungus wasn’t acting like any other crust fungus that I’ve seen.

This crust fungus had developed fruiting bodies that looked like mushrooms with a hollow stem. On the smaller one on the left you can just see the teeth hanging from the underside of the cap. I don’t really know if the toothed crust developed from the mushroom like fruiting bodies or if the mushrooms arose from the toothed crust. Each “cap” was about as big as an aspirin.

On a nearby section of log the toothed crust, if that’s what it is, had completely enveloped the mushroom shaped fruiting bodies. I’ve never seen anything like this and haven’t found anything like it, either in my mushroom guides or online. If you know what it is I’d love to hear from you.

I know what this is; an orange jelly fungus behaving strangely. Orange jelly fungi (Dacrymyces palmatus) are common here and usually grow on fallen eastern hemlocks. They absorb many times their own size and weight in water and usually shrink when they dry out but this one looked like it was melting. These fungi are eaten in China and are said to improve circulation and breathing.

Plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) is a large plant as sedges go, with wide, pleated, foot long leaves that wrinkle like crepe paper. It’s large leaves are for gathering light so it does well in the shade under trees, where the one pictured grows naturally. Sedges like cooler weather and cool soil, so they grow and flower best in spring in this area. Once it gets hot their growth slows but sometimes in a cool fall they’ll have a second growth spurt. This one is on the rare side here. I know of only a few plants, all growing in one spot.

Plantain leaved sedge usually blooms in mid spring and this plant seems to be right on schedule. It had several beautiful dark purple flower spikes showing. These flowers will open into wispy white female flowers on the lower part of the stalk (Culm) and the long, yellowish male flowers on the upper part. The flowers are called spikelets and the stems that bear them are triangular, and that leads to the old saying “sedges have edges.” I’m guessing that these flowers will appear in a week or two, depending on the weather.

Soil crunching underfoot in the spring and fall is a sure sign that you’re walking on ice needles. For them to form the temperature at the soil surface has to be below 32 degrees F while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces the groundwater, which is sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because more water is freezing at its base. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape and that needles 16 inches long have been found, but most of the ones I see are less than 5 inches long. They are often very dirty.

There is a plant called common cotton sedge (Eriophorum angustifolium) but I doubt this is it because another name for it is bog cotton due to its habit of growing in damp boggy ground, and this plant was growing in a spot that was high and dry. It grew at the edge of the woods under pine trees and I’ve never seen anything else like it. It had a single hairy stem about a foot tall with this bit of “cotton” at the top. It had no leaves because of the time of year. If you know what it is I’d love to know.

An eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) was healing a wound in a strange way, I thought. The wound cork had grown over a scar in a kind of lump rather than flat as it usually does. According to the book Bark, by Michael Wojtech eastern hemlock is the only tree in the northeast that grows wound cork in annual increments. Because it grows this way it can be counted just like a tree’s growth rings. From what I counted this scar took 10-12 years to heal. Native Americans used the inner bark (Cambium) of hemlock as a base for breads and soups or mixed it with dried fruit and animal fat to use in pemmican. They also made tea from the tree’s needles, which have a high vitamin C content. This saved many an early settler from scurvy.

I recently went to see one of my favorite lichens, the poplar sunburst (Xanthoria hasseana.) One of the reasons it is one of my favorites is because it is almost always producing spores in its large, sucker like fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) This lichen grows on tree bark near a pond and has a mounded growth habit rather than flat. This example might have been a half inch across. It’s a pretty little thing.

I might have already shown these turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) but I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter anyway because seeing such beautiful things doesn’t have to happen just once. I certainly think they’re worth a second look. As beautiful as they are though turkey tails frustrate me a bit, because I’ve never been able to find out how they come by their color. They have a wide range of colors and something must influence what color they’ll be. I think it might be the minerals in the wood they feed on, but that’s just a guess. I hope you’ll be able to see at least one thing as beautiful this week.

The appearance of things changes according to the emotions; and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves. ~Kahlil Gibran

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