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Posts Tagged ‘Kahtoola Micro Spikes’

Last Sunday I decided to go looking for the tiny female flowers of the American Hazelnut (Corylus americana), and I could think of no better place to find them than a rail trail. They usually grow all along rail trails and I knew I wouldn’t have to look very hard to find them on this trail in Keene.

Part of the trail was muddy, I was surprised to see.

But other parts were icy. Packed down snow from lots of foot traffic turns to ice quickly.

But luckily I had my micro spikes on. I once slid down an icy hillside with Yaktrax on, so I switched to micro spikes at a friend’s prodding. You don’t slip with these on, so if you’re a winter hiker you might want to look into them.

I found the hazelnuts easily. Some of the male catkins were deformed like these, which seems common, but they had taken on a look of more yellow than green and were getting pliable, so I was encouraged that they knew spring was happening.

I looked at hazelnut branches until my eyes crossed but I couldn’t find a single bud with female blossoms. This photo from a previous year shows the female flowers in relation to a paperclip so you can see how small they really are. I’m not sure why they aren’t blooming yet. I’ve seen skunk cabbages flowering and that’s usually a sign that the hazels are too. Oh well, when they’re ready I’ll find them. I’m sure they know what they’re doing better than I do.

Small white, downy feathers fluttered in the breeze on one of the hazel stems.

Hazels will quite often hang onto their leaves well into winter but this was the only one I saw on this day. It was a warm, orangey brown but it didn’t do much to warm me in the wind that always seems to blow along this trail. It comes out of the west and it howls sometimes.

I looked off to the west and saw, miles away, that there was still snow on the hillsides. The wind comes roaring over these hills sometimes so maybe that’s why the wind I was in felt cold. I’m not sure why this photo came out so strangely colored. Maybe there was a haze I couldn’t see.

I saw three large animal burrows that had been freshly dug but this was the only one I could get close to. Judging by the large mound of soil this one was deep.

The side view shows the soil mound a little better. I was surprised to see that it was really nothing but sand; I wouldn’t have thought the railroad would have used sand as a rail bed. These holes were big enough to be woodchuck holes. Since woodchucks are burrowing animals and are common here I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. I tried to find tracks but saw none.

The other two burrows were well protected by multiflora rose canes so I couldn’t get near them without shredding my clothes.

One of our Covid vaccination sites is near this trail and I saw this big army truck over across the way, so the shots are probably being administered by National Guard volunteers. It seemed to be parked so it would block the road. My turn comes soon so I’ll find out.

Last year I came out here and was surprised to find hundreds of willows, so I thought I’d check them for catkins. Though many of our willows are golden yellow these were very red.

Willows play host to many galls and if you like galls this is the time of year to look for them. This one was caused by a tiny midge called the willow beaked gall midge (Rabdophaga rididae). The gall started life as a bud until the midge caused the tissues to form a hard gall instead. These galls often come to a point which looks like a beak, hence the name. This one shows how red this particular species of willow is.

Here was another pretty gall that forms on the very tip of willow branches. It’s called a terminal rosette gall, which is also known as a camellia or rose gall. It is caused by another midge (Rabdophaga rosaria) which turns the terminal bud into what looks like a beautiful flower. This midge will choose any of at least 6 different species of willow so it’s hard to identify the willow by the gall. In fact willows are notoriously hard to identify because they cross breed so readily. As Henry David Thoreau said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused.”

Gray, furry willow pine cone galls appear on the very tips of willow branches, because that’s where a midge called (Rabdophaga strobiloides) lays its egg. Once the eggs hatch the larvae burrow into the branch tip and the willow reacts by forming a gall around them. These galls are about as big as the tip of your thumb. Galls might seem unsightly but they do not harm the plant.

I saw two or three small bird’s nests in the willows. I would think the birds would eat the midges that cause the galls but I don’t suppose they can catch them all. This nest appeared to be made mostly of grasses.

Young poplars were glowing in the sunshine and dancing in the wind. The poplars and the willows will be forever young because the power company cuts them to the ground every few years.

Soon these willow catkins will be bright yellow flowers. Since last Sunday when I took these photos we’ve had a week of record breaking warmth so they may even be blooming today. I’ll have to go and see. I hope you’ll see flowers in your travels too; I think we all need some flowers.

The snow in winter, the flowers in spring. There is no deeper reality. ~Marty Rubin

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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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