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Posts Tagged ‘Keene’

Hello again everyone, I hope you are all well and hope that you’ve had a wonderful summer. I can’t believe that fall is here already but as you can see, the trees are saying that it is so. I’d like to thank all of you for understanding my need to take a break and I thank you for your well wishes. Also, thank you to those of you who have written to ask how I’ve been doing. I’ve been fine, and though you haven’t heard from me in a few months I’ve still been out meandering around and taking photos, though not in the large numbers I once did. Fall in New England is a special time and this year has been particularly colorful, so I didn’t feel right letting it pass without showing you some of it. I’m not going to say much about the photos because I think just about everyone everywhere knows that leaves change color in October in New England.

I’d like to think that I’ve used the time away from this blog wisely by finding answers to some difficult questions, some of which concerned this blog. For years it had been such a joy to do. It was hardly a burden at all; I just went on walks and took photos of anything that caught my eye and then showed them to you, and that was really all it was. Easy, laid back, no cares, no troubles. But then somehow it began taking more and more time and the joy was slowly seeping out of it. What to do was a question I had to answer.

The problem was, putting this blog together was taking every minute of free time I had, and that’s because I let it happen. I thought readers were getting tired of seeing the same old places so I tried to find new places to go, even if it included driving to them to do it. Then, because I always took far too many photos I added more and more to the blog. One day I saw that it had grown into something I really didn’t enjoy anymore, but I felt chained to it.

For all of my life, I have found answers to difficult questions through simply being silent and listening. Solitude has always been part of the solution because it is solitude that makes silence shine like a bright light in the darkness. That light leads you into yourself and it is there where the answers are found, because they come from the heart. That’s a large part of why I had to take a break from blogging.

When I was a boy summer seemed to last forever, and for many years I wondered why that was. The answer, I finally saw, was that there was no time then. Though I still had chores and other things to take care of I could do them whenever I wanted, so I was completely free of time. It was easy to envision retirement being the same way. I would just throw away all the clocks and step out of time and I’d be free, but if we don’t pay attention in life, we can set traps for ourselves and then fall into them, and that’s just what I had done. I had all the free time I wanted yes, but I also had no really constructive ideas about how to use it. I knew that I didn’t want to use it all writing this blog, but I had to ask myself what life would be. Would the high points of life now consist of walking, mowing the lawn, reading, and writing blog posts?

There had to be more to retirement than that, so I thought I’d travel a little. I’d get to see some places I hadn’t seen in years and I could take photos while there and show you our mountains and seashore, each about two hours away. But then gas prices started rising almost on the day I retired and went so high that any plans that included driving any real distance had to be put on hold. I had also always wanted to volunteer as a reader for / to the blind so I wanted to use some of my free time for that, but apparently advances in audio gadgetry have put an end to that need. Both my father and an aunt were blind so I know what a challenge it can be. Other volunteering opportunities in the immediate area seem to be slim to none. I couldn’t believe that I had all this free time and could find no good, useful way to use it.

So to feel somewhat useful I found a part time job. It isn’t much; just 25 hours per week, but I feel like I’m accomplishing something. I’m not one to sneeze at a little extra money but that’s not what having a job is really about for me at this point; it’s more about feeling like I’m doing something that matters while having the chance to be around other people. The hermit that lives here inside me was telling me that I should go and stay in a cave I found but as tempting as it sounded, I think it would be too much of a good thing. I’m getting too old to fight off animals and sleeping on stone has never been any fun. Besides, the people I work with are among the kindest, most helpful people I’ve met and so far, I feel at home there. It may not last forever but at this point I think I could look back on it fondly, as a good thing.

Finally, I had to sit down and ask myself why this blog was even here. What did I expect from it? Was it a hobby? What good was it? It started as an offshoot of a garden coaching business that never took off. Garden coaching is where you show homeowners how to do the “hard and scary things” like pruning trees and trimming shrubs and hedges, and transplanting. You help them find solutions to what they see as problems, hence the strange name of this blog. The other part of it was proving that I didn’t have what it took to write a weekly gardening column for a local newspaper. People were telling me I should and I told them if I did, it wouldn’t last. After eleven years of keeping this blog going that thought has obviously gone out the window. But here was this blog, coming up out of the ashes of two ideas that had collided simultaneously. At first it was about gardening and nobody cared, so I decided to end it on its one-year anniversary. But then I stepped back out of the way. I hung my mind on a peg and just let this thing do what it would. Posts began writing themselves, and suddenly people began showing some interest.

It’s hard to explain what I mean when I say a post “wrote itself” but it’s almost as if I’m taking dictation when it happens. I sit and watch words appear on the screen and I’m often surprised and baffled by what I see. Here’s an example of what I mean:

I remember wondering, where did that come from? It came pretty much as it is, with very little tinkering required. I had to turn it into an image so WordPress wouldn’t change the format, so that’s why the text looks smaller.

I’ve always had a spark in me that made me want to draw and paint, or write, or design gardens, or take photos, or anything else that made me feel that I was making something out of nothing. When that spark of creativity begins to burn inside, bright and hot enough so you have to do something about it, it is the most wondrous thing you can imagine. You just step out of yourself; get out of your way, and let whatever it is you’re doing flow out of you unobstructed, like water. When it happens it is euphoric, and that’s putting it mildly. So yes, as a creative outlet this blog has value, but obviously it is a personal thing.

All of you, through your comments and emails over the years, have shown me that this blog has value beyond any personal satisfaction that I might receive from it. I’ve heard from many people who are nature lovers but who for whatever reason can’t get outside easily anymore, and they’ve told me that this blog is their only link to the outdoors. Their situations are what made my recent break so hard, because I felt as if I was letting them down. That’s why it’s important to me that you know that the decision to shut down for a while wasn’t just off the cuff. I put a lot of thought into it before finally understanding that it had to happen. In the end it is all of you who have answered the question, why is this blog even here?  

I’m not here to win prizes or to see how many people I can get to read this blog; I’m here to get you out there. The hope I’ve always had is that whoever reads this will want to get out there and see the things I see because I can guarantee that if they do, they too will fall in love with nature. That’s important, because when we love something, we are less apt to destroy it. That is the essence of this blog in a nutshell so please, go out and fall in love with this beautiful place we live in, and then tell everybody you know about the miracles you’ve seen. No matter where you live, there is beauty there. There is beauty absolutely everywhere you look, and part of the fun is exploring your piece of the world and seeing it. If you pay attention, you will notice how nature quietly leads you from one beautiful thing to another all throughout your walks, and over time you’ll find that one of the most beautiful things it has led you to is you. It is by losing ourselves in the beauty of this world that we can find our true selves. One of the biggest surprises about being in nature is, we learn as much about ourselves as we do about nature. Just be there fully, with your whole self, and walk with nature, not through it. This isn’t a bare rock we live on; it’s a garden paradise, and we are as much a part of it as it is a part of us. Let nature show you that you don’t stop at your skin. You are so very much more.

So here we are. I can answer my own questions with yes, this blog does have value and as a creative outlet it is more than just a hobby. I see creative outlets as similar to pressure relief valves, so I’ve decided to keep it going. I’m going to have to cut back on the number of posts I do though; no longer will I be doing two posts per week. I don’t know if I’m just getting old or what it is but two posts per week seem to have really become just too much. For years I told readers they didn’t have to go anywhere to see the wonders of nature because nature was everywhere. I could walk into the woods or along the banks of the river each day and see new things every single time. So this blog is going to go back to that easy, laid back, joyful, no cares thing that it once was. I’m going to let simplicity be my guide and just wander and see what I see with nothing more in mind than walking with an old friend. I can’t say what the new schedule will be yet because I don’t know that myself. Friends have suggested that one post each month would be easier to bear but no matter what I decide you might want to click on the “Follow This Blog Via Email” button over there on the right. I was getting lots of emails from people saying they were no longer being notified of new posts and the way to solve that problem (I hope) is by clicking that button and adding your email address, even if you’ve already done so. That way if these posts become just a random thing you won’t miss any, not that there is anything earthshaking here to miss.

I have to say that when I think about it, I find that it’s very strange to be doing something like this. It’s easy to get carried away by it, always thinking the current post should be better than the last. That’s why it’s a good idea I think, to sit down every now and then and remind yourself what it’s really all about. A kind of reaffirmation of the core principles that made you want to start doing it in the first place. I can never know how many people this blog has touched, and I’ll never know what they might go on to do or be, and I have to be okay with the not knowing. All I can really do is hope that the message gets through and makes people want to get outside and explore their world. From then on if nature fills even one of them with the kind of love and reverence that makes them fall to their knees and weep tears of joy and gratitude, this blog will have done something.

Until the next time, which shouldn’t be too long, thanks for stopping in. It’s been nice talking to you again. Take care, and enjoy life.

There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice. ~John Calvin

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I’m starting this post on aquatics with blue vervain (Verbena hastata,) only because I like its color. It isn’t a true aquatic but every time you find it there will be water very nearby. Blue vervain provides a virtual nectar bar for many species of bees including the verbena bee (Calliopsis verbenae.) Butterflies also love it. It likes wet soil and full sun and can reach 5 feet when it has both. I find it in wet ditches, on river banks and just about anywhere where the soil stays constantly moist.

Wild calla (Calla palustris) is also called water dragon or water arum, and it is a true aquatic. It is an arum like skunk cabbage or Jack in the pulpit, both of which also like wet places. I don’t know if I could say this plant is rare but it is certainly scarce in this area. It’s the kind of plant you have to hunt for, and you have to know its habits well to catch it in bloom. Like other arums its flowers appear on a spadix surrounded by a spathe. The spathe is the white leaf like part seen in the above photo. This plant is toxic and I’ve never seen any animal touch it.

I missed the tiny greenish white flowers this year. They grow along the small spadix and are followed by green berries which will ripen to bright red and will most likely be snapped up by a passing deer. This plant was in the green, unripe berry stage. One odd fact about this plant is how its flowers are pollinated by water snails passing over the spadix. It is thought that small flies and midges also help with pollination, because the odor from the blossoms is said to be very rank.

Pickerel weed is having a bad year and gone are the beautiful ribbons of blue flowers along the river’s banks. I’m not sure what is causing such a sparse bloom but I hope it rights itself because large masses of this plant in bloom can be truly spectacular.

One of the things that always surprises me about pickerel weed is its hairiness. I don’t expect that from a water plant. Its small blue / purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Once the flowers are pollinated and seeds have formed the flower stalk will bend over and drop the them into the water, where they will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate. If you see pickerel weed you can almost always expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid, though I’ve heard that plants occasionally grow in water that’s 6 feet deep.

I haven’t seen any berries yet but elderberries (Sambucus nigra canadensis) have bloomed well this year so we should have plenty. This is another plant that doesn’t grow in water but it grows as close as it can to keep its roots good and moist. This native shrub can get quite large and its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.

A floating plant that is attached by roots to the pond or lake bottom is an aquatic, and that description fits floating hearts (Nyphoides cordata) perfectly. Floating hearts have small, heart-shaped, greenish or reddish to purple leaves that are about an inch and a half wide, and that’s where their common name comes from. The tiny but very pretty flowers are about the size of a common aspirin and resemble the much larger fragrant white water lily blossom. They grow in bogs, ponds, slow streams, and rivers. This flower was having trouble staying above water because it had rained and the water level had risen.

Forget me nots are not an aquatic plant but I keep finding them in very wet places. This one grew right at the edge of a pond so its roots must have been at least partially in water. The ground they grew in was also so saturated my knees got wet taking this photo. Many plants that are thought of as terrestrial are able to tolerate submersion in water and can live where they’re exposed regularly to water and from what I’ve seen, this is one of them.

Water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) is probably the rarest of all the aquatics that grow in this area. I still know of only one pond it grows in and there are only a handful of them there. I’ve read that the plant has the unusual ability of removing carbon dioxide from the rooting zone rather than from the atmosphere. It is said to be an indicator of infertile and relatively pristine shoreline wetlands. This year I saw only 4 or 5 plants in a small group. The small, pale blue or sometimes white flowers are less than a half inch long and not very showy. They have 5 sepals and the base of the 5 petals is fused into a tube. The 2 shorter upper petals fold up. I’ve read that the flowers can bloom and set seed even under water. True aquatic plants are plants that have adapted to living in aquatic environments (saltwater or freshwater) and this one has adapted well.

I saw a strange looking bubble which had ripples coming from it, as if it were moving. It was in a pond, just off shore.

Of course if you go looking for aquatic plants, you’re going to see dragonflies like this widow skimmer.

I’m also seeing lots of what I think are spangled skimmers this year. On this day all of them were watching the water.

Pipewort plants (Eriocaulon aquaticum) are also called hatpins, and this photo shows why perfectly. Pipewort plants have basal leaves growing at the base of each stem and the leaves are usually underwater, but falling water levels had exposed them here. Interestingly, this photo also shows the size difference between a floating heart, which is there in the center, and a standard water lily leaf, which you can just see in the top left. Floating hearts are tiny in comparison.

Pipewort stems have a twist and 7 ridges, and for those reasons it is called seven angle pipewort. The quarter inch diameter flower head that sits atop the stem is made up of minuscule white, cottony flowers. I think it’s interesting how their leaves can photosynthesize under water.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter if there are any flowers in view. The light is enough.

I saw what I thought was a pretty clump of grass right at the very edge of the river bank but when I looked closer, I saw that it wasn’t any grass that I had ever seen before and I think it is reed sweet-grass (Glyceria maxima,) which is invasive. It is native to Europe and Western Siberia and is a semi-aquatic, perennial grass with unbranched stems that get up to 8’ tall. There is a reddish tint on the lower parts of the stems. This plant towered up over my head but I can’t swear it had red on the stems because I have trouble seeing red. Reed sweet-grass invades wetlands and crowds out natives, and is not suitable for nesting. It is also a poor food source for our native wildlife.

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) grows in the form of a small shrub and is in the spirea family, which its flowers clearly show with their many fuzzy stamens. It’s a common plant that I almost always find near water.

Meadowsweet flowers are fragrant and have a sort of almond-like scent. A close look shows that clearly, they belong in the spirea family. Before long their pretty purple cousins the steeple bushes will come along.

In my opinion swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is the most beautiful milkweed of all. It grows onshore but a few yards away from the water’s edge on land that rarely floods. Many insects were visiting it on this day. I know of only a single plant now, so I hope it produces plenty of seeds. The flowerheads always remind me of millefiori glass paperweights.

Swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are not true aquatics but they do grow close enough to water to have their roots occasionally flooded. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. Their name comes from the way their bright color lights up a swamp, just as they did here.

Swamp candles have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. Each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are also often streaked with red and this is common among the yellow loosestrifes. Reddish bulbets will sometimes grow in the leaf axils. I’ve read that our native yellow loosestrifes were thought to have soothing powers over animals so people would tie the flowers to the yoke of oxen to make them easier to handle.

Pretty little sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) will sometime grow in standing water but only when it rains and the water level rises. By choice they live right at the water’s edge. On the day I saw these I saw thousands of flowers blooming on the banks of a pond.

Here is a closer look at the flowers. Sheep laurel is part of the Kalmia clan, which in turn is part of the very large heath family, which includes rhododendrons, blueberries and many other plants. I know of only three Kalmias here and they are Mountain, Sheep and Bog laurel. The flowers of all three, though different in size and color, have ten spring loaded anthers which release when a heavy enough insect lands on the flower. It then gets dusted with pollen and goes on its way.

You can always tell that you’ve found one of the three Kalmias by looking at the outside of the flower. If it has ten bumps like those seen here you have found one of the laurels. Each bump is a tiny pocket that the tip of an anther fits into. If the flowers are anything but white it is either a sheep or bog laurel. If the flowers are white it’s a mountain laurel, though I’ve seen mountain laurels with pink flowers in gardens for the first time this year.

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) are having a good year, I’m happy to say. They’re one of our most beautiful native aquatics. If you could get your nose into one you might smell something similar to honeydew melon or cantaloupe, but getting your nose into one is the tricky part.

I went to a local pond and saw what I thought were two-foot-tall white flowers on an island offshore. The pickerel weeds growing near the island told me the water could be up to six feet deep, so I certainly couldn’t wade out to them. My only choice was the zoom on my beaten-up old camera so I put it on the monopod and gave it a shot. When I looked at the photo I was stunned to see that the flowers weren’t white, they were pink. That was because they were rose pogonia orchids (Pogonia ophioglossoides,) a most rare and beautiful flower that I had been searching for in the wild for probably twenty years. And here they were, at a pond I had visited a hundred times. Why had I not seen them before? Because I had never come to this exact spot on the shore at this exact time of year before. That’s how easy it is to miss seeing one of the most beautiful flowers found in nature in bloom.

I’m sorry these are such poor photos but if you just Google “Rose Pogonia” you will see them in all their glory. This is a fine example of why, once you’ve started exploring and studying nature you feel that you really should keep at it, because you quickly learn that right around that next bend in the trail could be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. I hope you have found that this is true in your own walks through nature.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds. 
~
Edgar A. Guest

Thanks for coming by.

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Here we are at the time of year when it’s almost time to leave the forest to seek the flowers that need sunlight rather than shade but first there are a few flowers still blooming in the woods, like the beautiful wild azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) seen in the photo above. They are also called early azaleas, though others in the family such as rhodora do bloom first. In my last post I spoke about finding the kind of beauty that makes me go silent and still, and this beautiful native shrub always does that to me.

This shot shows how hairy the buds are. Those hairs persist even after the flowers open and they are what give this plant another name: wooly azalea. It is those hairs that emit the wonderful fragrance that these flowers have. It is a fragrance that is said to induce creative imagination.

I’ve been waiting a few years now for pretty little bunchberry plants (Cornus canadensis) to have a good year and finally, here it is. If they look familiar that’s because they are in the dogwood family. Like a dogwood blossom its large white bracts surround its smaller flowers. Even the 2 larger and 4 smaller leaves look like a dogwood. In fact, an old name for the plant is creeping dogwood. They like moist, shady woods.

If pollinated each tiny flower will become a bright red, single seeded drupe, and the plant will then have the bunch of “berries” that give it its common name. It is rare in my experience to find a plant full of fruit, but I keep looking. The plant’s berries are loaded with pectin and Native Americans used them both medicinally and as food.

Here bunchberry plants are growing through the V made by two oak branches, as they do here almost every year. Bunchberry is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that they must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

I found a dogwood tree blooming at the local college so I took a photo of one of the flowers. It looks remarkably like a larger version of a bunchberry blossom, so it’s easy to see why they are in the same family.

Pretty little blue eyed grass blossoms (Sisyrinchium angustifolium), hardly bigger than an aspirin, have appeared. The plants are in the iris family and if I had gotten a better shot of the leaves it would be obvious. They are the same bluish gray color as those of bearded irises. It is just a roadside “weed” to many, but I look forward to seeing it each year.

Blue eyed grass flowers taught me this year that they come out very dark, like the blossom on the left and then fade rather quickly to look like that blossom on the left. I’ve never noticed this before.

What look like tiny purple airplanes are now carpeting forest floors. Though this little plant in the milkwort family’s common name is fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) another name is “gaywings,” so that tells me that I’m not the only one who sees the resemblance to planes. They’re small and at a glance can pass for a violet so you have to keep your eyes on the ground to find them.

They’re very pretty and worth finding. the flowers are made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings.” The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal which is mostly hidden. When an insect lands on the fringed part, the third petal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube. It’s an amazing process that I keep hoping I’ll see happen but so far, not yet.

As I always do, I immediately thought of my mother when I saw these white lilacs. She planted one just before she died and though I never knew her she lives on in the flowers she chose to plant in the yard. I know, by what she chose, that she loved both color and fragrance. When I sat on the porch as a boy and smelled the lilacs or the cabbage roses, or in the fall when I admired the beautiful scarlet leaves of the Virginia creeper she planted, she was there. And she still is. One of the greatest gifts you can give a child in my opinion, is a love of flowers. It doesn’t take much; my mother did it without even being there. Whatever flowers you grow they will learn to love them, and later on in life when they see a flower they grew up with, they’ll think of you.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a low growing summer wildflower with small, 4 petaled white flowers that seems to prefer the shade at the edges of forests. It makes an excellent old-fashioned groundcover but it likes plenty of water; it won’t spread if it gets too dry. The odoratum part of the scientific name comes from the pleasant, very strong fragrance of its dried leaves. They are often used in potpourris because the fragrance lasts for years. It is also called sweet scented bedstraw and is a native of Europe.

The long wiry stems of what I believe is marsh stitchwort (Stellaria palustris) keep the flowers up above the tall grass so insects can find them. The flowers are said to be smaller than those of greater stitchwort but larger than those of lesser stitchwort, but such things don’t excite me anymore so I don’t pay much attention. I just enjoy seeing their cheery faces alongside the path I’m on, even if they aren’t native. They are a native of Europe and are also called chickweed, but there are over 50 different chickweeds. The Stellaria part of the scientific name means “star like,” and the common name stitchwort refers to the plant being used in herbal remedies to cure the pain in the side that we call a stitch.

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) had just started blooming when I found a large colony of them on one of my walks. This is one of the first plants I have stored in my memory. I can remember as a boy picking them along with violets and dandelions to bring to my grandmother. To this day I still like the colors white, yellow and purple together.

I found a painted trillium (Trillium undulatum) that had just come up. It hadn’t reached full size yet but it had the beginnings of the reddish “V” at the base of each petal. Someone thought it looked as if they had been painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. This one also displayed where the undulatum part of the scientific name came from with its wavy, undulating petal edges. They will straighten out a bit as the plant grows. They like boggy, acidic soil and are much harder to find than other varieties, though I never did find nodding trilliums this year.

I had never seen bird’s eye speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) anywhere but in Hancock where I used to work until I went grocery shopping and looked in an old pasture where a barn used to stand before the store was built. There were hundreds of them growing there, so if my memory still works in the future I’ll be able to see them whenever I want. Most speedwell flowers are borderline microscopic but these are huge in comparison. I’d guess they must be as big as an aspirin. Another name for the plant is germander speedwell.

Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is a flower that always makes me smile, and not just because it is so pretty. No, I smile because it is a flower that reveals a lot about people at this time of year. You can go by a house that has not a flower or flowering shrub or tree anywhere on its property, but then in spring a big island of robin’s plantain will have been left uncut in the mowed lawn. This plant is in the fleabane family and is the earliest fleabane to bloom, with big 1-inch blossoms. They can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center. It’s a pretty, very noticeable “weed.”

I went to a spot I had never been to off in the woods near Willard Pond in Hancock and found hundreds of pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule), more than I’ve ever seen together anywhere else. They’re one of our most beautiful native orchids and I was happy to see so many growing together. I wondered how many other large colonies there were off in the wilderness that nobody has ever seen. I hope there are many.

That flower in the previous photo was quite dark pink but here was one that was lighter. Lady’s slippers, as do all orchids, have both male and female reproductive structures fused into a single structure. Many different insects pollinate orchids but in lady’s slippers bees do the job. They enter the flower through the center slit in the pouch, which can be seen here. Once inside they discover that they’re trapped and can’t get out the way they came in.

Guide hairs inside the flower, which can just be seen in this shot, point the way to the top of the pouch or slipper, and once the bee reaches the top it finds two holes big enough to fit through. Just above each hole the flower has positioned a pollen packet so once the bee crawls through the hole it is dusted with pollen. The flower’s stigma is also located above the exit holes and if the bee carries pollen from another lady’s slipper it will be deposited on the sticky stigma as it escapes the pouch, and fertilization will have been successful. Is it any wonder that orchids are considered the most highly evolved of all flowering plants?

Pollination had been very successful in this spot. I saw many lady’s slipper seedpods. These seed pods contain between 10,000 and 20,00 tiny, dust like seeds. According to the U.S. Forest Service “The seeds require threads of a fungus in the Rhizoctonia genus to break them open and attach them to it. The fungus will pass on food and nutrients to the pink lady’s slipper seed. When the lady’s slipper plant is older and producing most of its own nutrients, the fungus will extract nutrients from the orchid roots. This mutually beneficial relationship between the orchid and the fungus is known as “symbiosis” and is typical of almost all orchid species.” This is why it is waste of time to collect orchids or orchid seed from the wild and expect them to grow in your yard.

Since I skipped doing a flower post one week, I’m behind in keeping up with showing you what is blooming and has bloomed here. I went back out to the ledges in Westmoreland as I said I would though, and found the columbines in beautiful, full bloom. This would have been about 2 weeks ago, I think. I was happy to find more plants blooming than I ever have before, and I hope some of you were also able to see them.

There is no other flower that I know of that is quite like them. When a breeze blows through where they grow, they all dance at the ends of their long wiry stems and you can imagine them making themselves more visible to the insect by doing so.

I always like to show this photo of a columbine blossom from a few years ago because it helps to illustrate how various names came to be attached to this flower. The Aquilegia part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Aquila, which means “eagle” and refers to the spurred petals that Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus thought resembled an eagle’s talons. Others have thought they resembled pigeons around a dish, and the name Columbine comes from the Latin Columbinus, which means “pertaining to doves or pigeons.” Throughout history columbines have been associated with birds, but I didn’t see eagles or doves when I saw this photo. I immediately thought of five beautiful white swans with outstretched wings. However you choose to look at a columbine blossom it is a beautiful thing, and growing them adds interest to any garden.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
~Rumi

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We’ve had a string of very warm days here lately and that was all it took to kick spring into high gear. As you can see in this photo of the buds, red maples are responding to the warmth and buds are breaking. You can just see the male stamens all tucked inside the now open buds.

And then on another branch of the same tree the male flowers had fully opened and were producing pollen. I looked at several different red maples on this day, but this was the only one I saw flowering. Tree blossoming periods are staggered over several weeks, so if frost damages some flowers it won’t damage them all. That’s a good thing because this tree has misjudged the weather and jumped the gun. The night time forecasts include below freezing temperatures this week, so there is a good chance that any open flowers on this tree will die. However, thanks to the staggered bloom times that nature has seen to, I might still find red maples flowering a month from now.

I checked hundreds of hazelnut buds but hadn’t seen any of the tiny scarlet, female thread like flowers. They would appear at the top of a bud much like this one, which is so small I don’t really know how to describe it.

But then I saw this bush, loaded with golden colored male catkins, so I decided to check it for female flowers. Hazelnut catkins are just a string of tiny male flowers that usually spiral around a central stalk, and though these weren’t open and producing pollen yet the fact that they have readied themselves to do so is enough to awaken the female flowers.

And there they were, just barely opened on the first day of spring. If the wind blows just right and they are pollinated these almost microscopic scarlet threads will become hazelnuts, which will hopefully ripen by next fall.

There was a time, when I was gardening professionally, that I dreaded seeing dandelions starting to bloom, but I can’t tell you how happy I was to see this, the first dandelion I’ve seen this year.

I suppose my outlook must have changed. All the prejudices that I had toward them began to slip away and I started seeing dandelions for what they really are, which is a beautiful yellow flower that shouts spring is here! When I stopped fighting them and just let them be, I saw the beauty that had always been there. It was only my thoughts about them that had kept their beauty hidden. As Marcus Aurelius said “If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgement of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgement now.” Though I didn’t consciously “wipe out my judgement” of dandelions I have certainly softened my attitude toward them over the years. My dislike (that was mostly learned from others who didn’t like them) has completely fallen away, and maybe that is as it should be. All of my life they have been here. I have eaten their leaves and drank the coffee I made from their roots and dusted the tip of my nose with their pollen, and they are old friends.

I’ve spent a few years trying to figure out what the name of this plant is. I know it is in the mustard family and I know it’s a cress, but I’m not sure which one so I’ll just call it a spring cress. I think it might actually be hairy bittercress but by most accounts it’s a hated weed that is almost impossible to eradicate because of the huge numbers of seeds it produces. You can pull plants until the cows come home but you’ll always miss one or two. It’s like sea turtles; most will get eaten by birds or fish but there will always be some that survive to carry on the Prime Directive, which is continuation of the species. Nature has taken care of it.

Can you see the beauty in this “horrible weed?” Its leaves were just unfolding when I got there, which I thought made it even prettier.

If I go all the way back as far as my memory will go, I find the flowers of ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) living there. Both houses I spent my time at when I was young, my father’s and grandmother’s, had plenty of ground ivy in the lawns and I used to love seeing them bloom so early in spring. Ground ivy is in the mint family and is related to henbit. It has a powerful and unusual odor when it is mowed, with the kind of smell that gets in the back of your throat and stays there for a while.

I brushed some leaves aside where I know Solomon’s seal plants grow and there were the spring shoots. After I took this photo, I covered them up again and let them be. They’re beautiful just as their first leaves start to unfurl, so I’ll try to be there at the end of April to see it happening.

Even after temperatures in the 60s and 70s F. willows still aren’t showing any signs of their yellow flowers. They know what they’re doing and they bloom when they’re ready but I have seen bees and other insects flying already, and they would love to forage on some willow pollen, I’m sure.

I looked at the buds of a native pink azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides) and though the bud scales looked like they had relaxed I’m not sure any actual swelling had begun. They bloom in June so there is time. As can be seen in this photo this is a very hairy plant, and it is the hairs on the outside of the flowers that exude the wonderful scent.  

Looking for the seedpods of a wild azalea is a good way to find them. They’re quite large and showy.

Snowdrops bloomed while there was still a bit of snow left near them. Maybe that’s how they came by their name.

Johnny jump ups have lifted their heads up and are blooming far better now than they were just a week ago. The warm weather and rapidly melting snow have given everything a boost and plants now seem anxious to get going.

I saw a crocus, then two, and then just a day or two later they were everywhere. It’s remarkable what a couple of warm days will do for flowers in springtime. It was all very sudden; it seemed like most of the flowers in this post had appeared overnight.

I saw some of my old favorites. There were lots of bees buzzing around all the open flowers but they were too skittish for me to get a shot of them.

This one was very dark. Better to show off the yellow stamens and pistil in the center to the bees, maybe. I certainly enjoyed the contrasting colors.

This white one was quite small for a crocus. I’d guess barely an inch across.

All of these crocuses were small. I don’t know if they’re a new kind of hybrid or if they’re just getting smaller with age.

A new witch hazel has come out, or at least it’s new to me, and it’s very pink. I don’t remember ever seeing one with pink petals but I must have because I visit these bushes every spring.

I went to see the skunk cabbages and wow; I saw a lot of them. So many in fact, that I couldn’t move without stepping on the ones still under leaves that I couldn’t see. When you step on a skunk cabbage spathe they squeak, much like a head of cabbage does sometimes when you cut into it, and that’s how I knew I had stepped on them.

Luckily, I only stepped on one or two and didn’t damage them too badly. In any event the spathe isn’t quite as critical as the spadix, which is the pinkish thing that carries the tiny flowers seen here. The spadix is what, through a process called thermogenesis, can raise the temperature of the plant to as much as 70 degrees F. inside the spathe, thereby attracting insects to the tiny flowers, which on this day were already producing pollen. To a cold, hungry insect it is a nice warm cave that serves food. Though this plant’s roots are poisonous and the leaves can cause burning in the mouth Native Americans new how to prepare it, and used skunk cabbage medicinally. I’ve read that they also used the roots as an underarm deodorant, though I’m not sure just how that might have worked. In the 1800s medicine made from the plant was sold as a cure all, most likely by traveling salesman.

Spring in the world! And all things are made new! ~Richard Hovey

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I was in the mood to just wander with no particular place to go, so I started off up the road from my house and walked until I came to a familiar little stream that chuckles and giggles its way through the woods. Little that is, when it’s in a good mood. I’ve seen it turn in to a roaring, road eating monster a few times since I’ve lived here but on this day it was gentle. It also had some interesting looking ice on it and that was enough to get me to abandon my walk and follow the stream instead.

The ice was beautiful and feathery in spots. In fact there were all kinds of ice here in all shapes and forms, all in a small sheltered dell. The section that can be easily followed can’t be more than 50 yards deep into the woods.

Last year I had a calendar and each month had an image of deep space taken by the Hubble space telescope, and that’s what this ice reminded me of. It was beautiful and very easy to imagine it in the night sky rather than on this stream.

This bit of ice looked like the surface of the moon, or would have if some little bushy tailed tree dweller hadn’t knocked down a bunch of hemlock cones. They’ll be stuck there until the ice melts now.

I saw fungi, frozen solid.

I believe these might have been oyster mushrooms but they had seen better days so it was hard to tell.

I’m not sure if the white spots one their undersides were frost or slug damage from back when it was warm enough for them to be roaming around. Slugs crawl underground where it’s warmer in winter but studies have shown that they can stand some ice formation in their bodies for short periods of time.

And here was an old friend. Milk white toothed polypores (Irpex lacteus) appear very late in the year and are considered “winter mushrooms.” I Look for them on the undersides of fallen tree branches. The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore bearing tissue. They start life as tubes or pores and break apart and turn brown as they age.

The stream wasn’t frozen over in very many places and this photo shows that it wasn’t very deep either. The ice that had formed between the stones was pretty like quicksilver. It held memories of the current.

About this time of year our evergreen ferns are still green but they look as if they don’t have much fight left in them. Winter worn and flattened low, they still grab any little bit of sunshine they can.

This one was a marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) and I know that because its spore cases grew on the margins of its sub leaflets.

As I watched it looked like dark fish were swimming under this ice, but they were bubbles, large and small.

When the dark bubbles swam under the ice it looked like windows had opened in it, but it happened fast and I had to have a quick finger on the shutter to catch it.

I liked the reflections in the stream as well as the ice. It was all quite beautiful.

The ice had me wondering about currents and flow. You can see in this shot that the water level had dropped since the ice formed and I find that to be common where there is moving water. I’ve seen it happen on ponds too but not usually. The stream’s deepest point is in the center but I doubt even that is more than knee deep. I know it’s an important spot for animals to come and drink because there were animal tracks everywhere, including turkeys, deer, and what looked like bobcat tracks, so I was glad to see that it hadn’t completely frozen over. It is their lifeline to spring.

We’re very fortunate to still have clear water in our streams. Clear enough to see the gravel bed, which is what tickles the belly of the water and makes it chuckle and giggle.

There were endless shapes and forms and colors, all abstract and beautiful. Who could despise winter after seeing such beauty? Don’t sit and wait for winter to end; get out and see the beauty of the season.

The interesting shapes were not just in the ice. I picked up a fallen pine branch that had been wounded and then had tried to heal itself. It was as if a window had opened to show its heart.

I had come to the end of my walk. From here the land to the right turns to hillside and is hard to follow even in dry summer weather. It was a short walk but I had seen so much already, I wasn’t disappointed. As it turned out this was the perfect time to have visited the stream because a dusting of snow that night covered up all the beauty of the ice.

Walking back I saw a rock that I’d guess must be full of iron. Rocks can contain minerals like hematite and magnetite and those minerals can oxidize and become rust, turning the rocks red. This one looked fine grained and sedimentary.

The low sun showed that it would be getting hard to see soon so I knew it was time to leave.

I admired the sun’s glow inside the aging snow along the road. It looked like a campfire burning in a cave.

All of nature waits patiently, knowing that spring will come. The cattails stand with their fluffy seed heads in the air and soon the redwing blackbirds will use this fluff to line their nests. They will also dig plump, protein rich grubs out of the decaying stems. It will be just the boost they need before starting their new brood.

Alder catkins hanging in the afternoon sunlight reminded me that the incredible rush of growth that is spring isn’t that far off. Not calendar spring; alder spring, hazelnut spring, skunk cabbage spring. They know that spring is here long before the calendar says so.

Before too long a warm breeze will come out of the south and it will look like someone has snuck out at night and strung the bushes with jewels. I’m waiting impatiently this year for that soft, sweet season that is my very favorite. The ice was beautiful to see but so will be the flowers.

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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This post won’t be as cold as the last one from the Westmoreland deep cut but you might still want to keep your sweater on. It’s -10 F. as I start this post but the above photo of the outlet on Half Moon Pond in Hancock was taken on a balmier 20-degree morning just after an ice storm. We’ve had a few of those as well.

I think I’ll remember this winter as one of near constant ice. It is everywhere and seems to cover everything, as this poor lowbush blueberry shows. The ice is keeping me from climbing any hills and making me check to see if I have my micro spikes any time I go outside.

I took a few steps out onto the ice of Half Moon Pond without spikes on and found it so slippery I thought I’d have to drop to my knees and crawl back to shore. It was all I could do just to stand still but the skaters loved it. One even had a sail, so the wind did all the work. If you need wind, this is the place to come. Sometimes the wind will scream across the pond with enough force to nearly tear a half open door right off its hinges. It howls through here and makes a howling sound, just like in the movies. I always wonder if Native Americans were afraid of places with howling winds and twanging ice like this place has. When that ice starts in with its creaking, twanging and pinging it can sound downright eerie, but you do get used to it.

I decided to stay on shore where I could stand upright and marvel at the designs in the ice. I can’t imagine what would have made such strange shapes.

Before the pond froze over as each wave reached the frozen sand on shore its leading edge would freeze and over time all the frozen wave edges intertwined and created these rope-like structures. This was the first time I had ever seen this happen.

I tried a few times to show the way the ice on the trees reflected the light in colors, as if millions of tiny prisms lined the branches, but though it’s an easy thing to see making the camera see it is not quite so easy. That’s too bad because it can be one of the most beautiful scenes found in nature in the winter.

In a recent post I did on buds I told how the bud’s scales protected the bud from water and ice infiltration, but after seeing something like this it always amazes me that the buds can survive at all. The new leaves and flowers that appear in the spring though, show that they’re a lot tougher than we might think.

Not a single bud or branch can escape ice like this. Anything over a quarter inch in ice thickness starts bringing down branches, and the branches bring down power lines. That’s why an ice storm can be such a terrible and beautiful thing.

The ice I could get close to looked quite thick but I didn’t see too much damage from this storm. I saw just a few smaller limbs down.

I saw a long-necked dinosaur eating an oak leaf in a frozen puddle.

This was the scene in another puddle. I can’t imagine how such things happen. It’s as if the skin of the ice is disappearing and leaving behind its skeleton.

Little bluestem grass looks so fragile, but here it took a plow full of heavy wet snow and didn’t flinch. I love to see a field full of little bluestem in the snow.

This is another failed attempt at showing you all of the colors that shine out at you from an icy forest. One day I hope to capture it because it’s a very beautiful thing to see. It’s one of those things in nature that make you just want to stand and look and marvel at the incredible beauty that surrounds us.

But most times, rather than just standing and looking into the woods I like to go into them, because things like this are much easier to see. This is one of the reddest examples of red bark phenomenon that I’ve ever seen. The color is caused by algae growing on the tree bark, and it being studied by scientists all over New England. It isn’t always red; it can be orange as well. It affects all kinds of trees, both conifers and deciduous, and many different species. It can also appear on stones and is even present in many lichens. So if you see a tree with red bark there isn’t anything wrong. It’s just algae looking for a place to perch. What might be wrong I’ve read, is what is causing the algae to want to perch on tree bark in the first place. It is a relatively recent phenomenon, happening within the last 20 years. Some think climate change, others simply don’t know. I notice it more and more, especially on eastern hemlock trees.

NOTE: A knowledgeable friend tells me that this red bark could also be the tree’s “under bark” which can become exposed when woodpeckers go probing for larvae on a tree. I’ve never heard of this so I’ll have to look more closely next time I see it. If this was done by a woodpecker that was a determined bird, because it was a very large area on the tree.

Here was something I had never seen; a large hemlock scar had healed nicely but it was covered with white frost, while frost couldn’t be seen on any other part of the tree. It’s something I can’t explain. Maybe the bark of the healed wound was moister than the older, thicker bark that surrounded it. Somehow, something attracted the frost.

One of the many things I see in winter is how the sun has heated a leaf or a twig enough so it melts itself down into the snow. This was a hemlock twig, which was barely larger in diameter than a piece of cooked spaghetti. How so much heat can be absorbed by what is a relatively small area is unknown to me, but I see it happen all the time.

I saw a strange something or other on a tree and though I had a feeling that it must be a lichen, I wasn’t sure. I had never seen anything like it so since I have a friend who has literally written the book about the lichens in his area, I sent him photos. He almost immediately identified it as Trypethelium virens, which I later found out is called the beech sucker or the speckled blister lichen. They grow on beech trees and the best time to spot them is in the winter, so that’s another good reason to go into the woods in winter. It’s a pretty lichen that was quite large and easily seen; maybe 2 inches across.

I found a curious little forest sprite face peeking out from the fringe of this example. From what I’ve seen online the appearance of this lichen can vary by quite a lot.

I went to the Ashuelot falls to get some shots of ice pancakes but I was too late. The river had frozen over and all I saw were icebergs at the floor of the falls. It was still a worthwhile trip though, because the water going over the falls looked like honey in the sunlight.

While at the river I saw black locust seed pods blowing around on top of the snow. They always seem to fall from the trees in the winter so there was nothing remarkable about that. What is remarkable is how such a big tree can come from such a small seed. They can’t be much more than a quarter of an inch long. They are obviously in the legume family along with beans, peas and so many other plants.

I’ve always loved how the white snow makes water look so dark in winter, so I hung by the side of this dark pool long enough to almost make me late for work. Of course I tried to get that perfect photo, and never did.

This last shot is from nearly the same spot as the first one in this post. It shows the difference over the course of almost a month and surprisingly, except for the addition of a little snow in this last shot, it didn’t change that much. Since we’re supposed to be in for a good old fashioned nor ‘easter today, it may change quite a lot. Stay warm and stay safe, wherever you happen to be.

Nearness to nature keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt, and in touch with the unseen powers. ~Charles Eastman

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I’ve met people who thought that buds appeared in spring just before the leaves came out but no, buds actually form in late summer, when trees begin storing reserves to help them get through winter. The period is called lignification and it happens when trees stop their active growth cycle. One of the ways to identify trees and shrubs in winter is by their buds. The size and placement of buds as well as the number of bud scales (cataphylls) can all help with identification. Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some just one scale called a cap, and some buds have none at all. Buds that have several scales are called imbricate and have scales that overlap like shingles. I’m starting this post with some unusual trees that aren’t often seen in this area, and the bud shown above is a sweet gum bud. It is a good example of an imbricate bud. It is also a good example of a rarity here.

Sweet gum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) are easily identified by their unusual seed pods, above, and by the large size of their buds, which can be green, red or orange. I’ve read that Native Americans used the hardened resin from these trees for chewing gum. The resin was also used in a tea to calm the nerves and, when powdered and mixed with shavings from the tree, was used as incense by the Maya. The resin is said to look like liquid amber, and that’s where the first part of the scientific name, Liquidambar comes from.

Another tree you’ll have a hard time finding in this area is the European copper beech (Fagus sylvatica purpurea.) I’ve looked at its buds before in March and maybe they were swelling up to prepare for bud break, but they seemed bigger than those on our native trees. This year in January they really don’t look much different than our native beech buds. Long and pointed, they are a different shape than the sweet gum bud we saw but are still imbricate buds because of their shingle like, overlapping bud scales. They’ll open with maroon foliage, which over time will become a beautiful bronze / purple.

I love the bark on this old beech tree. It reminded me of an elephant’s skin. This tree lives on the grounds of the local college and there is another in Dublin, but otherwise I don’t know of any other European beeches in this area.

Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula Tibetica) is another tree you might have a hard time finding but if you had studied your buds, you would recognize these big, shiny red buds as more imbricate buds. A gummy resin often fills any spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. If water ever reached the bud and froze it could kill or damage it, so nature found a way to prevent that from happening. The shape of many imbricate buds also ensures that water will run off, rather than stay on the bud. Bud scales also help prevent moisture loss. These buds are very pretty, in my opinion.

The bark of a Tibetan cherry is very interesting. It is also called the paper bark cherry because of the way its bark peels as it ages, much like a birch. It is used as an ornamental tree as much for its bark as for its flowers, which are similar in shape and size to other ornamental cherries. The mahogany bark has very long, closely spaced lenticels that give it an unusual appearance. Lenticels are corky pores that allow gases like oxygen to reach the living cells of the bark. Without enough oxygen bark can die, so it “breathes.”

The most unusual tree bud to appear in this post is that of the ginkgo, which I find at the local grocery store, of all places. The short shoots bear terminal buds that are small at less than an eighth of an inch, with room for just two overlapping scales. A bud with only two overlapping scales is called two ranked. You can see how the terminal bud and many leaf scars are crowded together. Ginkgo is considered a “fossil tree” that has been on earth for millions of years. It is also considered the oldest living seed plant. It is said to be capable of living several hundred years, and there are trees in China that are thought to be at least 400 years old.

Buds with two scales that meet but do not overlap are called valvate buds, and a good example of a valvate bud can be found on nannyberry shrubs (Viburnum lentago). Though the scales in the photo do happen to overlap somewhat normally they would not, so they are still considered valvate. Nannyberry is one of our few native viburnums with edible fruit. They can get quite tall, almost the size of a small tree. According to the book The Origins of English Words “nannyberry” is also called sheep berry and that name comes from its fruit, which is said to resemble sheep droppings. The nanny part of the name comes from the nanny goat. Squirrels and birds are said to eat the fruit but I see huge numbers of them still on the bushes well into winter.

Cornelian cherry buds (Cornus mas) are also good examples of valvate buds. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the two scales part to let the bud grow. What confuses me about this shrub is how the two outer scales never seem to be completely closed. It doesn’t seem to matter though because they always flower beautifully. Some bud scales like these are hairy and some are covered with sticky resin that further protects the bud. Cornelian cherry is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts.

One bud scale covering a bud is called a cap, and magnolia bud scales are good examples of that. Magnolia flower buds are described as “densely pubescent, single-scaled, terminal flower buds” and that’s what we see here. The hairy single scale will fall off when the bud inside has swollen to the point of blossoming. Once the plant flowers the ground under it will be littered with these hairy caps for a short time, so if you’d like to see one up close that’s the time to look.

I was lucky to find a seed pod on the magnolia that I looked at but unfortunately it was quite dry. I’d like to find a fresh one because I’ve read that they’re full of bright red seeds. I’ll look for one this spring to show you.

Big, black and pointed mountain ash buds (Sorbus americana) fooled me into thinking they had a single cap like bud scale at first, but they actually have several overlapping scales which are quite sticky. I finally got a photo that shows this. You have to look closely at buds to see what is really going on, so it helps to have a loupe or a macro lens.

The terminal buds on a Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) are oval shaped and imbricate with many bud scales. Sometimes the scales pull back from the bud (reflex) as these did, creating what look like tiny green flowers. In a way they remind me of the male flowers on a haircap moss, but of course they’re much bigger.

Here is a look at the side of the bud in the previous photo. Evergreen buds can be very sticky, but I’ve noticed that much more sap or resin flow occurs on warm days. On a cold day in January these buds were hardly sticky at all. You can also see the rows of whiteish breathing pores (stomata) on some of the needles in this shot. Carbon dioxide, oxygen, and water vapor enter and exit the tree through these tiny openings. There are many millions of them on a single tree.

If you see that some of the branches on your Colorado blue spruce are a bit deformed like those seen in the above photo your tree has the Eastern spruce gall adelgid living on it. They cause crab claw like galls but don’t do any real harm to the tree. I’ve had them on a tree in my yard for years now and it is still as healthy as the day I planted it. By the way, a blue spruce can be green.

If I had to choose a favorite tree bud the flower buds of the red maple (Acer rubrum) would have to be at the top of the list. They’re very beautiful but more than that, they are one of my first signals that spring has finally come. It doesn’t matter what the calendar says, when I see red maple flowers, I know winter is over. Of course sometimes they get a little over anxious and will get frost bitten, but more often than not they’re a reliable indicator. Each small flower bud has four pairs of bud scales.

Sugar maple terminal buds (Acer saccharum) appear on the end or terminus of a branch. The larger, pointed, very scaly bud is flanked by lateral buds on either side. The lateral buds are usually smaller than the terminal bud and the twigs and buds are brown rather than red like silver or red maples. These buds have imbricate bud scales and they show the whitish, sticky resin that “glues” one scale to another.

Norway maple (Acer platanoides) buds are also imbricate but instead of sticky resin on the edges of its bud scales they have a fringe of fine hairs which help shed water. These buds are relatively large and easy to study using a hand lens, so they’re perfect for children in the field.

Buds that have no bud scales but are very hairy like those seen on witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana,) are called naked buds. The hairs take the place of bud scales when it comes to protecting the bud and it works well. Other naked buds are found on staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) and the native viburnum called hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides).

Witch hazel flower buds are also very hairy, but rounder than its leaf buds. It won’t be long before the yellow or orange strap like flower petals appear on the spring witch hazels. It’s something I’m impatiently looking forward to.

I know that not everyone gets as excited over buds as I do but I also know that there are children who read these posts so I often have them in mind when I do a post like this one. I hope something like a post on buds might help jump start a child’s interest in nature. They aren’t that complicated and hopefully bud scale terminology won’t seem too intimidating.

If you are interested in learning about tree and shrub buds, start with one in your own yard that you are sure of, like a maple tree or even your rhododendron, and then branch out to those you don’t know well. The following information might help to get you started:

A bud scale is made up of modified leaves or stipules that cover and protect the bud in winter. Usually the number of bud scales surrounding a bud will help identify a tree or shrub.

Imbricate bud: A bud with numerous scales that overlap each other like shingles.

Valvate bud: A bud with two or three scales that do not overlap.

Two Ranked Bud: A bud with two scales that do overlap.

Caplike bud: A bud with a single scale that comes off in the spring.

Naked bud: A bud with no scales.

If you find that you have the itch to learn even more about buds and trees, this little book is for you. I’ve had my copy since I was a teen but it’s still in print. It is very helpful and easy to understand.

Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the stars and the mountains above. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.  ~David Polis

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It seems that these “looking back” posts get harder every year. Choosing a handful of photos is never easy but this year it seemed daunting at first. But then I sat down and remembered what this blog was all about, which is showing you the beauty of nature. I dangle a carrot and entice you into going out and seeing nature for yourself, and when you do you fall in love with what you see, just as I did. That’s the plan, anyway. So as you look at what I’ve chosen remember that these photos are about the beauty of this world and nothing else. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and you might not think the stream ice in the above shot is beautiful at all. Hopefully though, as you wade through this post, you’ll find something that catches your eye. And remember, if I saw it, you can too.

This is more stream ice, this time with leaves trapped in it. This reminded me of putting a leaf between 2 sheets of waxed paper and then ironing the paper so it sealed around the leaf. It’s always slightly fuzzy, never clear like glass.

The first two photos were taken last January. In February I was at the North Pole, or so it seemed when I was looking at this wind sculpted snow. I love to see the designs the wind can make in snow, but it has to be the right kind of snow with the right consistency or it doesn’t seem to work.

This shot, taken later in February, makes me want to say “whew,” because it shows the first sign of warm colors and melting ice after a long white winter. I’ve always believed that once we’ve made it through February winter’s back is broken. Sure, we can get more snow and even cold, but it doesn’t usually last for weeks like it can in January and February.

In early March there was still snow on the ground but the willows burned brightly and this scene reminded me of an impressionist painting. Vincent van Gogh, maybe?

March is when the first flowers appear but I doubt many people notice the beautiful male alder catkins dangling from the bushes like strings of jewels. A catkin is really just a string of flowers and there are probably hundreds of tiny male blossoms in this shot.

April is when things really get going and large willow shrubs full of bright yellow flowers appear at wood edges and out in the fields. They’re a breath of spring that I look forward to each year and their blossoming usually signals the return of red winged blackbirds.

Bloodroot is one of our most beautiful wildflowers which don’t often appear until early May, but last spring they came along in April. I’m not sure how a flower could be more perfect than this. Its simplicity is what makes it so beautiful, I think. It isn’t busy and there’s nothing to deduce or discover; it’s all right there so all you need to do is just admire its beauty. If you happen to find bloodroot growing in the wild you should remember the spot because this plant will come up in the same spot for many years if undisturbed.

May is when I start looking at buds and though there were many to choose from, I chose this velvety soft, pink and orange, striped maple bud. They seem to glow, and seeing a tree full of them is a sight not soon forgotten. This is a smallish tree and common in this region, so the next time you’re walking along a trail in early May, look out for it.

By mid to late May some of our most beautiful wildflowers are just coming into bloom, like the wild columbine seen here. The columbines grow on stone ledges off in the woods where few people ever see them, but some like me consider them very special and make it a point to go to see them each year. They’re quite a rare find; this spot in Westmoreland is the only place I’ve ever found them. It’s a bit of a hike but it isn’t any work at all to go and see them on a beautiful spring day in May when the leaves are just coming out on the trees and the air is full of sunshine and birdsong. In five short months it will be time to take that walk again, and I’m already looking forward to it.

In this area nothing says June like our native blue flag irises. I watch the roadside ditches because that’s where I find a lot of them blooming beautifully in large clumps. I also see them on pond and river edges. They like a lot of water and can sometimes even be found in standing water. They’re a beautiful flower that always says summer to me and you don’t have to hunt for them, because they’re everywhere.

Flowers come fast and furious in June and you can find many newly opened species each day. For this post though, I chose Robin’s plantain, a fleabane that’s considered a lowly weed. It comes up in lawns everywhere but even though it’s a weed, nobody mows it until it’s done blooming. I think this photo shows why. It’s such a beautiful weed.

There are times in the woods when I see something I can hardly believe I’m seeing, and that’s how it was the first time I saw this fringed bog orchid. I know I’ve found something special when all thoughts leave my mind and I just want to be quiet. I know I’m in the presence of something rare and very special, and I imagine that I feel as I would if I were walking into one of the world’s great cathedrals. It’s hard to explain, but you just know that this is a special moment and it deserves all of your attention, and your gratitude as well. You are humbled, I suppose is the best way to explain it, and it happens the same way each July when I go into the swamp where this magnificent orchid grows.

Also in July, this past July at least, because of all the rain, fungi and slime molds began to appear. I learned a lot by paying attention and watching closely this past summer. I saw a huge variety of fungi and slime molds appear that I had never seen before and as far as I can tell it was all on account of the steady rains we had. After two years of drought it was an amazing show of what nature can do under the right conditions.

In August I found the tiny flowers of the field forget-me-not growing in a lawn and that seemed appropriate, because August was the month that I lost a sister to lung cancer. Though nature has shown me that there is a deep well of peace within us all we have to find it before we can drink from it, and it isn’t something that one of us can give to another; each of us has to find it for ourselves. This was the unfortunate truth that I realized there alongside the forget-me-nots in August.

The concentric circles in tiger’s eye fungi also seemed appropriate for August. To me life is like a song, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. When one song ends a new one begins to take its place, and on and on it goes in a never-ending circle, through all of eternity.

In September I saw one of the prettiest displays of mushrooms I’ve seen when I found these Jack O’ lanterns growing on and around this old red maple. There were hundreds of them and they grew in a ring on all sides of the old tree. A day or two later and I would have missed this beautiful display, and that’s a good reason to get into the woods each day if you can.

This shot is a bit ironic with a monarch butterfly on a purple loosestrife because we wish we’d see more of the butterflies and less of the very invasive purple loosestrife. I didn’t count but I saw a fair number of monarchs, mostly in August and September of last year. I wish I knew why there were so many more, and I wonder if the weather had anything to do with it. I wouldn’t think a butterfly would want to be rained on but there were so many flowers blooming because of it.

This shot from October shows what I mean about having so many flowers blooming. This is just a roadside meadow of sorts that I pass each day on my way to and from work. It’s there every year but this past summer was the best I’ve seen it look. Because of this spot I discovered that New England asters like an awful lot of water. Seeing them in such a wet spot made me take note of soil conditions in other places they grew and each one was quite wet, or at least more than just moist.

You certainly receive plenty of hints in September and even in August of summer’s passing but October is when it really hits you. At least, that’s when it hit me one October morning when I stood on the shore of Half Moon Pond and saw how all the trees had colored. It was a beautiful way to end our summer and it went on and on, and again I think that was because of all the rain we had.

Very late October and early November is the time to visit Willard Pond in Hancock if you want to experience all the majesty of a New England hardwood forest in the fall. The oaks and beeches put on what is easily the most beautiful autumn spectacle that I’ve seen. It’s a quiet, peaceful place with well placed benches where you can sit and listen to the calls of loons and enjoy the beauty of the pond and surrounding forest.

I took a hike down a rail trail in November and just before I left, I snapped this shot of a distant hillside. I could see color on the hillside from where I was but it was like a smudge, with no real detail. I was surprised when I looked at the photo and saw that it was a hillside full of oaks. Everyone seemed to like this one so I’ll show it again.

We had our fist snowfall in December, barely an inch here, so I went out and got some photos of it. It was a nuisance storm and we’ve had two or three since, but no real snowstorms. People who have to shovel it are counting their blessings, but people who make money plowing it don’t feel quite so lucky. I think we all need to face the fact that winter has changed. Just over the course of this blog’s 11 years I’ve watched it go from cold and snowy to rather mild on average in comparison. Spring starts earlier and fall lasts longer now.  

It did get cold enough in December for me to get a shot of this frost crystal on my car windshield one morning. Everyone seemed to like seeing it, so here it is again.

And that’s 2021 in New Hampshire in a nutshell. I hope yours was even more beautiful, and I hope everyone has a safe, healthy and happy 2022!

The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you’ve come. ~Mick Kremling

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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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I hope everyone will have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And a Happy Hanukkah too!

May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty all the days of your life. ~Apache Blessing

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