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Posts Tagged ‘Lichens’

Last Sunday dawned cold at only 4 degrees F so I waited until it had warmed up as much as it was going to before climbing Hewes Hill in Swanzey. The trail winds through mostly hemlock forest and is quite dark in places and I expected ice, so I strapped on my Yaktrax and set off across the hayfield in the above photo.

It wasn’t long before I was glad to be wearing the Yaktrax because there was ice here and there on the trail.

I’d bet that I’ve walked by this stone a hundred times without ever seeing anything interesting, but on this day I noticed that it was covered with concentric boulder lichens (Porpidia crustulata.) This lichen gets its common name from the way its fruiting bodies (Apothecia) grow in concentric rings around the center. I’ve only seen it two or three times and that led me to think that it was uncommon here, but now I wonder if I’ve just been walking right by them all these years.

We had one day with wind gusts near 60 mph last week so I wasn’t surprised to see this eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) lying across the trail. I saw several more fallen trees as well.

The hemlock most likely fell because it had been weakened by the tinder fungi (Fomes fomentarius) that were growing on it. The spores from this fungus enter the tree through damaged bark and cause rot inside. It usually grows on hardwoods but can occasionally grow on conifers as well. This bracket fungus produces spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that as many as 800 million can be produced in a single hour. The fungus is also known for its ability to stop bleeding and was recommended for that purpose by none other than the father of medicine himself, Hippocrates (460 – 370 BCE).

The fungal rot was white and clearly visible all over the inside of the tree. White rots break down lignin and cellulose and cause the rotted wood to feel moist, soft, spongy, or stringy. They can be white or yellow.

I heard crunching underfoot so knew I was walking on ice needles. For ice needles to form the air temperature has to fall below 32 degrees F right at the soil surface while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape, and that needles have been found that were 16 inches long. The needles in this photo were no more than 4 inches long. They were very dirty.

Other ice growing on ledges was bigger; much bigger.

As is true on many of these hills and mountains the trail is steepest just before the summit.

The 40 ton glacial erratic known as Tippin’ Rock sits atop Hewes Hill on a slab of very flat granite bedrock. Legend says that it is called Tippin’ Rock because if you push in the right place it will tip. I didn’t know whether to believe it or not until I first saw it happen and then tipped it myself.

To give you an idea of the size of Tippin’ Rock and because I promised my friend Dave that I’d make him world famous, here he is actually tipping Tippin’ Rock last summer. We were shocked to see such a huge boulder rocking gently and almost soundlessly back and forth like a baby cradle. When you think about all of the forces that had to come into play for this stone to simply be here at all, but then to also be so perfectly balanced, it becomes kind of mind blowing.

Sometimes if a stump or log has decayed enough tree seeds can fall and grow on them. In this photo am eastern hemlock grew stilted roots over what was probably a stump that has since rotted away. From what I’ve seen any type of tree will do this.

The views weren’t spectacular but I sat for a while and wondered, as I often do, how the first settlers felt when they looked out over something like this. It isn’t hard when you’re up here to imagine nothing out there but trees and maybe a game trail to follow if you were lucky. And if you were very lucky you might have a gun, an axe head, and food enough for a day or two. I also often wonder if I would have had the courage to face such an immense unknown.

You really are in the treetops up here. Mostly oak treetops.

This is another unsuccessful attempt to show you how high you are when you’re up here. You’ll have to take my word that it’s quite a drop.

The views didn’t really matter because that’s not what I climbed up here to see. I haven’t seen my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) since last fall, so I thought it was past time to pay them a visit. They prefer growing on undisturbed natural boulders rather than on man-made stone walls and in this area I’ve only seen them on hilltops, so I don’t see them often; only when I’m willing to work for it. We haven’t had any rain or snow lately so they were very dry, and when dry they usually turn from their normal pea green color to the ashy gray seen here. They also become very brittle.

Common toadskin lichens are umbilicate lichens, which means they attach to a substrate (usually stone) at a single point, like a belly button. That point is the lighter area in this example. These lichens also look warty, and that’s how they come by their common name. These examples were small at less than an inch across but I’ve seen them as big as 2 inches. They can be very beautiful.

The head of a pin is .06 inches (1.5 mm) in diameter and one of the toadskin lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecia) could easily hide behind one. The apothecia are where the lichen’s spores are produced. In this case they are tiny black discs with a sunken center that makes them look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) of the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. This isn’t a great photo but it’s the closest I’ve ever been able to get to this lichen and it’s a fair bet that you’re seeing something you’ve never seen.

This photo shows how the apothecia are distributed over the surface of the toadskin lichen. Despite being quite dry this one was producing a lot of spores.

Mr. (or Mrs.) smiley face was there to greet me as I reached the bottom of the hill. I wonder if whoever painted it could have imagined that it would stay here so long and cheer so many people on. There have been times when my weariness has disappeared as the little smile put a smile on my face.

I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything. ~Alan watts

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1-beaver-brook

It has cooled off now but “cool” compared to the near 70 degrees of last week means 40s and 50s this week, and that’s still warm for March first. That means a lot of snow has melted and that has turned our normally placid streams into raging rapids, as this shot of Beaver brook shows. No beaver in its right mind would be swimming in that.

2-beaver-tree

But they do eat trees all winter long if the ice of their pond doesn’t freeze completely. This beech tree was still being visited each night well into February. The hole in the ice must have closed up because they haven’t been here for a while.

3-beaver-tree

A beaver’s teeth grow continuously so they have to be chewing on something all the time. In this instance a beech tree was chosen, but they’ll chew on just about any species of tree. I’ve even seen them tackle  elms, which is one of the toughest woods I know of. Their incisor teeth wear away faster on the rear surface than the front, so a chisel edge is created by the uneven wear.

4-beaver-tree

The chisel edged teeth of a beaver can leave a sapling looking like it has been cut by steel loppers. Native Americans called beavers “Little People,” and are said to have greatly respected them. They used beavers for food, medicine and clothing and Native children of some tribes would offer any teeth that they had lost to the beavers for good luck.

5-rose-moss

I decided to pay a visit to the one small patch of rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) that I know of. Rose moss is a very beautiful moss; each little rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Rose moss is a good indicator of limestone in the soil so it’s wise to look for other lime loving plants in the area when it is found. This is a relatively rare moss in my experience.

6-smoky-eye-boulder-lichen

Not rare at all but still very beautiful are the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that I find growing on stone. The golden body of the lichen studded with blue apothecia could almost pass for a piece of jewelry. The blue color is caused by the way light reflects off a waxy coating on the fruiting bodies (Apothecia,) which is very similar to the “bloom” found on plums, blueberries, and grapes. It’s as if pieces of the sky had been sprinkled on the stones when the light is right, but the apothecia can also appear black or gray depending on which direction the light happens to be coming from.

7-spider

One morning as I was getting ready for work I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. It was a tiny spider with big eyes. It sat very still, watching me as I fumbled with my camera, trying to turn on the on board LED light. I finally got it and that’s what caused the shadows in this photo.

8-spider

It was a furry little thing. And it was little; it could have easily hidden behind a pea. It wasn’t frightened by the camera and remained still, seemingly very interested in what I was doing. It had plenty of eyes to watch me with. (They have 8 of them.)

9-platycryptus-undatus-female-tan-jumping-spider

I got a blurry photo of its back as it scurried away, and the markings lead me to believe that this was a female tan jumping spider called Platycryptus undatus. I’ve read that they live on vertical surfaces like tree trunks, fence posts, and outer walls so what she was doing on my horizontal table is a mystery. I’ve also read that they are very curious about people and can be quite friendly when they’re handled gently. I didn’t see this one jump but they do, up to 5 times their own body length. Which isn’t far when you consider that this one was half the size of a pea. I haven’t seen her since that morning.

10-bittersweet-berry-2

There are still quite a few oriental bittersweet berries that the birds haven’t eaten and that’s a good thing, because birds help this very invasive alien plant get around. This example didn’t look very tasty.

11-bittersweet-on-tree

Oriental bittersweet isn’t well liked by those who know it, and the above photo shows one reason why. The vines are as strong as wire and when one wraps itself around a tree it will not break or give, so as the tree grows the vine cuts into it and strangles it. The tendrils on the left are from another vine; a grape.

12-oak-leaf-surface

A stick figure walked across an oak leaf.

13-winter-firefly

I’ve never seen a firefly light up in winter but I have seen the winter dark firefly (Ellychnia corrusca.) It is commonly seen on snow and tree trunks  according to Bugguide.net, and can be a pest in sap buckets in the spring because they like sap and will drink from wounds in trees. They like to sun themselves on the sunny side of trees or buildings, but this one was looking for a crevice in the bark of an oak to hide in. It looked at several before it found one that was to its liking.

14-gypsy-moth-egg-case

I saw this gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) egg case on a tree. Gypsy moths were first introduced from Europe to Massachusetts in 1869, to breed with the silkworm moth to produce a tougher silkworm. Naturally, it escaped and has become one of the chief defoliators of deciduous trees and conifers in the eastern United States. Each egg mass can contain 100-1000 eggs and should be destroyed when found. It looked like a bird had been at this egg case.

15-beard-lichens

I see beard lichens (Usnea) almost always growing on tree branches but occasionally they grow on tree trunks; especially white pines (Pinus strobus.) Even rarer are those that grow on stone. I see maybe 1 out of 100 growing on stone. If you see beard lichens in your area rejoice, because they are very fussy about pollutants and will only grow where the air is clean and of high quality. The air here must be very good because I see these bushy little lichens everywhere, even growing on wooden fences. Lichens in the Usnea genus contain usnic acid and have antiseptic / antibiotic properties. They have been used since ancient times throughout the world to heal wounds.

16-unknown-lichen

I’ve spent years trying to identify some lichens and I might have to wait that long before I know this one’s name. I’ve searched lichen books and online and can’t find any lichens that look like it. Blue and yellow doesn’t seem to be a very common color combination among lichens. This example grew on maple tree bark.

17-mealy-rim-lichen

The book Lichens of North America says the fruiting bodies (apothecia) of the mealy rim-lichen (Lecanora strobilina) are flat to convex and a waxy yellowish color. These look more orange but I’m sure they must vary some. They grow on bark and wood of many kinds in full sunlight and the apothecia are very small at about .03 inches.  I think this is one of those lichens that prefers winter for producing spores. I’m suddenly seeing it everywhere.

18-disc-lichen

I know disc lichens because of rock disc lichens (Buellia geophila) but the problem was the example in the above phot was growing on tree bark. For that reason I think it must be a cousin of the rock disc called simply disc lichen (Buellia erubescens.) The body of the disc lichen is gray, grayish white to ivory, dull, and smooth. Its fruiting bodies are convex and black, and are called discs. It grows on the bark of oaks, pines, and junipers, or other trees with bark of low pH. I found this example growing on an oak.

19-feather

This is just a small feather in the mud but it was pristine and very downy, like it came from a bird’s breast.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Leisure is a form of silence, not noiselessness. It is the silence of contemplation such as occurs when we let our minds rest on a rosebud, a child at play, a Divine mystery, or a waterfall. ~Fulton J. Sheen

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1-sign

I’ve been itching to make a climb for a while now, but ice and deep snow have made forest travel very difficult. Many of the parking spots aren’t plowed in winter so even if you can find a good place to climb there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to park anywhere near it. My solution to the problem was Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard, which always gets plowed and is usually an easy, gentle climb.

2-trail-start

One look at the trail told me this would probably not be an easy, gentle climb. There was a good foot of snow on the trail and it wasn’t as hard packed as I had hoped.

3-trail

It wasn’t as bad as ice but it was quite warm so the snow was wet, slushy and slippery. If you stepped off the hard packed part of the trail you found yourself up to your knees in wet snow. I could see that some had worn snowshoes and others had worn spikes, but I wore hiking boots.

4-wood-chips

Woodchips on the snow usually mean one thing when the bears are sleeping; pileated woodpeckers have been busy.

5-woodpecker-tree

They did a real job on this dead birch. It had been shredded and almost cut in half.

6-downed-tree

Up ahead a tree had fallen across the trail. This was a good opportunity to stop and catch my breath.

7-rosy-saucer-lichen

I always like to look to see what was growing in the top of a newly fallen tree. This one was covered with what I think were rim lichens (Lecanora epibryon.) There are many different rim lichens and I think most of them have brownish fruiting bodies (Apothecia.)

8-maple-buds-2

Its buds told me that the fallen tree was a red maple (Acer rubrum.)

9-monadnock-2

After climbing over the fallen maple I slogged on to the Mount Monadnock viewing spot and had another rest. The mountain lies almost directly south of Pitcher Mountain and the bright afternoon sun coming at the camera made this a difficult shot.

10-meadow

I always stop to see the edge of the meadow rising up into the sky. It’s impossible to explain how such an empty place makes me feel but after being in the woods for most of my life such a view is foreign enough to almost make it seem like I’m on another planet. It’s a pleasurable experience that’s always hard to turn away from. French sociologist, social psychologist and philosopher Emile Durkheim once said: “One cannot long remain so absorbed in contemplation of emptiness without being increasingly attracted to it.” I think he was right.

11-meadow

Though I’ve seen photos of Scottish highland cattle in this meadow I’ve never seen the real thing. They’re not common here so I’d like to see them in person someday.

12-cabin

The old fire warden’s cabin looks like it’ll make it through another winter. It’s too bad a use can’t be found for it, it has been empty and unused for years. The cabin marks the steepest part of the climb so I sat on the porch for a bit to catch my breath. It looked like a few others had the same idea. Climbing in this kind of snow was hard work.

13-fire-tower

The fire tower marks the summit. They let people go up in it when it’s manned but I haven’t seen anyone in it since last summer. This is actually the second tower on this mountain. In April of 1940 the first wooden fire tower built in 1915 burned in a fire that destroyed 27,000 acres of forest, including the fire tower and all of the trees on the summit. It was the most destructive fire in the region’s history but it left the Summit of Pitcher Mountain with a full 360 degree view. That and the wild blueberries that grow here make it a popular spot.

14-turnbuckle

The fire tower is pinned to the bedrock for good reason; it was windier here on this day than I’ve ever seen it and there were two or three gusts that I seriously thought would blow me over. At least it wasn’t cold, but I still didn’t stay long.

15-winmills

To the north of Pitcher Mountain 12 wind turbines stretch over several ridgelines in Lempster. These examples are part of the first windfarm in New Hampshire. They looked to be spinning quickly on this day.

16-ski-area

I think this might be Mount Ascutney ski resort in Vermont to the northwest. Chances are it was doing a brisk business on such a warm day.

17-mount-kearsarge

I think this is Mount Kearsarge in Wilmot, New Hampshire to the northeast. It’s a very pretty mountain.

18-near-hill

I call this hill the near hill. After looking at several maps I still haven’t found its name, so it might not have one. It looks very close but it would be quite a hike to get to the top of it from here.

19-common-gold-speck-lichens

Common gold speck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) grows all over the exposed bedrock up here. This lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and was once used in Sweden to dye wool yellow. It must have been difficult scraping it off the rocks that it grew on and I would imagine that yellow wool in Sweden was very expensive then.

20-common-gold-speck-lichens

Common goldspeck lichen is a crustose lichen that seems very granular when you get a close look at it. It seems to do very well here; I’m sure that it must get plenty of sunshine.

21-scattered-rock-posy

I’ve seen plenty of scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) but never one with a spore producing apothecium in the shape of a heart. These lichens are very small so I didn’t see this myself until I saw the photo. Scattered rock posy is both beautiful and unusual with its brain like body (Thallus) and orange fruiting discs (Apothecia.) I always find them growing on stone in full sun. This is a lichen that never seems to stop producing spores; its orange pad like apothecia are always there.

22-mountain-ash-bud
I’ve probably walked by this mountain ash tree 50 times but never noticed it, and that’s why I follow the same trails again and again. You just can’t see everything in one or two visits. It was a tough slog going up and coming down the mountain in the wet snow but I’m glad I did it and glad I didn’t miss these large beet colored buds.

We don’t stop hiking because we grow old – we grow old because we stop hiking. ~ Finis Mitchell

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1-out-the-back-door

After a cold December and the eighth warmest January on record, February is doing it again; we’ve had so many storms in the first two weeks I’ve lost track. This view is of my back yard after one of them; a light one, by the looks.

2-ashuelot-river

We’ve also had cold, but not much of the bitter below zero kind. Still, as this view of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey shows, temperatures in the teens for a few days are enough to get rivers freezing.

3-snow-wave

We’ve had plenty of wind too, and below zero wind chills one day. Because it has been so cold when the snow falls it falls as light powder which blows and drifts easily. In one spot it had been blown into a snow wave; curled just like an ocean wave.

4-snow-wave

I tried to be clever and get a photo through the curl of the snow wave but all I had was my cell phone so it didn’t work out very well. I was trying not to get snow all over the phone while kneeling and bending in the snow.

5-ashuelot-river

Unfortunately the river is on the low side and calm, so I couldn’t get any photos of waves at my favorite spot for wave watching. With the drought last summer cancelling most of the wave action I’m starting to feel wave deprived. I love to see if I can tune in to the rhythm of the river and click the shutter at just the right moment.

6-ashurlot-wave

This earlier photo of river waves shows what I was hoping to see, but we need more rain or snow melt to make this happen again. And then we’ll need some sunshine too.

7-oak-leaves

I love the beautiful rich, warm orange brown of oak leaves in winter. They and beech always add a little color to the winter woods. And quite often add sound as well, when the wind blows.

8-oak-branch

I’m not the only one who appreciates oaks in winter; a deer came along and ate buds from this branch. They’re having a rough time of it this winter I think, with lots of snow on top of ice it’s very hard to get around. I tried to wade through knee deep snow the other day without snowshoes on and was quickly turned back. I’m not young enough for that anymore. It’s exhausting.

9-squirrel-nest

I saw what looked like a bundle high up in the top of a tree one day.

10-squirrel-nest

A closer look showed it to be a bundle of leaves; a gray squirrel nest. Leaf nests start with a floor woven from twigs with damp leaves and moss packed on top. A spherical framework is woven around the base and leaves, moss, and twigs are stuffed into it until a hollow shell of about 6 to 8 inches across has been created. Gray Squirrels can have nests that are up to 2 feet wide. This one was quite big; at least the size of a soccer ball. Squirrels will also use hollow trees as nests when they can find them. Last spring I saw a hollow tree with three baby gray squirrel heads poking out of a crack, but of course I didn’t have a camera ready.

11-squirrel-tracks

Gray squirrels have 4 toes on their front feet and 5 on their rear feet, and when they’re bounding along at speed the tracks have the smaller front feet behind the rear feet, as this photo shows. Gray squirrels don’t hibernate. I see them every day when it is warm enough, out foraging for nuts and seeds. Like deer they can have a hard time of it in the winter. Only 25% of gray squirrels survive their first year but those that do might live 4 or 5 years, and can have 2 litters of young per year. They were a favorite food of Native Americans. Some tribes considered the squirrel to be a messenger who often alerted them to danger.

12-birch-eye

This birch tree seemed to be keeping an eye on things.

13-woodpile

And so did this woodpile.

14-lichens

Even the lichens seemed to be watching with their many different colored eye like fruiting bodies (apothecia.) They were really vying for space on this tree that grows beside a pond, so they must all be moisture lovers. There are at least 6 different lichens in this photo. I think the large one in the center is a rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora.) The color of its apothecia can range from pink to orange but these looked more red than pink or orange.

15-grape

Most of the grapes have been eaten by the birds except for a few unappetizing examples. We have quite a lot of wild fruit growing in this area and I keep hoping that it will attract Baltimore orioles, but I never see them. There used to be lots of them when I was a boy and I used to like seeing their hanging basket nests in the trees. I haven’t seen one in probably 50 years, since they cut down the last American elm on the street I grew up on.

16-willow-gall

Galls are much easier to see in winter than they are in summer and some can be really interesting so I usually watch for them. This is a stem gall which was formed when willow gall midges (Rhabdophaga) burrowed into the willow’s stem last year. These galls are usually red and are very hard and tough. I’m not sure if the holes in this example were made when midges burrowed out, or if birds burrowed in. Many bids including wood peckers rob different galls of their larva.

17-witch-hazel-bracts

The small cups found on native witch hazel shrubs (Hamamelis virginiana) at this time of year are formed by four bracts that curve back. The strap like flower petals unfurl from these cups on warm fall days. Soon the spring blooming vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) will be unfurling their petals on warm days.

18-drifted-snow

I wanted to get a photo of the way the windblown snow sparkled in the sunlight but instead it came out looking like white stone.

19-snowy-road-2-2

This is what my approach to work looked like early one recent morning after another snowstorm. It’s very beautiful but I’m ready for the kind of beauty that is found in spring. The outlook is good; the weather people say we’ll see above freezing temperatures from now well into March, so that means that our maple syrup season will start any day now.

Snow was falling
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness.
~Mary Oliver

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1-aerial-view

We’ve had some snow here and it’s hard to get into the woods right now so I thought I’d take a walk through the plowed sidewalks of Keene. This aerial view from probably the 1960s shows a good part of the downtown area. Main Street was once, and might still be, the widest paved Main Street in the world, as someone has written on the photo. Where the street becomes a Y at the northern end is the town common. Washington Street is the right leg of the Y, and that’s where I go when I want to show you Beaver Brook Falls. On the left Leg of the Y is Court Street and that’s one way to get to Tenant Swamp, which I showed in my last post. By American reckoning Keene is an old town, having first been granted township status in 1732 and settled in 1736. The population fluctuates because of the college students coming and going, but I think it averages about 25,000 residents.

2-keene-main-street-in-the-1960s

Here’s a shot from the 1960s showing just how wide Main Street was. It’s still as wide but there is now a divider going up the center of it with a walkway for pedestrians. I could have easily been in this photo riding my stingray bicycle up the sidewalk, but I can’t really tell.  I can tell that this wasn’t taken on a Sunday though, because on Sunday every single store closed and Keene became a ghost town for a day. That was when my father and I usually went to visit relatives. We often drove up the right side of the Y, past Beaver Brook Falls.

3-the-white-church

One of the most familiar landmarks in Keene is the United Church of Christ, all in white. It’s called the “white church” or the “church at the head of the square” by most of us. Though the town common is round the blocks of buildings that surround it form a three sided square, so that’s where the term “head of the square” comes from. That confuses a lot of people so I just call it the “white church.” It’s a very beautiful building, in my opinion.

4-coal-silos

Almost as iconic to townsfolk as the white church are the huge coal silos that have been here for as long as anyone can remember. Surprisingly I can’t find much historical information about them.

6-coal-silos-old

Since there are railroad tracks beside the silos in this photo from about 1920, I’m guessing that the coal was brought in by rail, but how it got into the silos from there I don’t know. I’d guess that some type of conveyor was used.  If you needed coal you just backed your horse and wagon or truck under the silo, a door would open and gravity would do the rest. I walked down those tracks beside the silos many times when I was a boy but I never saw them actually work. By then the roof over the tracks was gone but trains still used them.

7-cheshire-railroad-repair-shops

Keene has a long railroad history. The Cheshire Railroad was opened in Keene on May 16, 1848. The first train to arrive was from Boston, a “doubleheader” with two engines, the Cheshire No. 5 and the Monadnock No. 6. The train is said to have been decorated its entire length with flags and evergreens. By the time I was old enough to walk through here the double arched repair shop had become a screw factory. My father worked there and so did I for a while. The old roundhouse can still be seen today, even though the building is now full of stores and restaurants. When I was a boy the original turntable was still there. I used to love playing on it, but I never saw it turn a locomotive.

8-railroad-station

This photo is of a big steam locomotive leaving the railroad station which was once located on Main Street. I never got to see one quite that old but I saw a lot of trains pass through town.

9-oak-gall

At one time Keene was called the Elm City because of all the beautiful 200 year old elms that grew along almost every street, but Dutch elm disease wiped out most of them in the 50s and 60s and the city replaced the elm trees with others of various species, including oak. I happened to look up at one of these oaks and saw that it was covered in gouty oak galls. Gouty oak gall is caused by a wasp called, not surprisingly, the gouty oak gall wasp (Callirhytis quercuspunctata). In spring the wasp lays its eggs in expanding plant tissue and secretes chemicals that will cause the abnormal growth seen in the photo. The gall grows quickly and once the eggs hatch the larvae feed on its tissue. It can take two years or more for the gall wasps to reach adulthood. One adult exits the gall through each hole.

10-court-street-keene

This photo of Court Street from the late 1800s shows why Keene was called the Elm City. Almost every street in town became a tunnel formed by the massive arching elms. I was lucky enough to have been born before all the trees died and I remember seeing many views just like this one. It was a beautiful place for a boy to grow up in; like living in a Currier and Ives lithograph.

11-lichens-on-tree-trunk

Many of today’s trees are encrusted with fringed candle flame lichen (Candelaria fibrosa) and other lichens. The city of Keene uses in-ground sprinklers in the summer and the spray keeps the trunks of the trees moist to about 5 feet off the ground and that’s just where these water loving lichens grow. Some trees are so covered with them that it looks as if someone painted them bright yellow. People were giving me some strange looks; probably wondering what was so fascinating about a tree trunk. If only they would stop and see for themselves.

12-lichen

The book Lichens of North America says that fruiting bodies (Apothecia) are commonly seen on fringed candle flame lichens, but I rarely them.  They are the tiny cup shaped parts, which were extremely small and difficult to get a good photo of. I think the largest one seen in this photo was probably only 1/16 of an inch across. This lichen is said to be very sensitive to air pollution, so seeing it is a good sign that our air quality is good.

13-lichen

What I believe were star rosette lichens (Physcia stellaris) grew among the fringed candle flame lichens.  Star rosette lichen gets its common name from the way its lobes radiate outward like a star. This photo doesn’t show that feature well though, because I was trying to get a shot of the apothecia. This lichen’s dark brown apothecia are often pruinose, which refers to a white, waxy, powdery coating like that found on blueberries, plums, and first year black raspberry canes. The waxy coating can reflect light in different ways, sometimes appearing ashy gray and at other times more blue.

14-coke-sign

I don’t know when this Coca Cola sign was painted but it has been here all of my life, on the side of the old Bullard & Shedd drugstore. Bullard & Shedd had special things like Russell Stover chocolates and I used to save my money and buy my grandmother the biggest box of them that I could afford on Valentine’s Day. Of course she always shared them and I usually got about three to her one.

15-jumanji-sign

This sign isn’t anywhere near as old as the Coca Cola sign but it’s probably a lot more famous, because it was painted for the film Jumanji with Robin Williams. Many of the exterior scenes in the film, including the animal stampede on Main Street, were filmed here. The film crew painted this sign for a business that never existed on the wall of a downtown building. Robin Williams was a nice guy who truly enjoyed meeting people, and he became friends with some of our local residents.

16-boston-ivy-berries

We have a lot of brick buildings here in Keene and Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) grows well on a few of them. But Boston ivy isn’t from Boston and isn’t an ivy; it is in the grape family and comes from eastern Asia. In the fall its red leaves are one of the most beautiful things in town but since the vines grow mostly on the rear of buildings few notice them. Boston ivy attaches itself to just about any vertical surface with tiny circular pads that form at the ends of its tendrils.  It secretes calcium carbonate and uses it to “glue” the pads to the surface it wants to climb. The glue can to hold up to 260 times its own weight and it is close to impossible to remove the vine from a building.

17-blue-spruce

A Colorado blue spruce poked its colorful branches out of the deep snow. Snow won’t hurt this tree any; it was found growing in Colorado on Pike’s Peak in 1862 up in the high country, so it’s perfectly cold hardy. Its silvery blue color comes from the waxy coating on its needles, which is similar to the bloom on blueberries and plums. This coating helps its needles (actually leaves) to minimize moisture loss in winter when there is little water available to its roots. Some western Native American tribes used the tree medicinally to treat colds and stomach ailments but today its value comes from its popularity as a landscape specimen.

18-japanese-andromeda

I didn’t notice it when I took the photo but this Japanese Andromeda looks like it might be infested by Andromeda lace bugs. Andromeda lace bug nymphs are 1/8 inch long when they hatch in late spring. They suck cell sap, which speckles the leaves with off color dots. These lace bugs damage broadleaf evergreens throughout the eastern U.S. from western North Carolina to Maine. They attack shrubs that are stressed, especially those that receive too much sun.

19-the-old-clock

It wasn’t the time but the cold that ended this outing. The odd thing was that at 22 °F it really wasn’t that cold, but every time I had to take off my gloves to snap the shutter my fingers felt like they had been frostbitten so I called it a day. This beautiful old cast iron clock is another Keene landmark. E. Howard & Co. was a clock and watch company formed by Edward Howard and Charles Rice in 1858, but I haven’t been able to find out when this clock came to Keene. With its gold leaf details restored it certainly is spiffier than it was when I was a boy.

How strange it is to view a town you grew up in, not in wonderment through the eyes of youth, but with the eyes of a historian on the way things were. ~ Marvin Allan Williams

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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1-bridge

The last time I talked to anyone at the Keene Middle School about it, it looked like the boardwalk through Tenant Swamp behind the school might be closed in winter, so I was happy and surprised to find it open last weekend. You enter the swamp by crossing this bridge.

2-stream

The bridge crosses over a small stream which on this day had a skim of ice. For a swamp there is remarkably little standing water seen here.

3-boardwalk

I was happy to see that the boardwalk had been shoveled. At least I thought so…

4-boardwalk

Until I walked a little further and saw this. The snow had turned to a solid block about 3 inches thick, but thankfully it wasn’t slippery. On the left in this photo you can see the tall stems of the common reed, which is invasive.

5-phragmites

The invasive reed is called Phragmities australis and has invaded the swamp in several places. Even in winter its reedy stems block the view. Tenant swamp is bisected by a highway (Rte. 12 N.) and you can see large colonies of it from the road. This reed came from Europe and forms large monocultures that even burning can’t control unless it is done 2 or 3 times. Not only does a thick matted root system choke out other plants, but decaying reeds also release gallic acid, which ultraviolet light turns into mesoxalic acid and which means that seedlings of other plants that try to grow near the reed have very little hope of survival. It appears to be here to stay.

6-swamp

I think that even if I was blindfolded and brought here I’d know that I was in a swamp. There just isn’t anything else quite like them and being able to walk through one is a rare opportunity. In 2010 Keene built a new middle school at the edge of Tenant Swamp and the building sits on a high terrace that overlooks it. Before the school could be built however an archaeological sensitivity assessment had to be done, and by the time the dig was completed it was found that Native Americans lived here at the end of the last ice age, approximately 11,000-12,000 years ago. The dig also found that the Ashuelot River once ran through here; about a half mile east of where it now flows. Since the site evolved into a swamp it was never farmed or built on so it was valuable enough archeologically to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since then, after much hard work and fund raising, a path and boardwalk leading into the swamp itself was built. It’s the kind of place that people rarely get to experience so it is meant to be a kind of outdoor classroom for anyone who wants to learn more about nature.

7-spruce

One of the most notable things seen here are the many spruce trees, because they aren’t normally plentiful in this area. It must stay relatively cool here because spruce trees prefer the boreal forests further north. There are at least two species here and I think they were probably red spruce (Picea rubens) and black spruce (Picea mariana.) Neither one minds boggy ground.

8-spuce-trees

Many of the older spruce trees are dying but they are pole size and I wouldn’t think that they’d be too old. I can’t even guess what would be killing them.

9-spruce-bark

Something had peeled the outer bark off this spruce to expose its beautiful, colorful inner bark.

10-beard-lichen

The spruce trees are hung thickly with beard lichens (Usnea) in places. These lichens seem to especially like growing on the bare branches of evergreens. I’ve met people who think the lichens kill the tree’s branches but they don’t, they just like plenty of sunlight and bare branches get more of it.

11-winterberries

Winterberries (Ilex verticillata) are a native holly that love wet feet so I wasn’t surprised to see many examples of them here. The berries were a little puckered but birds are probably still eating them because I rarely see any in the spring.  Robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, Eastern bluebirds, and cedar waxwings all eat them.

12-winterberries

The bright red color of winterberries makes them easy to see. There are also many blueberry bushes growing here, but I didn’t see a single berry on them. When I thought about it I realized that this swamp is full of food for birds and animals, and for humans as well.

13-cattail

Cattails (Typha latifolia) were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. Some of the cattails were releasing their seeds, just in time for the return of red winged blackbirds. The females use their fluffy fibers to line their nests. Cattails can grow faster than fertilized corn and can create monocultures by shading out other plants with their dense foliage and debris from old growth. They are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them.

14-bobcat-tracks

I saw what I think were bobcat tracks meandering around and under the boardwalk. There are many squirrels in this swamp and it might have been hunting.

15-hole-in-tree

This might have been a squirrel’s home, but it was too high up to look into. It might also have been an owl’s home, so it was probably best that I didn’t stick my nose into it.

16-alder-cones

Alders (Alnus) love to grow near water and they are one of the easiest shrubs to identify in winter. This is because the alders, of which there are about 15 species native to the U.S., bear seed pods that resemble miniature pine cones.  These cone shaped seed pods are the fruit of the female flowers and are called strobiles. Many birds eat alder seeds including ducks, grouse, widgeons, kinglets, vireos, warblers, goldfinches and chickadees. Moose and rabbits feed on alder and beavers eat the bark and use the stems to build with. Native Americans used alder as an anti-inflammatory and to help heal wounds. They also made a tea from it that helped cure toothaches. Those allergic to aspirin should not use alder medicinally because the bark contains salicin, which is similar to a compound d found in aspirin.

17-fern

There are many ferns here. When I visited the swamp in the summer I saw some that were easily waist high; mostly cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum,) which love boggy ground. Of course you won’t see any in winter but you can see plenty of signs that they grow here.

18-blue-pine-sap

I’ve seen lots of pine (Pinus strobus) sap turn blue in winter cold but this is the deepest blue that I’ve ever seen it. That’s odd since it really hasn’t been that cold since December. Native Americans used pine sap (or pitch) to treat coughs and pneumonia. It was also used to treat boils, abscesses and wounds.

19-lichen-on-moss

Lichens like plenty of water and mosses soak it up like little sponges, so this friendship between a crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa) and a hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata) is no real surprise. Hammered shield lichen gets its common name from the netted surface of each of its many lobes. It is also called the wax paper lichen, and if you’ve ever crumpled a piece of wax paper and then flattened it again out you know just what this lichen looks like.

20-swamp

To a nature nut the swamp is like a siren’s call and I would have loved to step off that boardwalk and explore it further, but then I remembered the stories of people getting lost there. A five hundred acre swamp is huge and I’m guessing that I’d probably be lost in under an hour. In November of 1890 George McCurdy went in and never came out alive; he died of exposure. They found him, but I’ve heard stories about another man who went into the swamp and was never found.  As much as I’d love to explore more I think I’ll just stay on the boardwalk for now.

The most primitive places left with us are the swamps, where the spruce still grows shaggy with Usnea (lichen). ~Henry David Thoreau

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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1-crab-apple

Since I often tell readers of this blog that they don’t even have to leave their yards to enjoy nature I like to practice what I preach every now and then and restrict my wandering to my own yard.  This time I found that the birds had eaten every crabapple from my tree except one. Things like this always make me wonder what it is about that one crabapple that turned them away. It also makes me wonder how they knew that it was different from all the others.

2-rudbeckia-seedhead

The seed eaters haven’t touched the black-eyed Susan seeds (Rudbeckia hirta). That’s odd because the birds planted them; one year a few plants appeared and I just left them where they grew.

3-coneflower-seedhead

The birds seem to have gone for the coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) first, as just about every seed head has been at least partially stripped. I planted one plant years ago but now there are several scattered here and there in the yard and like the black eyed Susans I let them grow where the birds have planted them.  If that makes my gardening abilities seem lax, so be it. The last thing I wanted to do after gardening professionally for 10-12 hours each day was to come home and spend more time gardening, so the plants in this yard had to be tough enough to take care of themselves. I simply didn’t have the time or the inclination to fuss over them, and still don’t.

4-hemlock-cone

The plants in this yard also have to be able to withstand a certain amount of shade, because they’re surrounded by forest.  Eastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) are numerous and so are white pines (Pinus strobus) and both soar into the sky on three sides of the property. Black capped chickadees flock here to eat the seeds from the hemlock cones like the one pictured above. The 1/2 inch long eastern hemlock cones are among the smallest of all the trees in the pine family but the trees usually produce so many of them that the ground is completely covered in the spring. The needles and twigs of hemlocks are ground and distilled and the oil is used in ointments.

5-hemlock-needles

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.

6-the-forest

This view of the forest just outside of my yard shows what messy trees hemlocks are, but it is a forest so I don’t worry about it. It’s too bad that so many are afraid to go into the forest; I grew up in the woods and they have kept me completely fascinated for over a half century. There are dangers there yes, but so can cities be dangerous. Personally I’d sooner take my chances in a forest than a city.

7-hazel-catkins

I found that an American hazelnut had decided to grow on the property line between my neighbor’s yard and mine and I was happy to see it. Now I can practice getting photos of the tiny scarlet, thread like female blossoms that appear in spring. For now though the male catkins will have to do. As I was admiring them I saw a black something clinging to one of them.

8-hazel-catkins-close

I thought the black thing on the hazel catkin was an insect of some kind but it appears to be just part of an insect. I can’t imagine where the other half went. Maybe a bird ate it? I looked up insects that are partial to hazelnuts but none of them had parts that looked like this.

9-cedar

The color blue appears in some surprising places in nature, and one of the most surprising is on the egg shaped female flower tips of the northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis.) There were three examples of this native tree in the yard when I moved here and I’ve watched them grow big enough to provide welcome shade from the hot summer sun over the years. The Native American Ojibwe tribe thought the trees were sacred because of their many uses, and maybe they were. They showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with its leaves and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He had trees with him when he returned to Europe, and that’s how Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

10-cedar-seed-cone

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.

11-rhodie

When the rhododendron buds look like they’re wearing choir robes you know that they’re singing Baby It’s Cold Outside, and it was cold on this day but at least the sun was shining. That hasn’t happened that much on weekends lately. These rhododendrons were grown from seed and started their life in this yard as a small sprig of a plant. Now some are taller than I am. It is thought that their leaves curl and droop in this way to protect their tender undersides from the cold.

12-quartz-crystals

I built a stone wall in my yard years ago and, since I collected rocks and minerals for a time, many of the stones in the wall have surprises in them. This one is studded with quartz crystals. Others have beryl crystals, mica, tourmaline and other minerals in them.

13-crispy-tuft-moss

It took several years before I could confidently identify the tiny tufts of moss I sometimes saw growing on tree trunks but I eventually found out that its name was crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa.) Now I see it everywhere, including on the maple trees in my own yard. This one was less than an inch across.

14-fringed-candleflame-lichen

I was happy to find a tiny bit of bright yellow fringed candle flame lichen (Candelaria fibrosa) on one of my maple trees. Lichens simply use tree bark as a roosting place and don’t harm the tree in any way. This lichen is said to be very sensitive to air pollution, so seeing it is a good sign that our air quality is good. I hope it grows and spreads to other trees. As of now it’s the most colorful lichen in the yard.

15-amber-jelly-fungus

I found an oak twig in the yard that had fallen from a neighbor’s oak tree. I saw that it had tiny, hard flakes of amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) on it. Luckily though this is a wood rotting fungus it only grows on dead wood so it won’t hurt the tree.  Since the twig was barely bigger than a pencil I decided to try an expiriment and brought it inside.

16-amber-jelly-fungus-3

This is what the hard little flakes in the previous photo turned into after I soaked the twig in a pan of water for just 15 minutes. What were small hard lumps had swollen to I’d guess about 40-50 percent larger than their original dry size,  and instead of being hard now felt much like your earlobe. In fact they looked and behaved much like the cranberry jelly served at Thanksgiving. These fungi have a shiny surface and a matte surface, and the shiny side is where their microscopic spores are produced.

17-black-knot-on-cherry

I found another twig, this time from a black cherry (Prunus serotina.) It showed that the tree had black knot disease, which is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa, which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus can be spread by rain or wind and typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those in the above photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring. Since this tree is a fully grown black cherry and lives in the forest there is little that can be done for it.

18-sedum-seedhead

I don’t know if any birds eat the seeds of the Russian stonecrop (Sedum kamtschaticum) in my yard but I always let them go to seed because the shape of the open seedpods mimics exactly the shape of their bright yellow flowers. It spreads but couldn’t be called invasive. It is a tough little groundcover that can stand drought or flood. I haven’t done a thing to it since I planted it about 30 years ago.

19-white-pine

The tallest and straightest tree in my yard is a white pine (Pinus strobus.) I put my camera on its trunk and clicked the shutter, and this is the result. It doesn’t show much except that it was a sunny day and they have been rare here lately. White pine needles contain five times the amount of the vitamin C of lemons and were used by Native Americans to make tea. This knowledge saved many early settlers who were dying of scurvy, but instead of using the tree for food and medicine as the Natives did the colonists cut them down and used the wood for paneling, floors and furniture. When square riggers roamed the seas the tallest white pines in the Thirteen Colonies were known as mast pines. They were marked with a broad arrow and were reserved for the Royal Navy, and if you had any sense you didn’t get caught cutting one down. This practice of The King taking the best trees led to the Pine Tree Riot in 1772, which was an open act of rebellion. Colonists cut down and hauled off many marked mast pines in what was just a taste of what would come later on in the American Revolution. I think this tree, so tall and straight, would surely have been selected as a mast pine.

Even in the familiar there can be surprise and wonder. ~Tierney Gearon

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