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Posts Tagged ‘Madame Sherri Forest’

When I thought about the title of this post I wondered if anyone would really want to look back at the last year, but then I thought that these “looking back” posts are as much about looking forward as they are looking back, because in nature it’s a pretty fair bet that what happened last year will happen this year. To a point anyway; I hope the drought will ease this year so I can see mushrooms and slime molds again. The above shot is from last January, when I was stunned by the beauty of fresh snow.

I was also stunned by pussy willows. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in January before.

In February the first skunk cabbages appeared from under the snow. A welcome sign of spring in February, which can sometimes be the coldest and snowiest month of all.

It was in February that I also saw the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) blossoming. Very small but beautiful, and with a fragrance that you can smell from two blocks away.

In March I saw the first of the American hazelnut blossoms; truly the first wildflowers of the year.

Things start happening in gardens in March as well. That’s usually when reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) appear. They are one of the earliest bulbs to show growth. They’re very cheery after a long winter without flowers.

April is when our spring ephemerals start to appear, and one of the largest and showiest is the purple trillium (Trillium erectum).These flowers are often an inch and a half or more across and very visible because of their color. Trilliums are all about the number three, with three red petals and three green sepals. In fact the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, which means three. The three leaves are actually bracts which the flowers nod under for a short time before finally facing outward. Inside the flowers are six stamens and three stigmas, and if pollinated they will become a red, three chambered berry. 

With so many flowers appearing in spring it’s very hard to choose the ones to put into these posts but one I felt I had to choose for April is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and I chose it because most people never see it. They aren’t with us long but luckily colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. They will for the most part bloom only when the sun shines on them but you can occasionally find them on a cloudy day. Their common name comes from the bright red or orange sap in their roots.

One of my personal favorites among the spring ephemerals is the spring beauty (Claytonia carolinana.) Though they sometimes appear in April, May seems to be the month I can really count on seeing them. I know where a colony of many thousands of plants grow and I have happily knelt in last year’s leaf litter taking photos of them for years now. I love their aspirin size, pink striped blossoms.  

Around the end of May is when I start seeing the beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia). Their color and the fact that they sometimes grow beside violets make them easy to miss so you have to pay attention. The small 3 inch tall by inch and a half wide plants usually bloom in quite large colonies but not always. They are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. Once you’ve found some you can go back to see them year after year. They seem quite long lived.

June is when our most well known orchid, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) blooms. Once collected into near oblivion by people who thought they could just dig them up and plant them in their gardens, they have made a strong comeback and I see quite a few now. They’re beautiful and unusual, and should be left alone so we can all admire them. If transplanted they will not live long.

June was also when I found some larch flowers (Larix laricina). These tiny but beautiful things are so small all I can see is their color. I have to point the camera at the color and “shoot blind” until I get a shot. They can appear in mid May but I usually expect them in late May to early June. If you know a larch tree you might want to have a look. These tiny things will become the cones that hold the tree’s seeds, so if you look for the cones first that will give you an idea of which branches the flowers are most likely to appear on.  

Around the end of June and the first week of July I start looking for one of the most beautiful wildflowers I’ve seen; the purple fringed orchid (Platanthera grandiflora). The big, two foot tall plant looks like a bush full of purple butterflies. They are quite rare in this area and that’s most likely because they grow in swamps. I can usually expect to have wet ankles after taking photos of this one.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) blossoms right at the same time every year; just in time for the 4th of July, and its flowerheads just happen to look like fireworks. Flowers on both male and female plants lack petals and have only anthers (male) or pistils (female). These are male flowers in this photo.

One of our prettiest and smallest wildflowers bloom in early August. Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun. One unusual thing about the flower, other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. You can see the tiny white pollen grains at the end of the anthers on this example.

In my last post I described how colorblindness prevented my ever seeing a cardinal. It works the same way for cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) unfortunately, so I was elated last August when a coworker and I stumbled upon a group of them. I knew what they looked like, and once I was right on top of them I could see their color, which was beautiful. Note how this much larger flower with its arching stamens uses the same strategy as the tiny forked blue curl we saw previously. The chief difference is, these stamens dust hummingbirds with pollen instead of bees.

It wouldn’t be September without New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and this one just happens to be my favorite color aster. Unfortunately it’s also the hardest color to find so each year I have to go hunting for them. I can’t complain though; hunting for flowers is a pleasure, not a chore.

I could have shown a fragrant white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) in any month following May but this is the only photo from last year that showed the center of the flower, where a golden flame burns. I remember standing on the shore of a pond full of hundreds of these beautiful flowers last summer and being able to smell their glorious scent on the breeze. It was one the most amazing things, and I suspect that it wall last in my memory until I no longer have one.

I did see things other than flowers last year; things like this beautiful cedar waxwing I saw eating the berries of silky dogwoods at the river one September evening.

In October I went to see if the old stone staircase was still standing; all that’s left of Madame Sherri’s “castle” in Chesterfield. The castle was actually more of a chalet but it had quite a lot of elaborate stonework. It also had trees growing through the roof. How they kept the rain out is a mystery. Though I didn’t mention it in the original post I walked to the spot I had chosen and promptly tripped over a tree root and fell flat on my face in front of about 15 people who were all jostling to get a shot of the stairway. The camera was unscathed and I got my shot. The fall foliage was beautiful that day and the weather was perfect but the stairway was in need of some immediate help from a mason.

I also went to Willard Pond in October and walked through one of the most beautiful hardwood forests I’ve ever seen.

In November witch hazels bloomed. Also in December, but I doubt I’ll see any in January.

Also in November I was looking at lichens, including the smoky eye boulder lichen seen here. It’s one of the most beautiful in my opinion and I’ve put it here as an answer to the question “What is there to see in winter?” There is as much beauty to be seen in winter as there is at any other time of year. You just have to look a little closer, that’s all.

What could be more beautiful that this mossy hillside? It was like a green carpet covering the earth. What I like most about the colder months is how you can see the bones of the forest. There is no foliage to block your view in December.

One thing I’ll remember about the past year is how it was too dry for fungi. I saw very few until December, when I saw these mock oyster mushrooms (Phyllotopsis nidulans). They were big and beautiful, and looked as if they had been covered in orange velvet. They were well worth the wait but I hope to see more in 2021.

I hope this look back at 2020 wasn’t as bad as what you might have imagined. I’d rather have this blog be an island of calm in a sea of chaos than a running commentary on current events. Current events come and go like the tides and have no permanence, so about all you’re ever going to find here is nature, which is timeless. I do hope that’s why you come.

You live life looking forward, you understand life looking backward. ~Soren Kierkegaard

Thanks for stopping in. I hope you’ll all have a happy, heathy new year.

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In the 1930s a French lady named Antoinette Sherri bought several hundred acres on the east side of Rattlesnake Mountain in Chesterfield New Hampshire and built a house there. The house, which some called a “castle,” was built of local stone by Italian stone masons and stood until 1962, when it was vandalized and burned. The photo above shows some of what little is left, and also shows how what little is left is slowly crumbling away. The arches are letting go.

There is a beaver pond on the property but I don’t think the beavers are active any longer.

The lodge looks unused but that was okay; I was here for the beauty, not the beavers or the stonework.

Oaks are turning some amazing colors this year.

Beeches are wearing their usual yellow but they’re still very beautiful.

Here’s another photo of the forest at Willard Pond that I took far too many of when I went there. It’s beautiful enough to see again, I think.

Though we have a long way to go to drought abatement we have had some rain and it’s nice to see the streams flowing again.

I saw a few fallen oak leaves and that means the bare trees of November must be just around the corner.

I love how lake sedge (Carex lacustris) seems to flow like the waves of the pond and lake shores it grows on. It is really the wind and its own weak stems that make it bend so, but I think it makes a pretty display. Lake sedge is native to Canada and the northern U.S. and can at times be found growing in water. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds. Even when it isn’t blowing in the wind it seems to have movement.

I took the wrong road in Chesterfield and was glad I did. It was beautiful.

I finally got to the overlook that looks off toward the green hills of Vermont. It was also beautiful. It’s really too bad that people from other places couldn’t get here to see the foliage this year. In a normal year they come from all over the world to see this.

Here’s another shot from Willard Pond; what I call the far hill. Gosh it was beautiful.

And another shot of the forest at Willard Pond.

A backlit bit of forest in Chesterfield. What gorgeous colors we’ve seen this year, even in a drought. I’ve been told, over the course of my whole life I think, that adequate rainfall determined whether or not we’d see good leaf color. So much for that theory.

Even the bracken ferns have been colorful.

And the blueberry bushes. Never have I seen them as beautiful as they are this year.

The many colors of maple leaved viburnum could take an entire post to show. It’s one of our most colorful native shrubs and I love seeing it.

And then it looks like this; a pale almost non existent pink, just before the leaves fall.

While the maples have been a little disappointing the oaks are incredible.

The color range of oaks is always a surprise.

I caught a royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) that was still wearing yellow. Once they start changing they quickly go from yellow to a kind of burnt orange to brown. Many people don’t realize that this is a fern and that’s why I show it so often. That and I like it.

Witch hazel leaves (Hamamelis virginiana) have gone brown but their yellow flowers still peek out from under them. In fact it’s common to find a bush full of blossoms and not a single leaf.

Witch alders (Fothergilla major) are beautiful in the fall and they show what the sun does to their leaf color. The yellow you see is where the sun hasn’t hit their leaves full on, but the red leaves have been in full sun. Does this mean that the sun causes them to lose their chlorophyll quicker? Witch alder is a native shrub related to witch hazel which grows to about 6-7 feet in this area. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is almost always seen in gardens rather than in the wild. The fragrant flower heads are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. What little color they have comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments.

I feel bad for saying the maples have been disappointing. I should have said that they had amazing color but their leaves fell quickly. I just read that drought and high heat cause trees to turn early and drop their leaves sooner, and that’s exactly what has happened. This small maple made it through and it was a knockout.

I’ll leave you with a moment of reflection. Beautiful yes, but many people far more knowledgeable about such things than I am have said that in reality, you are the beauty you see. Here’s one of them now:

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

Thanks for coming by.

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1-syaircase

Last week I decided to visit Indian Pond in Chesterfield. I’d heard about it but had never been so off I went. The trail I was to follow to the pond took me very near a place I know well, so I took a short detour to the ruins of Madame Sherri’s summer home, which is called the “castle.” Madame Sherri was a French costume designer who worked in New York City in the roaring twenties (1920s) and designed costumes for the Ziegfeld Follies and others. The chalet style castle was built of local stone found on the property, and I think what draws people to the site is what’s left of the arched outdoor stairway shown above. Two of the largest arches have come apart, so I fear this well-known local landmark won’t be standing much longer unless it is repaired.

2-side-entrance

This view shows the side entrance. Large windows were set in between stone pillars. I’m guessing that Madame Sherri had a lot of visitors from New York in the fall, because the colors were amazing. The place still gets plenty of visitors and a second parking lot had to be built to accommodate the overflow. They come in droves from all over the world, but especially in autumn.

3-chalet-front

This old photo shows the castle as it was before it was destroyed by fire on October 18, 1962; nearly 54 years ago to the day, which I didn’t know when I went there. Madame Sherri died penniless and a ward of the town of Brattleboro, Vermont in 1965 at the age of 84.

4-signpost

Back when I was a teenager I used to come here often and in those days you could sit here all day and not see a soul. One year an outdoor rock concert was held with the ruins of the castle as the stage and the popularity of the place has grown ever since until today, you’d have a hard time finding that you had the place to yourself. The last time I was here I had to avoid interrupting a professional photo shoot, costumed model and all. That day it was more like a circus than a nature walk.

The Ann Stokes that the sign refers to is the lady who bought the land and graciously donated it to the public. Indian Pond, it is said, was where Madame and her guests would swim in seclusion. I’m not sure why I never visited the pond years ago.

5-beaver-pond

The first thing you come to is a beaver pond. I didn’t see any signs of recent activity so the beavers might have abandoned it. All the grass in the distance tells me it has silted up. Soon shrubs will start growing there and then the forest will eventually reclaim it.

6-aster

New England asters bloomed along the edge of the pond.

7-nurse-log

I’ve searched for a nurse log for many years and finally found one here by the beaver pond. A nurse log is a log which has decayed enough to provide a fertile bed for tree seedlings, either of its own or another species. They aren’t common; this is the first one I’ve seen. I believe those are birch seedlings growing near the old root ball of the log.

8-orange-mushrooms

Considering how dry it has been I was surprised to see a few mushrooms dotted here and there. I haven’t been able to identify these orange ones with small caps that seemed out of proportion to their long stems. I wondered if they were stunted due to the dryness.

9-orange-mushrooms

I think these examples were Jack O’ Lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus illudens,) which grow in clusters on wood. Some experts say that through a process called bioluminescence the gills of Jack O’ Lanterns glow green in the dark, but others say that they don’t. I don’t have time to shut myself in a closet with them to find out, so I don’t suppose I’ll ever know for sure. They are definitely poisonous but smell very good and that can tempt people into eating them. They shouldn’t be confused with chanterelles, which don’t grow in clusters and don’t grow on wood. Those pictured grew on a log.

10-trail

The hike to Indian Pond is described as “an easy 45 minute round trip hike to a secluded, beautiful mountain lake.” Define easy, I muttered as I climbed up and up at a steep enough grade to have me stopping to catch my breath. But a twelve year old could have run up to the pond and back with ease, I’m sure. In fact I met quite a few people of that age on the trail and could sense them obviously itching to do just that. Did I have that much energy at twelve, I wondered?

11-bridge

There are a couple of bridges to help you negotiate a stream which on this day had dried up completely. I’ve seen an alarming number of streams and ponds dry up this year and there is still no rain in sight.

12-witch-hazel

There were lots of witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) blooming. They’re our latest blooming native understory shrub, so when you see these flowers you know winter is near.

13-trail

I think a lot of people who come to New England in the fall believe that seeing the colorful foliage is the extent of it, but there’s much more to it than that. The crisp air, the rustle of the leaves as you walk through them, the soft whisper of acorns hitting the leaves as they fall and the earthy fragrance that surrounds you are all part of what we call autumn, and walking through a forest like this one is the only way to be completely immersed in the experience.

15-signpost

There are a few well-placed signs pointing you to where you want to go. I took a right turn at this one. From here it’s just a short walk to the pond.

16-indian-pond

The stunning foliage colors at the pond made the uphill hike worthwhile, and I sat an enjoyed them while I had the whole place to myself.

17-indian-pond

The pond really isn’t that big; I certainly wouldn’t call it a lake, but it is secluded. If I’d had more time I would have tried to find a trail around it.

18-fire-pit

Someone had a campfire, or maybe there have been many years of campfires here. A fire probably wouldn’t be a great idea right now considering how dry it is.

19-indian-pond

After a last look at the foliage I headed back down the hill, thinking of the photo of a yellow lady’s slipper that I had seen which was taken somewhere in these woods. I’ve never seen a yellow lady’s slipper so knowing they grow here will get me be back in the spring.

20-reflections

On my way back to the parking area I had to stop and admire the reflected colors in the beaver pond. The colors this year are truly amazing; better than I think anyone expected.

Explore often. Only then will you know how small you are and how big the world is.~ Pradeepa Pandiyan

Thanks for coming by.

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Chesterfield, New Hampshire is a small town that lies west of Keene between Keene and Brattleboro, Vermont. There is a mountain there called Rattlesnake mountain, named after the timber rattlers that called it home many years ago. These snakes are now endangered and rarely seen. In the 1930s a lady named Antoinette Sherri bought several hundred acres on the east side of the mountain and built a house there.  The house, which some called a “castle,” stood until 1962, when it was vandalized and burned. The picture below shows some of what little is left. I’m sorry about the harsh lighting, but the sun is low in the sky.

1. Madame Sherrie's Stairway

Mrs. Sherri was a costume designer from New York City who called herself “Madame Sherri.” Anyone from New York comes to a small town with rumors in tow, but this was especially true of Madame Sherri, who blew into town in a cream colored, convertible, chauffeur driven, Packard Touring car. Her interesting story is too long and involved to go into here, but if you are interested an article that is about as close to the truth as anything can be found here.

 2. Sherri House

Everyone always wants to know what the house looked like in its heyday, so here is one of very few pictures of it. It was said to be “chalet style” and allegedly had 15 rooms. If you stand in the middle of the foundation however, you quickly realize that if this place had 15 rooms they had to have been squirrel sized. My guess would be 6 rooms, including one on the second story and one in the basement.  Even that is a stretch-it probably had only one or two rooms on the main floor. The house ruins and 488 acres of land are now part of a forest preserve open to the public.

3. Girl With Parasol

I used to visit this place when I was a teenager just because it was so unusual. It was always a quiet place in the woods where you could get away for a while, but not now-now it is a circus. The day I stopped in for a visit there must have been 10 cars in the lot and there was even a professional photo shoot going on-with beautiful live models balanced on the old stone walls.

4. Stone Wall at Madame Sherri's

This is a closer look at the wall that the model was balanced on. This used to be one of the walls that surrounded a small man made pond on the property. The walls have crumbled over time and the pond has mostly drained away, except for a few inches of water.

5. Beaver Dam Behing Stone Wall

Beavers had a better idea and the dammed the small stream that fed the man-made pond. This dam is very big and very old.

 6. Beaver Dam Breech

It was easy to tell that the beavers had moved on-they would never put up with a breech in their dam like this one. When I took this picture I was standing in just about the same spot that the model was standing in earlier.

7. Beaver Lodge

Beavers often build their lodges at the pond edge, but I’ve never seen one on dry land. The only explanation is that the water level has dropped considerably. This, coupled with the fact that there were no trees recently felled, were more signs that the beavers had moved away.  There is still a lot of activity at their pond though-a deer family came to drink while I was there but was almost immediately scared off by a lady walking the trail with two dogs. This outraged the professional photographer, who told me just what he thought about people who brought dogs into the woods-probably because I was the only other person with a camera around their neck.

 8. Black Witch's Butter

I decided to get away from the carnival atmosphere and see what nature had to offer. I didn’t have to look too hard-this oak limb was covered with black witch’s butter (Exidia glandulosa.) It was a bit shriveled-probably from either the cold or the lack of rain. One old yarn about this fungus says that throwing a log that has witch’s butter on it into a fire will counteract a witch’s spells.

9. Turkey Tails

Colorful turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) grew on an old beaver stump. 

10. Yellow Lichens

On stones near water is a good place to look for lichens. These yellow lichens covered a large part of this stone.  I don’t see yellow lichens that often, but the way these fade to white at their edges means they could possibly be sulphur firedot lichens (Caloplaca flavovirescens.) 

11. Blue Hills

If you climb high enough, you can see the Vermont hills.

I suppose that I could complain about finding so much activity in a place that was once so quiet that you could hear chipmunks rustling through the leaves, but since I am someone who is forever telling people that they should get out and enjoy nature, I think that would be a bit hypocritical. I will say that, since the conservation commission took it over, the land here is much tidier.

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world ~John Muir

Thanks for stopping in.

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