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Posts Tagged ‘Maple Sap Collecting’

There is a rail trail in Keene that is probably the best one to walk if you like railroad history, and since history and botany are my favorite subjects it’s a must see for me. I think it has been about a year since I was out here last but I remembered what a pleasure it was to walk on the wide rail bed. It was icy in spots but since it is level it wasn’t bad.

There is a nice old box culvert that I’ve seen before but I didn’t know that I could see right through it to the far end. It spans the entire width of the rail bed to let a stream pass under it, so it’s quite long. It’s amazing how much weight these culverts once carried and how long they have lasted un-maintained. A train hasn’t rolled through here since the early 1970s.

Old signal boxes litter the sides of the rail trails in this area and a blogging friend who does asbestos remediation warned me that many of these boxes contained asbestos. I just take photos of them though, so they don’t bother me.

I can’t explain what is going on with the end of this log but I thought it was interesting.

Blue sap lines were run in the woods parallel to the trail in places.

The way these plastic lines save time and effort is by eliminating the need to empty hundreds of sap buckets into large tanks. These tanks were pulled through the woods by horses or tractors and it was a labor intensive operation, especially when we had feet of snow. What the lines haven’t eliminated is the need to still drill and tap the trees each spring. I’ve also heard that a moose or deer can wreak havoc if they get caught in the lines. All it takes is a pin hole to stop sap flow, and then you have to walk all the lines until you find and fix it, so there’s still a certain amount of labor involved each year.

You don’t realize how high up you are until you see a road below you.

The road passes through this tunnel built by the railroad. The previous photo was taken way up there where the ground is flat. The tunnel was probably 2 wagons wide when it was built but now only one car can pass through at a time. I’d guess the tunnel was built first and then all the soil you see was put over it, which would have been a huge amount of work.

There are at least two culverts out here in the woods that are built in the same way the tunnel in the previous photo was built, but on a smaller scale. It’s pretty amazing to find something like this out in the middle of nowhere. The railroad masons were true craftsman who took pride in their work and it still shows 150 years later. I’ve heard that many were from Scotland but I don’t know how true that is. I do know that I would have loved to have worked with them.

You don’t realize what wilderness the city of Keene encompasses until you come out here. This view is just a few miles from major roads but I wouldn’t be surprised to meet a bear, bobcat or moose out here.

Anyone who knows anything about railroads knows they don’t take sharp turns or go steeply uphill like that trail on the left, so what’s going on? The original trail keeps going straight, right through that fallen tree on the right. If followed it’s an education, but you’d better be prepared to climb over and under a few fallen trees.

Once you climb over a few trees this is what you see; more fallen trees in a deep cut through ledge.

A mountain of stone off in the woods shows how much was taken out of the deep cut.

Though it’s hard to see because of the snow it’s very wet here. The drainage ditches have failed and water has filled the rail bed, so if you come here you’d better wear good waterproof hiking boots.

There isn’t much groundwater here and I know that because there wasn’t much ice.

In the deep cut rail trail I visit up in Westmoreland the walls are fairly straight, having been drilled and blasted. Here the walls look quite natural, so I wonder how it was done. Since there is a mountain of stone in nearby the woods it was obviously taken from here. There are tool marks here and there that I have seen, so they did have to drill in places, but not many. In any event it would have been a huge amount of work but that’s what the railroads were known for; doing the impossible.

I saw some lush examples of delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum).  

What this place reminds me of is what all of our rail trails would look like if they were no longer maintained. In this area many of them are maintained by snowmobile clubs and the deserve or thanks, as well as any time and / or money we could donate.

I turned around here but I have been all the way to the end before and the end of the line is nothing but a huge pile of dirt. But that is a problem, because railroad tracks don’t just stop at a dirt pile; this line ran north to Westmoreland and then cut over into Vermont at one time, so I know it came through here. Hurricane Road was laid out in 1761 and ran to the Westmoreland town line and the railroad came to this area in 1848, so the tracks would have had to run under the road at this spot. Does that mean that there is a beautiful granite tunnel under that huge pile of dirt? Did they take the tunnel apart and fill in the hole when the railroad stopped running? In any event this rail trail is a dead end. Sort of anyway; you can still cross Hurricane Road and pick it up again on the other side. But what happened to the tunnel? It would have been great fun to walk through.

I didn’t meet any horses on the way back down the trail but I did meet Tucker, a very happy and friendly golden retriever. He was taking his humans for a walk.

The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for. ~Louis L’Amour

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Moon Set

The full moon was setting over Half Moon Pond in Hancock early one morning so I took a photo of it with my cell phone. The muted pastel colors were beautiful I thought, but the cell phone’s camera overexposed the moon. Its gray cratered surface was much more visible than is seen here.  A lone ice fisherman’s hut stood on the ice, even though thin ice warnings have been repeated time and again this winter.

2. Red Elderberry Buds

This is the time of year that I start wondering about bud growth and what the trees are doing. I saw some red elderberry buds (Sambucus racemosa) recently that were quite a beautiful sight on a winter day. Though they didn’t have as much purple on the scales as I’ve seen in the past they reminded me of spring.

3. Sap Lines

One reason I’m interested in what buds are doing so early is due to my seeing a photo captioned “The Weird Season” in the local newspaper. It showed two tree tappers tapping trees in a sugar bush, and they said that the sap is running because December was so warm. Though the photo was recent last week we didn’t see 32 degrees or above for a single day, so I doubt the sap ran for long. I suppose though when you have 6000 trees to tap you’re anxious to get started. The above photo shows how tapping is done these days; with a plastic tube running from tree to tree and then to a collection tank or the sugar shack. A vacuum pump helps gravity make sure the sap flows as it should. It’s quicker and easier for the syrup makers and is also more sanitary but I prefer seeing the old steel buckets hanging on the trees.

4. Tap Hole in Maple

There are insects that can make a perfectly round hole in a tree but the above photo shows a tap hole in a maple, drilled last year. It’s about a half inch in diameter and the tree is most likely working to heal it.

5. Rose Hip

The hips of the Alberta wild rose (Rosa acicularis) and the soft downy-rose (Rosa mollis) are the only ones I’ve heard of that have prickles. I’ve never seen them on rugosa rose hips. I’m not sure which these are but the birds haven’t touched a single one of them.

6. Brook Ice

I took a walk along Beaver Brook in Keene to see if there were any ice formations. There were and they had grown quickly.  From the water to the top of the ice was about 3 feet, I’d guess, so this would not be a good hole to fall into.

7. Brook Ice

It’s amazing to think that a river or stream can stop itself with ice. Beaver Brook wasn’t dammed up but I could see how it might easily happen. Last year the brook had so much ice on it that hardly a trickle of water could be heard in places where it is usually quite noticeable. It was if it had frozen solid, right down to its gravel bed.

8. Ice Crystals

For the third time this winter I’ve found very long, sharply pointed ice crystals. Temperature and humidity are said to determine the forms that crystals take but I don’t know why the temperature and humidity this winter would be telling the ice to grow so long and pointed. Humidity seems low but the temperature is 4 degrees above average for the month. This makes 3 months in a row with temperatures above average, and maybe it’s having an effect on the ice. Lake, pond and river ice all seem normal.

9. Frost Crack on Birch

While I was at the brook I saw a yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) with a healed frost crack. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night. If you’re in or near the woods at night in winter you can often hear the trees splitting and cracking, and sometimes it’s as loud as a rifle shot. Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter. When this repeated healing and cracking happens over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen in the photo.

10. Frullania Liverwort

When it gets cold dark purple, almost black spots appear on the bark of some trees. They are really there all the time but are kind of a reddish color and not quite so noticeable at other times of year when there are so many other things to see. Those who think they’ve never seen a liverwort might want to stop and take a closer look at these dark blotches because they are Frullania liverworts, one of the few liverworts that can thrive in dry places.

11. Frullania Liverwort

There are about 800 species of Frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. It can look very lacy and fern like at times. Sometimes it reminds me of the beautiful fan corals found on distant coral reefs, as the above example does.

12. Frullania Liverwort 2

The very small leaves of the Frullania liverwort were strung together like beads. Some Frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant so I’ll have to smell some and see.

13. Candle Flame Lichen

This crabapple tree was encrusted with fringed candle flame lichen (Candelaria fibrosa.) This lichen seems to be trying to tell me that certain lichens prefer certain trees. So far I’ve seen it only on crabapple trees.

14. Candle Flame Lichen 2

Fringed candle flame lichen is extremely small and looks like a tiny pile of scrambled eggs as you get closer. From a distance it can look like a yellow powder on the tree’s bark.

15. Script Lichen

It seems that script lichen is another lichen that produces spores in winter; at least that’s when I see their squiggly spore bearing bodies (Apothecia) appear.

16. Script Lichen

A close look shows that the apothecia sit on the grayish body (Thallus) of this lichen, making them look as if they were beautifully painted on rather than etched into the surface. I think this example is the common script lichen (Graphis scripta.) There is another script lichen called the asterisk lichen (Arthonia radiata) that I’ve always wanted to see. It has apothecia that look just like asterisks.

17. Lily Pad

Someone found a water lily leaf in the river and put it on a stone as if it were a beautiful sculpture on a plinth. I loved it for its veins and its rich red-brown color and its missing pieces, and I left it not knowing or caring how long I’d sat beside it. Where does the time go?

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

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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