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Posts Tagged ‘Merriam Brook’

I wait until the leaves are off the trees to go to 40 foot falls because the light is very dim in that particular part of the forest. It can sometimes be dark even after the leaves have fallen because of all the evergreens overhead but usually on a bright sunny day like this one the camera can cope. There are three waterfalls along this section of Merriam Brook; what I call the lower, middle and upper falls.

Though it looks like I was standing in the brook when I took the previous photo of the lower falls I didn’t even get my feet wet, because the brook takes a sharp left turn at this spot. That’s an unusual way for a brook to behave in these parts.

I was sorry to see that many of the beech trees here had beech bark disease, which is caused by beech scale insects (Cryptococcus fagisuga) that pierce the bark and leave a wound. If the spores from either of two fungi, Neonectria faginata or Neonectria ditissima, find the wound and grow, cankers form. These cankers are what look like blisters on the bark of beech trees, as can be seen in the above photo. The disease originally came from Europe and the first case in the United States was reported in 1929 in Massachusetts. By 2004, the disease had spread as far west as Michigan and as far south as western North Carolina. There is no cure and infected trees will ultimately die. Beech is a beautiful tree at any time of year. I hope science is trying to find a cure.

Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) were dotted here and there on the forest floor. They are one of 5 or 6 evergreen ferns found in these woods, and their common name is thought to come from the early settler’s habit of using its fronds as Christmas decorations. Native Americans used the Christmas fern to treat chest ailments like pneumonia and to relieve flu symptoms.

If you look closely you can see that each Christmas fern leaf has a tiny “toe,” which makes it look like a Christmas stocking. Another unusual thing about Christmas fern is the shape of its fronds, which start off narrow at the base, widen in the middle, and then get narrow again at the tip. Most ferns have fronds that taper gradually; widest at the base and narrower towards the tip.

A look at the middle falls reveals how strong the forces at play are, with grown trees torn up and tossed around like first year saplings. I can say for sure that I don’t want to be near this brook when it floods badly.

A different view of the middle falls.

Two things make the climb to the upper falls a little hazardous; slippery oak leaves and old bridge cables. I’ve tripped over the cables and slipped on the oak leaves and have taken a couple of spills up here, but luckily nothing serious has come of it. I watch my step and pick my way up the hill and usually have no problems, but those oak leaves are always very slippery.

The old bridge cables are slowly being engulfed by the trees they rub against. I’ve read that a snowmobile bridge made out of steel cables and wooden planks  was washed away in severe flooding in August of 2003.  Apparently this cable and a plank or two that I’ve seen is all that’s left of it. Merriam brook really raged at that time and also washed away large parts of the road and flooded houses. Several other towns had similar problems at the time.

This is a look back downstream from near the upper falls showing many fallen trees in and along the brook. Some have been torn up by the roots.

The deep gorge that the brook has cut through the hillside above the middle falls is a very rugged and beautiful place. I think it would be a great place to visit on a hot summer day because it’s probably always a good 10 degrees cooler here. It is certainly cool in November.

The upper falls seem a bit anti-climactic at times and you wonder how so little water could fill this stream, but in this shot they’re still quite far into the distance. It’s almost impossible to get back in there; that boulder in the foreground would easily crush a car, and I didn’t have a zoom lens with me. I think there must be a large pool under the falls and the stream flows from it. Someday when I have someone with me I’m going to continue climbing and find out for sure. I don’t know where the name “40 foot falls” comes from because the upper falls aren’t 40 feet high and the brook is far more than 40 feet long in this section of falls.

Someone had built a campfire at some time in the past. I think I’d get those leaves away before I built another one.

This would be a good place to sit for a while but I doubt I’d ever be able to sleep here. The roar of the brook is loud in places and you would never hear a bear (or any other animal) coming.

It would be a long way down from up there. I always wonder if animals ever tumble over edges like this one, or do they sense the danger? I have a feeling they can sense it because I have never found a dead animal at the base of a cliff.

You’ve certainly seen a lot of moss in these photos and one of them is broom moss (Dicranum scoparium.) It gets its common name from the way the leaves all point in the same general direction, making it look as if it had been swept by a broom. It’s a fairly common moss that grows in large tufts or mats on logs and tree bases, soil or stone. It was very dry on this day so it wasn’t at its best. It’s a moss that you feel you want to pet, as you would an animal.

Greater whipwort (Bazzania trilobata) grows right alongside mosses and is fairly common, but it’s a liverwort. A close look shows that it looks almost if it has been braided. They always remind me of a nest of centipedes.

Each leaf on this leafy liverwort is only about an eighth of an inch wide and has three triangular notches at its base. This is where the trilobata part of the scientific name comes from. It means “having three lobes.” This is the closest I’ve ever gotten to these tiny leaves.

Even when it’s dry as dust orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) holds its color. That color is so bright it’s like a beacon in the woods and it can be seen from quite far away on fallen branches. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself” and as can be seen in this photo, that is often just what it does. At this point it felt like a potato chip but with a little rain it’ll feel just like your earlobe.

Polypody ferns grew on the boulders, watered by the mists. This is another of our evergreen ferns and it is quite common. It almost always grows on stone, hence the name “rock cap fern.”

After a while of exploring the canyon and surrounding area it was time to head back down the hill. I like visiting waterfalls; they help remind me of the power of nature, which is certainly visible throughout this torn landscape. They also make me feel small, and I think it’s a good thing that a person feels small every now and then. Someday if I dare, I’d like to see this place just after heavy rains when the water rages.

Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it. ~Lao Tzu

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Since I wasn’t able to get down the steep hill to see the falls at Beaver Brook Natural Area that I wrote about in my last post I decided to visit another waterfall that’s easier to get to. Slightly easier anyway; the first problem was how to get across this smallish stream so I could get to the falls on Merriam Brook. It can be done. You don’t have to jump it but it’s wise to be sure the stones you will walk on aren’t covered with ice.

One of the first things you see here are a lot of boulders that don’t look natural, and that’s because they were dumped here a long time ago when the road was built.

The reason I know that is because of the holes through some of the boulders. These not quite round holes were most likely drilled by hand with a star drill and sledge hammer, then packed with a fuse and black powder to shatter the ledges that were being removed.  They are about an inch and a half across.

I made it to the spot where you first see the falls and found ice water. Ice and water were no surprise since it was only 19 degrees. There is a heavy canopy of evergreen hemlock branches overhead so there isn’t much sunlight reaching the forest floor, and that helps keep it cool here. It also means that it is dark here and that makes photography a challenge. I had to have the ISO of my camera up to 1600 for many of these shots, which is something I rarely have to do.

With ice covering the calmer sections of the brook its roar was muted somewhat. I was glad that I didn’t have to carry on a conversation on its banks though, because it still had plenty to say. There are 3 falls here, the lower, middle and upper.

Everywhere you look there are fallen trees that have been tossed around like matchsticks. There have been some terrible floods here in recent years that have washed away parts of roads and damaged houses. This spot is where the brook takes a sharp left turn. It’s unusual to see a stream or brook take a 90 degree turn like it does.

The middle falls weren’t frozen solid but there was a lot of ice. It was a very cold spot even though I was dressed for it, so I hung around only long enough for a couple of photos.

Icy fingers hung from every branch and twig near the water.

Ice crystal lace covered the still pools.

After the middle falls comes the worse part of the climb. It isn’t that far to climb but it is steep and all the oak leaves make it slippery. I’ve taken a couple of good spills here.

Worse yet is the ice that might be under the leaves. I’ve learned to pick my way carefully.

I’ve read that there was once a snowmobile bridge across the brook, made of steel cable and planks, so I’m assuming that the cable this tree has grown around was part of it. The bridge and all trace s of it except for this cable are gone, washed away in a raging flood in 2003.

This view looks back the way we just came. The brook doesn’t look very wide in this photo but it is.

The upper falls are in a large canyon that you have to pick your way into because of all the debris.

But it isn’t as hard as it looks if you walk slowly and look carefully. There are plenty of opportunities to get hurt up here though, so you have to keep your wits about you and be on your toes. This isn’t the place for day dreaming unless you want to just sit still while you do. It was a little cool for that on this day so I kept moving.

In places all the soil has been scoured off the stream bed from by flooding.

Whole trees have been torn out by the roots all along the embankments.

I could tell by the line of ice on this boulder that the water level in the brook had dropped.

This is where you get your first glimpse of the upper falls. I doubt that it falls anywhere near 40 feet but I can’t think of anything else that would give this place that name. So you have some idea of scale, that boulder in the middle of the photo is almost as big as a Volkswagen Beetle.

Polypody ferns grew on a ledge close enough to the falls to grow a coat of white ice. They are one of our toughest evergreen ferns and not only will they survive a coat of ice, they’ll thrive.

The upper falls seem almost anti-climactic and I’m always surprised that so much water comes from what seems like barely more than a dribble. I do know better though, because I’ve seen what this dribble has wrought and everything about the place says that no matter what, the water will have its way. It really is amazing to think that water could do all of this.

Water is the driving force in nature. ~Leonardo da Vinci

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I had some time off for the Thanksgiving holiday so I thought I’d go and see 40 foot falls in Surry. It’s relatively quick and easy to get to and I like to visit it when the leaves are off the trees. The falls are in a heavily wooded area and before the leaves fall it’s dark enough in the forest that photography with my camera just doesn’t work there. Even at this time the pines and hemlocks cast a lot of shade but it was a bright sunny day so I thought I’d give it a try. The above photo shows what you can see of the falls from the road.

Before you get to the falls on Merriam Brook you have to cross a small stream that flows into it. You have to walk the banks to find a good place to cross. In some places it was narrow enough to step across on this day, but more often than not you have to cross on slippery stones.

Many of the stones along the stream are moss covered but not this one; I believe that’s a liverwort called greater featherwort (Plagiochila asplenioides) on that stone.

Greater featherwort likes lots of water and grows on rocks in streams and rivers, and on wet soil in the open or in shade. This was the first time I had seen this pretty little liverwort which, as liverworts go, is considered one of the largest. I think that’s because it forms large colonies, not because each plant is large. The plants themselves seem quite small to me compared to other liverworts I know.

A two inch hole through a boulder told the story of the blasting that must have gone on here, probably when the road was built.  Holes were drilled into the offending ledge, filled with black powder or dynamite, and away went the ledge. I can tell that the drilling was done by machine because if the holes had been made by hand with star drills and sledge hammers they’d be five sided, not round. They might have been made with a compressed air powered drill, which was also what railroads used after the invention of the wind hammer in 1844.

Once you cross the stream it’s easy to get to the base of the falls because the Merriam brook takes a hard 90 degree left turn at this spot. 40 foot falls has a lower, middle and upper falls along this stretch of stream. Here we see the lower falls and a hint of the middle. The climb to the upper falls is steep in places but doesn’t take long.

Two things make the climb to the upper falls a little hazardous; slippery oak leaves and old bridge cables like this one that a hemlock tree has grown around. I’ve tripped over that cable and slipped on the oak leaves and have taken a couple of spills up here, but luckily nothing serious has come of it. I watched my step and picked my way up the hill this time and had no problems, but those oak leaves sure were slippery.

I’ve read that a snowmobile bridge made out of steel cables and wooden planks  was washed away in severe flooding in August of 2003.  Apparently this cable and a plank or two that I’ve seen is all that’s left of it. Merriam brook raged and also washed away large parts of the road and flooded houses. Several other towns had similar problems at the time.

A look back downstream reveals how strong the forces at play are, with grown trees torn up and tossed around like first year saplings. I can say for sure that I don’t want to be here when this brook floods.

Many of the scattered boulders had lichens on them so of course I had to have a look. This one was covered with rock disk lichens (Lecidella stigmatea.) These common lichens like sunshine so they’ll point you to the sunniest spots in a forest like this. They are tan or dirty gray crustose lichens that form a crust like body (thallus) that clings to the stone substrate so strongly that it becomes impossible to remove them without damaging what they grow on.

Rock disk lichens look a lot like tile lichens (Lecidea tessellate,) but tile lichens have black fruiting bodies (apothecia) that are sunken or concave and rock disk lichens have black fruiting bodies that are raised or flat. This extreme close-up of the rock disk apothecia shows how they stand proud of the body of the lichen. This is an important identifying feature so it’s a good idea to carry a loupe or a macro lens when looking at lichens.

I was surprised to see a moth fly by and hang from a twig on such a cold day; it must have been at or below freezing. I thought it must be an owlet moth, which is a winter moth that creates its own heat by shivering. Owlet moths are what pollinate late flowering witch hazel shrubs.

I was right about one thing;  it is a winter moth but not an owlet moth. It is called the “winter moth” (Operophtera brumata) because it doesn’t mind the cold. The fringes on its wing edges help identify it. It was imported from Europe and is considered an invasive pest that can defoliate trees and shrubs. Adults emerge from the ground in November and December to mate, and the flightless female lays about 150 eggs under tree bark. The eggs hatch in March or April and the larvae begin to feed.

Before you know it you’ve reached the middle falls. You don’t have to work too hard photographically to blur the water here because the light is often dim enough to blur it anyway. I had to boost the light gathering ability of my camera to ISO 1600 for a few of these shots, and that’s something I rarely have to do.  I was glad I had a monopod.

The deep gorge that the brook has cut through the hillside above the middle falls is a very rugged and beautiful place. I think it would be a great place to visit on a hot summer day because it’s probably always a good 10 degrees cooler here. It was certainly cool on this day.

Icicles formed wherever the water splashed.

This is where you get your first glimpse of the upper falls, tucked way back into the gorge. I don’t know if the falls actually fall 40 feet, but that wall over on the left would crush a house if it fell on one. It is easily  more than 40 feet high.

I doubt you could get to the upper falls this way without getting your feet wet but even if you could you would have to climb through things like this to get there. The falls is over on the right, unseen in this photo. It looks like that tree will be one of the next to fall and be washed downstream.

You can get an okay shot of the upper falls without getting your feet wet or crawling over boulders, so that’s what I settle for. What I’d really like to do someday is get up above the falls to see what’s up there. It would be a steep slippery climb but worthwhile, I think.

A look back at some of what we came through to get here. Raging waters have stripped the stream bed right down to bedrock in places and tossed car size boulders around in others, bowling over trees. It’s amazing what water can do.

This unlucky tree had its bark stripped completely off and will most likely be carried downstream in a future flood.

Fall oyster mushrooms grew on a fallen oak. Scientists have discovered that oyster mushrooms exude “extracellular toxins” that stun fungi eating nematodes. Once the nematode has been stunned mycelium invades its body through its orifices. The mushrooms also consume bacteria in order to get nitrogen and protein, and all of this means that oyster mushrooms are a truly carnivorous mushroom.

I love it when I find things like this. This painted stone sat on top of a boulder near the upper falls. Seeing that a child loved a place enough to leave a gift behind is good for the soul, and gives me hope for the future.

There’s no better place to find yourself than sitting by a waterfall and listening to its music.
~Roland R. Kemler

Thanks for stopping in.

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