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Posts Tagged ‘Mount Caesar’

We had a day with blue skies, puffy white clouds, and low heat and humidity so I thought I’d take advantage of such a fine day by climbing Mount Caesar in Swanzey. The mountain it is said, is named after a freed slave named Caesar Freeman and he is supposed to be buried somewhere on it, but nobody really seems to be able to verify any of the tale. One thing about the mountain is certain; Native Americans used it for a lookout and in the mid-1700s they burned Swanzey to the ground, house by house and mill by mill. The climb to the top starts on a path of solid granite bedrock, as is seen in the photo.

One of my favorite things to see on Mount Caesar is this river of reindeer lichen. Since there are no reindeer or other animals to eat the lichens they thrive here. But they are fragile and should never be walked on.  Reindeer lichen is very slow growing at about an eighth to three eighths of an inch per year and if overgrazed or dug up, it can take decades for drifts like the one pictured to reappear. The Native American Ojibwa tribe was known to bathe newborns in water in which reindeer lichens had been boiled.

Just before you enter the forest there is a meadow teeming with wildflowers. On this day most of what was blooming were pale spike lobelias (Lobelia spicata,) which get their common name from the small, pale blue to almost white flowers. Every now and then you can find a plant with deeper blue flowers, but most are pale.

Sometimes if you look carefully you can find dark blue pale spike lobelias, as this one was. These flowers are small; hardly bigger than a standard aspirin. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for lobelia and one of them was as a treatment for asthma, but it has to be used with great care because too much of it can kill.

Stone walls will follow you almost all the way to the summit of Mount Caesar and remind hikers that this land was once completely cleared of trees. I’d guess that sheep once grazed on the mountain’s flanks, as was true of most of the hills in the area. The walls most likely date from the late 1700s and early 1800s. Not old enough to be covered by moss yet but there certainly are plenty of lichens on them. The yellow ones seen in the photo are sulfur dust lichens (Chrysothrix chlorina). This lichen doesn’t like to be rained on so it is usually found hiding under some type of overhang.

I saw many mushrooms on this climb, among them yellow chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius.) I’m not a real mushroom aficionado but I know this edible mushroom is considered choice. I don’t see many but when I do it’s usually about this time of year or a little earlier, and I always see them growing right alongside trails. It is believed by some that the compacted earth of the trail or road may cause the chanterelle mycelium to react by fruiting.

Another mushroom I saw in great abundance was yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia,) and it is not a choice edible fungus, in fact it is poisonous and should never be eaten. This mushroom is identified by the chrome yellow “warts” on the cap, which are easily brushed off. It prefers growing in hemlock forests, so it is right at home here. It is said to be one of the most common and widespread species of Amanita in eastern North America. It faintly resembles yellow fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) but that mushroom has white warts on its cap.

I’ve seen people go up to the summit and then back down again in the time it took me to reach the half way point but this isn’t a race and I dawdle and wander, looking at this and that all the way up and down the mountain. A 45 minute climb with me can easily take half a day, and that’s why I almost always hike alone. To see the kinds of things that I see you absolutely must walk slowly and from what I’ve seen most people simply aren’t able to do it. Unfortunately most people I’ve seen and spoken with in places like this seem to feel that the end of the trail is far more important than what can be seen along it and race through it. If only they knew that they were missing all of the best that nature has to offer.

Eastern teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens,) bloomed all along the trail. This native wintergreen is in the same family as the blueberry and its flowers show that. Teaberry is also known as checkerberry or American wintergreen and by fall its flowers will have turned into small red berries that taste minty, like Teaberry chewing gum. Many animals, from foxes to chipmunks, and birds including grouse and pheasant rely on the berries to help them get through the winter. Wintergreen oil has been used medicinally for centuries, and the leaves make an excellent, soothing tea. The plant’s fragrance is unmistakable and its oil is used in toothpaste, mouthwash, pain relievers, and many other products.

Before too long the approach to the summit appears as granite bedrock, and that’s when you realize that this mountain is just a huge piece of solid granite with a few inches of soil covering it. I’ve seen several trees that have blown over and their roots were very shallow. They have to be because they can’t penetrate the granite.

I like a few clouds in the sky to give it some interest. A year or two ago we had an entire summer of blue skies with not a cloud to be seen, and it was quite boring if you wanted landscape photos. I like the way the shadows of the clouds pass over the land. It’s something I’ve watched and enjoyed since I was a boy.

The view was hazy in some directions but I usually spend time marveling at how vast this forest really is, so I don’t mind a little haze.

Mount Monadnock could be seen through the haze off to the east but it wasn’t a day for mountain portraits.

You need to watch where you step when you’re taking photos of the mountain because you have to get close to the edge of the cliff if you want the best shot. This is one time when it isn’t wise to step outside of yourself and become totally absorbed by what you see before you. It’s a long way down and for someone who doesn’t like heights it’s a stomach knotter, and I tread very mindfully up here.

I was surprised to see so many old friends up here, like this bristly sarsaparilla. It made me wonder if it has just moved in or if I have been negligent and ignored it on previous climbs. It obviously likes it up here; it was blooming well. It normally grows in dry, sandy soil at road edges and waste areas. Its stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. Technically, though it looks like a perennial plant, it is considered a shrub because the lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter.

Each tiny bristly sarsaparilla flower will become a round black berry if the pollinators do their job and it looked like they were hard at it. I’m not sure what this insect’s name is but it was very small. The entire flower head of the plant in the previous photo is barely bigger than a ping pong ball.

Blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) also grew on the summit. It seems like I’m seeing this little beauty everywhere I go this summer and it makes me wonder if it doesn’t like a lot of rain like we’ve had this year, even though it grows in sandy waste areas.

Zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) was a real surprise because it usually grows in wooded areas instead of out in the open.  It has wide leaves and smallish flowers that grow from the leaf axils and at the terminal end of its zigzagging stem.  Zigzag goldenrod grows in the shade and prefers moist soil, so this seems like an odd place to have found it. It grew beside a large stone so maybe the stone keeps it shaded for part of the day.

We had torrential rains the day before I made this climb so I thought my little friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) would be happy, but most of them weren’t. I don’t know if they just dried out that quickly or if overhanging tree branches kept the rain off them. They grow in just about full sun so I suppose they could have simply dried out. The example in the above photo was close to what I expected but it still wasn’t that deep, pea green color and I could tell that it was drying out. When at their best these lichens are very pliable and feel like an ear lobe, but when dry they feel crisp like a potato chip. This one was somewhere in between.

This one was ashy gray and very dry. You can see the broken edges top and bottom where it has snapped like a brittle chip. I have to say that, though I doubt the lichens enjoy being in such a state, I think they’re at their most beautiful when they look like this. I wish I could see them every day so I could witness all of their changes but I’ve seen them only on the summits, so if you want to visit with them you have to work for the privilege.

To those who have struggled with them, the mountains reveal beauties that they will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward the mountains give to effort. And it is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with them that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again. The mountains reserve their choice gifts for those who stand upon their summits. Sir Francis Younghusband

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1-trail-start

Ever since a friend of mine and I tipped Tippin Rock back in August something has been nagging at me. I’ve lived long enough to know that ignoring something that is nagging at you isn’t going to make it go away, so I decided to confront it head on. To do that I had to climb Mount Caesar in Swanzey, which is a huge mound of granite with a thin covering of soil. The above photo shows the start of the trail, which is bedrock. I’m not sure if shoe soles or the weather has removed what little soil there was there.

2-reindeer-lichen

Mount Caesar has the biggest drifts of reindeer lichens (Cladonia rangiferina) of anyplace I’ve seen.  I’ve read that they grow very slowly, so the colonies here are most likely hundreds of years old.  It is said that Mount Caesar was used as a lookout by Native Americans when settlers began moving in, and both settlers and natives probably saw these very same lichens. If damaged they can take decades to restore themselves, so I hope they’ll be treated kindly.

3-looped-white-pine

A young white pine (Pinus strobus) grew itself into a corkscrew. Trees often grow into strange shapes when another tree falls on them and makes them lean or pins them to the ground. That would explain this tree’s strange shape, but where is the tree that fell on it? There wasn’t a fallen tree anywhere near it.

4-trail

The trail goes steadily uphill and is bordered by stone walls for most of its length.

5-jelly-fungi

I’m seeing a lot of jelly fungi this year. This fallen tree was covered with them.

6-red-maple

I’ve seen a lot of target canker on red maples but this tree was covered almost top to bottom with it, and it was very pronounced.  Target canker doesn’t usually harm the tree but in this case I had to wonder if maybe the maple wasn’t losing the battle. Target canker is caused by a fungus which kills the healthy bark and the patterns of platy bark seen here are the tree’s response to the fungus; it grows new bark each year.

7-turkey-tails

I’ve been waiting all summer to find some turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) that had some colors other than shades of brown, and here they were the whole time. Hundreds of them crowded a fallen log.

8-turkey-tail

These turkey tails grew on a nearby stump. I also saw many bracket fungi that looked like turkey tails but their gills gave them away as impostors. Turkey tails always have tiny round holes called pores on their undersides, never gills.  If I find bracket fungi with gills I start looking up gilled polypores to try to identify them.

9-trail-end

Though you walk on soil for much of its length the trail ends just as it began; on solid granite.

10-view

The views were what I would expect on a cloudy day, but at least the clouds were high enough to be able to see the surrounding hills.

11-view

And the miles and miles of forest; 4.8 million acres in New Hampshire alone. It is why many of us still carry maps and compasses.

12-monadnock

To the east the clouds parted long enough for a good look at Mount Monadnock, which is the highest point in these parts; 2,203 feet higher than where I was standing on top of Mount Caesar.

13-monadnock

It must have been very cold up there but I could still see people on the summit. Unfortunately none of the shots showing them up close came out good enough to show. When he climbed it in 1860 Henry David Thoreau complained about the number of people on the summit of Monadnock. Nothing has changed since, and that’s one reason that I don’t climb it. Thoreau also said ”Those who climb to the peak of Monadnock have seen but little of the mountain. I came not to look off from it, but to look at it.” I feel the same way he did. It’s very beautiful when seen from a distance.

14-erratic

The glacial erratic called “the rocking stone” in a photo from 1895 was the object of this climb. I wanted to see if it rocked like Tippin Rock over on Hewe’s Hill did. I pushed on it from every side and watched the stone carefully to see any movement but I couldn’t get it to budge. You always have to wonder about these old stories, but the one about Tippin Rock proved true so this one probably is too. Maybe the next time my friend Dave flies in from California I’ll have him take a crack at it since he was able to rock Tippin Rock.

15-old-stump

An old weathered stump is all that remains of a tree that once grew on the summit. I’m guessing it was an eastern hemlock since they’re the only tree that I know of with stumps that decay from the inside out.

16-old-stump

Can you see the face? I’ll have to remember this when I do the next Halloween post.

17-blueberry

The blueberry bushes were beautifully colored. Since we’ve had several freezes I was surprised to see leaves still on them, but the temperature in the valleys is not always the same as it is on the hilltops. Cold air will flow down hillsides and pool in the valleys, just like water.

18-goldenrod

Even more of a surprise than the blueberry leaves was this blooming goldenrod. It was only about as big as my thumb but any flowers blooming at the end of November are special and I was happy to see them.

19-going-down

Going down a mountain always seems harder than going up but this time it was tough. Oak leaves are slippery anyway, but this time they had thousands of acorns under them, so I had to pick my way down the steepest parts very carefully. My calf muscles reminded me of the climb for a few days after.

It is always the same with mountains. Once you have lived with them for any length of time, you belong to them. There is no escape. ~Ruskin Bond

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1. Trail Start

July ended much as we’d expect it to; sunny and hot. But after a month or more of hot rainless days everyone, especially farmers, is hoping for rain. The weather people said that rain showers would pass through last Friday night and we did get a little, so on Saturday morning I decided to climb Mount Caesar in Swanzey. I was hoping that a few showers might help some mushrooms grow because it was about this time last year that I saw a beautiful violet coral fungus, easily one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in nature. The above photo shows the start of the trail between two dry stone walls. If I was a farmer in the 1700s and I wanted my cows to follow a certain path I would have built walls on either side of it too.

2. Hole Under Wall

There was a hole dug recently under one of the walls. It looked plenty big enough for a family of bobcats but I didn’t see any signs of activity.

3. Meadow

There is a meadow here, made when the town decided to clear cut a large swath of forest. I find many wildflowers here that I don’t see anywhere else, like slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia) and Canada St. Johnswort (Hypericum canadense.) Two different native lobelias grow here as well, pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata) and Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata.) This spot has seen full sun and 90 degree F weather for quite a while now, and only the toughest can take it.

4. Lobelia Blossom

I keep trying to explain in words how small some of the flowers are that appear in these posts but a picture is worth a thousand words, so I took a photo of a lobelia flower sitting on a penny. It is from an Indian tobacco plant, which is one that appeared in my last post. A penny is about 3/4 of an inch in diameter.

5. Trail

As much as I’d like to I can’t stay in the meadow all day, so up we go.

6. Fairy Stools

There will be stops along the way so I can catch my breath and admire things like these fairy stool mushrooms (Coltricia cinnamomea.) They are very tough, leathery little things that seem to have shrugged off the lack of rain. I like their concentric rings. Their cap is usually very flat and with their central stems they remind me of tiny café tables.

7. Sapsucker Holes

Bark full of tell-tale holes from a yellow bellied sapsucker were about all that was left of a birch log. Many other birds, insects and animals sip the sap that runs from these holes and they are an important part of the workings of the forest.

8. Unknown Fungi

A cluster of young fungi grew on the birch log. I’m not sure of their name but I was surprised to see them. It’s been dry enough to make mushrooms a rare thing this year.

9. Starflower Seed Pod

The starflowers (Trientalis borealis) have gone to seed and this tiny seed pod was just opening, as you can see by the hole at the top. These chalky white seedpods are so small that this one would have fit inside the lobelia flower that we saw earlier with room to spare. I like how they look like miniature soccer balls.

10. Pixie Cups and British Soldier

Other small things along the way were these red British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) growing with some trumpet like pixie cups (Cladonia pyxidata). Lichens like water so I was surprised to see that these examples looked so fresh.

11. Trail Top

The trail at the bottom of Mount Caesar starts out as bedrock and that’s also how it ends. This mountain is really just a huge mound of solid granite with a thin coating of soil covering it.

12. View

The views were what I expected them to be; hazy on such a hot, humid day.  I had hoped there would be a cooling breeze up here but hardly a leaf stirred. Not only that but the lack of shade made it feel even hotter than it did down below.

13. Earthworks

Off in the distance on another hill I saw a large sand pit that I’ve never noticed before. Swanzey is built on sand and gravel and digging it up to use elsewhere is thriving business. Surely an operation as big as this one has been there for a while, but I’ve never seen it.

14. Monadnock

Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey could be seen through the haze. At 3, 165 feet its summit rises another 2,203 feet higher than where I was standing. It was much too hot to even think about climbing that one but I’d bet that there was a cool breeze up there.

15. Rocking Stone

Everyone in this area has heard of Tippin rock, the forty ton glacial erratic that sits on the top of Hewe’s hill one mile to the south, but I doubt many have heard of the rocking stone that sits on the top of Mount Caesar. I’ve seen this big stone many times but hadn’t really paid much attention to it until a friend sent me a photo from 1895 with a caption calling it the rocking stone. It’s probably about a quarter the size of tippin rock but I didn’t try to rock it.

16. Mount Caesar

I was surprised to see a building along with the stone in the old photo with a caption calling it “the pavilion.” I wonder how many teams of horses or oxen were needed to get all that lumber to the summit, and I also wonder why a building was even needed up there. It looked old in 1895 so it must have been there a while. There was no air conditioning then so maybe people climbed to the summit hoping to find relief from the heat by sitting in the shade of the pavilion.  Maybe they had picnics up there; picnics were popular then. Or maybe they were tired of getting caught in thunderstorms and built a shelter, I don’t really know. I don’t even know who “they” would have been. I wandered all over the summit, using the shape of the stone as a guide, but I couldn’t find a trace of the building. Not a board, not a nail, nothing. Time has erased it completely.

17. Blueberries

I’m sure that people must have climbed these hills to pick the blueberries in 1895 as they still do, but I hope they had better luck than I did. It’s so dry up here this year they’re turning into hard, withered stones.

18. Toadskin

I couldn’t leave without a visit with my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) Their gray color told how dry and potato chip crisp they were but lichens are nothing if not patient, and they will sit here for eons if need be, waiting for rain. Some show an entire solar system on their faces and how fitting that is.; lichens have been flown into space and have survived more than two weeks in the void, leading many to believe that they are immortal.

19. Toadskin close

Toadskin lichens have warts called pustules and on the back of the lichen there is a corresponding pit for every pustule. The black dots are its fruiting bodies (Apothecia) which 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) 0f the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. If I could magnify them enough we’d see clear to brown muriform spores in each apothecia. Muriform means they are “wall like” with internal cross walls that make them look as if they were made of brick and mortar. What strange and fascinating things nature will show us if we just take the time to look a little closer.

20. Fan Clubmoss

 I never did find the beautiful violet coral fungus that I hoped to see but I saw many other things that made this climb worthwhile, including this fan club moss (Diphasiastrum digitatum) that grew into double hearts.

May your dreams be larger than mountains, and may you have the courage to scale their summits. ~Harley King

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1. Trail

Last Sunday morning I decided to climb Mount Caesar in Swanzey. This hill seems to be a single, huge piece of granite bedrock that was thrust up out of the earth unknown eons ago. As the above photo shows, the trail starts out bare granite with a little moss and some reindeer lichens growing on the sides. Exposed granite like that shown can be seen here and there all the way to top, but there must be pockets of soil in places because settlers once went to a lot of trouble to clear it.

2. Red Maple

A red maple tree (Acer rubrum) has blown over onto a stone wall and its roots have humped up part of the trail.

3. Target Canker

I know the tree is a red maple by the target canker on its trunk. This canker doesn’t harm the tree but causes its bark to grow in circular patterns of narrow plates which helps protect it from the canker. As the tree ages the patterns disappear. If I understand what I’ve read correctly red maple is the only tree that does this.

4. Cut Forest

The blowdown was caused by the cutting of a large area of town owned forest, which was sold off a few years ago. A tree that has grown behind such a large windbreak all its life it doesn’t need very strong roots, but when the windbreak is removed its weak roots will let it fall. That’s why trees in a constant wind have much stronger roots than those that grow in sheltered locations. That’s also why people who have encountered hardship and adversity throughout their lives are much more able to bear the strain than those who have lived lives of sheltered ease.

5. Cut Boulder

The removal of the shade provided by the forest has revealed a lot of things I haven’t noticed before, like this large boulder that was cut by someone in the past. The short 3 inch deep lines around its edge are what’s left of the holes that were drilled so tools called feathers and wedges could be pounded in them to split the stone. The holes were most likely drilled by hand with a sledge hammer and star drill. One person would hold the drill while the other hit it with the hammer, and that says a lot about both skill and trust.

6. Trailing Arbutus

The cutting of the forest has also thrown sunlight on many shade loving plants, including this trailing arbutus. Its leaves should be deep green rather than the yellowish green seen here. There were a few flowers tucked under the leaves but the plants don’t look as healthy as many other examples I’ve seen.

7. Trail

The skidder used to haul the logs out of the forest turned the trail into a logging road and in places it’s so muddy that people have been forced to make a new narrow trail above the now 2 foot deep trench.  It works fine until you meet someone going the opposite way.  I doubt that it will ever be repaired until the trail becomes a stream and washes half the hill into the road that borders it. Parts of the trail are showing signs that this is already happening, and they look more like dry stream bed than trail. In a pouring rain the water must really rush through.

8. Stone Wall-2

When I was building dry stone walls I always thought of them as giant puzzles, because I knew that there was always a perfect stone that would fit in the space that I was trying to fill; all I had to do was find it. These days I just admire the work of others, and I thought that this part of an old wall looked particularly puzzle like. This isn’t a “thrown wall” where someone just tossed stones on top of each other in a long pile. This wall was thought about and a certain amount of care was taken when it was built.

9. Stone

Sometimes you see stones in walls that have a story to tell, like this one that I assume probably had the deep grooves worn into it by a glacier. I imagine the father and son, brother and brother, or master and slave had a lot to talk about as they cleared the fields of the many rocks they found. They were talking about glaciers and ice ages in Sweden in the 1700s, but whether or not any of that knowledge would have reached the residents of Swanzey is a question I can’t answer. I do know that Native Americans burnt the town to the ground in the mid-1700s, so the residents probably had other things on their minds than glaciers and ice ages.

10. Stone

Other stones, instead of being shaped by ice, show traces of the hot magma that formed them.

11. Turkey Tails

These young turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) grew on a piece of bark that had pulled away from the stump it grew on. They reminded me of the old song Blue Velvet by Bobby Vinton, and I had it playing in my head for the rest of the hike.

12. Log

There is a very big old log lying beside the trail just before you reach the top and I usually stop here to catch my breath. When I did that this time I saw that the old log had become a nurse log, with a small cherry or black birch growing out of the hollow where a branch once grew. I should have tasted a twig; the taste of wintergreen would have meant it was a black birch (Betula lenta,) which is also called sweet birch, cherry birch, and mahogany birch. It’s an unusual place for a tree to grow and it’ll be interesting to watch.

13. View

I think, out of all the hills I climb, if I climbed them for the view I’d be disappointed about 80% of the time, but since I don’t really care what the view looks like I’m never disappointed. I climb more for the things I see along the trail than what I see from the top, and I see interesting things along the trail every single time I climb. Today’s view would have been among the 80% I’m afraid, with its harsh sunlight and flat blue sky. A deeper blue in the sky and some puffy white clouds would have made a beautiful view but you can’t have everything, and I need to stop and remind myself that I should be thankful that I can even make it up here. There was a time not that long ago when Mount Caesar might as well have been Mount Everest.

14. Monadnock

Mount Monadnock sat in a sun washed haze over in Jaffrey. The word Monadnock is thought to originate with the Native American Abenaki tribe and is said to mean “mountain that stands alone. “ At 3 165 feet Mount Monadnock is taller than any other feature in the region and is visible from nearly every surrounding town. It rises about 2203 feet higher than where I stood when I took this photo.

15. Turkey Vulture

A large bird soared above me on the thermals. I think it was a turkey vulture and I wondered for a moment if it thought I was a turkey. It seemed very interested and circled a couple of times before flying off.

16. Lean To

Someone built a lean-to near the summit sometime in the past. If they stayed up here at night I hope they had a good flashlight and an excellent sense of direction. The cliffs here are quite high and stumbling around up here in the dark would not be wise.

17. Erratic

There is a large glacial erratic that sits on top of Mount Caesar but for some reason I’ve never shown it in a blog post. It’s smaller than a Volkswagen Beetle but not by much. It sits on the granite bedrock where the glacier left it, simply too big and heavy to do anything with. It could have been drilled and split with feathers and wedges like the boulder we saw earlier in this post but that was a lot of work, and what would have been the point? Then you’d just have had to drag the resulting stone slabs all the way down the trail.

18. Mica

This erratic has a lot of mica and feldspar in it, which are minerals I’ve never seen anywhere else here on Mount Caesar. Maybe the glacier carried it from Gilsum to the north. There is plenty of both there. Of course the definition of a glacial erratic is “a piece of rock that differs from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests” and this example seems to fit that definition perfectly.

19. Toadskin

I had to sit by my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) for a while and study them a bit, because the more I look the more I see. On this day they were very dry to the point of crispness, but were still beautiful. The smaller one on the right was pierced by a pine needle, so if you know the size of a pine needle that will tell you the size of the lichen. They aren’t very big; I think the biggest one I’ve seen was about the same diameter as a ping pong ball. I keep hoping to find them at lower elevations but so far the only place I’ve ever seen them is on hilltops. More sunshine? Cleaner air?  I don’t know what attracts them to only the high places.

20. Bluets

The only wildflowers I saw on this morning were bluets (Houstonia caerulea,) and that was okay. They’re beautiful little things but I’ve never seen such an even division in the white and blue on the petals. Usually they have more of one color or the other, and often the white makes a narrow band around the center and the blue colors most of the rest of the petal. I’d have to call these examples bicolor. They were a surprise, and a real treat to see.

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

~Edgar A. Guest

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1. Riendeer Lichen

I haven’t had time to do much climbing over the last few months so I thought I’d make up for the lapse by climbing Mount Caesar in Swanzey. It’s one of my favorite climbs because there is so much to see there, like this drift of reindeer lichen that looks like a snowy path through the woods even in August.

2. Trail

The uphill climb isn’t steep but it’s steady. Recent logging operations here haven’t helped the trail any, but at least it wasn’t muddy.

3. Bedrock

In some places the granite bedrock is exposed. I like the patterns of minerals in it.

4. Starflower

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) have gone to seed but the tiny white seed pods haven’t opened yet.

5. Starflower Seed Pod

Starflower seed pods look like tiny soccer balls and can be tough to get a good photo of. Putting a penny on a stump to use as a background helped.

6. Cicada

I found a dead cicada on the trail and put him on a stump for a better photo too. I never knew they were so blue.

7. Downy Rattlesnake Plantains

As if to illustrate how you can hike the same trail a hundred times and still not see all there is to see, I found downy rattlesnake plantain orchids growing right beside the trail. I can’t believe that I’ve walked right by them all these years without seeing them.

8. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Flowers

This orchid’s flowers are very small and hard to photograph, so I went back with a piece of black artists foam core board and got this shot so you could see what they look like. They look a lot like the flowers of the checkered rattlesnake plantain that I showed in another recent post and indeed the two plants are thought to cross pollinate naturally. I don’t know what made them appear so sparkly in this photo.

9. Acorns

Acorns were falling all around me but the real surprise was hearing a large tree fall off in the woods. I couldn’t see it and was glad I wasn’t anywhere near it because it made a tremendous crashing sound when it fell. That’s a rare experience for me.

10. Fairy Stool

Cinnamon fairy stools (Coltricia cinnamomea) grew here and there all along the trail. They get their common name from the concentric bands of cinnamon brown coloring on their inch diameter caps. They are a tough, leathery polypore which, if picked when fresh, will hold their color and shape for a long time.

11. Coral fungus

My Mushroom books don’t say much about club shaped fungi but I think this might be Clavaria ornatipes. This fungus is described as spatula or club shaped and greyish to pinkish gray. It grew directly out of the ground.

12. Coral fungus

The reason club and coral fungi grow the way they do is to get their spores, which grow on their tips, up above the soil surface so the wind can disperse them. This example is another of the Clavaria club fungi I think, but I haven’t been able to identify it.

13. View

There are good views to the south from the top of Mount Caesar though on this day it seemed just a bit hazy.

14. Swanzey LakeIt was a very hot and humid day with temperatures approaching 90 degrees and I found myself wishing I was swimming at Swanzey Lake rather than sitting up here in full sun.

15. Monadnock

I couldn’t leave without looking across the hills to Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey. It’s the highest mountain in these parts and is also the second most climbed mountain in the world, and on a day like this there were probably hundreds of people on it.

16. Toadskin Lichen

My friends the toad skin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) were very dry and ashy gray for the most part, but I did find a moist green one here and there. I’ve only seen these lichens growing on the very tops of hills so visiting them comes with a price. They’re beautiful and rarely seen though, so it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

18. Looper Moth

I never would have seen this moth if it hadn’t flown in front of me to land on a tree trunk. Even though I knew where it had landed I had a hard time finding it, so perfect was its camouflage.  I think it might be a looper moth in the family Noctuidae. There are many, including some familiar ones like the cabbage looper and the golden looper. They all seem to be experts in camouflage, just as this one was.

19. Violet Coral Fungus aka Clavaria zollingeri

Easily the most beautiful thing I saw on this day was this violet coral fungus (Clavaria zollingeri.) My daughter had climbed here the day before and told me that she had seen it but this is a big mountain and I had little hope of finding it. Her directions were perfect though and there it was; the most beautiful coral fungus that I’ve ever seen. I knelt before it to admire its beauty and forgot the heat, the mosquitoes, and even myself for a while.

The events of the past day have proven to me that I am wholly alive, and that no matter what transpires from here on in, I have truly lived. ~Anonymous mountain climber

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1. Path on Bedrock

Since I couldn’t remember the last time I had climbed Mount Caesar in Swanzey I thought it was probably time that I did. I had two objectives in mind: I wanted to see the toadskin lichens that grow on its summit, and I wanted to see the arrow that is carved into the granite on the summit, supposedly by Native Americans. It is said that it points the way to Mount Monadnock. In fact it is said that every hill in this area has an arrow on its summit which points to Monadnock. As you can see in the above photo, the trail starts out as granite bedrock covered by a thin layer of pine needles.

2. Blowdown

What soil there is here is a very thin layer on top of bedrock, as this blown down white pine shows. When it fell it took the soil in its root mass with it, revealing the granite underneath. It’s hard to believe that such a big tree would have a root system no more than 6 or 8 inches thick but this one did.

3. Fern Christmas Tree

A fellow hiker pointed out these small ferns growing on the underside of the blowdown’s rootball. “Christmas ferns in the shape of a Christmas tree,” he said. And so they were.

4. Fallen Tree

Yet another fallen tree had a tangle of oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) vine in its topmost branches. This invasive vine climbs trees, strangling them on the way, to get to the most sunshine. Between their strangling habit and shading out a tree’s crown, the vines weaken the tree and it eventually falls, just like this cherry did.

5. Blue Gray Lichen

Blue is a tough color to find in nature especially in the world of fungi and lichens, so I was surprised when I saw several of these blue gray crustose examples on a stone beside the trail. Crustose lichens grow like a crust and usually can’t be removed without damage to the substrate. I haven’t been able to identify this one.

6. Running Club Moss

I don’t remember ever seeing running club moss (Lycopodium clavatum) on Mt. Caesar but here was a large colony of it. This plant gets its name from the part that isn’t seen in this photo; a long, running stem (rhizome) under the leaves from which the upright parts that are seen here grow. Though this example had no fruiting members (called strobili), the spores that they produce were one collected, dried and used in photography as flash powder before flash bulbs were invented.

7. Teaberry

Teaberries (Gaultheria procumbens) grew right alongside the running clubmoss. If I had to go back as far as my memory could take me and search for the first plant that I ever got to know well, this one would have to be it. My grandmother called them checkerberries and loved the minty taste of the berries. She used to take me into the woods to find the plants when I was just a very young boy. While searching for the plants I would see other plants and ask her what they were, and that’s how my woodland education began. I’ve wanted to know the name of every plant that I see ever since. Teaberry is one of our native wintergreens and is also called American wintergreen.

 8. Bark Patterns on Red Maple

I wondered for a long time what caused these circular patterns in the bark of red maples until I finally found out that they are natural markings that the tree eventually outgrows.  I don’t see them often but every now and then a single tree will be marked in this way. Now I wonder why a certain tree will have them when all of the others around it don’t. If you know anything about it I’d love to hear from you.

Note: Thanks very much to Kathy Schillemat, Josh Fecteau and Al Stoops for identifying this unusual bark pattern as target canker that affects only red maples. The bark pattern is actually caused by the tree defending itself against the canker. Al also sent me an excellent article about how and why Michael Wojtech wrote the book Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast. It’s very much worth a read and can be found by clicking on the word HERE.

 9. Branch Collar

There is a huge old log lying parallel to the trail that always tells me three things:
1. I am very close to the summit.
2. I’m not as young as I used to be.
3. It’s time to stop and pretend that I’ve seen something fascinating while catching my breath.

Only this time I really did see something fascinating; a perfect example of a branch collar. If you do any tree pruning you would do well to read all you can find about branch collars, because if you prune off a branch while ignoring the branch collar you could be slowing down the healing process and inviting any number of diseases to come and visit your trees.

10. View

It wasn’t a great day for looking at the views but it didn’t bother me because that wasn’t what I came here for. It seemed very hazy on this day but it was warm and spring like, so I couldn’t complain. I chose this photo because it shows one of the cliff edges found here. Since I fell out of a tree and shattered my spine in my early teen years heights and I haven’t been the best of friends, but I got close enough to this edge to make the fluttering butterflies in my stomach become soaring eagles. Doing so isn’t something I make a habit of.

 11. Toadskin Lichen

This is what I came to see; my old friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) I’ve only found them in two places and both are on mountain tops. I was surprised to see their grayish color because that meant they were drying out, even after all the rain we’ve had. When wet they are pea green and very pliable, but apparently it doesn’t take them long to dry out and become crisp like a potato chip. I took many photos of them but I chose this one to show you because the lighter gray area shows how they attach their undersides to the stone at a central point, much like a belly button. That is why they are classified as umbilicate lichens. I like their warty-ness.

 12. Carving on Summit

I paced back and forth over every inch of exposed bedrock on the summit but I couldn’t find the arrow pointing to Mount Monadnock. Instead I found this, which I I’m not fond of seeing. Defacing mountain tops has been going on for a very long time but that doesn’t make it right. Even Henry David Thoreau complained about it when he climbed Mount Monadnock back in 1858 and found a name that had been chiseled into the granite in 1801. The date of this example looks like either 1936 or 1986.

I think the very bright sunshine might have had something to do with my not being able to see the arrow, but I know it exists because I’ve seen photos of it online. It really looks more like a “V” than an arrow. It wasn’t a total loss though because I found toadskin lichens growing in 2 more locations that I didn’t know about.

 13. Split Granite

I also found this while I was looking for the arrow. One of the ways stone was split in colonial New England was by drilling a row of holes in it and filling them with water in the winter. When the water froze and expanded it would split the stone along the path made by the holes. Such is the power of ice, and though man had nothing to do with it I’d guess that ice is why this large piece of granite originally split in two. Over the eons-how many is anyone’s guess-the part on the left has been sliding down the mountainside and one day, most likely with an earth shaking roar, it will probably go over the edge.

14. Sign

Well, in the end I did find an arrow pointing to Mount Monadnock but it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. I had to laugh though, because I’ll bet that I’ve walked by this 50 times without seeing it. So much for my great powers of observation. It’s good to be humbled once in a while when we get too big for our britches but that doesn’t stop me from hoping someone will write in and say that they just tacked it to that pine tree last week.

 15. Monadnock

In case you’re new to this blog and are wondering what the hubbub over Mount Monadnock is all about, here is a photo of it. At 3,165 feet it’s the highest point in southern New Hampshire and is said to be the second most climbed mountain in the world after Mount Fuji in Japan. The word Monadnock is thought to originate with the Native American Abenaki tribe and is said to mean “mountain that stands alone. “ It’s hard to get a good feel for its elevation from this photo but it is 2203 feet higher than where I stood when I clicked the shutter.

No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being. ~Ansel Adams

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1. Mount Caesar

History says that Mount Caesar in Swanzey was named after Caesar Freeman, a freed black slave and one of the original settlers in the area. It is said that he lived with the Carpenter family, which is still a well-known name in the town today. I haven’t climbed here since last year, so I thought I’d give it a go over Labor Day weekend.

2. Reindeer Lichens

Mount Caesar seems to be a huge granite monolith. Here and there on the trail you can see where the soil has washed away from the bedrock. At the bottom where the trail starts large areas of reindeer lichens grow on a thin film of soil that covers the granite.

3. Clearcut Forest

Last year, on the other side of a stone wall from the reindeer lichens in the previous photo, large areas of forest were clear cut. This means that the reindeer lichens, pink lady’s slippers, mosses, ferns, and many other shade loving plants now get full afternoon sun. I wonder how long they’ll be able to stand it.

4. Forked Blue Curls

On the other hand, many sun loving annual plants like forked blue curls, slender gerardia, and different lobelia varieties have moved in to colonize the now sunny clear cut area. The forked blue curl blossom (Trichostema dichotomum) pictured had its anthers completely curled up and tucked under, which is something I’ve never seen them do. There are hundreds of these little plants here now.

5. Blowdown

More sunlight isn’t the only change; the loss of such large areas of forest also means that there is now nothing to slow the wind, and several trees in the remaining forest next to the clear cut have been blown down.

 6. Trail

Large log skidders dragging trees down the trail have turned it into road full of rocks and roots. This might not seem like a big deal unless you understand that this trail was probably made by Native Americans and was most likely almost invisible to settlers. Compared to what it once might have been it is now a super highway.

7. Club Coral

Yellow spindle coral mushrooms (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) seem to like growing in soil that has been well packed down, and there is plenty of that along this trail. This group was less than an inch tall. They looked like tiny yellow flames coming out of the earth.

 8. Mushroom with Yellowish Stem

I haven’t been able to identify these pretty mushrooms that I found lying beside the trail and I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen them before. Someone must have picked them to get a closer look.

9. Trail

If you compare the natural lay of the land to the trail surface you can see how much the trail has been eroded-as much as two feet of depth in some places. Parts of it are always wet and muddy but when it rains there is little to stop the entire trail from becoming a stream, so it erodes even more.

 10. View from the Top

In spite of all the obstacles you finally make it to the summit and as always, find that it was worth the effort. This was a beautiful blue sky, white puffy cloud kind of day and I wondered as I sat here, why wouldn’t Native Americans have climbed to this spot to enjoy the view just as we do? It is said that they used Mount Caesar as a lookout but I think that they came here just to sit and gaze too, just like I do.

This mountain and the surrounding lands were extremely valuable to the Native American tribe called Squakheag who lived here and they were willing to fight to the death for them. In April of 1747 they burned the town of Swanzey to the ground. The settlers, fearing the rapidly expanding numbers of natives in the area had all left for Massachusetts, but of course they eventually returned and defeated the natives. Sadly, that seems to have marked the end of any real native presence here. It’s hard not to wonder how much richer our lives would be if we had learned to coexist. The loss of thousands of years of first-hand knowledge of plants, animals, and all of nature is such a shame.

11. View from the Top

You couldn’t have asked for a better day to be sitting on top of a mountain contemplating the view and pondering a little colonial history, so I was surprised to find that I had the whole place to myself. The hardest part of climbing for me is leaving such beauty behind and going back down. There really isn’t any other experience I can think of that can compare to sitting on a mountain top.

12. Mount Monadnock From Mount Caesar

It is said that on Mount Caesar and on the summits of several other hills in the area, there are arrows carved into the granite that all point to Mount Monadnock, which is pictured here. Unfortunately every time I climb up here I forget to look for it but anyhow, there’s no missing Monadnock. At 3, 165 feet it is taller than any other feature in the region.

 13. Lowbush Blueberry

Lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) were already showing their fall colors on the summit.

14. Cliff Edge

If you’re reading this and think you might like to climb Mount Caesar I would bring a flashlight if it’s going to be a late afternoon trip. There are sheer cliffs here, so this isn’t the place to be wandering around in the dark.

15. Toadskin Lichen

Besides the view one of the things that draws me up here are the toad skin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) that live on the summit, because this is the only place I know of to find them.  They grow on stone and are very warty, and they really do look like toad skin. The black dots are their fruiting bodies (apothecia.)

To those who have struggled with them, the mountains reveal beauties that they will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward the mountains give to effort. And it is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with them that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again. The mountains reserve their choice gifts for those who stand upon their summits.   ~Sir Francis Younghusband.

Thanks for stopping in.

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