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Posts Tagged ‘Mountain Cinquefoil’

On the fourth of July at just after 7:00 am I started the climb up Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. The sunshine hadn’t reached the trailhead yet so it seemed dark to the cameras.

There were many blueberries ripening there along the trail but they were small. So far, we’ve had a dry summer and since they are mostly water, they haven’t been able to plump up. There were lots of them though so if we get some rain, it’ll be a good year for blueberries.

Hay scented ferns had yellowing tips, meaning they were being stressed by dryness.

I was catching up to the sun. This was the first hike up this mountain in recent memory when I didn’t have to stop to catch my breath. I did stop to take photos of course, but the stopping wasn’t due to low lung power and that was encouraging.

Here in the meadow was where all of the sunshine was, and it was bright. I usually take this shot more to the left but that was impossible on this day. I think the light would have destroyed the sensor in my camera.

I could see cloud shadows on the distant hills. They’re something I’ve always loved to watch move over the land. What a beautiful morning it was. Just a little on the cool side made it perfect weather for climbing. I think it was 55 degrees F. when I started.

Mount Monadnock is the highest point in the region so no matter where you stand you are looking up at it, even if you’re standing on top of another mountain.

But I wasn’t at the top yet. I still had to negotiate the worst part of the trail. This leg has many stones and roots to trip over.

The state owns the 5 acres at the top of Pitcher Mountain and they tell you that, but I’d guess that about 99% of the people who pass this sign never see it.

There were potential blackberries but they were small and stingy like the blueberries. We really need to see some rain.

Orchard grass had bloomed itself out and now hung its head to drop its seeds.

Here was the final approach to the summit. The wide road finally becomes just a footpath.

There were lots of bush honeysuckles blooming along this section of trail. Not a true honeysuckle but a pretty splash of color just the same.

As I climbed the last few yards to the summit, I turned to take a photo of the ranger cabin and found that the sky had turned to milk. A strange light fell over everything for a time.

The views especially, were affected by the unusual light. I saw that the wind turbines over in Antrim were spinning as fast as I’ve ever seen them go, but I didn’t feel even a hint of a breeze.

I wasn’t happy when I got home and saw this photo on the computer. What? I said to myself, the sky didn’t look like that. And the shading on the hills isn’t right! All the grousing and whining I was doing reminded me of a quote by artist Justin Beckett that I’ve always liked very much. He said “I could paint these mountains the way they look, but that isn’t how I see them.” So true, and I had to laugh at myself. In the end the photo stayed just the way it was. Not what I saw, but reality instead.

Finally the milky sky passed and things were back to blue again. I was surprised to find that I had the entire summit all to myself on a holiday. For a while, anyhow; it wasn’t long before a gentleman about my age came up the trail. I told him that the only other time I’d had the summit to myself was in winter. In January two or three years ago was the last time, I believed. “You come up here in January?” he asked. “Isn’t it a little icy?” “It can be, yes.” I told him. “I’ve had to crawl up those last few yards on my hands and knees.” By the look on his face you’d have thought I had just told him that I was from the crab nebula. I should probably have just kept my mouth shut. Only another nature nut could understand someone clawing their way up a mountain in January. In any case it wasn’t long before I had the summit to myself again.

I could just make out the cuts for the ski slopes on what I believe is Stratton Mountain over in Vermont.

The view of the near hill is being blocked by growth. Every now and then someone, or a group of people, comes and cuts the undergrowth to restore the views. I like to see the near hill. It rises up out of the forest like an ancient burial mound.

The old dead birch was still standing. It has become like a landmark to me so when it falls, I’ll miss it.

The morning light turned some of the mountain cinquefoil flowers in this shot blue but they are actually white. This plant also called three toothed cinquefoil because of the three large teeth at the end of each leaf.

They’re also very small. Just about the size of an aspirin I’d guess, but though small they certainly aren’t dainty. They survive some nasty weather up here; everything from being coated in ice to baking in the sun.

Common goldspeck lichens cover the exposed bedrock of the summit beautifully. If you want to talk toughness, I can’t think of another living thing as tough as a lichen. Science says they are about as close to immortal as any earth-bound being can be. They’ve even survived the vacuum of space.

In all the years I’ve been coming up here I’ve never seen the depressions in the bed rock that I call the bird baths dry up. Even in the bad drought we had three years ago there was water in them but now, all but this one had dried up, and this one looked like was going fast. There were lots of small birds like chickadees and juncos in the bushes watching me, just waiting for me to leave so they could use it, so I didn’t hang around the area long.

The blueberries on the summit were ripening quickly but they were small. Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberries and many people and families come to pick them each year.

I thought I saw a dragonfly on a fern but it was a tiny feather. I get fooled by feathers a lot but this one was worth being the fool for. I thought it was beautiful and I wished I had seen the bird that dropped it. It must have been beautiful as well.

And then it was time to go down. When I got here earlier, the first thing I saw was three college age men running down this trail at full tilt. I suppose they must have run up it first, and that would have been near the twilight of dawn. More power to them. I was young once, too. May they all lead long and healthy lives.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

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As I always do at this time of year, I went to visit Pitcher Mountain over in Stoddard. I got there so early in the morning the mist was still in the trees. The mountain was named after the Pitcher family who settled here in the 1700s, and from the treeless summit you have a full 360-degree view. The views are almost always good but when the trees have changed into their fall colors it can be beyond beautiful.

I was surprised to see that the oaks had already turned.

And the beeches as well. This was not what I expected. Obviously fall was moving faster up here than it was down in the lower elevations.

The trail was thick with fallen maple leaves, and all of these signs told me that I was probably too late to see peak color on the summit but no matter; up we go.

It was early morning and the sun was shining, the birds were singing, the forest was beautiful and I had nowhere to be, so what I might find on the summit didn’t concern me.

I had to stop at one point and say hello to a pretty little haircap moss growing beside the trail.

I wanted to see if the moss had produced any spore capsules and it had, as this photo shows. When young the female spore capsule of a haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra which protects it. You can’t see it in this photo because it has fallen off already, but it is very hairy and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually as the capsule ages it moves from vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra falls off. The spore capsule continues to ripen after the calyptra comes off and when the time is right the beaked end cap or lid called the operculum will fall off and release the spores to the wind. As it ages the spore capsule changes from round to four cornered but not quite square, as seen here. I would guess by looking at it that the end cap was nearly ready to fall off. I’ve taken them off before so I could see the tiny, dust like spores. There were so many I wondered why every bit of ground on this planet wasn’t covered in haircap moss.

An Indian cucumber root plant (Medeola virginiana) surprised me by still having berries. They are usually snapped up quickly, by turkeys I believe, since I have accidentally scared the birds away from them when trudging through the woods.

There were lots of clouds in the sky but it was still a beautiful, if cool fall day.

When I turned around and looked back at the way I had come, I could see lots of color.

There was plenty of color along the trail as well. The many bright red blueberry bushes were beautiful.

And so were the blackberry bushes.

And there was the ranger cabin. I wondered who it was that carried all the materials up here to build it years ago. If you unlock the gate down below you can drive to a point but the last few hundred yards would have required hand carrying because of all the rocks and the steepness of the grade. The trail is only one person wide too, so it must have been quite a job. It’s a shame that it isn’t being maintained.

It has always looked to me that there used to be an apple orchard up here and though the trees no longer bear they’re still here. I was surprised to find spring beauties, one of our most beautiful spring wildflowers, growing under this tree one year.

I’ve read that the fire tower is manned when the fire danger is high and I’ve seen people in it but normally it is empty. One day when I was up here they let all the families go up into it, but I kept my feet on the ground. I don’t get along well with heights and I would imagine it must sway a bit in the wind.

Once I reached the summit I saw that I had indeed waited too long to make this pilgrimage, because almost all of the blueberries and other bushes had lost their leaves. They add a lot to the beauty of the place but they aren’t all there is to see. I like cloud shadows, and I had plenty of them to watch. I also had the whole place to myself for a time.

The quality of color depended on which direction you turned. There was quite a lot of close color looking this way. If the blueberries still had their leaves though, it would have been even better.

All the leafless bushes seen here are blueberries and that’s why Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberry picking. Entire families come from all over to pick. I’ve sat here during blueberry picking season and heard voices coming from out there among the bushes without ever seeing a soul. You hear voices saying things like “This bush is loaded!” or “I need another bucket!” and you wonder, where are they?

I wanted to show you what I call the near hill but it was completely under a cloud shadow, so I sat and waited. At one point, and I think that moment is in this photo, every part of the landscape all around the hill was in full sunshine, but the hill remained dark. I like a challenge so I thought I’d just wander around and wait. By that time the summit was crowded with families. I was happy to see lots of children up here.

While I waited, I wandered over to the bird baths. Since it had rained the night before I wasn’t surprised to see them full. In fact I’ve never seen the biggest one dry, even in drought. I have seen birds bathing in it though.

Something I’ve never seen is a puddle on this part of the summit, but here was a big one. Big enough for the wind to ripple it in fact, and how the wind did blow. It actually moaned and howled through the stairs on the fire tower and two or three of the smallest children cried, afraid the wind would blow them off the mountain. Though I didn’t say anything to the parents their fear was justified; I’ve been almost blown over by big gusts a few times while up here. I was glad their parents were there to comfort them and I was also glad that that I had worn a jacket.

I discovered that mountain cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata) turns yellow in the fall. If you’re patient all the answers will come.

I returned to view of the near hill several times but all I got was an occasional glimpse before the clouds closed in again. I played this game for over an hour and each time i took a look the break in the clouds quickly closed in again. I became determined that I would get a photo of the hill in full sunshine, so I waited and did some more wandering.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) looked like someone had spilled egg yolk all over the rocks. They and other lichens grow profusely up here.

This crustose lichen is very granular and is often busy producing spores, but I didn’t see any of its fruiting bodies (apothecia) on this day. These lichens were once used to dye wool in Sweden but I still wonder how they got them off the rocks. Crustose lichens usually can’t be removed from the substrate they grow on without damaging it in some way, so maybe a chisel was used. It must have been quite a job.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) also grow in great numbers here. The pale orange pad shaped parts are its fruiting bodies (Apothecia,) and the grayish, broken looking part is the body (thallus) of this relatively common lichen. A few years ago I thought they were rare until I started finding them on rocks almost everywhere I went.

Finally the clouds parted and I was able to see what I had been waiting for. There was a surprising amount of color still on the near hil but also a lot of bare trees. My guess would be that all the color comes from oaks and beeches rather than maples. In any event I’m happy that I am able to show it to you. Now that I had the shot, I could go back down to a less windy, flatter place.

You don’t have to wait until you get to the top of a mountain to enjoy the view. ~ Eleanor Brownn

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Last Sunday I felt like it was time to climb again, so I chose Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. It was supposed to be a hot, humid day so I made sure I got there earlier than I usually do. In fact I had never been on the mountain that early in the day, so the quality of the light was surprising all the way up.

I saw lots of blackberries, in bloom and forming berries.

I also saw lots of unripe blueberries and I was going to show you some but this fly landed on a blueberry leaf and instead of getting shots of the blueberries I got a mediocre shot of the fly just before it flew off. And I forgot about the blueberries.

As its common name implies Indian cucumber root’s (Medeola virginiana) small root looks and tastes a lot like a mini cucumber, and Native Americans used it for food. The plant is easy to identify because of its tiers of whorled leaves and unusual flowers. It likes to grow under trees in dappled light, probably getting no more than an hour or two of direct sunlight each day.

The flowers of Indian cucumber root dangle under the leaves and usually have 6 yellowish green tepals, 6 reddish stamens topped by greenish anthers, and 3 reddish purple to brown styles. These large styles are bright red- brown but I think they darken as they age. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry. I had to lift one of the leaves to get this shot, so you have to look carefully to see them.

Halfway up the mountain I found the meadow ready to be cut for hay. That’s Mount Monadnock in the background.

It looked like the meadow was full of orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata,) which I’m sure the Scottish Highland cattle that live here appreciate. George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.” As this photo shows, it’s also beautiful when it flowers.

Orange hawkweed bloomed profusely in the meadow and what I believe were great spangled fritillary butterflies enjoyed them. I hoped to get a shot of their pretty silver spotted underwings but I never did. I did see them once or twice though.

This one turned around on the flower head so I could look into its eyes.

And what eyes it had. Amazingly beautiful. I’d love to be able to see through eyes like that, just once.

The fire tower looked unmanned and I wasn’t surprised. The fire danger isn’t very high now, thankfully.

Staghorn sumacs were soaking up the sun and doing their best palm tree impersonation.

Mountain white cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata) is also called three toothed cinquefoil because of the three large teeth at the end of each leaf. The white 5 petaled flowers are small; maybe a half inch across on a good day. They are said to bloom for 2 or 3 months and make an excellent choice for a sunny rock garden that doesn’t get too hot, because they don’t like heat. I would think that they must struggle a bit up here in full sun all summer but they’re spreading all over the summit.

This shot perfectly illustrates why I always say I don’t climb for the views. I like to see the views as much as anyone but if I was disappointed every time the views weren’t good I’d spend a lot of time being disappointed. I see so many interesting and beautiful things while I’m climbing a hill or mountain by the time I reach the summit the view is secondary; just icing on the cake.

Despite the haze I tried to get a few good shots because I know people like to see them. This view of Mount Monadnock wasn’t too bad.

I love the blue shading on the distant hills and I could just sit and look at them the entire time I spent here. Every peak is followed by a valley, like waves on the sea.

Reaching what I call the near hill would still be a long walk.

The bushes seen flowering in some of these shots are smooth arrow wood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum.) the shrub has yellowish white, mounded flower clusters and it can be seen blooming just about everywhere right now. Later on the flowers will become dark blue drupes that birds love. It is said that this plant’s common name comes from Native Americans using the straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used the shrub medicinally and its fruit for food.

It took all the zoom my camera had in it to get this shot of the wind turbines over in Antrim.

Since I’ve said enough about the old ranger’s cabin in previous posts I thought I’d skip it this time and I did, until I was coming down off the summit. It was then that I saw a window open that was boarded up the last time I was here.

The first time this happened I thought it was probably a bear, but bears don’t usually sit in white plastic lawn chairs and there were now several of them on the front porch. I could see one inside as well, so I had a good idea where the ones on the porch came from.

The inside looked trashed, and American flags were on the floor among the litter. Some may feel that a flag is just a piece of cloth but a flag, any flag, always stands for something, and both it and what it stands for deserve respect. It’s hard to see old places like this vandalized but it looks like that’s what has happened. Hopefully someone from the Forest Service or someone else in charge will board the window back up.

Just inside the window there was a table and it had an Audubon magazine on it. It was from 1988 and it cost three dollars. That seems like a lot for back then.

I could have gone back down the mountain fretting about the vandalism I saw but since there is little I could do about it other than making it known by showing it here, I chose instead to marvel at the smallness of a creature that can live between the upper and lower surface of a sarsaparilla leaf. I sometimes feel like I’m just bouncing from one astonishment to another.

Certain things catch your eye, but pursue only those that capture your heart. ~Native American saying.

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