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Posts Tagged ‘Muskrat Burrow’

Just so you don’t think that every day is sunny here in New Hampshire I decided to flirt with a drenching rain and walk along the Ashuelot River last Saturday. The forecast was for rain and lots of it, but it wasn’t supposed to happen until later in the afternoon, so I thought I’d stay dry.

The trail was snow covered but not icy, so that made for a relatively easy walk. This trail I believe, though I have no real proof, was probably originally used by Native Americans to get to their favorite fishing spots. The word Ashuelot means “collection of many waters” in Native American language and just upriver from here an archeological dig discovered artifacts dating to about 12,000 years ago. Their villages were all along this river, so why wouldn’t they have used this trail or one very much like it in this same general area? People still fish here today as I did as a boy, and they still use this trail to get to their favorite spot.  

I startled a flock of black capped chickadees that were poking around on the bare ground under a white pine.

These branches of an old sunken tree always remind me of the timbers of a ship, so “shiver me timbers” came to mind. Actually the word shiver had nothing to do with ice or cold. It meant splintering the timbers of a ship, accomplished by storms or cannonballs. And it’s doubtful that a pirate ever said it; the term first appeared in print in 1834 in a novel called Jacob Faithful, written by a British Royal Navy officer named Captain Frederick Marryat.

On a meandering river like this one the current always flows slowest on the inside of a bend, and because of the slow moving current ice can form there easier than it can in the swift moving current on the outside of bends. That’s why only half the river was ice covered.

A pair of mallards swam near the far bank. She ate while he watched me for any sudden moves. Meanwhile I fumbled with my camera, trying to get a too short lens to reach them.

Maleberrry (Lyonia ligustrina) shrubs look much like a blueberry, even down to their flowers, but their flowers are much smaller than those of blueberry. I’d guess barely half the size of a blueberry blossom. The two shrubs often grow side by side and look so much alike that sometimes the only way to tell them apart is by the maleberry’s woody brown, 5 part seed capsules, seen here. These seed capsules stay on the shrub in some form or another year round and are helpful for identification, especially in spring when the two shrubs look nearly identical. They both grow all along the banks of the river.

Clubmosses poked up out of the snow. These evergreen plants have been around for a while; fossil records show that they were here 200 million years ago and that some now extinct species reached 100 feet tall. They are thought to be the source of the coal that we burn today. Though some club mosses look enough like evergreen seedlings to be called princess pine, ground pine, and ground cedar they bear no relation to pines or cedars. I remember, not too far in the past, people collecting club mosses to make Christmas wreaths and earn extra money. Unfortunately that led to over collecting and club mosses are now on the endangered species list in many states. They seem to be making a good comeback here, though I still see wreaths made from them every now and then.

Clubmosses don’t flower like pines and cedars but instead produce spores like a fern. Spores form in spike-like structures called sporophylls, which are the  yellowish “clubs” seen in the previous photo. They reproduce by their spores, which can take 20 years to germinate, and by horizontal underground stems. When the “clubs” look prickly like this example they have released their spores and they usually do so in winter. The spores were used to control bleeding and the plants used in a medicinal tea by Native Americans. The spores contain a wax like substance that repels water and have also been used to soothe diaper rash and other skin ailments. Dried spores are extremely flammable and will explode in a blinding flash when lit. They are the source of the flash powder used in some stage pyrotechnics and were used in photography as an early form of what later became the flash bulb.

I went off the trail into the woods to look at something and there was a tearing at my clothes. I thought I had stumbled into a blackberry patch but no, these were the thorns of multiflora rose  (Rosa multiflora.) This plant originally came from China to be used as an ornamental and as the old story goes, almost immediately escaped and started to spread rapidly. It grows over the tops of shrubs and smothers them by using all the available sunshine. I’ve seen it reach thirty feet into trees. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was imported more for its scent than any other reason, because to smell it is like smelling a bit of heaven on earth. Its thorns mean business though.

There were more thorns to worry about on invasive Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) stems. They looked like knee high barbed wire. The shrub grows into nearly impenetrable thickets here along the river and fruits prolifically. It crowds out native plants and can prevent all but the smallest animals getting through. The berries are rich in vitamin C and are sometimes used to make jams and jellies.

A broken maple had fallen into another tree on the far side of the river.

Another broken maple was closer, right along the path. This was a red maple.

The target canker on the bark of this tree tells me it’s a red maple because, if I understand what I’ve read correctly, red maple is the only maple that gets target canker. There are plenty of red maples here, and in fact I think they’re the predominant species. Unfortunately many of them seem to be weak trees because they fall regularly. It isn’t because of target canker though; it doesn’t hurt the tree.

I saw through a see through tree.

Beavers had munched part way through an ash tree. I wish they’d take the tree down because half cut trees can be dangerous, especially with the winds we’ve had lately. In the end though, I don’t suppose the beavers care what I think. They have their reasons for doing what they do and they’ve been doing it for a lot longer than I’ve been wishing they wouldn’t.

While I was thinking about the beaver tree I almost stumbled into a muskrat burrow. It looked like it had collapsed and fallen in on itself. The word muskrat is thought to come from the Algonquin tribe of Native Americans and is said to mean “it is red.” I’ve read that the original native word was musquash. Muskrats will burrow into the banks of ponds, rivers or lakes creating an underwater entrance. They also build feeding platforms in wetlands.

Every now and then I’ll see a tree standing dead, with all of its bark gone. I always wonder what, even if the tree has died, would cause all of its bark to come off. It’s normal for trees to lose bark, but usually not all of it all at once. I’ve seen long strips of bark at the base of trees like this one, curled around the trunk where it fell. Sometimes these bark strips are 10 feet long or more and pliable, as if they fell off while still healthy.

I kicked around in the snow at the base of the tree in the previous photo and sure enough, there were strips of bark all around it. The bark was still pliable; this photo shows the beautiful colors of the inner bark.

The inner bark of trees can often be beautiful and sometimes unexpectedly colored. I’ve even seen blue. This photo shows the colors found under a strip of birch bark that someone had peeled off this tree.

I reached the little red bridge in what seemed like record time, but I had seen much. When you dawdle and look at this and admire that sometimes you lose yourself and time does strange things. In any event I had no appointments and had only to wonder about the coming rain. In the end I didn’t get wet so it was a perfect day. Actually it would have been a perfect day even if I had gotten wet.

All along the trail I kept getting glimpses of a bright golden something on the bank up ahead and finally when I reached the bridge I could see that it was only a clump of grass. I had to smile because all along the trail every time I had tried to get a photo of it there was something in the way, but I also had to admire it for its beautiful color. Never did a clump of dead grass please me more.

Those who find beauty in all of nature will find themselves at one with the secrets of life itself. ~L. Wolfe Gilbert

Thanks for coming by.

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