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Posts Tagged ‘Native Plants’

Last weekend warm air moved over the cold snow and created a fog which was quite thick in places, including here in the man-made railroad canyon in Westmoreland. Ice climbers call it the icebox and there was plenty of ice to see on this day.

Once cold settles in here, which in places is as much as 50 feet below surface level, it usually stays for the winter. There is also a lot of groundwater trickling out of the rock walls, and that coupled with the cold creates ice columns which are often as big as tree trunks. So big that the Appalachian Mountain Club comes here to train ice climbers.

There were some impressive Ice falls here on this day but I don’t know if they were ready to be climbed.

There are many signs to tell you what goes on here, like this metal tie off. Ice climbers call these “screws.”

I’ve included this shot from last year to give you a sense of scale of the place. It doesn’t take much ice to get them climbing but on this day they admitted that they were doing as much rock climbing as they were ice climbing. I don’t usually speak to these people out of fear of breaking their concentration. It could be the climber’s first climb and they need to be able to hear and concentrate on the instructions coming from below. Sometimes if I hear them say they need a rest I’ll speak to them but I never stay long. They’re a gutsy bunch. With my paralyzing fear of heights they’d have to pry me from that wall one finger at a time.

In places water quite literally pours from the rock walls. Until I came here I never knew how much ground water could be moving just below the surface.

Water pours and trickles from every crack in the stone, in winter and summer.

The ice falls can be very beautiful.

In places the groundwater sometimes doesn’t flow and even in winter the place reminds me of the Shangri-La James Hilton described in his book Lost Horizon. Being here is like walking back in time to an unspoiled place, even though it was actually created by man. It’s easy to lose yourself in the beauty of it and it’s common for me to have no idea how long I’ve spent here.

Of course all that water has to be taken out of the canyon somehow, so the railroad built drainage channels along each side of the trail. When they are maintained they still work as they were designed to 150 years ago.

As I always do I headed south out of the deep canyon to the southern part of the trail. On the way you pass an excellent example of how a retaining wall should be built; tilted back into the hillside at about 10 degrees. This adds a lot of strength to the wall. You can’t see it in this shot but what’s left of a signal box is on top of the wall about half way down.

And before long I saw this; the entire southern canyon was flooded. Trees and tree limbs fall regularly here and they often land in the drainage channels. With regular maintenance this isn’t a problem but if nobody removes the trees and branches leaves build up and plug the channels. That’s exactly what has happened and since the water had nowhere else to go it ran into the rail bed and washed it out in several places. I went along and pulled out what branches I could but this will take two strong backs with a chainsaw and a stone rake to do it properly. Coincidentally I met a man on a 4 wheeler who was trying to clean things up but he had no real tools and his ability was limited, but he did say that there are many committees and commissions that know about this problem, so hopefully it won’t be long before this is taken care of. This place is after all one of a kind. There is nothing like it that I know of anywhere else on this rail trail circuit.

I’ve noticed that the green alga (Trentepohlia aurea) that grows here and there on the walls seems to  be spreading, so the conditions must be right for it. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll. Someday, maybe after I retire, I’m going to come here regularly so I can better understand its life cycle. I know it produces spores but it’s something I’ve never seen happen. Since you have to walk through the drainage channel to get to it I don’t see it up close very often.

There was some colored ice already forming. I believe the color comes from various minerals in the groundwater. Due to the rise and fall of the water in the drainage channel the ice is always cut off in a very straight line as you can see here.

Every year this evergreen fern is encased in an icy prison, but every year it just shrugs it off.

A blackberry still had some color.

Here was more colored ice. Blue is the most dense but I didn’t see any of that. In fact much of the ice was rotten, which is what happens if it gets too warm. Rotten ice is soft and opaque and makes a dull thud when you strike it. New clear ice is quite hard and rings a bit when you strike it.

Here is one of the mineral seeps found along the trail. I believe it is iron, possibly oxidized by bacteria. Certain types of bacteria can take iron dissolved in groundwater and oxidize it. Oxidation prevents iron from dissolving in the water and produces either an orange colored slime as is seen here, or an oily sheen. I think this must play a large part in why there is so much colored ice found here.

Here was a bit more colored ice. Location seems to be random because it doesn’t always happen in the same place year after year.

The beautiful reptilian great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) like to grow in places where they are constantly splashed by or dripped on by very clean ground water. Though they like a lot of water they won’t stand being submerged in it and die back if the water level rises. Ice doesn’t seem to bother them because they are often totally encased it all winter in this place. This is the only place I know of to find them.

Since I wasn’t wearing my rubber boots I couldn’t get close to the liverworts but I wished I could smell them. If you squeeze a small piece and smell it you’ll immediately smell one of the cleanest scents found in nature that I know of. In general liverworts are a sign of very clean water, so that says a lot about the quality of the groundwater in this place. There are also small brook trout swimming in the drainage channels, and that’s another sign of very clean water.

Orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) is also called crowded parchment but no matter what you call it, it’s a beautiful fungus that can be seen from quite a distance. It loves moisture so this place brings out its best.

How appropriate I thought, to find one of the fungi that Ötzi, the 5000 year old “iceman” whose well preserved body was found in the Ötztal Alps in 1991 carried. From what I’ve read he carried two types of fungi; birch polypores (Piptoporus betulinus) and the one shown here, which is the tinder polypore (Fomes fomentarius.) There are lots of different theories of why he would have carried these two particular fungi but I don’t think anyone will ever know for certain. What is known is birch polypores have antiseptic properties and tinder fungi are good for starting fires, and both would have been valuable to someone who walked 5000 years ago.

This stream carries all the water from the drainage channels off into the woods to some unknown body of water. It could flow into Tenant swamp in Keene, which isn’t too far downhill from here. The “hills” you see on either side are actually made of much of the blasted stone that came from the deep cut canyons.

Off in the distance a bridge goes over the stream. It’s a narrow thing, possibly 8-10 feet wide, and I’ve always thought it must have been used as a way for ore carts to get all the stone away from the railbed, but now I wonder if it might have been used for one of those pump handle carts they used to use. Somehow men had to get into the canyon and move a lot of snow after every storm and I’ve wondered for years how they did it. There were plows fitted to the front of some locomotives but I think there still would have been a lot of cleaning up to do afterwards. The canyons are only about 4-6 feet wider than a train so there wouldn’t have been a lot of room for snow.

I think all the snow removal tools would have been kept in the old lineman’s shack, which may or may not make it through another winter. Ever so slowly it leans in on itself. Since we just got 16 inches of snow on the day I’m finishing this post I wonder if it isn’t just a pile of boards now.

One moment the world is as it is. The next, it is something entirely different. Something it has never been before. ~Anne Rice

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I was driving along an old road looking for fall color when I saw a barred owl in a tree. I stopped the car and got out and much to my surprise the owl stayed put.

A few years ago I came upon a barred owl sitting right in the middle of a trail and like this one it let me take as many photos as I wanted. This one was much bigger than that one but like that owl, this one sat perfectly still and watched me almost the entire time. In this shot you can see that it did look away, and I’d like to think that was because it sensed that I meant it no harm. After taking A few shots I got back in the car and got ready to leave, watching as the owl flew deeper into the woods. Being able to look a wild creature directly in the eyes for a while is a rare thing, and something you never really forget. I’ve stared into the eyes of everything from black bears to porcupines to chipmunks and each time it feels as if they’re giving you something of themselves, willingly. And you want to do the same.

Wilde Brook in Chesterfield was a little wild on the day I was there and it was good to see.

Many streams like this one have dried up completely and though we’ve had some rain this part of the state is still in moderate drought. Other parts of the state are seeing extreme drought so we’re fortunate.

I find tree roots like this one on well-traveled trails. How beautiful it is; like a work of art worn smooth by who knows how many years of foot traffic? It looks as if it had been made; sanded, polished and crafted with love. But how easily missed it would be for someone who was more anxious to see the end of the trail than what could be seen along it. I’m guessing that many thousands of people have rushed by it without a glance, and this is why when you ask them what they saw they will often say “nothing much.”

A piece of driftwood on a pond shore reminded me of the bleached bones of an ancient creature. It is, or was a tree stump and I liked the flow of its roots and its weathered silvery finish. It grabbed me and held my attention for a while.

Witch hazels are having a glorious year. I’ve never seen them bloom as they are now. Apparently drought doesn’t really bother them.

New England asters didn’t have a very good time of it this year but what I did see were beautiful. This is probably the last one I’ll see until next year.

Golden pholiota mushrooms (Pholiota limonella) usually grow in large clusters on dead or dying logs and trees, but this tiny thing grew alone. It’s cap was no bigger in a diameter than a penny. These mushrooms are toxic and are said to smell like lemon, garlic, radish, onion or skunk. They are said to taste like radishes by those unfortunate few who have tasted them. Note how it seems to be growing out of a tiny hole in the log.

Though jelly fungi grow at all times of year I think of them as winter fungi because that’s usually when I find them. I often see them on fallen branches, often oak or alder, and I always wonder how they got way up in the tree tops. Yellow jellies (Tremella mesenterica) like this one are called witch’s butter and are fairly common. We also have black, white, red, orange and amber jelly fungi and I’d have to say that white and red are the rarest. I think I’ve seen each color only two or three times. Jelly fungi can be parasitic on other fungi.

Puffballs grew on a log. The biggest, about as big as a grape, had been partially eaten and I would guess that a chipmunk had been at it. I never knew chipmunks ate mushrooms until I saw one doing so this past summer. I often see gray squirrels eating them as well.

A tree “marriage” happens when two trees of the same species rub together in the wind. When the outer bark is rubbed off the inner cambium layer of the trees can become naturally grafted together and they will be married from then on. The process is called inosculation and isn’t as rare as we might think. This maple tree shows that even limbs on the same tree can do it, but this is the first time I’ve seen it happen this way.

Native little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) catches the light and glows in luminous ribbons along the roadsides. This is a common grass that grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington, but is so uncommonly beautiful that it is grown in gardens. After a frost it takes on a reddish purple hue, making it even more beautiful.

It is the way its silvery seed heads reflect the light that makes little bluestem grass glow like it does.

I had quite a time trying to find out what was wrong with this blueberry leaf with big black, tar like spots and I’m still not sure I have but it might be blueberry rust (Thekopsora minima,) which is a fungal disease which infects the leaves and fruit of blueberries and other plants in the Ericaceae plant family. The disease can eventually kill the plant if left alone so it’s important to treat it if you have a lot of bushes. I don’t see many problems on wild blueberry bushes so I was surprised to see this. I wish I had thought to look at the underside of the leaf. That’s where the spores are released and wind and rain can carry them quickly to other plants.

This mullein plant was as big as a car tire and will most likely have an impressive stalk of flowers next year. Mullein is a biennial that flowers and dies in its second year. Native Americans used tea made from its large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. They also used the roots to treat coughs, and it is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid. The Cherokee tribe are said to have rubbed mullein leaves in their armpits to treat prickly rash and the Navaho tribe made an infusion of the leaves and rubbed it on the bodies of their hunters to give them strength. Clearly this plant has been used for many thousands of years. It is considered one of the “oldest herbs’ and recent research has shown that mullein does indeed have strong anti-inflammatory properties.

The spiny, 2 inch long fruits of the wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) have a watermelon shape and boys have been throwing them at each other for as long as I’ve been around. The fruit is not edible and the menacing looking spines are soft and pliable at this stage.

Inside a wild cucumber seed pod you find two chambers which hold a single seed each. These seeds look like giant cucumber seeds. A kind of netting is also found inside wild cucumber seed pods and once they dry the netting is even more interesting. A man wrote to me once and told me that he decorated pens that he makes with that same netting. For me these plants are like a time machine that always takes me back to my boyhood.

A friend’s tomatillos have ripened and are ready for salsa Verde. Tomatillo usage dates back to at least 800 B.C. when they were first cultivated by the Aztecs. Today they are also called husk tomatoes and they can be eaten raw or cooked. Scientists have found fossil tomatillos in Argentina dating back 52 million years, so they’ve been around a long time.

Here was another hemlock root, polished by thousands of feet. Do you see its beauty? Part of the beauty I see comes from knowing how much work would go into trying to create something like this in a wood shop, and part of it comes from the artistic bent I was born with. Much of what I choose to show you here I choose so you might see the beauty that shines out of those every day bits of life that we ignore so readily. Instead of stepping on a root without a thought maybe you could just stop and be still for a moment and really see what is there in front of you. It doesn’t have to be a root; it could be a blade of grass or a mountain or an insect. But just see the beauty in it. The more you let yourself see beauty, the more beauty you will see. Finally you will see beauty everywhere, in every thing, and you will become filled with a deep gratitude for being allowed to see the true wonder and beauty of this earth. This is not hard; all it takes is your attention, your contemplation, and a bit of time.

These are some of the things I have learned simply by spending time in nature. I make no secret of the fact that this blog’s sole purpose is to see you spending time in nature as well. It’s kind of like dangling a carrot before a horse, but why do I care what you do? Would you like an occasional glimpse of bliss? Would you like peace to wash over you like a gentle rain and comfort to cover you like a warm blanket? If you experienced these things would you want to harm this earth? Of course you wouldn’t, and that’s what this is all about.

Can we go from fall to winter just like that, with a snap of the fingers? Yes we can because this is New England and the weather can change that quickly here. Snow on Halloween is unusual but it isn’t unheard of; in 2011 we had a nor’easter come through that dropped close to two feet in my yard and cancelled trick or treating for that year. On the other side of the coin sometimes we don’t see any snow until well after Christmas. Nature seeks balance and we’ve had a several months long drought, so we might get a few surprises this winter.

This was a wet, heavy snow that stuck to everything and reminded me of the quote by William Sharp, who said: There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow. It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.

This blueberry bush with its red fall leaves did look radiant with its frosting of white snow.

The oaks were beautiful as well, but too much heavy snow when the leaves are still on the trees can cause major damage and power outages which can last for weeks. Luckily this storm was minor, with only 3-4 inches falling.

Still, leaves fell and autumn leaves in the snow are always beautiful. How beautiful this scene was with its simplicity and that amazing color. I couldn’t just walk away without a photo of it, and then I couldn’t stop taking them.

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
~Albert Einstein

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To be sure that the beech and oak trees are at their peak colors I usually wait until Halloween to visit Willard Pond in Hancock but this year I was afraid that Halloween might be too late, because I saw lots of oak trees already changing. The weather people told me that last Sunday was going to be a perfect fall day, so off I went to the pond.

Before I start following the trail I go to the boat landing to see what the colors are like. That’s where we’re going; right along that shoreline at the foot of the hill. The oaks didn’t look at their peak but the colors weren’t bad.

What I call the far hillside was showing good color as well. Halloween is usually too late for that hillside’s peak because I think it is mostly maples and by then their leaves had fallen.

And then there was a surprise. I heard they built a windfarm over in Antrim and that you could see it from Willard Pond but I didn’t know the wind turbines would be so big. They were huge, and spinning rapidly.

Here is the trail we’re taking. Can you see it? If not don’t worry, it’s there. It’s a very narrow, often one person wide trail.

The trail is very rocky and has a lot of roots to stumble over, but it’s worth all of that and more to be walking through such a beautiful hardwood forest.

Blueberry bushes are virtually everywhere here and they were all wearing their fall best. Such beautiful things they are.

Striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) is common here as well, and the big hand size leaves still had some green in them. They will go to yellow and then to white before falling.

Striped maple comes by its common name honestly. Another name for striped maple is whistle wood because its pulp is easily removed and whistles can then be made from the wood of its branches.

You have the pond just to your right and the hillside just to your left on the way in, and what there is left can be very narrow at times.

There were leaves falling the whole time. These are mostly maple.

Someone had done some trail work at some point in the past and had cut some small oaks, but they were growing back and were beautifully red against the yellow of the beeches.

Wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) grew on a log. These tiny brown spheres are common at this time of year. The biggest I’ve seen were about the size of a pea. They start out as tiny pink globules but as they age and become more like what we see in the above photo, the globules look more like small puffballs growing on a log.

Wolf’s milk slime mold is also called toothpaste slime because of the consistency of its inner plasmodial material. It’s usually pink and goes from liquid to a toothpaste consistency like that seen here, before becoming dusty gray spores.

The hard black balls of the chaga fungus (Inonotus obliquus) grew on a fallen birch. Chaga is the only fungus I can think of that looks like burnt charcoal and grows on birch.  This fungus has been used medicinally in Russia, China, Korea and Japan for centuries, and it is said to be packed with vitamins and minerals. Recently it has shown promise in cancer research, reducing the size of tumors. In Siberia it is said to be the secret to long life.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) were beautiful in their fall reds. Hobblebush is a good name for them because their stems grow close enough to the ground to be covered by leaf litter and if you aren’t careful you could be tripped up and hobbled by them. They’ve brought me down on my face more than once.

The hobblebushes have their spring flower buds all ready to go. These are naked buds with no bud scales. Their only protection from the cold is their wooly-ness.

As is often the case when I come here I took far too many of this incredibly beautiful forest, so I’ll keep sneaking them in when you aren’t watching.

Huge boulders have broken away from the hillside and tumbled down, almost to the water in some places. Some were easily as big as delivery vans. You might find yourself hoping there isn’t an earthquake while you’re here.

In one spot you have to weave your way through the boulders, sometimes with barely enough room for your feet to be planted side by side.

No matter how big the stone if it has a crack that water can seep into and then freeze, the pressure from the ice will eventually split the stone. This boulder was easily as big as a garden shed, but just look what water has done.

Polypody ferns (Polypodium virginanum) grow in great profusion here on many of the boulders. Another name for this fern is the rock cap fern, and it makes perfect sense because that’s what they do. They were one of Henry David Thoreau’s favorites.

They are producing spores at this time of year and each of the spore producing sporangia looks like a tiny basket full of flowers. This is the time of year to be looking at the undersides of ferns fronds. How and where the sporangia grow are important parts of an accurate identification for some.

Another fern that you see a lot of here is the royal fern. Royal ferns (Osmunda spectabilis) turn yellow in the fall before becoming this kind of burnt orange. Many people don’t realize that they’re ferns but they are thought to be one of the oldest; indeed one of the oldest living things, with fossil records dating back dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are believed to be able to live for over a century and they live on every continent on earth except Australia. They’re very pretty things.

I wonder how many people have ever been deep in a forest like this one. I hope everyone has but I doubt it. If I could take people who had been born and had lived their lives in a city and lead them into this forest what would they think about it, I wonder. Would they love it, or would it frighten them? I hope they would love it because there is nothing here to be frightened of. It is a gentle, sweet, loving place where the illusion that you and nature are separate from each other can begin to evaporate. It is a place to cherish, not to fear.

Our native maple leaf viburnum shrubs (Viburnum acerifolium) can change to any of many different colors including the beautiful deep maroon seen here. The foliage will continue to lighten over time until it wears just a hint of pale pastel pink just before the leaves fall. There are lots of them along this trail.

Witch hazels blossomed all along the trail. I love seeing their ribbon like petals so late in the year and smelling their fresh, clean scent.

The old bent oak tells me I have reached the end of my part of the trail. Though it goes on I usually stop here because I like to sit for a while and just enjoy the beauty of the place.

There is a handy wooden bench to sit on and so I put away the camera and just sit for a time. On this day I heard a loon off in the distance. Moments of serenity, stillness and lightness; that’s what I find here. It seems an appropriate place to witness the end of the growing season and watch as nature drifts off to sleep in a beautiful blaze of color.

Here is one reason I like to sit on the bench; this is what you see.

And this is what you see on the way back. If you come to Willard Pond you’ll find that you’re in a truly wild place; before the axe and the plow this is how it was. But you’ll also find that the only thing really difficult about being here is leaving.

In wilderness people can find the silence and the solitude and the noncivilized surroundings that can connect them once again to their evolutionary heritage, and through an experience of the eternal mystery, can give them a sense of the sacredness of all creation. ~ Sigurd Olson

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Fall, or autumn if you prefer, continues to impress and amaze even those of us who have witnessed it for decades. Even drought muted colors can stop people in their tracks, and that’s exactly what happened to me when I saw the late afternoon sun just kissing the tops of these birch trees. For a few moments there was fire burning in the tree tops and it was beautiful.

I’ve paid closer attention to how trees change color this year and I’ve noticed that some start to change one afternoon and literally overnight they can double the color they had the previous day, and in this way they can go from green to red or orange in just a couple of days. That explains why I missed most of the color on this section of river this year; it all happened so fast. I’ve also noticed that you can find peak color on one side of town and virtually none on the other side, and you can be fooled.

This sugar maple is in a spot where I can watch it each day and I saw it completely change into its fall color in about two days.

Oaks are just starting to change. They and beeches are the last to change in this area.

The bright lemon yellow at the Branch River in Marlborough comes from invasive Oriental bittersweet’s fall color.

The trouble with Oriental Bittersweet vines is they’re strong as wire cable, so when they climb and wrap themselves around a tree they strangle and kill it. As the tree grows the bittersweet doesn’t give, and the tree dies.

I didn’t see any bittersweet at the Ashuelot River north of Keene but I did see plenty of color, including yellow.

We have 22 miles of trails where I work and this is the start of one of them. It’s a wonderful time of year to live and work in the woods.

The trees along the shoreline of this hill at Half Moon Pond in Hancock are wearing their natural fall colors, but the trees at the top of the hill were colored by the sun. Sun colored trees are often all the same color as these were. This was taken just as the sun was coming over the hill behind me in early morning and the sun often does this to this hill at that time of day.

I looked through a very red, red maple. Red maples don’t always turn red in the fall. They can also be orange or yellow. Sometimes they change color from what they wore the previous year, and I’ve seen lots of trees doing that this year.

Maple leaved viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium) are putting on a beautiful show this year. This native shrub has an amazing range of colors in the fall and I’m surprised more people don’t grow it in their gardens. It also has berries that birds love.

Here is another maple leaved viburnum looking completely different in color. Their leaves seem to start out colored just about any color you can name in the fall, but after their red / yellow / orange/ purple phases all of the leaves eventually become a very pale, ghostly pink, making this shrub’s fall color among the most beautiful in the forest, in my opinion.

This year the theme seems to be that I’m in the right place at the wrong time. Every time I’ve gone to How Reservoir in Dublin to see the beautiful colors there it has been cloudy or even drizzling. I’ve often thought that fall colors have more “pop” on cloudy days, but I’ll leave you to your own opinions about it.

That’s Mount Monadnock in the background.

Sometimes a single tree will beg all of your attention, as this one did on this day.

The mist was thick on this day but the colors were amazing.

Here are some trees in full sun. What do you think? Does shade or sunshine better show the colors. To me, possibly because I’m colorblind, these colors look washed out to me. They’re still pretty but to my eyes they don’t have the vibrancy of those in the shade.

Since all roads look alike as far as foliage goes at this time of year I’m not surprised that I’ve completely forgotten where this one is. It doesn’t matter; if you come here just drive on any road and you’ll see the same.

Highbush blueberries are showing some beautiful colors this year.

This hillside often has cows in front of it, and it is so locally famous for fall color that I’ve seen it in two different newspapers so far this season. By the time I got there many of the trees had already lost their leaves.

This maple had a lot of wow factor. It was huge; white pine trees are our tallest tree but this maple was keeping up with the pine tree right next to it.

I’ve chosen this photo as my favorite of this lot, not just because of the colors but also the wildness. It’s a place of quiet serenity where the silence is often broken only by the call of a loon or a flock of geese. On this morning a loon called. When you hear that eerie sound for the first time you might feel that you hadn’t really lived full measure until that moment, but no matter how many times you’ve heard it before everything will come to a complete stop when you hear it again.

Sometimes moments in life are so perfect you want to freeze frame them; capture them within your soul forever so they never fade away—they burn themselves into your being until they’re a part of who you are. ~Cassandra Giovanni

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Last Saturday I planned to climb Pitcher mountain in Stoddard but the weather people said we’d have showers in the afternoon so instead I went up to the Beaver Brook Natural area in Keene to walk the old abandoned road. Since it is one of my favorite places to explore it had been calling to me, especially since I hadn’t been there since April.

Fall is in full swing and though the old double yellow no passing lines are still on the road you couldn’t see them because of all the leaves.

Beaver Brook had as much stone as water in its bed. Since we’re still in a drought that was no surprise. Our streams and rivers tend to be very rocky.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) bloomed along the brook. Witch hazel is our latest blooming shrub, even blooming as late as January in a warm winter, but I was surprised to see these blossoms this early. Some Native American tribes steamed witch hazel twigs over hot stones in their sweat lodges to soothe aching muscles and others made tea from it to treat coughs. As is often the case Natives had a use for virtually every part of the plant and witch hazel is still in use today. It can be found as a lotion in almost any drugstore. Witch hazel blossoms are pollinated by owlet moths, which are active in winter and are called winter moths, but this year the moths may have help from several other insects I’ve seen still flying. The “hama” part of witch hazel’s scientific name means “at the same time” and is used because you can see leaves, flowers, and the prior year’s fruit all at once on the same plant.

Striped maples lit up the dark spots with their hand size, green turning to white leaves. This is the only maple tree in New England that has bark that is striped with green and white vertical stripes. Other names for the tree are snake bark maple, moosewood maple, goosefoot maple, Pennsylvania maple, and whistle wood, because the soft pith makes the wood easy to hollow out and make whistles from. Native Americans used the bark of the tree to treat many ailments including coughs and colds.

It was a beautiful fall day and it was easy to get lost in the kaleidoscope of colors.

Many of our roads are lined yellow because that’s the color native sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) turns in the fall. The roots of the plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla strangely contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

There are some fairly large ledges out here and lots of stone falls from them so I only go near the ones that I’m fairly sure are stable.

The reason I go near the ledges at all is to see things like the dog lichens (Peltigera) that grow here. They are as big as a dinner plate, so I think they’ve grown here for a long time. Dog lichens are good examples of lichens that will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was. Dog lichens are associated with mossy areas because the mosses help provide the moisture that they need. It is very thin and pliable. It is also a foliose lichen because it is lobed, or leaf like. The upper part of the body (Thallus) is undulating or veined on this example.

I also find smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) on the ledges here. The blue color is caused by the way light reflects off a waxy coating on the fruiting bodies, which is very similar to the “bloom” found on plums, blueberries, and grapes. In addition to blue it can also appear black or gray depending on which direction the light happens to be coming from.  The greenish-gold background color is the color of the body (thallus) of this crustose lichen. It’s a very beautiful thing.

This was the only New England aster I saw here.

Blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) bloomed all along the old road. I never knew until now that so much of it was here.

A bald faced hornet worked the goldenrod blossoms and was quite docile as I got close with my camera. That was unusual behavior because these wasps can be aggressive. I opened a shed door at work this past summer and was immediately stung on the face by one of them. They really pack a punch and their sting hurts more than a bee or other wasps I’ve had run-ins with.

False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) had lost all its berries to critters but it had some fall color.

I was surprised to see “true” Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) growing beside the false. It’s berries were also gone. This plant has blue berries that dangle under its leaves and false Solomon’s seal has red berries at the end of its stem. Native Americans sprinkled dried powdered roots of this plant on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to alleviate headaches. All parts of the plant except the roots and young shoots are poisonous, but that’s assuming you know how to prepare the roots and young shoots correctly. Sometimes the preparation method is what makes a plant useable.

This was the first time I had seen Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) growing out here. I noticed that it had the bright crimson splotch on its upper tier of leaves that I first noticed just a few weeks ago. I’ve read that scientists believe that the red color attracts certain birds like turkeys to the plant’s berries.

Though there are no houses out here the electric company still uses the cleared space of the old road to run its electric lines to houses further up the line.  

And there is a tree on the lines almost every time I come here. You’d think they’d get tired of removing them.

Oyster mushrooms are pure white and seem to always grow in overlapping clusters but in this case there were only two or three. They have off center stems that usually grow out of the side of the log and are hidden by the cap. Mushrooms are often eaten by tiny worms called nematodes that live on plant and fungal tissue, but not  oyster mushrooms. Scientists discovered in 1986 that oyster mushrooms “exude extracellular toxins that stun {nematode] worms, whereupon the mycelium invades its body through its orifices.” What this means is that oyster mushrooms are actually carnivorous. They also consume bacteria (Pseudomonas and Agrobacterium) in order to get nitrogen and protein.

White wood asters (Aster divaricatus) still bloomed here under the trees but in most places they’re all done.

I stopped to chatter with a little friend who had been following me and telling all the other forest creatures I was coming.

But I couldn’t visit with the chipmunk long because dark clouds were moving in fast. They changed my mind about sliding down the embankment to get a shot of Beaver Brook falls.

The weather people had been correct this time and I was glad not to be mountain climbing in the rain. Though this view looks perfectly calm and sun filled the dark clouds were right behind me all the way back and by the time I reached my car it had just started to rain.

The days may not be so bright and balmy—yet the quiet and melancholy that linger around them is fraught with glory. Over everything connected with autumn there lingers some golden spell—some unseen influence that penetrates the soul with its mysterious power. ~Northern Advocate

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This year fall seemed to come overnight, like someone flipped a switch. One day there was no color and the next day I saw it everywhere on my drive to work. Since we are in the middle of a drought nobody knew what fall would bring, and indeed I saw a lot of dry brown leaves falling from the trees, but generally the colors have been fine even if it isn’t quite as spectacular as years past. The hard part from a photography standpoint is that everything seems to be changing at once rather than staggered as it usually is. This shot shows the trees, birch and maple I think, that grow on the ledges at a local dam. I think it’s a beautiful scene.

Usually cinnamon ferns turn pumpkin orange in the fall but either I missed the orange phase or they went right to yellow. In any event they’re beautiful when the cover a forest floor like this. Each one is about waist high and three or four feet across.

I call this one “fisherman’s bliss.” Do you see him there in his little boat?

I can’t imagine fall without maples. They’re gloriously beautiful trees that change to yellows, reds, and oranges.

Up close maple leaves often aren’t that spectacular but clothe an entire tree in them and they become…

…breathtakingly beautiful.

This is a stream I drive by every morning. The sun had just come over the hills.

Ash is another tree that comes in many colors, including deep purple.

Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) also turned purple.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) has turned red just about everywhere I‘ve been. It often turns yellow in the fall and red can be hard to find, but not this year.

Some of the beeches seem to be turning much earlier than they usually do. I count on seeing them in their full fall glory on Halloween.

This view is from along the Ashuelot River in Keene where mostly red and silver maples grow. You can always count on finding good fall color here.

The invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the Ashuelot River will go from green to red, and then will finally become a soft pastel pink to almost white. Right now they’re in their loud orange / red / yellow / magenta stage. It’s too bad they’re so invasive because they really are beautiful, but they dominate the understory and create so much shade nothing else can grow.

What I believe is Miscanthus grass was very beautiful in the afternoon light.

This shot of roadside asters is for all of you who expected to see a flower post today. Our roadside flowers are passing quickly now but I hope to find enough for another post or two.

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is beautifully red this year.

Our native dogwoods can turn everything from yellow to red to orange to deep purple, sometimes all on the same bush.

Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) are one of the first ferns to turn in the fall but this year they seem to be lagging behind in places. They’ll go from yellow to white before turning brown.

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) is a good indicator of moist places and often one of the first ferns to turn white in the fall. Its common name comes from its sensitivity to frost, which was first noticed by the early colonials. Turkeys will peck at and eat the sori in the winter, and that is why sometimes you find the fern’s spores lying on the snow around the plant.

You don’t expect blue to be a fall color but a very beautiful shade of blue is there on the stems of black raspberry.

Virginia creeper vines (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) climb high in the trees to reach as much sunshine as they can. They aren’t noticed for most of the year but when their leaves start to turn they can’t be ignored. Virginia creeper’s blue berries are poisonous to humans but many birds and small animals eat them. This vine had only one berry left, that I could see. My mother loved this vine enough to grow it on the side of the house I grew up in. It shaded the porch all summer long.

Here’s another version of Virginia creeper. I’ve seen it red, orange, yellow, purple and even white.

This was the scene along the Ashuelot river to the north of Keene. I’d guess that all the yellow was from black birch (Betula lenta.) Black birch almost always turns bright yellow quite early in the fall.

I had to show those trees on the ledges again because they’re so beautiful. Since they grow in almost no soil they’re stunted. I doubt any one of them is more than eight feet tall.  

This is a view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock that I see on my way to work each morning. At this time of year it can be a very beautiful scene and I sometimes stop for a few moments of beauty and serenity to start the day.

I saw old Autumn in the misty morn
Stand, shadow-less like Silence, listening
To Silence
 
~ Thomas Hood

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This is something I’ve never seen before; the Ashuelot River is so low that it has stopped falling over the dam on West Street in Keene. I’ve known this section of river all my life. I used to fish here at the dam when I was a boy and they still fish for trout, pickerel and sunfish here today. This dam is known as the Faulkner and Colony dam because it was built around 1777 by that company to power their woolen mill. A few years ago there was talk about removing it to open up the river and another idea would refurbish it to generate power but I haven’t heard anything lately about either idea. I like the thought of restoring the river to what it once was without any dams on it. Two other dams have been removed in the past 20 years; one in Swanzey and one in Hinsdale. They were timber crib dams though; this one is granite block.

When gravel bars like these appear in the river it shows low the water really is. It’s amazing how quickly plants will take over these islands.

Though we haven’t had any rain we’ve had several cool nights and cool air over warm water always means mist, as this shot of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows.

There are highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) on the shores of almost all of our ponds and this year they’ve changed into their fall colors early. They’re beautiful in the fall and rival the colors of the invasive burning bush (Euonymus elatus.)

Though I still haven’t found enough mushrooms to do a full mushroom post I still occasionally find examples that can apparently stand the dryness. Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) mushrooms usually grow in large groups, so I was surprised to find this single one growing in an old woodpile. Another common name for them is sulfur shelf though I’ve worked with sulfur and this mushroom doesn’t remind me of it. The name chicken of the woods comes from the way they taste like chicken when cooked. Finding bright colors in the woods at any time of year is always a surprise and I always feel grateful that I am able to see them. This example was about as big as a dinner plate.

I’ve read that as they age chicken of the woods mushrooms lose their orange color and this one did just that over the course of a day or two. I’ve seen other examples however that have never lost their color, even as they rotted away.

Hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa,) is another edible polypore that often grows in the same spot year after year. They are said to look like the back of a brown hen’s ruffled feathers, and that’s how they come by their common name. I’ve seen only two this year and both were cracked like you can see here.

I’ve had quite a time trying to identify this pretty little bolete and I’m still not sure I’ve got it right but most of the signs point to the red mouth bolete (Boletus subvelutipes) which has a variable colored cap that can be tawny red to yellowish and a red pore bearing surface. One identifying feature that I don’t see on this mushroom is the dark red velvety hairs that are “usually” found at the base of the stalk.

The pore surface of the red mouth bolete is bright scarlet red with yellow at the edges, and this fits the example I found. The red mouth bolete also stains purple at the slightest touch and you can see purple spots on the cap and stem of this example. If it isn’t the red mouth bolete I hope someone can tell me what it is. I found it growing under oaks and hemlocks and by the way, I’ve read that you should never eat a bolete with a red spore surface.

I found some orange fan shaped jelly fungi (Dacryopinax spathularia) growing on a log. Some fungi look like they are erupting from the cracks in the bark and this is one of them. It is an edible fungus which, according to Wikipedia, in China is sometimes included in a vegetarian dish called Buddha’s delight.

As well as fan shaped this small fungus is spatula shaped unlike other jellies that are brain like, and that’s where the spathularia part of the scientific name comes from. This is the first time I’ve seen them.

What I believe were common stinkhorns (Phallus impudicus) have appeared despite the dryness. Their caps looked a bit dry, ragged and tattered and they didn’t last for more than a day. These fungi have an  odor like rotting meat when they pass on.  

The green conical cap is sometimes slimy like this example was. It uses its carrion like odor to attract insects, which are said to disperse its sticky spores. This photo shows its spongy stalk, which feels hollow.

Graceful Hindu dancers glided across the forest floor in the guise of yellow spindle coral (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) mushrooms. Each tiny cylinder is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti. This species usually grows in tight clusters, often in the hard packed soil on the side of the trail, but I’ve found them on the forest floor as well.

It’s apple picking time here in New Hampshire and apples are a big business. These examples are red delicious but my personal favorite is an old fashioned variety called northern spy. Northern spy is almost impossible to find in stores these days because they don’t ship well, but you might get lucky at a local orchard. I think many people are surprised to learn that apple trees are not native to the United States. They have all come from old world stock brought over in the 1600s. Apples from Europe were grown in the Jamestown colony and the first non-native apple orchard was planted in Boston in 1625. Only the crab apple is native to this country and they were once called “common” apples. The Native American Abenaki tribe called them “apleziz” and used them for food as well as medicinally.

Peaches are also ripe and ready. Many people, including people who live here, don’t realize that peaches can be grown in New Hampshire but they’ve been grown here for many years.

River grapes (Vitis riparia) are ripe and they’re disappearing quickly. They grow on the banks of rivers and streams, and that’s how they come by the name. They are also called frost grapes because of their extreme cold hardiness. Many birds eat these small grapes including cardinals, mockingbirds, catbirds, robins, wood ducks, several species of woodpecker, cedar waxwings, blue jays, and turkeys. Many animals also love grapes, including foxes, rabbits, raccoons, skunks and opossums. Deer will eat the leaves and new shoots and many birds use the bark for nest building; especially crows. I went back about a week after I took this photo and every grape was gone.

I thought I’d have a hard time identifying these tiny galls I found growing on the underside of an oak leaf but they were relatively easy to find, even though little to nothing is known about the insect that caused them. Dryocosmus deciduous galls are created when a tiny wasp in the Dryocosmus genus lays eggs on the midrib of a red oak leaf. Each tiny gall has a single larva inside. As the scientific name reveals, these galls are deciduous, and fall from the leaf before the leaf falls from the tree.

Gypsy moth egg cases look like they were pasted onto the bark of a tree. European gypsy moths were first brought to the U.S. in 1869 from Europe to start a silkworm business but they escaped and have been in the wild ever since. In the 1970s and 80s gypsy moth outbreaks caused many millions of dollars of damage across the northeast by defoliating and killing huge swaths of forest. I remember seeing, in just about every yard, black stripes of tar painted around tree trunks or silvery strips of aluminum foil wrapped around trunks. The theory was that when the caterpillars crawled up the trunk of a tree to feed they would either get stuck in the tar or slip on the aluminum foil and fall back to the ground. Today, decades later, you can still see the black stripes of tar around some trees. Another gypsy moth population explosion happened in Massachusetts recently and that’s why foresters say that gypsy moth egg cases should be destroyed whenever they’re found.

Though we’ve had some freezing weather turtles seem to have shrugged it off. I don’t know what this one was standing on but I hope it wasn’t the river bottom. If the river is that low they’ll be in trouble.

Mallards are not as tame here as they seem to be in other places and usually when I take a photo of them all I get is tail feathers, but this group showed me a side view. The water of the river glowed in the sunlight like I’ve never seen. What would it be like I wondered, to be swimming along with them, surrounded by this this beautiful glowing light. Bliss, I think.

A great blue hereon found enough water in the river to get knee deep. As soon as it saw me it pretended to be a statue so I left it in stasis and moved on. When it comes to patience these birds have far more than I do, but they’ve also taught me to have more than I once did.  

I thought I’d leave you with a view of coming attractions. Fall came early and is moving quickly this year. Almost all the leaves are already gone from these trees since I took this photo.

Mother Nature is always speaking. She speaks in a language understood within the peaceful mind of the sincere observer. ~Radhanath Swami

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We’ve had three nights in the 20s F. so I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do flower posts, but for now the hardiest fall flowers, like these I drive by each morning, are still blooming. Goldenrods and several different asters make up this scene. This is when our roadsides turn into impressionist paintings. Those that haven’t been mowed do anyway.

What I call the park aster survived the cold nights and is just coming into bloom.

After bragging a few posts ago how the pink turtlehead (Chelone lyonii) in my yard never got attacked by disease this year it has mildewed and has very few flowers on it. Powdery mildew likes high heat, high humidity and poor air circulation, so with two out of the three available for months this year I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. But I am surprised, because in all the years I’ve had this plant it has never asked for a thing and has thrived on neglect.

In the woods under the trees, white wood asters (Aster divaricatus) are still blooming.

Now here is a plant that I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never seen, or maybe I’ve just never paid attention to it. Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is also called wormwood and it isn’t much to look at, but oh what a ride researching it has taken me on. It’s an herb that has been used by man for thousands of years; the earliest writings regarding it found are from 3 BC. in China. It is also one of the herbs recorded in the Anglo-Saxon nine herbs charm from the tenth century and by all accounts was and still is considered a very important plant. Here is the U.S. it is considered an invasive weed but since I’ve never seen it before now I doubt it’s very invasive in this part of the country.

One of the ways to identify mugwort is by looking at the underside of the leaves which should be silvery white, colored by downy hairs. I’ve read that the ridged and grooved central stem can be green, green with purple ridges, or purple but this one was green. The leaves of the plant are highly aromatic and if you run your hands over the plant you smell a strong kind of sage like odor which is quite pleasant. One of the reasons this plant has been considered sacred for centuries is because it has so many uses, from culinary to medicinal. It is used in China to flavor things like tea, rice cakes and seafood and is used to treat depression, indigestion and lack of appetite. It has even been used to make beer.

These are the flower buds which I’ve been watching for a few weeks, impatiently waiting for them to open. Another way mugwort is used is to ease childbirth and to treat other women’s issues such as menopause. The plant can cause miscarriage however, so it should never be used during pregnancy.  

And then the buds became bright red, and very fine filaments appeared. These filaments reminded me of the tiny female flowers found on alders in spring. I’ve seen photos online of the flowers and these don’t look like those but I think that’s because they hadn’t fully opened when I took this photo. They should become tiny greenish yellow “insignificant” blooms, and I’ll be watching for them. I can say that they were much more aromatic than the leaves and the pleasing scent they left on my hands lasted until I washed it off. In fact I wish I could bottle that scent because it was really very pleasing and not at all overpowering. I’ve read that some are allergic to the plant and can get a rash from it but though I have allergies, it hasn’t bothered me at all.

Mugwort leaves, at least the ones on this plant, turn red in fall. I’m sorry that I’ve spent so much time on mugwort but I’m very interested in this plant. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what it is supposed to be able to do.

I had to go out and see the bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) growing in their moist, shaded spot along the banks of the Ashuelot River. Their numbers seem to be increasing despite being weed whacked and stepped on. Normally I would say that I love their beautiful blue color but these were so purple even I could see it. How odd, I thought. Though I know their usual color when mature is a very beautiful deep violet purple I’ve always seen them as blue until now. Maybe my colorblindness is going away. 

Closed (bottle) gentians are indeed closed and strong insects like bumblebees have to pry them open to get inside. I’ve read that these plants won’t tolerate drought so we’ll have to see what next year brings.

I saw just one single peached leaved bluebell  (Campanula persicifolia) blossom. A survivor.

How can you go 60 plus years and never see a plant and then, all of the sudden, see it everywhere you go? That’s what I ask myself every time I see pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea.) I’ve now found it in four different places. Last year I would have told you it didn’t grow here but I’m glad it does. It’s a pretty little plant.

I’ve discovered by watching the plant that pearly everlasting flowers close each night and open when the sun finds them the following day. Native Americans used pearly everlasting for treatment of sores and rheumatism, and they also smoked it to treat colds and as a tobacco substitute. What I see far more of is sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium,) and they used that plant in much the same way. The name everlasting comes from the way the dried flowers will last for years in a vase.

Heart leaved asters (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) are just coming into bloom. They are pretty little things that are also called blue wood asters, and they last quite late into the fall season, especially if they’re under trees. I often find them along rail trails.

The flowers are quite small; this one might have been a half inch across, but is no less pretty because of it.

It isn’t hard to understand how the heart leaved aster got its name, but the leaf shape can be variable from the bottom to the top of the stem. They have sharp coarse teeth around the perimeter.

A goldenrod that I see a lot of is downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula.) The leaves have a downy coating and that’s where its common name comes from. They reach about a foot and a half tall on a good day, but some books say they will reach 3 feet. The narrow, stalked flower heads (panicles) grow on plants that live at the edges of forests in dry sandy soil, often in colonies of 15-20 plants. The bright yellow 1/4 inch flowers of downy goldenrod seem big when compared to other goldenrod flowers. Native Americans used goldenrod for treating colds and toothaches and it has been used for centuries in to treat kidney stones and urinary tract infections. In colonial times goldenrod growing naturally by the cottage door meant good fortune.

Every time I say goodbye to coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) for the year more appear, and that’s a good thing. According to the USDA the plant was used by many Native American tribes throughout North America to treat a variety of ailments. It was used as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, a treatment for toothaches, coughs, colds, and sore throats. It was also used as an antidote for various forms of poisonings, including snake bite. Portions of it were also used to dress wounds and treat infections. Modern medicine has found it useful to combat bacterial and viral infections and as an immune system booster. I grow it because butterflies and bees like its nectar, birds like the seeds, and I like to admire its beauty.

Nodding bur marigold plants (Bidens cernua) still bloom at the water’s edge at rivers and ponds. Though they might appear fragile these plants are tough. I’ve seen them still bloom even after being walked on and crushed. The pretty lemon yellow flowers look like a miniature sunflower. I like their deeply pleated petals.

Since I like the color blue so much it’s hard not to like vetch, even though it is invasive and is probably responsible for more than a few gray hairs on this head. Once it gets in a garden it is close to impossible to eradicate by pulling alone, and I know that because I tried many times in many gardens over the years. It’s especially annoying when it gets into shrubs. Various vetch species were originally imported from Europe and Asia to be used as cover crops and for livestock forage. They’re now found in just about every meadow in New Hampshire.

It is said that the name Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) was borrowed from the biblical Song of Solomon but others say that it was a mis-translation of the Hebrew “Chavatzelet Ha Sharon,” which was a crocus or daffodil. It could also have been a tulip, or a Madonna lily. What all of this tells me is that nobody really knows where the name came from. Even the syriacus part of the scientific name is inaccurate because the plant isn’t from Syria, it’s from somewhere in Asia. The thing is though, when you see the beauty of the flower you really don’t care what its name is or where it came from; at least, I don’t. I’m increasingly convinced that what makes nature so complicated is our inability to find the correct words and ways to describe it. Nature isn’t complicated. It is we who complicate it.

I was very surprised to see that tradescantia (Tradescantia virginiana) plants were having a re-bloom. In the mid-1600s this plant was discovered in Virginia by John Tradescant and shipped off to England. I wonder what they thought of John when they realized how aggressive it could be in a garden. In any event native Americans had been using the plant both medicinally and for food for thousands of years before any European saw it. According to the USDA they ate the young spring shoots and mashed the stems and rubbed them onto insect bites to relieve pain and itching. Something else I read recently is that tradescantia has been proven to be an effective botanical watchdog for high radiation levels. The cells in the stamen hairs in the center of the plant mutate and turn from blue to pink when exposed to radiation such as gamma rays. Will wonders never cease.

I’ll leave you with some more of those roadside flowers. Long may they bloom.

Many people have never learned to see the beauty of flowers, especially those that grow unnoticed. ~Erika Just

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I’ve been wondering about this mowed trail under the powerlines in south Keene for many years now. Since the land is near the local college I was sure they must have made the trail, but why? I decided to finally find out more about it last Saturday.

Since I grew up in this area I thought the trail might lead to the Ashuelot River, which is right behind those trees on the other side of the powerline cut.

But before I did anything I made sure all the power lines were still in place as they should be. A few years ago a terrible accident happened here when a college maintenance worker came out here to see what birds he might find. He didn’t notice that one of the lines had fallen and he was electrocuted. The electric company had neglected to inspect and repair their towers, so one of the tower cross members that the big insulators hang from had simply broken off due to rot and the wire fell to the ground. And I used to play under these things when I was a boy.

There were huge numbers of goldenrod here.

And quite a few of the deep purple New England asters that I like so much.

The dogwood leaves had already turned to their beautiful maroon fall color.

As I thought it would the trail turned into the woods.

I was happy to see that my boyhood playground was now a wildlife management area. That means this land will be protected.

A game trail led into the woods so I followed it.

The trail became what looked like an otter slide, and I found myself standing about ten feet above what was left of the river. It is definitely lower than I’ve ever seen it and I’m not sure what will happen if we don’t get some rain soon. Wells are going dry all over the state.

A marker told me that I was 1.56 miles from somewhere. Or maybe I had 1.56 miles to go. Either way it didn’t matter.

Sumacs are changing into their beautiful fall red.

Ferns stood as tall as I did.

A woodland sunflower was curling into itself, I’m guessing from lack of moisture. I’ve never seen the woods look so dry.

A backwater had nearly dried up, and that was hard to see. What struck me as most odd about the scene was the lack of animal tracks. There are large animals like deer out here and they need to drink but they hadn’t been here, so I wondered if this was more of that river mud that it is so easy to sink in to. I wasn’t going to try. I learned a lot out here when I was a boy and one of the most important lessons was not to do foolish things like play in wet river mud when I was alone.

And then I came to the college soccer fields. I can remember when they were built and a couple of college students walking the trail looked like they wanted to call me Methuselah when I told them that.

A silver maple showed me how it got its name. Normally, as the old tale says, when you see the silvery undersides of these leaves it is going to rain. On this day though, all we saw was a 20 MPH wind.

It really is amazing what the college has carved out of what was essentially wilderness.

There were lots of flowers to see; mostly asters and goldenrods.

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana,) our native clematis, often has deep purple leaves at this time of year.

Virgin’s bower also has fluffy seed heads and I think the seed heads are as interesting as the flowers. This is our most common native clematis and can be seen on roadsides draped over shrubs or climbing high up in the trees. Many bird species eat the seeds and goldfinches line their nests with the soft, feathery seed coverings. They also give the plant another common name: Old Man’s Beard. 

It was nice to see so many of these dark colored asters. This color isn’t common here but they’re my favorite.

It was amazing to think that, when I was a boy living barely a 5 minute walk from here, none of this existed. The power lines were there and what grew under them was cut fairly regularly, but the rest of the area; the college fields, the paths, the wildlife management area, none of it was here. What was here is what you see above; a forest, and it was a wonderful, magical place to grow up in. I spent most of my free time in these woods and on the railroad track that ran through them, and being here again was like going home. I was thankful for the mowed trails that made it so easy to get out here and I hope the college students will have as much fun here as I had. It’s a very special place.

Nature, even in the act of satisfying anticipation, often provides a surprise. ~Alfred North Whitehead

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Our beautiful fall roadside flowers are slowly showing themselves more and more each day, with asters and goldenrods dominating until frost. And frost may be on the horizon; we’ve already seen 20 degree F. temperatures in the northern half of the state.

We have so many aster species here it’s virtually impossible to identify them all in the time I have but New England asters are easier than any because of their size, both of the flowers and of the plants. These deep purple ones are my favorites. They come out a little later than the others but they’re so beautiful it’s worth the wait.

This aster has me baffled. Its flower is as big as a New England aster but note how few petals (actually ray flowers) it has compared to the purple one in the previous photo. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it before. Though white is a common color most if not all of our white asters are smaller than New England asters.

Blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) appears early on in summer but waits until September to bloom. Its stems grow vertically until the flowers begin to open and then they fall over into a more horizontal position, as if to show off the yellow blooms that grow in tufts all along the stem. This plant tolerates shade and seems to prefer places where it will only get two or three hours of sunlight. It isn’t considered rare but I know of only one or two places where it grows. It is also called wreath goldenrod.

The stems of blue stemmed goldenrod get their blue color from the same natural wax coating that is found on grapes, plums, blueberries and other plants. The coating is called a bloom and plants use it as a form of protection against moisture loss. It’s made up of tiny powdery, whitish crystals which reflect and scatter light in ways that can make the surface that they cover appear very blue. The heat can make the blue coating disappear but I was able to find two or three stems that still had it. It’s a beautiful shade of blue.

The white heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) (I think) is a plant that is so loaded with small white flowers along its stems that it doesn’t look as if you could fit one more on it. For that reason it has another common name; the many flowered aster. It is also called small white aster, smooth white aster, and old field aster. There are many asters that look alike and to complicate matters they cross breed and create natural hybrids. One of the features that help with the identity of the heath aster is how it has nearly every inch of free stem covered by a blossom, all of them on the sunny side of the stem. The shrubby little plants are about knee high and I find them growing in unmown fields and pastures. The blossoms are fairly small; 1/4 to 1/2 inch across at best.

Goldenrods are generally tough plants, as this clump coming up in an abandoned parking lot shows. At first I thought it was rough stemmed goldenrod (Solidago rugosa) because of its clumping habit but since the leaves aren’t toothed I doubt it is that one. Butterflies, bees, and other insects visit goldenrods for their nectar. And no goldenrods do not cause hay fever, because its pollen grains are too big and sticky to become airborne. Though many blame goldenrod for their sneezing fits it is actually ragweed pollen that causes them. I told a woman this once and she absolutely refused to believe it. Before she turned on her heel and stomped off she told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. “Don’t you think I know what causes my allergies?!” she asked. Some people just refuse to believe the truth, even when it is put right in front of them.

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) is having a last gasp I think, and it’s time to say goodbye to this interesting plant until next year. It originally hails from Europe and is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era. I’m guessing it originally came over in the tail of a horse or cow. It has spread throughout the United States, much to the dismay of farmers and cattle ranchers. It is also called spear thistle, with good reason. The first flowers often open in the center of the plant and that can make it tricky to get a photo of. Those spines are very sharp. Bees love these flowers and it is not uncommon to have them flying all around me as I take photos of it.

Most bull thistles look like this right now so the goldfinches have been eating well.

If the square stems and tufts of tiny pink / purple flowers in the leaf axils don’t ring a bell, then one sniff of a crushed leaf will tell you immediately that the plant is wild mint (Mentha arvensis.) Mint has been used by man since the dawn of time and Pliny, Hippocrates, Aristotle and Charlemagne each wrote of its virtues. Each time we see it we are seeing one of mankind’s earliest memories.

Most jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) plants are finished for the season but I see them still blooming here and there. This plant looked a little sad but it was still blooming. There are still plenty of pollinators about so I’m sure they’re happy to see more flowers blooming.

Jewelweed has such an interesting and unusual flower. They dangle at the ends of long, slender filaments and dance in the slightest hint of a breeze though, so that makes them a real challenge to photograph. The plant gets its common name from the way raindrops sparkle like jewels on its wax coated leaves.

At first I thought this was a Shasta daisy but the leaves were too fleshy, so I believe it was a Montauk daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum) which is a Japanese creation also called the Nippon daisy. It is extremely hardy; I’ve seen it bloom after a 28 degree F. night and it is also a very late bloomer. It would be an excellent choice for a fall garden.

Red clover continues to be beautiful and continues to shine its divine light out at any who care to take a moment to look at it. It is a tough plant that will bloom until a freeze. Sometimes it’s the very last flower I see for the season, and that seems as it should be; a bit of one-upmanship for what is a lowly, hated weed to many. That’s how I felt about it for years until I sat with it one evening and let it shine its light on me. Then my opinion changed. 

I always find silverrod in dry, gravelly places at the edge of the woods near the end of August. It’s hard to get a good photo of because it’s usually surrounded by other plants and rarely grows alone. It grows about knee high and isn’t seen anywhere near as often as the yellow goldenrods.

I think almost everyone knows what goldenrod looks like but not everyone has seen silverrod. Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) is in the goldenrod family and is also called white goldenrod. It is the only native white flowered goldenrod found in the northeast. The small flowers almost always have at least one ant on them but all I saw were spider webs on this one.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) was covered with insects. Yarrow starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again, much like dandelions do. Its flowers are sparse at this time of year but I find it blooming here and there. Humans have used this plant in various ways for thousands of years. Its stems were used to glean answers from the Chinese I Ching, an ancient Chinese divination text which is said to pre date recorded history, and it has been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs.” It was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

Sand jointweed (Polygonum articulatum) is a curious little plant that gets its common name from the way it that grows in pure sand, and from its many jointed stems. I know of only one place where it grows. It is an annual but the plants must produce plenty of seed because there seem to be more plants each year. They grow to only about knee high.

How small are sand jointweed blossoms? This shot from 2016 shows that they’re about 1/8 of an inch across, or nearly the same size as Abraham Lincoln’s ear on a penny. You can see the curiously jointed stems that give the plant its common name in this shot as well.

Much like the red clover this dahlia had the light of creation in its blossoms. It’s hard to know what to say about such a thing, and I suppose that means it leaves me speechless.

This yellow azalea is another plant that I don’t know what to say about, because I don’t expect to see an azalea blooming at this time of year; azaleas are spring bloomers. Each fall I tell myself I will come back and see if it blooms in spring as well, but of course I forget every spring. There are lots of plants that have their primary bloom in spring and then re-bloom later on, and I have a feeling that’s what this one does. It has just a few blossoms in the fall and if this is its primary bloom time I’d call it far from showy.

Out of a pond with hundreds if not thousands of fragrant white waterlilies (Nymphaea odorata) blooming, this was the last one I saw. They whisper thoughts of serenity to me and they’re another flower that it’s hard to see pass on. But I think that the void that comes with their passing always makes the following spring and summer so much more welcome and enjoyable.  

Summer is leaving silently. Much like a traveler approaching the end of an amazing journey. ~Darnell Lamont Walker

Thanks for coming by.

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