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Posts Tagged ‘New Hampshire Stone Walls’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Last year at about this time I took a walk around Goose Pond in Keene and found some great slime molds. Two years ago I walked around the pond and found the only northern club spur orchid I’ve seen, so last Saturday, with exciting thoughts of what I might find this year, off I went. Surrounding the beautiful pond is a vast 500 acre tract of forest that has been left nearly untouched since the mid-1800s. It’s a wilderness area, and it’s just 2.6 miles from downtown Keene.

Goose Pond was called Crystal Lake by some in the 1860s, and was also known as Sylvan Lake in the 1900s. Keene had a major fire in 1865 and the town well and cisterns failed to provide enough water to put it out, so dams were built to enlarge the pond to 42 acres. Wooden pipe was laid to 48 hydrants by 1869. The city stopped using the pond as a water supply in the 1930s and in 1984 designated the forest as a wilderness area. Today it is mainly used by hikers, fishermen, swimmers, mountain bikers and snowshoers. I get to the pond by following the old access road.

This forest wasn’t completely untouched. Stone walls tell of its agricultural use sometime in the past but judging by some of the thick mosses on some of the stones it was far in the past.

This partially buried stone isn’t natural with a perfect 90 degree angle like that; it was carved. Stone carving wasn’t done by just anyone and it didn’t come cheap, so I’m guessing that at some time this was an important stone. Possibly a gate or fence post but it seems too smooth for what was normally left rather rough hewn.

Light filters through the pines and hemlocks to reach the forest floor in places but in many areas the canopy is woven together so thickly that It can be  very dark, and that can make photography a real challenge. Can you see the trail through here? If you visit Goose Pond you’ll want to be able to; I met a man and a couple who were confused about which way to go. The couple said they kept wandering off the trail and I told them that wasn’t a good idea in a 500 acre forest, so they’d better watch for the white blazes on the trees. The trail is clearly marked; you can see the single white rectangular blaze on a skinny tree at just to the left of center in this photo.

Yellow fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) grew on a mossy log. I saw several examples all along the trail but most had been partially eaten by slugs or squirrels. Amanita muscaria also comes in white, pink, brown, orange, and bright red but we see mostly yellow ones here. No matter what color they are fly agaric fungi are  considered slightly toxic and hallucinogenic. The name fly agaric comes from its once being used to kill flies (and other insects) in parts of Europe. It was dried, powdered and sprinkled into a pan of milk, which was left out for flies. In medieval times people believed that flies could enter a person’s head and cause mental illness.

I saw two or three examples of coral mushrooms in the forest and all were of the pale yellow / tan variety. I see this mushroom every year but coral fungi can be very hard to identify and I’ve never felt confident in naming it. I think the yellow tipped coral (Ramaria formosa) fits best, because it first appears in July and grows under conifers throughout the northern U.S.

Mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) grows all through this forest but this was the only one that had fruit on it. Soon they will become purple-black berries that will be about the size of raisins. I’ve heard that they don’t taste very good, but many birds and animals eat them. They disappear quickly.

How I’d love to be able to get onto the island to see what grows there but since you’d have to hand carry a kayak uphill for quite a distance it’s doubtful that I ever will. I saw a couple in kayaks on this day but I think they must be made of sturdier stock than I am. I just don’t have the breath for it.

This view shows the uphill climb that you’d have to make with a kayak to visit the island. Just carrying myself up it is enough for me.

A few years ago I found a tree with a strange zig zagging scar in its bark, and now here is another one. Many readers think that it must have been caused by lightning but nobody really seems to know for sure. This one ran up the tree for probably 12 feet or more. There is a pine tree here that was  definitely struck by lightning and that scar runs straight up and down and is probably two inches wide. The lightning strike blew the bark right off the trunk and roots all the way into the ground. I came upon it shortly after it was hit and saw strips of bark lying all over the ground around it.

Several small streams cross the trail and in 3 places they’re wide enough so that bridges had to be built. This one sags a bit on that far left corner but it works.

I was hoping to see some slime molds and I wasn’t disappointed. Fuligo septica is a species of plasmodial slime mold that is one of the most common. It is called scrambled egg slime because that’s exactly what it can look like in certain stages of its growth. It gets quite big and is the one slime mold that will grow in full sun on wood mulch or bark chips, so it is easily seen and is often people’s first introduction to slime molds. Fuligo septica produces the largest spore-producing structure of any known slime mold.

Scrambled egg slime mold is the perfect name for this one. According to mycologist Tom Volk of the University of Wisconsin, a plasmodium is essentially a blob of protoplasm without cell walls and only a cell membrane to keep everything in. It is really nothing but a large amoeba and feeds much the same way, by engulfing its food, which are mostly bacteria, spores of fungi and plants, protozoa, and particles of nonliving organic matter. Many people seem to get the heebie jeebies over slime molds but they’re a very important part of the ecosystem. It isn’t hard to imagine what this world would be like without decomposers like fungi and slime molds doing their work.

Scrambled egg slime mold can change color as well as form. I’ve seen it turn white or gray and get as hard as a log. I’ve also seen it weep blood red tears. I’ve seen photos of it where it was tan, pale yellow, yellowish gray, gray, brown, and cream colored. The example in the above photo is turning gray and hardening. Before long it will begin to fracture and break down into a powdery brown mass. The brown powder is the slime mold’s spores and it’s always best not to inhale them. Or fungal spores either; some of them can make you very sick.

Blueberries are doing well this year. These examples were lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium,) which often seem to ripen slightly before highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum.) The bears will be happy.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) grew in a sunny spot on the shore line. This plant almost always grows near water and in this case it couldn’t have been much closer to it.

I was very surprised to see a few examples of shining sumac (Rhus copallinum) here, especially when I realized that I must have been walking right by them for years. I’ve only seen this plant in one other place so it seems to be on the rare side in this area. It is also called flame leaf sumac, dwarf sumac, or winged sumac. These shrubs were about knee high but I’ve read that they can reach about 8-10 feet. The foliage is said to turn brilliant orange-red in fall, so I’m going to have to come back in the fall for a photo shoot.

The name “winged sumac” comes from the wings that form on the stems between each pair of leaves. I’ve never seen this on any other sumac.

Shining sumac flowers are greenish yellow and tiny, and are followed by clusters of red fruits that stay on the shrub through winter like other sumacs. This small tree is often used as an ornamental in cities and along highways, mostly for its fall color.

Well, it was a beautiful day for a walk and I found everything I hoped I would. I don’t have an orchid to show you but I did find one. The northern club spur orchid I found two years ago was here again but it wasn’t blooming yet, so I’ll have to show it to you later. It isn’t a showy plant but is interesting nonetheless, and I hope to find it blooming today.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

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1. Trail

No, this post isn’t about a large caviomorpha rodent taking a spill. It’s about a new waterfall in Gilsum New Hampshire, which is north of Keene, called porcupine falls. By “new” I of course mean new to me. There is little about these woods that could be considered new. In fact very old is more like it. The route I took was an old dirt road that climbed gently through the surprisingly snowy woods. I say surprisingly because down in the low country our snow is gone.

2. Stone Wall

Stone walls line the old road, showing that parts of these woods were once farmland.  Some of this land seems like it would be awfully hard to farm though, with large outcroppings of stone and boulders everywhere you look, but maybe a sheep farmer could have scraped by. Sheep farming was big business in this area at one time and many of these hills were cleared nearly to their summits.

3. Deer Print

There were more deer tracks on this old road than I’ve ever seen anywhere. I don’t know what the attraction is for them but they obviously love it up here.

4. Stream

White brook is the name of the brook that porcupine falls is on and though the water giggles and chuckles over and around stones for much of its length it does have an occasional calm stretch like this one. Apparently this is a great spot for animals to come and drink because I saw many tracks leading here. I found it a good place to just sit and drink in nature’s serenity, so maybe the animals come here for a little of that too.

 5. Blushing Bracket Fungus

Blushing bracket (Daedaleopsis confragosa) fungi get their common name from the way their white, maze like pore surface turns reddish when it’s touched. This one can be difficult to identify because of the variability in the shape of its pores and by the zones of color on its cap. This example wasn’t very zonal and was quite old and well beyond the blushing stage. This is another fungus that shows medicinal promise and many countries are testing its antiviral compounds, especially in relation to influenza. It is also called the thin walled maze polypore.

6. Tinder Polypore

Tinder polypores (Fomes fomentarius,) also quite old, grew on a birch stump. The iceman was found to be carrying dried pieces of this fungus when he was found in the Ötztal Alps 5,000 years after his death, so it has been used to start fires for a very long time.

7. First Glimpse of Falls

After a short hike off the old road through the woods you get your first glimpse of porcupine falls. In this photo they’re shooting out of the large rock outcrop in the upper right corner with a roar. I tried to find out how they got their unusual name but haven’t had any luck.

8. Stone Steps

Someone built a nice solid set of stone steps near the falls. There is a lot of work in these, and finding the right stones for the treads wasn’t the least of it.

9. Bench

Someone also built a viewing bench. I didn’t sit on it but it told me that this spot was probably best for viewing the falls, and that turned out to be true.

10. Porcupine Falls

I don’t know why I didn’t notice it when I was actually there taking the photos, but what an odd angle for a waterfall to have.  It must be a good 20 degrees off vertical. There is nothing mysterious about it; it was simply following the gap in the stone outcrop, but I’ve never seen a tilted waterfall. It actually falls into another brook that enters the shot from the left. We’ve had a lot of rain and it was quite forceful but photographically speaking, I think this is one waterfall where less water would have made for a far better shot. I’m going to have to go back once it dries out a bit.

11. Rock Outcrop

If you stand where I was when I was viewing the waterfall and turn around, you find a massive rock outcrop covered with lichens, mosses and evergreen ferns. It might as well have been a nature nut magnet and of course I had to look it over.

12. Coral Lichen aka Sphaerophorus tuckermanii

I found a large patch of what I think is coral lichen (Sphaerophorus tuckermanii) growing on a mossy boulder. It was very stiff and prickly, much like a porcupine, but I’m having a hard time finding any reliable information about it.  I have high hopes that the often frustrating lack of information on lichens will change in the near future because thanks to the generosity of Santa I was finally able to order the book Lichens of North America by Irwin M. Brodo, Sylvia Duran Sharnoff, and Stephen Sharnoff.  I’m hoping it will shed some light on these fascinating organisms.

13. Mica in Feldspar

Gilsum is well known for the abundance of beautiful mineral specimens that are found there and it draws rock hounds from all over the world each July when the town holds its annual rock swap. There are a lot of old mines in the area and minerals like beryl, tourmaline, garnet and quartz can be found in and around them. I saw a lot of examples of feldspar that had me wishing I’d brought my rock hammer. The piece of feldspar in the photo was full of mica and splitting it open might have revealed a beautiful crystal that had formed millions of years ago, but I think my days of breaking rocks open with a sledge hammer are probably over. Even when I was young I could only take about half a day of it.

14. Bone

There was an old bone near the trail, or part of one anyhow. It had teeth marks on it and I’m assuming it is from a deer leg. At least I hope so. I see deer skeletons and carcasses in the woods fairly regularly but I’ve never stopped to actually study one so I’m not up on my deer anatomy.

 15. Slime Mold

The last thing I expected to find here was a slime mold but there it was, growing all over a rotting log. Not only is it odd to see a slime mold in winter but this one was growing in full sun. That’s doubly strange since slime molds dry up quickly in sunlight. I think this one was scrambled egg slime (Fuligo septica.) Whatever it was it was breaking all the rules and had me shaking my head in surprise as I set off down the trail. It was a good reminder that in nature study the words “always” and “never” don’t apply.

If you live in the Keene / Gilsum area and enjoy the outdoors this is a nice easy hike through an area with lots to see. Unless you stop to look at everything along the trail like I do the trip to the falls and back probably wouldn’t take more than half an hour.  With me along it might take 3 or 4.

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod

Thanks for stopping in. Happy New Year!

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