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Posts Tagged ‘NH’

The weather people were saying that it was going to warm up so I thought I’d better to get into the man-made canyon on the rail trail up in Westmoreland before the ice started melting. Once the stone starts warming up the ice releases its grip and starts to fall, and I sure don’t want to be here when that starts happening.

Ice here grows as big as tree trunks and when it lets go it often falls all the way across the trail. I’ve never seen the big ones fall but I’ve come here right after they have, and I’ve seen enough to know that I’d rather not be here when it happens.

This isn’t a great year for colored ice but I did see some here and there. This formation was huge.

A few ice climbers were here but most of them had gone by the time I got here. They like to be here quite early in the morning I think, but since it was only 17 ˚ F. when I got up I thought I’d wait a while.

That icicle was longer than I am tall.

Evergreen ferns are still hanging on, even under the ice.

I saw a few snowmobilers. A lot of people complain about them but the arguments for them using the rail trails far outweighs the arguments against them in my opinion because they put a lot of time, money and effort into maintaining the trails. In fact without them many of our trails would no longer exist and thanks to them walking this trail in winter is like walking down a sidewalk. The ice climbers have posted rules to follow and one of them says that snowmobiles always have the right of way. I simply stand to the side and return their waves.

The southern canyon usually has the most colored ice. Blue is the most dense ice and I thought I saw blue in this group. It doesn’t look like the camera saw blue but it still saw plenty of beauty.

My color finding software tells me that the color of this ice is “lemon chiffon.” Pale yellow, I’d guess. You can look these names up and relate them to a specific color but I haven’t bothered.

It also sees orange and tan. I might see tan but I’m not sure about orange.

I thought this ice was green but the software sees pale orange and “wheat”.

I thought we’d agree that this was blue but no, the software sees slate gray.

I couldn’t even guess what color this ice was but the software says “papaya whip,” whatever that is. By the way, if you or someone you know is colorblind just search for “What Color?” color finding software and you’ll find it. It’s free and has no ads.

This shows that the color in the ice doesn’t color it completely sometimes. I still believe that it has to be minerals in the groundwater that color it. I don’t know what else could.

I hoped I might see some red ice stained by iron but there was none. Just lots of staining on the stone.

This ice looked just plain dirty. I’m sure a lot of soil must be washed out of the cracks in the stones by all the groundwater that seeps through them.

I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t much ice on the drainage channels. That’s where you often see the laciest ice.

I needn’t have been disappointed though because just a little further down the trail ice had formed on the channels.

All the variations in ice forms are an endless source of amazement and wonder for me. It’s quite beautiful.

This one that had formed on a stone just above the water surface looked like a fish, I thought.

A young skier was headed for the old lineman’s shack and I thought I’d follow him because that’s where all the sunshine was. He stopped to talk for a bit and said he was trying to do ten miles for the first time. He also said he hoped he’d make it. I hoped so too and wished him well.  

The old lineman’s shack still stands so it looks like it will somehow make it through another winter. When I see it I think of the way things once were and how things were built to last. It continues to surprise me.

I saw what was left of another small bird’s nest near the old shack. It might have been just big enough to hold a hen’s egg with no room to spare. I’d guess that it started life in the V of those two branches.

As I left I looked up and hoped it was warmer out there.

It had just reached freezing (32 ˚F) when I came in here so allowing for the usual 10 degree difference meant that with the breeze it was probably about 20 degrees inside the canyon. After two hours I was ready to leave and I had taken about three times the photos that I could use anyway. There is an awful lot to see in this place, all of it beautiful, but I think the next time I come here the ice will have fallen and it will be more green than white. Thousands of violets bloom here in spring and I want to be here to see them.

The splendor of Silence—of snow-jeweled hills and of ice. ~Ingram Crockett

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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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These days, at least where I work, you don’t actually rake leaves very often. We have leaf vacuums and leaf blowers that take care of what by the end of the season is a huge mountain of leaves. If I were to do it all with a rake I’d still be raking when the leaves started falling next year but there are always little corners and such where only a rake will do, and this post is about one of those. I had one little corner left to do to finish the season but when I started to rake I saw the plant shoots seen above, so I put down the rake and raked with my fingers, gently. I believe the shoots are from the Stella d’ Oro daylily (Hemerocallis) that grows here, but snowdrops grow here as well so they could be those. 

This seed pod is definitely from the daylily and it has been eaten by an unknown insect. Stella d’ Oro daylilies are popular because it was one of the first “ever blooming” day lilies. The dwarf plant has flowers that only last a day like any daylily but there are so many of them that it blooms for months and will often be the latest blooming daylily in a flower bed. This plant was developed in 1975 and is still seen all along city streets and in commercial parking lots.

Pulling the leaves away also revealed a tiny fern fiddlehead, no bigger in diameter than a pencil eraser. I believe it was a sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis). Several of them grow in this spot because it is shaded and damp.

The spore casings (sori) of the sensitive fern are unmistakable so you don’t need leaves to identify it. It’s leaves had long since gone because, as the early settlers who gave its common name noticed, it is extremely sensitive to frost. I’ve read that turkeys will peck at and eat the sori, and that is why sometimes you find the fern’s spores lying on the snow around the plant.

I found a tiny seedling under the leaves, hardly bigger than a pea. It might pay for its hurry to grow.

Beside where I was working false dandelions (Hypochaeris radicata) grew. This plant gets its name from its resemblance to the dandelion, but it would be hard to mistake one for the other. The flowers are about half the size of a true dandelion and they bob around on long, wiry stems. At a glance you might think you were seeing a hawkweed flower when you look at a false dandelion flower because they’re close to the same size. One look at the leaves however, will show you that you’re seeing something entirely different because they resemble those of the dandelion more than hawkweed foliage. Hawkweed and false dandelion also bloom at different times, which helps when trying to identify them.

Once I had raked all the leaves I had to wander a bit and see what I could see. A blackberry grew nearby and it had leaves that started to show their purple / red fall color. At least that’s how I see them; my color finding software sees only gray, green and a bit of orange, which seems odd.

Mouse ear hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella) does well here and there are literally thousands of plants blooming in June and July. Their yellow flowers resemble those of false dandelion but that plant has longer, more wiry flower stems. The basal rosettes of leaves on this plant often turn very deep purple in the fall.

It isn’t hard to see where the name mouse ear came from.

I’m not sure what they’re finding to eat but there are large flocks of yellow shafted flickers here. I find their feathers all the time.

They’re very pretty feathers that you don’t often recognize when they’re still on the bird.

There is a small stream near where I was working so of course I had to explore it. That’s something I’ve never bothered to do in all the time I’ve worked here but on this day nature was calling to me louder than usual.

A gray birch had fallen and the rectangular tear in its bark reminded me of the rectangular hole in a cloud I had seen earlier in the week.

For the first time ever I saw a lichen growing on the bark of a white birch. Lichens normally don’t seem to like white birch but they will grow on the branches of gray birch. This was a beard lichen and it grew on the side of the tree towards the stream. Lichens like lots of humidity and I’d bet that it gets it here.

River grapes grew by the stream. I like to look at grape tendrils because they always seem to remind me of something. In this one I could see the strand-like hypha of a fungus. Two or more hypha are hyphae, and two or more hyphae are mycelium, and mycelium are like the “roots” of a fungus and the above ground parts are the “fruit.” Mycelia are always searching, either for food or for other mycelia. I might have seen all of this in this tendril because I happen to be reading one of the best books on fungi I’ve ever read. It’s called Entangled Life and is written by Merlin Sheldrake. If you know someone with a fungal fascination, they would love this book.

Most of the leaves I was raking were oak and thanks to decomposers like fungi and bacteria many were already on their way to becoming humus. I’ve often wondered what the forest would be like without the decomposers. I  think we’d be up to our eyeballs in sticks, logs, leaves and all the other litter that gathers on the forest floor.

I admired the color and intricacies of yarrow leaves.

I found a log by the stream that was covered by brocade moss (Hypnum imponens). This is a moss I don’t see that often. Brocade moss gets its common name from the way it looks as if it has been embroidered on whatever it happens to be growing on.  It is easily confused with knight’s plume moss (Ptilium crista-castrensis,) but the spore capsules on knights plume moss are elbow macaroni shaped and horizontal, while those of brocade moss are cylindrical and stand vertically.

I saw the reddest alder catkins I’ve ever seen along the stream. They’re often purple, but not usually red in my experience.

Tongue gall licked at the female alder cones, which are called strobiles. These long, tongue like galls are caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus chemically deforms part of the ovarian tissue of the developing strobile and causes long, strap shaped galls called languets to grow from them. These galls, like most galls, don’t seem to bring any harm to their host.  I wish I knew how they benefit from growing in such unusual forms.

Here was a leaf I didn’t recognize. It was big at about a foot long, and very wrinkled. I’d guess dock, simply because it grows nearby.

But then suddenly, there was no longer any reason to think about leaves. The day after I took the photos you’ve seen here it snowed, so the decision has been made; leaf raking season is over. At least for now. Now leaf removal will turn to snow removal, and before long I’ll be cutting grass again.

A fallen leaf is nothing more than a summer’s wave goodbye. ~Anonymous

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I’ve left lichens alone up to this point this year because of the drought. Lichens, to be at their best photogenically at least, need rain and when they don’t get it they can change their appearance sometimes quite dramatically. Some lichens however, like the common goldspeck lichens seen above, seem to change very little no matter what the weather.

Common goldspeck lichens are very pretty and grow on stone. These examples were growing on 200 year old slate headstones in a cemetery, which is a great place to find lichens.

Not surprisingly when you get close enough you find that common goldspeck lichens look like tiny gold specks. This one happened to be producing spores and you can see that by the little round things that look like octopus suckers scattered here and there. They are the lichen’s apothecia and they are very rarely seen on this lichen. If you took a common pin and poked it through a piece of paper and then looked through the hole you’d have a fairly good idea of the size of most of those little specks.

Another rock loving lichen is the sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima,) so called because it is a lime lover and grows on concrete sidewalks, which have lime in them. When you see it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it too. This stone is almost completely covered by it.

A closer look at the sidewalk firedot lichen showed how it is another lichen made up of tiny specks, some of which are its dry fruiting bodies (apothecia).  

I wanted this post to be about showing you how lichens can change their appearance, and one that illustrates this well is the star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris). This is how it might appear when it is very dry, with apothecia that appear very gray. The apothecia of this lichen are actually dark brown but they have a powdery wax coating that can cause their color to change depending on the light. Plant parts with this powdery waxy coating are said to be pruinose and a good example of it is the “bloom” on blueberries, grapes, plums, and other fruit. The coating reflects light and protects what it coats from the sun. Depending on the angle of the light these apothecia can appear blue, gray, brown or black. That’s why it pays to visit lichens several times.

Here, in a photo taken previously, the star rosette lichen’s apothecia appear blue-gray and that could be either because of the light or the fact that it had rained recently when this photo was taken.

The only thing that seems to change about this lichen is the amount of apothecia it has. On this very dry day it still had so many you could barely see its body (thallus). I believe it is a Powdery sunburst (Xanthomendoza ulophyllodes) lichen, which is very pretty. Unfortunately it is also relatively rare in this area. I’ve only found it on two or three trees in one location. This one is about 3/4 of an inch across.

Here is the same powdery sunburst lichen that appeared in the previous photo, but this is what it looked like three years ago. It clearly illustrates why, if you’re going to study lichens, you need to visit them several times over a period of time if you would know them well.

Pink earth lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces) is one that I have seen no changes in whatsoever after several years, This pretty little lichen closely resembles bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum.) One of the differences between the two is the length of the stalks that the plump pink apothecia sit on. They are longer on bubblegum lichens than they are on pink earth lichens. Both are beautiful things that are rarely seen in this area. The whitish thallus, or body of the lichen, grows on soil; usually on dry acidic soil near blueberry and sweet fern plants. It can sometimes have a bluish cast as well.

Scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) is both beautiful and unusual with its brain like body and orange fruiting bodies. This lichen’s orange apothecia can disappear when it is dry so I was surprised to find them this time. This one was growing on stone in full sun. This lichen is fairly common and I find it both on mountain summits and in the lowlands.

The golden moonglow lichens (Dimelaena oreina) that I see are usually about an inch across but they can get much bigger. The ones I know grow in full sun on granite and don’t seem to change color when they dry out like many other lichens do. This one was producing spores and that’s something I don’t see this lichen do very often. This was an odd example because it had another foliose lichen growing in its center. If you spend much time in cemeteries you have probably seen this pretty lichen, because it seems to like growing on smooth, polished stone, especially granite. It is a crustose lichen and crustose lichens are very determined, so removing it from a gravestone would be a challenge. When lichens grow on glass the acids in them can actually etch the glass and this is a problem in the big European cathedrals, especially. I would think the same would be true for polished stone.

Rosy saucer lichens (Ochrolechia trochophore)seem toprefer growing on smooth barked trees but some like this one don’t seem to care and will form themselves to whatever shape the bark they grow on happens to have. I probably see more of this pretty little lichen than any other. It’s apothecia are not subject to cold or dryness, apparently; they are visible in winter or summer.

Peppered rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) likes to grow on stone in full sun and I find a lot of them on stone walls. They’re a good introduction to lichen study because their brown apothecia, where their spores are produced, are large and easy to see without aid. Lichens are made up of a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. Technically apothecia are “fungal reproductive structures, in which the fungus reproduces itself through the production of spores” This is not the only way that lichens reproduce, but it is common and the apothecia are often beautiful and well worth watching for.

Here is a closer look at those apothecia. Note the different shades and shapes, all on the same lichen. They wrinkle up a bit when dry.

Dog or pelt lichens will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was. The example pictured is I believe,  the scaly pelt lichen (Peltigera praetextata), and I arrived at that identification only with the help of a lichen expert. These lichens are associated with mossy areas because the mosses provide the moisture that they need. Since there are about 100 species of foliose lichens in the family Peltigeraceae they can be tough to pin down. It is a foliose lichen because it is lobed, or leaf like. The upper part of the body (Thallus) is undulating or veined in this case. This lichen is large and easy to see. It is also probably quite old.

What sounds most plausible to me about the origin of the name “dog lichen” are the white “roots” on the white underside of the lichen body. They are fang like and called rhizines. On some lichens they can be quite bushy, and on others they are narrow and thin. They are one of the identifying characteristics of dog or pelt lichens, so you should always try to get a look at them if you can. Often the edges of the lobes will curl up, revealing them. In this area these are relatively rare. I’ve seen them only in two places.

It originally took me quite a while to figure out what this lichen might be called but its green body (thallus) with flattened strap like branches and white fruiting bodies (apothecia) led me to finally settle on the tufted ramalina lichen. Then my lichen expert friend told me that it is now known as Ramalina americana.  A lichen guide from 1902 says this lichen is “very common in New England” but I had never seen it. My knowledgeable friend tells me that is because it was nearly wiped out by pollution, and that tells me that our air here in New Hampshire must be very clean. If you see lots of lichens where you live it’s probably fair to assume the same.

Here is a closer look at the Ramalina lichen’s apothecia. They’re very different from most lichens I see.

Leafy (foliose) lichens that look like this can be difficult to identify but I believe this one is the fringed wrinkle lichen (Tuckermanopsis americana). They are one of the easiest to find because they fall from the trees and litter the ground on virtually any trail you follow in this area. They can be difficult to identify because they change color so readily. I’ve seen them even look pure white when very dry. This one was found on a rainy day so I know its colors are true. The brown, roundish bits with dots (pycnidia) around the edges are its apothecia, and they can be very pretty. This could also be the variable wrinkle lichen (Tuckermanopsis orbata), which is a good name for a very pretty but variable lichen.

A lichen common to stone walls is the sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s very yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine. It seems as if this one would rather have water run down the stone to it than have raindrops land directly on it. Sulfur dust lichens are kind of granular in texture. If you’re lucky you can sometimes find them with fruiting bodies (apothecia) but more often than not I see them when they aren’t producing spores.

NOTE: My lichenologist friend has pointed out that the correct scientific name for this lichen should be Psilolechia lucida, which is also called sulfur dust lichen. Apparently Chrysothrix chlorina is quite rare in this area.

Some lichens, like the script lichen show above, seem to only produce spores when the weather is cold. Though there are apothecia on this lichen you can barely see them; in the summer you can look at trees that are covered with script lichens and see nothing but grayish white spots on the bark.

But in the winter script lichens come to life and will be covered with squiggly “script” which can often be very beautiful. This is why one of my favorite times to go lichen hunting is in the fall and winter months. Lichen study is not a sprint, it’s a marathon that can sometimes take years to run if you want the medal. Once you become interested in lichens, you’ll find interest and pleasure on every rock, tree and fencepost you see for many years to come.

Smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) are one of the most beautiful lichens of all in my opinion, but their beauty is fleeting and it depends on how the light happens to fall on them. If you find one it might not look like this one at all. The pretty golden brown body (thallus) of the lichen is peppered with blue apothecia which are colored by the light due to their waxy coating. Take a look at the next photo to see what a simple change in light can do.

This is the exact same lichen we saw in the previous photo; all that is different is the light, and that’s why if you’re at all interested in lichens you really should visit them at different times of year and in different weather. The previous photo was taken when sunlight was falling on it, and this shot was taken when the lichen was in shade. Not only light but dryness can affect the color of many lichens, so make a note of where you find them and then go back when the weather has changed. I think you’ll be amazed by how much they can change, and also by how beautiful they can be.

Here is a lichen that was a learning experience for both myself and my friend the lichen specialist, who just happens to be writing a book about lichens much like the one you see above. There are many things on this lichen that lead to its identity but what I want you to see are its apothecia, which grow in concentric circles and look like little bumps or hills. That would tell most people that this was a concentric boulder lichen but they’d be fooled, just as I was. This photo was taken just after a rain and this lichen was very wet.

Here is the lichen once it had dried. As you can see it has changed dramatically; those little bumps have become cup shaped, and that’s because when wet they swell up and close, and then open again when they dry out. This was a challenge to even a lichen expert so you shouldn’t feel disappointed if you can’t identify every lichen that you see. Some like this one are hard to identify without expert help. Its name is the dusky map lichen (Rhizocarpon reductum) and it will appear in my friend’s lichen book.

If you find yourself interested in lichens maybe you could start like I did; find a particular lichen and simply watch it; maybe on that tree in your yard, or on your daily walk, or at lunch time. They grow virtually everywhere and are not hard to find. So watch “your” lichen and see how it changes. See how different it appears in sun and shade, and when wet or dry. Think about how all of these changes have been going on right there in plain sight all this time without your knowing. This will make you a better student of nature; a better observer. Ask yourself well, if I have missed this, something so obvious, what else might I have missed? Then you will be amazed at what you begin to see.

It is those insignificant things, the things most of us pay no attention to like lichens, liverworts or mosses, that often tell the most about that part of the planet we live on. Lichens, or lack of them, speak about clean air or air pollution. Liverworts speak about clean water or water pollution and mosses speak about soil conditions. These creatures are like canaries in a coal mine and will give advanced warning of any abrupt changes in climate or increases in pollution. All of things on this earth have voices. Nature speaks, but only to those willing to listen, and you listen by simply being there.

We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understanding and our hearts. ~William Hazlett

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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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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

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Last Saturday was a beautiful cool, sunny day perfect for a walk in the woods, so I chose one of my favorite rail trails in Swanzey. It crosses the Ashuelot river and I thought I’d see how low the water was.

Cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) often turn a beautiful pumpkin orange in the fall and it looked like they were well on their way.

There was nothing strange about finding Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) out here but what was very odd about this particular plant was the bright red splotch on its upper tier of leaves. I’ve never seen this before. It looks like someone has dripped paint on it but no, it was part of the leaf color. I’ve never seen this plant turn red in the fall so I can’t explain it.

What may have been a Virginia ctenucha moth caterpillar crawled up a grass stem. According to the I naturalist website this caterpillar inhabits wet meadows and open spaces with bushes from North Carolina to Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. It was quite small.

A woodpecker of some sort made a hole right below the stitched holes made by a sapsucker, which is another woodpecker. Not something you see every day.

I saw a young fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) just up out of the soil and pushing up the leaf litter.

There were many fly agarics all along the trail. They often grow in large colonies.

Maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) grew on many species of tree along this trail. I like this lichen’s simplicity; what you see is what you get with this one. The white fringe around the outside is called the prothallus and using it is a great way to identify it, because from what I’ve read there isn’t another that has it.

This trail is level, wide and shaded and a lot of bike riders use it. I saw one with a flat tire on this day, so they had to turn from rider to hiker. I hoped they didn’t have too far to go.

Big red stem moss (Pleurozium schreberi) is a common moss that I often see growing in very large mats, sometimes even overrunning other mosses. In fact I’ve never seen a moss grow as fast as this one. It’s everywhere I go now and just a few years ago I hardly saw it. I put my hand in this moss on this day and found it soft and thick like a cushion, and also quite damp.

I’ve wondered if the dampness that the moss seems to retain is why so many other plants come up through it. This pink lady’s slipper certainly seemed happy surrounded by it. Many mosses soak up water like a sponge and release it slowly over time and I have a feeling that this is one of them.

New England asters bloomed in only one spot on this day but it was a beautiful plant, loaded with blossoms.

What I think were common earth ball (Scleroderma citrinum) puffballs grew all along the trail. I was surprised because I usually only see maybe one or two each year. Another name for it is the pigskin poison puffball because it is toxic. It likes to grow on compacted soil like that found on forest trails. They often have a yellow color on their surface and are also called citrine earth balls because of it. I’ve seen them with a beautiful lemon yellow color.

Someone had shot off a bottle rocket from somewhere and it landed out here on the trail. It’s a wonder it didn’t start a fire. Dry white pine needles are excellent material for starting a campfire.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are white and ghostly at first but this is how they end up. The odd thing about this example is how the flower didn’t stand up straight after it was pollinated, or maybe it wasn’t pollinated. Usually once pollinated the flowers will stand perfectly vertical and look directly up at the sky, and that’s how the current phase of their lives will end.

I was very surprised to see shining sumac (Rhus copallinum) here. I’ve only seen this plant in two other places 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 chest high but I’ve read that they can reach about 8-10 feet. The foliage turns a beautiful, brilliant orange-red in fall.

I was also surprised to see a red trillium (Trillium erectum) still hanging on to its leaves. Once the plant is done flowering in late April to mid-May the leaves don’t usually last long. They like cool, damp weather but they certainly haven’t had any of that this year.

I was finally at the old Boston and Maine Railroad trestle where I could see what the water level of the river was out here in the middle of nowhere. In Keene the river is so low that for the first time in my memory Ashuelot falls on West street have gone dry.

It’s hard to tell from photos but the river in this spot was about as low as I’ve ever seen it. If you walked across it here under the old trestle I doubt you’d even get your knees wet.

Some trees looked appropriately fall-like but they were also in bright sunshine. I’ve noticed that some trees are changing early and they say it’s due to stress from lack of rain. 

Though I would have loved to have stayed in the woods for days of course I couldn’t, so I turned and followed the trail back. And, I should add, I saw all kinds of things that I missed the first time. And that’s why John Burroughs said To find new things, take the path you took yesterday.  

I would have plenty of company on my walk back. Chipmunks are having a good year and they’ll have good times in the future, because we have a good crop of acorns and the pine trees are loaded with cones. It looks like a mast year.

Nearness to nature keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt and in touch with the unseen powers. ~Charles Eastman

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