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Posts Tagged ‘Oak fall Colors’

Just before Halloween as I do every year, I visited Willard Pond in Hancock. It’s about as close to a wilderness as you can come these days, at least in this area, and it’s very beautiful. Even the road in was amazing.

Unless you have time to go to a place each day to watch the turning of the leaves you can only go by experience, which in this case means what you’ve seen in the past. In the past I’ve always found the oaks and beeches in this forest at their peak during Halloween week, but there were a lot of bare trees over there. But no matter; I knew it would be beautiful. We’re going to walk right along the shore of that hillside.

It was a windy day and the wind turbines that just peek up over one of the hills were spinning faster than I’ve ever seen. I remember being shocked by their size the first time I saw them.

Though I don’t remember if this photo shows the start of the trail, it does show what the trail typically looks like. It follows along very close to the water and in many places it’s one person wide.

Since you have the hill on your left and the water on your right on the way in, it’s virtually impossible to get lost, but just in case the trees are well blazed. By the way, it’s a good idea to know what trail blazes mean and how they’re used.

From here on it is total immersion in a kaleidoscope of color and beauty. There’s nothing quite like a hardwood forest in the fall; some of the most beautiful fall foliage I’ve seen has been seen right here.

Small maples that had been cut along the trail had grown back, and they were beautifully red.

But most of the maple leaves had found their way into the water of the pond.

There are several places where small streams come down off the hillside to the pond but there are boardwalks in place. Still, wearing good waterproof hiking boots here is a good idea.

Maple leaf viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium) were beautiful as always in reds and pinks but they were also untouched by insects, which is unusual.

Big, hand sized hobblebush leaves (Viburnum lantanoides) weren’t quite so pristine but they were still  beautiful. I noticed that all their fruit had been eaten already.

The hobblebushes had their buds all ready for spring. These are naked buds with no bud scales. Instead their hairs protect them. The part that looks swollen is a flower bud and come May, it will be beautiful.

As is always the case when I come here, I couldn’t stop taking photos of the amazing trees. It’s hard to describe what a beautiful place this is, so I’ll let the photos do the talking.

There was a large colony of corydalis growing on a boulder and if I had to guess I’d say it was the pink corydalis (Corydalis sempervirens,) also known as rock harlequin. That plant blooms in summer and has pretty pink and yellow blooms but since I’ve only been here in the fall, I’ve never seen them in bloom. Next summer though, I’ll have a lot more free time and I’d love to visit this place in all four seasons.

A tiny polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) was just getting started on another boulder. Polypody fern is also called the rock cap fern, for good reason. Though I’ve seen them growing on the ground once or twice there must have been a rock buried where they grew, because they love growing on stone. They are evergreen and very tough, and can be found all winter long.

There are plenty of boulders for rock loving plants to grow on and this is one of the largest I’ve ever seen. Easily as big as a garage, the black coloring on it and other boulders comes from the spore bearing surface of rock tripe lichens (Umbilicaria mammulata,) which grow here by the many thousands. Rock tripe is edible but I imagine they must taste like old rubber. Still, they were a source of emergency food for Native Americans and saved the lives of many an early settler. Even George Washington’s troops are said to have eaten rock tripe to survive the brutal winter at Valley Forge in 1777.

A beaver once gnawed on this huge old yellow birch and it was in the process of healing itself, which is something I’ve never seen a tree this old do. The will to live is very strong in all living things, and this is a great example of that. Though I didn’t see them in person I see some polypody ferns growing at the base of it in this photo. Whether on an unseen stone or on the tree itself, I don’t know.

Something else I’ve never seen is target canker on a yellow birch, but here it was. Target canker doesn’t harm the tree but causes its bark to grow in circular patterns of narrow plates which helps protect it from the canker. According to Cornell university: “A fungus invades healthy bark, killing it. During the following growing season, the tree responds with a new layer of bark and undifferentiated wood (callus) to contain the pathogen. However, in the next dormant season the pathogen breaches that barrier and kills additional bark. Over the years, this seasonal alternation of pathogen invasion and host defense response leads to development of a ‘canker’ with concentric ridges of callus tissue—a ‘target canker.’” Apparently, the fungal attacker gives up after a while, because as the tree ages the patterns disappear and the tree seems fine. What interests me most about this is how I’ve read that target canker is only supposed to appear on red maples. Now I can no longer say that is true.

A common earth ball (Scleroderma citrinum) grew beside the trail and looked as if it was nearly ready to release its spores. Another name for it is the pigskin puffball and 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.

My grandmother was with me in spirit when I found a berry on an American wintergreen plant (Gaultheria procumbens,) which she always called checkerberry. It was the ffirst plant she ever taught me and we used to go looking for the minty tasting berries together. It is also called teaberry because the leaves were once used as a tea substitute.

The big leaves of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) had taken on their yellow fall color. They’ll lighten to almost white before they drop.

I saw many things here I’ve never seen before on this day, and one of them was the seeds (samaras) of striped maple. I’ve seen thousands of these trees but this is the first time I’ve ever seen the seeds.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) grows in abundance all along the trail. Though I’ve seen them blooming profusely here, on this day these were the only blossoms I saw.

This little wooden bench is usually as far as I go for two reasons; because by the time I reach this spot I’ve usually taken far more photos than I can ever use, and because I like to sit in this quiet place and enjoy the serenity and splendor of nature. It just doesn’t get a lot better than this, in my opinion.

As I sat on the bench I watched the ripples for a while as they flowed over the still fresh and beautiful leaves on the bottom of the pond. I could hear a loon calling off on the far shore and I wasn’t surprised. I hear them almost every time I come here but I’ve never seen one. Probably just as well, because they’re an endangered bird. They die from eating lead fishing weights, and that is why only fly fishing is allowed here.

Sometimes when I sit on the bench I watch the water, and sometimes I turn around to see the colors. One is just as beautiful as the other but colors like these can’t be seen year-round.

As I got back on the trail to leave a chipmunk ran up a tree root and stared, as if to ask why I was leaving so soon. Though it had seemed like hardly any time at all, I had been here three hours. I hope all of you have beautiful woodland places to visit. They’re very uplifting.

If you are lost inside the beauties of nature, do not try to be found. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so were the blackberry bushes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Since the last fall foliage post I did I’ve been chasing color, and that isn’t always easy for a colorblind person. I’ve also been chasing light. The past three weekends I think, have been cloudy, and since the only real large blocks of time I have fall on weekends you’ll see what our fall colors look like when it’s sunny and cloudy. But sunshine or clouds these colors are always beautiful, as one of my favorite scenes shows in this photo of birches and maples growing on ledges up in Surry. I built an extensive model H.O. train layout when I was a boy with tunneled mountains I crafted out of plaster. They had small lichen “trees” growing on them and that’s what this scene always reminds me of. Though these are full size trees they look like toys.

And the big difference is, these views are much more beautiful than any you’ll ever find in a model train layout.

Also in Surry is this scene, which always makes me wish I could somehow transport all of you here so you could smell as well as see autumn in New England. The fragrance of all those leaves drying in the sun is sugary sweet and earthy at the same time. Kind of like apple pie, molasses, compost and woodsmoke all rolled into one scent. That scent immediately takes me back to boyhood, when I scuffed my way through the fallen leaves on my way to school each day. Going off to second grade is the strongest memory that comes to mind for some reason, and it is all held there in that wonderful smell.

Staghorn Sumac leaves give us bright reds, purples and oranges and they will often hang onto their color even into death. These leaves were totally limp and the way they hung on the branch made me think of laundry drying on the line.

But you’ll find that most of the color in this post comes from maples. Red maples mostly, because they have the greatest color range. As this shot shows, they are glorious when at their peak of color.

All of the tree color seen in this view of Halfmoon Pond in Hancock is on maples, and by the time you read this all of those leaves will have fallen. My blogging friend Susan likes reflections and this photo is probably the best one for those. October is a windy month but if you get up early enough you can often find water just as smooth as glass.

This was also taken at Halfmoon Pond, with reflections that are a little fuzzier. The wind starts to kick up at about mid-morning.

I stopped at a local post office one morning just after dawn and saw this scene, which I took with my phone. It was still cool enough for mist to be in the field behind the garden shed.

Along the Branch River is always a good place to find fall colors and, since I drive by it twice each day, I can usually get a photo of it in full sunshine.

But it was hard to get good sunshine shots this year and most of them looked more like this one. I’m putting this in to see what you like best. I’ve always thought that fall colors had more “pop” on overcast days but I know a lot of people who would rather go leaf looking on a sunny day.

The Ashuelot River North of Keene is another favorite spot of mine to see fall color. The soft, pale yellows of the silver maples give the eyes and mind a bit of a rest after the loud reds and oranges of their cousins the red maples. The silver maples don’t shout, they whisper in hushed tones.

Red maples certainly do shout, and here are a few more now. This has to be one of the most photographed spots in the entire county. I often see a line of cars here on my way home from work, and sometimes I join them.

I took this shot of what is essentially the same scene with my phone, which has HDR and RAW and all of that if you turn it on. I turned it on and found that it was too “something” that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe harsh is the word. The color reproduction is good I think, but everything seems to have an edge to it. I’d be interested in hearing what you think. Should I turn it off again? I’m not sure there is a way to tone it down. It seems on or off is the only option.

Here is a closer look at the hillside with my regular camera. Notice all the bare trees. Already.

Here is another look, just for colors. It’s no wonder this is such a popular spot. Millions of people come here from all over the world each year to see scenes like this. Many just can’t believe such colors can be true until they see it for themselves. They stand and they gawk, lost in the beauty, and we stand and gawk right alongside them because no matter how many times you’ve seen it, it always seems like this is the most beautiful fall color ever.

Here is a beautiful example of a red maple that grows near my house.

Here’s a close look at a small red maple, the star of this post.

But red maples aren’t always colored red in the fall. They can be orange and yellow as well. I think this is actually a sugar maple, which are also yellow.

This is a cluster of colorful trees where I work. I’m going to spend a while cleaning up fallen leaves, I think.

Howe Reservoir in Marlborogh is usually a great place to get reflection shots but every single time I stopped there the wind was blowing, so I had no luck with that. I even went there before sunup one day and sat there waiting but the wind blew then too. Oh well, the trees were certainly beautiful.

That’s Mount Monadnock in the background. Or its flank anyway.

That is the mountain’s summit, taken on a very cloudy and dismal day. But it is this spot in clouds that makes me say that the colors often pop more on cloudy days.

These are all maples and they’re all bare now, so I’m glad I got there when I did. Sometimes an incredible amount of leaf drop can happen overnight so if you wait until “just the right time” you might find that you’ve waited too long. I’ve made that mistake more than once.

The blueberries, both high and low bush, are beautiful this year as they almost always are. They can vary from purple to orange but I usually see mostly red. For a plant that produces blue fruit blueberry shrubs have a lot of red in them.

An ash tree where I work was just beautiful in the early morning sunshine. Ash trees also have quite a color range, from lemon yellow to plum purple.

I’ve been either too early or too late to catch Virginia creeper in all its scarlet glory this year but this one had some color.

On the left is an oak and on the right a beech, and seeing these trees changing together reminds me that it’s time to get to Willard Pond in Hancock to see one of the most beautiful displays of an atumnal hardwood forest that I know of. It’s all oaks and beeches so I hope it will be this scene multiplied and amplified.

Nature is so powerful, so strong. Capturing its essence is not easy – your work becomes a dance with light and the weather. It takes you to a place within yourself. ~Annie Leibovitz

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This will most likely be that last of the fall color posts for this year, even though many of the oaks are still beautiful. We’ve had freezing temps and even snow and pretty much all of the maple leaves have now fallen. And that’s what you see in the above photo, which shows one of my favorite fall scenes. It’s one of my favorites because it always reminds me of swishing through the leaves on the way to school as a boy and smelling that sweet, earthy, caramel and burned sugar fragrance. That fragrance never leaves you; it returns every fall, and so do all of the memories associated with it.

The maples were so beautiful this year.

But I’m guessing this view of one of the hillsides surrounding Keene doesn’t have a maple leaf in it. Most of what you see are oaks but I’m not sure about the bright yellows. They could be beech, poplar or birch. Some oaks do turn yellow but I’m not sure they get quite that bright.

Here is the other end of that hillside. Hickories also turn yellow and so do chestnuts, but of course the American chestnut has been all but wiped out. Elms also turn yellow but they’re not usually quite so bright as these trees are. Ash is another tree with yellow leaves in the fall but most ash leaves fell a month ago, so it’s anyone’s guess.

Here was a beautiful oak.

An in this overlook of the city of Keene you can see many more oaks. I didn’t know there were so many in the town center.

The ferns have also been beautiful this year. I can’t remember another year when they’ve been so colorful. You’d think it was a bouquet of flowers.

Here is another hillside up in Surry, which is north of Keene. It’s usually a good place to see fall color.

Here’s a closer look. My camera didn’t seem to like some of the colors.

And another close look at some oaks and what looks like a poplar in yellow.

I went to see Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey back when the maples still had leaves.

There were lots of people up there on this day. Mount Monadnock is one of the most climbed mountains on earth, second only to Mount Fuji in Japan. Even Henry David Thoreau found too many people on the summit when he climbed it in the 1800s. He, like myself, found the view of the mountain much more pleasing than the view from it. He said “Those who climb to the peak of Monadnock have seen but little of the mountain. It is remarkable what haste the visitors make to get to the top of the mountain and then look away from it. I came not to look off from it but to look at it. The view of the pinnacle itself surpasses any view which you get from the summit.” I agree.

I saw some bright yellow plants off on a hillside but I couldn’t tell what they were. Since the spot where they grew had been mowed I’m guessing that they were invasive oriental bittersweet vines. They grow very fast.

These were poplars in the sun.

Birch leaves usually turn bright yellow but sometimes a tree will have hints of orange.

I took so many photos of the forest at Willard Pond when I was there I still have some to show. This beautiful forest is mostly made up of beech, oak, and maple.

Here is another look. It’s one of the most beautiful forests I’ve ever been in.

Here is what the Ashuelot River in Swanzey looked like one recent evening when the setting sun made the light beautiful. The trees there on the right are oaks.

The burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey have changed to their pink / magenta color. Just before the leaves fall they’ll turn a soft, very pale pastel pink but when this was taken they were still quite dark. The leaves on the trees above them seem to help regulate how quickly the burning bush leaves change color by keeping frost from touching them. In years when the overhanging branches lose their leaves early there is a good chance that the burning bushes will also lose theirs quickly. There have been years when I’ve seen hundreds of bushes all lose their leaves overnight.

And we have had some frosty mornings, and cold days and nights.

I loved the way the sun shined through this frosty silky dogwood leaf.

And the beautiful symmetry of these multiflora rose leaves.

And then of course, it snowed. But only three or four inches, and after a couple of days it was gone. Lately we’ve been enjoying sunshine and 70 degree F. weather, so we’re still on the weather roller coaster.

Why is it that so many of us persist in thinking that autumn is a sad season? Nature has merely fallen asleep, and her dreams must be beautiful if we are to judge by her countenance. ~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s Mount Monadnock in the background.

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

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

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

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

Highbush blueberries are showing some beautiful colors this year.

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

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

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

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

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Last weekend was another hot, humid one so I spent some time at one of my favorite spots along the river. Due to our ongoing drought the water was as low as I’ve seen it get and some of the plants that grow here were looking parched. In spring I would have probably been in water up to my chest if I stood in this spot.

An invasive purple loosestrife plant (Lythrum salicaria) made a mistake and grew just a yard or so from the water. When the river fills and comes back to normal this young plant will be completely underwater.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) grows along the riverbank and I like to look for the pink “flowers” at the base of each dark purple berry. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

Downstream a still pool looked inviting on such a hot day and if I were 12 years old again I would have been swimming rather than sweating. This river was very polluted when I was a boy but now children often swim right here in this spot and people also fish it for trout. I see an occasional bald eagle flying along the river and great blue herons often stand along its banks. We seem to have a shortage of herons this year though. I’ve only seen two this summer and one of them was standing in the middle of a road, slowing traffic.

Goldenrod and Joe Pye weed grew on the edge of the pool.

There is a lot of iron in the stones in this part of the river but I don’t know if that is what colored the riverbed in this spot or not. Whatever it was looked almost like algae.

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) flowers are quite small but there are usually so many blooming that they’re easy to spot. They bloom from the bottom of the flower head up, so you can tell how much longer they’ll be blooming. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into a flour or meal by some tribes, and the flowers were dried and used as snuff to treat nose bleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the European settlers and they used it in much the same ways.

A wasp was busy pollinating boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum.) This is another plant that won’t be blooming too much longer.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries, even grown in the herb gardens of Charlemagne. It was brought from England by early colonists and by 1785 it had naturalized in New England. Still, I can count the times I’ve found it in the wild on one hand, so it can hardly be called invasive. The flat flower heads are made up of many button like disc flowers; almost like a daisy without the white ray flowers that we call petals. The ancient Greeks grew tansy for medicinal use but modern science has found it to be toxic.

Tansy is a natural insect repellent and has historically been used as such but a crab spider was full of hope that an insect might be lured in by its bright yellow flowers.

Northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) grows prolifically here. This plant has opposite leaves that turn 90 degrees to the previous pair as they make their way up the square stem. Tufts of very small white flowers grow around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant likes wet places and, since there are many different species of Lycopus, it can be hard to identify. In fact, I’m never 100% sure that I’ve gotten it right.

I was very surprised to find marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) growing on the riverbank. This plant seems to be spreading quickly from place to place and I was happy to see it here because I often have to search high and low for it. Not only is this the only pink flowered St. John’s wort I’ve ever heard of; both its buds and seed pods are bright red.

Common St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) still bloomed here but I haven’t seen it anywhere else for a while now. This plant’s healing properties have been well known since ancient times.

What I call a spontaneous gift of nature stopped me in my tracks. The soft glow of the sun shining through the red leaves of a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) was beautiful. You can’t plan things like this; you simply have to be there and if you are you may see something you have never seen or even dreamed of.

Those silky dogwood leaves really shouldn’t be red this early, and neither should this burning bush leaf   (Euonymus alatus) be pink already. The first day of fall is nearly a month away unless it comes early, and some of the plants I’ve seen are hinting that it might.

These oak leaves weren’t hinting at an early fall; they were shouting it.

But on the other hand some oaks were just now working on continuation of the species.

Ducks and many other birds feed on the seeds of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and by the looks the ones on this plant were already gone. This native shrub grows all along the river and I see it fairly often. Each fertilized flower turns into a seed pod that hold two black seeds.

Flat topped asters (Doellingeria umbellata) bloomed along the river bank in shadier spots. This aster likes wet places and partial sunshine. It can grow up to 5 feet tall on unbranched stems, but these plants leaned out toward the river.

I didn’t know that fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) bloomed here until I saw the pretty seed pods. The flowers of fringed loosestrife are unusual because of the way they offer oils instead of nectar to insects. The oils are called elaiosomes and are fleshy structures that are attached to the plant’s seeds. They are rich in lipids and proteins. Many plants have elaiosomes that attract ants, which take the seed to their nest and feed them to their larvae. I like the little stars around each seed pod.

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia) plants bloomed on the riverbank and it struck me when I saw them how so many plants grow and bloom in places that will most likely be completely under water in a few months. Indeed during spring thaws I’ve seen many feet of water cover the very spot I was kneeling in. It was a bit unsettling to think about and I’m not sure how such seemingly delicate plants can survive it.

It’s always nice to spend part of a day on the river I grew up just a few yards from and have known all of my life. I saw so many interesting and beautiful things in less than a mile of waterway, and that always makes me imagine what I’d see if I could explore the whole thing. Someday maybe.

Meanwhile I’m content with the beauty I know that I’ll always find when I come here, like this beautiful cedar waxwing caught in a ray of sunshine. It was another of those spontaneous gifts of nature. I hope all of you receive similar gifts.

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. ~Miguel Angel Ruiz

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Last Sunday I was going to go over to Willard Pond in Hancock to see the beautiful display of beeches and oaks but a lot of the oaks here are still green. Anyhow, according to the blog archives I don’t usually go there until the last weekend of the month, so I decided to visit Yale forest in Swanzey. I chose the part of the forest with the old paved road running through it. Yale University has owned this parcel of land since the 1930s and allows public use. The road was once called Dartmouth Road because that’s where it led, but the state abandoned it when the new Route 10 was built and it has been all but forgotten ever since.

The first thing I noticed on this day were all the downed trees. In some place I had to go off into the woods to get around them. I doubt the folks at Yale even know they’ve fallen.

Three years ago they were logging here and they cut quite a lot of trees. Why this pile was left behind I don’t know.

Yale founded a school of forestry and environmental studies in 1900 and owns parcels of land all over New England. Alumni donated the land in some cases and in others the University bought or traded other land for it, and in time good sized pieces of forest were put together. This particular parcel is 1,930 acres in size.

The forest is recovering well from the logging, as this young maple shows. All those new shoots are coming from one stump and they make good browse for deer and moose.

There are lots of hardwoods out here including oak. This young oak had colored beautifully.

Many beeches had also changed already and they and the oaks made me question my decision not to go to Willard Pond. I’d hate to miss the fall colors there because it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen.

It was a beautiful fall day, but a bit chilly with temps in the 40s F. and a brisk wind. I was wishing that I had worn gloves.

I saw some small fall oyster mushrooms on the end of an old moss covered log. Oysters are very unusual mushrooms, because they exude toxins that stun the nematodes that try to feed on them. Once stunned the mushroom’s mycelium invades the nematode’s body through any orifice and digests the worms. The mushroom also consumes bacteria in order to get nitrogen and proteins from them. What all of that means is the oyster mushrooms are carnivorous.

A ray of sunshine shone a spotlight on a beech tree. When this happens I always pay close attention. It was a sun beam just like this one that had me seeing the true beauty of a red clover blossom for the first time a few years ago.

I didn’t see anything about the beech tree that seemed out of the ordinary or special but I did see some running club moss (Lycopodium clavatum) just behind it in the woods and this was special, because it was producing spores in the long “clubs” that give it part of its common name. This is the first time I’ve ever seen running club moss produce spores. The other part of its common name comes from the way its long stems “run” just under the soil surface.

Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all but they do produce spores in long, club like sporophylls, like those shown here. Clubmoss spores can take as long as 20 years to germinate and then only under ideal conditions. If it’s too warm where the spores fall they will not grow. There was a time about 200 million years ago when there were forests of clubmosses which grew to 100 feet tall. Native Americans used the strong underground stems of clubmosses as twine and also brewed a medicinal tea from them.

Ferns also produce spores and I always like to look at the undersides of their fronds at this time of year to see if there are any sporangia. Evergreen marginal wood ferns (Dryopteris marginalis) like the one seen here should have some, but they won’t be on all the fronds so you have to look carefully.

Sori are tiny clusters of sporangia and there they were, located on the leaf margins just as they should be on a marginal wood fern. The sori are often round or kidney shaped but they can be just about any shape, I think. Before the spores mature the sori are covered with a kind of a tissue cap called an insidium but I can just make out the individual sporangia here so these spore were mature and ready to let the wind catch them.

Here were more fallen trees. If you look closely you can see four of them here. I wonder who will clean this all up. I certainly got tired of climbing over and under them but I always stop to look them over because you can find some interesting lichens on fallen trees.

This was a little scary because I had to walk under it if I wanted to go on. And the wind was blowing. Luckily it stood for as long as I was there.

When you’re close to where the old road meets the new Route 10 a stream cuts its way through. On this day I was able to step / hop across it but I’ve seen it when I couldn’t.

The stream flows out of what was once a beaver pond on the left side of the road but it was abandoned quite a while ago, by the looks. This place is unusual because when the beavers were active there were ponds on both sides of the road, or one large pond with a road running through it. It seems kind of an odd place for them to have built in. Beavers, from what I’ve read, will work an area in what averages thirty year cycles. The first stage is damming a stream and creating a pond. The flooding kills the trees that now stand in water and the beavers will eat these and the other trees that surround the pond. Eventually the pond fills with silt or the beavers move away and the dam fails. Once the land drains it will eventually revert back to forest with a stream running through it and the long cycle will repeat itself. Many other animals, birds, fish, amphibians, waterfowl and even we humans benefit from beaver ponds.

If you know where to look and what to look for you can still see parts of the old beaver dam. This one on this side of the old road is getting quite degraded and no longer holds water, but just three years ago it was still doing its job. You can see all the grassy growth at the top of the photo, which would be behind the dam. This area would have still been under water if the beavers were still here.

I can’t remember ever seeing witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) out here but there it was, in full bloom. I wasn’t really surprised; our woods are full of them. These flowers have a very subtle fragrance I’ve heard described as being like “fresh clean laundry just taken down from the line.” I haven’t taken much laundry down clotheslines so I can’t say one way or the other, but it is a pleasant, clean scent. Native Americans steamed witch hazel twigs over hot stones in sweat lodges to sooth aching muscles and my father always had a bottle of witch hazel lotion in the house.

I hope you liked this walk in the woods. Though I’ve walked here many times it is always changing and never the same. Though I’ve been wandering in the woods since I was just a young boy change isn’t something I’ve focused on, but walking through this particular forest again and again has shown me just how quickly changes can come to a forest, even without any human intervention.

 In a forest of a hundred thousand trees no two leaves are identical, and no two journeys along the same path are alike. ~Paulo Coelho

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