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Posts Tagged ‘Olympus Stylus TG-870’

Toward the end of July I took a walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene, looking for wildflowers. Since I didn’t have writing a blog post in mind at that time, I never took a shot of the river or the trail I followed. My thoughts were on the wildflowers that grow here, and there are many. It’s a good place to find flowers that like to be constantly moist, like the American water horehound (Lycopus americanus) in the above photo. These common plants often have deep maroon foliage like that seen here, which is quite pretty. The tiny bell-shaped flowers form a ring around the square stem in the leaf axils.

American water horehound is very similar to northern water horehound, but that plant’s flowers have five lobes instead of four. The pretty little flowers are some of the most challenging to get a good photo of and it often takes me several attempts. The plant grows in roadside ditches and along the shores of ponds and rivers, where it can keep its feet wet. The hard brown seeds are eaten by waterfowl and Native Americans used the small tuberous roots for food.

The round, inch diameter flower clusters of button bush shrubs (Cephalanthus occidentalis) dotted the shoreline. The fragrant, long white, tubular flowers each have an even longer style that makes the whole flower head look like a spiky pincushion. Flowers are often tinged by a bit of brown when I see them but these were in fine, fresh condition. Once pollinated the flower heads become hard brown/ reddish seed heads made up of small, two seeded nutlets that are a favorite of ducks and shore birds. According to the USDA, Native Americans used concoctions made from the bark of buttonbush to relieve headaches, rheumatism, and other ailments, and chewed it to relieve toothaches. I wonder if it has the same aspirin like compounds in it that willow bark has.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) always says midsummer to me, though it has a fairly long blooming season. It loves shaded, damp places and under the right conditions can form huge colonies.

This jewelweed blossom had a bee inside, and it didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get out. A pollen eater, maybe?

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) is hard to miss with its clear white, swept back petals. Each plant reaches about two feet and usually grows right at the edge of taller vegetation. Flowers have 5 petals and 10 stamens. Its unusual name comes from the way its leaves contain natural soaps called saponins. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather will appear. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It is originally from Europe and is considered toxic. It grows along the riverbank only in the sunniest places.

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) gets its name from being very sensitive to frost but there is no frost in July so I’m not sure what triggered the change in this one. Maybe it was just tired of trying to flourish in a drought.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) also called an early end to summer. Sometimes this plant will fool people into thinking they’ve found wild columbine. Also, on occasion its leaves will change to a beautiful deep purple in fall. Though this one was a ground hugger I’ve seen them that towered over my head.

Tall white rattlesnake root (Prenanthes trifoliate) grows all along the side of the trail that follows the river. They bloomed early this year; I usually think of them as a fall or very late summer flower. Plants have a waxy, reddish stem which helps in identification when it isn’t in bloom. Leaf size and shape can vary greatly from plant to plant, so it can be a tough one to figure out unless it is blooming.

Once tall white rattlesnake blooms it is unmistakable. There is no other plant that I know of that has small, drooping white, lily like blossoms in late summer. The half inch flowers appear in clusters at the end of branched stems that can reach 5 or 6 feet in some cases, and have forked stamens that are longer than the petals. The flowers move at just a hint of a breeze, so they can be difficult to get a good photo of. This plant is also called gall of the earth because of how bitter the root tastes. These roots were once made into a very bitter tonic that was used to (allegedly) cure snake bites, and that’s where its other common name comes from.

I had to stop and admire the beautiful deep pink buds of Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum.) This plant doesn’t have a strong presence along this part of the river but I see them here and there. I’ve always thought its buds were as beautiful as its flowers.

Slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) grows just about anywhere and is very common. It is similar to lance leaved goldenrod but the two can be told apart by leaf veining; slender fragrant goldenrod has only one vein running down the center of each leaf and lance leaved goldenrod has several veins. Other common names are sweet goldenrod, wound weed, Blue Mountain tea, sweet-scented goldenrod, anise-scented goldenrod, and true goldenrod. Goldenrods like dry, sunny places and don’t mind sandy soil so the drought didn’t really bother them. This native grows much shorter than most goldenrods; usually about knee high.

There are 2 or 3 small lobelias with small blue / purple flowers that grow here, but though the flowers look alike the plants themselves have very different growth habits, and that makes them easy to identify. This lobelia is called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) and the small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it, I just look for the inflated seedpods.

These pretty, tiny flowers have to be pollinated by small insects, and bees such as sweat bees are perfect for the job. Once pollinated tiny, dust like seeds will form in the inflated seed pods in the fall. Eventually they will blow on the wind.

Allegheny monkey flowers (Mimulus ringens) grew here sparingly this year. Though there are 150 species of monkey flower worldwide, this is not a plant that I would expect to see large colonies of. I’ve learned to expect just a few.  I’ve never seen a monkey in one, but someone did. According to the University of Connecticut “The so-called Monkey Flowers in the genus Mimulus got their name because their flowers have a mouth-like shape, and to some they resemble the face of a monkey.” Oh well, I don’t see turtles when I look at turtlehead flowers either.

A blue damsel fly perched on a leaf just long enough for a couple of quick shots.

I was happy to find the small white blossoms of marsh bellflowers (Campanula aparinoides) here and there among the taller plants. This plant is a wetland indicator species and, in this spot, it grows right at the very edge of the river bank, so you have to be careful if you don’t want a dunking. Though perennial they, along with all with all the other plants in this photo, come and go according to conditions. Last year all of this was completely underwater and there wasn’t a flower to be seen, so this was only the second time I’ve ever seen them. They are rare in my experience and I don’t know a lot about them.

I do know that each bell-shaped flower is about the diameter of an aspirin, and a single flower dangles at the end of a wire like stem that can be up to three feet long. They don’t climb or cling but instead just tangle their way through other plant stems. They aren’t easy to get a photo of. As any painter knows, you can’t paint white snow on a white canvas; you need darkness before you can show light. This also applies to photography, and I had to twist myself in knots to get just the right amount of darkness behind this tiny flower. Background reflections of white clouds on the river made it almost disappear, so I was very happy when I got home and saw that I had the only useable photos I’ve ever taken of this rare flower. It is its simplicity that makes it beautiful, I think. I’ve read that they also come in very pale blue and I’d love to see those as well.

I’ll never believe that beauty can only be found in special places, where we must stand in line to see it. Great beauty can be found anywhere at any time, often in simple, uncomplicated places where there is nothing to do or to think about, like here along the river. Many landscape artists and photographers whose paintings and photos hang in galleries and museums come to places like this to find the beauty they want to capture. If you can’t afford to fly off to a museum or gallery to see a reproduction or representation of the beauty of life, why not walk through the real thing instead?

Beauty is not hidden. It is right there in plain sight for all to see, and all we have to do is notice it. The more we pay attention to it, the more we’ll see. It’s in the curl of a leaf, or the colorful gravel in a stream bed, or the carved hieroglyphics of bark beetles. It’s always there no matter where you look, and giving it our attention helps us realize what a great gift we’ve been given. This leads to gratitude and gratitude brings empathy and compassion, and they in turn fill our hearts with a love for all life.

Just as, when you look into the eyes of another human being you get a glimpse of their soul…
So also when you look deeply into the heart of a flower you get a glimpse into the soul of the earth.
~Rudolf Steiner

Thanks for stopping in.

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Hello again all, I hope everyone is well. I thought I’d get this post out much earlier but I’ve been dragged through a bout of Covid, so that slowed me down a bit. Actually, it has flattened me; it threw me to the mat and stood with its foot on my neck in a matter of hours, but thankfully I think I’m over the worst of it. All I can say about it is, if you haven’t been vaccinated, I wish you well.

But I’ll put that away and say that I have a few more autumn photos I thought you might like to see. I went to Willard Pond over in Hancock sometime around Halloween and some of them, like the above shot of the road leading to the boat ramp, were taken there. Other photos are just random samplings from here and there.

Willard Pond is a place of great beauty and wildness, and serenity. It is a place where you can immerse yourself in the beauty of nature without effort, and you can immerse yourself in silence as well. It is the first thing you notice and it is vast; only occasionally punctuated by the call of a loon or the soft splashing of waves. Though the parking lot had several cars in it on this day I didn’t see another person, and that’s the way it usually is here.

As I shuffled along through the fallen leaves making all kinds of noise, I thought back to a game I played as a boy, where I would challenge myself to walk through the woods soundlessly. If I snapped a twig or rustled a trail side shrub I failed and would have to start again. I learned to look for bare ground that had been swept clean of leaves by the wind, or to walk along the tops of logs, or to step on stones that jutted up out of the leaf litter. If you watch animals, especially cats, you’ll see that they do this same thing. I would watch for any potential obstacles out ahead of me and keep a look out for natural pathways through the forest. There were few thoughts about what I was doing; in fact, if I was to win the game it was better if I didn’t think about it. I didn’t know it at the time but what I was really teaching myself by doing this was to be intensely aware of my surroundings. That awareness would prove to be very useful throughout life.

Successful nature study is a lot like what I discovered as a boy, I think. Our mind can get in the way unless we learn to accept what is, as it is. We often wish things were different; wishing the light was better or wishing the wind wasn’t blowing so hard. We go into the woods with these preconceived notions about what we might see, or what we hope to see, but all these expectations mean that often, we miss the reality of what is here in front of us right now. I sometimes still get caught up in it as well, but usually I just tell myself I’m just going for a walk in the woods, and leave it at that. I’ll see what I see. Most memorable discoveries happened when I didn’t expect to discover anything at all, like the little oak bullet gall in the above photo. I’ve seen thousands of hard, brown, marble size oak bullet galls but I’ve never seen one just forming, as this one was. It looked like a tiny, pink, pea size planet sitting there on its oak limb. Finding it was like finding a jewel.

I didn’t go to Willard Pond this year with the intention of doing a blog post. It was more like wanting to spend some time with an old friend, just to see how they are. This day was beautiful with a bit of wind, which you can see in the many ripples on the surface of the pond. The wind almost always blows directly toward this side of the pond, and that means any leaves that fall in the water tend to stay right here.

A large part of this forest is made up of of birch, maple, oak, beech, with some pine, and you can tell a lot about what is growing here by looking at what leaves are floating on the water. On this day in this spot, they were almost entirely maple with a few white pine needles scattered on top of them. Further along I saw a few beech and oak leaves and they told me that the season would be coming to a close before long. Once the beech and oak leaves are gone that’s about it for fall foliage.

But what a show they put on before they fall. There is nothing quite as beautiful as a New England hardwood forest in the fall and when I come here, I’m usually too stunned by what I see to even think. The beauty of the place makes me want to be quiet and still and I always pay close attention when I come upon something that makes me want to be quiet, be it an entire forest or a single flower. It is then that the mind can be swept clean of all that is unnecessary, leaving nothing but that which has captured your attention. Totally undistracted and free of thought, when there is nothing other than what is there before you, at that moment you can soar up and out of yourself with boundless joy.

Discovering that you can be free from yourself is an extremely powerful thing.

I first discovered this was happening a few years ago by accident, when I was kneeling by one of the busiest highways in Keene, taking photos of flowers. The traffic noise faded and all thoughts flew from my mind. I saw nothing but the flower. It was if I and the flower had become one and the same and as I left, I realized that I had no idea how long I had been there. It could have been moments or days. Where had I been? I supposed I must have been out of my mind and in a way, I had been; I had been intensely focused on the present moment. I know this now but at that time, not knowing how to describe what had happened, I called it “stepping out of myself,” because that’s exactly what it felt like. I was there but I wasn’t.

I’ve wanted to find out what this is about for several years so during my break from blogging I did a lot of reading. I found that it happens to people all over the world in all cultures, all the time. But the strangest thing about it is, most of us don’t know it is happening. That’s what this post is about; I’d like you to know that it is most likely happening to you every time you become absorbed in simply doing something that you enjoy. All it takes to find out is to simply pay attention.

Present moment awareness during an activity happens to painters, musicians, writers, poets, photographers, athletes, runners, and anyone else who is involved in a challenging activity that takes a certain amount of skill and concentration. It should also include a goal, though it won’t matter if you reach it. I can easily see it happening while knitting, woodworking, or even pounding dents out of car fenders. After describing how things often “wrote themselves” as I was writing blog posts, a reader wrote in to say that she experienced it while quilting. Years ago, I knew a lady who told me she was at her happiest while ironing. Her father had been a Colonel in the army and getting the creases in her husband’s shirts and pants sharp enough to cut himself on had apparently become her pathway to bliss. She never took down her ironing board, I noticed.

Medically, it is described as “An altered state of consciousness in which the mind functions at its peak. Time may seem distorted, and a sense of happiness prevails. In such a state the individual feels truly alive and fully attentive to what is being done.” It is called a state of flow or a “flow state,” where what you do seems to flow out of you effortlessly, like water. Some call it single point awareness but no matter what you call it, it is simply allowing your mind to remain in the present moment.

Neuroscience has shown through EEG brain scans how, when in a state of flow the brain goes through many changes. Neurochemicals like dopamine are released. The mood stabilizes, and self consciousness and inhibitions weaken. Uninhibited and encouraged, creativity can blossom and grow. Brain scans of people in a flow state are similar to the brain scans of people who are meditating. The state is said to be similar to mindfulness, but a flow state is usually entered during an activity and mindfulness can be experienced at any time, so there seems to be a difference. The absence of thought is what makes them similar.

Research also shows that “achieving the flow state on a regular basis is a key component of happiness. That is, by learning how to enter the state of flow you can increase your productivity, be more creative, and be happier, all at the same time.”

Though some see being in the present moment, which is what a flow state really is, as an altered state, I believe it is our natural state. Native Americans are just one example of a people who are totally aware of and in harmony with the here and now. In my opinion being fully in the present moment is perfectly natural; it isn’t an “altered state.” Neither is it something new; even Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote about it.

You can’t make a flow state happen, but you can make sure conditions are favorable so that they do happen. Seeing this spotted cucumber beetle on a thistle flower didn’t put me in a flow state, but the challenge of using my skills to get a photo of it did. Favorable conditions are called “triggers.” You find your own triggers by watching yourself closely. I first noticed that it was happening by realizing I had lost all sense of time. How many times have you wondered “Gosh, where has the time gone?” How many activities do you do again and again because you enjoy them and lose yourself in them? How many times have you had a “rewarding experience?” What was your reward? Was it the bliss you felt while doing it?

Since that first time I noticed this happening there by the highway I’ve found that it happens nearly every time I put any real effort into taking a photo, and that is why I would still take photos even if nobody else ever saw them. It isn’t the end result that’s important; it is the process that brings such joy.

Slipping in and out of flow states has shown me what a joy filled experience being in the present moment is. It’s as if a door opened and someone said “See; this is how life is meant to be.” I don’t see it as something I’ve achieved; I see it as my finally noticing something that has been right here in front of me for all of my life. It is a great gift and I’m very grateful for it.

Putting this post together has taken many attempts and many days to finally finish. Now, I’ve finished it in isolation while still in a Covid fog, so I hope it makes some kind of sense. I’m certainly not an authority on flow states or present moment awareness. I can only relate what I myself have experienced. There is far more to it, so I have added a few links that have helped me understand. I hope they’ll help you as well. I would love for you to discover that you are experiencing this and if you are I’d love to hear about it.

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving Day.

May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.
~Rainer Maria Rilke

An Introduction to Flow States: https://positivepsychology.com/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-father-of-flow/

The Psychology of Flow States: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow (psychology)

Importance of Flow States in Nature Photography. https://www.naturephotographers.network/flow/

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Hello again everyone, I hope you are all well and hope that you’ve had a wonderful summer. I can’t believe that fall is here already but as you can see, the trees are saying that it is so. I’d like to thank all of you for understanding my need to take a break and I thank you for your well wishes. Also, thank you to those of you who have written to ask how I’ve been doing. I’ve been fine, and though you haven’t heard from me in a few months I’ve still been out meandering around and taking photos, though not in the large numbers I once did. Fall in New England is a special time and this year has been particularly colorful, so I didn’t feel right letting it pass without showing you some of it. I’m not going to say much about the photos because I think just about everyone everywhere knows that leaves change color in October in New England.

I’d like to think that I’ve used the time away from this blog wisely by finding answers to some difficult questions, some of which concerned this blog. For years it had been such a joy to do. It was hardly a burden at all; I just went on walks and took photos of anything that caught my eye and then showed them to you, and that was really all it was. Easy, laid back, no cares, no troubles. But then somehow it began taking more and more time and the joy was slowly seeping out of it. What to do was a question I had to answer.

The problem was, putting this blog together was taking every minute of free time I had, and that’s because I let it happen. I thought readers were getting tired of seeing the same old places so I tried to find new places to go, even if it included driving to them to do it. Then, because I always took far too many photos I added more and more to the blog. One day I saw that it had grown into something I really didn’t enjoy anymore, but I felt chained to it.

For all of my life, I have found answers to difficult questions through simply being silent and listening. Solitude has always been part of the solution because it is solitude that makes silence shine like a bright light in the darkness. That light leads you into yourself and it is there where the answers are found, because they come from the heart. That’s a large part of why I had to take a break from blogging.

When I was a boy summer seemed to last forever, and for many years I wondered why that was. The answer, I finally saw, was that there was no time then. Though I still had chores and other things to take care of I could do them whenever I wanted, so I was completely free of time. It was easy to envision retirement being the same way. I would just throw away all the clocks and step out of time and I’d be free, but if we don’t pay attention in life, we can set traps for ourselves and then fall into them, and that’s just what I had done. I had all the free time I wanted yes, but I also had no really constructive ideas about how to use it. I knew that I didn’t want to use it all writing this blog, but I had to ask myself what life would be. Would the high points of life now consist of walking, mowing the lawn, reading, and writing blog posts?

There had to be more to retirement than that, so I thought I’d travel a little. I’d get to see some places I hadn’t seen in years and I could take photos while there and show you our mountains and seashore, each about two hours away. But then gas prices started rising almost on the day I retired and went so high that any plans that included driving any real distance had to be put on hold. I had also always wanted to volunteer as a reader for / to the blind so I wanted to use some of my free time for that, but apparently advances in audio gadgetry have put an end to that need. Both my father and an aunt were blind so I know what a challenge it can be. Other volunteering opportunities in the immediate area seem to be slim to none. I couldn’t believe that I had all this free time and could find no good, useful way to use it.

So to feel somewhat useful I found a part time job. It isn’t much; just 25 hours per week, but I feel like I’m accomplishing something. I’m not one to sneeze at a little extra money but that’s not what having a job is really about for me at this point; it’s more about feeling like I’m doing something that matters while having the chance to be around other people. The hermit that lives here inside me was telling me that I should go and stay in a cave I found but as tempting as it sounded, I think it would be too much of a good thing. I’m getting too old to fight off animals and sleeping on stone has never been any fun. Besides, the people I work with are among the kindest, most helpful people I’ve met and so far, I feel at home there. It may not last forever but at this point I think I could look back on it fondly, as a good thing.

Finally, I had to sit down and ask myself why this blog was even here. What did I expect from it? Was it a hobby? What good was it? It started as an offshoot of a garden coaching business that never took off. Garden coaching is where you show homeowners how to do the “hard and scary things” like pruning trees and trimming shrubs and hedges, and transplanting. You help them find solutions to what they see as problems, hence the strange name of this blog. The other part of it was proving that I didn’t have what it took to write a weekly gardening column for a local newspaper. People were telling me I should and I told them if I did, it wouldn’t last. After eleven years of keeping this blog going that thought has obviously gone out the window. But here was this blog, coming up out of the ashes of two ideas that had collided simultaneously. At first it was about gardening and nobody cared, so I decided to end it on its one-year anniversary. But then I stepped back out of the way. I hung my mind on a peg and just let this thing do what it would. Posts began writing themselves, and suddenly people began showing some interest.

It’s hard to explain what I mean when I say a post “wrote itself” but it’s almost as if I’m taking dictation when it happens. I sit and watch words appear on the screen and I’m often surprised and baffled by what I see. Here’s an example of what I mean:

I remember wondering, where did that come from? It came pretty much as it is, with very little tinkering required. I had to turn it into an image so WordPress wouldn’t change the format, so that’s why the text looks smaller.

I’ve always had a spark in me that made me want to draw and paint, or write, or design gardens, or take photos, or anything else that made me feel that I was making something out of nothing. When that spark of creativity begins to burn inside, bright and hot enough so you have to do something about it, it is the most wondrous thing you can imagine. You just step out of yourself; get out of your way, and let whatever it is you’re doing flow out of you unobstructed, like water. When it happens it is euphoric, and that’s putting it mildly. So yes, as a creative outlet this blog has value, but obviously it is a personal thing.

All of you, through your comments and emails over the years, have shown me that this blog has value beyond any personal satisfaction that I might receive from it. I’ve heard from many people who are nature lovers but who for whatever reason can’t get outside easily anymore, and they’ve told me that this blog is their only link to the outdoors. Their situations are what made my recent break so hard, because I felt as if I was letting them down. That’s why it’s important to me that you know that the decision to shut down for a while wasn’t just off the cuff. I put a lot of thought into it before finally understanding that it had to happen. In the end it is all of you who have answered the question, why is this blog even here?  

I’m not here to win prizes or to see how many people I can get to read this blog; I’m here to get you out there. The hope I’ve always had is that whoever reads this will want to get out there and see the things I see because I can guarantee that if they do, they too will fall in love with nature. That’s important, because when we love something, we are less apt to destroy it. That is the essence of this blog in a nutshell so please, go out and fall in love with this beautiful place we live in, and then tell everybody you know about the miracles you’ve seen. No matter where you live, there is beauty there. There is beauty absolutely everywhere you look, and part of the fun is exploring your piece of the world and seeing it. If you pay attention, you will notice how nature quietly leads you from one beautiful thing to another all throughout your walks, and over time you’ll find that one of the most beautiful things it has led you to is you. It is by losing ourselves in the beauty of this world that we can find our true selves. One of the biggest surprises about being in nature is, we learn as much about ourselves as we do about nature. Just be there fully, with your whole self, and walk with nature, not through it. This isn’t a bare rock we live on; it’s a garden paradise, and we are as much a part of it as it is a part of us. Let nature show you that you don’t stop at your skin. You are so very much more.

So here we are. I can answer my own questions with yes, this blog does have value and as a creative outlet it is more than just a hobby. I see creative outlets as similar to pressure relief valves, so I’ve decided to keep it going. I’m going to have to cut back on the number of posts I do though; no longer will I be doing two posts per week. I don’t know if I’m just getting old or what it is but two posts per week seem to have really become just too much. For years I told readers they didn’t have to go anywhere to see the wonders of nature because nature was everywhere. I could walk into the woods or along the banks of the river each day and see new things every single time. So this blog is going to go back to that easy, laid back, joyful, no cares thing that it once was. I’m going to let simplicity be my guide and just wander and see what I see with nothing more in mind than walking with an old friend. I can’t say what the new schedule will be yet because I don’t know that myself. Friends have suggested that one post each month would be easier to bear but no matter what I decide you might want to click on the “Follow This Blog Via Email” button over there on the right. I was getting lots of emails from people saying they were no longer being notified of new posts and the way to solve that problem (I hope) is by clicking that button and adding your email address, even if you’ve already done so. That way if these posts become just a random thing you won’t miss any, not that there is anything earthshaking here to miss.

I have to say that when I think about it, I find that it’s very strange to be doing something like this. It’s easy to get carried away by it, always thinking the current post should be better than the last. That’s why it’s a good idea I think, to sit down every now and then and remind yourself what it’s really all about. A kind of reaffirmation of the core principles that made you want to start doing it in the first place. I can never know how many people this blog has touched, and I’ll never know what they might go on to do or be, and I have to be okay with the not knowing. All I can really do is hope that the message gets through and makes people want to get outside and explore their world. From then on if nature fills even one of them with the kind of love and reverence that makes them fall to their knees and weep tears of joy and gratitude, this blog will have done something.

Until the next time, which shouldn’t be too long, thanks for stopping in. It’s been nice talking to you again. Take care, and enjoy life.

There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice. ~John Calvin

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I don’t know about anyone else but I am really itching for spring to come this year. I knew I shouldn’t have snapped that sugar maple twig a while back because I knew if it dripped sap it would begin. “It” being spring fever, which I seem to catch every year at about this time. I find that one of the best ways to alleviate it is to go and find spring, so that’s what I do. I always learn by doing this; one of the first things I saw was a henbit plant, which had come through winter beautifully green and as healthy as it was in September, so I’ve learned how cold hardy they are. I’ve never seen the light shining out of one before though, like it is over there on the left. Henbit blooms quite early, so it shouldn’t be long.

Hollyhocks also come through winter with a few green leaves. At this time of year any green thing is worth more to me than a sack full of gold. Actually that’s true at any time of year.

I told you a while back that the daffodils I saw in the snow had made a mistake and would surely die, but it was I who made the mistake because here they are again, looking heathier than ever. It’s easy to forget that plants that come up in spring when it’s cold have built in defenses against the cold. Unless it is extreme below zero cold. In that case the snow can actually protect them from the cold and I think that must be what happened here.  

The ice pulled back and almost immediately the shoots of what I believe are reticulated iris came up. That’s the story this scene told to me and it’s most likely accurate because I’ve seen reticulated iris blooming in the snow. They are one of our earliest spring bulbs, often blossoming before crocuses.

Ice melts in mysterious ways sometimes.

While some mallards were swimming away other braver birds were hanging out on the ice at the edge of a small stream. I suspect they must have been citified birds because they weren’t anywhere near as skittish as their country cousins are. All I had with me for a camera was my phone and my small point and shoot so this isn’t a very good shot. It says spring to me though, and that’s why it’s here.

I went into the hummocky swamp where the skunk cabbages grow. I was fairly sure I’d come out of here with wet feet because I had forgotten my big boots but surprisingly, I stayed dry. I didn’t even have to dance from hummock to hummock like I will have to later on when all that snow and ice melt.

There is nothing worse than trying to keep your balance while squatting on a hummock like a garden gnome, so I was very happy that I didn’t have to do that to get this shot of a skunk cabbage melting its way through the ice. Through a process called thermogenesis skunk cabbages can raise their internal temperature to as much as 70 degrees F. in the flower bud to melt their way through Ice and snow. That’s the splotchy maroon and yellow flower over on the left. The outer splotchy part is the spathe and inside is the spadix, which holds the flowers. They should be blooming soon.

I got lost in the curled tip of a cinnamon fern for a bit, trying to get a shot of what I saw.

Skunk cabbages aren’t always easy to find. I took this photo of a melted spot in the swamp to show you that it was warming up and I thought that it was too bad there wasn’t a skunk cabbage in the shot. When I got home and looked at the photo, I got my wish. The finger like growth on the left is the skunk cabbage I didn’t see, even though I was looking right at it.

This might not look like much but this is how winter often ends here, with the south facing slopes melting off first. It’s always nice to see it happening. Of course we could get another two feet of snow tomorrow, but that can’t change the fact that it is warming up and the ground is thawing.

Tree melt rings are another good sign of spring’s approach. I’ve read that they happen when trees reflect the heat from the sun enough to melt the snow around them.

I was hoping that I could get this shot full of dark eyed juncos, which line the bare sides of the roads in winter and spring, picking seeds from between the stones, but I’ve seen just a few birds this year and most of those were here in my own yard. I don’t like the thought of our birds disappearing and I hope that it’s just my imagination, but it seems like it was just two or three years ago when they were everywhere for most of the winter.

Mud is another sure sign that spring is near hereabouts. Though it makes an awful mess on cars, shoes, and anything else that gets near it, I think most of us are happy to see it. Mud season doesn’t last all that long, usually.

I happened to walk past a Cornelian cherry shrub and thought I’d check to see how it was coming along. I didn’t see any signs of its early yellow flowers yet but it’s an early bloomer.

I walked past the Cornelian cherry to get to the vernal (spring blooming) witch hazels and I saw flowers there. Here were some petals just about to unfurl from the bud.

And here were some almost completely unfurled. What a beautiful thing to see after this cold and icy winter we’ve had. Spring, even the thought of spring, warms my insides first.

And the flowers were even spilling pollen onto their petals already, hoping to entice an early bee or two. I haven’t seen one yet but it shouldn’t be long. These flowers are normally very fragrant but I couldn’t smell them om this day. I think more sunshine and warm days will bring out the fragrance.

I saw the moon in the afternoon sky and though I didn’t have a tripod with me I thought I’d try to get a shot of it. Surprisingly, this is the result. It’s grainy but at least you can tell it’s the moon. The first full moon in spring is called the worm moon here because the ground is thawed enough for earthworms to be active again.

I think for me spring, more than anything else, means softness. In winter in New England everything freezes and contracts and gets very hard. The ground is like concrete for months but in spring things begin to loosen and soften. It’s a soft, sweet time and I’m very much looking forward to it. I hope spring is wonderful wherever you are.

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. ~ John Galsworthy

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We’re coming back into the time of light, when the long dark nights of winter shorten and the days lengthen minute by minute each day. Dawn comes earlier now, and I just happened to be there one day when it did. As I watched I saw its beautiful light spill over the wind sculpted snow, and I forgot how cold it was. Can you love light? When you’ve spent a lot of time in darkness, yes you can.

I’ve seen films that showed the sun coming up over high mountain peaks like those in the Himalayas, so it was easy to imagine that I was there among the highest mountains when I looked at this scene but no, it was just plowed up snow.

Where I work enough snow fell to plow but where I live we barely saw three inches, so there was quite a difference over just 25 miles. On these -10 degree F. mornings when the snow squeaks underfoot and an intake of breath has sharp edges to it I don’t go out and play for long. In fact I just jumped out of the truck I was driving and took this quick photo with my phone. Plowing made the snow look deeper than the 6 or so inches that it was.

The long tree shadows were a beautiful shade of blue and I can see that now because of a wonderful art teacher who, with the help of color wheels and oil paints showed me that they were not the gray color that I saw, but the beautiful blue seen here. Ever since, for all of my life, every time I’ve seen blue shadows in winter I’ve immediately thought of Norma Safford. She was a patient, caring teacher who showed a colorblind boy how to really see, and she was so well loved that she even has a road named after her. We should never believe that those little, off hand things that we do for each other don’t have the power to grow into very big, life changing things.

I can’t show you the wind but I can show you what it does, so here is another look at the wind sculpted snow. If you’re interested, the wind came from the left.

The wind can fool you. In this instance it came from the back of the tree.

And here it came from the left side of the stone.

Beech leaves shivered and whispered in the wind, and they were beautiful. We’re so fortunate to have a tree that is beautiful at all times of year.

I know I just did a post on lichens but I hope you’ll bear with me, because the next few shots are actually more about trees than the lichens that grow on them. The green web like pattern on this old white pine is caused by lichens, and the reason they grew this way is because between the plates that make up the bark there are channels that help shed water away from the bark of the tree. These channels can be thought of as streams, and just like when a stream runs through a desert the growth of mosses and lichens on tree bark often appears on the “banks” of these vertical streams.

Here is a closer look. If you stand in the rain and watch, you’ll find that the water that runs down this tree will follow almost exactly where the growth is.

And here are the “shrubs” that grow on the banks of the “streams” on this particular tree; beard lichens. You can see one of the deep channels in the bark in this shot.

So, the next time you happen to see mosses or lichens growing in a more or less vertical row on a tree you’ll know where the water runs off in a rain. If you’re actually out in a rain look also at the base of the tree. You might see what look like soap bubbles, which are caused by the rain washing off all of the salts, acids and other particles from the air that coat the bark surface. It’s a kind of soap.

Fine, powdery snow will sometimes also find those same channels.

If you look at a female white pine seed cone aerodynamically you would guess that they would always land in the snow just like this one has, but they don’t. Many land with their smaller tip down, buried in the snow. Since I’ve never seen one actually falling through the air I can’t say why that would be. Pine cone scales open in dry weather and close in wet weather to protect the seeds inside,  so maybe the ones that fall point down are closed at the time. That would reduce drag. You can actually watch the scales open and close if you put a cone in a bowl of water. While in the bowl it will slowly close, and then when you take it out and let it dry it will open again, just like a flower. White pine cones are the state flower of Maine, by the way.

A wound on a white pine looked like someone had hung a medallion on the tree. I counted the rings on the wound and the closest I could come with any real accuracy was 80, so if the limb that was cut off was 80 years old I’d guess the tree it was on has to be at least twice that, based on size alone. It’s a big tree. What I found interesting was how most of the growth on the limb had formed down toward the ground, so its growth was off center.

One of my earliest memories is of watching the buds on the lilac that grew at the corner of the house. I’ve always been drawn to buds, especially in late winter, but I’ve never really known why. Then I bought a new camera and of course one of the first photos I took with it was of buds; the beautiful red elderberry flower buds seen here, each about as big as a pea. A day or so later I opened this photo on my computer and my first thought was “the miracle of life.” Now I might have a clue about why I was drawn to buds as a boy; I wanted to see the miracle of life, and if you watch the same buds over the course of a few weeks you can indeed see the miracle of life unfold right before your eyes when the bud scales open to reveal the tiny flower or leaf buds within. So I’ve put this photo here so you too could see the miracle. Maybe with breakfast on this day, maybe before bed; just see how beautiful life is. Just gaze at the miracle of life for a bit. See every little nuance; see how perfect it is. See that all of life is a miracle.

Of course once I got started with the new camera I couldn’t stop, so I found some male sweet gale catkins, with their pretty triangular bud scales. For anyone who wants to know, the new camera is an Olympus TG-6. It is a field camera that many scientists use in the field because it is so tough. It is water, dust and shock resistant, heat and cold resistant, and it takes incredible photos, either on land or under water. I use it almost exclusively for macro photos like the one above. Each catkin seen here is about a quarter inch long and I can see details in them that I’ve never seen. Leading off from the bottom of a catkin for instance you see one bud scale and then two, and then one and two again all the way up, overlapping just like roof shingles to keep the rain out.

When jelly fungi dry out, they can look like a little dry flake of color on a tree branch. This branch was about the diameter of a pencil, so that should give you an idea of how small the jelly fungus was. You can find them on branches on the ground under trees, especially oaks, in winter on top of the snow. Sometimes, rather than dried out they’ll be frozen solid as this one was. Whether frozen or dry though, they can be revived.

This is that same jelly fungus after I put it in a cup of tepid water for about 15 minutes. At this stage it was back to its normal self and felt just like your ear lobe. It had also swollen to maybe half again the size it was in the previous photo. This is a fun, simple experiment for children to do.

Chipmunks seemed to be trying to make figure eights in the snow. I can’t even guess why. Maybe they were just so happy that spring is near, they had to come out and play.

I like to stop at this place on my way to work each day to just take a few moments to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature before the day begins. While there I’ll often take a photo or two but since I’m retiring soon, this will probably be one of the last times we get to see it. I’ve shown it to you in all four seasons, and I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing what has been a special place for me for the past 7 years. The next “big thing” on Halfmoon Pond will be ice out, which usually happens in April but has been happening earlier over the past few years. I have a feeling it’ll happen in March this year.

One of the reasons I feel that ice out on the pond might happen in March this year is because those are daffodil shoots coming up through the snow. Or more accurately, they came up and then it snowed. No, this doesn’t mean that I’ll be showing daffodil blossoms here soon, because these shoots have made a mistake and they will surely die. But what this does mean is spring is stirring. If it wasn’t these daffodils wouldn’t have come up. We’ve had two or three days in the 40s F. and I’d guess that must be when they came up. I do know for sure that they weren’t there in mid January.

Here is something that will warm the heart of any New Englander. On Thursday February 2 the temperature was 42 degrees F. so I snapped a twig on a sugar maple tree just to see what would happen. I went back about a half hour later and lo and behold, there was sap dripping from it. And so it begins; spring is right around the corner.

When I am nowhere, casually wandering about, I feel I am where I need to be. ~Marty Rubin

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To open this post I should let newer readers know that I’m not a lichen expert. Though I do make mistakes I try hard to be accurate when identifying them. I started doing lichen posts because I enjoyed seeing them and I thought you would, too. They’re easy to find because they grow virtually everywhere, and it’s nice to see their bright colors and unusual shapes in winter. Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) for instance, is a beautiful bright yellow, cheery lichen that grows on stone.

Many lichens produce spores as a means of reproduction and that’s what this one was doing when I saw it. The little round bits that sometimes look like the suckers on an octopus are called apothecia, and that’s where the action is. Many lichens, for reasons I don’t know, like to produce spores in winter, so this is a good time to look for them. This lichen in my experience doesn’t often have them, so I got lucky.

Peppered rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) also likes to grow on stone in full sun and I find a lot of them on old stone walls. They’re a good introduction to lichen study because their brown apothecia are large and easy to see without aid. Lichens are made up of a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. Technically their apothecia are “fungal reproductive structures, in which the fungus reproduces itself through the production of spores.”

My original thoughts for this post included finding lichens I hadn’t seen before, but then I thought no, I don’t want readers to have to find specific tree species or to have to climb a mountain to see these lichens so I stayed with more easily found lichens, like these pebbled pixie cups (Cladonia pyxidata) I saw growing right beside the road I was walking on. They like to grow on soil or rotting stumps and logs and though very small they grow in groups, so that makes them easier to see.

Though pixie cup lichens are squamulose they have fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are its podetia. “Podetia” describes a stalk like growth which bears the apothecia, or fruiting bodies. Some examples might have some almost microscopic reddish dots around the rim of the tiny cup, which are its apothecia. Finally, frucitose means a lichen has a bushy, vertical growth. Since this example has squamules even growing inside the tiny cups it must be a pebbled pixie cup lichen.

You might notice that some of these photos aren’t as sharp as they could be and that’s because I think I’ve worn out another camera. My little Olympus Stylus TG-870 has just about given up the ghost I think, so I’ve had to order a new camera. I hope you’ll bear with me while this issue irons itself out. I think this must be the fourth or fifth camera I’ve gone through in the nearly eleven years of doing this blog, but they have a rough time of it in the woods.

I reminded myself, by taking this photo of a candle flame lichen (Candelaria concolor,) that it is not a great idea to shoot the color yellow in full sun.  But you can see the details, and that’s what matters. You should look for this lichen on the trees next time you go to a shopping center, because it is found on the bark of deciduous trees in open areas. From what I’ve seen it doesn’t mind car exhaust, which is unusual because most lichens are sensitive to poor air quality. Look for the bright color rather than size first. The example seen here was growing on an ash tree and was smaller than a penny.

I find what I believe are rosy saucer lichens (Ochrolechia trochophore) growing on smooth barked trees like maples, and I see them everywhere I go, winter and summer. In fact it’s safe to say that I probably see more of this pretty little lichen than any other. Its apothecia are not subject to cold or dryness, apparently, because they never seem to change. This particular lichen must produce huge amounts of spores.

Script lichens are a good example of how lichens can change according to the season. When I see them in summer, they look like barely noticeable gray spots on trees but in winter their apothecia start to show. The blackish lines are its apothecia, and long apothecia that look like a pair of lips are called lirellae. The grayish part is the body or thallus. This one is very common and easy to find in this area and I believe it is the common script lichen (Graphis scripta.)

Golden moonglow lichens (Dimelaena oreina) fooled me this year. I always thought they would only grow on smooth surfaces like stone benches or gravestones but this year I found them on some very rough stone. This is a pretty lichen that I’ve read can get quite large but I’ve never seen one more than an inch or two across. They 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.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) like to grow on old stone walls in full sun, but I’ve also found them on mountain tops. Years ago I found a beautiful example on a gravestone and never found another anywhere else. Now I see them everywhere I go so it shows me that I have to train my eyes to see the very small.  

And this example was very small indeed. The orange pad like structures are its apothecia and the roundish gray bits are its body, which in this case are called squamules. What you see here would have easily fit on a penny with plenty of room to spare. Next time you’re near a stone wall take a close look. You might be surprised by what you see.

Sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima) is a pretty, bright colored lichen that gets its common name from the way it grows on concrete sidewalks. It is a lime lover and concrete sidewalks have lime in them, so when you find it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it too. This stone, my favorite “go to” stone to see this lichen, is almost completely covered by it. What is a bit odd about it is how this is the only stone in this wall like 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 apothecia. They are very small so you really need a loupe or a macro lens to see them clearly.

Another of my favorite lichens is the star rosette (Physcia stellaris) because when you look at it you often find that it appears to be looking back, with its big, dark apothecia. But they aren’t always dark; sometimes they’re gray and sometimes they appear more blue than gray. That’s because though they are actually dark brown, 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. On this day this example’s apothecia didn’t appear to have any pruinose coating at all.

Here was an example that illustrates how a lichen can change due to weather or even over time. That’s why it’s best, when you find some that interest you, to look at them every now and then in different weather conditions to see how they change. Some might not change at all but many do.

The tufted ramalina lichen (Ramalina americana) has a green body (thallus) with flattened strap like branches and white fruiting bodies (apothecia.) They are very susceptible to air pollution and many have died off but oddly, I find them growing in a parking lot surrounded by cars. I’m not sure what that means but generally lichens are a good indicator of air quality. If you see a lot of them in your area that most likely means that your air quality is good.

If you see a tree that looks as if someone threw a bucket of white paint at it you could be seeing a whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena.) On the other hand, you could be seeing a white fungus called the white stain fungus (Julella fallaciosa.) That’s where looking closely comes in; if you see what look like small black dots or rings in the white field, it is most likely the fungus. Neither the fungus or the lichen will hurt the tree. Just think of them as birds that have found a good place to perch, because that’s all they’re doing.

This tree had me baffled. I thought it was covered with some kind of lichen but I had never seen one this color envelops an entire tree before, so I had to send the photos to my friend who wrote a book on lichens. Not surprisingly he knew right off what it was.

A photo of the tiny, almost invisible apothecia helped with his identification.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when he said that it was my old friend the maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora,) because every one I had seen previously looked like the one in this photo. He said that the individual thalli (the bodies) of these lichens can grow together to cover large swaths of a smooth tree trunk. This is especially true on young maple trees with very smooth bark, which of course is what this young tree was. Lichens always find a way to amaze me, no matter how many of them I see.

This lichen was going to appear here as a mystery lichen but at the last moment I sent photos to my lichen identifying friend and he came back with Ropalospora viridis which has no common name. Since that was the one I had chosen out of his book I was happy to have the confirmation. Lichens can be tough to identify but as I’ve said here so many times before, you don’t have to know its name or even that it is a lichen to appreciate its beauty. That is the most important part; just being aware of and enjoying the beauty that is all around you.

This lichen doesn’t have apothecia. Instead it has bright, lime green soredia, which are tiny balls of cells that break off and start new lichens. Many lichens have asexual means of reproduction and this is one of those. It’s a pretty little thing that I’m sure will be hard to miss now that I’ve seen it.

There is always at least one unknown in my lichen folder and this is today’s example. At first I thought the ghostly white circle on a tree was the fringe of a maple dust lichen, but where was the rest of the lichen? Then I thought it might be slime flux, which is a weeping wound on a tree also called bacterial wet wood. It looks like a wet stain running down the bark and can be white, black, orange, brown and other colors. I’ve been aware of it and have seen it on various trees throughout my life but I’ve never seen what it looks like when it just starts, and I wondered if that was what I was seeing here. In any event both I and my lichenologist friend are baffled by this one, so if you happen to know what it is, we’d really love to hear about it.

I hope you’ll look at and enjoy the lichens in your area. You won’t have to look hard because they are literally everywhere.

For anyone interested here is the ordering information for the lichen book I’ve been speaking of throughout this post. I’m sorry that I couldn’t get it to you in the original post.

From the tiniest grain of sand to the large sun in the sky, all are here to teach us. ~Pam Torres

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I was in the mood to just wander with no particular place to go, so I started off up the road from my house and walked until I came to a familiar little stream that chuckles and giggles its way through the woods. Little that is, when it’s in a good mood. I’ve seen it turn in to a roaring, road eating monster a few times since I’ve lived here but on this day it was gentle. It also had some interesting looking ice on it and that was enough to get me to abandon my walk and follow the stream instead.

The ice was beautiful and feathery in spots. In fact there were all kinds of ice here in all shapes and forms, all in a small sheltered dell. The section that can be easily followed can’t be more than 50 yards deep into the woods.

Last year I had a calendar and each month had an image of deep space taken by the Hubble space telescope, and that’s what this ice reminded me of. It was beautiful and very easy to imagine it in the night sky rather than on this stream.

This bit of ice looked like the surface of the moon, or would have if some little bushy tailed tree dweller hadn’t knocked down a bunch of hemlock cones. They’ll be stuck there until the ice melts now.

I saw fungi, frozen solid.

I believe these might have been oyster mushrooms but they had seen better days so it was hard to tell.

I’m not sure if the white spots one their undersides were frost or slug damage from back when it was warm enough for them to be roaming around. Slugs crawl underground where it’s warmer in winter but studies have shown that they can stand some ice formation in their bodies for short periods of time.

And here was an old friend. Milk white toothed polypores (Irpex lacteus) appear very late in the year and are considered “winter mushrooms.” I Look for them on the undersides of fallen tree branches. The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore bearing tissue. They start life as tubes or pores and break apart and turn brown as they age.

The stream wasn’t frozen over in very many places and this photo shows that it wasn’t very deep either. The ice that had formed between the stones was pretty like quicksilver. It held memories of the current.

About this time of year our evergreen ferns are still green but they look as if they don’t have much fight left in them. Winter worn and flattened low, they still grab any little bit of sunshine they can.

This one was a marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) and I know that because its spore cases grew on the margins of its sub leaflets.

As I watched it looked like dark fish were swimming under this ice, but they were bubbles, large and small.

When the dark bubbles swam under the ice it looked like windows had opened in it, but it happened fast and I had to have a quick finger on the shutter to catch it.

I liked the reflections in the stream as well as the ice. It was all quite beautiful.

The ice had me wondering about currents and flow. You can see in this shot that the water level had dropped since the ice formed and I find that to be common where there is moving water. I’ve seen it happen on ponds too but not usually. The stream’s deepest point is in the center but I doubt even that is more than knee deep. I know it’s an important spot for animals to come and drink because there were animal tracks everywhere, including turkeys, deer, and what looked like bobcat tracks, so I was glad to see that it hadn’t completely frozen over. It is their lifeline to spring.

We’re very fortunate to still have clear water in our streams. Clear enough to see the gravel bed, which is what tickles the belly of the water and makes it chuckle and giggle.

There were endless shapes and forms and colors, all abstract and beautiful. Who could despise winter after seeing such beauty? Don’t sit and wait for winter to end; get out and see the beauty of the season.

The interesting shapes were not just in the ice. I picked up a fallen pine branch that had been wounded and then had tried to heal itself. It was as if a window had opened to show its heart.

I had come to the end of my walk. From here the land to the right turns to hillside and is hard to follow even in dry summer weather. It was a short walk but I had seen so much already, I wasn’t disappointed. As it turned out this was the perfect time to have visited the stream because a dusting of snow that night covered up all the beauty of the ice.

Walking back I saw a rock that I’d guess must be full of iron. Rocks can contain minerals like hematite and magnetite and those minerals can oxidize and become rust, turning the rocks red. This one looked fine grained and sedimentary.

The low sun showed that it would be getting hard to see soon so I knew it was time to leave.

I admired the sun’s glow inside the aging snow along the road. It looked like a campfire burning in a cave.

All of nature waits patiently, knowing that spring will come. The cattails stand with their fluffy seed heads in the air and soon the redwing blackbirds will use this fluff to line their nests. They will also dig plump, protein rich grubs out of the decaying stems. It will be just the boost they need before starting their new brood.

Alder catkins hanging in the afternoon sunlight reminded me that the incredible rush of growth that is spring isn’t that far off. Not calendar spring; alder spring, hazelnut spring, skunk cabbage spring. They know that spring is here long before the calendar says so.

Before too long a warm breeze will come out of the south and it will look like someone has snuck out at night and strung the bushes with jewels. I’m waiting impatiently this year for that soft, sweet season that is my very favorite. The ice was beautiful to see but so will be the flowers.

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

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This post won’t be as cold as the last one from the Westmoreland deep cut but you might still want to keep your sweater on. It’s -10 F. as I start this post but the above photo of the outlet on Half Moon Pond in Hancock was taken on a balmier 20-degree morning just after an ice storm. We’ve had a few of those as well.

I think I’ll remember this winter as one of near constant ice. It is everywhere and seems to cover everything, as this poor lowbush blueberry shows. The ice is keeping me from climbing any hills and making me check to see if I have my micro spikes any time I go outside.

I took a few steps out onto the ice of Half Moon Pond without spikes on and found it so slippery I thought I’d have to drop to my knees and crawl back to shore. It was all I could do just to stand still but the skaters loved it. One even had a sail, so the wind did all the work. If you need wind, this is the place to come. Sometimes the wind will scream across the pond with enough force to nearly tear a half open door right off its hinges. It howls through here and makes a howling sound, just like in the movies. I always wonder if Native Americans were afraid of places with howling winds and twanging ice like this place has. When that ice starts in with its creaking, twanging and pinging it can sound downright eerie, but you do get used to it.

I decided to stay on shore where I could stand upright and marvel at the designs in the ice. I can’t imagine what would have made such strange shapes.

Before the pond froze over as each wave reached the frozen sand on shore its leading edge would freeze and over time all the frozen wave edges intertwined and created these rope-like structures. This was the first time I had ever seen this happen.

I tried a few times to show the way the ice on the trees reflected the light in colors, as if millions of tiny prisms lined the branches, but though it’s an easy thing to see making the camera see it is not quite so easy. That’s too bad because it can be one of the most beautiful scenes found in nature in the winter.

In a recent post I did on buds I told how the bud’s scales protected the bud from water and ice infiltration, but after seeing something like this it always amazes me that the buds can survive at all. The new leaves and flowers that appear in the spring though, show that they’re a lot tougher than we might think.

Not a single bud or branch can escape ice like this. Anything over a quarter inch in ice thickness starts bringing down branches, and the branches bring down power lines. That’s why an ice storm can be such a terrible and beautiful thing.

The ice I could get close to looked quite thick but I didn’t see too much damage from this storm. I saw just a few smaller limbs down.

I saw a long-necked dinosaur eating an oak leaf in a frozen puddle.

This was the scene in another puddle. I can’t imagine how such things happen. It’s as if the skin of the ice is disappearing and leaving behind its skeleton.

Little bluestem grass looks so fragile, but here it took a plow full of heavy wet snow and didn’t flinch. I love to see a field full of little bluestem in the snow.

This is another failed attempt at showing you all of the colors that shine out at you from an icy forest. One day I hope to capture it because it’s a very beautiful thing to see. It’s one of those things in nature that make you just want to stand and look and marvel at the incredible beauty that surrounds us.

But most times, rather than just standing and looking into the woods I like to go into them, because things like this are much easier to see. This is one of the reddest examples of red bark phenomenon that I’ve ever seen. The color is caused by algae growing on the tree bark, and it being studied by scientists all over New England. It isn’t always red; it can be orange as well. It affects all kinds of trees, both conifers and deciduous, and many different species. It can also appear on stones and is even present in many lichens. So if you see a tree with red bark there isn’t anything wrong. It’s just algae looking for a place to perch. What might be wrong I’ve read, is what is causing the algae to want to perch on tree bark in the first place. It is a relatively recent phenomenon, happening within the last 20 years. Some think climate change, others simply don’t know. I notice it more and more, especially on eastern hemlock trees.

NOTE: A knowledgeable friend tells me that this red bark could also be the tree’s “under bark” which can become exposed when woodpeckers go probing for larvae on a tree. I’ve never heard of this so I’ll have to look more closely next time I see it. If this was done by a woodpecker that was a determined bird, because it was a very large area on the tree.

Here was something I had never seen; a large hemlock scar had healed nicely but it was covered with white frost, while frost couldn’t be seen on any other part of the tree. It’s something I can’t explain. Maybe the bark of the healed wound was moister than the older, thicker bark that surrounded it. Somehow, something attracted the frost.

One of the many things I see in winter is how the sun has heated a leaf or a twig enough so it melts itself down into the snow. This was a hemlock twig, which was barely larger in diameter than a piece of cooked spaghetti. How so much heat can be absorbed by what is a relatively small area is unknown to me, but I see it happen all the time.

I saw a strange something or other on a tree and though I had a feeling that it must be a lichen, I wasn’t sure. I had never seen anything like it so since I have a friend who has literally written the book about the lichens in his area, I sent him photos. He almost immediately identified it as Trypethelium virens, which I later found out is called the beech sucker or the speckled blister lichen. They grow on beech trees and the best time to spot them is in the winter, so that’s another good reason to go into the woods in winter. It’s a pretty lichen that was quite large and easily seen; maybe 2 inches across.

I found a curious little forest sprite face peeking out from the fringe of this example. From what I’ve seen online the appearance of this lichen can vary by quite a lot.

I went to the Ashuelot falls to get some shots of ice pancakes but I was too late. The river had frozen over and all I saw were icebergs at the floor of the falls. It was still a worthwhile trip though, because the water going over the falls looked like honey in the sunlight.

While at the river I saw black locust seed pods blowing around on top of the snow. They always seem to fall from the trees in the winter so there was nothing remarkable about that. What is remarkable is how such a big tree can come from such a small seed. They can’t be much more than a quarter of an inch long. They are obviously in the legume family along with beans, peas and so many other plants.

I’ve always loved how the white snow makes water look so dark in winter, so I hung by the side of this dark pool long enough to almost make me late for work. Of course I tried to get that perfect photo, and never did.

This last shot is from nearly the same spot as the first one in this post. It shows the difference over the course of almost a month and surprisingly, except for the addition of a little snow in this last shot, it didn’t change that much. Since we’re supposed to be in for a good old fashioned nor ‘easter today, it may change quite a lot. Stay warm and stay safe, wherever you happen to be.

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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You might want to grab a shawl or a warm cup of something before you start reading this post because it will be a cold one. We’ve seen some of the coldest temperatures we’ve had since 2019 they say, and cold means ice, so at about 2:00 pm when it had reached the highest temperature of the day (21 F) last Saturday, off I went to the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland to see if I could find any big ice. Finding ice would not be a problem I quickly discovered, but keeping warm would.

When I say big ice, I mean tree size ice columns that start sometimes 50 feet off the ground. This is the kind of ice that you don’t find just anywhere, and that’s why I and many others come here. If you’d like a better view you can click on the photo and see a larger version.

Sometimes the ice is colored due to various minerals in the groundwater, I believe. I’ve wondered if there are impurities in the colored ice that weaken it because I’ve noticed when the Appalachian Mountain Club comes here to train, they never seem to climb the colored ice. You can see a few of the climbers there in the distance to the right. They call this place the icebox.

These ice climbers are the most focused people I know of. They have excellent powers of concentration, but I’m still always wary of disturbing that concentration. When this climber paused and looked at me, I asked if my being there would bother him. He said no so I watched for a bit. It was a bit disconcerting because every time one of the picks he held hit the ice it made a hollow “thwock” sound, but if there is one thing I’ve learned by watching these people it is that they know the ice, so I don’t ask questions. In fact unless they have both feet on the ground, I don’t say a word. I just stand and watch. When my nerves have had enough I leave, and with my fear of heights sometimes it doesn’t take long.

I suppose one reason I get a bit nervous watching them because I’ve seen a lot of this. There is a crack running through that ice column. The column diameter is about the same as three or four men side by side so if it came down well, I don’t like to think about that. I’ve seen them after they’ve fallen in the spring and some can reach from one side of the trail to the other. If you happened to be there you would be crushed, and that’s why I don’t come here in spring when things start to thaw out.

By this time I was feeling a little chilled so I decided to go south into the southern canyon where all the sunshine was hiding. The blue ice on the left was pretty. I’ve heard that blue ice is the hardest and most dense. Ice climbers tell me they like their ice “plastic” with a little give, so maybe that’s why they weren’t climbing the blue ice.

I stopped to admire a frozen waterfall. It’s hard to tell it’s a waterfall I know, but I’ve seen and heard it countless times so I was surprised to see it completely frozen and silenced for the first time. The ice has mounded up and is engulfing that tree.

I stopped again to see some intersting frost formations on the ice of a drainage channel. I’ve seen frost grow directly on ice before but these appeared to be growing on leaves and twigs. The various shapes were feathery and lacy or long and sharp. They were so delicate a single breath would have most likely melted them.

I thought I was going to tell you that frost was even growing on the stones but a closer look at the photo shows that it was actually growing on bits of moss that hung down. These kinds of frost crystals must need high humidity to grow because they grew over and on the drainage channels.

The ice on the drainage channels was interesting in places but I couldn’t get too close to it since I didn’t have my rubber boots on.

The southern canyon wasn’t quite as icy as I thought it might be but it still held some impressive ice columns. The walls aren’t as high here as they are in the northern canyon so more sunlight gets in. In this view looking south it is the wall on the left that gets the most sun.

This snowmobiler gives a good sense of the hieght and scale of the place. This was the only one I saw on this day. I’ve heard all the arguments against snowmobilers but since they’re the ones who keep these trails open, I think we’re very fortunate to have them.

You have to stop sometimes and remind yourself that the ice here didn’t grow in a flood or a waterfall. The groundwater seeps from these walls almost imperceptibly, drop by drop. In the summer you can hear the drops falling into the drainage channels but in the winter, you can see just how much water there is here. This ground is full of it, and much of it is very close to the surface.

Quite often, in fact almost always, the most colorful ice is found in the southern canyon. I’ve seen blue, green, orange, red, tan and even black ice here. As I said when we were in the northern canyon, minerals in the groundwater seems to be the only explanation.

This was the best example of colored ice that I saw on this day. You don’t see things like this just anywhere. It is one of those special, beautiful gifts of nature.

Here you can see how the colored water that makes the ice can also stain the snow.

When a drainage channel freezes solid like it had in this spot the water has nowhere to go so it pools at the base of the ledges. This ice had humped up and was slowly inching its way into the trail.

In other places there was no ice at all in the drainage channel. I don’t know what the difference bewteen the two places was. Maybe the depth of the water has something to do with it or maybe this spot gets more sunlight.

In other places the ice was growing slowly but it hadn’t covered the water yet.

Before I knew it, I was at the old lineman’s shack. It looked to be leaning even more than it was the last time I was here but that could just be my imagination. Last time it seemed to be at about 30 degrees but I’d say it was tilted more than that this time.

There really isn’t much left of it to fall but the place sure was built to last, with railroad tie sills and a slate roof. Now it’s the weight of all that slate on the roof that is helping to pull the place apart.

By this time, after about an hour and a half in the icebox, I was about cooled off right down to the bones, so it was time to go. The sunshine was bright enough but it held little heat. The car thermometer still read 21 degrees, just as it had when I arrived. I hope you stayed warm and aren’t feeling too much of a chill after reading about all this ice. It’s cold, but it’s also amazing.

As children, we are very sensitive to nature’s beauty, finding miracles and interesting things everywhere. As we grow up, we tend to forget how beautiful and magnificent the world is. There is magic and wonder for eyes who know how to look with curiosity and love. ~ Ansel Adams

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I’ve met people who thought that buds appeared in spring just before the leaves came out but no, buds actually form in late summer, when trees begin storing reserves to help them get through winter. The period is called lignification and it happens when trees stop their active growth cycle. One of the ways to identify trees and shrubs in winter is by their buds. The size and placement of buds as well as the number of bud scales (cataphylls) can all help with identification. Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some just one scale called a cap, and some buds have none at all. Buds that have several scales are called imbricate and have scales that overlap like shingles. I’m starting this post with some unusual trees that aren’t often seen in this area, and the bud shown above is a sweet gum bud. It is a good example of an imbricate bud. It is also a good example of a rarity here.

Sweet gum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) are easily identified by their unusual seed pods, above, and by the large size of their buds, which can be green, red or orange. I’ve read that Native Americans used the hardened resin from these trees for chewing gum. The resin was also used in a tea to calm the nerves and, when powdered and mixed with shavings from the tree, was used as incense by the Maya. The resin is said to look like liquid amber, and that’s where the first part of the scientific name, Liquidambar comes from.

Another tree you’ll have a hard time finding in this area is the European copper beech (Fagus sylvatica purpurea.) I’ve looked at its buds before in March and maybe they were swelling up to prepare for bud break, but they seemed bigger than those on our native trees. This year in January they really don’t look much different than our native beech buds. Long and pointed, they are a different shape than the sweet gum bud we saw but are still imbricate buds because of their shingle like, overlapping bud scales. They’ll open with maroon foliage, which over time will become a beautiful bronze / purple.

I love the bark on this old beech tree. It reminded me of an elephant’s skin. This tree lives on the grounds of the local college and there is another in Dublin, but otherwise I don’t know of any other European beeches in this area.

Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula Tibetica) is another tree you might have a hard time finding but if you had studied your buds, you would recognize these big, shiny red buds as more imbricate buds. A gummy resin often fills any spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. If water ever reached the bud and froze it could kill or damage it, so nature found a way to prevent that from happening. The shape of many imbricate buds also ensures that water will run off, rather than stay on the bud. Bud scales also help prevent moisture loss. These buds are very pretty, in my opinion.

The bark of a Tibetan cherry is very interesting. It is also called the paper bark cherry because of the way its bark peels as it ages, much like a birch. It is used as an ornamental tree as much for its bark as for its flowers, which are similar in shape and size to other ornamental cherries. The mahogany bark has very long, closely spaced lenticels that give it an unusual appearance. Lenticels are corky pores that allow gases like oxygen to reach the living cells of the bark. Without enough oxygen bark can die, so it “breathes.”

The most unusual tree bud to appear in this post is that of the ginkgo, which I find at the local grocery store, of all places. The short shoots bear terminal buds that are small at less than an eighth of an inch, with room for just two overlapping scales. A bud with only two overlapping scales is called two ranked. You can see how the terminal bud and many leaf scars are crowded together. Ginkgo is considered a “fossil tree” that has been on earth for millions of years. It is also considered the oldest living seed plant. It is said to be capable of living several hundred years, and there are trees in China that are thought to be at least 400 years old.

Buds with two scales that meet but do not overlap are called valvate buds, and a good example of a valvate bud can be found on nannyberry shrubs (Viburnum lentago). Though the scales in the photo do happen to overlap somewhat normally they would not, so they are still considered valvate. Nannyberry is one of our few native viburnums with edible fruit. They can get quite tall, almost the size of a small tree. According to the book The Origins of English Words “nannyberry” is also called sheep berry and that name comes from its fruit, which is said to resemble sheep droppings. The nanny part of the name comes from the nanny goat. Squirrels and birds are said to eat the fruit but I see huge numbers of them still on the bushes well into winter.

Cornelian cherry buds (Cornus mas) are also good examples of valvate buds. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the two scales part to let the bud grow. What confuses me about this shrub is how the two outer scales never seem to be completely closed. It doesn’t seem to matter though because they always flower beautifully. Some bud scales like these are hairy and some are covered with sticky resin that further protects the bud. Cornelian cherry is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts.

One bud scale covering a bud is called a cap, and magnolia bud scales are good examples of that. Magnolia flower buds are described as “densely pubescent, single-scaled, terminal flower buds” and that’s what we see here. The hairy single scale will fall off when the bud inside has swollen to the point of blossoming. Once the plant flowers the ground under it will be littered with these hairy caps for a short time, so if you’d like to see one up close that’s the time to look.

I was lucky to find a seed pod on the magnolia that I looked at but unfortunately it was quite dry. I’d like to find a fresh one because I’ve read that they’re full of bright red seeds. I’ll look for one this spring to show you.

Big, black and pointed mountain ash buds (Sorbus americana) fooled me into thinking they had a single cap like bud scale at first, but they actually have several overlapping scales which are quite sticky. I finally got a photo that shows this. You have to look closely at buds to see what is really going on, so it helps to have a loupe or a macro lens.

The terminal buds on a Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) are oval shaped and imbricate with many bud scales. Sometimes the scales pull back from the bud (reflex) as these did, creating what look like tiny green flowers. In a way they remind me of the male flowers on a haircap moss, but of course they’re much bigger.

Here is a look at the side of the bud in the previous photo. Evergreen buds can be very sticky, but I’ve noticed that much more sap or resin flow occurs on warm days. On a cold day in January these buds were hardly sticky at all. You can also see the rows of whiteish breathing pores (stomata) on some of the needles in this shot. Carbon dioxide, oxygen, and water vapor enter and exit the tree through these tiny openings. There are many millions of them on a single tree.

If you see that some of the branches on your Colorado blue spruce are a bit deformed like those seen in the above photo your tree has the Eastern spruce gall adelgid living on it. They cause crab claw like galls but don’t do any real harm to the tree. I’ve had them on a tree in my yard for years now and it is still as healthy as the day I planted it. By the way, a blue spruce can be green.

If I had to choose a favorite tree bud the flower buds of the red maple (Acer rubrum) would have to be at the top of the list. They’re very beautiful but more than that, they are one of my first signals that spring has finally come. It doesn’t matter what the calendar says, when I see red maple flowers, I know winter is over. Of course sometimes they get a little over anxious and will get frost bitten, but more often than not they’re a reliable indicator. Each small flower bud has four pairs of bud scales.

Sugar maple terminal buds (Acer saccharum) appear on the end or terminus of a branch. The larger, pointed, very scaly bud is flanked by lateral buds on either side. The lateral buds are usually smaller than the terminal bud and the twigs and buds are brown rather than red like silver or red maples. These buds have imbricate bud scales and they show the whitish, sticky resin that “glues” one scale to another.

Norway maple (Acer platanoides) buds are also imbricate but instead of sticky resin on the edges of its bud scales they have a fringe of fine hairs which help shed water. These buds are relatively large and easy to study using a hand lens, so they’re perfect for children in the field.

Buds that have no bud scales but are very hairy like those seen on witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana,) are called naked buds. The hairs take the place of bud scales when it comes to protecting the bud and it works well. Other naked buds are found on staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) and the native viburnum called hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides).

Witch hazel flower buds are also very hairy, but rounder than its leaf buds. It won’t be long before the yellow or orange strap like flower petals appear on the spring witch hazels. It’s something I’m impatiently looking forward to.

I know that not everyone gets as excited over buds as I do but I also know that there are children who read these posts so I often have them in mind when I do a post like this one. I hope something like a post on buds might help jump start a child’s interest in nature. They aren’t that complicated and hopefully bud scale terminology won’t seem too intimidating.

If you are interested in learning about tree and shrub buds, start with one in your own yard that you are sure of, like a maple tree or even your rhododendron, and then branch out to those you don’t know well. The following information might help to get you started:

A bud scale is made up of modified leaves or stipules that cover and protect the bud in winter. Usually the number of bud scales surrounding a bud will help identify a tree or shrub.

Imbricate bud: A bud with numerous scales that overlap each other like shingles.

Valvate bud: A bud with two or three scales that do not overlap.

Two Ranked Bud: A bud with two scales that do overlap.

Caplike bud: A bud with a single scale that comes off in the spring.

Naked bud: A bud with no scales.

If you find that you have the itch to learn even more about buds and trees, this little book is for you. I’ve had my copy since I was a teen but it’s still in print. It is very helpful and easy to understand.

Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the stars and the mountains above. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.  ~David Polis

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