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Posts Tagged ‘Olympus Stylus TG-870’

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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I’m still taking vacation days from work to use them up before I retire and that’s a good thing, because the weather forecast was for dangerous wind chills of -30 F last Saturday. Flesh freezes in 15 minutes in that kind of cold, I believe the weather people said, so instead of testing their accuracy I opted for a Friday walk, when the temperature was a balmy 36 degrees F. I chose a rail trail in Swanzey that I knew would have packed snow from snowmobiles, but I was surprised to see the summer gate still up. It’s there to keep wheeled vehicles off the rail trails in warmer months but is lowered in winter for snowmobiles. Still, there it was. In any event the snow had still been well packed by snowmobiles.

I like this trail because it still has a lot of the old railroad artifacts still here, like this whistle post. The W on the post told the engineer to blow his whistle or horn to warn traffic on the road up ahead. Where I grew up it was two shorts and a long on a horn and I could hear it inside the house with all the windows and doors closed. I used to love seeing those trains, so much so that I spent years building an HO scale model train layout.

Something else left out here from the railroad days is the stiff wire stock fencing they used to keep animals off the tracks. Miles and miles of it were strung along each side of the right of way, usually on stout metal posts, but in this instance a wooden fence post was used, and it showed its age beautifully, I thought.

Slowly, it was becoming hollow. The railroad came through this area about 150 years ago, and I wondered if this post had stood here all of that time. It looked like it might have so maybe it was black locust, which is known to last 100 years or more in the ground.

I saw many wood aster seed heads here and I noticed that many had been eaten, so that made me happy. Cardinals, chickadees, goldfinches, indigo buntings, nuthatches, sparrows, towhees and other birds are said to enjoy aster seeds, so that’s a good reason to let them grow rather than treating them as weeds.

The birds had picked this flower clean except for one tiny seed, and that was perfect so I could show you what an aster seed looks like. It has a little tuft of filaments at the top which acts as a parachute. When a seed hits the ground the wind can catch in the filament parachute and blow the seed along the ground to a spot where it can grow.

This is the second time in recent months that I’ve seen a bird’s nest in a shrub overrun with Oriental bittersweet. I can see how the invasive vine’s many leaves would provide good cover, but since the berries don’t appear until late fall, I doubt it has anything to do with the nesting bird eating them. It would be nice for the mama bird if she could just sit in the nest and eat the berries that surrounded her but nature doesn’t work that way. There is plenty to eat but they have to go and find it.

What does Oriental bittersweet do when there are no trees around to strangle? It strangles itself.

As I began paying closer attention when I was in the woods and became more aware of my surroundings, I noticed things on trees in winter that didn’t seem to be there in the summer. At least that’s what I thought but no, they were there all the time. It was just that they became more visible in the winter, like the way frullania liverworts darken to a dark purple color in the winter. All of the sudden the trees were covered by these dark spots, so I began looking at them closely.

The tiny leaves of frullania liverworts are strung together like beads. Some of them are said to be very fragrant but I haven’t been able to smell them yet. There are over 800 species of this liverwort. I haven’t tried to identify them but I have noticed that the ones I see must like high humidity, because they never grow too far from water.

This drainage ditch looked to be frozen solid. The black spots on the snow are hemlock seeds and scales from the cones. Birds and squirrels had been busy.

Not all of the drainage ditches were solidly frozen, so I got to see some beautiful patterns in the ice.

Beech leaves are falling I’ve noticed, and while I’ll miss seeing them I know they’re letting go so new leaves can appear in the spring. Seeing buds breaking on a beech tree is one of the great gifts of spring in a northern forest. How very beautiful they are as they unfold from the bud like silvery angel’s wings.

I saw a pheasant feather in the snow; the first I’ve ever seen that was not on a bird. This bird had met an untimely end, judging from what I saw just out of camera range to the left. I’ve learned to be at peace with seeing death in nature. Sometimes, as in the case of some fungi and trees I’ve seen, death can even be beautiful. As John Muir said “Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.”  

If you happened to be standing on top of a moving train, not knowing there was a bridge or tunnel up ahead, that probably wouldn’t have turned out well. To solve the problem the railroad came up with what they called “Tell tales.” They were lengths of soft, pencil thick wire that would hit you and “tell the tale” of a low obstruction up ahead. If you were smart you would drop to your knees immediately. These wires used to hang on either end of tunnels and trestles. I used to see them regularly when I was a boy but now this is the last one I know of.

The railroad engineers often used what they had at hand, like splitting boulders and ledges to get useable stone for building. In the case of tell tales they simply stood a section of rail on end and sank it into the ground. Then they added a rod that stood 90 degrees to the rail and hung the wires from it.

And here was the old trestle, just like the one that was near my house when I was a boy. Back then there was no solid floor like the snowmobile clubs have installed these days. Instead there were wooden ties, spaced just as far apart as they were on the railbed, and between each pair, far below, you could see the water. This was a fence when I was young, and it prevented me exploring the land of mystery to the south. I was told that little boys who weren’t careful could fall between the railroad ties and end up in the river, and for a while that possibility was an insurmountable fear. At six, seven or eight years old I was probably thin enough to actually fit between the wooden ties but I kept trying, going further and further out on the trestle, all the while hoping that a train didn’t come. Then one day at maybe twelve years old I made it across and I was free to explore the far side of the river. It was like a great space had suddenly opened around me, and I’ll never forget how happy I was about being able to see more of the river and the woods along its banks.

I looked at the Ashuelot River through a silver maple, which seems to lean just a bit more each time I come here.

There was ice along the riverbanks and since we’ve had below zero cold since I was there, I’m guessing it has grown some. It will grow from each shore and meet somewhere near the middle if it stays cold enough.

The snowmobile club had put up a warning sign on a pine tree, but I was more interested in the burl behind it.

Burl is an abnormal growth that grows faster than the surrounding tree tissues. They are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage.  Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and /or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. I see them all the time on hardwoods but not usually on evergreens. Woodworkers can make some beautiful things from burls.

You know it has been cold when the sap of white pines turns blue.

I finally found a fresh blueberry stem gall and all signs pointed to the tiny wasps still living inside, because when the wasps have left the gall, the sides are shot full of small round holes. Blueberry stem gall forms when a shiny black wasp called Hemadas nubilipennis damages a bud while laying her eggs on the tip of a tender shoot. The plant responds to the damage by growing a kidney shaped gall around the eggs, and this is where the larvae will overwinter before emerging as adults in the spring.

But not so fast. There was one very large hole in the end of the gall and that told me a bird, possibly a woodpecker, had robbed the gall of all the wasp larvae. I’ve seen this happen to the round galls on goldenrod and have seen black capped chickadees pecking at those. This gall and its inhabitants appear to be done for but someday I hope to be able to show you a fresh inhabited one.

My favorite thing from this day was this stump. No bigger around than a tennis ball where it was cut but it looked as if it had been there for a thousand years. It’s a good thing I have never found a way to bring all of the beautiful wooden things that I find in the woods home with me because I wouldn’t be able to move.

I don’t mind going nowhere, as long as it’s an interesting path. ~Ronald Mabbitt

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I had plans for last Friday; I took the day off from work to use up vacation time before I retire, and I was going to spend the whole day in the woods taking photos of interesting things for you to see, but nature had other plans. It started snowing at about 5 that morning and the roads were treacherous. I went out once (above) but quickly came home again, glad I didn’t have to drive for an hour. On Saturday I went to Beaver Brook and on Sunday we had pouring down freezing rain almost all day. So since I wasn’t able to get enough time outside, for the first time in almost 11 years I’m going to repost something I did a couple of years ago. It was quite a popular post then and I hope new readers will enjoy it. I also hope that regular readers won’t be bored by the repeat. I called it Nature Study 101.

Over the nearly nine years I’ve been doing this blog the question I’ve been asked more than any other is “How do you find these things?” So this post will be about how I find them; I’ll tell you all the secrets, starting with the jelly baby mushrooms above. Do you see how small they are? They’re growing in an acorn cap. The first time I saw them I was feeling winded and when I sat on a rock to rest, I looked down and there was a tiny clump of jelly babies, just like this one. That day a side of nature that I never knew existed was revealed and from then on, I started seeing smaller and smaller things everywhere I went. 

You have to learn to see small by seeking out small things and training your eyes, and your brain somewhat, to see them. It also helps to know your subject. For instance I know that slime molds like the many headed slime mold above appear most often in summer when it’s hot and humid, and usually a day or two after a good rain. They don’t like sunshine so they’re almost always found in the shade. I’ve learned all of this from the slime molds themselves; by finding one and, not knowing what it was, looking it up to find out. I’ve learned most of what I know about nature in much the same way. If you want to truly study nature you have to be willing to do the legwork and research what you see.

Another secret of nature study is walking slowly. Find yourself a toddler, maybe a grandchild or a friend with one, or maybe you’re lucky enough to have one yourself. No older than two years though; they start to run after that and they’re hard to keep up with. Anyhow, watch a two-year-old on a trail and see how slowly they walk. See how they wander from thing to thing. They do that because everything is new and they need to see and experience it. You need to be the same way to study nature; become a toddler. Slowly cross and crisscross your line of progress. See, rather than look. Why is that group of leaves humped up higher than all the others? Is there something under them making them do that? Move them and see. You might find some beautiful orange mycena mushrooms like these under them.

So you need to train yourself to see small, to toddle and think like a toddler, and then you need to know your subject. All that comes together in something like this female American hazelnut blossom. I first saw them when I had toddled over to a bush to see the hanging male catkins, which are very beautiful, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red.

But all I could see was a flash of color because female hazelnut blossoms are almost microscopic. That’s a paperclip behind these blossoms. Even with eye problems I can find them though, because I know they’re tiny. I know they bloom in mid-April and I know they’re red and I know what shape the buds they grow out of are. All I need do is find one and the camera does the rest, allowing me to see its Lilliputian beauty.

That’s how I start the growing season each spring; by re-training my eyes to see small again. Most of what I see in winter is big so I need to get used to small again. Spring beauties like those above are as small as an aspirin, so they’re a good subject to start with. They’re also very beautiful and a forest floor carpeted with them is something you don’t soon forget.

Sometimes I’ll see something like this larch flower in a book or on another blog and I’ll want to see it in person. That’s what happened when I first found one, and I was surprised by how small they were. This is another example of my being able to only see a flash of color and then having to see with a camera. They’re just too small for me to see with my eyes but they’re beautiful and worth the extra effort it takes to get a photo of them.

I spend a lot of time looking at tree branches, especially in spring when the buds break. I’ve learned what time of month each tree usually blossoms and I make sure I’m there to see it happen. This photo shows male red maple flowers. Each flower cluster is full of pollen and the wind will be sure the pollen finds the female blossoms. When you see tulips and magnolias blooming it’s time to look at red maples. One of the extraordinary things about these blossoms was their scent. I smelled them long before I saw them.

Lichens aren’t easy to identify but there are easy to find because they grow virtually everywhere; on soil, on trees, on stone, even on buildings. But most are quite small, so walking slowly and looking closely are what it takes to find them. This mealy firedot lichen was growing on wet stone and that’s why the background looks like it does. You could spend a lifetime studying just lichens alone but it would be worth it; many are very beautiful.

Countless insects make galls for their young to grow in and the size and shape of them is beyond my ability to show or explain, so I’ll just say that I always make a point of looking for them because they’re endlessly fascinating, and you can match the gall to the insect with a little research. This one looked like a tiny fist coming up out of a leaf. Something else I like about them is that you don’t have to kneel down to see them. That isn’t getting any easier as time goes on. 

When young the female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra, which protects the spore capsule and the spores within. It is very hairy, and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually, as the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position before the calyptra falls off.  The spore capsule continues to ripen and when the time is right it will open and release the spores. When it’s time to release the spores the end cap (operculum) of the now reddish brown, 4 cornered but not square spore capsule will fall off and the spores will be borne on the wind. I learned all of that by studying the moss and reading about what I saw going on, and you can too. And you can do it with virtually anything you find in nature. To me, that is exciting.

A good memory isn’t strictly necessary for nature study but it can come in handy if you wish to see a plant in all stages of its life cycle. I knew where some rare dwarf ginseng plants grew in this area and I knew when they blossomed but I had never seen their seedpods, so I had to remember to go back to see what you see here. It might not look like much but it’s a rare sight and I doubt more than just a few have seen it. I often can’t remember my own phone number or where I parked my car but I can lead you right to the exact spot where this plant grows, so I seem to have two memories; one for every day and one for just nature. The one for nature works much better than the everyday one.

Develop an eye for beauty. Give yourself time to simply stand and look, and before long you’ll find that you don’t just see beauty, you feel it as well, all through your being. This is just tree pollen on water; something I’ve seen a thousand times, but not like this. On this day it was different; it usually looks like dust on the surface but this pollen had formed strings that rode on the current. I wasn’t looking for it; I just happened upon it, and that shows that a lot of what you see on this blog is just dumb luck. But I wouldn’t happen upon it if I wasn’t out there. That’s another secret; you have to be out there to see it. You’ll never see it by staring at a phone or television.

This is another rarity that I just happened upon; a mushroom releasing its spores. Mushroom spores are carried by the wind so it is unusual to see them dropping to the forest floor like they have in this photo. I’ve only seen this happen three times and twice it was on a still, hot, humid day. Once it was on a cooler but still humid day, without a hint of a breeze to blow the spores away. This is why it’s so important to walk slowly and look carefully. You could easily pass this without seeing it.

Something else that is rare to see is a mushroom with another fungus feeding on it, like this bolete with a mycoparasite called Syzygites megalocarpus growing on its cap. A mycoparasite is essentially a fungus that feeds on other fungi. This one has been found on over 65 species of mushroom. It can appear overnight if heat and humidity levels are just right, and that’s exactly what this one did. You can’t plan to see something like this, you simply have to be there when it happens.

Do you know how many puddles there are with ice on them in winter? I don’t either, but I do take the time to look at them and I almost always see something interesting when I do. I’ve never seen another one like this.

Sometimes if you just sit quietly unusual things will happen. I was on my hands and knees looking at something one day and I looked up and there was a fly, sitting on a leaf. I slowly brought my camera up and this is the result. By the way, much of what I see comes about because I spend a lot of time on my hands and knees. If you want to see the very small, you have to. And before I get back on my feet, I always try to look around to see if there’s anything interesting that I’ve missed.

I was crawling around the forest floor looking for I don’t remember what one day and saw something jump right in front of me. It was a little spring peeper. It sat for a minute and let me take a few photos and then hopped off. Another secret of nature study is to expect the unexpected. If you want to document what you see always have your camera ready. I have one around my neck, one on my belt and another in my pocket, and I still miss a lot.

I was in a meadow in Walpole climbing the High Blue trail when I saw a blackish something moving through the grass on the other side. Apparently, it saw me because it turned and came straight for me. When it got close I could see that it was a cute porcupine. I thought it must have poor eyesight and would run away when it got close enough but then it did something I never would have expected; it came up to me and sat right at my feet. I took quite a few photos and then walked on after telling it goodbye. I still wonder what it was all about and what the animal might have wanted. I’ve never forgotten how we seemed to know one another. It’s another example of why you have to expect the unexpected in nature. You just never know.

Sometimes all you need to do is look up. When was the last time you saw mare’s tails in the sky? There’s a lot of beauty out there for you to see, and you don’t really have to study anything.

So, what you’ve read here isn’t the only way to study nature. It’s simply my way; what I’ve learned by doing. I had no one to guide me, so this is what and how I’ve learned on my own. I thought that it might help you in your own study of nature, or you might find your own way. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re out there having fun and enjoying this beautiful world we live in. I’ll leave you with a simple summary that I hope will help:

  1. To see small think small. There is an entire tiny world right there in plain sight but there’s a good chance you haven’t seen it. Nothing is hidden from the person who truly sees.
  2. Don’t just look, see; and not just with your eyes. Use all your senses. I’ve smelled certain plants and fungi before I’ve seen them many times. I also feel almost everything I find.
  3. Walk at a toddler’s pace. Cross and crisscross your path.
  4. Know your subject. You probably won’t find what you hope to unless you know when and where it grows, or its habits. When you see something you’ve never seen if you want to know more about it research it.
  5. Be interested in everything. If you’re convinced that you’ve seen it all then you’ll see nothing new. Run your eye down a branch. Roll over a log. Study the ice on a puddle.
  6. Expect the unexpected. I’ve heard trees fall in the forest but I’ve never seen it happen. Tomorrow may be the day.
  7. Develop an eye for beauty; it’s truly everywhere you look. Allow yourself to see and feel it. Appreciate it and be grateful for it and before long you too will see it everywhere you go.  
  8. Let nature lead. Nature will teach you far more than you’ve ever imagined. It will also heal you if you let it, but none of this can happen if you spend all your time indoors.
  9. None of the things you’ve read here are really secrets. Nature is there for everyone and you can study it and take pleasure in it just as easily as I can.
  10. Have fun and enjoy nature and you’ll be surprised how quickly your cares melt away. Problems that once might have seemed insurmountable will suddenly seem much easier to solve.

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long. 
~John Moffitt

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Last Saturday I woke up to not only the snow that fell on Friday but a temperature of 9 degrees F. That told me we wouldn’t be seeing any melting going on. By 11 am it was 22 degrees, but with the wind the feel-like temperature was more like 18 degrees, so I opted for a place where I knew I could be out of the wind. Beaver Brook and the abandoned road that follows it lie at the bottom of a natural canyon sheltered by hills on 3 sides, so there usually isn’t much wind there.

It was still cold though.

I have a friend in California who grew up here and is very fond of this place, so I like to come here at least once in each of the four seasons so he can see what it’s looking like. The place itself doesn’t change much but the weather sure does. I’ve seen waist deep snow on the old road.

There is a small cave here that I’ve always thought looked like a perfect spot for an animal den and sure enough I could see tracks in the snow that looked like they might have been bobcat tracks, but since we’d had a little more snow overnight it was hard to tell. The cave goes much further back into the hillside than what it looks like here.

Stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is a pretty moss that I only find in this place. It’s very delicate looking but it can take a lot of winter ice and snow and grows as far north as the arctic tundra. It is also called glittering wood moss because it sparkles when the light is right. It grows on the stone that caps the cave and seems to like places where it can hang over an edge.

The seep hadn’t frozen, but it rarely does. When you see this frozen over you know it is extremely cold. Hydrologically speaking a seep is a wet place where water reaches the surface from an underground aquifer, and this one stays just like this winter and summer. I saw it freeze one winter but I’ve never seen it dry up. It’s a good place for birds and animals to come and drink.

Near the seep is a boulder fall, and on some of the stones in the boulder fall dog lichens grow. I hoped to see them on this day but they were covered by snow. The sky was a beautiful blue though, and that more than made up for their lack.

Also near the seep is a tree that I’ve been watching. It died at some point and has been sloughing off its bark for at least two years now. When you find a tree in the woods that is completely without bark, this is why. Sometimes you can even find a bunched-up pile of shed bark at a tree’s base. It is normal for live, healthy trees to lose some bark, but not like this.

A goldenrod held out its seeds for birds that didn’t seem interested. There seems to be a lot of that going on here. Many fruits and seeds are not being eaten like they were a few years ago.

I love to see the sunlight falling on golden birches. It shows how they come by their name. They are also called yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) but to me they’re golden. Swamp birch is another name for this tree that is the largest and most valuable birch. They can live to 100 years regularly but at least one was found that was over 200 years old.

I was lucky to find a fallen golden birch branch that had the female seed heads (strobili) attached. They are quite big on this birch; about the size of bush clover seed heads, or the tip of your thumb.

And here was a single fallen golden birch seed, which is about twice the size of the gray birch seed I showed in a recent post. I’ve read that redpolls, pine siskins, chickadees, and other songbirds eat these seeds. Ruffed grouse eat the seeds, catkins, and buds, and red squirrels like the seeds and sap.

Golden and paper birches both have bark that peels like this. As any camper knows, it’s great for starting a campfire. That’s because it contains betulin, which is highly flammable. It is also water repelling, and that’s probably why Native Americans used birch bark for their canoes.

There was lots of ice on the ledges. These ledges don’t see a lot of sunshine; I’d guess maybe two or three hours per day, so the ice grows slowly. It is clear and hard.

The sunshine that falls here in winter comes over the hillside to the right, out of this view. In winter it takes its time reaching the other hillside on the left, so much of the road is shaded. It can be a cold walk. The overhead electric wires just follow this handy corridor. There are no houses here.

I met and old timer up here once who told me that rock climbers used to practice on that erratic over on the other side of the brook. It is big; maybe twice the size of the 40-ton Tippin Rock in Swanzey.

I loved the way the reflected light fell on the water in this spot. So much beauty, everywhere you look.

In the place where the brook becomes wide and calm it had iced over. I’ve seen Beaver Brook with ice three or four feet thick on it, so thick that the brook lost its singing voice.  I’m hoping I don’t see that this year.

The icicles hanging from the stones in the brook have large “feet” and I think that is because they grew in length as far as the water surface and then, once they couldn’t grow any longer, they grew wider instead. I’ve watched the ice in the Westmoreland deep cut and when it reaches the surface of the drainage channels it widens, just like this. If that is what is happening here then the water level has dropped about a foot since the icicles grew.

Ice hung from every stone. Anywhere water splashes is a good place to look for ice formations.

The seed pods of Indian pipe plants (Monotropa uniflora) look like small, carved wooden melons. This one had split to release the tiny, winged seeds. They split into five parts and each segment will eventually fall off, leaving the hard, dried central style behind. I had to take my gloves off to get this shot so it is a bit rushed. I wanted to show more of the top so we could see the funnel shaped hole in the stigma, but it was cold. The wiry looking bits are what is left of its ten dried stamens which, when the plant is flowering are inside the petals. You can see one of the dried petals behind the seed pod there in the lower right. It really is fascinating how much of the flower’s structure is still there in the dead plants. I always like to stop and take a closer look when I see them.

I stopped to look at the chubby purple buds of red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa). Buds with many bud scales that overlap like shingles are called imbricate buds. A gummy resin often fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. If ice should form inside the bud scales it could kill the bud. I’ve seen these buds in the past with purple and green stipes and they were beautiful. The colors reminded me of drawings of court jesters that I’ve seen. I can’t say why some buds are striped and others are not but I have a feeling that temperature might have something to do with it. Many plants like American wintergreen, turn purple in winter and I’ve noticed that the color is darker when it is cold.

As is often the case these days I didn’t dare to climb down the embankment to get a good view of the falls, but this shot from 2015 is a good representation of what I saw by peeking through the brush on this day. There was a good roar but I’ve seen even the falls covered by ice in the past, quieted by the cold.

As I was leaving, I noticed that the sun was higher in the sky and its light had reached the brook. There wasn’t much warmth but there was light. This shot also shows how treacherous climbing down to the water would be, and this spot would be much easier than at the falls. You’ve got to be careful up here because you’d wait quite a little while for any help to come and in this cold that wouldn’t be good.

The sunshine had also reached the icicles on the ledges but I’d be surprised if it had enough time to do any real melting. It won’t be long though. There is a little more daylight each day and it will be March before we know it.

In the winter, the world gets sharp. Beautiful things happen. ~Peter Fiore

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