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Posts Tagged ‘Paper Birch’

Last week’s nor’easter sat up north and just spun in one place for days after it buried parts of New England, and clouds and snow showers filled the air all week. And then finally on Sunday the sun came out. The temperature shot up to a relatively balmy 40 degrees F., and I decided to get into the woods. The plan was to climb the High Blue trail in Walpole to see if any of the coltsfoot that live along the trail were blooming, but Walpole got a lot more snow than I did in my yard and everything was snow covered.

I stopped to admire a snow curl on a branch.

The new way of colleting sap is used here. Or at least it was; this tubing wasn’t being used and these maple trees hadn’t been tapped. The black bit on the left at the end of the blue tubing is the part that would be in the tree if it had been tapped.

Normally I would have taken a left turn and followed the high blue trail to the overlook but nobody else had been here and my trail breaking days through a foot of snow are over. I was really surprised that there was no trail though, because this is a popular spot. I had to come up with a plan B.

Plan B was simply bypassing the left turn onto the high blue trail and staying on the old logging road that leads to it. The snow on the old road had been packed down by snowmobiles but it was still slow going. At the pace I usually walk though slow is the norm, so slipping and sliding in the snow wasn’t really a problem.

There were a few paper birch trees (Betula papyrifera) along the trail and some gray and golden birches as well.

A small stream ran alongside the road and bubbled and gurgled as I walked. Even though I couldn’t sense it the rushing water told me the snow was melting fast.

The little stream slowed and opened up into quiet pools every now and then.

I was hoping to find some evidence of amphibian activity like frog eggs, but all I saw were stones.

When two trees grow close enough together like these two sugar maples did the wind can cause them to rub together enough so their outer bark is rubbed off. If the trees are the same species, when the cambium layer just under the bark touches the two trees can grow together. This process is called inosculation and trees naturally grafted together like these two are called “husband and wife” trees or “marriage trees.” Rarely, trees of different species like red and sugar maple can become grafted, but I’ve never seen it.

I hope I never get too busy to admire a beech tree (Fagus americana) caught in a sunbeam. They’re so beautiful at this time of year.

I looked at many beech buds but I didn’t see any signs of bud break. I didn’t really expect to because it’s really too early, but the warm February could have confused some trees as well as shrubs and other plants. Like the striped maple buds I mentioned in my last post, beech buds breaking is an event I look forward to all winter.

The reason I look forward to tree buds opening in spring is because many of them are as beautiful as any flower. I’ll start looking for them in earnest starting in Late April and early May.

One of the theories of why beech trees hold onto their leaves throughout winter says that deer and moose are afraid of the sound of the papery, dry, whispering leaves and wont browse on the buds.  Deer have bottom incisor teeth that meet a hard pad of cartilage on their upper jaw, so they can’t bite through a twig cleanly. Instead they have to tear it, and this torn twig tells me that this beech bud was taken by a deer so papery leaves or not, deer do indeed browse on beech trees.

The trail opened into a large clearing that offered a few choices of where to go. The snowmobile tracks that went off to the left might circle around and go up to the overlook but they might not, and I might do a lot of trudging through the snow for nothing.  There was already a long walk ahead of me to get back out again, so I had to be careful that I didn’t get tired out walking in. While I thought about it I decided to explore the clearing.

The spore bearing fronds of sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) told me that the soil here was wet. Sensitive ferns like damp, sunny places like wet meadows and the edges of forests. Fossils that closely resemble sensitive fern have been found dating back to the time of the dinosaurs, so they have been here for a very long time. Early American settlers gave this fern its common name when they noticed how sensitive they were to frost.

Native river grapes (Vitis riparia) grew up and into the sugar maples and judging from the size of the vines they’ve been doing so for a very long time. I see these grapes growing in wet soil quite often so I think it’s safe to say that they also like damp sunny spots.

River grapes don’t seem to have as many tendrils as other grapes but they have enough to help them climb. This vine’s tendril had wrapped around this maple branch long enough ago so the branch had been growing around it. I see this often with tough vines like oriental bittersweet but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a grape vine do this. The tendrils must be a lot stronger than I thought.

The second way out of the clearing involved climbing a steep hill, so I passed on that option.

The third way out also involved a hill. Less steep but still a hill and I had no idea where the trail went, so in the end I decided to turn around and head back down the old road. I knew a lot more about this area than I did when I started and I got to walk in the winter woods on a warm sunny day, so my time certainly wasn’t wasted.

After stopping for a moment to wonder at the mechanics of another snow curl, off I went.

The world is as large as I let it be. Each step I take into the unknown reveals a thousand more steps of possibility. Earth may not be growing but my world certainly does with each step I take. ~Avina Celeste

Thanks for stopping in. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

 

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Last Sunday dawned sunny and relatively warm (in the 40s,) so I decided to visit a rail trail that I’d never been on. Of course as soon as I reached it the clouds returned and that was the end of the sunshine for the day. As the photo shows this trail is paved; one of just a handful that are. It was a pleasure to not have to slip on ice or trudge through snow for a change, but I really prefer unpaved trails.

I don’t expect you to read these signs but they do contain interesting historical information so I’ve put them here for those who may be interested.

Poplar trees (Populus) are in the willow family and their hairy catkins remind me of spring pussy willows. North American poplars are divided into three main groups: the cottonwoods, the aspens, and the balsam poplars. If the buds aren’t sticky then the tree belongs in the aspen group. Those shown here weren’t. Aspen buds begin to swell during the first warm period in spring, when minimum temperatures are still below freezing. Air temperature rather than day length determines when their buds will break, so it can vary from year to year. I think this year they misjudged and opened early. These examples were very wet from the rain and snow that fell the day before.

Crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa) grew on a tree trunk. This moss is very common on tree trunks in these parts and I see it all the time. When dry its leaves tighten and curl tightly, and that’s where the “crispy” part of its common name comes from. This clump was about an inch across. Most of them I see are quite small. This one seemed to have a bright inner light and it called me off the trail to enjoy its great beauty. Mosses are overlooked by many and that’s too bad because they can be remarkably beautiful. They are also everywhere, and very easy to find.

This beech tree was as big around as my leg and its twisted shape showed that it had been strangled by oriental bittersweet  (Celastrus orbiculatus.) Luckily for the tree someone had cut the wire like vine away, but it will always be twisted.

Male hazel catkins (Corylus americana) are just starting to release their pollen. It pays to watch them develop because once they’ve started releasing pollen the tiny and rarely noticed female flowers will soon begin to blossom. During early to middle spring, the drooping catkins begin to swell and become longer and larger in diameter. Each male flower has two tiny bracts and 4 stamens. You can just see the yellowish stamens beginning to show on these examples.

The female hazel flowers open at the same time as the male flowers, or sometimes even a little sooner. As this poor photo shows, several of the hair like female flower stigmas can grow and bloom out of each small swollen bud. They are very small and always a photographic challenge. When pollinated by the wind each female blossom with become a small, sweet nut. The nuts were used by Native Americans to flavor soups, and other parts of the shrub were used medicinally.

I keep hoping that I’ll be able to show you what female speckled alder blossoms (Alnus incana) look like but this year the lingering cold is making them wary, as if they are afraid to bloom. You can just see hints of the tiny female stigmas as they poke out from under the bracts of the catkin, but at this point there should be enough to make them look quite shaggy. These flowers are even smaller than the female hazel blossoms in the previous photo; in fact I think they’re the smallest flower that I’ve ever taken a photo of.

This pedestrian bridge crosses over Beaver Brook and replaced the original railroad bridge that stood here. I used to see a side view of it every day, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it from this angle.

Another sign tells of railroad and industry history in the area.

The reason I used to see the previous bridge from the side every day was because I used to stand on this one, which is slightly down stream. This is a private bridge which was once owned by the Kingsbury Corporation, a machine tool developer and builder. I worked here for a decade or so as a mechanical engineer and often stood on that bridge at break times. It’s hard to tell from the photo but Beaver Brook actually passes underneath the building, and when it floods so does the building.

Up there where the red brick stripes contrast with the concrete block was the engineering department. It had 50 seats and they were all full, night and day. The bottom fell out of the engineering and machine tool trades in this part of New England though, and now the land and buildings are up for sale.

Though I enjoyed my time at Kingsbury Corporation I sometimes wondered if the barbed wire was meant to keep people out or keep us in. It seemed to go both ways.

This tree looked to be trying very hard to escape…

…while this one just stood and watched.

Kingsbury started life as a small toy company in the 1800s and Kingsbury toys are prized by collectors today. As it evolved it grew to employ over 1,100 people in the U.S. and Canada. This chimney on the property is a familiar landmark in this part of town but it looks like it’s having a few problems.

One of the steel bands that help hold the chimney together has come loose, and I wonder if anyone knows. It’s on private property and nobody should be near it but there are plenty of ways in and I wouldn’t be surprised if teenagers and others walked right under this. Even if it isn’t repaired it should at least be taken down safely.

There were some nice birch groves along the trail. I don’t know if they were natural or planted by the city but they were very pretty. Most were paper birch (Betula papyrifera) but there were a few gray birch (Betula populifolia) mixed in. Not only did Native Americans use paper birch bark for canoes and wigwams but they also made hunting and fishing implements, along with buckets and other containers used for carrying, storage, and even for cooking food in. They were an essential part of native life and many tribes considered birch trees a sacred gift.

I’ve been looking for colorful turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) all year and here they were the whole time. Turkey tails grow in nearly every state in the country and throughout Europe, Asia. and Russia. Their colors are described as buff, brown, cinnamon, and reddish brown, but “versicolor” means “having many colors” and I’ve seen purple, blue, orange and even pink. Turkey tail fungi have been used medicinally by the Chinese, Japanese, and Native Americans for thousands of years. Fueled by grants from the National Institute of Health, here in the U.S. scientists are researching its usefulness in breast and bone cancer therapy.

There was another grove of birches over across Water Street but I didn’t follow that section of the trail because from here it’s just a short walk to downtown Keene. As I turned around I found myself wishing that I had walked this rail trail years ago when I worked for Kingsbury. I saw many things that I didn’t know were here and the things I knew were here I saw from a different perspective. It was an enjoyable walk.

One who returns to a place sees it with new eyes. Although the place may not have changed, the viewer inevitably has. For the first time things invisible before become suddenly visible. ~Louis L’Amour

Thanks for stopping in. Happy April!

 

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