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Posts Tagged ‘Pitcher Mountain Fire Tower’

It’s blueberry picking time here in New Hampshire and one of the best local places I know of to do that is on Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. Wild blueberry season in New Hampshire usually starts around the end of July and people come from all over to pick them. I like to come here at this time not to pick blueberries but to meet the people who do.

The trail, as mountains go, is relatively easy to climb even for me and I often meet elderly people climbing here.

Hay scented ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) line the trail and they were starting to turn white, here and there. Another signal that fall is in the air. This fern likes shade and will tolerate extreme dryness as well. Its common name comes from the way it smells like hay when it is bruised. It does well in gardens but gardeners want to make absolutely sure they want it because once they have it they’ll most likely have it for a long time. It’s very difficult to eradicate.

A young mountain ash tree was covered with wooly aphids, almost from the soil to its tip. These sucking insects can be winged or unwinged. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of trees and in spring nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage. I’m guessing that this young tree will be severely weakened by such large numbers of aphids. The drops of liquid are their waste, which is called “honeydew.” It’s very sticky and often leads to sooty black mold.

Someone left a small stone on top of a larger one. I used to collect rocks and minerals and I could see that it wasn’t anything special. I almost tossed it into the woods but then I thought that it might have been special to the person, possibly a child, who left it there, so I put it back. Speaking of children I saw a few here on this day, and that made my heart glad. There’s no such thing as too many kids in the woods, and one of the greatest gifts we can give them is introducing them to nature.

There were lots of white whorled wood asters (Oclemena acuminata) growing along the trail but many hadn’t bloomed yet. This plant can take quite a lot of shade.

The leaves were all mottled on this wood aster. I’ve never seen this before and I’m not sure what would have caused it. It didn’t look like leaf miners.

Before I knew it I was at the meadow. The white puffy clouds though unexpected, were fun to see.

The clouds were unexpected because the weatherman said wall to wall sunshine for the day. Instead it looked like the clouds might be on their way to becoming wall to wall and some were huge. That dark area out there is a cloud shadow.

Theses hay rolls (?) were placed near where I saw the big black bear in May on my last trip up the mountain. I’ve thrown hay bales up onto wagons before but I was very thankful that I never had to roll these big things around. They must be for the Scottish highland cattle that live up here.

Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) dangled red and ripe from the trees. The Native American Ojibwe tribe called them Asasaweminagaawanzh. They crushed them with stones and then heated them in a pan with lard and sugar. The berries were used in pemmican, in cakes, or cooked in stews after they had been crushed and dried. Pemmican was a meat, lard and fruit mixture which was stored as a high energy emergency winter food that kept people from starving if food became scarce. It saved the life of many a European as well. The Ojibwe still make and sell chokecherry syrup and chokecherry jelly. They say that they are one of the “sweetest tastes of white earth.”

Unfortunately most of the cherries in this area have black knot disease. It is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus can be spread by rain or wind and typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those in the above photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring.

Flocks of these little gray and black birds flew along the trial beside me. I think they were dark eyed juncos. They were very quiet and didn’t seem frightened of me at all. In fact they were as inquisitive as chipmunks and watched me the whole way.

The old ranger cabin told me I was just a few yards from the summit.

The ranger cabin had me wondering just how often the people in charge come up here, because the boards someone ripped off one of the windows were still missing since at least May. There was also an alarm sounding on the generator that powers the fire tower, but nobody around to silence it.

I’m not sure what would happen if the power was cut to the fire tower. There sure are a lot of antennas on it. You find people on most mountaintops in this area and popular ones like Mount Monadnock can at times seem as busy as a Manhattan sidewalk. There were a few up here on this day and I even saw a woman wearing flipflops, which I wouldn’t recommend. I call the fire tower on Pitcher Mountain a monument to irony because the original wooden tower built in 1915 burned in April of 1940, in the most destructive forest fire to ever strike this part of the state. Twenty seven thousand acres burned, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit.

I met a man with a German (?) accent who was very interested in blueberries. I told him that there were plenty of bushes right here on the summit and he should just help himself. The highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is a native plant that you can quite literally find just about anywhere in this part of the state. There are areas where they are more concentrated though, and Pitcher Mountain is one of those areas. This is what the man was after and though they grow in great numbers near the summit he wasn’t having much luck finding any berries. I saw people carrying containers around and I saw ripe berries, so I’m not sure why he wasn’t finding any.

Native black highbush blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum) has smaller fruit than that of the Vaccinium corymbosum highbush blueberry in the previous photo and also grows on the summit. Some say they are sweeter while some say the other highbush blueberries are sweeter. Though I told him that they are both native berries the man with the German accent said he didn’t want these berries because they must be “some kind of strange hybrid.” He wanted native berries he said again, so I finally had to say good hunting and move on. Clearly someone has given him erroneous information about blueberries but it can’t be just him, because most of these berries go untouched by the pickers. When I come up here in January I find them mummified by the thousands, still on the bushes. I’ve eaten many of both kinds and in my experience one isn’t any better or worse than the other, in my opinion. I wish I could have convinced the visitor of that.

It’s been quite dry lately so I was surprised to see water in what I call “the birdbath.” I saw a dark eyed junco taking a bath in it once but they didn’t follow me all the way to the summit to bathe on this day. I did see a black Labrador retriever roll in it though.

There was a certain haziness to the atmosphere so I couldn’t see much detail on  Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey.

Before long the clouds had almost fully come together and they seemed almost low enough to touch. I began to wonder if wall to wall sunshine was going to turn into wall to wall rain.

So off I went back down the trail, wondering about the woman climbing a mountain in flip flops and the poor man who couldn’t find a blueberry even though he was surrounded by thousands of them. I’ve always found it easier to understand plants than people, and sometimes human nature really does baffle me.

Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ~Anatoli Boukreev

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Santa brought me some Kahtoola Micro Spikes for Christmas this year, so of course I had to try them. On the day after Christmas I decided that climbing Pitcher Mountain over in Stoddard would be as good a trial as any and as luck would have it the trail was covered in snow and ice. I’ve heard a lot of good things about micro spikes and I have to say that I won’t be without them from now on. I purposely walked over ice with them on and didn’t slip or skid at all.

I found this photo online for those who haven’t seen micro spikes. They really grip.

The message was a good one but was a little late, I thought. Or maybe it was me who saw it too late.

There was quite a pile of wood chips at the base of a dead tree, so I looked up.

Sure enough a pileated woodpecker had been looking for lunch. Pileated woodpeckers are our largest woodpecker and you can tell their holes by the more or less rectangular shape. The unusual thing about this was the perfectly round holes made by a smaller woodpecker inside the pileated woodpecker holes. I’ve never seen this before. The smaller bird was smart to let the bigger bird do most of the work. If there are carpenter ants inside they’re usually in the heartwood of the tree.

Before you know it you’re at the meadow where Scottish Highland cattle sometimes graze. I didn’t see any on this day though.

The trail takes a sharp left at the meadow and gets a little steeper. So far legs, lungs and micro spikes were all working well but the snow had melted on this leg of the trail.

The crunchy, frozen soil told me I was walking on ice needles and there were plenty of them to see. A lot has to happen for these to form but I’ve explained it many times, so I’ll spare you this time. It has to be cold for them to form, with the temperature right at 32 degrees at the soil surface. Air temperature was about 22 degrees F. when I started.

Hoar frost grew around the mouths of chipmunk and snake holes in the soil. The earth’s warm breath meeting the cold air of winter.

Stone walls made me think of the Pitcher family, who settled here in the 1700s and most likely built this wall. They gave their name to this mountain.

One of my favorite places marks the second sharp left turn along the trail. After essentially living in a forest all of my life wide open places like this one seem almost other worldly. It’s just you, the earth and the sky. Minimalism at its finest.

Quite often you’ll find a place where the ground looks like it has heaved up and around stones. The stone sits at the bottom of a hole that is usually shaped exactly like it is, so it also looks like the sun has heated the stone enough for it to melt down into the frozen soil. I doubt that is the answer though because the sun would heat the surrounding stones as well, but they haven’t melted into the soil. I think the ground must have heaved up and lifted all the soil and smaller stones that surrounded the bigger one. I saw that this had happened in several places along the trail.

The inner bark of staghorn sumac is sometimes brightly colored like the thin strip at the top of this piece, which my color finding software tells me is coral and salmon pink along with a little orange. I saw that colorful strip and peeled the section of bark it was on. I was surprised to see that the inner bark still attached to the wood was Indian red, dark salmon pink, and a lot of sienna. Why this bark colors like this when the tree dies, I don’t know.

When bark is removed from a tree, as long as the tree isn’t girdled it will live and try to heal itself, but I’ve been watching this young staghorn sumac for a few years and it hasn’t healed at all. I think that’s because deer are using it to rub their antlers on, because the wound on the tree is always fresh. Male white tail deer, called bucks, rub their antlers on trees for different reasons, but it seems fitting that they would choose a staghorn sumac. Staghorn sumacs get that name because of the hairs all along their stems that resemble the velvet on a stag’s antlers. Maybe this deer thought he was fencing with another deer.

You can get a glimpse of the fire tower through the trees in some spots. The sunshine was glaring off the windows on this day.

The old ranger cabin is having a relatively easy winter so far but I’m sure it has seen winters up here when the snow almost buried it. The concrete piers and blocks it rests on have all shifted and I wonder how much longer it will be able to resist the pull of gravity. I wouldn’t be surprised to climb up here one day and find that it had tumbled down the mountainside.

The fire tower must be manned at some point during the year but I’ve only seen people in it once out of all the times I’ve been up here. There were a lot of people up here that day and they all wanted to get into the tower, so I passed on it.

It can be very windy up here so the tower is tied down to the bedrock by steel cables. The tie down shown was used for the original tower, which burned in 1940 in one of the worst forest fires this state has ever seen. 27,000 acres burned, including all the trees on this summit.

The views weren’t too bad but it was windy and that made it feel colder so I didn’t stay long.

I liked this view because you could see how snowy the distant hills were.

There was ice on the summit but I didn’t worry about slipping with the micros spikes on. They even seem to make walking on uneven stones easier.

A close look at the bedrock on the summit shows that it is almost entirely covered by lichens.

One of my favorite lichens that grow here is the common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina.) This pretty lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and it was once used to dye wool yellow in Sweden. How they ever got it off the stones, I don’t know.

Perhaps there’s no better act of simplification than climbing a mountain. For an afternoon, a day, or a week, it’s a way of reducing a complicated life into a simple goal. All you have to do is take one step at a time, place one foot in front of the other, and refuse to turn back until you’ve given everything you have. ~Ken Ilgunas

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The rapidly dropping leaves told me if I was going to climb to see the foliage colors from above I’d better get a move on, so on the 14th I drove over to Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard where there is a 360 degree view from the summit. I’ve been having some breathing problems lately and I really didn’t know if I could make it to the summit or not, but I threw caution to the wind and with a good puff on the old inhaler, up I went. Sorry about the lens flare but it was a beautiful sunny day.

There were plenty of opportunities to stop and catch my breath and that was a good thing because if I went by the amount of people coming down as I was going up, it must have been standing room only up there. I’d bet I passed at least twenty people. This photo is of an oak that was already changing into its fall colors.

Beeches are also changing and they along with the changing oaks tell me I had better get over to Willard Pond soon. Willard Pond is especially beautiful at this time of year with its hillsides of yellow beeches and orange, red and purple oaks.

The trail up Pitcher Mountain is short but steep in places and when you feel like you are carrying a weight on your chest it seems even steeper. Pitcher Mountain is named for the Pitcher family who settled here in the mid-1700s. There are still remnants of an apple orchard near the summit, with trees that still bear apples. I doubt they’re from the 1700s but they are quite old.

This is always a stopping place, breathing problems or not. I always feel a great sense of release when I see this view and can imagine I hear a great whooshing sound, as if everything has suddenly been stripped away. There is the earth, the sky, and nothing else but emptiness, and when you’ve lived 60+ years surrounded on all sides by thick forest that emptiness can be very welcoming indeed. I sat on a stone and basked in it and forgot myself for a while.

When I got moving again a blueberry bush on the side of the trail had been caught in a sunbeam, and it was beautiful enough to stop me in my tracks.

While I was admiring the blueberry bush I looked up and saw what I think was a rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora) on a tree. It was full of beautiful rosy brown apothecia and was producing spores to beat the band. If I hadn’t stopped to admire the blueberry I wouldn’t have seen it.

At the base of the tree with the rosy saucer lichen was a log with a peach colored turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) growing on it, so of course I had to get a photo of it. I don’t see many of them this color. One thing leads to another in nature; the blueberry showed me the lichen and the lichen showed me the turkey tails. I wander like this from interesting thing to interesting thing quite regularly. It’s as easy as looking around closely before you leave any given bit of nature. Before you move on down the trail there’s a good chance that you’ll see something else that catches your eye.

Almost there. Enough dilly dallying.

I was high enough now to look out over the forest I had just come through. It’s called the Andorra Forest and it seems to stretch into infinity. Views like this one in the fall let you pick out individual trees because of their varying color and show just how staggering the number of trees here really is; 4.8 million acres of them.

I could just glimpse the fire tower through the glowing blueberries and sumacs.

From here on is the shortest but steepest part of the trail so I stop at the old ranger’s cabin to catch my breath and prepare for it. I don’t know the history of this cabin but it’s certainly big enough to have held at least 4 people at one time. I’m assuming that people lived here when the fire tower was manned daily. The cabin looks like it’s leaning even more to the left, into the mountainside. How it takes the heavy snow load each winter is anyone’s guess.

Just a few more steps and I’d be on the summit. I was happy (and a tiny bit surprised) that I’d made it. I call the fire tower a monument to irony, because in 1940 the original 1915 built wooden tower burned to the ground, along with 27,000 acres of forest and all the trees on the summit. It was one of the worst fires in state history but it is because of that fire that today we have a full 360 degree view from the summit.

The bedrock showing on the summit is covered in lichens.

Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) is a crustose lichen, which means it grows like a crust and probably couldn’t be removed without damaging whatever it is growing on. This lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and was once used to dye wool yellow in Sweden. It must have been very hard work scraping it off the stone and yellow wool must have been very expensive.

One of the first things I look for at the summit is what I call the “near hill.” I was a little disappointed that the colors weren’t brighter and didn’t “pop” more. Capturing fall color from above is a lot harder than one would think. I’ve tried many times, from many different hills and mountains, and I really haven’t ever been completely happy with the results.

It was very beautiful up close but harder to see the colors far away.

I could just see the whirligigs over on Bean Mountain in Lempster. I couldn’t tell but they must have been spinning fast. The wind was brisk to say the least, and the camera had a hard time with them through the haze.

Jerry from the Quiet Solo Pursuits blog thought the fall colors would look better with a blue sky behind them so I conjured a bluish one up and here it is. I told Jerry that I found when the sun is behind me a photo will almost always show blue water, and I wondered if the same might be true with the sky. As you can see from these photos in many the sky is milky white and in some it’s blue, and I think it must have a lot to do with where the sun was when I took the photo. I’m going to have to pay closer attention to see if it really does work that way. By the way, if you’re a nature lover, especially a bird lover, you really should be reading Jerry’s blog. You can find him right over there in the “Favorite Links” section under Quiet Solo Pursuits. His latest post shows the glorious fall colors found in Michigan.

I met some people from Stoddard up on the mountain who told me I had missed the peak colors by just a few days. “Last Tuesday was best,” they said. Oh well, as Forrest Gump’s momma always said: Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.

It had rained the day before my climb so I wasn’t surprised to see the depressions in the stone filled with water. I’ve always called them bird baths and a year or two ago a dark eyed junco let me sit and watch it bathe right here.

There was another oak turning orange and prodding me on to Willard Pond so I don’t miss the show there. We’re not done yet; there is more fall color to come. The oaks there blaze with bright orange and the beeches are lemon yellow and together they often put on an unforgettable show.

Going down was easier on the lungs but harder on the legs and I guess that’s the price you pay for climbing. I had a smile on my face though and I had met a few interesting people and had seen many beautiful things, so I’m not sure I could imagine a better day. I hope you’ll have one just as good real soon.

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

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Last Sunday I woke with an urge to climb, so I headed 25 miles north to Stoddard where Pitcher Mountain lives. Since we have no snow in Keene I assumed there would be no snow there, but I was wrong. It was another one of those “what was I thinking?” moments.

But all in all the trail wasn’t bad because it was snow instead of ice. I stopped to get a photo of target canker on a red maple (Acer rubrum.) If I understand what I’ve read correctly red maples are the only trees that get this canker. It makes the tree’s bark form bullseye shaped raised plates that look like a target, but it doesn’t really hurt the tree. The circular plates are the tree’s response to a fungus that invades the healthy bark and kills it. During the next season the tree responds with a new layer of bark and cork (callus) to contain the fungus. In the next dormant season the fungus again attacks and kills more bark and on it goes, a seasonal alternation of pathogen invasion and host defense response which creates concentric ridges of callus tissue; a target canker. Finally the fungus gives up or dies off and the tree grows on. Red maples have beautiful deep red flowers and the trees often grow in large colonies, so I was hoping to see huge swaths of red from the summit.

I also stopped to see a striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum) that grew along the trail. The two large terminal bud scales had started pulling apart to reveal the bud within, just like they were doing 25 miles and over 1,600 feet lower in Keene. The pink and orange fuzzy buds are very beautiful and I’m getting anxious to see them. It won’t be long now.

I had to stop at one of my favorite places, which is the pasture about half way up the trail. I always imagine doors being thrown open and a great whooshing sound when I see this view because it’s so expansive compared to the close woods where I spend most of my time. It’s a peaceful, simple place with just the earth, sky, and you and you can step outside yourself for a while here.

The trail takes a turn after the pasture and gets steeper and rockier as it follows it uphill. On this day I had a choice; mud on one side or snow on the other. I chose the snowy side.

There is a fairly good view of Mount Monadnock from this leg of the trail but low haze often spoils it. It wasn’t too bad on this day.

There is a lot of black knot disease on the black cherry trees (Prunus serotina) here and I stopped to look at an example. Black knot is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus are spread by rain or wind and typically will infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those in the above photo. The disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring.

This is what black knot can do to a fully grown black cherry. This is a wound that never heals and on a tree this age and size the disease is impossible to control and the trees should be destroyed so the fungus can’t release anymore spores. If this photo looks a little strange it’s because I had to use the flash because it was so shady here.

You can get a glimpse of the fire tower from a good distance away before the trees leaf out, but the glimpse signals the start of the steepest part of the climb. The trail had a little snow on it but the summit was snow free, bare granite as usual.

The old forest fire warden’s cabin still stands but each year it seems to lean into the mountainside just a little more. Staying up here must have been hard work no matter what time of year it was.

Pitcher Mountain is one of just a handful of places I know of where Mountain ash trees (Sorbus americana) grow naturally. These trees are easy to identify when they don’t have leaves by their big black buds. This example was just starting to turn green. Mountain ash is used ornamentally because of its white flowers in late spring and bright orange berries in the fall, but it is a native tree. Native Americans made a tea from the bark and berries of this tree to treat coughs, and as a pain killer. They also ate the died and ground berries for food, adding them to soups and stews. The berries are said to be very tart and have an unpleasant taste when unripe.

The fire tower was unmanned and so was the summit so I had the whole rock pile to myself, which is a very rare thing. You find people on most mountaintops in this area and popular ones like Mount Monadnock can at times seem as busy as a Manhattan sidewalk. I call the fire tower on Pitcher Mountain a monument to irony because the original wooden tower built in 1915 burned in April of 1940, in the most destructive forest fire to ever strike this part of the state. Twenty seven thousand acres burned, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit.

A couple of weeks ago we had strong winds with 60 mile per hour gusts and a lot of trees fell in certain areas, so it’s probably a good thing that the fire tower is fastened to the granite of the summit with several stout cables. The wind that day must have made it impossible to stand on the summit. I can imagine the cables vibrating like violin strings in weather like that.

The hill that I call the near hill might be the closest but it would still be quite a hike to reach it. I was surprised by the amount of snow still on it.

I love seeing the blue hills off in the distance and though I don’t climb for the view they do make it much more enjoyable. In case you’re wondering about my not climbing to see the view, if I did I’d be disappointed probably 80% of the time because you never know what haze, humidity, or weather in general will do to it. For instance on this day, though it looks like I could see clear to California, I couldn’t see the windmills over on Bean Mountain just a few miles away.

But I could see the shading on the hills and this is something I find very pleasing. I sat and admired them for a while.

I could also see ski areas on several distant mountains, none of which I know the name of. Skiers must be enjoying some fine spring skiing this year.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) grow profusely all over the bedrock up here. This crustose lichen is very granular and is often busy producing spores, but I didn’t see any of its fruiting bodies (apothecia) on this day. These lichens were once used to dye wool in Sweden but I can’t imagine how they got them off the rocks. Crustose lichens usually can’t be removed from the substrate they grow on without damaging it in some way.

I’m not sure what it was but the sun brought out golden highlights in this tiny insect’s wings. It was hanging on desperately trying not to be blown away in the strong wind, so I was able to get a shot of it. I’d guess that it was hardly more than a quarter inch long.

Tile lichens are areolate lichens, which are made up of many little lumps or islands. In the example above the black parts are its apothecia and the white parts are the body (Thallus.) The apothecia are even with or slightly below the surface of the thallus. Tile lichens grow on exposed rock in full sun and will even grow in winter if the temperature is slightly above freezing. I think this one might be Lecidea tessellata but with 136 species of tile lichens I could easily be wrong.

The natural depressions in the bedrock that I call birdbaths always have water in them, even when we had a drought two years ago, and that seems strange to me. What I think doesn’t matter though, because the birds do use them; last year I watched a dark eyed junco bathe in this small pool. I was a little disappointed at not seeing the large swaths of flowering red maples that I hoped to see from up here but even so I saw plenty of other beautiful things, and it was a great day for a climb.

Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ~Anatoli Boukreev

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Every year when the leaves change I get the urge to see them from above, believing that somehow the colors will be better up there, but so far seeing fall color from above hasn’t really proven worth the climb. Still, I keep trying and last weekend I chose Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard because of its 360 degree views. There is a fire tower on the summit so the trail is actually an access road, which is wide but also steep and rocky near the summit.

Many of the trees along the old road had already lost their leaves and they crackled under foot. I wish you could experience the smell of walking through thousands of dried leaves. It’s an earthy, burnt marshmallow type of smell that is impossible for me to accurately describe but once you’ve smelled it you never forget it. It always takes me back to my boyhood.

Powdery mildew on some of the oak leaves told climbers the story of how warm and humid it has been recently and reminded them how glad they should be that it wasn’t humid on this day. I for one was very happy that it wasn’t.

The old stone walls along the access road reminded me of the Pitcher family who settled here on the mountain in the 1700s and farmed it. At one time much of the mountain had most likely been cleared for sheep pasture, which was very common in those days.

The rock pilers had been here but this time they used rocks small enough so I could have hidden this pile behind my hand. What they get out of doing this, other than cluttering up the landscape and spoiling the views, I’ll never understand. I refuse to call them cairns because cairns are useful things that help travelers along their way, but these piles of stone are of no use at all.

I can’t say how many times I’ve made this climb and failed to see the Scottish highland cattle that I know live here but this time there they were. I watched them for a while but when number 10 noticed me and started acting interested I thought of the old saying “be careful what you wish for” because all that separated us was a flimsy little electrified fence that I wasn’t sure was even turned on. Luckily the hairy beast was more interested in its stomach than me and it went back to munching grass. It wasn’t until I saw the photo that I realized how cute it was. Kind of cuddly, for a cow.

The highland cattle were very close to one of my favorite places and might have wandered over this ridge. I like this spot because after living in a forest for so long it seems vast and infinite, and void of distractions. It’s just the earth the sky and you and, for a while, blissful emptiness.

Once I had pulled myself away from the edge of infinity and started climbing again a monarch butterfly came flying hurriedly down the mountain and almost flew right into my face. It was in such a hurry that I never did get a photo of it, but it was nice to see it just the same.

As you near the summit big old mountain ash trees (Sorbus americana) appear along the trail. This is the only place I’ve ever seen these native trees in their natural habitat. I’ve seen lots of others but they have all been used as ornamentals.

My favorite thing about mountain ash trees are their big purple-black buds.

The Pitcher family or a subsequent land owner must have had an apple orchard up here because as you near the summit there are also quite a few apple trees in the area. They still bear abundant fruit as the one in the above photo shows. The bears, deer and other apple eaters must be very happy.

I was going to take a rest on the porch of the old ranger cabin but hornets swarmed all around it. The unattended building must be full of them. I wouldn’t want to be the one chosen to find out.

I call the old fire tower, built to replace the original 1915 wooden tower that burned in 1940, a monument to irony. The Stoddard-Marlow fire that took it was the biggest fire in this region’s history, destroying 27,000 acres of forest, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit. It left the summit with an unbroken 360 degree view which is very popular with hikers of all ages. When the fire tower is manned climbers can go up for a look and I’ve seen many families do so.

Many ferns become very colorful before they go to sleep for the winter. I liked the orange / brown of these marginal wood ferns (Dryopteris marginalis.) Marginal wood fern gets its name from the way its spore cases (sori) grow on the leaf margins.

The view wasn’t really hazy but the light had a warm feel and the colors were also on the warm side of the wheel. We’re well on our way to the warmest October since records have been kept, so this was no surprise.

The summit was full of people, and that was a surprise. The Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway trail passes over the summit and hikers often stop to rest here, but I’ve never seen so many at one time. I made my way around them and the fire tower to my favorite view of what I call the near hill. As I stood looking out over the landscape I couldn’t help but hear a conversation which was dominated by a woman lamenting the fact that she had never been “in the moment” and had no idea how to be. She went on to list those times she thought she had been close, but hadn’t quite made it. My thoughts about it were kept to myself because I don’t know much about the subject but if I had to guess I’d say that to be “in the moment” you would have to stop talking, especially about what has happened in the past, and just sit and enjoy the incredible beauty before you. Stop talking and worrying about being in the moment and just be right here, right now. It sounds very simple to me.

Color wise the views weren’t quite as spectacular as they were last year but the foreground colors were good. The shrubs are mostly blueberries and dogwoods and the trees are mixed hardwoods and evergreens. Pitcher Mountain is famous for its blueberries and many people come here to pick them. What I’d guess is that many who pick the fruit don’t realize how beautiful the bushes are in the fall.

Another look at the summit colors.

I was able to see the windmills on Bean Mountain over in Lempster. I discovered recently that I’ve been calling this mountain by the wrong name for years, because when I first read about the windmill farm I thought the text said it was on Bear Mountain. I think it looks more like a reclining bear than a bean, but maybe a family named Bean settled there. Or something.

I loved the deep purple of these blackberry leaves. I wouldn’t want to see a whole forest that color but it’s very pretty dotted here and there in the landscape. Virgin’s bower, blueberries, bittersweet nightshade and quite a few other plants turn deep purple in the fall. I’ve read that the first photosynthetic organisms were purple because they relied on photosynthetic chemicals that absorbed different wavelengths of light. A green plant only appears green because it doesn’t absorb the sun’s green light. Instead it reflects it back at us, so I’m guessing that purple must work the same way.

I always thought of these natural water catching basins that appear here and there in the granite bedrock as birdbaths, and then last year I saw a bird using one for just that purpose. I like the way they catch the blue of the sky and darken it a shade or two. There always seems to be water in them, even during the drought we had last year.

I couldn’t make a climb on any hill or mountain without taking a look at the lichens. There are several species up here but the common yellow goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) pictured was the most prevalent. It is on the rocks all over the summit. This crustose lichen is very easy to find and will almost always be found growing on stone. I also see it on headstones in cemeteries quite often. Crustose lichens form crusts that tightly adhere to the substrate that they grow on and usually can’t be removed without damaging it.

With one last look out over the vast forest I started the climb down. It’s almost always harder on the way down than on the way up, and this trip was no different. I don’t know if the trail is getting steeper or if I’m just getting older.

We don’t stop hiking because we grow old-we grow old because we stop hiking. ~Finis Mitchell

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1-trail

Each year at this time I start thinking that if I could just get up above the trees the colors would be better or brighter somehow, but they never seem to be and I’ve never been really happy with any photo that I’ve taken that way. But maybe this time would be different, I hoped. The weatherman told me that we were at the peak of our fall colors, so last Saturday I decided to climb Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard to try again.

2-striped-maple-leaf

I kept seeing dark spots on the fading, pale orange striped maple leaves (Acer pensylvanicum) so I had to take a closer look. The quarter size spots were made up of many smaller specks.

3-striped-maple-leaf

I haven’t found a reference to anything similar so I can’t say what they are at this point. They looked like hardened drops of a liquid but I doubt the leaves would weep in such concentrated areas and not all over. If you know what they are I’d love to hear from you.

4-torn-mushrooms

Something ate these little brown mushrooms and tore the stems when they did so. I’ve never seen this before and I’m not sure what animal would do it. There is everything from chipmunks to moose to bears in these woods so without tracks or other clues it’s hard to know. I do know that many kinds of little brown mushrooms can make a person very sick, and some can kill.

5-pasture

A pasture appears on the right side of the trail and I always stop here for a breather. The farm that owns this land raises Scottish highland cattle and my hopes of seeing them were raised by the regular snapping of an electric fence at just about knee and waist level, but the cattle never showed up. I had to pay attention so I didn’t get tangled in that fence with my metal monopod, so maybe it’s a good thing they didn’t.

6-trail

The trail takes a sharp 90 degree left turn and parallels the pasture for a time. It also becomes quite rocky in this stretch. Not far after the turn, maybe a hundred feet or so, there is a break in the trees and brush to the right. If you follow this short path after just a few steps you come to a good view of Mount Monadnock on the right. And the electric fence in front of you.

7-monadnock-from-trail

The reason I chose Pitcher Mountain is because it has a full 360 degrees of viewing area on its summit. If the light is harsh in one direction as it was in this shot of Mount Monadnock from the trail, it often isn’t quite so harsh in a different direction. At least that’s what I was hoping. Finding correct exposure settings can be tough with some colors in such bright light.

8-beech

Beech trees are starting to turn and they seem to be right on schedule. Though they are among the last to turn along with the oaks, most had turned fully by Halloween last year.

9-fire-tower

Before too long the fire tower glimpsed through the trees tells you that you’re very near the summit.

10-ranger-cabin

The old fire warden’s cabin might be in for a rough ride this winter if nature decides to make up the 15 inch rain deficit with snow. Though I’ve climbed up here in the winter several times if that happens I probably won’t be up here to see it.

11-pasture-from-above

You can turn and look back just above the warden’s cabin to see the pasture from above, along with Mount Monadnock in the background. The view from the summit to Monadnock would be almost directly south.

12-fire-tower

The fire tower is the second one to stand on this peak. Ironically the first wooden tower built in 1915 burned in April of 1940 in a fire which destroyed 27,000 acres of forest, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit. It was the most destructive fire in the region’s history. Stout cables keep this one from blowing off the mountain but there is still little to protect it from a large fire.

13-near-hill

If you’re standing where I was in the previous photo looking at the tower and walk around to the left side of it, what I call the near hill seems to be close enough to touch. I don’t know its name or if it even has one.

14-summit-colors

It was hard to pay attention to far off colors when colors like this were so close by on the summit.

15-scattered-rock-posy

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) added to the orange colors of fall. I was thinking one day about how we rarely see orange in nature for most of the year but then all of the sudden we are saturated with it in the fall. The orange pad like parts of this lichen are its fruiting bodies (apothecia) and the grayish, brain like part is the body (thallus.)

16-crater-lichen

Black and white crater lichens seemed to stare back at me from the stones. I think they are Diploschistes scruposus, simply called crater lichen after their cup shaped black fruiting bodies (apothecia,) which are surrounded by a stark white or gray body (thallus.) They grow on exposed rock all over the earth, even in the Polar Regions.

17-blueberry

Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberries, and they turn a beautiful red in the fall. They supply most of the red that can be seen in the near distance in many of these photos.

18-blueberries

There were a surprising amount of berries that the birds and pickers had missed, but they were shriveled.

19-fall-colors

As far as the eye could see the trees were turning. I’m surprised to see how many more deciduous trees than evergreens there are in this photo.

20-unknown-mountain

I’m not sure what the name of the mountain in the distance is but it seemed to be higher than the one I was standing on and it wasn’t Mount Monadnock. It was quite far away but unfortunately I didn’t pay any attention to what direction it was in.

21-birch

This birch tree was almost leafless but its comrades more than made up for its lack of color. It seemed a kind of exclamation point, as if colors like these needed to be emphasized.

22-summit-colors

I think this photo is my personal favorite from that day because it has all of the colors I saw in it. It also shows the incredible beauty that can be found up here.

23-natural-birdbath

It seemed strange to see the natural birdbath full of water in the middle of a drought; it must have rained recently. I’m sure the many birds that I heard are very grateful.

I’m sorry that this post was so photo heavy but our autumn “season” is really very short and we’re lucky if we see three weeks of the kind of colors that I saw on this day, so I went a bit overboard. Though I don’t usually climb strictly for the views on this day that’s what I came for and they were very good, with little haze.

To see what others cannot…
You must climb the mountain.
~Ron Akers

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1. Sign

Last Saturday was relatively warm and sunny so I decided to go for a climb. I chose Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard because it is one of the few places in the area where you can find a place to park before you climb. Many haven’t been plowed.

2. Trail

I wasn’t sure if I’d make it without snowshoes but the trail looked to be good and packed down and even though the snow drifts were waist deep in places, I was able to get by with just gaiters and Yak Trax. It was slow going though and I had to stop frequently to catch my breath.

3. Deer Browsed Maple

I noticed that deer and other animals had been using the snow packed trail too, and deer had been browsing the bushes and trees along the sides as this young maple shows.  The buds of some maples look a lot like oak buds but oaks have alternate branching. Since this tree has opposite branching it must be a maple.

4. Rabbit Tracks

Rabbits were using the packed snow trail too even though they were light enough to hop on top of the snow without sinking in.

5. Staghorn Sumac

It looked like the rabbits had been eating the bark off all of the staghorn sumacs. I wonder if that means that they’re having trouble finding food.

6. Spruce

The snow was deep enough in places to make walking close to impossible if I had stepped off the packed trail. I decided that I didn’t want to wade through that much snow, so I stayed on it. I saw places where deer had stepped off the trail and sank into the soft snow probably up to their bellies. I felt bad for them-they must be having a very hard winter this year.  At least the snow isn’t crusty on top so it shouldn’t be cutting their legs all up.

7. Meadow

When I reached what I call the meadow I saw why there were snow drifts along the trail; the wind had scoured parts of these pastures almost down to bare grass, blowing it all toward the trail. I keep hoping that I’ll see the Scottish highland cattle that wander these pastures, but I never have. They probably don’t want to wade through the deep snow either.

8. Snow and Sky

In the book Country Editor’s Boy Hal Borland speaks of the high plains of Colorado, and how when he was a boy there was an unbroken view to the horizon in any direction. There wasn’t a tree or hill or building to add any interest, he said, and I wondered as I stopped and saw this view if this is what it was like. For someone like me who lives in a forest, seeing a view like this is like seeing the surface of another planet. I’m not sure how long I could stand it.

 9. Fire Tower

The fire tower hasn’t blown off the mountain yet. Since I learned that this tower was built as a replacement for the original 1915 wooden tower that burned down in April of 1940 in the most destructive forest fire that this area has ever seen, I see it as a kind of monument to irony.

10. Wind Rippled Snow

You could see that plenty of wind had blown through here but on this day there was only a slight breeze, so it wasn’t too bad. It could have been much worse.

11. Ranger Cabin

After all the snow we’ve had this year I thought the fire warden’s cabin would be either flattened or buried but it looked as if someone had shoveled it out and had been shoveling the roof as well. Now that’s a job that I wouldn’t want, no matter what it paid.

 12. Meadow from Above

For a change it wasn’t hazy at all and the views were good. Mount Monadnock was clearly visible over the meadow to the right.

13. Unknown Hill

I don’t know the name of this hill but I wish I did because it’s a beauty. Someday I’m going to have to get a topographical map of this area and earn the names of all of these hills.

 14. Lichens

The sun and wind had done their work on the many rocks found on the summit so there were plenty of lichens to see. The yellow orange ones are common gold speck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) and the black and white ones are tile lichens tile lichens (Lecidea tessellate.)

15. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

The biggest surprise of the day was this scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans.) For years I knew of one nickel sized example and then last year I found another and then another, and now I seem to be seeing them everywhere.

16. Rolling Snow

The going was much slipperier and tougher on the way down than it had been on the way up and I wished that I could just curl into a ball and roll down the mountain side. By the time I reached the bottom I knew that I wasn’t going to be good for much of anything else that day, and I was glad that I had nothing left to do.

Perhaps there’s no better act of simplification than climbing a mountain. For an afternoon, a day, or a week, it’s a way of reducing a complicated life into a simple goal. All you have to do is take one step at a time, place one foot in front of the other, and refuse to turn back until you’ve given everything you have. ~Ken Ilgunas

Thanks for stopping in. Don’t forget to turn the clocks one hour ahead tonight!

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