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Posts Tagged ‘Pitcher Mountain’

Last Friday the 18th was a beautiful day, already warm when I got to Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard at about 11:00 am. I could see spots of ice on the trail so I wore a coat and had my micro-spikes in my pocket, just in case. I couldn’t find any recent information on trail conditions so I didn’t know what to expect but I knew it would be nice to be climbing again after the terrible ice had kept me on level ground all winter.

I looked at the hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) along the way and though I saw plenty of leaf buds I didn’t see a single flower bud.

There are lots of dead trees in the forest along this trail. A standing dead tree like this one is called a snag, and snags play an important part of the overall health of the forest. This tree is probably full of insects and I could see where woodpeckers had been at work. Fungal spores will also find their way to it and eventually it will fall and provide nutrients to the surrounding soil for years to come. This one looked almost like it had a bear platform in it.

Beech leaves are quickly going white. Strong March winds usually clean them off the trees and I’m seeing as many on the ground as I am on the trees lately.

I think of this stop at the meadow as the great breathing space. I can catch my breath and think about absolutely nothing here. It’s just earth, myself, and sky. And silence. I often find a nice rock and just sit for a while.

It paid to rest up a bit for this stretch. I was expecting a little ice on the trails here but instead I got thick mud, which on a hill is almost as bad.  

Mud and stones for the rest of the way.

And roots; lots of roots. They were useful to stop yourself if you were slipping backwards in the mud, which I did a couple of times. You really want to wear good, sturdy hiking boots with some ankle support here if you can.

The bright orange-red witches’ brooms on blueberry bushes burned like fire in the woods. They may seem unsightly to some and if you have a blueberry plantation you would surely want to remove them, but I worked around a blueberry bush that had one for many years, and it bore fruit just as well as the other bushes that didn’t. I left it as an experiment, just to see what would happen and it really didn’t seem to bother the bush at all.  

If you turn around in the right spot as you climb the leg of the trail beside the meadow you can see Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey. On this day it showed me that it would not be a good day for views. It was strange because I saw no signs of haze as I drove from Keene.

As I neared the summit, I saw that the old ranger cabin’s broken windows had finally been boarded up. It had been broken into and vandalized last year so better late than never, I suppose. It would be tough getting the tools and materials up here to do the job, I would think.

The only mountain ash (Sorbus americana) I’ve ever found in the wild lives up here and it looked to be doing well.

Big, black and pointed mountain ash buds often look like they have a single cap like bud scale but they actually have several overlapping scales which are quite sticky. They should be swelling any time now if this warm weather keeps up.

As I looked up at the fire tower on the summit I was grateful, because I remembered the winter I had to crawl up those last few rocky yards on my hands and knees because of the ice. I doubt I’ll ever do it again, even though being up here in January can be pretty special.

This really was not a day for views but I was able to get a fuzzy shot of the wind turbines over in Antrim. It really is amazing how big they are.

When I saw these three trees, I thought of the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

There was plenty of water on the summit for the birds to drink, and that meant plenty of mud as well. There was no escaping the mud on this day. It was over 70 degrees F. and everything had melted quickly, including any frost in the ground. By this point I was wishing that I had left my coat in the car.

Deep striations in the granite are a reminder that this entire region was once under ice. It’s hard to imagine ice thick enough to cover these mountains. It is estimated that the ice that covered New England in the last ice age was 2 Km (6,562 Ft.) thick. That means that 2,153-foot-high pitcher mountain was buried under more than 4000 feet of ice.

The near hill looked a bit drab on this day but I’ve known it in all seasons and soon it will be beautifully green with new spring leaves, because it is covered with mostly deciduous trees. In the fall it will be even more beautiful when those leaves begin to turn.

The summit is covered with many different lichens, like the yellowish goldspeck and the black and white tile lichens seen here. There are 136 species of tile lichens so identification is difficult without a microscope. I just like the colors in this scene.

I don’t know if the Pitcher family who settled here planted apple trees but there are apple trees here, and the sapsuckers love them. Their trunks are full of small holes.

I got to see a staghorn sumac bud just beginning to open.

And then there was the trail down. I picked my way carefully avoiding what mud I could, and I made it just fine, and that made a beautiful spring day seem even better.

Since there were no summit views to be had I thought I’d stop and get a shot of the Congregational Church in Stoddard on my way home so those of you who have never been to New England could see what a fairly traditional New England church looks like. The town was named after Colonel Sampson Stoddard of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, the charter being granted to him and others on May 10, 1752. The population has fluctuated over the years, falling to as low as 100 people in 1900 to around 1000 today. According to the town’s website the Congregational Church was organized in 1787, but the building in the photo wasn’t built until 1836.

A mountaintop is not simply an elevation, but an island, a world within a world, a place out of place. ~Paul Gruchow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so were the blackberry bushes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Last Sunday I felt like it was time to climb again, so I chose Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. It was supposed to be a hot, humid day so I made sure I got there earlier than I usually do. In fact I had never been on the mountain that early in the day, so the quality of the light was surprising all the way up.

I saw lots of blackberries, in bloom and forming berries.

I also saw lots of unripe blueberries and I was going to show you some but this fly landed on a blueberry leaf and instead of getting shots of the blueberries I got a mediocre shot of the fly just before it flew off. And I forgot about the blueberries.

As its common name implies Indian cucumber root’s (Medeola virginiana) small root looks and tastes a lot like a mini cucumber, and Native Americans used it for food. The plant is easy to identify because of its tiers of whorled leaves and unusual flowers. It likes to grow under trees in dappled light, probably getting no more than an hour or two of direct sunlight each day.

The flowers of Indian cucumber root dangle under the leaves and usually have 6 yellowish green tepals, 6 reddish stamens topped by greenish anthers, and 3 reddish purple to brown styles. These large styles are bright red- brown but I think they darken as they age. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry. I had to lift one of the leaves to get this shot, so you have to look carefully to see them.

Halfway up the mountain I found the meadow ready to be cut for hay. That’s Mount Monadnock in the background.

It looked like the meadow was full of orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata,) which I’m sure the Scottish Highland cattle that live here appreciate. George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.” As this photo shows, it’s also beautiful when it flowers.

Orange hawkweed bloomed profusely in the meadow and what I believe were great spangled fritillary butterflies enjoyed them. I hoped to get a shot of their pretty silver spotted underwings but I never did. I did see them once or twice though.

This one turned around on the flower head so I could look into its eyes.

And what eyes it had. Amazingly beautiful. I’d love to be able to see through eyes like that, just once.

The fire tower looked unmanned and I wasn’t surprised. The fire danger isn’t very high now, thankfully.

Staghorn sumacs were soaking up the sun and doing their best palm tree impersonation.

Mountain white cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata) is also called three toothed cinquefoil because of the three large teeth at the end of each leaf. The white 5 petaled flowers are small; maybe a half inch across on a good day. They are said to bloom for 2 or 3 months and make an excellent choice for a sunny rock garden that doesn’t get too hot, because they don’t like heat. I would think that they must struggle a bit up here in full sun all summer but they’re spreading all over the summit.

This shot perfectly illustrates why I always say I don’t climb for the views. I like to see the views as much as anyone but if I was disappointed every time the views weren’t good I’d spend a lot of time being disappointed. I see so many interesting and beautiful things while I’m climbing a hill or mountain by the time I reach the summit the view is secondary; just icing on the cake.

Despite the haze I tried to get a few good shots because I know people like to see them. This view of Mount Monadnock wasn’t too bad.

I love the blue shading on the distant hills and I could just sit and look at them the entire time I spent here. Every peak is followed by a valley, like waves on the sea.

Reaching what I call the near hill would still be a long walk.

The bushes seen flowering in some of these shots are smooth arrow wood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum.) the shrub has yellowish white, mounded flower clusters and it can be seen blooming just about everywhere right now. Later on the flowers will become dark blue drupes that birds love. It is said that this plant’s common name comes from Native Americans using the straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used the shrub medicinally and its fruit for food.

It took all the zoom my camera had in it to get this shot of the wind turbines over in Antrim.

Since I’ve said enough about the old ranger’s cabin in previous posts I thought I’d skip it this time and I did, until I was coming down off the summit. It was then that I saw a window open that was boarded up the last time I was here.

The first time this happened I thought it was probably a bear, but bears don’t usually sit in white plastic lawn chairs and there were now several of them on the front porch. I could see one inside as well, so I had a good idea where the ones on the porch came from.

The inside looked trashed, and American flags were on the floor among the litter. Some may feel that a flag is just a piece of cloth but a flag, any flag, always stands for something, and both it and what it stands for deserve respect. It’s hard to see old places like this vandalized but it looks like that’s what has happened. Hopefully someone from the Forest Service or someone else in charge will board the window back up.

Just inside the window there was a table and it had an Audubon magazine on it. It was from 1988 and it cost three dollars. That seems like a lot for back then.

I could have gone back down the mountain fretting about the vandalism I saw but since there is little I could do about it other than making it known by showing it here, I chose instead to marvel at the smallness of a creature that can live between the upper and lower surface of a sarsaparilla leaf. I sometimes feel like I’m just bouncing from one astonishment to another.

Certain things catch your eye, but pursue only those that capture your heart. ~Native American saying.

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Last Saturday was supposed to be a gorgeous day according to the weather people so I headed out early for Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. In my opinion no other mountain can compare for foliage viewing, because this one has a 360 degree view. By the time I got there though, the parking area was filled so I had to park on the road. The view above is what I saw on the other side.

I always take a photo of the trail so you can at least get an idea of my surroundings but on this climb I had to fiddle faddle around while the people ahead of me turned the corner. But they didn’t turn the corner right away because they were taking photos-of all things, the bits of nature all around them that caught their eyes. I gave them a silent hooray and shot the side of the trail instead. Even then they still made it into the shot but oh well, now you know there were people there. A lot of people.

Lady ferns were turning white as they always do in fall. Besides sensitive fern it’s one of the earliest to do so.

Clubmosses were clubbing, just as they do every year at this time. Their spores form in spike-like structures called sporophylls, which are the yellowish green “clubs” seen here. A single clubmoss plant can take twenty years to grow from a spore, so I try to never harm them.

I turned to look at Mount Monadnock and saw the haze, present for weeks now, from the western wildfires. If you look at satellite imagery you can sometimes see a trail of smoke from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

I knew that the haze meant that It wouldn’t be a day for far off views but when the near views looked like this I had a hard time caring.

The farmer had baled all the hay, I’m guessing for the Scottish Highland cattle that live here. Do they live this high up in Scotland? I wondered. I’ve often thought they had the best view of anybody.

I moved aside to let people by and fell in a small hole off the side of the trail. I could have twisted my ankle if I hadn’t had good stout hiking boots on, and it reminded me how easy it is to get hurt on rough trails like this. Each year the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game goes on average 190 rescue missions, which costs the state about $308,952 per year. Because of this they have started charging the people who have had to be rescued due to their own negligence. An example of negligence would be climbing this trail without proper footwear and in the winter without proper winter clothing. I’ve been up here in January and it’s no joke.

I’ve seen people climbing this trail in flip flops believe it or not, and that’s their choice but if they get hurt and have to be carried from the mountain, they will be charged for the adventure. The elderly and children who get lost are not charged and neither are those who have a medical emergency, but being foolish in the woods here in New Hampshire could cost you a few hundred dollars.

I won’t tell you how many times I have tried and failed at this photo but today the light was just right and I finally got it. What is it? It shows what black knot disease can do to a cherry tree. Black knot 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.

This photo I took previously shows what black know looks like on a young tree. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots which will eventually become serious wounds like that seen in the previous 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.

The blackberries have taken on their beautiful fall purple and bronze colors. You have to just stand for a moment or two admiring them because they’re so pretty.

There were lots of leaves still on the maples, even though many have fallen in the lowlands. It has most likely been warmer up here because cold air flows like a stream down mountainsides and pools in the valleys below. Since I live in a valley I tend to notice it more.

I saw a dead staghorn sumac and had to have a look at the bark, because the inner bark of the tree is often bright red as this example was. I’ve read that the powdered bark can be made into a good antiseptic salve that can be used to treat burns.

I was out of breath by the time I saw the fire tower from the old ranger cabin, so I decided to sit for a spell.

I was sitting on the porch and heard “Oh cool! What is that?” I stood up and saw 4 or 5 young boys, probably just into their teens. “It’s the ranger station,” I told them. “Does anyone live there? Can we go inside?” I answered no to both questions. “But you can stand on the porch,” I said as I moved along. Of course they raced down the trail and did just that. I remembered when I could race down trails. And up them.

The old mountain ash had not only been stripped of all its fruit by birds, the wind had taken all its leaves as well. Now it’s ready for its winter sleep.

There was that smoky, yellowy haze again and I thought of the poor people in the western part of the country. We had a terrible fire here once; 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 fire tower and all of the trees and vegetation on the summit. Terrible it was, but it was nothing like what is happening on the west coast.

The colors at the summit were beautiful, especially the deep reds of the blueberries.

Speaking of blueberries, Josh Fecteau from the Josh’s Journal blog over there in the favorite links section asked me to take another look at what I identified as the native black highbush blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum.) The berries I looked at this time were in the center of this bush, which by its leaves I know is  the highbush blueberry bush (Vaccinium corymbosum.) The problem is, all of the various species of bushes grow in a tangled thicket so it can be difficult to know what you’ve got. 

Josh thought these might instead be the fruit of the Chokeberry (Aronia sp.) and I have to say that they don’t look quite right for a blueberry, so I think he’s correct. Personally I don’t get too excited about such things but I know Josh is a forager and such things are very important to foragers, so his intentions and motivations are good ones. Though I have been studying nature since I was a boy and have had some formal training in botany I still consider myself very much an amateur, because there is simply too much to know. I’ve met a few in life who thought they knew it all but so far in my experience none has, and that includes me. I do make mistakes and people should always verify any plant identification they find on this blog if they intend to use that plant in any way.

The sun was coming directly at me when I tried for this shot of the meadows below.

I had to wait for a few people to move on before I could get a good view of what I call the near hill. It was beautiful; well worth waiting for. Just an endless, unbroken forest of color stretching off to the horizon.

A 4.8 million square mile forest of color.

If there was a triangle in the center of this marker it would be part of a triangulation point but since there isn’t it’s there for a surveyor to know where the point of his plumb bob should fall to be dead accurate. Right on that cross in the very center I’d guess, or maybe over the tiny hole I’ve never noticed before.

I don’t know this lichen’s name and I don’t really care. It’s beauty and the challenge of getting its photo was enough.

The overhead wire that I accidentally got in this shot is one of the cables that keeps the fire tower from blowing off the top of mountain.

And I’m not kidding. On this day it was extremely windy and there were a couple of gusts that almost blew me over. You’d have thought it was January.

Wind is to be expected up here, sometimes very strong winds, but on this day it didn’t really bother me because I was lost in the colors.

The ferns wanted attention and they had mine.

It had rained a bit during the past week but it was enough to top off what I call the bird bath, apparently. In fact I’ve never seen it go dry, and that’s a little amazing. I sat for a while hoping a bird would stop in to bathe or drink but none came. It didn’t matter; it was a glorious day with filled with sunshine and incredible beauty everywhere I looked, and I knew that I lacked not one single thing. You really can’t ask for more than that.

I saw a wooly bear caterpillar on the trail. Folklore says that the wider the orangey brown band on a wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. If we’re to believe it then this winter will be very mild indeed. Wooly bears don’t care much about winter though, because they produce their own antifreeze and can freeze solid. Once the temperature rises into the 40s F in spring they thaw out and begin feeding on dandelion and other early spring greens. Eventually they spin a cocoon and emerge as a beautiful tiger moth. From that point on it has only two weeks to live but I’d bet that it lives a rich, full and satisfying life.

The last time I was up here in August the backs of my legs were bothering me enough so I was a little apprehensive about the trip down but on this trip they felt fine. I didn’t fly down the trail to catch up with the people you see there ahead of me but I did okay.

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive. ~Eleanora Duse

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Over the Memorial Day holiday weekend I decided a climb was in order. We had beautiful weather in the morning but it was supposed to warm into the 80s F. in the afternoon, so as early as I could I left for Pitcher Mountain over in Stoddard. I had never climbed Pitcher Mountain that early in the day, so I was surprised to find that the sun was in my eyes the whole way up the trail. That’s why this shot of the trail is actually looking down, not up.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides,) one of our most beautiful native shrubs, bloomed alongside the trail. Lower down in Keene they’re all done blooming and are making berries but up here it looked like they were just getting started.

I saw lots of violets along the trail too.

The paired leaves of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are already out.

One of my favorite stopping points along the trail is here at this meadow, which often houses Scottish highland cattle. I didn’t see any on this day but it was nice to have such a big, open space. When you live in the second most forested state in the country you don’t see many views like this one. It’s just you, the sky and the earth.

And dandelions. There were lots of them in the meadow.

Here is another view looking down the trail, but up looks much like it.

I saw lots of future strawberries along the trail.

And blueberries too. Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberries and people come from all over to pick them.

The previous shot of the meadow that I showed was taken down the hill over on the right, so this shot is 90 degrees to it looking across the meadow. A little further out and down the hill a bit is the farm where the cattle live.

I’ve always thought that the cows had the best view of anybody. Last year, almost to the day, there was a big black bear right over there at the tree line. It looked me over pretty well but left me alone. I was the only one climbing that day but on this day I saw a few people, including children. I’m always happy to see them outside enjoying nature, and I spoke with most of them.

A chipmunk knew if stayed very quiet and still I wouldn’t see it.

John Burroughs said “To find new things, take the path you took yesterday” and of course he was right. I thought of him last year when I found spring beauties I had been walking by for years and then I thought of him again on this day, when I found sessile leaved bellwort growing right beside the trail I’ve hiked so many times. I’m always amazed by how much I miss, and that’s why I walk the same trails again and again. It’s the only way to truly know a place.

By coincidence I met Samuel Jaffe, director of the Caterpillar Lab in Marlborough New Hampshire, in the woods the other day. Of course he was looking for insects and I was looking for anything and everything, so we were able to talk a bit as we looked. He’s a nice guy who is extremely knowledgeable about insects and he even taught me a couple of things about poplar trees I didn’t know. I described this insect for him and he said it sounded like a sawfly, but of course he couldn’t be sure. I still haven’t been able to find it online so if you know I’d love to hear from you. (Actually, I’d love to hear from you whether you know or not.)

Samuel Jaffe was able to confirm that this tiny butterfly was a spring azure, just as a helpful reader had guessed a few posts ago. This butterfly rarely sits still but this one caught its breath on a beech leaf for all of three seconds so I had time for only one photo and this is it. It’s a poor shot and It really doesn’t do the beautiful blue color justice, but it’s easy to find online if you’re interested. By the way, The Caterpillar Lab is a unique and fascinating place, and you can visit it online here: https://www.thecaterpillarlab.org/ I don’t do Facebook but if you do you’re in for a treat!

I fear that the old ranger’s cabin is slowly being torn apart. Last year I noticed boards had been torn from the windows and on this climb I noticed that someone had torn one of the walls off the front porch. You can just see it over there on the right. At first I thought a bear might have broken in through the window because they do that sort of thing regularly, but I doubt a bear kicked that wall off the porch. What seems odd is how I could see that trail improvements had been done much of the way up here. You’d think the person repairing the road would have looked at the cabin, but apparently not.

I heard people talking in the fire tower but then I wondered if it might have been a two way radio that might have been left on. The tower is still manned when the fire danger is high and it has been high lately, so maybe there were people up there. I couldn’t see them through the windows though and I wasn’t going to knock on the door, so it’ll remain a mystery.

The view was hazy but not bad. It was getting hot fast but there was a nice breeze that kept the biting black flies away, so I couldn’t complain.

No matter how hot or dry it gets it seems like there is always water in the natural depression that I call the bird bath. I’ve watched birds bathing here before but I like to see the beautiful deep blue of the sky in it, so I was glad they had bathed before I came.

Dandelions bloomed at the base of the fire tower.

The white flowers of shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) could be seen all around the summit.

I looked over at what I call the near hill and wished once again that I had brought my topographical map.

The near hill is indeed the nearest but it isn’t that near. There it is to the right of center and this photo shows that it would be quite a hike.

The meadow below was green but the hills were blue and in the distance the hazy silhouette of Mount Monadnock was bluest of all. I sat for awhile with the mountain all to myself except for the voices in the tower, but then more families came so I hit the trail back down. As I left I could hear complaints about the new windmills in the distance, and how they spoiled the view. I haven’t shown them here but as you can see, not all the views were spoiled by windmills.

On the way up a little girl told me that she had found a “watermelon rock” and her grandfather had found a “flower rock.” She wondered why anyone would paint rocks and leave them there, and I told her that they were probably left there just to make her happy. Then I found a rock with a message that made me happy, so I’ll show it here.

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

Thanks for stopping in. Be safe as well as kind.

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The hardest part of these looking back posts is choosing which photos to use when I have hundreds to choose from. I try to choose a photo that speaks to the month it was taken, so I chose this photo for January because it says it all about what the weather was that month; cold enough for ice but very little snow.

In February we had both ice and snow, as this photo from the deep cut rail trail shows, but it’s a bit deceiving because it stays cold in the man made canyon. In the surrounding countryside we had a mild enough winter so, for the first time in almost 30 years, I didn’t have to shovel my roof. It would snow and then warm up and melt it and then do the same, and it did that all winter long. So far it appears that this winter is following suit.

March is when nature begins to stir, and one of the first signs is sap buckets hanging on maple trees. It really is a relief to see them because I know that even though we might still see a lot of snow the ground has thawed enough to let tree sap flow and buds to swell. Seeing breaking buds in spring is something I look forward to all winter.

But before the tree leaves appear many beautiful things will happen for just a short time, and they are the spring ephemeral flowers. In April I found these beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) blossoming in an old patch of woodland and I knew that spring was really, finally here. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to see the first wildflower in spring, but I’ve been known to kneel beside them for quite a long time taking photo after photo, making sure I don’t miss any of their fleeting beauty.

It was late April when I thought I’d walk along the rail trail to where wild columbines blossom but then I met up with a huge black bear, the first of two I’d see last year. This animal was closer than I ever want to be to another one; this photo was taken with a 50mm lens, not a zoom. It could have easily been on me in seconds but thankfully it just stared at me and let me walk away. The bear I ran into on Pitcher Mountain just a month later in May did the same thing, so I’m thinking 2019 was a lucky year. I was totally unprepared for each encounter and didn’t even have bear spray.

This is what the state of New Hampshire recommends we do when it comes to bears. I’m all for it but I just hope the bears have seen the posters.

In May I finally did get out to the ledges where the beautiful wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) bloom and though I didn’t see another bear I found that a lot of the shine had gone from this particular hike. This is the only place I know of to find these beautiful plants so I’ll be back out there this coming May, but this time I’ll be better prepared to meet up with old Mr. Bear, just in case.  

Every bit as beautiful but not quite as colorful as a flower is a spring beech bud (Fagus grandifolia) opening. A tree full of these looks like it has been festooned with tiny angel wings and they are one of my favorite things to see in spring. But you have to watch closely because they don’t stay like this for more than a day. A good sign that beech bud break is about to happen is when the normally small, straight buds grow longer and curl like a rainbow. Once that happens they are ready to break and let the leaves unfurl. I start watching for them in early May.

Some of the most beautiful things in the forest go completely unnoticed, like breaking tree buds. As this just opened bud of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) also shows, bud break is an event worth watching for. Many other buds like oak, maple, and elm also open in May and are just as beautiful. I hope you’ll look for them this spring.

Though we see flowers in March and April it doesn’t truly warm up until May, and that’s usually when some of the more fragile flowers like these beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) appear, but last year I didn’t find any of these until early June. This is a flower that is so complex it really is a wonder that it is pollinated at all. Fringed polygalas are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. The slightly hairy leaves were once used medicinally by some Native American tribes to heal sores. Some mistake the flowers for orchids and it’s easy to see why. They’re a beautiful and unusual little flower. 

One of the flowers I most look forward to seeing in June is our native pink lady’s slipper orchid (Cypripedium acaule.) I’m so glad that this native orchid is making a comeback after being collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce, so if plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will die if the fungus isn’t present. They should never be dug up or moved.

In July we had a hot, humid spell and I saw a beautiful blinded sphinx moth (Paonias excaecatus,) which is something I had never seen before. The minute I saw it I thought it looked like a blue eyed baboon face and I still think so. I’m guessing that it would scare a bird away.

One of the things I most look forward to in July is the blooming of the greater purple fringed bog orchids (Platanthera grandifolia) I found growing in a swamp a few years ago. It is easily one of the most beautiful flowering plants I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a few. At one time there were so many of these plants Native Americans made tea from their roots, but I’ve only seen two plants in my lifetime and those grew almost beside each other, so I’d say they are very rare in this area. Last July I found that the two plants had become one, and I had to wade through a swamp to get to it. I’m hoping I get to see at least that one again this July. Orchids are notorious for simply disappearing with no warning.

August is when some our most beautiful aquatic wildflowers bloom, and one of the most rare and beautiful is the marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum.) I find them growing in the wet soil at the edges of ponds. It can be tricky getting their photo though, because this plant closes its flowers at night and won’t open them again until they’re in full sunshine the following afternoon, so you’ll never find them blooming on a cloudy day or in the morning. Once they show buds I check on them every day until I find them blooming and it’s always worth the effort. This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our other St John’s worts are yellow.

It was hot last August like you would expect it to be so I went back down into the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland. It’s always a good 10 degrees cooler there with a nice breeze blowing, so it’s a good place to cool off on a hot day. But that isn’t the only reason I go there; it’s the only place I know of to find the beautiful and very reptilian liverwort called great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum), also called snakeskin liverwort, for obvious reasons. If you crush this liverwort it has a very unique, spicy clean scent. The reason it looks so snake like is because of the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surfaces. It is the only liverwort with this feature, so it is very easy to identify. In my opinion it is one of the most interesting and beautiful things found in nature, and it is always well worth searching for.

September is when our fall flowers start to bloom, like the asters seen here. The monarch was a bonus but I saw lots of them last year; many more than in previous years. There is a large field full of common milkweed very near where I took this photo but I always see far more butterflies, including monarchs, on other flowers. I’m not sure why that would be.

2019 was a poor year for fungi and I was never able to even find enough to put together a fungi post but I saw a few in September, including these orange mycena mushrooms (Mycena leaiana.) These little (less than an inch across) mushrooms fruit from June through September and are fairly common. If you touch them the orange color will stain your fingers. Mycena mushrooms also come in bright red, pink and purple. Some also bleed a blood colored latex when cut.

October is when the fall foliage that started turning in September really kicks in, and colorful leaves are seen everywhere you go. It’s a beautiful time of year and the foliage colors last year were exceptional, as this view from along the highway in Dublin shows.

In October I finally climbed Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard at just the right time and the foliage colors were at their peak. It was so beautiful I had a hard time leaving. I was up there for a good while, taking far too many photos. This was one of my favorites.

I had looked for red or orange cup fungi for years so I was surprised when friends said they had some growing in their gravel driveway. Fungi aren’t what I expect to see much of in November but there they were. It turned out that, not only was I looking in the wrong places for them but I was also looking at the wrong time of year. Now that I know when and where to look for the orange peel fungi seen here I hope I’ll find them regularly. They’re an unusual and uncommon fungus.

November is when those colorful leaves fall from the trees in earnest, but this view at Halfmoon Pond in Hancock lasted well into the month. What a beautiful season it was.

Life is a circle so of course we’ve ended up right back where we started, in winter. I hope you’ve enjoyed this look back at 2019 in photos. If I see only half as much beauty in 2020 I’ll be very happy.

Wise is the one who flavors the future with some salt from the past. Becoming dust is no threat to the phoenix born from the ash. ~Curtis Tyrone Jones

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone will have a happy and blessed new year.

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Well, the growing season is about finished here since we’ve had a freeze, but we were very lucky to have fall colors go on and on the way they did. This photo of Mount Monadnock was taken from a spot where I’ve never viewed it before. It was early on a cloudy morning, bordering on twilight, but boosting the camera’s ISO function showed me what you see here. The mountain had its head in the clouds again but there was plenty of color to be seen.

There was mist on Half Moon Pond in Hancock one morning. It’s been a very misty fall, I’ve noticed.

You could barely see the hill on the other side of the pond.

But when the mists cleared it was beautiful.

I’ve been trying for several years now to get a shot of the full moon over Half Moon Pond, and this year I finally got it.

I’ve known witch alders (Fothergilla major) for a long time but apparently I never paid them any mind in the fall. They’re quite pretty. This is a native shrub related to witch hazel which grows to about 6-7 feet in this area. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is almost always seen in gardens rather than in the wild. The fragrant flower heads are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. What little color they have comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments.

The yellow leaves are from black birch and the white bark is from a gray birch, so we have black, white, and gray subjects in color.

Blackberries can be quite beautiful in the fall with their deep maroon / purple leaves.

The maple leaved viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium) have been beautiful this year. Their leaves seem to start out colored just about any color you can name in the fall, but after their red / yellow / orange/ purple phases all of the leaves eventually become a very pale, ghostly pink, making this shrub’s fall color among the most beautiful in the forest, in my opinion.

Maple leaved viburnum berries (drupes) are about the size of raisins and I’ve heard that they don’t taste very good, but many birds and animals eat them. They disappear quickly and getting a shot of both fall colored leaves and fruit is difficult.

What else can I say about the red maples? They’re just so beautiful with their many beautiful colors at various times of year.

This bracket fungus had the autumn spirit.

I had high hopes that I’d see the burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey go all the way this year, showing leaves of the lightest pastel pink before they fell, but unfortunately a freeze saw all the leaves drop overnight last week, so this photo of them in much darker pink will have to do. Burning bushes might lose their leaves quickly some years but the berries will persist until birds have eaten every one of them. That’s what makes them one of the most invasive plants in the area and that is why their sale and cultivation have been banned in New Hampshire.

Here’s a closer look at the burning bushes. It’s too bad that they’re so invasive because they really are beautiful, especially when massed in the thousands as they are in this spot.

We’ve had some ferocious winds this year but I’ve been lucky enough to find still waters for tree reflections.

The beeches have also been beautiful this year but once they started they turned fast and most now wear brown. I thought this young example was very beautiful.

There are over 200 viburnum varieties and many grow as natives here. Smooth arrow wood (Viburnum dentatum) is one of them. It has yellowish white, mounded flower clusters and blooms along stream banks and drainage ditches. The flowers become dark blue drupes that birds love. You can see some of them in this photo. It is said that this plant’s common name comes from Native Americans using the straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used the shrub medicinally and its fruit for food. It’s quite pretty in the fall as well.

Staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) are one of our most colorful shrubs in the fall. They can range from lemon yellow to pumpkin orange to tomato red, and anything in between. These examples were mostly orange.

But this sumac was very red.

I thought I’d end this post with a leftover photo from my last trip up Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. I finally hit the peak color up there at just the right time this year and it was so glorious I hated to come down. They were truly some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few.

So many hues in nature and yet nothing remains the same, every day, every season a work of genius, a free gift from the Artist of artists. ~E.A. Bucchianeri

Thanks for coming by.

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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

Thanks for coming by.

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John Muir once said “The mountains are calling and I must go.” To be honest I never paid much attention to that statement until the mountains started calling me. And as anyone who has climbed them knows, they do call; they kind of get under your skin and won’t stop calling until you answer them, so last Saturday I drove north to Stoddard to climb Pitcher Mountain. Pitcher Mountain gets its name from the Pitcher family, who settled this land in the 1700s. As mountains go it’s a relatively easy climb, even for someone who uses inhalers as I do. The last time I climbed here was in January. On this day the weather was considerably better and the spring greens and singing birds reminded me what a wonderful thing this life is.

Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberry bushes; thousand of them grow here and people come from all over to pick them. On this day the buds hadn’t even opened yet, showing what a difference elevation makes. Down in Keene they’re in full bloom.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) grew beside the trail and how very beautiful they were. Though like blueberries they’re also in full bloom in Keene, up here the fertile center flowers hadn’t shown yet. Only the much larger infertile outer flowers had opened.

One of the reasons I wanted to come here was to become more familiar with my new camera. Anyone who knows their way around a camera should be able to use just about any camera handed to them, but they all have their little quirks that take time to learn and iron out. This one doesn’t have image stabilization but the lenses do and that’s something I’ve never encountered. On this day the sun was bright and the contrast high, and that’s a challenge for any camera but I thought this one performed reasonably well as this shot of a wild sarsaparilla plant (Aralia nudicaulis) and its shadow shows. The light green oval leaves belong to Canada mayflower, which will be blooming soon.

My first stop along the trail is always the meadow, where if you look behind you, you can often find a good view of Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey. It was fairly good on this day, I thought.

The meadow is also where you get your first inkling of how high up you are. The views seem to go on forever.

The meadow is large and sometimes you can find it filled with beautiful Scottish highland cattle. I’ve often thought that they must have the best views of anybody who comes here.

The trail is in a U shape and you take 2 left turns to reach the summit. After the meadow the trail, which is actually a road used by the forest rangers, gets very rocky. There are also lots of exposed roots so if you come here you would do well to wear good hiking boots with plenty of ankle support.

I was stunned to see spring beauties blooming (Claytonia virginica) up here because I’ve climbed this mountain more times than I can remember and I’ve never seen them before. My timing was off, that’s all, and I might have missed them by a day or a week. There was a nice little colony of them in this spot just below the summit. Tucked in snug they were protected from the worst of the wind.

Violets and strawberries grew along the trail and even down the center of it, where many had been stepped on.

The fire tower, manned on occasion, loomed at the summit. This is the second tower on this spot; the first burned in one of the largest forest fires this region has ever seen. That’s why I call it a monument to irony.

The old fire warden’s cabin still stood solidly but there was something different about it.

The difference was a gaping black hole where the last time I was here a board covered the window. It looked like vandals had been here but with so many people climbing this mountain I can’t imagine them getting away with it.

I don’t condone vandalism but realistically bears have been known to break into cabins countless times in this area so it’s anyone’s guess as to how this happened. I wasn’t about to pass up what was probably an only chance to see inside a ranger’s cabin though, so I turned on the flash and took a couple of photos. It looked like it had been furnished in the 1940s, and that was no surprise. I’m assuming there was no running water here because there is a privy in the back, but there was electricity.

If when you reach the tower you turn almost 180 degrees you’ll see another decent view of Mount Monadnock. You can also see the meadow in this view. On this day it was so gusty up here I could hardly stand still. I wanted to crouch on the ground so the wind couldn’t catch me.

But in a way the wind was welcome because it blew away all the black flies that had plagued me all the way up the trail. For those unfamiliar with them black flies are very small biting insects that appear for a few weeks in spring, hatching out of clean running water unlike the mosquito, which hatches out of still, stagnant water. Black flies feed on the blood of mammals for nourishment and they usually come in swarms. Bug spray helps keep them away.

What I call the birdbaths are natural depressions in the stone. With all the rain we’ve had I doubt they’ve been dry a day in the past two months. I once sat and watched a dark eyed junco take a bath here, and I was able to get a few shots of it splashing around. The blue of the sky deepens as it is reflected in these pools and it makes a simple puddle as beautiful as any jewel.

There are lots of lichens growing on the rocks of the summit and one of my favorites is the scattered rock posy (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans.) They can be quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do.

I always tell myself that I’m going to come up here with a compass and a topographical map so I can name all of the surrounding mountains but I never do. I don’t suppose it’s that important anyway. I’d rather just sit and look around, especially when I have the whole mountain to myself as I did on this day. I expected it to be crowded up here but there wasn’t a soul in sight. I wondered if the flies kept people away.

It’s hard to tell from these photos but there is still snow on the ski slopes over there in Vermont.

I stayed on the summit for awhile trying different things with the new camera until my legs felt less rubbery and then I hit the trail again. I don’t know why going down always seems harder than going up, but my legs usually let me know that they aren’t thrilled by it.

The meadow is just to the left of the trail in that previous shot and as I looked out into it I thought a highland cattle calf had somehow gotten loose and was in the meadow eating grass but then wait a minute; that wasn’t a calf. As soon as it looked at me and sniffed the air with its snout I knew it was a black bear. And it was another big one. Though it might look far away in this photo it could have reached me in seconds. Black bears can move incredibly fast; 50 feet per second in fact, so running from one is pointless.

I’ll be the first to say that this is one of the worst photos I’ve ever shown on this blog but you can clearly see the roundish ears and long tan snout of a bear. You don’t have much time to fiddle around with a camera when a bear is staring at you like this and I didn’t have the zoom lens with me anyway, so I just took a couple of quick shots. I just went through this with another bear in Westmoreland and that one didn’t scare any more than this one did. It stood and stared and sniffed, just like this one. And just like that time once again I was the only human around, carrying no bear spray and with only one way out. Luckily this one turned into the forest while I wondered what I was going do if it started toward me, so I hoofed it back down the mountain somewhat faster than I usually do, slipping on loose stones and tripping over roots the whole way. It’s hard to walk downhill when you’re looking back over your shoulder I’ve discovered, and I don’t recommend it.

Nature, even in the act of satisfying anticipation, often provides a surprise. Alfred North Whitehead

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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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