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Posts Tagged ‘Puddle Ice’

I decided to prune a very old, overgrown Forsythia at work last week. This is what I found on the oldest branches; Lilliputian gardens. I think I recognize star rosette (Physcia stellaris) and hammered shield lichens (Parmelia sulcata,) but others are a mystery. 

Another branch had what I think is yellow witches butter (Tremella mesenterica.) It doesn’t have quite the same appearance as other witches butter fungi I’ve seen but that could be because it was very young.

I’ve learned, with help from knowledgeable readers, that what I have thought was a beard lichen in the Usnea family is actually a bushy, beard like lichen in the Evernia family, called Evernia mesomorpha. The differences, if I understand what I’ve read correctly, are in the flattened, antler like branches. Its common name is boreal oakmoss and it falls out of trees here on a regular basis, but this one was growing on that same Forsythia.

Anyone who knows the Forsythia well knows that, like a raspberry, when a branch tip is allowed to touch the soil it will root and create another plant. Part of what I wanted to do when cleaning up this bush was removing all the baby plants that surrounded the main shrub, and when I started digging I found golden thread like roots like that seen in the photo. They reminded me of the roots of the goldthread plant (Coptis trifolia) but there were none of those growing here. Were they from the Forsythia? I can’t really say but it wouldn’t surprise me with so many other parts of the plant yellow.

One of the reasons you don’t let a Forsythia’s branch tips take root is they form a kind of cage  around the plant so you can’t get a leaf blower or rake in there to get the leaves out. So, once I had all the plants but the main one removed I started in on the leaves underneath it and found this. I thought at first it was a fungal mycelium mat but after a closer look I’m not so sure.

This looks more like a slime mold to me but I don’t see many of them in the early spring. I’m still not sure what it was, but it was fun to see.

One of the strangest things I saw on this Forsythia was a large witches broom, which I removed. Then I saw hundreds of these; smaller witches brooms just getting started. Each one of those little bumps is going to turn into a shoot that will be about 8 inches long, if the one I cut off is any indication. Botanically speaking a witches broom is an “abnormal proliferation of shoots on one area of a stem.” Many shrubs and trees exhibit this abnormal growth and sometimes it is desirable; Montgomery dwarf blue spruce for instance is one of the best dwarf blue spruces, and is from a witches broom. In some cases it isn’t at all desirable; witches broom on rice can be fatal to humans. There are many causes, depending on the plant. Witches brooms are usually caused by either a rust fungus or a parasitic plant such as mistletoe, but there is an aphid known to cause honeysuckle witches’ broom, and on hackberry trees (Celtis occidentalis) it is caused by both a powdery mildew fungus and a tiny mite. On cherry and blackberry it is caused by bacteria carried by insects from elm or ash trees. In the case of Forsythia I can’t find the cause, but how amazing is it that all of these interesting things were found on a single shrub?

I saw this happening to a fallen beech leaf. I would guess that it’s how decomposition happens to a leaf.

I was splitting wood again and found this little critter under the bark of an oak log. I looked it up and found this: “The flat worms that appear under oak tree bark are larvae of pests called flatheaded borers, so named due to the flattened segment behind their heads and flattened bodies. Flatheaded apple tree borers (Chrysobothris femorata) feed on a variety of plants including oaks. The larvae display cream-hued bodies and dark heads with a total length of approximately 1 inch, and adults are black to green beetles. Typically appearing on freshly planted trees during summer, apple tree borers tunnel into bark, resulting in girdled branches, dieback and sometimes tree death. Releasing natural enemies that are available at garden supply retailers, such as parasitic wasps, provides biological control.” This creature’s darker head is on its right end, I believe.

We had to take a window out of a building where I work and when we did this chrysalis fell out of it. After a bit of searching I found that it was a moth chrysalis, but even Bugguide.net can’t seem to pin it down any closer than that. Apparently it could be any one of several different moths. When you hold it in your hand the pointed end jiggles, so it was obviously alive. We put it outside and wished it well. It’s interesting to me that you can see where the head is, where the wings are, and what is obviously the tail.

We had a little snow on the 24th and though it messed up spring cleanup plans at work for a day or two it melted quickly and was gone by the end of the week. Spring snows are common but nobody gets too upset about them because we know it’s simply too warm for them to last. The thawed ground melts them quickly. Much of March has been cool and damp.

The road I travel to work on was a winter wonderland and it reminded me of the words of William Sharp, who said “There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow. It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.”

At my house we had just under 5 inches. Though it looks fluffy in the photo is was actually heavy and wet, as spring snows often are.

In the 1800s René Lalique was a French glass designer known for his art deco designs. One of his best known creations was the grayish frosted, matte finish crystal he used for perfume bottles and other items. I thought of that glass when I held this piece of puddle ice up to the sun, and I wondered if one day Mr. Lalique held up his own piece of puddle ice. Maybe that’s where he got his inspiration for such a beautiful glass. If we keep our minds open inspiration can come to us from any bit of nature we happen to see.

If there is one thing I see lots of it is fallen trees, but the beautiful grain pattern in this old dead pine caught me and held me one morning. I took lots of photos of it but this closeup was my favorite. I couldn’t see all the beauty in this world if I lived 10 lifetimes.

Before the new leaves appear and when the spring rains fall to plump them up, orange crust fungi are at their most beautiful. To me they are like a beacon in the woods. Their startlingly bright orange color among the leftover browns and grays of winter call to me from quite a distance.

I stopped one day to see if the spring beauties that you saw in the last post were blooming and a large shadow passed over me when I got out of the car. And then another, and when I looked up there were two turkey vultures flying low, swooping in circles around me. What could they be after? I wondered until I saw a dead raccoon and then I knew that I had interrupted their meal. But darn it I had flowers to see and I thought they could wait for a few minutes while I did. Apparently they thought so too because they sat in the top of a nearby tree to wait. The raccoon certainly wasn’t going anywhere.

Every night when I get home from work this joyful scene is what greets me; thousands of beautiful little moss spore capsules glowing in the afternoon sun. One day last week I decided I wanted to know more about these little friends, so even though mosses can be a challenge to identify I started trying to find out their name.

Here is one of the spore capsules and its stalk. If I have identified it correctly by April the capsules will turn a light brown and their pointed tip (operculum) will fall off so their spores can be released to the wind through a fringe of teeth (peristome) at the end of the capsule. I’ve watched them over time and they started out straight up and thin, like a toothpick.

I think that this moss might be one called baby tooth moss (Plagiomnium cuspidatum,) though I’m still far from sure. One reason I’m having such a hard time is its size. What you see here is so small I can’t even think of anything to compare it to. I probably took 30 photos to get just this one of its leaves and you can still barely see the tiny teeth that should line the upper half of each leaf.

I teased a tiny piece of this moss out of the pack and brought it inside, thinking that I could get a better shot of it but I found that it started drying out instantly, and the leaves started curling into their dry state, so I can’t see any of the tiny teeth I hoped to see. What this photo does show is how the stalk that supports the spore capsule comes right up out of the center of the leaves. I’ve read that it should have a tiny foot where it meets the leaves but I can’t see it here. If you know what this tiny little moss is I’d love to hear from you.

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

Thanks for stopping in. Take care everyone, and be safe.

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In my last post I said I had never seen a dandelion blooming in February but never mind; this one was blooming on Leap Day. Now I’ve seen them bloom in all of the coldest months of December, January and February. They’re a hardy plant, and pretty too.

The morning sunlight caught in the trees always makes me slow down on my way to work but on this day it was so beautiful I had to stop. There is little else like a spring morning; cool but with a hint of the warmth that the day will bring. Even as a young boy a morning like this one made me so happy I felt like I could become part of it; maybe I could float up into the trees with the birds and sing their praises along with them. I know just how they feel on such beautiful mornings, and I’ve known for a very long time. It’s about what a joy it is to be alive.

I was splitting wood at work and picked up a log and found these winter oysterling mushrooms (Panellus ringens) growing on it. At least I think that’s what they are after comparing them to photos and descriptions I’ve found online. I can’t find them in any of my mushroom books but I did see some examples found in Connecticut online. They’re small and said to be reddish brown but my color finding software sees more orange than red. They are a true winter mushroom that doesn’t mind the cold and they were as limber as my ear lobe. They’re said to be bioluminescent, but I have no way of confirming that.

Winter oysterlings have an off center stem. It seems odd how they grow with their gills up but in my experience mushrooms want their spore bearing surfaces pointed toward the ground and what I saw as up might have been down while they grew on the log. I didn’t see them until their log reached the wood splitter so it was hard to know how they grew. This photo does show how they’ve erupted out of a flattish mass.

When I split open another log I saw future fungi in the form of mycelium. For those who don’t know, mycelium can be compared to roots in the way that they reach out from the fruiting body of a fungus to search for moisture and nutrients. Botanically it is the vegetative structure of a fungus and the mushrooms we see above ground grow from it. They can be tiny or as large as a forest. The largest one known covers 2,385 acres in the Malheur National Forest in Oregon. Unfortunately it is from the Armillaria ostoyae fungus, which is parasitic on tree roots and will kill trees.

If you strip the inner bark (phloem) of an oak log you can find fibers that are useful in the making of lashings and cordage. Once the fibers are twisted together to make cordage they are quite strong and can be used for anything we would normally use string or rope for. The outer bark had fallen off this oak log naturally due to weather, exposing the fibers underneath. The phloem carries food to the rest of the tree so normally these fibers would run parallel to the length of the log but the weather must have had its way with these because they were all in a jumble as you see here. Native Americans turned tree fibers into threads and cords and made ropes, fishing lines, nets, mats, baskets and even shoes out of them.

Another red oak log just happened to split just right to reveal an insect’s egg chamber deep inside. When you see a woodpecker pecking at a tree this is what it’s looking for. I’m not sure what the insect was but before I split the log open there were about 30 larvae in this one chamber. Lots of protein for a hungry bird.

This is what a pileated woodpecker can do to a tree when it looks for those larvae in the previous photo. It had almost cut this dead beech right in half and wood chips littered the snow.

A beech log when cut revealed spalting. Spalted wood is evidence of fungal damage. Sometimes woods affected by fungi can become very desirable to woodworkers, and spalted wood is one of them. Spalting is essentially any form of wood coloration caused by fungi but there are 3 major types; pigmentation, white rot and zone lines. Sometimes all 3 can be present as they are on the end grain of the beech in the above photo. Pigmentation is the blue gray color, which is probably caused by bluestain or sapstain. White rot is in any areas that look soft or pulpy, and the zone lines are the dark, narrow lines found radiating randomly throughout the log.

This is what a spalted log looks like when it has been split. They can be very beautiful and when sawed into planks can be worth quite a lot of money.  

I’m seeing lots of orange crust fungi on the logs I’m splitting. I think they’re one called Stereum complicatum. It’s color is so bright it’s like a beacon in the woods and it can be seen from quite far away on fallen branches. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself” and that is often just what it does.

I picked up a log and put it on the wood splitter and saw what I thought was a leaf fluttering in the wind, and then I saw the legs and realized it was a butterfly. A butterfly in February? Apparently, and the closest I can come with an identification is the question mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis.) According to what I’ve read September laid eggs develop into the winter form of the butterfly, which appear in late fall and spend the winter in various shelters. This one had no shelter and hung onto this log for dear life in a strong wind. When I took  photos the log it was on was vibrating on the log splitter so this is the best of a bad lot. Its long white legs reminded me of the Rockette dancers.

Whenever I see spruce gum on a tree I always wonder who the first person was to peel it off the tree and chew it. When I see it I don’t think of chewing it, but someone did. If you gently heat the resin, which is called spruce gum, of the black spruce tree (Picea mariana,) it will melt down into a liquid which can then be strained and poured into a shallow pan or other container to cool. After about half an hour it will be hardened and very brittle, and when broken into bite sized pieces it can be chewed like any other gum. Spruce gum is antiseptic and good for the teeth. It has been chewed by Native Americans for centuries and was the first chewing gum sold in the United States.

Sweet gale (Myrica gale) is also called bog rosemary. It likes to grow on the banks of acidic lakes, bogs and streams. Touching the foliage releases a sweet, pleasant scent from its resinous leaves which have been used for centuries as a natural insect repellent. Though it is a native plant here it also grows native in Europe, where it is used as an ingredient in beer making in some countries. It is also used in an ointment used to treat sensitive skin and acne. Its buds are very pretty, but also very small.  They will open and flower in spring.

Two or three years the white pines (Pinus strobus) in this area had a mast year and tens of thousands of pine cones fell. This year strong winds have stripped branches from the trees and every one I look at is loaded with tiny undeveloped cones like the one in this photo, so it looks like we’re headed for another mast year for white pines. Mast are the fruits, seeds and nuts of trees and shrubs, which are eaten by wildlife. Hard mast is made up of nuts, seeds and cones and soft mast are berries, apples and such. A mast year means lots of food for wildlife like the white footed mouse, which carries Lyme disease, so they do have an impact on humans as well. This cone was about an inch long.

Here is something I’d bet most people never see; the open spore cases of the sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis.) This fern is a good wetland indicator and they grow all alongside streams and rivers in the almost always wet soil. Their shin high, spore bearing fronds full of round black spore cases make them very easy to see in winter but I rarely see them opened as these were.

This is what sensitive fern spore cases usually look like. Early colonists noticed that this fern was very sensitive to frost and they gave it its common name. It has toxic properties and animals rarely eat it, but some Native American tribes used its root medicinally.

A mud puddle had evaporated but it left these long ice crystals behind. Puddle ice is an endless source of fascination and beauty.

In my experience I’ve only seen ice needles in spring or fall before the ground freezes or after it has thawed, so these examples that I saw recently were a good sign of spring. When the air temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit right at the soil surface and the soil and groundwater remains thawed, hydrostatic pressure can force the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. From what I’ve seen the needles almost always freeze together and form ribbons, but few of these did.

Though this photo of Mount Monadnock may not look very spring like, down here in the lowlands most of the snow is gone and what’s left is melting quickly. The record keepers at the state capital say that February was 3.5 degrees above average, and that makes for a short winter. Flowers are starting to bloom and the red winged blackbirds have returned. The furnace runs less each day and grass is greening up in places, so though the calendar might not say spring yet all signs are certainly pointing to it.

The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first; be not discouraged – keep on – there are divine things, well envelop’d; I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.  ~Walt Whitman

Thanks for coming by.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. To see small think small. There is an entire tiny world right there in plain sight but there’s a good chance you haven’t seen it. Nothing is hidden from the person who truly sees.

  2. Don’t just look, see; and not just with your eyes. Use all your senses. I’ve smelled certain plants and fungi before I’ve seen them many times. I also feel almost everything I find.

  3. Walk at a toddlers pace. Cross and crisscross your path.

  4. Know your subject. You probably won’t find what you hope to unless you know when and where it grows, or its habits. When you see something you’ve never seen if you want to know more about it research it.

  5. Be interested in everything. If you’re convinced that you’ve seen it all then you’ll see nothing new. Run your eye down a branch. Roll over a log. Study the ice on a puddle.

  6. Expect the unexpected. I’ve heard trees fall in the forest but I’ve never seen it happen. Tomorrow may be the day.

  7. Develop an eye for beauty; it’s truly everywhere you look. Allow yourself to see and feel it. Appreciate it and be grateful for it and before long you too will see it everywhere you go.

  8. Let nature lead. Nature will teach you far more than you’ve ever imagined. It will also heal you if you let it, but none of this can happen if you spend all your time indoors.

  9. None of the things you’ve read here are really secrets. Nature is there for everyone and you can study it and take pleasure in it just as easily as I can.

  10. Have fun and enjoy nature and you’ll be surprised how quickly your cares melt away. Problems that once might have seemed insurmountable will suddenly seem much easier to solve.

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

Thanks for stopping in.

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One last photo from the recent January thaw when the temperature reached 67 degrees in Concord, our State Capital. It isn’t unheard of but it is quite rare for it to be that warm in January. This photo is from when the thaw had ended and it had started getting colder again. A mist rose from the warm soil and flowed over the landscape like water.

In places what little snow fell after the thaw had been sculpted by the wind. Wind can do strange things to snow. I’ve seen drifts up over my head and curls like ocean waves.

The wind also made ripples on a puddle and then they froze into ice. I’ve seen some amazing things in puddle ice.

I don’t know what it is about grass and snow but the combination pleases me, and I always enjoy seeing them together.

It hasn’t been truly cold this winter but it has gotten down into the single digits at night, and that’s cold enough to turn pine sap blue. I see it in varying shades of blue just about everywhere I go.

When the snow starts to melt it often melts in layers and as the top layers melt away what were mice and vole runs under the snow are exposed. These small animals are active all winter long but are rarely seen. It didn’t look like this one knew exactly where it wanted to go.

Wild turkey tracks are very easy to identify because of their large size. I happened upon a spot where many of them had gathered but since I didn’t see a trail of tracks either into or away from the place I have to assume that they flew in and out of it. Maybe they wanted to catch up on what was happening in the forest, I don’t know.

Sunshine transformed an icicle into a prism for a few moments as I watched.

Snow melts in strange ways. This photo shows how it has melted into a round mound. I’m not sure how or why it would do this. Was it colder in that small, 10 inch spot than the surrounding soil?

I saw a tiny speck move in a cobweb in a building at work so I took my macro camera off my belt and inched it closer and closer until I got the shot of the American house spider you see here. Not surprisingly this tiny, quarter inch spider is called a cobweb spider. The reason it let my camera get so close is because they have poor vision, I’ve read. They can bite but this one didn’t move. I think it was busy eating. They are said to be the most often encountered spider by humans in North America so the next time you see a cobweb this is probably what made it. They can live for a year or more.

Rim lichens are very common in this area but that doesn’t mean they’re any easier to identify. I think this one is a bumpy rim lichen (Lecanora hybocarpa) because of the bumpy rims around the reddish brown fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) They aren’t smooth and round as I’d expect so at first I thought they had simply shriveled from dryness but no, they always look like this. This lichen likes to grow on the bark of hardwood trees in well lighted forests, and that’s exactly where I found this one.

I see lots of drilled holes in stone and many are out in the middle of nowhere, where you wouldn’t expect them to be. Who, I always wonder, would go to all the trouble of drilling a hole in a boulder and then just leave it? An inch and a half diameter hole is not an easy thing to drill in stone.

The smooth sides of this hole tell me it isn’t that old. It might have once been drilled for blasting ledges along the side of a road, but right now it’s filled with pine needles.

If the hole in the stone in the previous photos were from the 1800s it would have a shape like this one, which was made by a star drill. One person would hold the drill bit and another would hit the end of it with a sledge hammer. After each hammer blow the bit was rotated a quarter turn and then struck again. It was a slow process but eventually a hole that could be filled with black powder had been drilled. You filled it with black powder, stuck a fuse in and lit it, and ran as fast as you could go.

Speaking of powder, when I touched this puffball it puffed out a stream of spores that were like talcum. I was careful not to breath any in; there are people out there who seem to think that inhaling certain puffball spores will get them high, but it is never a good thing to do. People who inhale the spores can end up in the hospital due to developing a respiratory disease called Lycoperdonosis. In one severe instance a teenager spent 18 days in a coma, had portions of his lung removed, and suffered severe liver damage.

A thin maze polypore (Daedaleopsis confragosa) wore a cap of snow. This photo doesn’t show much of the maze-like underside of it, but it was there. When fresh the surface is pale gray and turns red when bruised. This fungus causes white rot in trees.

I saw quite a few beautiful blue and purple turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) earlier in the year but now I’m seeing a lot of brown. One of the things I’d like to learn most about nature is what determines this mushroom’s color. It’s like a rainbow, but why? Minerals in the wood would be my first guess but apparently nobody knows for sure.

Among the many things Ötzi the 5000 year old iceman, whose well preserved body was found in the Ötztal Alps in 1991carried were birch polypores (Piptoporus betulinus.) I assumed that he used them to sharpen tools (They are also called razor strops and their ability to hone a steel edge is well known.) but apparently Ötzi carried them for other purposes; scientists have found that Ötzi had several heath issues, among them whipworm, which is an intestinal parasite (Trichuris trichura,) and birch polypores are poisonous to them. The fungus also has antiseptic properties and can be used to heal small wounds, which I’m sure were common 5000 years ago. By the way, polypores always want their spore bearing surface pointed towards the ground, so you can see that these examples grew after this birch had fallen.

I went to visit the skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) in their swamp and saw many of the mottled spathes I hoped to see. They weren’t open yet but inside the spathes is the spadix, which carries the flowers. The spadix is a one inch diameter pink or yellow, stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. It carries most of the skunk like odor at this point and it is thought by some that it uses the odor to attract flies and other insects that might pollinate it. 

The skunk cabbages grow in a hummocky swamp. When I was a boy I used to jump from hummock to hummock but my hummock jumping days are over, so now I just wear waterproof hiking boots.

How beautiful this life is, and how many wonderful things there are to see. I do hope you’re seeing more than your share of it. It doesn’t take much; the colors in a sunrise, a sculpted patch of snow, the ice on a puddle. All will speak to you if you’re willing to just stop for a moment and look, and listen.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep. ~Rumi

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Ice storm are two words that can strike fear into the most stouthearted New Englander and last week we had one. Forecasts were for major ice buildup; as much as a half inch of ice on trees and wires. Since it only takes a quarter inch to bring branches down on power lines widespread power outages were forecast. Thankfully the forecasts were wrong, and though we did have an ice storm it wasn’t nearly as bad as people feared.

Of course all anyone could think about was the ice storm of 2008, when millions went without power for weeks in some cases. If you weren’t lucky enough to have a generator you went to a warming shelter and wondered what would become of your home with no heat in January. When water pipes freeze and burst things can seem pretty grim, and memories of going through an ice storm or knowing someone who did are what causes the immediate anxiety when those two words are spoken.

All is quiet while we wait to see what the storm will bring. All that can be heard outside is the steady patter of rain, which freezes on contact. That and the occasional loud crack of a tree branch falling.

Freezing rain happens when warm air sits above cold air. Precipitation falls as rain in the warm layer but freezes on contact with anything in the colder layer at ground level. The accumulating ice weighs everything down; even the goldenrod seen here couldn’t bear it.

Sometimes snow will fall after the ice, weighing tree branches down even more. That is what happened this time so it really is surprising that there weren’t more power outages.

But eventually the sun comes out again as it must, and as the ice melts it falls with strange crinkling, tinkling sounds. But for a brief time before it melts the sun shines on it, and it is like being in a world made of billions of tiny prisms, all shining light of every color of the rainbow in all directions, and it is truly a beautiful sight that many are thankful to have seen no matter how terrible the storm. I’ll never forget driving through the aftermath of the 2008 ice storm. Though trees and wires were down everywhere I went it was easily one of the top 5 most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I wish I could show you more photos of the aftermath of this storm but it wasn’t to be.

This is the view looking out of a vehicle’s icy windshield. Turn on the heat and let it warm up, because no amount of scraping will get this kind of ice off.

Ripples in the snow looked just like ripples in the sand on a lake bottom but these ripples speak of wind, not waves.

Pressure cracks appeared in the new, thin ice of Half Moon Pond in Hancock. There are many names for cracks in ice but in a lake or pond they’re all caused by stress of some kind. These might have been wet cracks, where the cracks are wide enough to have water showing between them.

They might also have been wave break cracks, caused by waves cracking the ice sheet into fairly large pieces. If you walked out there you might have found that you were standing on a large piece of ice which wasn’t attached to anything. The thing I can’t show you here are the sounds that ice makes. Very eerie sounds can sometimes be heard coming off the pond in winter. Some sound like humming, some like booming, some like cracking, but most are indescribable.

This puddle ice had very clear lens like areas in it. This isn’t something I see a lot of and I don’t know what causes it. I do know that the whiter the ice the more oxygen was in it when it formed. Doing this blog has made me learn an awful lot about ice that I wouldn’t have cared enough to even question before.

Many birds, including robins and cedar waxwings, love crab apples so you would think they would be gobbling them as fast as they could, but this tree was full of them, so why aren’t they? Science has shown that birds will leave fruits that are lower in fat for last but are crab apples low in fat? The answers are simple; many crab apples are ornamental cultivars that birds just don’t like. Some other cultivars have fruit that birds will eat only after it has frozen and thawed several times.  If you want to attract fruit eating birds with crab apples (Malus) the choice of cultivar requires some research.

The fruits of horse nettle plants are quite pretty against the snow. Carolina horse nettle (Solanum carolinense) isn’t a true nettle but instead is in the nightshade family, along with tomatoes and potatoes and many toxic plants. This plant is also toxic, enough so to be named devil’s tomato. It contains alkaloids that can make you very sick and which have caused death. There are also spines on the leaves which can break off and embed themselves in the skin. Skunks, pheasant, and turkeys are said to eat the fruit but it didn’t look to me like a single one had been touched. Nothing seems to eat the stems or foliage.

I’ve seen lots of seed pods on rose of Sharon plants but when I saw this one I realized that I had never looked inside one.

It was full of flat, dark colored, kidney shaped seeds which were quite pretty. I wondered if they would grow. There must have been thousands of them on this one plant but I’ve never seen a seedling near it.

The seed eating birds have been busy picking all the prickly looking coneflower seeds in my yard. They had eaten about two thirds of this one.

For the first time I’ve seen seed pods on a monkshood plant. If you were found growing monkshood (Aconitum napellus) in ancient Rome there was a good chance that you’d be put to death, because the extremely toxic plant was added to the water of one’s enemies to eliminate them. It was used on spear and arrow tips in wars and in hunting parties. It is also called winter aconite and is so poisonous its aconitine toxins can be absorbed through the skin. People who have mistaken its roots for horseradish have died within 4-6 hours after eating them. It is also called friar’s cap, leopard’s bane, wolf’s bane, devil’s helmet, and queen of poisons. In 2015 an experienced gardener in the U.K. died of multiple organ failure after weeding and hoeing near aconite plants. I didn’t pick the seeds.

This poison ivy was wearing its vine disguise, climbing a tree by using aerial roots which grow directly out of the wood of its stem when it needs them. Poison ivy can appear as a plant, a shrub, or a vine and if you’re going to spend much time in the woods it’s a good idea to know it well. In the winter a vine like this can help identify the plant because of these many aerial roots. It’s best not to touch it because even in winter it can cause an itchy rash.

This poison ivy vine even had a few berries left on it. I was surprised to see them because birds usually eat them right up.

All the freezing rain turned our snow into something resembling white concrete so squirrels, deer and other animals that dig through the snow to find acorns and seeds are having a hard time of it. There is supposed to be a warm up coming though, so that should help. I know that anything that melts all of this ice and hard, slippery snow will be greatly appreciated by humans.

I am grateful for the magic, mystery and majesty of nature – my loyal friend and companion – always there, welcoming and waiting for me to come; to be healed. ~Tom North

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Both the groundhog and the National Weather Service predicted an early spring, but how early? As I write this there are only 22 days until the calendar says spring, so I thought I’d go looking for it. It’s hard to describe how or when spring happens but sometimes it starts with a hint of warmth on a breeze. You can tell that it’s different than other breezes but you don’t know why; you just know that it’s that first warm breath of spring. But that’s just one sign. There are others, like the ice starting to melt off ponds. Even though we still have cold days the ice melts slowly, and it might freeze and refreeze but the sunshine and warmth will win out and before long there will be open water where the ice was. It’s happening now; that spot of open water in this photo has slowly been getting bigger.

More and more trees, and especially willows like the one seen here, are changing into their spring golden colors. It’s something I’ve watched happen for years now, one of those first subtle hints of spring. One lady said her ponies shedding their hair was a sign of spring for her, and skunks coming out of hibernation is another. Seed displays are also popping up in stores.

Willow catkins, called “pussies,” are a sign of spring for many but this year I saw them in January.

The purple bud scales on these red maple buds (Acer rubrum) have definitely been pulling back to reveal the tomato red buds within since the last time I looked at them. The bud scales protect the bud from freezing weather, so I hope the tree knows what it is doing. I’ve seen red maples bloom too early and lose most of their flowers to frost.

I get to see this sugar maple (Acer saccharum) every day so I’m sure the bud scales have been slowly opening on it as well. But, since I haven’t seen any sap buckets yet, buds getting bigger doesn’t make much sense because it’s the sap that drives the growth.  Maybe the sap is flowing in some trees and not others. That sounds like a plausible answer, anyhow.

When I was a boy I used to get highly excited when spring came because that meant I could ride my bike to school again, and when I did I made sure to ride through as many ice covered puddles as I could. That’s why, whenever I see that thin, white, crinkly ice on a puddle it makes me think of spring. This ice wasn’t quite what I mean but it was on a puddle and it had some fantastic, feathery patterns in it.

Mud is also part of spring in these parts; so much so that we even have a “mud season.” That’s when dirt roads turn to something similar to quicksand for a week or two as things start to thaw and the frost comes out of the ground.

For me checking lilac buds is a rite of spring. I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember, always starting about now, looking at them twice or three times a week for signs of swelling. It’s always exciting to see the bud scales finally fully open to reveal the deep purple, grape like cluster of flower buds within.

Some plants seem like they would do anything to be the first to bloom in spring, and these cress seedlings (I think) are one of those. These seedlings grew next to a building foundation where it’s a little warmer and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them blooming next week. Each plant would fit in a thimble and a whole bouquet of the white, four petaled flowers could easily hide behind a pea.

I saw some tulips up and out of the ground, standing about 3 inches high. There are bulb beds up against a building foundation and this must be why they’re up so early.

I hope those are more leaves coming along and not flower buds.

Reticulated iris grow in the same bed as the tulips. These are very early flowering plants and you can often find the tiny iris blossoms covered by snow.

Daffodils are also still up and growing in a raised bed at the local college. Raised beds drain and thaw earlier than the ground does but anything green in them can still be harmed by the cold, and those daffodils often get frost bitten. When that happens the leaves turn to mush.

I was surprised to see this beech bud curling, because curling like this is often a sign of bud break and it’s far too early for that. The curl is caused by the sun warming the cells on one side of the bud and making them grow faster than the cells on the other side. This causes a tension in the bud which will eventually cause it to open. For beech this usually means mid-May.

Here is a photo of a beech bud breaking from May 19th of last year. There are several leaves in each bud, all edged in downy, silvery angel hair. This is one of the most beautiful sights in a New England forest in spring and I’m very much looking forward to seeing it again.

I checked the skunk cabbages again and still didn’t see any of the blotchy maroon and yellow flower spathes but it shouldn’t be much longer. Since I’ve been keeping track the earliest I’ve seen them was in 2014. They were just coming up on Feb 2 that year and it looks like they might be a month later this year.

The spring blooming vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) have bloomed earlier as well, but they’re waiting this year. The weather has been very strange so I’m not surprised. I’m guessing that once we get a week of above freezing temperatures all the early blooming plants will bloom at once.

Though they’re early bloomers I didn’t think there would be any sign of movement in magnolia buds. I just wanted to see their furry bud scales.

45 years ago I was doing some work for a man who suddenly said “Look at the bluebird on the fence.” I got a look at a beautiful blue blur and until just the other day I hadn’t ever seen another eastern bluebird. On this day there were 3 or 4 of them in a birch tree and I saw the beautiful color as I drove by. I stopped, grabbed my camera, and they actually sat still for more than a second or two; just long enough to jump out of the car and get these photos.

The bluebirds were eating the fruit (hips) of the invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) and of course that just helps it spread. Blue birds, from what I’ve read, are migratory and usually return to New Hampshire to nest in March, so these birds are a true sign of spring even if they are a little early. Oddly enough that beautiful blue color doesn’t come from any blue pigment in their feathers because there isn’t any. Instead it comes from a thin layer of cells on each feather that absorbs all wavelengths of color except blue. Only the blue wavelength is reflected so when we see the beautiful blue of this bird we are actually seeing a reflection. But no matter where it comes from it certainly is a beautiful shade of blue, as this male shows.

Bluebirds are called “bluebirds of happiness” and seeing them again after so long certainly made me happy. They could have stayed a little longer but I’m very thankful that I got to see them, however brief that visit was.

But no blue, not even the brightest summer sky, seems as blue as the bluebirds of spring.
~Ron Hirschi

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A bee landed on my windshield recently and, since I can’t remember ever seeing a bee’s belly, I took a photo of it. It’s cold enough now so bees and other insects are moving sluggishly and acting as if they really don’t know what to do with themselves, because there are few flowers to keep them company.

There are some flowers still blooming though and what I think is a hoverfly found this false dandelion blossom. It was tiny but barely moving, so getting a photo was relatively easy.

Here was something I wasn’t happy about seeing; the wind had knocked a bald faced hornet’s nest out of a tree. The nest was as big as a football and was buzzing with angry bald faced hornets. Each nest can house as many as 400 of them and if you get within three feet of the nest they don’t have a problem letting you know how displeased they are. They were flying all around as I took these photos and I’m still surprised that I didn’t get stung.

Bald faced hornets aren’t really hornets at all; though they are black and white they’re classified as yellow jacket wasps because they’re more closely related to wasps than they are hornets. But it doesn’t matter what you call them. This is one insect you don’t want to get stung by because unlike bees they can sting multiple times and it is a painful sting. They rate a 2.0 on the Schmidt Pain Index and the pain is described as “Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.” In case you’re wondering the Schmidt Pain Index goes up to 4.0, which is described as “You don’t want to know.” There is one insect that rates a 4.0 on the index: a Tarantula Hawk, which is another wasp that I hope I never meet.

What I think was a dark eyed Junco landed on a deck where I work and let me walk right up to it. It sat there even as I opened a door and went inside and didn’t fly off until I came back out of the building. Even then it flew just a few feet away and landed in an apple tree. They seem like very tame birds but what I was struck by most when I saw this photo of it was its shadow; it reminded me of something.

This is what the Junco’s shadow reminded me of. There used to be a television show called “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and it always opened with this shadow. It was one of my favorite shows for quite a while and it can still be seen on You Tube today.

Here was another dead birch tree full of golden pholiota mushrooms (Pholiota limonella.) At least I thought that’s what they were but these example had no citrus scent, so I’d say they must be Pholiota aurivella which, except for its smaller spores and the lack of a lemon scent, appears identical.

The frustrating thing about mushroom identification is how for most of them you can never be sure without a microscope, and that’s why I never eat them. There are some that don’t have many lookalikes and though I’m usually fairly confident of a good identification for them I still don’t eat them. It’s just too risky.

I saw a tiny insect on the underside of this mushroom but it wasn’t until I saw the photo that I realized it had been looking up at me. I’m not sure what it was; an ant, maybe? It’s a cute little thing, whatever its name.

I saw what I thought was a strangely colored rock along the Ashuelot River, but when I walked around it and saw the other side I discovered that it wasn’t that strange after all, because that side looked like any other rock. What we see here is the part of the rock that was buried in the soil and that soil apparently contained a lot of iron. How it got out of that iron rich soil I don’t know, but it might have rolled down the river bed. Standing here after heavy rains when the river is raging you can hear the eerie booming sounds of stones rolling along the river bed. It’s a sound that’s hard to forget; you don’t just hear it, you feel it as well.

When the leaves begin to fall lots of things that were previously hidden are revealed, and among them are bird’s nests like this one I saw along the river. It wasn’t very big; a baseball would have fit right in it like it had been made for it, so it was probably about 3 or 4 inches across.

It was made of mud and straw; an ancient recipe for bricks. All its soft interior of lichens, feathers, and soft grasses had disappeared. Or maybe they were never there and the bird was happy to sit on sun baked, hard mud. I’ve seen quite a few eastern phoebes in this area but I don’t know if it was one of them that made the nest.

American mountain ash is a native tree but you’re more likely to find them growing naturally north of this part of the state. I do see them in the wild, but rarely. Their red orange fruit in fall and white flowers in spring have made them a gardener’s favorite and that’s where you’ll see most of them here though they prefer cool, humid air like that found in the 3000 foot elevation range. The berries are said to be low in fat and very acidic, so birds leave them for last. For some reason early settlers thought the tree would keep witches away so they called it witch wood. Native Americans used both the bark and berries medicinally. The Ojibwe tribe made both bows and arrows from its wood, which is unusual. Usually they used wood from different species, or wood from both shrubs and trees.

Our woods are full of ripe Concord and river grapes at this time of year and on a warm, sunny fall day the forest smells like grape jelly. Not for long though because birds and animals snap them up quickly. North America has about 20 native species of wild grape and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so the grapes were used for juice and jelly or cooked and used in various recipes. Grapes were also used to dye baskets with a gray violet dye.

All parts of the yew tree (Taxus) are poisonous except (it is said) the red, fleshy part of the berry. The seed inside the berry, which can be seen in this photo, is the most toxic part of the plant and eating as few as three of them can cause death in just a few hours. In February of 2014 Ben Hines died in Brockdish, Norfolk, England after ingesting parts of yew trees. Nobody has ever figured out why he would do such a thing but the incident illustrated just how toxic the plant is.

Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are said to be one of only three fruits native to North America, along with the concord grape and blueberry, that are commercially grown but I’m not sure of that. Because they float commercial growers flood their fields to harvest them. This has many people thinking that they grow in water but no, they grow near water on dry, peaty, sandy soil. Cultivation began in 1816 and growers discovered that a well-tended cranberry plant can live 150 years. The cranberry was highly important to Native Americans and they used them for everything from food and medicine to dyes. The most important use was in pemmican, which was a highly nutritious mixture of dried fruit, dried meat and fat. The name cranberry comes from crane berry, which the early settlers named them because they thought the flowers looked like sand hill cranes. Once the English brought honeybees over in 1622 honey was used as a sweetener for the tart berries and their use skyrocketed among the settlers. This was very bad news for the Natives and many tribes died out within 100 years of European contact.

I’ve seen lots of galls but I’ve never seen these pea size furry ones before. They grew on an oak leaf and some of them simply rolled off it when I tilted the leaf. They are wooly oak leaf galls I believe, and like most galls do no harm to the host plant. A wasp lays an egg on a leaf and the tree responds by encasing it in a gall. When the egg hatches the wasp larva eats its way out of the gall. Inside the fuzzy wool is a hard brownish kernel that looks like a seed.

Everlastings get their name from the way they can dry and often last for years once they’ve been cut. Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) gets its name from the way that it smells like maple syrup. It’s another of those plants like pineapple weed which will light up a child’s face when they smell it. They know instantly just what it smells like.

Well, here it is Halloween and the only spooky thing I have to show you is this witches hat that I found growing on a witch hazel leaf. It’s actually a gall which the plant created in response to the witch hazel gall aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis.) It’s also called nipple gall and cone head gall. I think it looks like a Hershey’s kiss chocolate candy.

Here’s something that might be much more scary than the witches hat; puddle ice.

And yes that’s snow, and that scares me. We saw a dusting one morning a week or so ago but thankfully none since. Though we average zero inches of snow in October we’ve had over a foot on Halloween in recent memory. Chances are you’ll see more of it here soon. We average about 2 inches in November and just over 11 inches in December.

Nature is what you see plus what you think about it. ~John Sloan

Thanks for coming by. Have a safe and happy Halloween!

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We had a big storm here last Friday but we saw more rain than snow, and little wind. I’ve heard that upstate New York saw 2-3 feet of snow and in Pennsylvania semi-trucks were blown over by the wind, so we got off relatively easy. We did see flooding in places as this photo of a flooded forest shows, but not enough to cause any real damage. Things may change again today, because the weather people are saying we might see as much as 18 inches of snow from this afternoon through nightfall on Thursday.

The Ashuelot River spilled out into this pasture but this is expected in spring and there are no buildings within the flood zone.

I think it was just 2 weeks ago when I watched people skating on this pond. Now there is open water. I was hoping to see some ducks or spring peepers but I didn’t see either.

Though our days have been warm, mostly in the 50s F, our mornings are still cold enough for puddle ice. This ice is very thin and often white because of all the oxygen bubbles in it, and it tinkles when you break it. Nothing says spring to me quite like puddle ice, because when I was a boy I used to ride my bike through it in the spring as soon as the snow melted. You can see many things in this ice, but on this morning it was a simple starburst.

I noticed that the hairy bud scales on a Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) had opened to reveal the bright yellow flower buds they’ve been protecting. Once pollinated in mid-April the flowers will become sour red fruits that have been eaten by man for about 7000 years. In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included Cornelian cherry fruit and Homer, Rumi, and Marcus Aurelius all probably tasted the fruit. I would if I could ever find one but apparently the birds snap them up quickly, because I’ve never seen one.

I’ve been staring at this photo of a crocus blossom trying to figure out exactly what is going on, because you shouldn’t be able to see the central anthers in a closed crocus blossom. I finally realized that it has been cut in half lengthwise, so you can indeed see inside the blossom to the reproductive parts. Why or how anyone would do this while the plant was actually in the ground growing and blossoming is a mystery to me, but it is an interesting look at something rarely seen.

Another plant I was hoping to get a look inside was a skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) so I went to visit them in their swamp and saw that many of the mottled spathes had opened since I was last here. I could see the spadix covered with flowers in this one, but could I get a shot of it?

I was able to, barely. The spadix is a one inch diameter pink or yellow, stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four sepals. The male stamens grow up through the sepals and release their pollen before the female style and pistil grow out of the flower’s center to catch any pollen that insects bring in from other plants. The spadix carries most of the skunk like odor at this point and it is thought by some that it uses the odor to attract flies and other insects that might pollinate it. Sometimes the spadix is covered with pollen but this one hadn’t seen any yet so the male flowers must have just opened.

I saw some over-anxious daylilies. I hope they know what they’re doing. They could easily find themselves under a foot of snow tomorrow. March can be a fickle month with 50 degrees one day and snow the next and right now the forecast looks wild.

Ever so slowly the buds of red maple (Acer rubrum) are opening. The purple bud scales pull back to reveal the tomato red buds within. It probably won’t be long before they blossom, unless we get a cold snap with the coming storm.

The vernal witch hazels are blooming with great abandon now, even though this day was a cool one. We probably won’t see another display like this one until the forsythias bloom.

I couldn’t tell if this blueberry bud was opening or not but it showed me that spiders are active, even in winter.

It looked like this huge old mother white pine tree held her baby in her arms and it reminded me of the book The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. I’m reading it now and it’s a book that I’d highly recommend to anyone who is interested in learning more about nature.

If a forest is a cathedral, then this is its stained glass.

I saw some beautifully colored turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) Someday I hope to find out what determines their color. They seem to all be different so I would think that the wood they grow on must play a part in their coloration, but I haven’t ever been able to find anything written on the subject.

I was walking the grounds of the local college looking for blooming flowers when I came upon this Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata.) The vine has nothing to do with Boston and it isn’t a true ivy, but it is the reason colleges are called “Ivy League.” Boston ivy is actually in the grape family and originally came from China and Japan.

Boston ivy will climb just about anything by attaching itself with tiny circular pads that form at the ends of its tendrils. The vine secretes calcium carbonate and uses it to glue itself to whatever surface it grows on, in this case brick. The glue can support up to 260 times its own weight and if you’ve ever tried to pull Boston ivy off a building you know how sticky it is.

I’m not wild about stone walls that were built with mortar but sidewalk firedot lichens (Caloplaca feracissima) sure are. These bright orange lichens love the lime used in cement and can often be found growing on concrete sidewalks, and that’s where their common name comes from. When you find them growing on stone in the woods it’s a great sign that you’re in an area with a lot of limestone, and there’s a good chance that you’ll find other lime loving plants, like many of our native orchids.

Sidewalk firedot lichens appear very granular and often show fruiting bodies but this example was quite dry and I couldn’t see that it was producing spores anywhere.

A pile of fallen fern leaves reminded me of nautili swimming under the sea. It is interesting how nature uses the same shapes over and over, especially spirals. The spiral was considered sacred geometry by ancient civilizations and is still used today. Sacred geometry involves sacred universal patterns used in the design of everything in our reality. Spirals for instance, can be found in everything from the nautilus to the sunflower and from our own DNA to entire galaxies.

Despite the forecast, live like it’s spring. ~Lilly Pulitzer

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After putting together a post like the last one I did on lichens I needed to free up my mind a bit so I headed into the woods of Walpole to climb the High Blue trail. I had just been here in October but it wasn’t that cold then. My mission on this day was to see if the ski areas had started making snow.

It was definitely cold enough here to make snow. This shot is of some of the many bubbles I saw in the ice of a mud puddle.

Intermediate wood ferns (Dryopteris intermedia) were still nice and green but that was no surprise because it is one of our native evergreen ferns. It is thought that evergreen ferns get a jump on the competition in spring by starting photosynthesis earlier than their cousins.

A large tinder polypore (Fomes fomentarius) grew on a trail side tree. These bracket fungi produce spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that they can produce as many as 800 million spores in a single hour. Its common name comes from its usefulness as tinder for starting fires. The 5000 year old “iceman” found preserved in ice and snow in the Italian Alps carried pieces of this fungus with him. It is also useful medicinally and is known to stop bleeding, so he might have used it both ways.

The small reflectors put on the trees by hunters reminded me that I probably wasn’t the only one in these woods. I was glad that I remembered to wear my bright orange hat and vest.

There are people who think that plants grow their buds when it warms up in the spring but most plants actually plan ahead and grow their spring buds in the fall. This hobblebush bud (Viburnum lantanoides) already has all it needs to produce a pair of new leaves and a beautiful head of white flowers next spring. Hobblebush buds are naked, meaning they have no bud scales to protect them from the cold, and that’s why they are furry. Hobblebushes are one of our most beautiful native viburnums and there are many of them in these woods.

Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) also have their spring buds at the ready. They’re small now but they’ll grow bigger when it starts to warm up. When they break in spring beech buds are one of the most beautiful things you’ll find in a New England forest.

The farmer has cut all his corn for silage. This was a meadow for many years and it’s always a bit surprising for me to find a cornfield here now. The corn attracts bears and last year I saw several piles of their dung, but this year I didn’t see any. I’m hoping they found a different corn field.

There are game trails that lead from the meadow / cornfield into the woods. Do you see this one? It’s just a narrow trail but it is used regularly, especially by deer. When I come here in winter there are deer tracks everywhere up here.

I followed the game trail into the forest to see what I’d see and found a huge quartz boulder sitting on top of an old stone wall. How anyone ever lifted it up there is beyond me. It was at least 4 feet long and must have been very heavy.

There were also a lot of ears of corn along the game trail and even entire corn stalks pulled up by the roots. This is obviously where the animals come to eat it after they take it from the cornfield. I don’t know if a deer could pull up a cornstalk but a bear certainly could. I was hoping it was cold enough for them to be sleeping by now.

Back on the main trail the sun was shining brightly but not providing much warmth. It was probably about 40 degrees F. and that isn’t bad for the end of November but it still felt cold. November is said to be the cloudiest month but we’ve been lucky this year and have had quite a few sunny days.

One of the things I like about this time of year is how you can see so deeply into the forest now that there is no foliage to block the view. One of the things that is much easier to see now is the old stone wall that snakes through the woods. It’s a “tossed wall,” meaning that the stones were literally tossed or thrown on top of one another. Stones were not nice to plows and farmers wanted to get them out of their fields as quickly and efficiently as possible, and ringing the fields with them was the easiest way. In 1872 there were an estimated 270,000 miles of stone walls in New England. It’s hard to hike through a piece of forest these days without seeing at least one wall.

Walpole is famous among stone wall builders for its ledges which, with little effort, break into nice, flat slabs. The fractures happen naturally, as can be seen on this outcrop. This is very easy stone to build with and it makes a great looking wall.

This stone was taken from the ledge in the previous photo at some point in the past. It hasn’t been cut; this is how it comes right out of the ledge, and that’s what makes it so special. Building a wall with stone like this is a real pleasure but it doesn’t happen often. Usually the stones are rounded, so it takes much more time and effort to build with them.

The small pond on the summit was frozen over as I thought it would be. I used to think that the animals would suffer when the pond froze but there are many small streams nearby that run year round so they always have a place to get a drink.

The sign at the granite overlook tells you that you’ve arrived. High means the spot is higher than the surrounding terrain and blue means the view is very blue, and it always is.

It was a bit humid on this day and as it did the last time I was up here a haze blanketed the landscape, so even though the view across the Connecticut River Valley into Vermont was blue it wasn’t that good. Still, you could see Stratton Mountain so I couldn’t complain. The question was, would my camera be able to cut through the haze so I could see the ski area?

So far so good. Sometimes the camera really goes bonkers up here and I’m shocked by what I see when I get home, so I was hoping this wouldn’t be one of those days. I put it on “auto” for a few shots just to give it a chance to do what it wanted. It seems to have a mind of its own sometimes when capturing landscapes.

Though it is a blotchy photo it showed me that there was indeed snow on the ski trails, so after sitting and admiring the view for a bit, down I went. Before long this entire landscape will be snow covered and there won’t be any snowmaking required, so I was happy that I was still walking in crunchy leaves rather than squeaky snow. You know it’s cold when the snow squeaks underfoot.

Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood. Andy Goldsworthy

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1-half-moon-pond

February has shown us what a strange month it can be once again. After snow and cold in the first half of the month the temperatures suddenly shot up into the high sixties for the second half. This photo shows what happens when warm air meets the cold ice of a pond: fog; sometimes very heavy fog, as this was. On Saturday morning February 26th at 7:00 am it was close to sixty degrees and then warm enough to wear just a tee shirt by noon, which is just about unheard of in February in New Hampshire. By 8:00 pm they were saying we might see thunderstorms.

2-thin-ice-sign

The ice at a local skating pond became too thin to skate on but this has really been a problem throughout the state all winter, with many people falling through the ice this year. It never really got cold enough to form the kind of ice that is thick enough for vehicles to drive on and pickup trucks and many snowmobiles have gone through the ice, in some instances with fatal results.

3-icy-trail

Unfortunately not all of the ice was thin enough to melt. The warmth melted most of the snow quickly enough to cause a flood watch to go into effect but as this photo shows, when hard packed snow melts it can turn to ice. This trail was icy in spots and completely bare in others.

4-skunk-cabbage

What a welcome break the record breaking warmth was from the cold winds and deep snow. The skunk cabbages responded by sending up their flower spathes. Skunk cabbages can fool you into thinking they’re growing when you see the green sheath on the left, but it covers the leaf buds and appear in the fall. Only the mottled maroon and yellow flower spathe on the right shows new spring growth.

5-yellow-skunk-cabbage

Some flower spathes can show more yellow than maroon as this one does. Bears that come out of hibernation too soon will sometimes eat skunk cabbage. There is little else for them at this time of year.

6-mud

Why am I showing you mud? Because here in New Hampshire we have an unofficial 5th season called mud season. When the frost is 3 or 4 deep in the ground and the top two feet of a road thaws the melt water is sitting on frozen ground and has nowhere to go, and this results in a car swallowing quagmire that acts almost like quicksand. Those who live on unpaved roads have quite a time of it every year. The mud can sometimes be as much as 12-16 inches deep but I haven’t seen it that bad here yet this year. Quite often the mud gets bad enough to close unpaved roads and the logging and over the road shipping industries virtually grind to a halt until things dry out. Mud season has come early this year, so if you need a load of sand, gravel, loam, building materials or other such things you should be prepared to wait until April or May.

7-dandelion

I’ve seen dandelions blooming in January but that was during an extremely warm winter when the temperature barely fell below freezing. I’ve never seen one bloom this early after a winter like the one we’ve had. To say that I was surprised would be an understatement.

8-cress-blossom

Tiny white flowers bloomed in a lawn. They were so small that three or four of them could have been hidden behind a pea, so I had to kneel in the muddy grass to get a photo of them. I think it belongs to the cress family, which is large with many plants that look alike. It might be spring cress (Cardamine bulbosa,) but I’m really not sure.

9-crocus

These crocus blossoms were a real surprise because I’ve been checking crocus beds and have only seen the leaf tips poking out in all but this bed. I’ve also seen tulips leaves just out of the ground. They might be rushing things a bit.

10-daffodils

Last year these daffodils came up too early and got badly frost bitten. I fear that they’re repeating the same mistake this year, because we’ve gone from the 60s back down to the 30s now.

11-red-maple-buds

Huge swaths of forest bleed with a red haze from red maple buds (Acer rubrum) each spring and it’s starting to happen now.  I’ve tried to get photos of it from above and below, but so far I haven’t had any luck.

12-red-maple-buds

The bud scales on red maple buds can be deep purple in winter, but when it warms up in spring the scales pull back to reveal the tomato red buds they’ve been protecting, and that’s what causes the red haze seen on our forested hillsides. Seeing what must be millions of them together is a spring sight not soon forgotten.

13-pussy-willow-buds

I told myself I was on a fool’s errand the day I went to see if the pussy willow catkins were showing, but there they were. The single bud scales of what I think is the American pussy willow (Salix discolor) open in late winter to reveal the fuzzy gray male catkins. As these flowers age yellow stamens will appear and will begin releasing pollen. The bees will be buzzing at about that time and they will further cross pollinate the many willow varieties. Henry David Thoreau once said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused,” and I have to agree.

14-pussy-willow

The Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about the medicinal properties of willow in the fifth century BC, and Native Americans across North America used the plants medicinally for pain relief for many thousands of years. Finally in 1829 scientists discovered that a compound in the bark of willows called salicin was what relieved pain. Chemically, salicin resembles aspirin.

15-witch-hazwl-blossoms

I was surprised to see the spring (Vernal) witch hazel blooming so early. Though we do have a native vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), it doesn’t grow naturally this far north, and since this one is in a park I’m betting it’s one of the cultivated witch hazels, so maybe it has been bred for early blooms. The other American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) that is native to New England blooms in the fall and grows in the same park.

The Native American Mohegan tribes are believed to have been the first to show English settlers how to use Y-shaped witch hazel sticks for dowsing, an ancient method of finding underground water. Settlers all across the country used this method to find water and it was successful enough to be exported back to Europe. Its twigs are still used by dowsers in the same way today.

17-witch-hazwl-blossoms-close

The Native American Osage tribe used witch hazel bark to treat skin ulcers and sores and my father always kept a bottle of witch hazel ointment for his hands. Many people have most likely used witch hazel without even realizing it; it’s a chief ingredient of Preparation H. Studies have found active compounds in witch hazel such as flavonoids, tannins (hamamelitannin and proanthocyanidins), and volatile oils that give it astringent action to stop bleeding.

17-witch-hazwl-blossoms-close

Witch hazel blossoms are pollinated by owlet moths, which are active in winter and are called winter moths. These moths raise their body temperature by shivering. Their temperature can rise as much as 50 degrees and this allows them to fly and search for food when it’s cold.  I think these blossoms were ready for a visit from them.

18-orange-witch-hazel

I have to say that I’m not a fan of orange witch hazel blossoms because they aren’t as bright and cheery as the yellow ones, but when it comes to fragrance the orange flowers beat the yellow hands down. I know a spot on the local college grounds where several large orange flowered shrubs grow and on this day all I had to do was follow my nose, because their clean spicy fragrance could be detected from two blocks away. Someone said the fragrance was like that of clean laundry just off the line, but I think it’s even better than that, especially after a long winter. One shrub still had a nursery tag still on it that read “Hamamelis vernalis,” so they are our native vernal witch hazels. Odd that they don’t grow naturally this far north. They seem to do well here; these examples must be 10 feet tall. If I were planting witch hazels I’d mix the yellow and orange flowered varieties; one for cheer and one for fragrance.

19-puddle-ice

The paper thin white puddle ice that makes that strange tinkling sound when it’s broken always takes me back to my boyhood. Seeing this ice on puddles after a long winter meant that spring was here and though nights still got cold and icy, the days were warm and muddy. My spirits used to soar at the thought of spring when I was a boy and that’s something I’ve carried with me all of my life. The difference is now I look at the ice instead of breaking it to hear it tinkle, because I can see so much in it. The waves that formed it, bubbles and birds flying, mountains, distant suns, space and time; all are there for the seeing, but few take the time to look.

20-sap-buckets

As I write this last entry the thermometer reads 34 degrees, so our week long flirtation with high spring has ended. The dandelion blossom has probably been frost bitten and the witch hazels have most likely stored away their petals for another warm day, but 34 degrees is above freezing and that’s what maple syrup producers want. Days above freezing and nights below freezing get the tree sap flowing  and the sap buckets have been hung, so there’s no turning back now. True spring must surely be right around the corner.

It’s spring fever, that’s what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

Thanks for coming by. Happy March first!

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