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Posts Tagged ‘River Flooding’

When I came to this wildlife management area back in September, I saw an amzing number of flowers in bloom but I also noticed the trees. They were almost all maples and of course they were all green then but I thought they must be glorious in the fall, so that’s what this post is about. We’re going into that forest you see in the above photo.

The wires you saw in the previous photo are from the high-tension powerlines that run through here. I played under them as a boy and have walked under them off and on for most of my life, but a few years ago a man was electrocuted very near here when a wooden cross arm failed and a wire fell and touched the ground. The current travels through the ground and will kill you long before you get close to the fallen wire, so now I always look up to make sure all the wires are hanging where they should be. On this day they looked fine but I wasn’t going to be under them long.

It was a cloudy, cool day; the kind of day you find bees sleeping on flowers, and that’s what one was doing. At this time of year I often find bumblebees have died while hanging on to flowers but I saw it slowly move so not this one, not yet. I’ve always thought that there is little in nature more perfect than a bee dying while clinging to a flower. The two are inseperable. In fact the two are really one.

There were pockets of New England asters still blooming beautifully in the sunniest spots, but most are done for this year.

The mowed trail makes it seem as if you are walking through a vast park laid out by a landscape designer but this is still the same forest I grew up playing in as a boy. The path must have been the idea of the local college. I’m happy to see it because it opens the forest up to many people who would have never come here otherwise.

I’m glad this place will be protected. Maybe other children will fall in love with it as I did.

The colors weren’t what I expected and I think that was because the trees here are mostly all silver maples, which turn yellow in the fall. You need red maples for the rich oranges and reds. Silver maple is a short lived tree, and that’s why most of the trees in this post appear young.

I’ve never met a single person out here but I’d like to run into someone who knew what these mile markers are all about. I’ve seen two, this one and another that says 1.56 miles. Without knowing where the start point is they don’t mean much but I’m guessing that local college students must run through here. The area floods so the soil is too soft for a bike race, I would think. It’s almost mud in places.

Wild cucumbers (Echinocystis lobata) have finished flowering for the year…

…and now they’re busy making fruit. My friends and I used to spend a lot of time throwing these soft spined fruits at each other at this time of year.

Smallish asters grew in the woods in the sunnier spots. They were too big and too light colored to be blue wood asters I think, but not big enough to be New England asters.

I saw rose hips but for a change they weren’t on an invasive multiflora rose. They were too big for that rose, so I’ll have to come back next year to see what rose it is.

Some of the staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) had changed color and they were getting beautiful. Sumacs have quite a color range, from purple to bright red to pumkin orange.

I walked a few steps to the edge of the river and remembered that these river banks are often undercut, so you can find yourself standing on only an inch or two of soil without realizing it. They’ve crumbled away beneath me before and I didn’t need that, so I took a couple of quick shots and backed off. That’s one of many things I learned here as a boy. Nature taught me much and I dreamed a lot of dreams out here. After reading Ivan Sanderson’s Book of Great Jungles this is where I hatched the plan to become a great plant explorer. I told myself I’d visit all of those jungles I had read about and bring back plants so beautiful people would weep at the sight of them. In the end I had to lower my sights a bit and bring plants back from nurseries instead of jungles. I did indeed bring beautiful plants to people’s gardens but there wasn’t any weeping involved. I might have heard a gasp or two.

Here was one of those muddy spots I was talking about. Much too damp for bicycles I would think, though I have seen those wide tire bikes going through snow.

This was the wettest spot. The river flooded over summer and this land has never completely dried out because of the weekly rains we’re still seeing. Out here is where the fear of high water first took hold of me. We lived very close to the river and almost every spring snow melt made it rise right to the very top of its banks. Luckily the river bank on the side farthest from our house was slightly lower, so if the river topped its banks all the water spilled into these woods and into the many cornfields in the area. I saw it happen again just this past summer and it’s still scary.

I was surprised to find the lots of the pale-yellow flowers of wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) out here. These were kind of sulfur yellow but they can also be white or pink. This plant is considered a noxious weed because it gets into forage and grain crops. Everyone seems to agree that this is a non-native plant but nobody seems to know exactly where it came from or how it got here.

Here is another example of the soft, muted color of silver maples. They’re still pretty but for color variation and saturation they can’t match red maples. The day was also cloudy and that can also knock some of the punch out of certain fall colors.

A freshly fallen silver maple leaf on the trail looked nice and bright though.

There were large colonies of foxtail grass (Setaria faberi) out here too. It and all of the other plants in this post don’t mind wet feet, and can even stand a bit of flooding.

In this spot it had gotten so wet in the flooding that all of the grass disappeared from the trail but the sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis) on either side still thrived, and that’s because they don’t mind wet ground. For that reason they’re a good wetland indicator. They always make me happy I’ve had sense enough to wear waterproof hiking boots.

Common milkweeds (Asclepias syriaca) are releasing their seeds. They like to colonize disturbed ground and can form huge colonies in places that are to their liking. They like dry ground though, so it was surprising to find them here. Last summer the spot where they grow was under water for several days.

Because of all the flooding that has gone on here for who knows how many thousands of years the soil is rich and fertile, and nothing showed that better than the chickweeds that grew more thickly and looked healthier than I’ve ever seen. It’s as if they had been fertilized. I believe this was common chickweed (Stellaria media.) Originally from Europe, it has found a home here and has settled in comfortably. It likes damp, shady places.

The Stellaria part of chickweed’s scientific name means star and that’s what the flowers look like; tiny stars shining on the forest floor. They may be considered invasive by some but I think my world is a better place for having them in it. As with most things in this world, if you take a moment to really see them you find that they’re quite beautiful.

In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

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Last Saturday I walked along the Ashuelot River in Keene, hoping to find some marsh bellflowers. As this photo shows, I sure found plenty of pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata.) Beautiful ribbons of it lined the banks. They are probably why I see so many ducks and geese here. Ducks eat the seeds and geese eat the leaves.

The water was about as high as it gets thanks to some very heavy rain throughout the month of July. Another foot or so higher and in places it would have been over the trail.

Luckily most of the trail stays high and dry but I found the side trail I needed to use to see the marsh bellflowers was under about 6 inches of water, so I couldn’t get to them or the mad dog skullcap plants that live there. With my lungs I can’t be falling into rivers. I doubt I could swim ten strokes.

I did see a buttonbush shrub (Cephalanthus occidentalis) up to its neck in water but it was blooming. I know another plant along the river in Swanzey that is sometimes under water when the river is high, but it doesn’t seem to bother it.

The small flowers of tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) are more white than blue this year from what I’ve seen so far. This plant has an odd look, sometimes reaching ten feet tall with flowers hardly bigger than a pencil eraser at the very top. Luckily this flower was just about at eye level, because the stalks of this plant don’t take kindly to being bent. They’ll often snap right in two.

I’ve seen thousands of Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) buds this year but not a single flower yet. That’s okay with me though, because I’ve always thought the buds were as pretty as the flowers. They seem to have a deeper color.

There is a bumper crop of blueberries this year. The bushes are loaded with berries anywhere I go so all the critters will be happy. I’ve noticed that the birds aren’t paying much attention to them yet though.

Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) grew here and there but it doesn’t seem to be doing well along this trail this year. The plants looked a bit weak and kind of ragged.

I saw quite a lot of Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) plants along the trail but this was the only one I saw with fruit. After a time these green berries will become deep, purple-black. And then they’ll disappear. I think turkeys get them before anyone else. A good healthy plant can stand just about as tall as a turkey’s eye is from the ground.

As I say every year; spring and fall begin on the forest floor. This Indian cucumber root illustrates what I mean.

“But it’s only August,” you say. “Surely the Indian cucumber root was a fluke?” Unfortunately, that argument can’t stand; this tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) also whispered hints of fall.

And so did this sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis.) Soon all of the squirrels and chipmunks will be gathering their nuts and seeds. Who needs a calendar?

I couldn’t decide which was prettier, this royal fern or its shadow, so I took a photo of both.

A depression in the woods was filled with water but the water had a strange cloudy film on it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before and I can’t imagine what caused it, way off in the woods like it was. It wasn’t oily and it didn’t look like dust. I thought of mushroom spores but it would have taken a lot of mushrooms to do this.

Clubmosses also release spores that float on water but not this one. It looked like it was finished. An interesting thing about clubmoss spores is how, if you fill a glass with water and cover the surface of the water with spores, when you stick your finger in the water and pull it out again it will be covered in spores but will be perfectly dry. Clubmoss spores are waxy and hydrophobic, which means resistant to water. They are also extremely flammable, and once made up the flash powder used to create the flash photographers used to take a photo.

The oak tree that the beavers girdled is done. I don’t know why beavers do this to trees and then leave them standing. After all, the succulent buds and branches are a big reason why they cut trees.

There won’t be any buds on this tree, and the branches will be dry. There wasn’t a leaf on them. Soon the dead branches will begin to fall, and they’re right above the trail.

It’s really too bad that beavers don’t eat Canada mayflowers, because there are many thousands of them on the floor of any forest I visit. They’re a native plant but they act like an invasive plant by creating monocultures that keep other plants from growing. I’ve seen huge stands of nothing but Canada mayflower. And may heaven help you if they get into your garden. Those speckled berries will be bright red and ripe soon, and they’ll disappear quickly.

The closed or bottle gentians (Gentiana linearis) that grow in one spot along the trail looked to be in good shape. Narrow leaf and closed gentian flowers look identical, so you have to look at the leaves carefully to tell the difference. Closed gentian leaves are wider and have a different overall shape than those of narrow leaf gentian. This plant is relatively rare in this area.

And there was the bridge. It crosses what is usually a small stream but on this day the water was licking at its sides. The water level in the river hasn’t dropped much and we’ve had more rain since that day, so I hope it hasn’t washed away.

This photo from last year shows the marsh bellflower (Campanula aparinoides) I came to see. I hoped to get some better shots of the flowers but that probably won’t happen this year without a boat, because it just keeps on raining. Luckily this plant is a perennial so unless the entire riverbank where it grows washes away, I should be able to find it next year. I can’t say how rare it is but I’ve never seen it anywhere but here in this one spot, and I’ve been walking these riverbanks for over 50 years.

Pleasure is spread through the earth in stray gifts to be claimed by whoever shall find them. ~William Wordsworth

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