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Posts Tagged ‘River Grapes’

What I would have to call my favorite rail trail was calling to me and had been for a week or two, but I had resisted its pull until this day. Like getting a song out of your head by playing it, I had to walk this trail to stop it from calling, so here we are. Since I love jungles, I was happy to see that the area had almost become one. I hadn’t been here since last February and of course I didn’t see how overgrown it had become then.

The first thing I noticed was orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) flowering along the side of the trail. Orchard grass is a pretty little grass. In my opinion a kind of architectural grass, if there could be such a thing. It was introduced into this country over two hundred years ago as a forage crop and of course it immediately escaped and is now everywhere I go. That’s fine with me because it’s very pretty when it flowers, as can be seen in the photo.

I followed the railroad tracks that were here when I was a boy every chance I had and one of my favorite things to do as I walked along in summer was to eat the raspberries that grew here. Last summer when I came here I didn’t see any, but there were plenty on this day. Not ripe yet but they’re coming along.

Blackberries are also waiting in the wings.

My biggest surprise on this day was finding ragged robin flowers (Lychnis flos-cuculi) growing along the trail. I’ve never seen them in any other place than in Hancock where I used to work, and I searched for many years before I found them there.

It’s a very unusual flower that is hard to find and amazingly, here it was right where I first flowered. I hope to one day see many of them here. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields.

Multiflora roses (Rosa multiflora) have just started blooming and the pollen eaters aren’t wasting any time. Though this small flowered rose from China is very invasive it is also highly fragrant and I’ve always loved smelling it as I walk along. Birds plant it everywhere and I’ve met people who fertilized it, not knowing what it was or where it came from, but thankful for its wonderful scent. I’ve seen it climb 30 feet up into trees without any fertilizer, so personally I’d just let it be.

This is where as a boy I discovered that the best walks are unplanned. They are those with no purpose, when you have nothing to gain and no destination in mind. You just surrender yourself to the unknown and wander the countryside, and over and over again you stop, you see, you wonder, you learn. This is where I discovered the value of empty space and silence, and first found the solitude that was to become a life long friend. My grandmother worried about my being alone out here and thought I was “brooding,” as she put it. She thought I was deeply unhappy because I didn’t have a mother, but had I been older I would have asked her, how can you miss what you’ve never known? I was too young and didn’t have the words to explain to her that what I really felt out here was pure unencumbered bliss.

I tell these stories hoping that they will resonate with the parents and grandparents out there. Let your children and grandchildren run free in nature. Let them wander and wonder. Or, if you can’t bear to cut them loose, go with them. If you can’t bear that send them off to a nature camp. Nature will become their teacher, and they will be all the better for it. Just be prepared to find them books on botany, biology, entomology, nature study, etc., etc, because their heads will be full of questions. They’ll want to know everything; not about the latest video game but about life and their place in it.

I went down the embankment to see what was once a cornfield, but what is now forest. Nothing but silver and red maples, and sensitive ferns. All of it has sprung up over the last 50 years or so, which means that I’m older than everything in this photo. The way the flooding of the river and Ash Brook happens now I doubt this will ever be farmland again.

I was surprised to find bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) out here because I’ve never seen them here before. Next May I’ll have to come back and see their flowers.

I could tell that the plants had bloomed because they had seedpods on them. They also had poison ivy growing all around them and I knelt right in it. As of this writing my knees aren’t itching but since I end up with a poison ivy rash every year I won’t be surprised if they do.

Something seemed to be ravaging the new buds on American hazelnuts (Corylus americana), which will mean no nuts this year on this bush.

I can’t blame this tiny creature for the damaged hazelnut buds but it was the only insect I found on the plant. After a bit of searching I have been able to identify it as the larva of an Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis) so it was not eating the hazelnut buds. It will actually eat the aphids that do harm to so many plants.

River grapes (Vitis riparia) were flowering in high numbers and I was happy to see them. I hope the grapes will draw the Baltimore orioles back to the area. There used to be lots of them when I was young but I never see them out here anymore. Grape flowers are among the smallest I see but when thousands of them bloom together their wonderful fragrance can be smelled from quite a distance. I’m sure many have smelled them and not known what they were smelling. The vines climb high into the treetops by using tendrils, and you can just see one over on the left, looking for something to cling to.

Other plants have different strategies when it comes to climbing. Native climbing false buckwheat (Fallopia scandens) does it by sending long shoots straight up, hoping to find something to twine itself around. This one missed the mark by a few feet but it will just fall over after a bit and grab on to whatever it can. Eventually it will get to where the most sunlight is. This plant is also called climbing bindweed and there are invasives that resemble it.

A bicycle built for two had ridden over the trestle just before I reached it. I saw lots of people on bikes out here on this day including an old friend I hadn’t seen in many years. I was glad to see so many people using the trail. That means it will stay open and will be cared for.

I went down beside the trestle, which is something I used to do regularly years ago, just to explore. The banks seem to have narrowed quite a lot between the stream and the abutments since those days but I suppose it’s in the nature of a stream to want to widen over the years. I wanted to go under the trestle but I didn’t trust the mud there. When conditions are right you can sink into it quickly. I saw animal tracks but no human ones, so I stayed away.

I tried to get a good shot of the entire trestle but low hanging silver maple limbs were in the way. Since when I was a boy I had to cross another trestle near my house to get to this one, this will always be the second trestle to me. Its sides are much lower than the first trestle for some reason, maybe only as high as the bottom of a rail car. For that reason I also think of it as the small trestle. When I was a boy, I could and often did sit out here all day long and not see another person. The brook meets the Ashuelot river just around that bend and there is a high sand bluff where bank swallows used to nest, and I would sit and watch them for hours, wondering how a bird could dig a hole.

Ash Brook was calm and shallow and behaving nicely on this day but I wasn’t fooled by its calm demeanor. I’ve seen it rage and swell up and pour over its banks too many times. This was a good place to learn about the true power of nature.  

As you get closer to the brook the trees get bigger because this land was never cleared like the land from a few photos ago was. It wasn’t cleared for planting because it has always flooded, but never like it has lately. You can see where the waterline shows on some of the tree trunks from the flooding last February. The water here would have been up to my chest in this spot, I’d guess, which is deeper than I’ve ever seen it. I remember standing on the embankment listening to the hissing, creaking and cracking ice. Of course deeper water means it spreads further over the land, and that’s why there is no corn grown anywhere near here now. It takes too long for the soil to dry out so planting can begin.  

The undergrowth in the photos of the forest is made up almost entirely of sensitive ferns (Onoclea sensibilis). Many thousands of them grow here, for as far as the eye can see. They, like the trees, don’t mind wet ground and in fact they are a good wetland indicator. Their rhizomes branch and creep and as this photo shows, this fern can form large colonies. I know this fern is toxic to cattle and horses but I don’t know if it is toxic to wildlife. I do know that Deer and muskrats won’t eat it. The only animal I’ve ever seen have anything to do with it was a beaver that was swimming down the river with a huge bundle of fronds in its mouth one day. I supposed it would use them for soft bedding rather than food.

Though there were so many ferns you couldn’t see the ground, more were still coming. I’ve heard that you can eat the spring fiddleheads but I certainly wouldn’t.

Can you see the wind when you look at this nodding sedge (Carex gynandra)? See how the hanging seed spikes aren’t hanging perfectly vertical? The breeze came from the right and the camera had to stop the motion.

On the way back I saw lots of stitchwort blossoms (Stellaria graminea) that I hadn’t seen on the way out. They’re pretty little things and I’m always happy to see them, even if they are a weed.

I also saw plenty of fuzzy staghorn sumac buds (Rhus typhina). Soon they will be tiny green fuzzy flowers that will become first pink and then red, fuzzy berries. This was the first time I’ve noticed that the buds spiral up the stem. The spiral is nature’s way of packing the most flower buds into the least amount of space, but that’s only one example of how nature uses spirals. I see them everywhere all the time, in everything from trees to snail shells to coiled snakes. It’s just another one of those many things in nature that makes you wonder and seek answers.

Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the stars and the mountains above. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.  ~David Polis

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According to statistics November is on average the cloudiest month in this part of the country, but as you can see by the above photo not every day is totally cloudy. This was one of those blue sky, white puffy cloud days and I took this photo because of the clouds. That lower one was growing quickly and I thought it might become a thunderhead, but it never did. It just got bigger.

Many of the photos in this post were taken before the snowstorm I showed in the last post. Snow or not I won’t be seeing anymore fleabane flowers for a few months now. It’s just too cold now for flowers.

November can be a very cold month, when we start to really realize that winter is right around the corner. Frost on the windows helps remind us of that, and I caught this frost crystal growing on my car winshield. They’re beautiful things that most of us pay no attention to.

Ponds are starting to freeze up as well. Bright sunshine has little real warmth in November unless it is coupled with a southerly breeze.

I went to the river to see if any ice baubles had formed along the shore but I got sidetracked for a bit by the beautiful light.

I’ve never seen this stretch of water look gold and blue like it did on this morning.

It was like seeing molten light. None of these colors have been enhanced by me. Nature did all the enhancing.

And on another, colder day, there were ice baubles growing along the shore. If you’ve ever made a candle, you know that you dip the wick in hot wax over and over again, letting the wax harden between dips. If you think of the twigs as wicks, you can see how every wave crest “dips” the twigs in water and the cold air hardens that water into ice. Over time, ice baubles like those seen here form.

Twigs aren’t the only thing that the ice forms on. Anything that the water splashes on over and over will ice up.

The ice baubles are usually as clear as blown glass but on this day a lot of them had air bubbles trapped inside. Many of these examples were nearly round as well but they’re often more pear shaped. Along a river or stream is the only place I’ve ever seen them form in this way, though I suppose they could form anywhere where there is splashing water in winter.

On shore, the sun lit up an oak leaf beautifully.

Some of the biggest oak leaves I’ve ever seen belong to the swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor.) This is a rare species in the woods here but in 2010 the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services removed a 250-year-old timber crib dam in this section of river, and when they replanted the river banks, they chose swamp white oak as one of the tree species. Though the trees are barely 10 feet tall this leaf must have been 8 inches long. Brown is the fall color for the leaves of this oak. The New Hampshire state record for the largest swamp white oak is held by a tree in Swanzey. It is 67 feet tall and has a circumference of 192 inches. That’s 16 feet, so I’m not sure if even 4 people could link hands around a tree that size.

One characteristic of swamp white oak is peeling bark on its branches, giving it a ragged look. On young trees like these even the bark of the trunk will peel, as it was on this example. Planting this species of tree here makes sense because it is tolerant of a variety of soil conditions and can stand drought or flood. The only thing they can’t bear is beavers, and these critters have cut down and hauled off many of them.

When I was taking photos of this tree’s branches I looked down and sure enough, beavers had been at its bark. This tree is a goner, I’m afraid. It has been girdled.

At this time of year, when the soil starts to freeze but before any snow falls, you can often hear the soil crunch when you walk on it. That’s the signal that you should get down on your hands and knees and peer down into those tiny frozen canyons. If you do you’re liable to find ice needles there, because the crunching you heard was probably them breaking. Several things have to happen before needle ice can form. First there has to be groundwater. Next, the air temperature has to fall below 32 degrees F right at the soil surface while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces 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. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape, and that needles have been found that were 16 inches long. The needles in these photos were 1-3 inches long I’d guess, and they were frozen into ribbons. They’re another of those gems of nature that many never see.

Puddle ice has been a friend of mine for a very long time. When I was a boy, after the snow melted in spring, I’d get my bike out and ride it to school. It was still cold enough for ice to form on the puddles and I used to think it was great fun to ride through them so I could hear the strange tinkling / crinkling sounds that the breaking ice made. I have since found out that the whiter the ice, the more oxygen was present in the water when it formed. These days instead of breaking the ice I look for things in it. This time I thought I saw a penguin in that curvy shape to the right of center.

I saw a pair of mallards but this is the only shot that came out useable. I thought this was unusual because usually one will tip up while the other stands guard and watches.

An oriental bittersweet vine had reached the top of a small tree and many of its berries had fallen into a bird’s nest, built where the branches met underneath the bittersweet. Birds love these berries but I think the bird that built this nest must be long gone for warmer climes. These vines are terribly invasive so the fewer berries eaten by birds, the better.

The birds have been eating the river grapes, finally.

They have plenty to eat. It has been an exceptional year for grapes and many other plants.

I love that shade of blue on juniper berries. A waxy coating called bloom reflects the light in a way that makes them that color. I always wonder how many gin drinkers know that the unique flavor in their drink comes from this plant’s fruits. Though they’re called berries, botanically speaking juniper fruits are actually fleshy seed cones. Unripe green berries are used to flavor gin and the ripe, deep purple-black berries are the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice, often used on game like venison, moose and bear meat. Birds also love them so they won’t last long.

The winterberries (Ilex verticillata) are covered with berries this year. This native holly holds its berries through the winter and they look great against the white snow. They have a very low-fat content and birds won’t eat them until other fruits with higher fat contents have been eaten. Other plants that fruit in the fall like maple leaf viburnum, high bush cranberry, and staghorn sumac also produce fruit that is low in fat content. That’s why you often see these plants with the previous season’s berries still on them in the spring. Due to the light of the day all three cameras I carried had a hard time with these berries but I wasn’t surprised because red is one of the hardest colors for a camera to capture.

I found a very old hemlock log. The branches had been cut off long ago but the stubs that were left were amazing in their texture. It was if someone had carved them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before.

Orange fan shaped jelly fungi (Dacryopinax spathularia) grew on the dark end of a log and looked like tiny lights. Actually they were more nose shaped than spatula shaped but I’ve found that fungi don’t always live up to what they were named. In the winter they’re a pretty spot of color in a white world.

But for color in winter turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) have to take the prize. These examples were beautiful, and they wore my favorite turkey tail color combinations.

I saw this foreboding sky at dawn one morning. I thought it was beautiful and I hope you’ll think so too.

In a few blinks you can almost see the winter fairies moving in
But first, you hear the crackle of their wings. ~Vera Nazarian

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I’ve seen a lot of deer over the course of this blog but every time I’ve seen them I either didn’t have the right camera with me, or I’ve been driving a car. Once I drove right up to a doe like this one on a tractor and she just stood there, 5 feet away until I tugged open the velcro camera case I carry. As soon as she heard the rip of the velcro she was gone like a shot. But she was okay with me being so close until then, and this one was fine with me being close too. This time I made sure I made no strange sounds.

She had two fawns and they all fed on green grass in a cornfield while I watched. The thought came to me then that they were feeding on pure sunshine.

They were beautiful creatures, so gentle and quiet. I didn’t hear a sound out of them the whole time I watched. I tried to get a shot of their tails in the air; they were constantly flicking their tails to keep flies away, but I missed every time.

Slowly the doe led her fawns to the edge of the woods, and then they were gone. I was grateful to have seen them and I hope they have an easy time of it this winter.

This big, 3 foot long northern water snake was not quite so easy with my being close to it as the deer were but at least it didn’t leave. All I had for a camera was my phone so I had to lean in quite close to get this shot. It was a gamble because, though these snakes don’t have fangs they can bite and scratch the skin, and I’ve heard that you might get a nasty infection if that happens. I took a couple of quick shots and left it to soak up some more sunshine. That’s all it was really after.

I followed this small, fidgety butterfly around for several minutes, trying to get a shot of its beautiful blue wings. Blue that is, on the upper part of the wings. The underside of the wings is white or very pale blue with dark markings and I doubted that I’d be able to identify it, but it was relatively easy. It’s a holly blue butterfly (Celastrina argiolus) so called because the larvae feed on Holly. They also eat euonymus, dogwoods, snowberries and other wild and cultivated plants. They don’t sit still long, so you’ve got to be quick.

Here are the beautiful upper wings of the holly blue butterfly in an excellent photo by By Charles J. Sharp that I found on Wikipedia. This is a female, identified by the large dark areas on the wing edges. The wing color is a kind of silvery blue that shimmers beautifully in the light.

I saw this insect exploring queen Anne’s lace blossoms. I haven’t been able to identify it but I like its big eyes. It could be one of the flesh flies (Sarcophagae.)

A cabbage white butterfly (I think) explored flowers at a local garden. This species is originally from Europe along with quite a few of the cabbage family of plants that their caterpillars feed on.

Quite often at this time of year I’ll see hickory tussock moth caterpillars (Lophocampa caryae) everywhere, but so far this year I’ve only seen two or three. They have a stark beauty but each one should come with a warning label because those long hairs can imbed themselves in your skin and cause all kinds of problems, from rashes to infections.

If you’ve never seen how beavers start building a dam, this shot is for you. And where did they build it? Why, in Beaver Brook of course. Beavers are busy damming up the brook that was named after them again and the town road crews aren’t happy about that, because if you leave these dams in place roads and businesses flood. Since this brook was named after beavers when Keene was first settled in the 1700s, I’m guessing that there have always been plenty of them in it. Since building ponds is what beavers do, I’m also guessing that building so close to this brook wasn’t a good idea. Some industrial buildings in town even have the brook running under them and they have been flooded. It’s hard to believe that someone actually thought that was a good idea.

I’ve seen a lot of red bark on conifers like hemlock and pine but here it was on an oak. It isn’t always red; it can be orange as well. I’ve read that it affects all kinds of trees, both conifers and deciduous, and many different species, but this is the first time I’ve seen it on a hardwood. Red bark is caused by the algae Trentepohlia, which is a genus of filamentous chlorophyte green algae in the family Trentepohliaceae. It appears on tree trunks, stones and is even present in many lichens. Scientists are very interested in why it is attracted to tree bark and call it RBP for red bark phenomenon. Alga in Latin means seaweed, so I suppose it’s no wonder they’re so curious about it.

Pouch galls on stag horn sumac (Rhus typhina) are caused by the sumac gall aphid (Melaphis rhois.) These galls look like some kind of fruit but they are actually hollow inside and teeming with thousands of aphids. They average about golf ball size and change from light yellow to pinkish red as they age. Scientists have paleobotanical evidence that this aphid has had a relationship with its sumac hosts for at least 48 million years. The galls can also be found on smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) They remind me of potatoes so I always think of them as potato galls.

It’s a great year for wild grapes. Our woods are full of ripe river grapes (Vitis riparia) 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 smaller than cultivated grapes and 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. They sometimes remind me of Aesop’s fable about the fox and the grapes, which teaches that we shouldn’t belittle and depise that which is beyond our reach.

Oaks also seem to be doing well this year. I’ve seen trees like this one with quite a crop of acorns. I can’t say if it’s a mast year yet though. In a mast year the trees grow a bumper crop and produce much more fruit than in a non-mast year. Scientists believe that by sometimes producing huge amounts of seed that at least some will survive being eaten by birds and animals and grow into trees. Many acorns survive intact until spring in a mast year.

I’m not sure what is going on with our birds but I’m seeing lots of black cherries on the ground under the trees this year. You can see in this photo that it doesn’t look like a single one has been picked. According to the USDA black cherries are eaten by the American robin, brown thrasher, mockingbird, eastern bluebird, European starling, gray catbird, blue jay, willow flycatcher, northern cardinal, common crow, and waxwings, thrushes, woodpeckers, grackles, grosbeaks, sparrows, and vireos. So why aten’t they eating them? There are three cherry species native to New Hampshire, Pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana) and black cherry (Prunus serotina). We also have a native plum, which is the wild American plum (Prunus americana).

Of our native cherries both choke and black cherries are edible. Black cherries have the largest fruits, and they can be identified by the cup like structure found where the stem meets the fruit. Black cherries are the only ones that have this feature, and you can see it on two or three of the cherries in this shot. Rounded, blunt serrations on the leaf edges are another identifier. Choke cherries have sharp, pointed serrations.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) grows just about everywhere here these days but I can’t remember ever seeing it as a boy. It was always considered a southern plant but like opossums, it has found its way north. People eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. They also used the plant for dye and a while ago I recieved a letter from a woman who was looking for the berries to use just that way. She freezes them until she has enough to make a batch of dye so I told her where to find them them along the river in Swanzey. She should be gathering them this year because I’ve never seen so many pokeweed berries as there are right now.

I like to look for the pink “flowers” at the base of the dark purple poke weed berries. They are actually what’s left of the flower’s five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. They’re very pretty and worth looking for.

The red-orange fruit in fall and white flowers in spring have made American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) a gardener’s favorite and that’s where you’ll find most of them in this area. This tree grows where I work. I do see them in the wild, but rarely. 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.

Another plant that is having a good year is silky dogwood. The bushes are loaded with berries this year and the cedar waxwings will be very happy about that because they love them. This is a large shrub that grows in part shade near rivers and ponds. It gets its common name from the soft, silky hairs that cover the branches. Native Americans smoked the bark like tobacco. They also twisted the bark into rope and made fish traps from the branches. 

The berries of silky dogwood start out porcelain white and slowly change to dark blue. Once ripe they’ll go fast. Every time I see these berries I wonder if the idea for the blue and white porcelain made in ancient China came from berries like these. I’ve looked it up and tried to find out but blue and white porcelain has been around for a very long time. The cobalt “Persian blue” glaze was imported from what is now Iran as early as the seventh century, so it’s impossible I think to find out where the original idea for the blue and white color combination germinated. I do know that lots of artists look to nature for inspiration.

These bright red seedpods of the marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) have nothing to do with fruit but I like the color, so here they are. Seeing them glowing red all along the edges of ponds is a beautiful sight.

In the continuing saga of the poor farmer who lost all his corn to drought last year, and this year had his fields flooded so badly there were herons and egrets fishing in them; he has come up with a new plan. I know he tried winter wheat in one of his fields last year but then I recently saw something low growing, with yellow flowers, so I went to see what it could be.

At first I thought he was growing pumpkins, because I think I’ve heard that cows eat pumpkins but no, it was squash, and what appears to be butternut squash. Now my question is, how do you harvest squash on such a large scale? The fields are huge and I can’t see anyone actually picking all these squashes, so is the entire plant harvested? Everyone knows how prickly a squash plant can be; can cows eat such a prickly thing? Can the harvesting machines separate the squash and the vines? Unless someone who knows cows writes in, I suppose I’ll just have to watch and see.

Beautiful little shin-high purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis) grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its misty flower heads look like purple ground fog for a while before eventually turn a tannish color and breaking off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall. Years ago I learned the secret of photographing purple grasses by taking photos of this grass. It wasn’t easy to get the color correct in a photo but as a nature photographer you never stop learning, and nature itself is often the best teacher.

You’d think, after driving the same road to work every day for so long now that it would have become kind of ho-hum for me but it hasn’t, and this is why. I just never know what I’ll find around the next bend. I hope all of your days are filled with beauty, wonder and awe, whether you drive or not.

The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery. ~Anaïs Nin

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These days, at least where I work, you don’t actually rake leaves very often. We have leaf vacuums and leaf blowers that take care of what by the end of the season is a huge mountain of leaves. If I were to do it all with a rake I’d still be raking when the leaves started falling next year but there are always little corners and such where only a rake will do, and this post is about one of those. I had one little corner left to do to finish the season but when I started to rake I saw the plant shoots seen above, so I put down the rake and raked with my fingers, gently. I believe the shoots are from the Stella d’ Oro daylily (Hemerocallis) that grows here, but snowdrops grow here as well so they could be those. 

This seed pod is definitely from the daylily and it has been eaten by an unknown insect. Stella d’ Oro daylilies are popular because it was one of the first “ever blooming” day lilies. The dwarf plant has flowers that only last a day like any daylily but there are so many of them that it blooms for months and will often be the latest blooming daylily in a flower bed. This plant was developed in 1975 and is still seen all along city streets and in commercial parking lots.

Pulling the leaves away also revealed a tiny fern fiddlehead, no bigger in diameter than a pencil eraser. I believe it was a sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis). Several of them grow in this spot because it is shaded and damp.

The spore casings (sori) of the sensitive fern are unmistakable so you don’t need leaves to identify it. It’s leaves had long since gone because, as the early settlers who gave its common name noticed, it is extremely sensitive to frost. I’ve read that turkeys will peck at and eat the sori, and that is why sometimes you find the fern’s spores lying on the snow around the plant.

I found a tiny seedling under the leaves, hardly bigger than a pea. It might pay for its hurry to grow.

Beside where I was working false dandelions (Hypochaeris radicata) grew. This plant gets its name from its resemblance to the dandelion, but it would be hard to mistake one for the other. The flowers are about half the size of a true dandelion and they bob around on long, wiry stems. At a glance you might think you were seeing a hawkweed flower when you look at a false dandelion flower because they’re close to the same size. One look at the leaves however, will show you that you’re seeing something entirely different because they resemble those of the dandelion more than hawkweed foliage. Hawkweed and false dandelion also bloom at different times, which helps when trying to identify them.

Once I had raked all the leaves I had to wander a bit and see what I could see. A blackberry grew nearby and it had leaves that started to show their purple / red fall color. At least that’s how I see them; my color finding software sees only gray, green and a bit of orange, which seems odd.

Mouse ear hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella) does well here and there are literally thousands of plants blooming in June and July. Their yellow flowers resemble those of false dandelion but that plant has longer, more wiry flower stems. The basal rosettes of leaves on this plant often turn very deep purple in the fall.

It isn’t hard to see where the name mouse ear came from.

I’m not sure what they’re finding to eat but there are large flocks of yellow shafted flickers here. I find their feathers all the time.

They’re very pretty feathers that you don’t often recognize when they’re still on the bird.

There is a small stream near where I was working so of course I had to explore it. That’s something I’ve never bothered to do in all the time I’ve worked here but on this day nature was calling to me louder than usual.

A gray birch had fallen and the rectangular tear in its bark reminded me of the rectangular hole in a cloud I had seen earlier in the week.

For the first time ever I saw a lichen growing on the bark of a white birch. Lichens normally don’t seem to like white birch but they will grow on the branches of gray birch. This was a beard lichen and it grew on the side of the tree towards the stream. Lichens like lots of humidity and I’d bet that it gets it here.

River grapes grew by the stream. I like to look at grape tendrils because they always seem to remind me of something. In this one I could see the strand-like hypha of a fungus. Two or more hypha are hyphae, and two or more hyphae are mycelium, and mycelium are like the “roots” of a fungus and the above ground parts are the “fruit.” Mycelia are always searching, either for food or for other mycelia. I might have seen all of this in this tendril because I happen to be reading one of the best books on fungi I’ve ever read. It’s called Entangled Life and is written by Merlin Sheldrake. If you know someone with a fungal fascination, they would love this book.

Most of the leaves I was raking were oak and thanks to decomposers like fungi and bacteria many were already on their way to becoming humus. I’ve often wondered what the forest would be like without the decomposers. I  think we’d be up to our eyeballs in sticks, logs, leaves and all the other litter that gathers on the forest floor.

I admired the color and intricacies of yarrow leaves.

I found a log by the stream that was covered by brocade moss (Hypnum imponens). This is a moss I don’t see that often. Brocade moss gets its common name from the way it looks as if it has been embroidered on whatever it happens to be growing on.  It is easily confused with knight’s plume moss (Ptilium crista-castrensis,) but the spore capsules on knights plume moss are elbow macaroni shaped and horizontal, while those of brocade moss are cylindrical and stand vertically.

I saw the reddest alder catkins I’ve ever seen along the stream. They’re often purple, but not usually red in my experience.

Tongue gall licked at the female alder cones, which are called strobiles. These long, tongue like galls are caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus chemically deforms part of the ovarian tissue of the developing strobile and causes long, strap shaped galls called languets to grow from them. These galls, like most galls, don’t seem to bring any harm to their host.  I wish I knew how they benefit from growing in such unusual forms.

Here was a leaf I didn’t recognize. It was big at about a foot long, and very wrinkled. I’d guess dock, simply because it grows nearby.

But then suddenly, there was no longer any reason to think about leaves. The day after I took the photos you’ve seen here it snowed, so the decision has been made; leaf raking season is over. At least for now. Now leaf removal will turn to snow removal, and before long I’ll be cutting grass again.

A fallen leaf is nothing more than a summer’s wave goodbye. ~Anonymous

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This is something I’ve never seen before; the Ashuelot River is so low that it has stopped falling over the dam on West Street in Keene. I’ve known this section of river all my life. I used to fish here at the dam when I was a boy and they still fish for trout, pickerel and sunfish here today. This dam is known as the Faulkner and Colony dam because it was built around 1777 by that company to power their woolen mill. A few years ago there was talk about removing it to open up the river and another idea would refurbish it to generate power but I haven’t heard anything lately about either idea. I like the thought of restoring the river to what it once was without any dams on it. Two other dams have been removed in the past 20 years; one in Swanzey and one in Hinsdale. They were timber crib dams though; this one is granite block.

When gravel bars like these appear in the river it shows low the water really is. It’s amazing how quickly plants will take over these islands.

Though we haven’t had any rain we’ve had several cool nights and cool air over warm water always means mist, as this shot of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows.

There are highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) on the shores of almost all of our ponds and this year they’ve changed into their fall colors early. They’re beautiful in the fall and rival the colors of the invasive burning bush (Euonymus elatus.)

Though I still haven’t found enough mushrooms to do a full mushroom post I still occasionally find examples that can apparently stand the dryness. Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) mushrooms usually grow in large groups, so I was surprised to find this single one growing in an old woodpile. Another common name for them is sulfur shelf though I’ve worked with sulfur and this mushroom doesn’t remind me of it. The name chicken of the woods comes from the way they taste like chicken when cooked. Finding bright colors in the woods at any time of year is always a surprise and I always feel grateful that I am able to see them. This example was about as big as a dinner plate.

I’ve read that as they age chicken of the woods mushrooms lose their orange color and this one did just that over the course of a day or two. I’ve seen other examples however that have never lost their color, even as they rotted away.

Hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa,) is another edible polypore that often grows in the same spot year after year. They are said to look like the back of a brown hen’s ruffled feathers, and that’s how they come by their common name. I’ve seen only two this year and both were cracked like you can see here.

I’ve had quite a time trying to identify this pretty little bolete and I’m still not sure I’ve got it right but most of the signs point to the red mouth bolete (Boletus subvelutipes) which has a variable colored cap that can be tawny red to yellowish and a red pore bearing surface. One identifying feature that I don’t see on this mushroom is the dark red velvety hairs that are “usually” found at the base of the stalk.

The pore surface of the red mouth bolete is bright scarlet red with yellow at the edges, and this fits the example I found. The red mouth bolete also stains purple at the slightest touch and you can see purple spots on the cap and stem of this example. If it isn’t the red mouth bolete I hope someone can tell me what it is. I found it growing under oaks and hemlocks and by the way, I’ve read that you should never eat a bolete with a red spore surface.

I found some orange fan shaped jelly fungi (Dacryopinax spathularia) growing on a log. Some fungi look like they are erupting from the cracks in the bark and this is one of them. It is an edible fungus which, according to Wikipedia, in China is sometimes included in a vegetarian dish called Buddha’s delight.

As well as fan shaped this small fungus is spatula shaped unlike other jellies that are brain like, and that’s where the spathularia part of the scientific name comes from. This is the first time I’ve seen them.

What I believe were common stinkhorns (Phallus impudicus) have appeared despite the dryness. Their caps looked a bit dry, ragged and tattered and they didn’t last for more than a day. These fungi have an  odor like rotting meat when they pass on.  

The green conical cap is sometimes slimy like this example was. It uses its carrion like odor to attract insects, which are said to disperse its sticky spores. This photo shows its spongy stalk, which feels hollow.

Graceful Hindu dancers glided across the forest floor in the guise of yellow spindle coral (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) mushrooms. Each tiny cylinder is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti. This species usually grows in tight clusters, often in the hard packed soil on the side of the trail, but I’ve found them on the forest floor as well.

It’s apple picking time here in New Hampshire and apples are a big business. These examples are red delicious but my personal favorite is an old fashioned variety called northern spy. Northern spy is almost impossible to find in stores these days because they don’t ship well, but you might get lucky at a local orchard. I think many people are surprised to learn that apple trees are not native to the United States. They have all come from old world stock brought over in the 1600s. Apples from Europe were grown in the Jamestown colony and the first non-native apple orchard was planted in Boston in 1625. Only the crab apple is native to this country and they were once called “common” apples. The Native American Abenaki tribe called them “apleziz” and used them for food as well as medicinally.

Peaches are also ripe and ready. Many people, including people who live here, don’t realize that peaches can be grown in New Hampshire but they’ve been grown here for many years.

River grapes (Vitis riparia) are ripe and they’re disappearing quickly. They grow on the banks of rivers and streams, and that’s how they come by the name. They are also called frost grapes because of their extreme cold hardiness. Many birds eat these small grapes including cardinals, mockingbirds, catbirds, robins, wood ducks, several species of woodpecker, cedar waxwings, blue jays, and turkeys. Many animals also love grapes, including foxes, rabbits, raccoons, skunks and opossums. Deer will eat the leaves and new shoots and many birds use the bark for nest building; especially crows. I went back about a week after I took this photo and every grape was gone.

I thought I’d have a hard time identifying these tiny galls I found growing on the underside of an oak leaf but they were relatively easy to find, even though little to nothing is known about the insect that caused them. Dryocosmus deciduous galls are created when a tiny wasp in the Dryocosmus genus lays eggs on the midrib of a red oak leaf. Each tiny gall has a single larva inside. As the scientific name reveals, these galls are deciduous, and fall from the leaf before the leaf falls from the tree.

Gypsy moth egg cases look like they were pasted onto the bark of a tree. European gypsy moths were first brought to the U.S. in 1869 from Europe to start a silkworm business but they escaped and have been in the wild ever since. In the 1970s and 80s gypsy moth outbreaks caused many millions of dollars of damage across the northeast by defoliating and killing huge swaths of forest. I remember seeing, in just about every yard, black stripes of tar painted around tree trunks or silvery strips of aluminum foil wrapped around trunks. The theory was that when the caterpillars crawled up the trunk of a tree to feed they would either get stuck in the tar or slip on the aluminum foil and fall back to the ground. Today, decades later, you can still see the black stripes of tar around some trees. Another gypsy moth population explosion happened in Massachusetts recently and that’s why foresters say that gypsy moth egg cases should be destroyed whenever they’re found.

Though we’ve had some freezing weather turtles seem to have shrugged it off. I don’t know what this one was standing on but I hope it wasn’t the river bottom. If the river is that low they’ll be in trouble.

Mallards are not as tame here as they seem to be in other places and usually when I take a photo of them all I get is tail feathers, but this group showed me a side view. The water of the river glowed in the sunlight like I’ve never seen. What would it be like I wondered, to be swimming along with them, surrounded by this this beautiful glowing light. Bliss, I think.

A great blue hereon found enough water in the river to get knee deep. As soon as it saw me it pretended to be a statue so I left it in stasis and moved on. When it comes to patience these birds have far more than I do, but they’ve also taught me to have more than I once did.  

I thought I’d leave you with a view of coming attractions. Fall came early and is moving quickly this year. Almost all the leaves are already gone from these trees since I took this photo.

Mother Nature is always speaking. She speaks in a language understood within the peaceful mind of the sincere observer. ~Radhanath Swami

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Every day I drive by a wooded area that has had some changes come to it over the past year. About a year ago a huge machine came along and chewed its way through what was once a nearly impenetrable forest. Okay I thought, let’s see what they do next. But they did nothing, and what you see above is what is left. Why, I wondered, would they go to all that trouble to chew their way into the woods and then not do anything with the now empty space? I had an idea, so I decided to go exploring.

This particular piece of forest borders a large wetland and as the above stump shows, there is quite a lot of beaver activity here. I saw more stumps like this one than I could count. I wondered if the machine chewed through the forest to get at a beaver dam, so I kept going to see where it would lead.

They didn’t finish this one.

The ripples under the bark of the muscle wood (Carpinus caroliniana) tree are what give it its common name. It is also called American hornbeam, blue beech, and ironwood. It’s in the hazelnut family and the name iron wood comes from its dense, hard and heavy wood that even beavers won’t usually touch. At least I’ve never seen them touch it until this day; virtually every tree they had cut was ironwood. How odd is that? I asked myself.

Female iron wood catkins form in pairs at the ends of the branches and are about a half inch long with a leaf-like bract. Last year’s bracts are  what is seen in the above photo. The bracts eventually grow to 1 inch or more long, becoming 3-lobed with smooth or irregularly toothed edges. They look like leafy butterflies.

The forest eating machine had come quite a way into the forest, I was surprised to see. It had to stop somewhere though, or it would sink into the swamp. I kept following the trail.

I noticed that all the evergreen ferns had magically lain themselves flat on the forest floor. Quite often snow will flatten them but we really haven’t had much snow. Maybe it was the three or four ice storms we had. In any case new fiddleheads will be along to replace them at any time now.

Well, here was the swamp and as I thought it marked the end of the forest chewer’s progress. But I didn’t see a beaver lodge or dam. Do they put on waders and walk in from here? I wondered.

I think the reason for all of this worry about beaver activity is because of this stream that flows into the swamp. It flows under a busy road and when we’ve had a lot of rain it can flood quickly. I’ve seen it washing over the road several times. If there is a beaver dam on it it’s even more likely to flood.

Since I was here I decided to explore along the stream. This entire area is a drainage for the surrounding hills and smaller streams join the larger one all along its length. Eventually all of the water finds its way to the Ashuelot River, then the Connecticut River, and then on to the Atlantic, so all the water that passed me on this day will join that great sea before long.

The water here is very clean and clear and the stream bed is gravel with very few aquatic plants growing in it.

There are so many river grapes (Vitis riparia) along this stream you often have to weave your way through the old, thick vines that grow into the treetops. I always like to see what I can see in their tendrils. I’ve seen Hindu dancers, fanciful animals and many other things. On this day I saw the beckoner, which held its arm out as if to beckon me close to it so it could give me a hug. River grapes are known for their ability to withstand cold and have been known to survive -57 degrees F. That makes them a favorite choice for the rootstock of many well-known grape varieties. We have about 20 native species of wild grape in the U.S. and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so they mostly made juice and jelly from them. They were also used to dye baskets a violet gray color.

Tree mosses (Climacium dendroides) grow along the stream but it’s getting harder to get to them all the time because what was once a streamside trail has become a brushy maze that I have to weave my way through. They are cheery mosses that look like little palm trees, and they always glow with a beautiful inner light, so they’re worth the effort. By this stream is the only spot I’ve ever found them so they aren’t common in this area, but I’m happy to see that they’ve spread quite well where they grow. They must not mind being under water for a time because this stream floods once or twice a year.

Rough horsetails (Equisetum hyemale) also grow along the stream, and like the tree moss this is the only place I’ve ever seen them. These are ancient plants that are embedded with silica. Another common name is the scouring rush because they are sometimes used to scour pots when camping, and they are also used for sanding wood in Japan.

I like the way they look as if someone had knitted them fancy little socks.

Japanese honeysuckles (Lonicera japonica) are already leafing out but I wasn’t surprised. Many invasive plants get a jump on natives by leafing out and blooming earlier.

I saw more hazelnut catkins (Corylus americana) turned to gold but none of the male flowers were peeking out yet.

I’m seeing more and more female hazelnut blossoms though. I’m surprised that they don’t wait until the male flowers open before appearing. That’s the way alders do it.

I saw some willow catkins but they weren’t anywhere near as far along as others I’ve seen. It could be the shade here that’s holding them back or it could be the plants themselves. If every willow bloomed at the same time and we had a frost there would be no seed production, so willows and many other shrubs and trees stagger their bloom time so that can’t happen.

The biggest surprise for me on this day was finding what I believe is a marsh marigold plant growing in the sand beside the stream. I searched for marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) for many years and never found a single one until I found one growing in a roadside ditch a couple of years ago. The ditch was reconstructed the following year and there went the plant so I lost hope of ever seeing another one. They are rare here in my experience and I was very happy to finally see another one. I’ll come back in early May to see if it’s old enough to bloom. I’d love to see those pretty yellow flowers again.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone is healthy and doing the best they can in these unusual circumstances we find ourselves in. From what I’ve read most states and countries, even when they say you should self-quarantine, say that people can get out for some exercise. I can’t think of any better way to get some exercise and calm yourself down than taking a nice walk in the woods. There is a difference between intelligence and wisdom and though 21st century man may be clever he isn’t very wise, and that’s because he has lost touch with nature. In any event whatever you do and wherever you do it, please stay safe and try to be calm. This too shall pass.

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On Sunday, February 2nd Punxsutawney Phil, King of the weather predicting Groundhogs, didn’t see his shadow when he was removed from his burrow. Some might think that this simply meant that Phil woke under a cloudy sky, but it meant far more than that to The King; he immediately declared that we would see an early spring.  So, bolstered by Phil’s decree, I went off in search of spring. As you can see by the above photo, I didn’t find it; at least not right away. In fact all it has done is snow since Phil made his announcement.

This is what it looked like one morning on my way to work. Yes, it was cold too. Since Phil’s decree we reached 8 below zero F. one night; the coldest it’s been all winter. I’m voting we leave Phil in his burrow next year and let him sleep until he wants to wake up.

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight” the old saying goes, so this beautiful evening sky gave me hope that the weather would turn.

As of this writing we’re still getting a storm each week but they’ve carried little snow. What you see here amounts to maybe 4 inches at most. After every storm it warms up and melts a lot of the snow that fell. I read recently that scientists studying our dwindling snow cover have found that trees are suffering, because when the insulating qualities of snow are gone the soil can freeze deeper, and this can kill a tree’s feeder roots. Instead of expending energy of growing new leaves and branches trees have to divert their energy to re-growing their roots. Without the life giving energy from photosynthesis that more leaves provide a tree can weaken, and that increases the possibility of attacks from insects and fungi.

When you plow even 4 inches into a pile it looks like a lot more.

But it’s melting in the woods, as this patch of American wintergreen shows. All those plants and I couldn’t find a single berry. When I was a boy my grandmother often took me walking through the woods to teach me what she knew about wild plants. One of the first plants I remember getting to know is the Eastern teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens,) also known as checkerberry or American wintergreen. My grandmother and I would pick the small red berries from the plant she always called checkerberry until we each had a handful, and then we would have a refreshing, spicy feast in the forest. Chewing the leaves can also be refreshing when hiking on a hot day. In the past, the leaves were also chewed by Native Americans to relieve pain.

Lilac buds showed no signs of opening but they did look like they might be swelling some. We dug a hole where I work and found that the frost is only 5 inches down in the ground. It’s usually much deeper and can reach nearly 4 feet in very cold winters. That’s why all of our water pipes have to be buried at least 4 feet deep, otherwise they could freeze and burst.  

I always start checking American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) bushes early for signs of life. So far the male catkins aren’t doing much and I haven’t seen any of the tiny female flowers either, but it won’t be too long. I have a feeling they’ll be early this year. When the catkins open there will be a single bright, yellow-green, male flower peeking out from under each of those diamond shaped bud scales. They grow and bloom in a spiral down the length of the catkin.

I’ve always assumed that migrating birds ate the staghorn sumac berries because nothing touches them until spring. There are thousand of berries in this one photo and not one of them has been eaten, even though I heard robins nearby. I also saw black capped chickadees and dark eyed juncos.

Nothing had been eating the wild grapes hanging from this pine tree either. I was surprised because grapes usually do get eaten quickly.

I wanted to just sit by the river and think one day-I was in that kind of mood-but every stone was covered with ice and snow so there was no dry place to sit. This is what the shoreline looked like; a half inch of ice covered everything.

But the river itself remains unfrozen. So far it hasn’t frozen over in any of the usual places this winter.

Sometimes in spring the river fills itself from bank to bank but so far this year it’s shallow enough to walk across. You’d think it was August by this photo but since we’ve had so little snow to fill it with snowmelt I wasn’t surprised.

The trees in this photo are tipped with gold and that’s a sure sign that things are changing. I think they were poplars but I couldn’t get close enough to find out for sure. Poplar buds swell early and some species have catkins that look like pussy willows.

Red maple flower buds (Acer rubrum) are small and round or oval with short stalks and 4 pairs of bud scales. The bud scales are often purple like those seen here. They have a fine fringe of pale hairs on their margins and when they start to open a tomato red color can be seen between the scales. Red maples can be tapped and syrup made from their sap but the sap gatherers have to watch the trees carefully, because the sap can become bitter when the tree flowers. Seeing the hillsides awash in a red haze from hundreds of thousands of red maple flowers is a treat that I always look forward to. Unfortunately I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to capture that beauty with a camera.

Crocus leaves poked up out of the ice.

And daffodils poked up out of the soil in a raised bed. They were a surprise.

But the biggest surprise of all came in the form of spring blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) blossoming. Until now the earliest I’ve ever seen them bloom was February 23rd but these bloomed a full week earlier. Their strap like petals can curl up into the bud if it gets cold and then unfurl again on warm days, so you don’t see too many that have been frost bitten.

There was a large building between me and the witch hazels but I could still smell their wonderful, clean fragrance. It’s so good to see them again; I was ready for spring a month ago so I’m glad the groundhog got it right.  

It starts with a gentle southerly breeze; a soft, warm breath. The sun grows stronger and its warmth penetrates the soil a little deeper each day, and as the soil warms the yearly miracle will begin. Once started it won’t be stopped; sap is starting to flow and soon buds will swell to bursting. An indescribable beauty will cover the earth and as usual I will be here, trying to describe the indescribable. I do hope you’ll be able to get out there and see it for yourself. It’s so much better than reading about it.

Spring is when you feel like whistling, even with a shoe full of slush.  ~Doug Larson

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I had an unusual thing happen last Saturday; I wanted to walk a favorite rail trail to see what I could find for fall color, but when I got there I found that I had forgotten to put the fully charged battery in the camera where it belonged. It was the “big camera” too, the one I use for landscape photos, so I was a bit perplexed for a moment or two.

But coincidentally a friend had given me one of his old Apple i phones just the day before and I had watched You tube videos the night before on how to use it. To make a long story shorter; many of the photos in this post were taken with that phone. I had never used an Apple product before this day but I was in a sink or swim position and I would have to learn quickly. In the end I found the hardest part of using it was keeping my finger from in front of the lens. They are very easy to use; at least as a camera.

The phone camera seemed to hold true to the color of this trailside maple.

As well as the color of this black birch.

Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is terribly invasive but it can be very beautiful in the fall.

A lily seedpod told me I should have been here in June. It might have been a red wood lily, which I rarely see.

Wild grapes grew thickly in spots along the trail.

It’s a good year for grapes. I think these were river grapes (Vitis riparia.)

Once you know both plants it would be hard to mistake the berries of the smooth carrion flower vine (Smilax herbacea) for wild grapes but they are the same color and sometimes grow side by side. Carrion flower gets its name from the strong odor of its flowers, which smell like rotting meat. The vine can reach 8 feet long, with golf ball size flower heads all along it. The female flower clusters when pollinated become globular clusters of dark blue fruit like those seen here. The berries are said to be a favorite of song and game birds so I was surprised to find several clusters of them. Raccoons and black bears also eat the fruit. Native Americans and early colonists ate the roots, spring shoots and berries of the vine but after smelling its flowers I think I’d have a hard time eating any part of it.

The i phone did a fine job on these New England Asters, even though they were partially shaded.

I took the photo of this plum colored New England aster with my “little camera.” It’s the Olympus Stylus camera that I use for macros and, though it still does a good job I think it’s on its way to being worn out after taking many thousands of photos.

Here is another i phone shot.

Seeing these turning elm leaves was like stepping into a time machine because I was immediately transported back to my boyhood, when Keene was called the Elm City because of all the beautiful 200 year old elms that grew along almost every street. I grew up on a street that had huge old elms on it; so big 4 or 5 of us boys couldn’t link hands around them. Elms are beautiful but messy trees and in the fall the streets were covered with bright yellow elm leaves and fallen twigs and branches.

Unfortunately Dutch elm disease wiped out most of the elms on every street in the city and they were replaced by others of various species. This elm tree died young; I doubt it was even 20 years old.

Eventually on this rail trail you come to a trestle, as you do on many of the rail trails in this area. The wooden parts were added by local snowmobile clubs and we who use these trails owe them a debt of gratitude.

I’m older than all of the trees in this photo and I know that because I used to walk here as a boy. They’re almost all red maple trees and they were one of the reasons I wanted to walk this trail. I thought they’d all have flaming red leaves but I was too early and they were all still green. I like the park like feel of this place; there are virtually no shrubs to make up an understory, and I think that is because the Ashuelot River floods badly through here in most years.

Sensitive ferns make up most of the green on the forest floor in that previous shot. Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) 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. 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. I did see a beaver swimming down the river once with a huge bundle of these ferns in its mouth but I don’t know if they were for food or bedding.

I spent a lot of time under these old trestles when I was a boy so of course I had to see under this one again. I couldn’t get a good shot of it with camera or phone because of it being in deep shade but I saw one of the biggest hornet’s nest I’ve ever seen hanging from a tree branch under the trestle on this day. Luckily they left me alone.

I’ve always wondered how these old steel trestles were built but I never have been able to find out. I don’t know if they were built in factories and shipped to the site to be assembled or if they were built right in place. Either way I’m sure there was an awful lot of rivet hammering going on. I do know that the stones for the granite abutments that these trestles rest on were taken from boulders and outcroppings in the immediate area, but I think they must have had to ship them from somewhere else in this case because there is little granite of any size to be found here.

I used to think these old trestles were indestructible until I saw this photo by Lisa Dahill DeBartolomao in Heritage Railway Magazine. It took a hurricane to do this to this bridge in Chester, Vermont, but Yikes! Were there really only 4 bolts holding that leg of the trestle to its abutment?

The brook that the trestle crosses was lower than I’ve ever seen it and it shows how dry we’ve been. Hurricane brook starts up in the northern part of Keene near a place called Stearns Hill. Then it becomes White Brook for a while before emptying into Black Brook. Black Brook in turn empties into Ash Swamp and the outflow from the swamp becomes Ash Swamp Brook. Finally it all meets the Ashuelot River right at this spot. It has taken me about 50 years to figure all of that out. Why so many name changes? I don’t know, but I’m guessing that the settlers in the northern part of Keene and the settlers here in the southern part didn’t realize that they were both looking at the same brook. I always wonder if anyone has ever followed it from here to its source. It would be quite a hike.

The brook and river flood regularly here and the brush against the tree trunks shows the force and direction of the water flow. I’ve seen the water close to the underside of a few trestles and that’s a scary thing. I grew up on the Ashuelot River and seeing it at bank full each spring is something I doubt I’ll ever forget. Often one more good rainstorm would have probably meant a flood but I guess we were lucky because we never had one. I see by this photo that the i phone found high water marks on the trees, which I didn’t see when I was there.

I tried for a photo of a forget me not with the i phone and it did a fine job, I thought. It did take eight or ten tries to get one good photo of the tiny flower, but that was due to my not knowing the phone rather than the phone itself. If you took a hammer and pounded your thumb with it you wouldn’t blame the hammer, so I can’t blame the phone for my own inexperience and ineptitude. Before long it will most likely become second nature. That’s what happens with most cameras.

I saw some big orange mushrooms growing on a mossy log. Each was probably about 3 inches across. Due to the dryness I’m seeing very few fungi this year.

I saw a beautiful Virginia creeper vine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) on my way back. It was wearing its bright red fall color. No blue berries on it though. Maybe the birds had already eaten them all.

Since I wasn’t paying attention on my walk I got to pick hundreds of sticky tick trefoil seeds from my clothes. They stick using tiny barbs and you can’t just brush them off. You have to pick them off and it can be a chore. But that was alright; I was happy with the i phone camera and I got to feel like a boy again for a while, so this day was darn near perfect.

Boyhood, like measles, is one of those complaints which a man should catch young and have done with, for when it comes in middle life it is apt to be serious. ~P.G. Wodehouse

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Fall has slowly been making its presence known here in this part of New Hampshire and Half Moon Pond in Hancock is one of the best places to see it happen, because it always comes here before anywhere else that I know of. I’m not sure what the trees on the other side of the pond are but they always turn very early. The trees on this side of the pond are mostly maples.

And maples are changing too. I found this one in Swanzey.

Not only are leaves changing, they’re dropping as well.

River grapes (Vitis riparia) have ripened and hang in great bunches from the vines. If they aren’t all eaten they will begin to over-ripen and on warm fall days they make the forest smell just like grape jelly. River grapes are known for their ability to withstand cold and have been known to survive -57 degrees F. That makes them a favorite choice for the rootstock of many well-known grape varieties. We have about 20 native species of wild grape in the U.S. and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so they mostly made juice and jelly from them. They were also used to dye baskets a violet gray color.

Virginia creeper vines (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) climb high in the trees to reach as much sunshine as they can. They aren’t noticed for most of the year but when their leaves start to turn they can’t be ignored. Virginia creeper berries are poisonous to humans but many birds and small animals eat them. My mother loved this vine enough to grow it on the side of the house I grew up in. It shaded the porch all summer long.

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is another vine that climbs to the top of trees for sunlight but unlike our native vines this one is highly invasive and damages the trees it climbs on. It is the yellow leaved vine in this photo and it is slowly strangling an ash tree.

Black locusts (Robinia pseudoacacia) are trees that often change early. In June these trees are loaded with white, very fragrant blooms that hang down like wisteria blossoms. Black locusts were prized by colonial Americans for their tough, rot resistant wood. In 1610 colonists found black locust trees planted beside Native American dwellings and thought the Natives were using the tree as an ornamental, so they decided to use it that way as well .They also used the wood for ship building, forts and fence posts while the Natives used it to make bows and blow darts. It was once said to be the toughest wood in all the world and was one of the first North American trees exported to Europe.

The invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the Ashuelot River will go from green to red, and then will finally become a soft pastel pink to almost white. Right now they’re in their loud orange / red / yellow stage. It’s too bad they’re so invasive because they really are beautiful, but they dominate the understory and create so much shade nothing else can grow.

A few burning bush leaves had already changed to pastel pink. I’ve seen thousands of these shrubs along the river drop their leaves overnight when the weather is cold enough and I’m hoping that doesn’t happen this year so I can show them to you in their pastel pink stage. When hundreds of them are this color it really is a beautiful sight.

I chose a swamp in Swanzey to show you what happens to white pines (Pinus strobus) in the fall. Many evergreens change color in the fall and many lose their needles. The row of pines are the taller trees in the distance in this photo, looking somewhat yellow brown.

These examples of fall color grew right at the edge of the swamp.

Dogwoods also grow in the swamp, and along with blueberries they often make up most of the red you see.

Native little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) catches the sunlight and glows in what are usually luminous pink ribbons but every now and then you see patches of deep purple, as this example was. This common grass grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington and is beautiful enough to be grown in many gardens. After a frost it often takes on a darker reddish purple hue, but we haven’t had a frost yet.

It’s the way its seed heads capture and reflect sunlight that makes little bluestem glow like it does.

Here is the same view from a different angle. I’ve learned that if you want to have blue river water in your photos you should photograph it with the sun behind you, and now I’m wondering if the same isn’t true with some grasses.

Virgin’s bower seed heads (Clematis virginiana) light up shady spots at this time of year and sometimes you can see hundreds of them together. Virgin’s bower is a native clematis that has small white flowers in late summer. An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic (and dangerous) and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth if eaten.

Pokeweed berries (Phytolacca americana) are beautiful when they ripen to their deep purple-black. I love seeing the little purple “flowers” on the back of pokeweed berries. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

Why it is that in a field of thousands of goldenrod plants one or two will turn deep purple while the rest remain green is a question I can’t answer, but that’s often what happens. The plants somehow just decide to stop photosynthesizing earlier than all of their cousins.

We have several different varieties of sumac here and from what I’ve seen all are very colorful in the fall. This is smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) At least I think so; I didn’t pay real close attention when I took the photo. It could also be shining sumac (Rhus copallinum.)

Most staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) are still green but this one had already gone to red. Sumacs are one of our most colorful shrubs in the fall. They can range from lemon yellow to pumpkin orange to tomato red, and anything in between. Once fall starts there is no stopping it and soon people from all over the world will come to enjoy it. I’ll do my best show you all of this incredible beauty that I can.

Why is it that so many of us persist in thinking that autumn is a sad season? Nature has merely fallen asleep, and her dreams must be beautiful if we are to judge by her countenance. ~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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We’re having a very strange winter here, with roller coaster temperatures falling to -10 degrees F one day and soaring to 60 degrees the next. In between we’ve seen more rain than snow and all that rain has frozen into ice, because it can’t seep into the frozen ground. I took this view of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey in one of the colder stretches. Now, a week later there is no white to be seen in this view.

A week ago there were ice skirts around the stones and now there are none.

An icicle had formed in a tree, which is a sight you don’t often see.

I had to catch a wave while I was at the river. When the sun is right they have such beautiful colors in them.

Frost figures danced across my windows one morning.

If you want to strike fear into the heart of any New Englander just tell them an ice storm is on the way. We’ve seen two so far this winter but they haven’t been bad enough to bring down trees and cause power outages. I’ve seen friends have to go for weeks with no power due to an ice storm in the past.

In an ice storm liquid rain falls on cold surfaces and ice coats everything. The added weight starts to damage trees like this birch and they begin to lose branches or fall over, bringing power lines down with them.

The more surface area exposed on the tree, the more weight the ice has. White pines (Pinus strobus) are particularly at risk of losing large limbs in an ice storm.

In spite of the crazy weather or maybe because of it, we’re having some beautiful sunrises.

I thought I saw some yellow on these male speckled alder catkins (Alnus incana) but that might be wishful thinking. Yellow or green would be pollen and pollen would mean they were flowering, and it’s too early for that. They’ll open in late March or early April after the maple sap has all been gathered, and then for a short time the bushes will look like someone has strung gold and purple jewels from the alder branches.

A bird’s nest fell off an outdoor building light where I work. It wasn’t very big but it was soft like a cushion, made mostly of mosses and grasses. It also had lichens and a few twigs in it. I think it was the nest of an eastern phoebe, which is a small gray bird about half the size of our robin. They nest all over the buildings where I work, but they don’t seem to be very smart because they will often fly into buildings when a door is opened. Chasing them out again can be a chore and it has taken two of us over an hour in the past. If you leave a door or window open and walk away they still can’t seem to find their way out again.

There was a lot of moss in the nest and it was easily the softest bird’s nest I’ve ever felt. I’ve read that eastern phoebes will take over the nests of swallows or robins but I don’t think this nest was built by either of those birds. They also re-use nests year after year, but this bird will have to re-build.

I think a lot of the moss used in the phoebe nest was white tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata.) This is a very common moss that I find mostly growing on stones in sunny spots. It would be a very easy moss for birds to harvest.

I’ve seen lots of galls picked open by woodpeckers and other birds but I don’t see too many oak marble galls opened. I was surprised at the thickness of the walls on this one. There would be plenty to eat all winter long for the gall wasp (Andricus kollari) larva had it survived the bird.

I saw a milkweed pod where I didn’t know they grew and of course I immediately thought of coming back in summer to hopefully see some monarch butterflies. I’ve seen more each year for the last three or so, but that doesn’t mean whole flocks of them. I think I saw 6 or 7 last year.

The birds and animals didn’t get to eat all the river grapes (Vitis riparia) this year and now the ones that are left look more like raisins than anything else. I was surprised to see them because they usually go as fast as they ripen. It could be that the birds simply had enough to go around; we do have a lot of wild fruits. River grapes are known for their ability to withstand cold and have been known to survive -57 degrees F. That makes them a favorite choice for the rootstock of many well-known grape varieties. We have about 20 native species of wild grape in the U.S. and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so they mostly made juice and jelly from them. They were also used to dye baskets a violet gray color.

An oak leaf skittered across the snow as if it had feet. More and more oak and beech leaves are falling, signaling spring isn’t far off. I hope.

You could almost believe you were feeling the warm breath of spring when two days of 60 degree weather turned the top layer of ice on Half Moon pond in Hancock to water. Ice fishermen are having a hard time of it this year because we haven’t had a lengthy spell of really cold weather to thicken the ice.

Since we’ve had some warm days and since the groundhog said we’d have an early spring, I went looking for signs. The ice was melting around the skunk cabbage shoots but I didn’t see any of the splotchy, yellow and maroon flower spathes. They are our earliest flowers so it shouldn’t be too long before they appear. Shortly after they flower the spring blooming vernal witch hazels will start in.

You might think that seeing daffodil shoots would be a sure sign of spring but these bulbs grow in a raised bed and raised beds warm and thaw earlier, so these bulbs start growing earlier. But I’ve never seen them this early and I’m sure they are being fooled by the few days of unusual warmth. They often come up too early and get bitten by the cold, which turns their leaves to mush. I’m guessing the same will happen this year but I hope not.

When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest.
~Earnest Hemmingway

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