Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Rotten Ice’

We’ve seen some unusual below zero F. cold lately and when it gets cold like this my thoughts usually turn to a deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland that ice climbers call the icebox. The groundwater constantly seeping from thousands of cracks in the stone walls of the manmade canyon freezes into ice columns that can easily reach the size of trees. It can be very beautiful but since it is only November I wasn’t sure what I’d find. Though I doubted there would be much ice to see, last Saturday I made the drive to Westmoreland to find out.

There was some impressive ice to be seen but nothing like it will be in January.

There are a lot of minerals in the groundwater that seeps through the stone and they are the only thing I can think of that would color ice like this.

I’ve seen orange, green, blue, red, tan, brown and even black ice here.

The giant ice columns are like a magnet for ice climbers and members of the New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club come here to train beginning climbers. I was surprised to see some of them here on this day since it is so early in the season.

This should give you an idea of the scale of the place. Though the ice might look impressive it is much less so than it will be in a couple of months. This climber said she was a beginner but she had climbed just about as far up as she could. The ledges in this spot I’d guess are about 50 feet high. Though it was cold at about 40 degrees this day I’ve read that the ideal conditions for climbing happen at between 20 and 35 degrees, because those temperatures produce the just right “plastic” ice; not cold enough to shatter and not warm enough to melt. Ice climbers swing sharp tools called picks into the ice and embed them in it so they can hang onto them as they climb, and I would guess that the last thing they want to see is shattering ice. Since the temperature in the canyon is always colder than the surrounding countryside it must have been just about perfect for plastic ice on this day.

This view looks back the way we came in. It can be very cold in here because the sunlight rarely seems to reach the canyon floor in winter. There is almost always a breeze blowing through the canyon as well, even when there is no breeze outside. It’s as if it makes its own wind.

The railroad engineers used a lot of the stone they blasted out of the canyon to build massive retaining walls along the parts of the trail outside of the canyon. They are some of the best examples of stone wall building that I know of and you won’t find a teaspoon of mortar in any of these walls. Note how the wall leans back into the hillside at about a 10 degree angle, as any good retaining wall should. I’d bet next week’s paycheck that a bed of crushed stone or gravel extends out at least two or three feet from the back of the wall into the hillside. This is for drainage so wet soil doesn’t freeze behind the wall and heave it apart. You want the back of the wall as dry as possible.

I like to see how the ice forms according to the conditions. This little grotto scene looked almost other worldly.

This ice looked like a necklace made of clear crystal, all formed by drip after drip of water.

In places the ice was rotten, and you can tell that by its matte gray, opaque “sick” look and the dull thud it makes when you tap it. Ice becomes rotten when air  and / or dirt get in between the grains of ice and it becomes honeycombed and loses its strength.

In some places where the sun reached the walls of the cut ice had been falling, and in fact I saw (and heard) some  fall while I was here.

I thought how, if I was a teenager once again, I’d find a way to slide down this giant ice slide.

I have a feeling that it’s going to be a good year for ice formations even though the forecast is for rain and above freezing temps this week.

Drainage ditches along the railbed have been doing their job of directing all of this water out of the canyon for around 150 years, but heavy rain overwhelmed them last summer and washed away parts of the railbed. It’s a hard thing to see this place being so severely damaged but there is only so much the snowmobile club volunteers can do, I suppose. One day instead of a railbed here it might be a stream.

In places the stone is stained by years of mineral seepage.

In other places the colors on the walls come from living things, like this algae, but I don’t think they color the ice because they don’t grow where a lot of ice accumulates. This is actually a green algae called Trentepohlia aurea but the same pigment that colors carrots orange makes green algae orange as well. It’s also very hairy, but I couldn’t get close enough to show you.

Colorful foam gathered on one of the drainage ditches in what I thought were beautiful swirling patterns. What caused it to appear and what colored it, I don’t know.

I didn’t have my high rubber boots with me on this trip so I couldn’t get close enough to the canyon walls to get close shots of the algae or the great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) seen here. This beautiful, reptilian liverwort gets its common name from its fresh, clean scent. It will only grow near water that is very clean and it grows here on the  canyon walls just above the drainage ditches. Groundwater constantly splashes them and keeps them wet in warm months. In winter they are often encased in ice, which has just started happening to the plants in this shot.

We’re having some wet heavy snows this month but the old lineman’s shack still somehow stands, even though people have been pulling it apart for as long as I’ve known about it. It just goes to show how the railroad built things to last. Their carpenters were as good as their stone masons. I hope it’s still standing a month from now when I come back to see how the ice has grown.

The splendor of Silence,—of snow-jeweled hills and of ice. ~Ingram crockett

Thanks for stopping in.

 

Read Full Post »

1. Sap Buckets

If you could only take one photo to tell the rest of the world that it was spring in New England, it would have to be of sap buckets hung on a maple tree. In spite of 25 of 31 days in March being colder than  average the sap is flowing, but one syrup producer says that he has collected only about a third of the sap that he had last year at this time.

2. Red Maple Buds

The purple bud scales of red maple (Acer rubrum) have pulled back to reveal the tomato red buds within. Once the buds break and the tree starts to flower the sap becomes bitter, and maple syrup season ends. That usually happens in mid to late April. If you don’t want to look at a tree’s buds another sign is when the nights become warm enough to get the spring peepers peeping.

3. Budded Daffodils

Some of the daffodils are budded, but they have been for a while. They seem to be waiting for the weather to make up its mind before they’ll open. Either that or I’m just getting impatient.

4. Witch Hazel Petals

Hesitantly, like a child sticking a toe in the water to feel its temperature before wading in, the spring witch hazels have started to unfurl their strap like petals.  Last year they unfurled quite early and the cold turned them brown, so I think we’re seeing a “once bitten, twice shy” scenario here this year.  Though we do have a native vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), it doesn’t grow naturally this far north, and since this one is in a park I’m betting it’s one of the cultivated witch hazels. The other American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) that is native to New England blooms in the fall and grows in the same park.

 5. Dwarf Raspberry Leaves

I did find some green leaves in the woods, but they were on the evergreen dwarf raspberry (Rubus pubescens.) This plant likes wet places and trails along the ground like a dewberry, but it has smooth stems and dewberries have prickly stems. Its fruit looks and tastes much like a raspberry, but good luck getting any of it. Birds and animals eat the berries as fast as they ripen.

6. Ledge Ice

There is still plenty of snow and ice to be seen as this photo shows. Still, this is a sign of spring because this ice is rotten and parts of it were falling as I was taking this photo. The opaque milky grayish-white color of this ice was a sure sign that it was rotten, so I didn’t get too close. When ice rots the bonds between the ice crystals weaken and water, air or dirt can get in between them and cause the ice to become honeycombed and lose its strength. It looks to be full of small bubbles and has a weak, dull sound when it is tapped on. It’s a good thing to stay away from when it gets to be taller than you are.

7. Box Elder Buds

A couple of posts ago I talked about pruinose lichens but they aren’t the only things that can be pruinose, as these box elder buds (Acer negundo) show. In case you’ve forgotten, pruinose means a surface that is covered in white, powdery, waxy granules that seem to be able to reflect light in ways that often make the surface they are on appear blue. Certain grapes, plums, and blueberries are pruinose fruits that we are all familiar with.

8. Common Split Gill Mushrooms

Split gill mushrooms (Schizophyllum commune) had their winter coats on, as usual. These are “winter” mushrooms that are usually about the size of a dime but can occasionally get bigger than that. They grow on every continent except Antarctica and because of that are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. Their wooly coats make them very easy to identify.

9. Common Split Gill Mushroom

The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds on its under surface that split lengthwise when it dries out. The splits close over the fertile surfaces as the mushroom shrivels in dry weather. When rehydrated by rain the splits reopen, the spore-producing surfaces are exposed to the air, and spores are released. These little mushrooms are very tough and leathery.

 10. Golden Foxtail Moss aka Brachythecium salebrosum

I think this golden foxtail moss (Brachythecium salebrosum) has to take the prize for the longest moss that I’ve seen; its branches must have been at least 2 inches long. It’s unusual because it likes dry places, and I found it growing on stone in a shaded spot under an overhang, where it must have seen very little direct rainfall. This moss has insect repellant qualities and was once used to stuff pillows and mattresses. Today it is a favorite in moss gardens and in India they use it to wrap fruit in.

11. Moss With Unknown Growth

White cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) gets its common name from the way it turns a whitish color when it dries out. When wet though, it can be dark green as this photo shows. What this photo also shows are some fuzzy white growths on the moss that I’ve never seen before.

12. Moss With Unknown Growth

I don’t know if the fuzzy white things are mold that has grown due to the moss being covered by ice, or what they are. I’ve seen two different photos online of cushion moss with the same growths, but neither site explained what they were. If you’ve ever seen them and know what they are I’d like to hear from you.

 13. Whiskered Shadow Lichen aka Phaeophyscia hispidula

This is my first photo of a whiskered shadow lichen (Phaeophyscia adiastola.) It’s one of those easily ignored lichens that you think you see all the time but in reality when you look closely, you realize that you’ve never seen anything quite like it. This lichen grows on bark, stone or soil and gets its common name from its abundant root-like rhizines, which show here as a kind of black outline. I found it growing on a piece of ledge that dripping water splashed on, so it was very wet.

14. Whiskered Shadow Lichen closeup

This isn’t a very good photo but at least you can see the “whiskers” that give the whiskered shadow lichen its common name.  These rhizines help foliose lichens anchor themselves onto whatever they’re growing on, much like the roots of a vascular plant would.

 15. Inner Tree Bark

This is nothing but an old piece of bark that I found lying on the snow, but it was quite large and the photo shows what I saw when I turned it over. This is the side that would have been next to the wood of the tree, unseen. I thought the colors and patterns were amazing. If fungi would have caused this is a question that I can’t answer.

April is a promise that May is bound to keep. ~Hal Borland

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

Read Full Post »

1. Trail

If you’re tired of all things winter then this post isn’t for you because it’s about being in a freezer of sorts; a man made canyon blasted out of solid rock where seeping groundwater freezes into icicles that grow to the height and diameter of tree trunks. I visited this place last week because I thought that, since this was just about the coldest February that we had ever seen, I’d be able to see some big ice. I wasn’t disappointed.

2. Green Ice

I think this is the biggest “icicle” that I’ve ever seen. It had to have been 15-20 feet out from the rock face and 40-50 feet tall. It is the sweetheart of the ice climbers who come here and, if you look carefully at the very top of the photo, you can see the legs of two ice climbers dressed in blue who were tying off their ropes, preparing to climb down this monster.

3. Black Ice

Right beside the green ice in the previous photo was this black / brown ice, which I’ve never seen here or anywhere else before. I’d guess that it was either soil or minerals that gave it this color. Note how the snow below it looks dirty.

4. Colorful Rocks

You can see colored stone all through this place and, though some of the color comes from lichens and algae, much of it is from minerals like iron that leach out of the soil.

5. Mineral Stains on Stone 2-2

Many of the mineral stains are orange but some are yellow, red, green, and very few a light blueish gray color.

6. Orange Ice

The last time I came here I saw this orange ice for the first time, and by now it had tripled in size. The orange mineral stain on the stone face in the previous photo was very near this spot, so I’m fairly certain that iron must be staining the ice.

7. Blue Ice

My favorite color is the blue ice, and this was the bluest ice I’ve ever seen. There was water running down the rock face behind this ice column and it was as noisy as a rushing stream in spring. I’ve heard that blue ice is very dense and that its color comes from the way certain wavelengths of light are absorbed by it and others are reflected by it.

8. Trail

It seemed as if you could pick a color and there it would be, frozen into the ice. It also seemed like the ice had covered all of the mosses, liverworts and every other growing thing that lives here.

9. Delicate Fern Moss

There were still small islands of green to be seen here and there but I didn’t see any liverworts. You wouldn’t think that moss with a name like delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) could grow in a place like this but there it was. Maybe it’s not quite as delicate as its name suggests.

10. Spinulose Wood Fern

Ferns too could be seen peeking out from under the ice. I think this one is a spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris carthusiana,) which is one of our few evergreen ferns. It likes lots of water. In the summer almost every inch of these vertical walls is covered by some form of green, living thing. They must all be quite tough to survive essentially being frozen inside of ice for the winter.

 11. Lichen on Stone

I saw a few interesting lichens but I couldn’t get close enough to them to know what they were. Typically in winter there is a good 2 to 3 feet of snow on the rail bed, and if you add that to the foot or so depth of the ditches from dry ground, it’s quite a drop. Getting down into them isn’t too bad but getting out can mean a crawl in the snow.

12. Ice in Drainage Ditch

I was surprised to see that the ditches weren’t frozen over in many areas. As cold as gets in this place I can’t imagine what keeps them from freezing.

13. Ice Column

I saw one ice column that looked like someone had sculpted it into a real column like shape. It was taller than I was.

 14. Diagonal Seep

It was easy to see how groundwater seeped from this diagonal crack in the stone face. When you think about the water that froze and expanded inside the crack it’s not hard to understand how Ice can tear stone apart.

15. Green Ice

It’s starting to slowly warm up a little now, so I’m not sure that it’ll be a good idea to come here again until the ice has melted. These ice columns are tall enough to cross the entire trail when they fall and are easily heavy enough to crush a person, so this is a good place to stay away from when the ice starts rotting. I saw a few ice formations in sunny spots that were already rotten.

For those who aren’t familiar with rotten ice; when ice rots the bonds between the ice crystals weaken and water, air or dirt can get in between them and cause the ice to become honeycombed, and to lose its strength. You know that clear ice is rotten when it turns a milky grayish-white color, looks to be full of small bubbles, and has a dull sound when it is tapped.

In the winter, the world gets sharp. Beautiful things happen. ~Peter Fiore

Thanks for coming by.

 

Read Full Post »

Last weekend I visited a railroad cut that dates from the early 1800s.  I found this rail trail in Westmoreland, a town that’s North West of here, last year and it has become one of my favorite places to explore because of the many different plants that grow here.

 1. Canyon

This cut is deep in places and ice had formed where little if any sun shines. If you have ever stood in front of the open door of a walk in freezer then you know what I felt like while taking this photo. It’s nice and cool in the summer and real cool at this time of year.

 2. Mossy Ledge

Some ice tried to stand up to the weak November sunlight but ion this day it was losing the battle, because it was near 60 degrees. All I could hear was the constant drip of water and the crash of falling ice. I took this photo because at times it was like being in an ice cathedral. This reminded me of a niche where a statue might stand.

 3. Trees on Ledges

Instead of spires this cathedral has trees that soar up to the heavens.

 4. Unknown Plant on Ledge

Instead of gargoyles many different plants perch atop even the smallest ledges. I thought the one in this photo was a spleenwort called wall rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria) but there is a small brook running all along the base of the rock face so I couldn’t reach it. I’ve been able to get close enough by zooming in on the photos that I took to know that it isn’t wall rue, but I have no idea what it is.

 5. Icy LiverwortsThousands of liverworts also grow here, seemingly not minding the ice. The small brook kept me from inspecting these up close, too. These plants have grown here undisturbed for almost 200 years and they obviously like it because there are large colonies of them.

 6. Brook

This is the small brook that runs along the base of the rock face. It’s just wide enough so you can’t straddle it and just deep enough so you don’t want to step in it. If you jumped it you would run smack into stone, so I’ll wait until it freezes. There were some small fish in it but they were so fast that I couldn’t tell what they were. They might have been brook trout-they like cold water.

 7. Unknown Orange Lichen

Some stones were covered with huge patches of orange lichens that looked like moss. I’ve never seen this one anywhere but here and I haven’t been able to identify it. Many lichens are orange, but none seem quite as hairy as this one is.

 8. Shack 

Since the railroad ran through here at one time I’m assuming this was a lineman’s shack, or maybe a storage shed. People have torn off the siding to use as bridges to cross the brook.

 9. Ice on Ledges 

A lot of ice climbers come here in the winter to climb the huge ice columns that form when the temperature gets cold enough. On this day all of the ice was rotten and falling from the ledges, and I made sure I wasn’t standing under any of them when they let go.

 10. Rotten Ice

Rotten ice is ice that has frozen and thawed repeatedly or has layers of snow or water within it or has water or air pockets between its ice crystals. Sometimes it’s clear, sometimes grayish, and sometimes white. Vertical hanging ice usually has bubbles in it that are big enough to be seen without magnification. It is always weak and it sounds hollow when it is tapped, rather than solid. When water gets between the ice and the stone that it’s hanging from it can fall very easily and without warning, so that’s a good reason to not stand under it.

 11. Slipped Ledge

Ice isn’t the only thing falling around here. The face of the slab of rock shown in the photo was about two feet wide and the whole thing must have easily been 10 feet long.

 12. Pink Feldspar

A pegmatite grows quickly in the last bits of magma to cool in granite. They are known for their large crystals of what are often semi-precious stones like aquamarine, tourmaline, garnet and topaz. One of the most common pegmatite minerals is feldspar, which can be white, pink or gray. The photo shows part of a large vein of pinkish feldspar that travels through the exposed bedrock here.  Many fine mineral specimens can be found in feldspar and I used to spend many happy hours searching for them. I think of it as a soup, with feldspar the broth and the semi-precious crystals the vegetables. Feldspar is a weak mineral that is easily broken and it gives off a very distinctive odor when struck with a steel hammer.

 13. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

Smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) are usually a smoky gray color, which is where their common name comes from, but they can also have a bluish tint because of the way their waxy coating reflects sunlight. These are crustose lichens and they form a kind of crust on the substrate that they grow on. The bond between a crustose lichen and its substrate is so strong that it can’t be removed without damaging the substrate.  

14. The End 

I found this on the trail and thought that I might as well get some use out of it.

If nature has taught us anything it is that the impossible is probable ~ Ilyas Kassam

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

Read Full Post »

As a professional gardener I was never surprised that work slowed down a bit in the winter here in New Hampshire-ground that is frozen solid doesn’t hoe well. Each year at about this time I’d start to feel a little anxious-full of energy and excitement- wanting those southerly winds to bring us some spring weather. After it finally got here and I’d had a day or two of working in the warm sun again I’d be walking with a spring in my step, whistling a happy tune.  (If you need a happy tune to whistle, just click here.)

1. Moon on March First

March 1st is the meteorological start of spring here in the North Eastern U.S., and at dawn that day I positioned my tripod on top of the crusty snow for a shot of the waning gibbous moon stuck in the trees.  The clouds parted just long enough in the morning to get a glimpse of it, and then it clouded over again. The astronomical method of dividing the year into seasons names March 20 as the first day of spring.

2. Icy Ledges

Over the weekend I followed an abandoned road that was hacked through the bedrock in the early 1700s. Ledges line parts of that road-this one is about 12 feet high with ice that looks impressive but is rotting and dangerous to climb. It’s hard to describe rotten ice but it is weakened by melt water running over and through it due to warmer temperatures. Once you’ve seen it, you know it. Since it means spring is nearby, I like to see it.

 3. Fissidens adianthoides Moss

Mosses can go through some very cold temperatures and still look like they have just come up in the spring. I thought it would be a cinch to identify this one but once again, nature threw me a curve ball. It resembles both Fissidens and Neckera mosses, so not only am I not sure of the species, I can’t even get to the genus. Whatever it is, I thought it was unusual and beautiful enough to include here.

4. Hobblebush Bud aka Viburnum alnifolium

One of my favorite native shrubs is hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides,) which will be covered with large white, showy flowers in May. Its buds have no scales so they are open to all that nature can throw at them all winter long, just like those of witch hazel. This particular bush was really stunning last spring and I found myself wishing it was in my yard. I can’t wait to see it in bloom again. The flower bud between the two tiny leaves tells me that it will. If you would like to see what it looks like when it is blooming just click here.

5. Split Gill Mushrooms

Split gill mushrooms (Schizophyllum commune) wear fuzzy white coats in winter. Actually they wear these coats at any time, but when they’ve had adequate moisture they appear less fuzzy. The common name refers to the way the folds on their underside resemble gills that have split lengthwise. I haven’t been able to find out if they stay this way all winter or if they start growing in spring, but seeing them makes it feel like spring.

 6. Sap Buckets

Nothing says spring in New Hampshire like a sap bucket hanging from a maple tree. Once spring turns on the flow it doesn’t stop until fall. It’s a good sign that the earth is thawing.

7. Red Jelly Fungus

At first I thought this was a jelly fungus but the small bit to the left shaped like a jelly bean didn’t fit with a jelly fungus. Then, because there are lichens that mimic jelly fungi, I thought it might be one of those, but again, the jelly bean didn’t fit. I finally decided that the only thing that is tomato red and looks like a jelly bean that I know of is wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum,) also called toothpaste slime mold. The smeared parts are “jelly beans” (fruiting bodies) that have been crushed. If slime molds are growing it must be warming up.

 8. Willow Gall formed by Rhabdophaga midges

I found this odd specimen on a willow branch. Since it is smiling, maybe it’s just as happy that spring is coming as I am. Actually this is a stem gall which was formed when Rhabdophaga midges burrowed into the willow’s stem last year, but I can see an eye, a nose, and a smiley mouth. And even a pointy hat.

9. Skunk Cabbage

The skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is looking very red this year. Last year it was a much darker purple. There is a large swamp in Swanzey, New Hampshire where hundreds of these plants grow. Many grow on a hillside that is submerged for much of the winter but dries out a bit in spring, making it easier to get photos of them.  Seeing them is always a good sign that spring is near. Smelling them is difficult.

 10. Mount Monadnock

The cloud deck over Mount Monadnock shows what our weather has been like for the past 2 weeks. Short glimpses of sun are all we’ve seen through small breaks in clouds that stretch from horizon to horizon. Spring is coming, but it isn’t coming quickly or easily-it seems like it’s going to have to be pried from the cold fist of winter one warm, sunny day at a time. I’ll just have to be patient, like the mountain.

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.  The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.  ~Henry Van Dyke

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »