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Posts Tagged ‘Scottish Highland Cattle’

Every year when the leaves change I get the urge to see them from above, believing that somehow the colors will be better up there, but so far seeing fall color from above hasn’t really proven worth the climb. Still, I keep trying and last weekend I chose Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard because of its 360 degree views. There is a fire tower on the summit so the trail is actually an access road, which is wide but also steep and rocky near the summit.

Many of the trees along the old road had already lost their leaves and they crackled under foot. I wish you could experience the smell of walking through thousands of dried leaves. It’s an earthy, burnt marshmallow type of smell that is impossible for me to accurately describe but once you’ve smelled it you never forget it. It always takes me back to my boyhood.

Powdery mildew on some of the oak leaves told climbers the story of how warm and humid it has been recently and reminded them how glad they should be that it wasn’t humid on this day. I for one was very happy that it wasn’t.

The old stone walls along the access road reminded me of the Pitcher family who settled here on the mountain in the 1700s and farmed it. At one time much of the mountain had most likely been cleared for sheep pasture, which was very common in those days.

The rock pilers had been here but this time they used rocks small enough so I could have hidden this pile behind my hand. What they get out of doing this, other than cluttering up the landscape and spoiling the views, I’ll never understand. I refuse to call them cairns because cairns are useful things that help travelers along their way, but these piles of stone are of no use at all.

I can’t say how many times I’ve made this climb and failed to see the Scottish highland cattle that I know live here but this time there they were. I watched them for a while but when number 10 noticed me and started acting interested I thought of the old saying “be careful what you wish for” because all that separated us was a flimsy little electrified fence that I wasn’t sure was even turned on. Luckily the hairy beast was more interested in its stomach than me and it went back to munching grass. It wasn’t until I saw the photo that I realized how cute it was. Kind of cuddly, for a cow.

The highland cattle were very close to one of my favorite places and might have wandered over this ridge. I like this spot because after living in a forest for so long it seems vast and infinite, and void of distractions. It’s just the earth the sky and you and, for a while, blissful emptiness.

Once I had pulled myself away from the edge of infinity and started climbing again a monarch butterfly came flying hurriedly down the mountain and almost flew right into my face. It was in such a hurry that I never did get a photo of it, but it was nice to see it just the same.

As you near the summit big old mountain ash trees (Sorbus americana) appear along the trail. This is the only place I’ve ever seen these native trees in their natural habitat. I’ve seen lots of others but they have all been used as ornamentals.

My favorite thing about mountain ash trees are their big purple-black buds.

The Pitcher family or a subsequent land owner must have had an apple orchard up here because as you near the summit there are also quite a few apple trees in the area. They still bear abundant fruit as the one in the above photo shows. The bears, deer and other apple eaters must be very happy.

I was going to take a rest on the porch of the old ranger cabin but hornets swarmed all around it. The unattended building must be full of them. I wouldn’t want to be the one chosen to find out.

I call the old fire tower, built to replace the original 1915 wooden tower that burned in 1940, a monument to irony. The Stoddard-Marlow fire that took it was the biggest fire in this region’s history, destroying 27,000 acres of forest, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit. It left the summit with an unbroken 360 degree view which is very popular with hikers of all ages. When the fire tower is manned climbers can go up for a look and I’ve seen many families do so.

Many ferns become very colorful before they go to sleep for the winter. I liked the orange / brown of these marginal wood ferns (Dryopteris marginalis.) Marginal wood fern gets its name from the way its spore cases (sori) grow on the leaf margins.

The view wasn’t really hazy but the light had a warm feel and the colors were also on the warm side of the wheel. We’re well on our way to the warmest October since records have been kept, so this was no surprise.

The summit was full of people, and that was a surprise. The Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway trail passes over the summit and hikers often stop to rest here, but I’ve never seen so many at one time. I made my way around them and the fire tower to my favorite view of what I call the near hill. As I stood looking out over the landscape I couldn’t help but hear a conversation which was dominated by a woman lamenting the fact that she had never been “in the moment” and had no idea how to be. She went on to list those times she thought she had been close, but hadn’t quite made it. My thoughts about it were kept to myself because I don’t know much about the subject but if I had to guess I’d say that to be “in the moment” you would have to stop talking, especially about what has happened in the past, and just sit and enjoy the incredible beauty before you. Stop talking and worrying about being in the moment and just be right here, right now. It sounds very simple to me.

Color wise the views weren’t quite as spectacular as they were last year but the foreground colors were good. The shrubs are mostly blueberries and dogwoods and the trees are mixed hardwoods and evergreens. Pitcher Mountain is famous for its blueberries and many people come here to pick them. What I’d guess is that many who pick the fruit don’t realize how beautiful the bushes are in the fall.

Another look at the summit colors.

I was able to see the windmills on Bean Mountain over in Lempster. I discovered recently that I’ve been calling this mountain by the wrong name for years, because when I first read about the windmill farm I thought the text said it was on Bear Mountain. I think it looks more like a reclining bear than a bean, but maybe a family named Bean settled there. Or something.

I loved the deep purple of these blackberry leaves. I wouldn’t want to see a whole forest that color but it’s very pretty dotted here and there in the landscape. Virgin’s bower, blueberries, bittersweet nightshade and quite a few other plants turn deep purple in the fall. I’ve read that the first photosynthetic organisms were purple because they relied on photosynthetic chemicals that absorbed different wavelengths of light. A green plant only appears green because it doesn’t absorb the sun’s green light. Instead it reflects it back at us, so I’m guessing that purple must work the same way.

I always thought of these natural water catching basins that appear here and there in the granite bedrock as birdbaths, and then last year I saw a bird using one for just that purpose. I like the way they catch the blue of the sky and darken it a shade or two. There always seems to be water in them, even during the drought we had last year.

I couldn’t make a climb on any hill or mountain without taking a look at the lichens. There are several species up here but the common yellow goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) pictured was the most prevalent. It is on the rocks all over the summit. This crustose lichen is very easy to find and will almost always be found growing on stone. I also see it on headstones in cemeteries quite often. Crustose lichens form crusts that tightly adhere to the substrate that they grow on and usually can’t be removed without damaging it.

With one last look out over the vast forest I started the climb down. It’s almost always harder on the way down than on the way up, and this trip was no different. I don’t know if the trail is getting steeper or if I’m just getting older.

We don’t stop hiking because we grow old-we grow old because we stop hiking. ~Finis Mitchell

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We had another warmish, sunny weekend day last week so I decided to see how climbing Pitcher Mountain in winter was.

1. Stoddard Church

Pitcher Mountain is in Stoddard New Hampshire, a small town north east of Keene. The town was named after Colonel Sampson Stoddard of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, the charter being granted to him and others on May 10, 1752. The population has fluctuated over the years, falling to as low as 100 people in 1900 to around 1000 today. According to the town’s website the Congregational Church was organized in 1787 but the building in the photo wasn’t built until 1836.

 2. Pitcher Mountain Sign 

Even though Pitcher Mountain is, at 2,152 feet (656 m), the second highest mountain in this area after Mount Monadnock, most of the elevation can be gained by driving so you only have to hike the last 300 feet. In fact, if the gate that the fire warden passes through was open you could drive almost to the top with a 4 wheel drive vehicle.

According to the good folks at the Cheshire County Historical Society Pitcher Mountain gets its name from the Pitcher family, who settled in this area in the late 1700s. Their house was located just a stone’s throw from this sign, right where the parking lot is today. They must have been hardy souls. This is rugged country for farming.

 3. Pitcher Mountain Trail

The elevation gain may be only 300 feet but the trail is steep enough for me to have to stop occasionally to huff and puff and look at interesting things. Several web sites say that if you don’t stop you can reach the summit in about 15 minutes, but what is the hurry?

4. Pitcher Mountain Pasture

The trail skirts a large pasture in places. The owners raise Scottish Highland Cattle here but I didn’t see any of them this day.

 5. Scottish Highland Cattle

Scottish highland cattle look well equipped for our winter weather. This photo is from Wikipedia.

 6. Pitcher Mountain Fire Tower

It isn’t long before you get a glimpse of the fire tower through the apple trees and blueberry bushes. The spacing of the apple trees tells me that there used to be an orchard here. Now people come from miles around to pick the blueberries, and with 50 acres of bushes there must be plenty to go around.

 7. Pitcher Mountain Ranger Cabin

The old fire warden’s cabin still stands but doesn’t look like it sees much use even though the tower is staffed from April through October. There is a privy out in back of the cabin so there probably isn’t any running water here.

 8. Pitcher Mountain Fire Tower

The 5 acres at the very top of Pitcher Mountain are owned by the New Hampshire Forestry Commission. They first built a wooden fire tower here in 1915 but in April of 1940 a fire destroyed 27,000 acres of forest, including the fire tower and all of the trees on the summit.  It was the most destructive fire in the region’s history. The present steel tower is a replacement and, because of the lack of trees, offers a full 360 degree view of the surrounding hills.

 9. Pitcher Mountain View to North East

Lovewell mountain lies somewhere to the north, just north of Washington, New Hampshire but I couldn’t see it on this day because of the haze. These hills make up the Monadnock highlands which separate the Connecticut and Merrimack rivers.

 10. Pitcher Mountain View to West

This hill off to the west looked almost close enough to touch but it would have been quite a hike to the top of it from here.

 11. Pitcher Mountain Pasture

This is the view of the pasture we passed in photo number 4 from above. The cattle have quite a view.

 12. Pitcher Mountain Rock with Lichens

I wondered if these steel rods hammered into the rock were once used for tying down the fire tower.  It was pretty cool with a gusty wind on the summit, so I didn’t stand around wondering for too long.  I was also interested in the lichens. The steel rod was about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch in diameter, so that should give you an idea of how small the lichens were.

 13. Common Goldspeck Lichen

Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) is a crustose lichen that seems very granular when you get a close look at it, and this is the closest I’ve ever gotten in a photo. You can just make out a couple of its round, almost microscopic fruiting bodies (apothecia) in the center of the photo. This lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and was once used in Sweden to dye wool yellow. It must have been difficult scraping it off the rocks that it grew on and I would imagine that yellow wool in Sweden was very expensive then.

14. Tile Lichen

An areolate lichen is one in which the body is made up of many little lumps or islands. The tile lichen (Lecidea tessellata) in the above photo fits that description well. Its black fruiting bodies (apothecia) are even with, or slightly sunken into the surrounding body (thallus). There are 136 species of tile lichens and identification is difficult without a microscope. I’ve made a guess at the identity of this one hoping that someone will correct me if I’m wrong. Tile lichens grow on rock in full sun and can grow through winter in temperatures that are just above freezing.

 15. Monadnock From Pitcher Mountain

As you head back down the trail you are greeted by a view of Mount Monadnock to the south, the only mountain in this region taller than the one you’re standing on.

I’ve learned that everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it. ~Author unknown

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