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Posts Tagged ‘Signs of Spring’

One of the things I love most about spring is seeing all the various buds break open so new leaves can emerge. As this maple bud shows, it can be very beautiful. Each year, usually around mid to late April I start watching various buds, but it all depends on the weather. This year they began to swell and it looked as if they’d break early but then we had a cold snap so they just sat and thought about it. Now, they are all coming alive.

New maple leaves are often tomato red and it is thought that the color wards off sunburn. Since so many plants start out with red or purple leaves it makes sense, but I’ve noticed this year that many of the new leaves are starting out green rather than the other colors, so I think the color must be weather dependent. If we have a cloudy spring there is no reason for them to have to protect themselves from sunburn. But how they know what the sun is doing while still encased in the bud scales is a mystery.

The strict definition of bud break is when the tip of a leaf is seen emerging from the bud, but spring isn’t just about new leaves any more than it is just about new flowers, so I’ve taken some liberties and have strayed a bit from that strict definition. After all spring is really about the beauty of it all in my opinion, and what could be more beautiful than this Norway maple flower bud opening?

In fact I think the bud in that previous shot is far more beautiful than the flowers that came out of it.

Striped maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum), often in velvety shades of pink and orange as these were, grow up out of the bud scales, which are the darker parts seen here. Bud scales offer protection to the bud over winter but as the temperature warms they are no longer needed, so as the bud grows they open to allow it to expand and lengthen. In the case of a striped maple bud, if you watch closely a line will appear on the bud. You can see the whitish lines running up the center of these three buds in the photo.

When the lines appear this is the time to watch the buds closely. I usually visit them each day because the lines signal that the bud is ready to open. When it does it will split open on that line, as can be seen in this photo. It could be that the line is always there but I never notice it until the buds are ready to open so I use it as a signal.

This might surprise people who know striped maples. The big, light gathering, mature leaves on the tree have a flat, matte finish that reflects little light. The only time the leaves shine that I know of is when they have just come out of the bud as these had done. Whether or not that is another strategy to prevent sunburn, I don’t know.

Some native cherry trees will grow flower buds very soon after the leaves appear, and it seems that they put more energy into the flowers than they do their leaves. If you’re all about continuation of the species it makes perfect sense. They’re also among the earliest flowering trees, which also makes sense. Grab the attention of the insects before all the other flowers come out and you have a better chance of being pollinated.

Invasive Japanese honeysuckles are usually the first shrub in the forest to show new leaves. In that way they get a jump on natives and can begin photosynthesizing earlier, and growing faster. This one had a raindrop nestled in its leaves. We have 3 invasive honeysuckles here in New Hampshire and to identify them you can just break a stem. Stems of all three shrubs are hollow while native honeysuckle stems are solid. It is illegal to sell, propagate or plant any of these shrubs in New Hampshire.

I like the way the new spring shoots of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) flow and move. After a shoot comes straight up out of the ground the leaves appear and the shoot nods toward the ground. The height the plant has reached when the leaves begin to appear is the height it will stay at throughout the present year’s growth. Native Americans and early colonists ate these shoots the way we would eat asparagus and they used the plant’s starchy roots in soups and stews. They also dried them to make flour for bread.

I love to see the new spring shoots of blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) but I dread trying to get a photo of them because in my experience they’re one of the most difficult of all the spring shoots to get an accurate photo of. I quickly forgot about that though, when I found two plants growing where there had been just one. Even better was how both had plenty of flower buds. I was happy to see that this relatively rare plant was multiplying. This is the only spot I know of to find it.

The wind is caught in blue cohosh, so maybe that’s what makes it so hard to photograph. You might think there was a gale blowing on this day but no, there wasn’t even a breeze. It just wants to fly. Cohosh means “rough” when translated from Native American Algonquin language, and refers to the knobby root. A tincture of the root was said to start childbirth but science has shown the entire plant to be toxic.

Regular readers of this blog will have seen hobblebush flower buds (Viburnum lantanoides) evolve over the past few months from a hard lump with two “rabbit ears” to what looked like a wormy mass, to what it is now; recognizable flower buds with leaves on either side. Soon the shrubs will blossom, with large sterile, pure white flowers surrounding a mass of smaller fertile, white flowers in the center. It’s one of our most beautiful native shrubs and I hope to be able to bring it to you in another post in the very near future.  

Another beautiful flower is that of the red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea). The buds have broken and the leaves have pulled back to reveal the big, thumb size flower buds. They will become beautiful red, yellow and pink flowers before long. I think the tips of the leaves were frost bitten this year, by the looks.

We had lots of field horsetails (Equisetum arvense) where I worked in Hancock but I had to hunt for this one here in Keene, and one was all I found. I hope to find more before they pass on.

The fertile spore bearing stem of a common horsetail ends in a light brown, cone shaped structure called a strobilus. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll, so most of it is a pale whitish color. When it’s ready to release its spores, the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores.

This horsetail was fully open, revealing its tiny spore producing sporangia. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brownish sporangiophore are the sporangia. They look like tiny white bags. Once it has released its spores it will die and be replaced by an infertile stem.

The rhubarb in a friend’s garden was also breaking bud. When I was a boy I could pull a stalk right off the plants in my grandmother’s garden and eat it right there, but I think I’ve lost my taste for it. They tell me when I was just a pup I’d have a dill pickle in one hand and a baby bottle in the other, so I must have been a bit of sourpuss when I was young. Now just writing about it is enough to make my mouth pucker.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) can be beautiful when it first comes up in the spring, but of course it’s also terribly invasive. I’ve heard that the new spring shoots are tart and juicy and taste much like a cross between asparagus and rhubarb, but I watched a television show about foraging recently and when the two people there tasted the knotweed, they said it didn’t taste like much. Judging by the looks on their faces I’d guess they probably spit it out once the camera looked at something else. The shoots they tasted were quite large though, like the one shown here. I think if you picked the new shoots just as they broke ground, they’d be tender and might be fairly tasty. Developing a taste for them would be a good way to overcome the problem of their being so invasive.

I don’t know if fern fiddleheads fit the description of bud break but I always enjoy seeing them in spring. This is a sensitive fern fiddlehead (Onoclea sensibilis). This fern gets its name from the early settlers, who noticed its sensitivity to frost. Since our last safe frost date is Memorial Day, it was rolling the dice. It’s a beautiful thing with its fur coat and tiny new leaves showing.

Christmas fern fiddleheads (Polystichum acrostichoides) wear hairy, silvery fur coats to protect themselves in spring. This is an evergreen fern so you can often find last year’s green fronds splayed out on the ground with this year’s fiddleheads coming up in the center of the plant. As fiddleheads go these are some of the biggest. This fern gets its name from early settlers, who saw that it was still green on Christmas.

The only fern in this area with fiddleheads that are safe to eat is the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). They are considered an early spring delicacy but they need to be prepared and cooked correctly. I’ve read that eating too many can make you sick. The easiest way to identify ostrich fern fiddleheads is by the brown papery husk that covers the fiddlehead, and the deep groove in the stem. The groove has been compared to that you find on a stalk of celery and as far as I know, this fern is the only one in this region to have it. The plant itself has the shape of the shuttlecock used in badminton, so another name for it is the shuttlecock fern.

I watched beech buds closely over the last weeks and I saw them arch or curl, however you choose to see it, but then stop and do nothing. They simply waited along with all the other buds for the cold snap to end. The buds curl like this because the cells on the top become excited by the light and warmth generated by the stronger spring sunshine, and grow faster than the cells that grow in the shade on the bottom of the bud.

The difference in cell growth rate creates a tension in the bud, which increases until the bud simply can’t take any more and tears itself open. This releases the new leaves, which are beautifully covered in silver hairs. Sometimes they look more animal than plant.

Once the sunlight reaches the new leaves, they expand like an accordian and quickly lose their silver hairs. Bud break is one of the most beautiful things to happen in a New England Forest in the spring and I do hope that you are able to see it. Once you’ve seen something like this you never forget it.

Miracles, in the sense of phenomena we cannot explain, surround us on every hand: life itself is the miracle of miracles. ~George Bernard Shaw

Thanks for stopping in. I hope all the moms out there will have a grand and happy Mother’s Day tomorrow!

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We’ve had a string of very warm days here lately and that was all it took to kick spring into high gear. As you can see in this photo of the buds, red maples are responding to the warmth and buds are breaking. You can just see the male stamens all tucked inside the now open buds.

And then on another branch of the same tree the male flowers had fully opened and were producing pollen. I looked at several different red maples on this day, but this was the only one I saw flowering. Tree blossoming periods are staggered over several weeks, so if frost damages some flowers it won’t damage them all. That’s a good thing because this tree has misjudged the weather and jumped the gun. The night time forecasts include below freezing temperatures this week, so there is a good chance that any open flowers on this tree will die. However, thanks to the staggered bloom times that nature has seen to, I might still find red maples flowering a month from now.

I checked hundreds of hazelnut buds but hadn’t seen any of the tiny scarlet, female thread like flowers. They would appear at the top of a bud much like this one, which is so small I don’t really know how to describe it.

But then I saw this bush, loaded with golden colored male catkins, so I decided to check it for female flowers. Hazelnut catkins are just a string of tiny male flowers that usually spiral around a central stalk, and though these weren’t open and producing pollen yet the fact that they have readied themselves to do so is enough to awaken the female flowers.

And there they were, just barely opened on the first day of spring. If the wind blows just right and they are pollinated these almost microscopic scarlet threads will become hazelnuts, which will hopefully ripen by next fall.

There was a time, when I was gardening professionally, that I dreaded seeing dandelions starting to bloom, but I can’t tell you how happy I was to see this, the first dandelion I’ve seen this year.

I suppose my outlook must have changed. All the prejudices that I had toward them began to slip away and I started seeing dandelions for what they really are, which is a beautiful yellow flower that shouts spring is here! When I stopped fighting them and just let them be, I saw the beauty that had always been there. It was only my thoughts about them that had kept their beauty hidden. As Marcus Aurelius said “If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgement of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgement now.” Though I didn’t consciously “wipe out my judgement” of dandelions I have certainly softened my attitude toward them over the years. My dislike (that was mostly learned from others who didn’t like them) has completely fallen away, and maybe that is as it should be. All of my life they have been here. I have eaten their leaves and drank the coffee I made from their roots and dusted the tip of my nose with their pollen, and they are old friends.

I’ve spent a few years trying to figure out what the name of this plant is. I know it is in the mustard family and I know it’s a cress, but I’m not sure which one so I’ll just call it a spring cress. I think it might actually be hairy bittercress but by most accounts it’s a hated weed that is almost impossible to eradicate because of the huge numbers of seeds it produces. You can pull plants until the cows come home but you’ll always miss one or two. It’s like sea turtles; most will get eaten by birds or fish but there will always be some that survive to carry on the Prime Directive, which is continuation of the species. Nature has taken care of it.

Can you see the beauty in this “horrible weed?” Its leaves were just unfolding when I got there, which I thought made it even prettier.

If I go all the way back as far as my memory will go, I find the flowers of ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) living there. Both houses I spent my time at when I was young, my father’s and grandmother’s, had plenty of ground ivy in the lawns and I used to love seeing them bloom so early in spring. Ground ivy is in the mint family and is related to henbit. It has a powerful and unusual odor when it is mowed, with the kind of smell that gets in the back of your throat and stays there for a while.

I brushed some leaves aside where I know Solomon’s seal plants grow and there were the spring shoots. After I took this photo, I covered them up again and let them be. They’re beautiful just as their first leaves start to unfurl, so I’ll try to be there at the end of April to see it happening.

Even after temperatures in the 60s and 70s F. willows still aren’t showing any signs of their yellow flowers. They know what they’re doing and they bloom when they’re ready but I have seen bees and other insects flying already, and they would love to forage on some willow pollen, I’m sure.

I looked at the buds of a native pink azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides) and though the bud scales looked like they had relaxed I’m not sure any actual swelling had begun. They bloom in June so there is time. As can be seen in this photo this is a very hairy plant, and it is the hairs on the outside of the flowers that exude the wonderful scent.  

Looking for the seedpods of a wild azalea is a good way to find them. They’re quite large and showy.

Snowdrops bloomed while there was still a bit of snow left near them. Maybe that’s how they came by their name.

Johnny jump ups have lifted their heads up and are blooming far better now than they were just a week ago. The warm weather and rapidly melting snow have given everything a boost and plants now seem anxious to get going.

I saw a crocus, then two, and then just a day or two later they were everywhere. It’s remarkable what a couple of warm days will do for flowers in springtime. It was all very sudden; it seemed like most of the flowers in this post had appeared overnight.

I saw some of my old favorites. There were lots of bees buzzing around all the open flowers but they were too skittish for me to get a shot of them.

This one was very dark. Better to show off the yellow stamens and pistil in the center to the bees, maybe. I certainly enjoyed the contrasting colors.

This white one was quite small for a crocus. I’d guess barely an inch across.

All of these crocuses were small. I don’t know if they’re a new kind of hybrid or if they’re just getting smaller with age.

A new witch hazel has come out, or at least it’s new to me, and it’s very pink. I don’t remember ever seeing one with pink petals but I must have because I visit these bushes every spring.

I went to see the skunk cabbages and wow; I saw a lot of them. So many in fact, that I couldn’t move without stepping on the ones still under leaves that I couldn’t see. When you step on a skunk cabbage spathe they squeak, much like a head of cabbage does sometimes when you cut into it, and that’s how I knew I had stepped on them.

Luckily, I only stepped on one or two and didn’t damage them too badly. In any event the spathe isn’t quite as critical as the spadix, which is the pinkish thing that carries the tiny flowers seen here. The spadix is what, through a process called thermogenesis, can raise the temperature of the plant to as much as 70 degrees F. inside the spathe, thereby attracting insects to the tiny flowers, which on this day were already producing pollen. To a cold, hungry insect it is a nice warm cave that serves food. Though this plant’s roots are poisonous and the leaves can cause burning in the mouth Native Americans new how to prepare it, and used skunk cabbage medicinally. I’ve read that they also used the roots as an underarm deodorant, though I’m not sure just how that might have worked. In the 1800s medicine made from the plant was sold as a cure all, most likely by traveling salesman.

Spring in the world! And all things are made new! ~Richard Hovey

Thanks for coming by.

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I drove north out of Keene Wednesday, thinking I’d do a climb but I saw that there was still a lot of ice and snow in the woods so I decided against climbing that day. Instead I went to Yale Forest in Swanzey, where there is always something interesting to see.

There was ice here as well, but not enough to matter.

Off in the woods I saw a mossy log. Since I was still looking for a chance to see what my new camera could do with a spore capsule, I decided to take a look.

But this log was as smooth as if it had been shaved. It wore a velvet coat of moss that didn’t have a single spore capsule in it.

Even the haircap mosses (Polytrichum) were capsule free.

A big red pine had fallen and that was a surprise because I hadn’t realized that they grew out here. I thought that any red pines found in this area had been planted but I wasn’t sure of that, so I went to the Yale University Forestry website and found that they were indeed planted here after the 1938 hurricane blew down much of the original natural growth. Thousands of trees were lost in that storm in Keene and surrounding towns. My grandmother told of driving from Marlborough to Keene in what she thought was a rain storm until she started seeing trees falling in her rear-view mirror. Luckily, she made it without a scratch.

It wasn’t a hurricane that took this tree, however. There was lots of bark beetle damage on it. They can girdle a tree just under its bark and once girdled, it dies. These particular beetle runs were much larger in width than those found on white pines.

Lots of bush clover grew along the road in sunny spots. These are last year’s seed heads.

What ice there was on this trail was rotten, as could be seen by its milky, opaque appearance. When I walked on it instead of being slippery it just crushed into pieces and I’d guess by the next day it was gone.

I saw these strange tracks further on and wondered who would be hauling what looked like a cart through here. Then later on I met up with a lady who was pushing her grandson (?) in a three wheeled baby stroller. It seemed that it would be very hard work pushing it over ice and through snow but she was smiling and mentioned what a great day it was, so she must have been doing okay with it. I hoped  I’d never meet up with her in an arm-wrestling contest.

I found a pencil size branch with some split gill fungi (Schizophyllum commune) on it. These tough, wooly coated bracket fungi are true winter mushrooms that appear in late fall. Split gills grow on every continent except Antarctica and are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. It is known for its medicinal properties, which include antifungal and antiviral qualities. These examples were maybe three quarters of an inch across and that’s about as big as I’ve ever seen them get.

The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds of tissue on its underside that split lengthwise when the mushroom dries out. The splits close over the fertile spore producing surfaces in dry weather and open to release the spores when they’re rehydrated by rain. As is all life, this little mushroom is driven to to ensure the continuation of the species, and that’s why it has increased its spore bearing surfaces with these folds of tissue. It’s an unusual strategy that makes this little mushroom very pretty.

A young red maple had fallen across the trail but luckily it rested high enough to walk under. I’d guess fungi weakened it and the wind did the rest.

Soon enough I was at the outflow stream from the beaver pond, which I was going to have to jump. Since the stream is getting wider all the time it gets harder to jump each time, but I just made it without getting wet. Apparently, my shadow decided to stay put while I looked for a suitable jumping spot. I can’t explain it; I was the only one there and I didn’t notice it until I saw the photo. Either there must be a human shaped tree out there somewhere or I had a very quiet companion.

The beavers hadn’t repaired their dam yet and by the looks of the ice on their pond they wouldn’t be doing anything any time soon. I’m sure the unlucky people who had to take it apart are happy about that. Taking beavers dams apart is hard work.

I thought this was a beautiful scene with the bright sunshine and all the colorful beeches.

This was my attempt to get a shot of beech leaves backlighted by the sun. When I could see again, I returned to the trail.

I saw some turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) with a little blue in them, which just happens to be my favorite color, so I was pleased. I’ve searched for many years now trying to find out what determines what colors a turkey tail will be but apparently nobody knows.

There was quite a large vernal pool thawing in the woods and I wondered how I missed it on the way in. I’d guess that it won’t be long before it’s full of tadpoles.

The last thing I noticed on the way back was a long beaked bird’s head on a log. The last time I was out here last fall I saw an old man’s face in a branch, so this place seems full of interesting “wood spirits.” Seeing faces and other objects where there are none is called Pareidolia and it is said to be a normal human tendency.

One of the best examples of Pareidolia that I can think of is the “Old Man of the Mountain.” The profile could be seen in the White Mountains of New Hampshire until it fell on May 3, 2003. This photo by Jeffery Joseph was taken just seven days before the event. Many thousands of people traveled from all over the world to see the “Great Stone Face” (actually a series of 5 granite ledges) so I suppose it might have been called mass Pareidolia.

One who returns to a place sees it with new eyes. Although the place may not have changed, the viewer inevitably has. For the first time things invisible before become suddenly visible. ~Louis L’Amour

Thanks for coming by. And Happy Spring! (Tomorrow)

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I looked out the window to see the sun shining and the rhododendron leaves not curled one morning, so I knew it would be a good day for a walk. And how great it was to have nothing to do but choose a place to go walking, I thought. I chose a rail trail in Swanzey that I knew would be ice free over at least parts of its length, because I could see it from the road. My starting point still had a little ice on it but there was also gravel to walk on.

Once I got into the sunshine it was clear sailing. Or so I thought. There were two or three shaded spots further on that still had ice on them. One of the great things about this walk was the singing of the birds. Like someone flipped a switch, it seemed they all had to sing. One of the bird songs that always says spring to me is the “fee-bee” mating call of the black capped chickadee. Since I was a boy, I’ve loved hearing it in spring. Though some hear “hey sweetie,” from what I’ve read most of us hear “fee-bee.” In the end it doesn’t matter what you hear, what’s important is being out there to hear it.

The ice on the drainage channels beside the roadbed looked to be thick in places.

Most of it varied from between one and three inches thick, by the looks.

A beech in the sunshine on a winter day is a beautiful thing. What was strange though, was not having someone stop and ask me what I was looking at. That happens all the time but on this day, I had this trail to myself. I never saw another soul. That must be a weekday thing as blogging friend Eliza said, because the last time I was out here it was on a weekend and there were people everywhere.

Another beech had lost all its leaves so I looked at a few buds and noticed the bud scales were relaxing. They weren’t as tightly closed as they are in January. I could just see the hint of an arc in this one and that’s the thing I’ll watch for. Sunlight causes the cells at the top, or sunlit part of the bud to grow slightly faster than the shaded part and this makes the bud arch up until finally it can arch no more, and that’s when bud break happens. The bud fairly tears itself apart and the new leaves emerge, and fresh spring beech leaves are one of the most beautiful things you can see in a New Hampshire Forest in the spring. How nice it will be I thought, to be able to watch spring slowly unfold.

The big buds of shagbark hickory hadn’t changed much but they also bear watching, because they are also very beautiful when they open. A tree full of newly opened buds is a sight that can take the breath away.

One of the reasons I wanted to come out here was to see how my new camera would do with moss spore capsules, but I didn’t see a single one the whole way. Not any on the apple mosses, not even any left over from last year.

I could see the Ashuelot River through the trees and it was ice free. A good sign.

A pine tree had fallen and had been cut into logs, and they had been oozing plenty of sticky sap. Turpentine is made frome white pine sap, and that’s what it takes to get it off your clothes.

Another reason I wanted to come out here was to see if any work had been done to the drainage ditches. I was happy to see that they had been dug out and pitched correctly so the water would flow away from the rail bed. The only problem I saw was how all the removed soil had been piled along the tops of the ditches. I thought that when it rained the rain might wash the soil back into the ditches.

No sooner had I that thought I saw that the rain had indeed washed the soil back into the ditch, filling it to the top and completely stopping up any water flow. This damming up of the drainage ditch has happened in two or three places and means that water may fill the ditch and run up over the railbed in a heavy rain. This could wash out the railbed, which is exactly what digging out the ditches is supposed to prevent. The decision to pile the dirt where it has been piled doesn’t seem to have been a good one.

American wintergreen, also called teaberry, (Gaultheria procumbens) leaves were shining in the sunlight. They often turn purple in winter and these had done so.

The third reason I wanted to come out here was because I saw some skunk cabbage leaves at the base of this ledge last year and I wondered if I might see a spathe or two, but it looked like the plant went away when the ditch was dug out.

I saw what looked like bark beetle damage on a young red oak that had died and lost its bark. I think this is the first time I’ve seen damage like this on oak.

There was an apple gall on another oak, on what was left of a leaf. In May, a female wasp emerges from underground and injects one or more eggs into the mid-vein of an oak leaf. As it grows the wasp larva causes the leaf to form a round gall. Galls that form on leaves are less harmful to the tree than those that form on twigs, but neither causes any real damage. This gall was empty, and I knew that by its color and by a tiny exit hole near the top on the far side.

Though it looked like a fault had pulled apart this drainage ditch ice I think it was fast running water that caused the big gap.

And there was the trestle. This one is quite high above the Ashuelot River in this spot, much higher than the trestle that was near our house, which I grew up playing on.

The ripples on the river show how hard the wind was blowing up here.

The water was muddy but it had gone down some, according to the line of ice on the riverbank. It usually stays quite high through spring and that’s the time you see most of the kayaks and canoes on it.

The reason you don’t see many canoeists or kayakers once the water level drops in summer is because of all the submerged trees there are in this river. They seem to fall in constantly throughout its length.

I saw a curious almost perfectly round, thawed circle in the ice on the way back, and that was enough to keep me wondering all the way back to the car.

To walk into nature is to witness a thousand miracles. ~Mary Davis

Thanks for coming by.

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Last weekend I went looking for signs of spring again and this thin ice sign was one of those I found. Thin ice at this time of year is a good sign if you happen to be a spring lover. The town puts them up in fall as the ice starts to form, then takes them down for the winter and puts them up again in spring when it starts to thaw. It’s good to pay attention to them; there have been photos in the local newspaper of plow trucks sitting in water up to their windows after going through this ice.

The ice was pulling back from shore so you wouldn’t catch me skating on it.

The willows are really coming along now. The soft gray catkins could be seen everywhere on this day.

I’m not seeing any yellow in them yet though, so it will be maybe a week or two before they flower.

I did see lots of pinecone galls on the willows. This gall appears at the branch tips and is caused by a midge (Rhabdophaga strobiloides) laying eggs on them. Once the eggs hatch the larva burrow into the branch tip and the plant reacts by forming a gall around them. They aren’t very big but are very noticeable at this time of year. Galls and the insects that cause them, and the reactions of the various plants they appear on is a fascinating subject but they always lead me to two questions: how and why?

Hazelnut catkins are continuing their spring color change over to gold from green. I usually see the tiny scarlet female flowers in April but I have a feeling they might come a little earlier this year.  

This might look like an old pile of leaves but it is actually a hellebore plant. Hellebores bloom quite early so I usually start watching them at about this time of year. Another name for them is Lenten rose, because they will often bloom during Lent.

Crocuses have appeared alongside what I think are reticulated iris, and they are growing fast. A week ago there was no sign of them. The warm weather and rain this week should give them and everything else a good boost.

Daffodils are on hold, just waiting for the silent signal. The bed they’re in needs some serious weeding.

Since these are not my gardens, I can’t be positive but I do know that hyacinths grow near the front of this bed. Unfortunately an animal had dug down and eaten many of them. I’ve seen chipmunks and squirrels but no skunks, racoons or possums yet, so I’m not sure what could have done it.

There was quite a mound of good-looking soil that had been dug up. There’s nothing like the smell of newly thawed soil in spring.

This bulb had been rejected so it might be a daffodil. Daffodils are poisonous and somehow, animals know it.

I was surprised to see tulips up. No buds yet though, just leaves.

I keep checking the trails, hoping the ice will have melted. It is melting but not very quickly. Hopefully after the warmth and rain this week they will finally be clear of ice. I’ll never forget this winter. It has been one of the iciest I can remember. Even trail reports on the radio are saying that you should bring spikes.

I went to see a Cornelian cherry to see if it had woken up yet and I was very happy to see some yellow inside the bud scales of that pea size bud on the left. It won’t be long before its small but pretty yellow flowers unfold. I’ve seen them as early as late March. Last Sunday it was 65 degrees, so we might see them in March again this year.

Magnolia buds are covered by a single hairy bud scale called a cap and when the bud inside the cap starts to swell in spring the bud scale will often split and fall off, but as can be seen here by the bare space under the bud scale, the bud seems to be pushing the cap up and off. I’ve never noticed this before, but maybe it happens regularly, I don’t know. In any event it signals that magnolia buds are beginning to stir.

I took a look at the big horse chestnut buds. They’re easy to see but not so easy to get a photo of because they’re up over my head. Beautiful flowers will appear out of these buds in mid to late May.

Since most people have probably never seen a red horse chestnut blossom (Aesculus × carnea,) here is a not very technically good photo of what they look like. The tree is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) I’ve read that bees and hummingbirds love the beautiful red and yellow blossoms.

After visiting the horse chestnut, I thought I’d wander over to the big old red maple. There still wasn’t a lot going on in its buds but they bloom in March so it won’t be long. Maybe it will be a sudden awakening. Speaking of sudden awakenings, I heard the first red wing blackbird today. If that isn’t a sign of spring then I don’t know what is. Soon the spring peepers will add their trills to the chorus.

Johnny jump ups were still blooming, even though they had been covered by snow for a week. I might apply for a part time job at the local college. That’s where some of the beds you see in these photos are located and they’re so full of weeds I’m almost embarrassed to show them. Maybe they would welcome a part time weeder. This bed is full of spring bulbs so it should be weeded before they come up.

I went to see the skunk cabbages, hoping that the spathes had opened so I could get a shot of the spadix with its strange little flowers, but they weren’t quite ready. You can just see a crack opening on the lower rights side of the bulbous part of this spathe but it’s nowhere near open enough to get my lens in. Maybe next week. I’d better bring something to kneel on though because the swampy ground had thawed and water filled every footstep.

The spring blooming witch hazels were in full bloom and I wanted you to see this one because of the translucence of the petals. Having to get so close to them to get a photo meant that I was awash in their wonderful fragrance. I find it impossible to describe but other have likened it to fresh laundry just taken down from the clothes line.

This witch hazel couldn’t have bloomed any more than it was. It had nice color too.

I chose this photo so you could see the different stages of a witch hazel bloom. On the upper right the petals are just emerging, and below that they are about half way unfurled. Finally in the center the flowers have fully opened. I’ve discovered this year that this can happen very fast. There are 4 or 5 different varieties in this group and as I wandered among them taking photos by the time I got back to where I had started many more flowers had opened on that first shrub I looked at. This was in the space of maybe 15-25 minutes.

In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against Nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth.  ~John Milton

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We’ve had two or three warm days in the mid 50s F. and the ice that has covered everything is finally starting to melt. The ice is everywhere you go and it has kept me from climbing, and even off the trails. Even with spikes on it is difficult to negotiate so I went to a small pond where I thought most of the ice would be on the pond where it belongs.  

I was wrong. There was ice covering the land as well so I had to think about each step and plan my route. If you’re traveling very far it can be exhausting but fortunately I move at a toddler’s pace so I can see the wonders.

Despite the ice I was able to get to the pond and I saw that the ice on it was melting. It was like a booster shot of joy into my arm.

Another shot came when I looked up at all the buds on a big red maple.

And the willows that showed their soft catkins.

There were lots of sensitive fern spore bearing fronds here and they, along with the willows and the big red maple told me that I was in a damp, or even wet place. All three plants like lots of water.

I love to see the color of last year’s grasses against the white snow but even there, there was ice.

This shot is for those who have never seen how a white or gray birch changes from brown to white. It’s always kind of a ragged looking process. White and gray birches can split easily in what are often extreme temperature changes in winter, where the outer bark warms or cools faster than the inner wood. A tree can tear itself apart with the stresses, so the relatively weak white colored birches use the color to reflect, rather than absorb sunlight. By doing so they’re less prone to frost cracks.

I ran into a blackberry, which is always a memorable experience. At least until your torn flesh heals.

What, I’m wondering, is going on with the mallards? A few days before this encounter mallards just stood and ignored me as if they didn’t see me, even though I was just feet away, and on this day these two swam toward me as fast as their webbed feet would take them and then just sat, as if expecting me to do something. This is very odd behavior for New Hampshire mallards, which are usually so skittish they have flown or paddled away long before you can get near them. They must be from the city where people feed them bread. That’s the only answer I can come up with.

The male just swam in circles as if waiting impatiently.

And his lovely mate just sat in a state of bliss while I took her portrait. I hope they learned from the experience that not all humans mean to harm them. I hope they also learned that not all humans walk around with a pocket full of bread.

The mallards were in the sheltered outflow of the pond, which had already thawed. Out here near the frozen pond itself the wind tore through the place with enough force to blow even the tough cattails back and forth. I’m surprised this shot came out at all because that wooly head was all over the place when I snapped the shutter. I think the wind was actually blowing the fluffy seeds right off the plant, which is part of The Plan.

Another plant that relies on the wind is the vine called virgin’s bower, which is a wild clematis also called traveler’s joy or woodbine. Its tadpole like seeds have long, feathery tails (styles) which the wind catches and blows to a new growing spot. I know that it’s a successful strategy because I see this plant wherever I go.

The long feathery style attaches the female stigma to the ovary. Once pollen finds the stigma a pollen tube grows down through the style to fertilize the eggs in the ovary, which is where the seeds form. I’ve looked at these seed heads a thousand times since I was a boy and I’ve never seen the finger like growths that show here. Are they what is left of the pollen tubes? It will take someone more knowledgeable in botany than I am to answer that question, but it any event they were small enough to be almost microscopic, and I’d guess that’s why I’ve never seen them.

I stopped to admire some tongue galls on these alder cones (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 do wish I knew how they benefited from growing in such unusual forms. Maybe to present more surface area to the wind?

Under the alder were all of last year’s leaves. Once they begin to decompose, they will become compost that feeds the plant they came from.

There were lots of galls on the goldenrods out here. This type of gall, called an apple gall, is caused when a tiny fly lays its eggs on the plant. When they hatch the gall fly larvae (Eurosta solidaginis) eat holes into the plant’s stem, and this makes the goldenrod grow a ball shaped gall around them. The larva will start to produce an antifreeze in its blood in the fall and will grow inside the gall all winter. These galls have thick walls to discourage wasps and birds from reaching the larva, but I have seen birds, including chickadees, pecking their way into the center.

Here was a double gall, which I don’t see that often.

This pretty lichen grew on a fallen tree. I believe it is one of the sunburst lichens (Xanthomendoza.) One of the best places to go to study nature is near water because water is so important to all life. Many lichens for instance, like high the humidity found near water. You will find a good cross section of all the various forms of life that live in an area near water, even by a small pond like this one, and that is why most of the posts found on this blog have water in some form in them. It is of course also a great place for children to start exploring nature.

When you gaze out on a quiet, peaceful meadow, next to a still pond, under a motionless blue sky, you wonder how the noisy, busy cacophony of life could have arisen from such silent, motionless beginning.
~ Anonymous

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I don’t know about anyone else but I am really itching for spring to come this year. I knew I shouldn’t have snapped that sugar maple twig a while back because I knew if it dripped sap it would begin. “It” being spring fever, which I seem to catch every year at about this time. I find that one of the best ways to alleviate it is to go and find spring, so that’s what I do. I always learn by doing this; one of the first things I saw was a henbit plant, which had come through winter beautifully green and as healthy as it was in September, so I’ve learned how cold hardy they are. I’ve never seen the light shining out of one before though, like it is over there on the left. Henbit blooms quite early, so it shouldn’t be long.

Hollyhocks also come through winter with a few green leaves. At this time of year any green thing is worth more to me than a sack full of gold. Actually that’s true at any time of year.

I told you a while back that the daffodils I saw in the snow had made a mistake and would surely die, but it was I who made the mistake because here they are again, looking heathier than ever. It’s easy to forget that plants that come up in spring when it’s cold have built in defenses against the cold. Unless it is extreme below zero cold. In that case the snow can actually protect them from the cold and I think that must be what happened here.  

The ice pulled back and almost immediately the shoots of what I believe are reticulated iris came up. That’s the story this scene told to me and it’s most likely accurate because I’ve seen reticulated iris blooming in the snow. They are one of our earliest spring bulbs, often blossoming before crocuses.

Ice melts in mysterious ways sometimes.

While some mallards were swimming away other braver birds were hanging out on the ice at the edge of a small stream. I suspect they must have been citified birds because they weren’t anywhere near as skittish as their country cousins are. All I had with me for a camera was my phone and my small point and shoot so this isn’t a very good shot. It says spring to me though, and that’s why it’s here.

I went into the hummocky swamp where the skunk cabbages grow. I was fairly sure I’d come out of here with wet feet because I had forgotten my big boots but surprisingly, I stayed dry. I didn’t even have to dance from hummock to hummock like I will have to later on when all that snow and ice melt.

There is nothing worse than trying to keep your balance while squatting on a hummock like a garden gnome, so I was very happy that I didn’t have to do that to get this shot of a skunk cabbage melting its way through the ice. Through a process called thermogenesis skunk cabbages can raise their internal temperature to as much as 70 degrees F. in the flower bud to melt their way through Ice and snow. That’s the splotchy maroon and yellow flower over on the left. The outer splotchy part is the spathe and inside is the spadix, which holds the flowers. They should be blooming soon.

I got lost in the curled tip of a cinnamon fern for a bit, trying to get a shot of what I saw.

Skunk cabbages aren’t always easy to find. I took this photo of a melted spot in the swamp to show you that it was warming up and I thought that it was too bad there wasn’t a skunk cabbage in the shot. When I got home and looked at the photo, I got my wish. The finger like growth on the left is the skunk cabbage I didn’t see, even though I was looking right at it.

This might not look like much but this is how winter often ends here, with the south facing slopes melting off first. It’s always nice to see it happening. Of course we could get another two feet of snow tomorrow, but that can’t change the fact that it is warming up and the ground is thawing.

Tree melt rings are another good sign of spring’s approach. I’ve read that they happen when trees reflect the heat from the sun enough to melt the snow around them.

I was hoping that I could get this shot full of dark eyed juncos, which line the bare sides of the roads in winter and spring, picking seeds from between the stones, but I’ve seen just a few birds this year and most of those were here in my own yard. I don’t like the thought of our birds disappearing and I hope that it’s just my imagination, but it seems like it was just two or three years ago when they were everywhere for most of the winter.

Mud is another sure sign that spring is near hereabouts. Though it makes an awful mess on cars, shoes, and anything else that gets near it, I think most of us are happy to see it. Mud season doesn’t last all that long, usually.

I happened to walk past a Cornelian cherry shrub and thought I’d check to see how it was coming along. I didn’t see any signs of its early yellow flowers yet but it’s an early bloomer.

I walked past the Cornelian cherry to get to the vernal (spring blooming) witch hazels and I saw flowers there. Here were some petals just about to unfurl from the bud.

And here were some almost completely unfurled. What a beautiful thing to see after this cold and icy winter we’ve had. Spring, even the thought of spring, warms my insides first.

And the flowers were even spilling pollen onto their petals already, hoping to entice an early bee or two. I haven’t seen one yet but it shouldn’t be long. These flowers are normally very fragrant but I couldn’t smell them om this day. I think more sunshine and warm days will bring out the fragrance.

I saw the moon in the afternoon sky and though I didn’t have a tripod with me I thought I’d try to get a shot of it. Surprisingly, this is the result. It’s grainy but at least you can tell it’s the moon. The first full moon in spring is called the worm moon here because the ground is thawed enough for earthworms to be active again.

I think for me spring, more than anything else, means softness. In winter in New England everything freezes and contracts and gets very hard. The ground is like concrete for months but in spring things begin to loosen and soften. It’s a soft, sweet time and I’m very much looking forward to it. I hope spring is wonderful wherever you are.

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. ~ John Galsworthy

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This post will be the last with ice in it for a while, but scenes like this one were still common just two or three weeks ago. Beaver lodges can be quite big, with the floor a couple of inches above the water level. On the floor they scatter a 2 or 3 inch deep bed of dry leaves, grass, shredded wood and other materials to keep the floor dry. They don’t hibernate. They can swim under the ice but they can’t hold their breath forever so they can’t stray far from their lodges in winter. Their winter food is green branches and twigs they anchor into the soft mud around the lodge. When hungry they dislodge a branch, which stay green in the cold winter water, and drag it into the lodge.

This winter I’ll remember for its ice. It was everywhere. It was terrible to walk on but often beautiful to see.

But ice melts, and in this photo it is doing just that on Half Moon Pond in Hancock. The ice usually melts off around mid-April but this year it happened about two weeks early due to above average temperatures and record breaking warmth.

This snowbank raised what looked like a defiant fist and seemed to say “I will not melt”! But it did melt; they all did.

In fact the ice and snow melted so fast the sign removal people couldn’t keep up.

The Canada geese knew the thaw was coming and they were here almost immediately after the ice melted. Many ducks have returned as well, and I’ve heard spring peepers, wood frogs, red winged blackbirds, and the beautiful but sorrowful sounding fee-bee mating call of male black capped chickadees.

I’ve been watching buds, like this blueberry bud. It always amazes me that a plant with blue fruit can have so much red in it. I think the white stripe running up the stem and around the base of the bud might have been frost.

Lilac buds can also have a lot of red in them. They’re starting to swell noticeably now.

Red elderberry buds are also getting bigger by the day. The deep purple fingers of unfurling leaves are beautiful as they come from their buds in the spring. It won’t be long now.

I think the buds of sweet gale have elongated some but they’re so small it’s hard to tell. They’re pretty little things. This small, very aromatic shrub is also called bog rosemary. I find it on the shorelines of ponds along with leatherleaf, alder and rhodora.

How beautiful the leaves of swamp dewberry are in spring before they turn green and start photosynthesizing. Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing plant with fruit like a black raspberry and its stems are every bit as prickly. It also looks a lot like a strawberry when it’s in bloom and because of its strawberry like leaves, which are evergreen. This is a plant that can trip you up when hidden by snow. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for this plant, including treating coughs, fever and consumption. Swamp dewberry, as its name implies, is a good indicator of a wetland or moist soil that doesn’t dry out.

We lost a huge old pine tree where I work and I wanted to get photos of it because if you look closely you can see that the bottom half was completely hollow. A big pine like this one fell on a friend’s barn a few years ago and cut it right in half. A snow blower parked inside was crushed down to a jumble of mashed metal.

The scary part of this tree falling was how it fell right next to one of our roads. Thankfully there was no one going by at the time. When it fell it took two or three other smaller trees with it.

I saw a small delicate feather stuck on the bark of a tree and wondered if it might be a nuthatch breast feather. We have lots of them where I work. The rose breasted nuthatches are so fearless that one day I almost stepped on one. I’m glad I saw it at the last minute.

Blue jays stayed here all winter long; the first time I’ve ever seen this. And there were large flocks of them. Many people in the area were commenting about how unusual it was.

I found a beech leaf and a pinecone twirling slowly in the breeze at the end of a strand of spider silk. Since both leaves and cones fall from trees I’m guessing that they fell through a spider’s web. I’ve read that spider silk is five times as strong as the same diameter thread made of steel. I’ve also read that, if you had a piece of spider silk the same diameter as a pencil, it would be strong enough to stop a Boeing 747 in flight. It’s always good to have a little awe in our lives, I think.  

Here is one of the strangest things I’ve ever found in the woods. I said “Oh, a bird’s nest” and walked over to it. I could see bits of yarn and string like a bird would use but something didn’t look right. It was too perfectly round.

And it was as hard as a rock. That’s because it was a ball with the outer covering torn off. If you’ve ever taken the covering off a baseball you’ve seen this same thing, because this was indeed the inside of a baseball.

The inside had been hollowed out like a bird’s nest and I have to say that I have no idea how it got its outer covering removed or how it got stuck in the crotch of a willow tree. Did someone hit a homerun that landed in a tree? Did someone put it there hoping birds would nest in it? It’s a mystery to me.

Tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuatus) does just what its name sounds like it would; it grows at the base of trees and makes them look like they’re wearing green stockings. It can also grow on soil or stone and can form extensive mats. This was a beautiful example of it. Jut look how it glows.

Tree skirt moss grows up to 3 feet high around the bases of hardwoods, especially oaks. Knowing where certain mosses prefer growing, whether on soil, stone or wood, can help with identifying them. This moss is very changeable and changes its appearance depending on how dry it is. This example was moist and happy.

This one is for Ginny, who last fall said she couldn’t imagine what a leaf pile the size of a box truck would look like. These are all the leaves that were collected last season where I work.

Of course the pile has settled some over the winter but that’s still a lot of leaves. It takes three full months to collect them all; maple, birch, basswood, oak and beech mostly, and once they decompose we use the resulting compost for lawn patches and what have you. You can just see the top of an older pile in the background that we have dug into.

My little friend here and his cousins try to collect all the acorns and pinecones that fall but we had another mast year and there must be millions of both still left to cleanup. I’ve read that mast years happen when the trees are stressed and I’d guess that drought over the past couple of years would have stressed them severely.

I do hope everyone has a healthy and happy Easter and I hope the sun shines for you, wherever you are.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

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Last week I had some back pain that was uncomfortable enough to keep me home from work one day. But if there is one thing I’ve learned over 50 years of back pain it is that sitting around is the worst thing you can do, so as soon as it was warm enough I decided to try walking off the pain. Walking, I’ve discovered, is the best thing for my kind of back pain. The above photo is of the woods in part of my neighborhood that I walked past. Black bear, deer, rabbits, turkeys, hawks and blue herons are some of the larger birds and animals I’ve seen in the area.

I didn’t walk through the woods though; I stuck to the road. Back pain calls for easy walking, not breaking trails. This shot of beech leaves in the sunshine and every other photo in this post is from the road.

There are some old black cherry trees out here and most have some type of noticeable changes caused by black knot disease. This one looked like a burl but no, it is a swelling caused by a fungus called Apiosporina morbosa. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots which will eventually become serious wounds, and eventually the tree will die.

Witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) grew right at the edge of the road so I was able to get a shot of the little cup shaped bracts that the petals come out of. This is a fall blooming witch hazel but the spring blooming Hamamelis vernalis witch hazels will be blooming soon.

I’m seeing what seems like an awful lot of fallen trees everywhere I go.  

I saw plenty of signs that it had been snowing. I haven’t kept close track but we’ve gotten at least some snow almost every day for the past two weeks.

There is quite a large wet area along the road where red maples grow. Some people call them swamp maples but if you look up “swamp maple” you find Acer rubrum, the red maple. They are also called water or soft maple. They don’t mind occasional wet feet.

Overhead I could see red maple buds that seemed to be swelling up, preparing to blossom in March. It’ll still be a while before the flowers unfurl, but they’re on the way and they’re beautiful to see in spring. 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.

I looked at a sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and saw that it had a broken branch. And where the broken branch met another there was a single drop of pure maple sap, so the sap is flowing and that means buds are indeed swelling.

Cattails (Typha latifolia) decorated the edge of a small pond. I have a feeling that muskrats or other critters are eating the roots of this particular patch of cattails because it has actually been getting smaller over the years. That’s unusual for cattails because they can grow faster than fertilized corn. Scientists have recorded cattail marshes travel up to 17 feet in a year in prime conditions just by sending out new shoots. They are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even help the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them.

The fluffy cattail seed heads are all ready for the return of red winged blackbirds, which will use them in their nests. I’ve also watched female red winged blackbirds pick grubs out of the previous year’s stems. Cattails were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They had uses for every part of this plant; even the pollen was harvested and used in bread.

I got lost for a bit in the beautiful bark of an old white pine. We have some very old, very big white pines in this area but many of the tallest, straightest trees were taken by England in colonial days to be used as ship masts. In 1722, a pine tree law decreed settlers couldn’t cut any white pines bigger than a foot in diameter and then later on the colonists had to pay for a royal license to cut white pine trees on their own land. In 1736, one of the king’s surveyors seized white pine logs in Exeter, New Hampshire. This act so enraged residents they disguised themselves as Indians, beat up the surveying party, sank their boat and chased them into the woods, where they hid all night. All of this led eventually to what is known as the Pine Tree Riot. In an open act of rebellion New Hampshire colonists cut down and hauled off many marked mast pines in what was just a taste of what would come later in the American Revolution.

An oak that stood next to the pine in the previous photo had Trentepohlia algae growing on it. Trees have vertical grooves in their bark that help channel water away in a rain and many mosses, lichens and even algae grow on the “banks” of these vertical streams. You can see that happening in this photo. Apparently these are the places that stay wettest longest after a rain.

Even in silhouette I knew I was under a northern catalpa tree (Catalpa speciosa) because of the string bean like seed pods that can be two feet long. In fact when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Catalpa wood is very rot resistant and railroads once grew great plantations of them to be used as railroad ties. They are still used for utility poles today. Midwestern Native American tribes hollowed out the trunks of catalpa trees and used them as canoes, and the name Catalpa comes from the Cherokee tribe’s word for the tree. Natives made tea from the bark and used it as an antiseptic and sedative. Parts of the tree are said to be mildly narcotic.

I’m guessing that this hole in a maple is an animal’s home. There are scratch and / or bite marks all around it. It was big enough for a squirrel and they will live in hollow trees given the chance.

It’s hard to go anywhere in New Hampshire without seeing a stone wall so I wasn’t surprised by this one. You can tell by the smaller stones supporting larger stones that some thought and care went into this wall, and that means it is a laid wall. Most of our walls are “tossed” or “dumped” walls, built only to get rid of the stones in the pasture with no thought taken for looks. Laid walls took longer and were usually built along road frontage where they could be seen by passers by, just as this one was.  New Hampshire has an estimated 50,000 miles of stone walls but I doubt anyone will ever know for sure. The woods are full of them.

More expensive walls were built of cut stone like the piece of granite seen here. illustrates perfectly how feathers and wedges were used to split stone. The finger size half holes seen at the top are about 3-4 inches deep holes and were drilled (by hand) in a line where the split was to take place. Then curved pieces called feathers were put into each hole and wedges were driven in between them. As happens in splitting wood, the force from the wedges being driven ever deeper splits the stone. I have a feeling this piece of granite was found and placed here because most of this wall was simple field stone. Building stone walls is one of the most satisfying things I’ve done but unfortunately it’s very hard on the body.

After walking for a while I came to the Thompson covered bridge, named after playwright Denmon Thompson who was a native son, and built in 1832. This bridge is a truss style bridge with two spans that meet on a center support. One span covers 64 feet and the other 63.5 feet, making the total length 136 feet 10 inches long. It once had two covered walkways, but now has only one on the upriver side. It can be seen on the left in the photo. Town records indicate that there has been a bridge in this spot since at least 1789.

This view shows the stone center support for the two spans. The bridge design is known as “Town lattice,” patented by Connecticut architect Ithiel Town in the early 1800s. The open lattice work lets a lot of light into the bridge and this is unusual because many covered bridges were and are dark and cave like. In the 1800s being able to see daylight inside a covered bridge would have been the talk of the town. The Thompson Bridge is considered by many to be the most beautiful covered bridge in New England.

The Ashuelot River, which the Thompson Bridge crosses, was partially frozen over in this spot. I thought I might see some Canada geese but they don’t seem to winter over here anymore. This photo does show what a beautiful day it was, geese or not.

I hope this post shows that you can find a lot of interesting and beautiful things right in your own neighborhood without even leaving the road. My favorite photo from this walk is of an ice covered stone in the river. It was like alabaster on silk and I thought the colors and textures of the water were beautiful.

Though my back hadn’t returned to 100 percent the two hour walk did it a world of good and I returned to work the following day. Not only does walking exercise muscles; what you see in nature takes your mind off the pain and lets tense muscles relax.

My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature. ~Claude Monet

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Flowers aren’t the only beautiful things to appear in spring. Fern fiddleheads can also be beautiful as this lady fern fiddlehead (Athyrium filix-femina) shows. Lady fern is the only ferns I know of with brown / black scales on its stalk. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams and rivers.

I came very close to stepping on this small garter snake because I didn’t see it until the last moment, but it didn’t move. In fact it let me take a few photos and walk away and when I went back later it was still there soaking up the sun. It’s a good thing my grandmother wasn’t with me because she would have been up the nearest tree, so great was her fear of snakes. She knew garter snakes weren’t poisonous, but she was still afraid of them.

Garter snakes might not be poisonous but false hellebore (Veratrum viride) certainly is. In fact it’s one of the most toxic plants to grow in a New England forest and people have died from eating it after mistaking it for something else. Even animals won’t eat them, but certain insects or slugs will, and usually by July the plant’s leaves look shot full of holes. I think the deeply pleated oval leaves are quite pretty when they first come up in spring.

It’s hard to believe that a plant with flowers that look as delicate as those on heartleaf foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) can make it through a winter but these plants are evergreen and because of that are photosynthesizing far ahead of their competition. Their pretty 4 inch tall racemes of small white flowers will appear in mid-May. Sometimes these leaves are mottled with purple or have dark purple veins. Some Native American tribes used the mashed roots of foamflower in a poultice on wounds and used an infusion of the dried leaves to relieve sore eyes.

Japanese knotweed can be quite beautiful when it starts to unfurl its leaves in spring but Americans have no love affair with it because it is an invasive weed that is nearly impossible to eradicate once it becomes established. I’ve seen it killed back to the ground by frost and in less than 3 weeks it had grown right back. I’ve heard that the new spring shoots taste much like rhubarb, so maybe we could defeat it by eating it.

Speaking of rhubarb, it has just come up. This one was just unfolding a new leaf and had a tomato red bud just waiting. Rhubarb is a native of China, and though its leaves are poisonous it was used medicinally there for centuries.

Though these plants looked like ferns I’m not sure if they are. If they are they’re the earliest to leaf out that I’ve seen.

Beaver brook wasn’t showing any signs of new leaves on the trees that arch out over it but I don’t think it’s going to be long before they appear. We saw 90+ degree temperatures this week.

While at beaver Brook I visited the plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) to see if its flower buds had opened. They were open but only the cream colored male stamens were showing. This is odd because female sedge flowers usually appear first.  In any case I’m sure it knows what it’s doing better than I and I would bet that by now the female flowers are out and waiting to be pollinated.

How I wish you could have heard all the spring peepers chirping and trilling away in this beaver swamp. It’s a sound that many of us here in New England long to hear once March and April come along.  For those not familiar with them, spring peepers are small frogs with a loud voice and sometimes a pond full of them can be almost deafening on a warm spring evening. They are brown with a darker X shape on their backs and large toe pads for climbing. The “peep” is a mating call that comes from the male, which of course is trying to attract a female.

I went to the beaver pond looking for the bloodroot flowers that grow there but they hadn’t come up yet. Instead I saw some of what I think were Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pennsylvanica) flowers. It’s too bad that many people never see these tiny blooms. They stand about 4 inches tall and grow from a clump of what looks like coarse grass, but what is actually a sedge. Creamy yellow male staminate flowers release their pollen above wispy, feather like female pistillate flowers. The female flowers usually open first so they can receive pollen from another plant and avoid self-fertilization. As the plant ages the male flowers will turn brown and the female flowers, if pollinated by the wind, will bear seed. Though it looks much like the plantain leaved sedge flowers we saw earlier these flowers and plants are much smaller.

What look like giant pussy willow catkins are actually the catkins of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides.) Quaking aspen is the only poplar tree with catkins like these that doesn’t also have sticky bud scales. If the shiny brown bud scales were sticky it would be a balsam poplar(Poplar balsamifera.) These long catkins fall from the trees and get stuck in other tree’s branches and in shrubs. They can make quite a mess for a short time.

Though these tiny stigmas looks like the female flowers of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) they are actually the flowers of the beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta,) which grows in areas north and east of Keene. Beaked hazelnuts get their name from the case that surrounds the nut. It is long and tubular and looks like a bird’s beak, while the nut cases of American Hazelnut have two parts that come together like a clamshell. The best way to tell the two apart is by looking at the new growth. On American hazelnut the new twigs will be very hairy and on beaked hazelnut they’ll be smooth like the one shown.

White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) is an extremely toxic plant but I love the movement that its new spring shoots have. Every time I see them I think how nice it would be to sit beside them and draw them, but I never seem to find the time. Native Americans brewed a tea from the roots of this plant and used it medicinally to treat pain and other ailments, but no part of it should ever be ingested. In late summer it will have bright white berries with a single black dot that give the plant its common name of doll’s eyes.

When you see white fur like that in this photo appear on female silver maple buds, this means the seeds (samaras) are just about to appear. For just a very short time they’re deep red with a furry white fringe, and they’re beautiful enough to watch each day so you don’t miss them. I hope to have a chance to catch them in all their glory this year.

The stamens of male box elder flowers (Acer negundo) hang down from the buds on long filaments and sway in the breeze. Box elder is in the maple family but its wood is soft when compared to other maples. Several Native American tribes made syrup from its sap and the earliest example of  a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

Once the leaves start to show on a box elder it’s time for the lime green female flowers to appear.

Here’s a closer look at the female box elder pistils just starting to show. They’re very pretty things but they don’t last long. Soon the seeds will form and there will be no need of flowers.

The flower buds of the American white ash (Fraxinus americana) appear before the leaves and can be colorful sometimes and at other times be as black as blackberries. The Native American Wabanaki tribe made baskets from ash splints and some tribes believed the wood was poisonous to rattlesnakes, and used canes made of ash to chase them away.

The beautiful pink and orange buds of striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum) have appeared but I was a little late in seeing them because many had already opened so the leaves could unfurl. Their opening signals that it’s time to now watch beech buds, which should open at any time. Beech bud break is another very beautiful forest treat that many people miss seeing.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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