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Posts Tagged ‘Silky Dogwood Fall Color’

I’ve been wondering about this mowed trail under the powerlines in south Keene for many years now. Since the land is near the local college I was sure they must have made the trail, but why? I decided to finally find out more about it last Saturday.

Since I grew up in this area I thought the trail might lead to the Ashuelot River, which is right behind those trees on the other side of the powerline cut.

But before I did anything I made sure all the power lines were still in place as they should be. A few years ago a terrible accident happened here when a college maintenance worker came out here to see what birds he might find. He didn’t notice that one of the lines had fallen and he was electrocuted. The electric company had neglected to inspect and repair their towers, so one of the tower cross members that the big insulators hang from had simply broken off due to rot and the wire fell to the ground. And I used to play under these things when I was a boy.

There were huge numbers of goldenrod here.

And quite a few of the deep purple New England asters that I like so much.

The dogwood leaves had already turned to their beautiful maroon fall color.

As I thought it would the trail turned into the woods.

I was happy to see that my boyhood playground was now a wildlife management area. That means this land will be protected.

A game trail led into the woods so I followed it.

The trail became what looked like an otter slide, and I found myself standing about ten feet above what was left of the river. It is definitely lower than I’ve ever seen it and I’m not sure what will happen if we don’t get some rain soon. Wells are going dry all over the state.

A marker told me that I was 1.56 miles from somewhere. Or maybe I had 1.56 miles to go. Either way it didn’t matter.

Sumacs are changing into their beautiful fall red.

Ferns stood as tall as I did.

A woodland sunflower was curling into itself, I’m guessing from lack of moisture. I’ve never seen the woods look so dry.

A backwater had nearly dried up, and that was hard to see. What struck me as most odd about the scene was the lack of animal tracks. There are large animals like deer out here and they need to drink but they hadn’t been here, so I wondered if this was more of that river mud that it is so easy to sink in to. I wasn’t going to try. I learned a lot out here when I was a boy and one of the most important lessons was not to do foolish things like play in wet river mud when I was alone.

And then I came to the college soccer fields. I can remember when they were built and a couple of college students walking the trail looked like they wanted to call me Methuselah when I told them that.

A silver maple showed me how it got its name. Normally, as the old tale says, when you see the silvery undersides of these leaves it is going to rain. On this day though, all we saw was a 20 MPH wind.

It really is amazing what the college has carved out of what was essentially wilderness.

There were lots of flowers to see; mostly asters and goldenrods.

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana,) our native clematis, often has deep purple leaves at this time of year.

Virgin’s bower also has fluffy seed heads and I think the seed heads are as interesting as the flowers. This is our most common native clematis and can be seen on roadsides draped over shrubs or climbing high up in the trees. Many bird species eat the seeds and goldfinches line their nests with the soft, feathery seed coverings. They also give the plant another common name: Old Man’s Beard. 

It was nice to see so many of these dark colored asters. This color isn’t common here but they’re my favorite.

It was amazing to think that, when I was a boy living barely a 5 minute walk from here, none of this existed. The power lines were there and what grew under them was cut fairly regularly, but the rest of the area; the college fields, the paths, the wildlife management area, none of it was here. What was here is what you see above; a forest, and it was a wonderful, magical place to grow up in. I spent most of my free time in these woods and on the railroad track that ran through them, and being here again was like going home. I was thankful for the mowed trails that made it so easy to get out here and I hope the college students will have as much fun here as I had. It’s a very special place.

Nature, even in the act of satisfying anticipation, often provides a surprise. ~Alfred North Whitehead

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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Last weekend was another hot, humid one so I spent some time at one of my favorite spots along the river. Due to our ongoing drought the water was as low as I’ve seen it get and some of the plants that grow here were looking parched. In spring I would have probably been in water up to my chest if I stood in this spot.

An invasive purple loosestrife plant (Lythrum salicaria) made a mistake and grew just a yard or so from the water. When the river fills and comes back to normal this young plant will be completely underwater.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) grows along the riverbank and I like to look for the pink “flowers” at the base of each dark purple berry. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

Downstream a still pool looked inviting on such a hot day and if I were 12 years old again I would have been swimming rather than sweating. This river was very polluted when I was a boy but now children often swim right here in this spot and people also fish it for trout. I see an occasional bald eagle flying along the river and great blue herons often stand along its banks. We seem to have a shortage of herons this year though. I’ve only seen two this summer and one of them was standing in the middle of a road, slowing traffic.

Goldenrod and Joe Pye weed grew on the edge of the pool.

There is a lot of iron in the stones in this part of the river but I don’t know if that is what colored the riverbed in this spot or not. Whatever it was looked almost like algae.

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) flowers are quite small but there are usually so many blooming that they’re easy to spot. They bloom from the bottom of the flower head up, so you can tell how much longer they’ll be blooming. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into a flour or meal by some tribes, and the flowers were dried and used as snuff to treat nose bleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the European settlers and they used it in much the same ways.

A wasp was busy pollinating boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum.) This is another plant that won’t be blooming too much longer.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries, even grown in the herb gardens of Charlemagne. It was brought from England by early colonists and by 1785 it had naturalized in New England. Still, I can count the times I’ve found it in the wild on one hand, so it can hardly be called invasive. The flat flower heads are made up of many button like disc flowers; almost like a daisy without the white ray flowers that we call petals. The ancient Greeks grew tansy for medicinal use but modern science has found it to be toxic.

Tansy is a natural insect repellent and has historically been used as such but a crab spider was full of hope that an insect might be lured in by its bright yellow flowers.

Northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) grows prolifically here. This plant has opposite leaves that turn 90 degrees to the previous pair as they make their way up the square stem. Tufts of very small white flowers grow around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant likes wet places and, since there are many different species of Lycopus, it can be hard to identify. In fact, I’m never 100% sure that I’ve gotten it right.

I was very surprised to find marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) growing on the riverbank. This plant seems to be spreading quickly from place to place and I was happy to see it here because I often have to search high and low for it. Not only is this the only pink flowered St. John’s wort I’ve ever heard of; both its buds and seed pods are bright red.

Common St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) still bloomed here but I haven’t seen it anywhere else for a while now. This plant’s healing properties have been well known since ancient times.

What I call a spontaneous gift of nature stopped me in my tracks. The soft glow of the sun shining through the red leaves of a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) was beautiful. You can’t plan things like this; you simply have to be there and if you are you may see something you have never seen or even dreamed of.

Those silky dogwood leaves really shouldn’t be red this early, and neither should this burning bush leaf   (Euonymus alatus) be pink already. The first day of fall is nearly a month away unless it comes early, and some of the plants I’ve seen are hinting that it might.

These oak leaves weren’t hinting at an early fall; they were shouting it.

But on the other hand some oaks were just now working on continuation of the species.

Ducks and many other birds feed on the seeds of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and by the looks the ones on this plant were already gone. This native shrub grows all along the river and I see it fairly often. Each fertilized flower turns into a seed pod that hold two black seeds.

Flat topped asters (Doellingeria umbellata) bloomed along the river bank in shadier spots. This aster likes wet places and partial sunshine. It can grow up to 5 feet tall on unbranched stems, but these plants leaned out toward the river.

I didn’t know that fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) bloomed here until I saw the pretty seed pods. The flowers of fringed loosestrife are unusual because of the way they offer oils instead of nectar to insects. The oils are called elaiosomes and are fleshy structures that are attached to the plant’s seeds. They are rich in lipids and proteins. Many plants have elaiosomes that attract ants, which take the seed to their nest and feed them to their larvae. I like the little stars around each seed pod.

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia) plants bloomed on the riverbank and it struck me when I saw them how so many plants grow and bloom in places that will most likely be completely under water in a few months. Indeed during spring thaws I’ve seen many feet of water cover the very spot I was kneeling in. It was a bit unsettling to think about and I’m not sure how such seemingly delicate plants can survive it.

It’s always nice to spend part of a day on the river I grew up just a few yards from and have known all of my life. I saw so many interesting and beautiful things in less than a mile of waterway, and that always makes me imagine what I’d see if I could explore the whole thing. Someday maybe.

Meanwhile I’m content with the beauty I know that I’ll always find when I come here, like this beautiful cedar waxwing caught in a ray of sunshine. It was another of those spontaneous gifts of nature. I hope all of you receive similar gifts.

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. ~Miguel Angel Ruiz

Thanks for stopping in.

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