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Posts Tagged ‘Skunk Cabbages’

In how many forms can the softness of life appear? A mother holding her newborn child comes to mind. Or the feathers on a song bird’s breast. Freshly fallen snow. A favorite pet’s fur. On this day it was new spring leaves. Actually it was more the view across Half Moon Pond and the reflection in it that was so very soft. It made me feel soft, or maybe gentle is a better word. Or tender. But words don’t matter. Nature will bring you softness in its many forms.

When I looked down at my feet instead of across the pond I saw ripples in the sand. But this isn’t the view of a beach; this photo looks through about a foot of water to see these ripples. Nature also brings clarity.

I found what I thought was the dry husk, called an exoskeleton, of a dragonfly on the stem of a pond plant. I’m seeing a lot of them lately and they signal dragonfly emergence from the water. A dragonfly crawls up a leaf or stick as a nymph and once the exoskeleton has dried a bit the dragonfly emerges from it to unfold and dry its wings. When its wings are dry it simply flies away and leaves the exoskeleton behind and that’s what the strange husks are, but this one was different. I believe those are eyes that I see. I can’t explain what look like threads. It’s as if the dragonfly were laced into a costume.

If what I see are eyes this was a dragonfly in the process of emerging from its exoskeleton, and that is something I would have liked to have seen. Unfortunately I didn’t see the eyes until I looked at the photo. The entire creature was barely an inch long.

An old hemlock tree that grew right at the edge of the pond fell and over the years weather has washed every bit of soil from its roots. I thought what was left was as beautiful as a sculpture. I could look at it all day.

Our big snapping turtles are up out of the swamps and looking for suitable places to lay their eggs. They often choose the soft sand around the pond, sometimes right of the edge of the road. They’re right on time; they usually appear during the first week of June. Snapping turtles dig rather shallow holes with their hind legs and lay anywhere from 25-80 eggs each year. Incubation time is 9-18 weeks but many eggs don’t make it anywhere near that long. Foxes, minks, skunks, crows and raccoons dig them up and eat them and destroyed nests are a common sight along sandy roadsides. These big turtles eat plants, fish, frogs, snakes, ducklings, and just about anything else they can catch. Oddly, when in the water they are rather placid and don’t bother humans. This one didn’t pick a very good spot. You can probably see all the tire track in the sand around her.

This mother turtle seemed to have lost her way, or maybe she was just crossing the road. In any event I hope she made it. Some don’t; I’ve seen turtles that have been run over by cars.

Pretty little rosy maple moths almost always show up at about the same time as the snapping turtles start laying their eggs, and that is always fascinating to me. These moths lay their tiny eggs on the undersides of maple leaves and that’s how they come by their common name. Adult moths do not eat but the caterpillars are able to eat a few leaves each. They are called green striped maple worms.

We have a grove of crabapples where I work and they were just coming into bloom when I took this photo. They’re in part of the 13 acre meadow that I mow.

I thought this view of the Ashuelot River might make you think I had caught a tree falling, but actually that dead white pine on the left is falling in very slow motion and has looked like that for a while now. When it finally does fall I think it might almost stretch across the entire river. It’s very tall.

A painted turtle family rested on a log in the waning sunshine. Mother seemed to be more concerned with the littlest one scampering away than with her twins. Or at least that was the story that came to mind as I watched.

Red maple seeds (samaras) are always beautiful. In fact there is little about a red maple that isn’t beautiful.

Silver maple samaras are not as colorful as red maple samaras at this stage but are still beautiful in their way. When they’re young they’re bright red topped off with a white wooly coating and are very beautiful.

You don’t need to live on the seashore to see waves. When the water level in the Ashuelot River is just right waves like these form and people can see this section of river when it is most alive and at its most beautiful. I always try to capture the waves in my camera so I can show you what I saw. I’ve known this river all of my life and it has taught me much, including how to photograph waves.

I find some of the plants and flowers you see on this blog in places like this. Many plants like skunk cabbages like boggy ground and they can find it in these swampy areas. All of this water finds its way into the river in the previous photo, and it helps make the waves that I enjoy watching so much. The streams that flow down from the hills in the distance, the swamp seen here, the river; they are all connected, just as all of life is connected.

The skunk cabbages are having a good year, despite it being so dry last year. Though many plants are flowering like I’ve never seen there are a few that seem to be having a tough time of it.

Someone nailed what looked like a lumberjack cutout to a tree. I can’t even guess why.

Royal ferns (Osmunda spectabilis) have started producing spores. Another name for this fern is “flowering fern,” because someone once thought that the fertile, fruiting fronds looked like bunches of flowers. Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are thought to be able to live 100 years or more. I always like to show this fern because a lot of people don’t know that it’s a fern. This one lives next to a stream.

I went to Beaver Brook in Keene hoping to see the beautiful trilliums that grow there but instead saw how beautiful the brook itself was. In spring before the leaves are fully unfurled is one of the few times you can see this view. Just up around that corner in the distance grow trilliums, Solomon’s seal, rose moss, dog lichen, blue stemmed goldenrod, purple flowering raspberry and many of the other beautiful plants that you often see on this blog.

I’ve included this photo, taken just after a shower, so you would know that it isn’t always sunny here in New Hampshire. It was taken when droplets were still falling from the trees above, and I heard the steady pat…..pat…..pat of drops as they landed on an oak leaf. When you focus on such a sound you might find that your mind becomes quiet and free of thought. You might also find that the cares and problems that you carried into the woods with you seem smaller somehow, and much less important. Serenity is just one of many gifts that nature has to offer.

Unfortunately, though we have had enough rain lately to nearly end the abnormally dry conditions I’m still not seeing many mushrooms. I did find this one growing on a pine stump. Google lens thinks it’s a scaly sawgill mushroom (Neolentinus lepideus) but I wouldn’t bet the farm on that.

I can’t explain why these oak leaves were so beautifully red in June but I was happy to see them. They felt as silky as they looked.

Grasses like this orchard grass have started to flower and they’re always worth looking at a little more closely because they can be as beautiful as any other flower. Orchard grass seed heads are composed of spikelets that bear two to eight flowers which dangle from thin filaments (pedicels) and shimmer in the breeze, which of course blows the pollen to other grass plants.

Sweet vernal grass is a short, knee high grass that flowers in spring. The white “strings” you see in the photo are its flowers and since this grass doesn’t mind light shade the white is usually very easy to see. One of the most interesting things about this grass is how it smells like fresh cut hay with a bit of vanilla spilled on it, and it is for that reason it is called vanilla grass. I’ve read that the scent comes from the same substance that gives sweet woodruff its fragrance.

Ho hum, just another fallen tree in the forest, right? Not exactly. I like to see what mosses, lichens and / or fungi are growing on fallen trees so I usually look them over. This one was certainly mossy but that isn’t what caught my eye. It was the wound on the log, where enough of the bark had gone to show the beautiful, swirling grain pattern of the wood underneath. What furniture maker, I thought as I admired it, wouldn’t give his eye teeth for a log like this one? I’d love to have a table top made from it. Or even a cane. Which I hope I won’t need right away.

I should explain for the more recent readers how these “Things I’ve Seen” posts began. Years ago I realized that I had a lot of leftover photos after a blog post had been put together. They weren’t bad photos; it was just that they didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. It’s hard to fit a photo of a snapping turtle into a flower post for instance, so instead I used them in this kind of post. Pretty much everything you’ve seen here was just something I stumbled into. That’s also what makes these posts the hardest ones to do, because I sometimes stumble onto something I’ve never seen. But that is fine; the best way to study nature in my experience is to not think about how things should be or how you hope they will be; instead just experience and accept what is, and enjoy it as it comes.

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

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Have you ever gone outside on a spring morning and found the day so beautiful you wanted to throw out your arms and shout thank you? That’s what this day started like, with a beautiful blue sky and wall to wall sunshine. And with all of the red maples so full of red buds; I knew I had to go and find some flowers.

But it was still a little cool and I was afraid most flowers wouldn’t have opened yet, so I went to the river. I found ice baubles had grown over night on the shrubs that line the riverbank, so it had gotten colder than I thought.

The ice baubles form when river water splashes onto a twig or anything else and freezes. Slowly, splash by splash often a round ice ball will form. They’re usually as clear as crystal but these seemed to have a lot of bubbles in them.

There were waves on the river so I thought I’d practice catching one with my camera. I don’t use burst mode; when each wave comes I click the shutter, but it isn’t quite as easy as it sounds because there can be three or four small waves between big ones, so you have to sync yourself to the rhythm of the river. Sometimes you get a miss like this shot was. Just a bit too early for a really good curl but I love the colors.

And sometimes you’re a little too late. I find that there are times when I can “give myself” to the river and get shot after shot of breaking waves. I can’t really describe what giving myself to the river is, but your mind clears and you shoot each wave almost without really trying. I sometimes call it stepping out of myself or losing myself, and it’s always wonderful when it happens. You find that you can do things you didn’t know you could do, like reading waves.

As I was leaving the river I saw a bit of ice in a depression in a boulder. It looked like it had a face in it. Was it an elf? It was wearing a stocking cap, whatever it was.

Wildflowers are coming along and I saw my first dandelion. Since I found one blooming in February last year I’ve now seen dandelions blooming in every month of the year. Believe it or not I have more trouble finding them in summer these days than I do in the colder months. I know many people think of dandelions as weeds but to me all flowers are beautiful and there’s nothing cheerier than a field of dandelion blossoms in March. In fact one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen was a field of dandelions and violets all blooming together. My grandmother used to cook dandelion greens like spinach for me, so I suppose they’re part of me.

I also saw henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) blooming. Henbit gets its common name from the way chickens peck at it. The plant is in the mint family and apparently chickens like it. The amplexicaule part of the scientific name means “clasping” and describes the way the hairy leaves clasp the stem. The plant is a very early bloomer and blooms throughout winter in warmer areas. It’s from Europe and Asia, but I can’t say that it’s invasive because I rarely see it. I’ve read that the leaves, stem, and flowers are edible and have a slightly sweet and peppery flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked.

Here is what the foliage of henbit looks like for those who have never seen it. I find growing along with ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), which the foliage resembles in shape but not in habit. Henbit stands taller than ground ivy and the leaves are a different shade of green in early spring. Those of ground ivy lean more toward dark purple in early spring.

I also saw what I think were some very crinkly hollyhock leaves. I don’t know if they appear very early or if they live under the snow all winter.

We who live in New England have a fifth season called “mud season” and it is upon us now. Sometimes it can really be brutal; in the old days schools were often closed for a month because of it.

Here is a view, courtesy of the Cheshire County Historical Society, of what mud season can do. This was taken in Westmoreland, New Hampshire sometime in the 1940s. Gravel roads become a sea of mud and very little in the way of motorized transport can get through it. It begins when the upper foot or two of soil thaws but anything under that stays frozen. Water can’t penetrate the frozen soil so it sits on top of it, mixing with the thawed soil and making dirt roads a muddy quagmire. It’s like quicksand and it’s hellish trying to drive through it because you’re usually stuck in it before you realize how deep it is.

Snowdrops were living up to their name up in Hancock where there is still snow. When I was gardening professionally not a single client grew snowdrops and as far as I know nobody in my family did either, so I don’t know them well. I do know that they’re scarce in this area; I see small clumps of 4 or 5 flowers here and there every spring but not the huge drifts of them that I’ve seen online. They simply don’t seem to like it here and that could be because they aren’t used to our kind of below zero cold. I’ve read that they’re in the amaryllis family so maybe that’s why.  

I went to see the budded daffodils that I saw last week. I was sure they’d be blooming but not yet. We’ve had a coolish week so maybe they’re waiting for that silent signal. I have a feeling these will be white daffodils because of the bud shape. Of course they might not open at all; I once worked for an English lady who complained about bud blast in her white daffodils. Most springs they would start to open and then, just as they were showing a little color they would die off. Either a freeze or a hot spell can cause it and these have been through both. White varieties appear to be much more susceptible to bud blast than the yellows.

Tulips are growing fast. These had doubled in size in a week.

One of my favorite spring bulbs, the reticulated iris, doesn’t seem to be doing well this year. Or maybe they’re just Petering out. I’ve never grown any myself but I’ve heard they just fade out after awhile.

I went to see if the skunk cabbages were showing any foliage growth yet but didn’t see a single leaf. The ground had thawed in their swamp so rather than kneel down it wet mud I sat on a hummock beside them to get this shot with my phone. I thought about that silent signal as I sat there; the one that calls the red winged blackbirds back and makes the spring peepers peep and the turtles come up out of the mud. It’s doubtful that the signal is heard by the critters, I thought, so it must be felt. But if that is so, why can’t I feel it? But then I thought about how I wanted to throw out my arms and shout my joy that morning and wondered if maybe I did feel it and just didn’t know it. The things that come to mind when you’re sitting on a hummock in a swamp.

I would have bet breakfast that the willows would be in bloom but they held back like the daffodils. In fact many things are holding back but this week is supposed to be in the 50s and 60s, so that should coax all the plants that haven’t dared to dip their toes into spring to finally jump in with a splash.

The violas were still blooming just the way they were a week previous, so the weather doesn’t bother them at all. The pansy family is made up of cool weather lovers anyhow, so I wasn’t surprised.

The witch hazels were still going strong too. What a glorious fragrance!

Crocuses certainly aren’t holding back. Blue (purple?) ones have joined the yellows I saw last week. The gardener is going to wish he’d raked those leaves before the flowers came up. Now he or she is going to have to hand pick them.

This one is certainly purple, and very beautiful as well. The first crocuses of the year just do something to you. They let you know that yes, spring really is here despite the forecast.

These crocuses grow under redbud trees and don’t see sunlight until the afternoon so they hadn’t opened yet. I was disappointed until I saw how beautiful the unopened blossoms were, and then I didn’t care. How lucky we are to have such beauty in our lives. And everywhere you look, too. It really is a wonder we can get anything done.

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! ~Sitting Bull

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We’re still on the weather roller coaster but it is slowly warming up and the snow is melting, as the melt ring around this pinecone shows. I was happy when I found this because it answered a question that I’ve had for a long time: why do melt rings form around tree trunks? As the pinecone shows it has to be the sun warming it up, and as the pinecone releases that warmth the snow around it melts. Or maybe it’s simply heat radiating from the pinecone during the day when the sun is shining. The dark cone would absorb more sunlight than the white snow would.

Here is a melt ring just getting started around this tree. A study done by Emeritus Professor of Botany Lawrence J. Winship of Hampshire College, where he used an infrared thermometer to measure heat radiated by tree trunks, found that the sunny side of a red oak was 54 degrees F. while the shaded side was just 29 degrees F. And the ground temperature was also 29 degrees, which means it was frozen. This shows that trees really absorb a lot of heat from the sun and it must be that when the heat is radiated back into the surroundings it melts the snow. The professor found that the same was true on fence posts and stumps so the subject being alive had nothing to do with it, even though a living tree should have much more heat absorbing water in it. In my mind, the pinecone in the previous photo answers the question of melt rings.

But I didn’t have long to wonder about melt rings on trees because on Monday March 4th we got about 6 inches of new snow. This shows part of my drive to work that day.

I pass this scene almost every day so I can see if the ice is melting. It was and then it wasn’t. Winter can be very beautiful but the pull of spring fever can be terribly strong. By this time of year almost everybody but is ready for spring and waiting impatiently.

It’s hard these days to follow a trail that hasn’t been broken. It never used to be but things change. I’ve never been a real fan of snowshoes so I used to just trudge through it, even if it was up to my knees, but going any real distance through snow much deeper than your knees is a struggle at any age and in any condition, and these days I avoid it.

But as I said it can be beautiful enough to stop you in your tracks. Every season has its own beauty, as this early morning view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows.

No matter what the sun always appears again and it was very beautiful on this eastern hemlock tree, I thought. I think algae colored its trunk and the sun came along and lit it up. You can walk just about anywhere in nature and find beauty like this any day of the week, and if that isn’t a gift I don’t know what is.

It’s amazing how a little sunlight can transform the simple into something beautiful, as it did with these deer tongue grass leaves.

I don’t think I’ve ever shown icicles hanging from the eaves on this blog before, but that might be because they are so common. You see them on just about every structure in winter.

I love the way icicles sparkle with color in the sun like prisms. This shot doesn’t quite catch it but there was a lot more color in them.

One cold morning frost flowers bloomed on the ice of mud puddles. They form when the frost point in the air is reached and water vapor condenses into ice. They are a form of hoarfrost, so delicate that a touch of a finger or a warm breath will destroy them. In my experience it has to be very cold for them to form, but there also has to be plenty of water vapor in the air. That’s why hoarfrost is often found near streams and ponds.

Mount Monadnock is an old friend, there in my earliest memories, and it is always at its most beautiful when snow frosts its peak. I would guess the snow must be at least 5 feet deep near the summit. I was up there with a friend of mine on April 19th one year and it was about chest deep in places. We had to climb over it and kind of swim through it rather than trying to break a trail through it. The air was warm and the snow was melting, and the fog generated by the cold snow and warm air mixing together was so dense you could barely see your hand at the end of an outstretched arm. I don’t think I’ve ever been as wet as I was that day.

Tramp art was done by chipping and whittling a piece of wood with a pocket knife. Often pieces of wood from cigar boxes and orange crates were turned into picture frames and other household items which were sold for meager amounts of money. That’s what this piece of branch reminded me of when I saw it but the hand of man played no part in this art; it was made entirely by engraver beetles and was very beautiful, I thought. I wish I had kept it and brought it home but then if I had the next hiker to come along couldn’t have marveled at its insect carved hieroglyphics as I did.

I’ve taken many photos of frullania liverworts throughout the winter but never posted any of them because it’s a tough plant to get a good shot of. It’s a leafy liverwort but each leaf is smaller than a house fly so it isn’t an easy subject. There are about 800 species of frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on; instead they simply perch there like birds. Mosses and lichens are also epiphytes.

The liverwort’s tiny leaves are strung together like beads, and change from green to deep purple in cold weather. Frullania liverworts can cause a rash called woodcutter’s eczema in some people. It’s an annoying, itchy rash but doesn’t cause any real harm, and it disappears in a week or two if you stop handling logs with liverworts on them.

This post started with winter but it will end with spring, and that illustrates how quickly one season can change into another here in the northeast. Sometimes it’s as if someone flipped a switch, and it’s what inspired Mark Twain’s “If you don’t like the weather in New England just wait a few minutes” quote. Here our earliest flowering plant, the skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus,) has finally shown its mottled yellow and maroon flower spathes.

Some are yellow with maroon spots and some are maroon with yellow spots. It’s good to finally see them no matter what colors they choose to wear. The spathes shown here appear first and multiple flowers grow inside the spathe on a spadix. Soon the spathes will begin to open so insects can enter and pollinate the tiny flowers, and so a photographer or two might get some photos of them.

Sap collecting has begun but you’d hardly know it these days. When I was a boy it seemed like every yard had trees with sap buckets hanging from them in spring but I had to search long and hard to find just a few this year, and I fear family sap gathering a dying art. Nobody knows when or where sap gathering started but most agree that it was learned from Native Americans. They used to cut a V notch into the bark of a tree and then put a wedge at the bottom of the cut. The sap would drip from the wedge into buckets made of bark or woven reeds, or sometimes into wooden bowls. They would then boil it down until it thickened and became syrup.

This Library of Congress photo from the early 1900s shows a Native American woman tapping trees and gathering the sap in what appears to be bark buckets, which it looks like she is making. Birch bark buckets are entirely plausible since they made canoes from the same bark. Sticky pine or spruce sap on the seams made their canoes leak proof. Since it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup sap gathering was a lot of work, and it was almost always done by the women of the tribe. There are many legends about how Natives discovered the process but nobody really knows for sure. Red and silver maples as well as sugar maples were tapped. So were hickory, box elder and birch, though in those trees the sap was less sweet.

I’ve read about mallards migrating and some articles say they do and others say they don’t, so I’m not sure if this photo is a true sign of spring but I saw these two dancing on the ice at a local swamp, most likely hoping for it to hurry up and melt like the rest of us. I thought it was a pretty, spring like scene.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep. ~Rumi

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