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Posts Tagged ‘Spring Hiking’

Every year around Halloween I go to Willard Pond over in Hancock to see what in my opinion, is some of the most colorful foliage in the region. Every year I tell myself that I’ll come back in the spring to see what it looks like then but I never have, until now. We’re going to be walking through a beautiful hardwood forest of oak, beech, and birch right along that shoreline over there behind that boulder.

Though the forest looked leafless in that previous shot there were plenty of spring leaves to see. This is the start of the trail that I follow. It is called the Tudor trail but I think I would have named it serenity, because that’s where it leads.

There were lots of new, velvety oak leaves.

Shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) still bloomed.

Ferns were in all stages of growth.

And everywhere you looked there were the big white flowerheads of hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides). It was hard to get a shot of them in the bright sunlight so I had to underexpose this shot. White is a tricky color for a camera on a sunny day. I’ve had several questions about cameras and how to use them lately and if this situation seems tricky for you, you might want to read about “bracketing exposures.”  It’s a simple tip that covers a lot of bases and helps you get more used to changing the settings on your camera.

Another native viburnum, maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), showed how it got the name. In the fall these leaves can turn pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

The beavers had cut down a big beech and were in the process of stripping all its bark from it.

I stopped to look at the hillside across the pond with its soft, hushed hints of green. I saw what I had suspected; that this place is beautiful no matter what time of year it is. I could hear a loon laughing and giggling over there somewhere and I wondered what the early settlers must have thought when they first head loons. With all of their many superstitious beliefs it must have scared them half to death. If you’d like to hear what I heard, just click here: www.loon.org/the-call-of-the-loon/

A fly fisherman was fishing for trout from his kayak and he heard the loon too. The loon was most likely also fishing for trout. Willard pond is considered a trout pond and there are rainbow and brook trout, as well as with smallmouth bass. No boats with motors are allowed, and fly fishing is the only form of fishing allowed. Since it is part of a wildlife sanctuary the land surrounding the pond can never be developed. It is about as close to true wilderness as you can find in this area and it is beautiful.

Several times when I came here in the fall, I saw the seed heads of rhodora (Rhododendron canadense). They’re one of our most beautiful shrubs and I hoped to find them in bloom, but all I saw were buds. I had to go back to get these photos of them but it was worth it because this is not a common shrub.

Rhodora is a small, two-foot-tall native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear just before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. They bloom just before irises in this area, and by mid-June their flowers will have all vanished. Henry David Thoreau knew it well, and wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color.” He would have loved this place.

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum commutatum) grew all along the trail and on some of the boulders. I saw plenty of buds but no flowers yet. In the fall dark blue or purple berries will hang where the flowers were.

I’m including this view of the trail to show that if you come here, you’d be wise to wear good sturdy hiking boots. Mud, stones and roots are some of the things you’ll have to scramble up and over. I tell you about trail conditions in these posts so you won’t get here and wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. I often wish someone had done the same for me. Every hike has its own set of challenges, and their difficulty seems to increase with age.

For years, each fall I’ve seen what I thought was a species of dicentra growing on a boulder. But which boulder, I wondered on this trip. Then up ahead I saw that a tree had fallen across the path, stopped only by a boulder. When I got to the boulder sure enough, it was the boulder with the plant I was looking for on it. Luckily the tree hadn’t crushed the plants, so I was able to see them flowering. I could see that they weren’t dicentra.

Though I could see that they weren’t dicentra I didn’t know what they were because I had never seen them before. I took photos of the flowers and leaves from all sides as I always do and when I got home, I found that they were pale cordyalis. (Corydalis sempervirens.) They are a native which, from what I’ve read likes sandy, stony soil along pond and river banks. They are also called rock harlequin and why is perfectly clear, since this one grew on a boulder.

The small flowers of pale corydalis have two pairs of petals, which are bright pink with yellow tips. Some were white, but I’m not sure if they fade to white or come out white and turn pink. They are a biennial, which means that the plants appear in the first year and flower in the second. Flowers are small and appear in clusters (Racemes). They are related to Dutchman’s breeches, which is a native dicentra.

When I got home and saw this photo I took of the forest I thought my camera had lost its marbles, but then I checked the shots I took with the other two cameras I carried and they all showed the same; the most intense green I’ve ever seen. Colorblindness makes it hard to understand what color I’m seeing sometimes and sometimes the colors I see just don’t seem possible. “Find that on a color wheel” my mind taunts.

I’m always awe struck by this huge boulder. In relation to the glacier that scraped it up and brought it here it must have been little more than a grain of sand, and it’s hard to even imagine that.

Violets grew out of the moss on a stone at the water’s edge.

Blue flag irises grew close enough to the water to have wet feet, and that’s what they like. I haven’t seen any in bloom as of this post.

Over the years a few people have told me what I’ve missed by not following the trail past this old oak with its rickety little bench but I’ve seen, heard and felt enough, and I usually have more photos than I would want or need by the time I get here, so this is where I end my hike. I could go on to what is called “the point” or I could climb Bald Mountain, but I don’t feel a need to do so. This spot always calls to me to come and sit so that’s what I do, and it has always been enough.

I sit on the ground these days because the bench is getting wobbly, but it doesn’t matter. The view is the same and the sounds are the same. There is just the lapping of the waves and bird song, and maybe an occasional chuckle or hoot from a loon.

I watched the shadows from the waves move over the stone covered pond bottom. There was just enough of a breeze to kick them up a bit and thankfully, to keep the biting bugs away. In this region you would be hard pressed to find a day when there wasn’t a breeze coming across a lake or pond.

The one thing that is most abundant here is silence, and the simplest lesson nature teaches is the most valuable: silence heightens awareness. Once we have learned this silence becomes the teacher, and silence teaches peace. When I come upon the kind of beauty that makes me quiet and still, be it a tiny flower or a mountain top, I find that peace is always there, waiting. I do hope that you find the same.

The best places aren’t easy to see; instead of following light one must follow silence. ~Hanna Abi Akl

Thanks for stopping in.

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I saw hobblebushes blooming in the woods along the roadsides so I knew it was time to visit the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene. It’s a place where I know I can get close to the hobblebushes and many other plants. I start off by following the old abandoned road that used to be the route to Concord, which is the state capitol, from Keene. The road was abandoned in the 1970s when the new Route 9 north was built, and nature has been doing its best to reclaim it ever since.

The old road is full of cracks, which are filled in immediately by green, growing life. This of course makes the cracks even wider so more plants can move in. Its a slow but inexorable process that will go on until the forest takes back what was carved out of it.

Cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) unfurled by one of the vernal pools found along the old road.

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) grew near another pool. These pretty white flowered plants like wet feet so when you kneel for a photo you usually get wet knees. They have hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks, and small, bright white flowers. Their leaves are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with maroon or brown.

The “Foam” part of the name comes from the many stamens on the flowers, which give large colonies a kind of frothy look. Each flower has 5 white petals, 5 white sepals, and 10 stamens. Foam flowers are popular in garden centers and are grown in gardens as much for their foliage as the flowers. Native Americans used the leaves and roots medicinally as a mouthwash for mouth sores. The plant is also called “cool wort” because the leaves were once used on scalds and burns to relieve the pain.

New maple leaves are still wearing their bright colors.

I’ve seen this spot when all the green you see to the right was underwater, but the brook was tame on this day. Maybe a little higher than average but not too bad.

I’m surprised flooding hadn’t washed all of this away, or maybe it was flooding that carried it here. This is just upstream from where I was in the previous shot.

There were an amazing number of trees in the brook so it will take quite a flood to wash them downstream. I’d cut them up if I was in charge because “downstream” from here means right through the heart of Keene. There must be a thousand places further on where a mess like this could get hung up. Waiting until high summer when the water was at its lowest and then having two men wade in with a battery-operated chainsaw would be the way to go.

But I was glad I wasn’t in charge because clearing that log jam will be worse than pulling apart a beaver dam by a longshot. How lucky I was; all I had to do was keep walking and enjoying a beautiful day.

I stopped to see the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that live here. It always looks like someone has spilled jewels on the stone.

Not too far up the old road from the smoky eye boulder lichens are the hobblebushes, and that’s the amazing thing about this place; just walk a few steps and there is another beautiful thing to stop and see. This is why, though it is less than a mile’s walk to Beaver Brook Falls, it often takes me two hours or more. I don’t come here for exercise, I come for the beauty of the place.

And there is little that is more beautiful than the flowers of our native hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides). The large, sterile flowers around the perimeter are there just to attract insects to the smaller, fertile flowers. The outer flowers are delicate, and a strong wind or heavy rain can strip them from the flower head.

Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) were bright yellow among last year’s leaves. They like wet, sunny meadows and open woodlands and there are a lot of them here.

There were no flowers on them yet though, just buds. The plant is said to be important to a number of short-tongued insects that are able to easily reach the nectar in the small yellow flowers. Each flower will be only about an eighth of an inch long with five sepals, five petals, and five stamens.

There were lots of blue marsh violets (Viola cucullata) (I think) blooming along the roadsides on this day. The long flower stems held the flowers high above the leaves and I believe the blue marsh violet is the only one that does this.

Jack in the pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum) still hadn’t unfurled their leaves but they had nice color on their spathes.

The old road goes uphill the entire way but it’s an easy climb and there are many interesting things to see along with all the plants and trees, like the old guard posts still guarding against accidents that will never happen. The electric lines seen here run through the area on their way to elsewhere. There are no houses along the road.

The disappearing stream that runs down the hillside had done just that. It was too bad because it can be beautiful in spring.

Here it was in March while there was still ice melting. The stream ran then.

There aren’t many places where you can get right down to the brook but there are two or three and this is one of them. All the stone along the embankment was put there to prevent washouts and it’s hard to walk on, so you have to be careful.

The stone didn’t prevent all washouts. This old culvert washed into the brook years ago. The brook slowly eats away at the road and in the end it will most likely win.

All the walking and hiking I’ve been doing has improved my legs and lungs so much I thought I could just skip down the embankment to see Beaver Brook Falls. It didn’t work out quite that way but I made it without breaking my neck. The amount of water going over the falls was perfect. There’s a huge stone that juts out right in the middle and when there is too little water it splits the falls in two, so the scene isn’t quite as photogenic in my opinion.

The only trouble was, I took the wrong trail down to the brook so I was even further away from the falls than this. I was glad I had a zoom lens. There used to be just one trail down to the brook but now somehow there are three, all looking equally worn. Since I took this one, I would have had to wade in the brook to get any closer. I wasn’t interested in getting wet but it could have been done. People used to swim here all the time, rocks and all.

This shot shows the climb back to the road, or half of it anyway. About half way up I leaned my back against a tree and took a photo to show what you’re up against if you decide to do this. The small trees kept me from getting too much forward momentum on the way down, and then they helped me climb back up. That big rock will slide right down the hill if you put too much weight on it but the others were pretty firm.

Just to the right, out of camera range in that previous photo, there was a colony of what must have been twenty trilliums or more. I saw them along the road all the way up and saw those I had missed on the way down. In fact I saw more trilliums here than I’ve ever seen in one place before, so if you live in the area and it is wildflowers you want to see, this is a great place to start looking. Those I’ve shown in this post are really just a small part of what can be found here.

There is a serene and settled majesty to woodland scenery that enters into the soul and delights and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations. ~Washington Irving.

Thanks for stopping in.

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I thought I’d take a break from flower posts this week, not because I’m tired of flowers but because my California friend Dave asked when he would see photos of shagbark hickory buds breaking. They’re easily as beautiful as a flower, but to see them I had to go to the banks of the Ashuelot River. This was no hardship because I started playing on the banks of this river when I was a boy and have loved doing so ever since.

It was beautiful along the river with all the new spring green leaves, but the water level has dropped considerably since the last time it rained. I think it has been close to two weeks since the last substantial rain, and many smaller streams are starting to dry up.

I saw lots of what I think were muskrat tracks in the mud along the shore.

And there were the new shagbark hickory leaves. I couldn’t catch the color I wanted on the bud scales (actually inner scales) in the bright sunshine so I went back the following day when it was cloudy. On this day the beautiful pinks, reds and oranges were easier to capture. It’s not just the light though; some inner bud scales are a single color and others are multi colored like these were. They also lose color quickly as they age so you just have to walk along the river bank and look until you find the one that speaks to you. Fortunately a lot of shagbark hickory buds usually break at the same time so they aren’t hard to find. They’re worth looking for because in my opinion, they’re one of the most beautiful things you’ll find in a spring forest.

This is what they look like when they have spread out to unfurl their leaves. It’s unusual to be able to see this because it usually happens far up in the tree tops, but for some reason in this area the beavers keep cutting the trees. New shoots regrow from the stump and the beavers leave them alone for a while before coming back and cutting them again. Thanks to the beavers there is always a good supply of buds at eye level.

The oaks have also broken their buds, and more new leaves appear each day. Oaks are one of the last buds to break.

Like the maples, oaks can have very colorful new leaves. I’ve seen them in white, pink, red, and just about every shade of green imaginable.

Some new oak leaves even have stripes, as these did. I saw a lot of these leaves in all stages of growth and they appeared to be changing from white to red, which accounted for the stripe. New oak leaves are always velvety and soft.

Some oaks are even showing flower buds already.

Here was a young oak that had barely unfolded its leaves and it was already being eaten by something. It also had three or four oak apple galls on it. They’re caused by a wasp (Amphibolips confluenta) called the oak apple gall wasp. Galls that form on leaves don’t harm the tree so they can be left alone. They’re always interesting to see.

Striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) are also flowering, with their green bell-shaped flowers all in a string. Sometimes they dangle under the big leaves and other times the wind blows them up and over the leaves as these were. There is only one maple in this region that flowers later, and that is the mountain maple (Acer spicatum).

If you want to see a beautiful, non-flowering plant called the woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) you’ll have to leave the trail and go into the forest, but it will be worth the effort to see the delicate, lacy foliage of what is considered the most beautiful of all the horsetails. I was happy to see that they had grown from what was a single plant a few years ago to ten or more now, so they like it here. I originally found them by following a beaver pond outflow stream into the woods.

Woodland horsetails like to grow in bright sunshine in very wet ground. Here they grow right along the water’s edge by this stream. They blend in easily with the foliage of other plants, so you have to walk slowly and look carefully. The sylvaticum part of the scientific name is Latin for “of the forest”, and that’s where you have to search for them.

I found what was left of a wild turkey egg shell by the stream where the woodland horsetail grows. Turkeys nest directly on the ground but I didn’t see any signs of a nest so I wonder if a predator didn’t carry the egg here to eat it. According to the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game turkeys lay an average of a dozen eggs in early to mid-May, only one per day, and they hatch after about 28 days, so either this hen laid her eggs early or this egg didn’t hatch. If a predator gets to her eggs she’ll lay another clutch in July or August, but normally they lay only once per year. This egg was tan colored, about the size of a hen’s egg I think, with brownish speckles all over it. New Hampshire has an estimated population of 45,000 turkeys. I see them everywhere but they’re almost always running into the woods as I drive by.

If I’m lucky I might see one beech seedling with its seed leaves still intact each year. Here is this year’s seedling. Seed leaves often look nothing like the true leaves. In the case of American beech they look more like flower petals than leaves but feel tough and leathery. On a beech seedling they will photosynthesize until the true leaves appear, and then once they are no longer needed, they will wither and fall off. In my experience they are a rare sight.

Each spring I look for the shoots of the white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda), and each spring they look absolutely identical to the ones I found the spring before. They always look to me like a small hand is holding the plant’s flower buds while an older “parent” gazes down lovingly at them. It always seems like a tender moment has been caught and frozen in time, and it’s always as if I’m seeing the exact same thing I saw the year before. I’ve seen lots of new spring shoots but these are the only ones I know of that never seem to change. They’re like an old friend who comes around once a year to remind me that some things never really change, even though it may seem as if they do.

Mr. robin wondered just what it was I was doing and hopped over to get a better look. Though most robins will hop or fly away if you get too close there are some that are very curious. If you let them come to you they’ll often get quite close, as this one did. I was on my knees taking photos so maybe he wondered why this human’s eyes were so close to the ground while others were not. I didn’t realize what eye movements could do to animals until I watched a show on PBS television that showed border collies herding sheep by using only their eyes. They never bark; it’s all done with eye movements. I’m hoping I remember never to stare into a bear’s eyes again.

I don’t know if this was two trees or one tree that split and grew this way but either way, I’m not sure what would have made it do this. Trees do some strange things.

A big dead white pine fell into a pond and stretched two thirds of the way across it. White pine (Pinus strobus) is New Hampshire’s tallest tree but you often don’t realize how tall they really are until they fall.  

A painted turtle looked like it was practicing its yoga exercises on a log, but really it was just releasing heat. I read that when they raise their feet like that it cools them off. Sometimes they look as if they’re trying to fly.

I went to the skunk cabbage swamp and not surprisingly, found it full of skunk cabbages. But that’s not the only reason I come here. Nearby, higher up on drier ground, our beautiful native azaleas (Rhododendron prinophyllum) bloom so I wanted to check their progress. It’ll be another week or so before we see the flowers, depending on the weather.

I saw something bright yellow in a drainage ditch and when I looked a little closer, I saw that the color was coming from swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans). Swamp beacons are interesting “aquatic” fungi and I find them in seeps and ditches where ground water stays on the surface year-round. They will be my first fungal find of the season.

Swamp beacons use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low-oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue, they aren’t found on twigs or bark. I almost always find them growing out of saturated oak leaves, as these were. They are small; about the size of a wooden match, and another name for them is matchstick fungus. These were some of the brightest colored examples that I’ve seen.

Treasures are hidden away in quiet places. They speak in soft tones and often become silenced as we approach. They don’t beg to be found, but embrace us if we do happen to find them. They are the product of completely ordinary circumstances unfolding in wonderfully extraordinary ways. They are found hidden in the nooks and crannies of our existence; all around us if we quit allowing our attention to be captivated by that which is noisy and listen for that which is quiet and still. ~Craig D. Lounsbrough

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On Mother’s Day I took a walk out on the rail trail in Westmoreland to see if the wild columbines were blooming. It was a little cool but otherwise it was a beautiful day. Just the kind of day you hope to have for a walk in the woods in spring. I was glad all the moms were going to see sunshine on their day, even though the forecast had called for clouds.

When I first came here there was a single red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) plant growing beside the trail but now I’m happy to say that I saw several of them. This one was just starting to open its flowers, which are hard to see in this shot because of the bright sunlight.

Two or three of the tiny, 1/8 inch flowers had just opened and weren’t showing any real color yet but I could see the form, which is made up of five petals which are called “petaloid lobes” and which curve sharply backwards. Five stamens will have white filaments and will be tipped with pale yellow anthers. The flower is completed by a center pistil with three tiny stigmata. Each flower, if pollinated, will become a bright red berry. The berries are loved by birds and disappear almost as soon as they ripen.

Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) unfurled their fiddleheads here and there.

There were lots of new maple leaves in both red and green. I thought I even saw some orange ones but colorblindness won’t let me swear to it.

Beech trees were in all stages of growth. Some still had tight buds, some had unfurled their buds, and some had soft new leaves.

Some even had last year’s leaves still hanging on. Beech is such a beautiful tree, at all times of year.

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) leaves are a kind of a bronze-red when they first appear and it is at this stage that many people confuse it with poison ivy, probably because of the old saying “leaves of three, let it be.” That’s why anyone who spends any time in the woods should get to know the difference. It isn’t hard because in truth sarsaparilla looks nothing like poison ivy.

This photo from last year shows that poison ivy looks nothing like sarsaparilla in spring, or at any other time of year. The leaf shape is completely different, and so is the growth habit.

The kidney shaped seed leaves of jewelweed seedlings (Impatiens capensis) can fade now that the first set of scallop edged true leaves have appeared. I saw hundreds of seedlings, so the seeds must be very viable.

Canada mayflowers (Maianthemum canadense) were all along the trail, and some were budded like this one. Though native to North America the plant acts like an invasive and forms monocultures and also invades woodland gardens, where it is almost impossible to eradicate. It grows in the shade of the forest and it does very well there.

We’re almost there. Right around that corner.

And here were the ledges that the columbines and many other plants grow on. Once you start looking closely you realize that you’ve found a botanical motherlode.

And there were lots of columbine plants, more than I’ve ever seen here. They’ve spread from one end of the ledges almost to the other, and since they’re a very rare flower I was happy to see it.

But of all the columbines I saw on this day, all had buds and no open blossoms except two. One was far overhead and I couldn’t reach it, but the one in this photo was lower down, so by reaching up with the camera and “shooting blind” I was able to get a shot of this one so you could see what they look like. I’ll have to go back and get more photos of them when the plants that grow lower down decide to open their flowers.

And this was right overhead, so I didn’t dilly dally. Many large stones have fallen from these ledges since I’ve been coming here so I don’t spend much time close to them.

Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) is the other extremely rare plant that lives here, but rather than living on the ledges it lives at the base of them. I just showed the spring shoots in a recent blog and already, here is the flowering plant. Blue cohosh likes rich soil and is found on wooded slopes in hardwood forests. It is associated with oaks and maples and this area is almost entirely hardwood forest. This is the only place I’ve ever seen it.

Blue cohosh flowers, it’s easy for me to say, are unlike any others I’ve seen, with their striped sepals and knobby anthers. The first time I saw them I knew that I was seeing something rare and special. Sometimes when there are hundreds of the same flower blooming, like a violet for instance, I’ll pick one and look it over, but after spending 50+ years in the woods and finding these plants in just this place, I would never pick them.

Each of the yellow green striped sepals of the flower contains a nectar gland to attract insects. Six yellow stamens (sometimes fewer) form a ring around the center ovary and the true petals are the shiny green parts that ring the center between the sepals and the stamens. The word cohosh is believed to be Native Algonquin name used for several different plants with different color fruit, so in this case the word blue refers to the fruit color, even though all parts of the plant including the leaves and stems have a bluish cast to them in the spring.

Here is a photo that I took a few years ago of the beautiful blue fruit which gives the plant its name. The berries are actually brown seeds with a fleshy blue coating that protects them, and it is the seeds are what are considered the plant’s true fruit, so the plant is a bit unusual. The naked seeds are also considered poisonous. The “bloom” on the fleshy coating is made up of waxy white crystals that cover the berries and reflect the light in a way that makes them appear lighter colored. Some describe them as “blueberries dipped in confectioner’s sugar”. I will happily walk out here again this fall just to see them.

Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) flowers often show before the leaves and not surprisingly, though the flowers were fully out on these two plants the leaves were just unfurling. The striped parts seen in this photo are the spathe of the flower, which covers the spadix. These plants grow both on the ledges and at the base of them.

Jack in the pulpit plants are in the arum family and have a spathe and a spadix. On the inside the spathe, which is a bract, is more brightly colored than on the outside, with purple and cream stripes. Jack, which is the flowering spike or spadix, looked purple in the bright sunlight but it usually looks black. It could be that purple is the true color. If pollinated green berries will grow along the spadix during summer, and in the fall, they will finally turn bright red when ripe. Deer love to come along and snatch them up when they ripen.

There are lots of herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) plants growing at the base of the ledges but they never seem to be blooming when I come here.

There is always a nice clump of red / purple trilliums here (Trillium erectum) so I wasn’t surprised to see them. What did surprise me were all the seedlings I saw along the base of the ledges. It’s a good spot for trilliums.

But as I said in my last post, it’s nearly time to say goodbye to trilliums, and this flower showed why. They’ve had a great year though. I’ve seen more of them this spring than I ever have, and that means even more seedlings in the future. I doubt they’ll ever be as common as dandelions but a few more wouldn’t hurt. Many people never see them at all.

The woods were ringed with a color so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a color at all. It was more the idea of a color – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts. ~Susanna Clarke

Thanks for stopping in. I hope all the moms out there had a great Mother’s Day.

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I’ve wanted to visit the cranberry meadow pond trail in Peterborough since it was built a few years ago but somehow, I never made it. It isn’t far, just a half hour away to the east of Keene, so last week I decided to finally go and see it. Since this is in a county other than Cheshire County where I live, this trip was part of my new branching out plan. The trail begins with a raised boardwalk through a wetland.

On this day the wetland the boardwalk crosses was very wet but I could tell by red maples standing in a foot of water that it isn’t always this wet. It looked like the stream that runs through here flooded from heavy rains we had a few days before. What a beautiful day it was.

The boardwalk is sturdily built and wide enough for two people to pass. Building it was obviously a lot of work, so hat’s off to the builders. I think it was built three or four years ago, and it has stood up well.

At the end of the boardwalk were planks to help get you through the muddy spot. There are many muddy spots along the trail so you should wear sturdy, waterproof hiking boots if you come here. You can also see in this shot a blue diamond blaze on the tree ahead. The trail is well blazed with these markers.

But really, on this section of trail you don’t need blazes because you’re simply following a steam to its source. Since I’ve been following rivers and streams for all of my life it seemed obvious, but for someone who hasn’t done that maybe the blazes are a good idea.

I saw what I can only describe as tenderness being displayed by a family of cinnamon ferns, but that’s just my interpretation. Cinnamon and interrupted ferns are usually the first to show their fiddleheads in spring.

There were lots of striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) here that had reached a good age. I don’t see many large striped maples like these. The bark gives their name away.

There were lots of beech trees, too. I looked for the arching of buds that signals bud break, but saw just a few getting ready.

In case you don’t know what bud it is you’re seeing someone has marked the tree for you. They didn’t bother with the Fagus grandifolia part of the name though, which is probably a good thing for the tree.

At this point you have to cross the stream. It’s always nice to have the laughter of a stream to keep you company on a walk through the woods. This one is very easy to get close to over most of its length and that made an enjoyable walk even more so.

Stone walls hint that this was once pasture land, and the young age of most of the trees found here confirms it. This was a common “thrown” or “tossed” wall, built only to get the stones out of the way as quickly as possible. Though they often followed boundary lines they weren’t built for pretty. It was hard, back breaking work but if you wanted to grow crops it had to be done, and with our short growing season, the sooner the better.

There are some huge boulders here and there, some with polypody ferns and others with rock tripe lichens growing on them. This one was covered with mostly moss and a few trees. If you pay attention to the plants and trees that choose to grow on boulders like this one you realize how shallow their root systems must be. There can’t be more than an inch of soil on some of the big stones, but it is enough. Mosses usually colonize first and soak up rain water like a sponge, and then the larger plants growing near or with them benefit from their slow release of water. I’ve even seen dandelions growing on stone, even though they have a root like a carrot.

There were some nice reflecting pools in this little stream. It’s amazing how moving water can appear so still sometimes. Several times I thought of my father on this hike because he loved to fish for brook trout in places like this. Actually I’ve always thought his love of fishing was secondary to his love of simply being in places like this.

Here was another muddy spot. No trouble at all if your boots are waterproof.

I saw a tiny yellowish smudge on a birch log. The camera’s zoom brought it closer and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

It was a pretzel slime mold (Hemitrichia serpula) producing spores. The furryness or fuzziness of it is what shows that it was in the fruiting stage, actively producing spores. If I had found it a day or two earlier it would have been in its plasmodial stage, shiny and smooth like plastic. I had been hoping to see one for years, so it was an exciting find. They are usually small; all of what you see here fit in what was maybe a square inch of space. If you’re interested there is a good short video explaining what this slime mold is all about here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2RguYFuiM8

The trail started to climb uphill, but not steeply. This is the part of the trail where you leave the stream you’ve been following.

Once the trail leveled off again it was easy to picture it as pasture land. All the trees were very young.

There were some old grape vines growing up into the treetops. River grapes most likely, but they might have been Concord grapes, which also grow wild here. Before we started cultivating them and training them, this is how grapes grew naturally. They seek as much energy giving sunshine as possible and this leads them into the treetops. If you are mindful of how valuable sunlight is to plants when you walk through the woods, you’ll see all the various ways they maneuver themselves into position to recieve the most light. They all have different strategies that they have developed over who knows how many years of evolution, and some might surprise you. Plants that don’t climb, like native hobblebushes for instance, have developed other ways of finding light. They grow large, light gathering leaves. Other plants grow taller and lean into the light to get their share, just like that bean plant you probably grew on the window sill in first grade did. By the way, you were supposed to be learning about phototropism in that experiment, so I hope you were paying attention.

And here was the source of the stream; Cranberry meadow pond. Though I met quite a few people on the trail, which was a surprise on a weekday, for the most part you have the place to yourself. The pond is large and does have at least one house on it that I saw, and there is more building going on nearby. Since I had to see everything there was to see I dawdled and was here for about two and a half hours, but I think you could easily get to the pond and back to your car in an hour. But you’d miss a lot if you did, so dawdle a little. The trail map says it is one mile to the pond from the parking area but my phone said 1.3. Either way it isn’t much. You can go on from here all the way to the top of Pack Monadnock Mountain, another 1.2 miles, but I stopped here at the pond. When mushrooms start appearing I’ll be back because I have a feeling that this will be a great place to find them.

I saw one of the oldest, gnarliest blueberry bushes that I’ve ever seen here. It had a girth on its lower trunk as big as my leg. This scene showed how you can often pick the most blueberries from a boat. Ponds and lakes in this region have wild blueberry bushes growing all along their shorelines.

And the old blueberry was loaded with buds. When young, blueberry buds are bright red but as they grow in spring they swell up and lose their red color.

I saw beaver damage on trees all the way up here and here was the source of it; a large beaver lodge. It’s hard to find a pond or river in New Hampshire that doesn’t have beavers in it. What surprised me most here was the lack of damming of the stream.

There’s the beaver lodge again, just to the left of center out on the shoreline. This view also shows a small very flat island, which could be a bog mat made of peat mosses. I was surprised that I didn’t see any cranberry plants here but since most of the trail was wooded, I shouldn’t have been. They like full sun.

If you’re a lover of solitude this is the place for you, but if on the other hand you want to have a family picnic this would be a great place for that, too. The land the trail is on is privately owned and the land owners graciously allow public use, so the best way to keep it open is to always leave it as you find it. You can find out more about the trail and download a trail map by Googling “Cranberry Meadow Pond Trail, Perterborough, NH” or by clicking on the underlined text.

Pleasure is spread through the earth in stray gifts to be claimed by whoever shall find them. ~William Wordsworth

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I’ve been walking each day since the day after I retired and it has made my lungs feel so much better, so I thought I’d tackle climbing Mount Caesar in Swanzey. It was a beautiful spring day of the kind where it really doesn’t matter where you are or where you go, as long as you are outside.

I didn’t know it at the time I started the climb but this would be a day of firsts, and the first first was seeing goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) growing beside the trail. I can’t remember seeing it here before, though I’ve come here countless times. Any time now I should be seeing its tiny but very pretty white flowers. Once collected almost to the point of extinction, it has made a good comeback and I was happy to see that it had found its way here.

I’ve never seen a striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) here before either but here was a small tree, quietly lengthening its velvety buds. Those buds are one of the most beautiful sights in the forest in the early spring, in my opinion.

I don’t remember why I took this photo. Maybe to show what a beautiful day it was.

I stopped along the trail for a moment and happened to glance down and saw some small, hard black, cup shaped fungi that I’ve since found are called ebony cup fungi (Pseudoplectania nigrella.) The smallest one was about the size of a pencil eraser and the biggest maybe a half inch across. According to Wikipedia they like to grow in groups on soil, often amongst pine needles and short grass near coniferous trees, and that was the situation here except for mosses instead of grass. Wikipedia also says that they have a worldwide distribution, but are hard to see because of their small size and dark color. I wondered how many times I had walked by them without seeing them. It was just luck that I saw them on this day.

I’ve read that jays, nuthatches and even chickadees stash acorns in holes in trees. This wasn’t a hole but I guess it was good enough for stashing acorns in.

This trail is steadily uphill but it isn’t steep until you near the summit. I think most people could go up and down in an hour or less, as long as they didn’t stop to see anything. Since I stop to see everything, it takes me twice as long.

Here was something I’ll probably never see again. This branch fell from one of those maples and got stuck just as it is. I looked it over and there were no nails or screws, just fate and branch forks in the right places. All it needed was a sign hanging from it.

I was happy to see trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) growing along the trail. It wasn’t showing any flower buds but this wasn’t a very big plant, so they’ll come along in the future. This is another plant that is making a comeback after being collected almost into oblivion.

A huge tree fell long ago and I always stop here to catch my breath before I reach the steepest part of the trail. I didn’t see them at the time but now that I see the photo my question is, how did those stones get inside the log?

This isn’t just any old log; it has lots of interesting things to see on it no matter where you look, and one of those things is a fungus called ceramic parchment fungus (Xylobolus frustulatus.) Apparently it prefers shade because it only grows on the shaded surfaces of the log, like under that branch stub.

Here is a closer look at the fungus. I’ve never seen anything else like it but a helpful reader identified it the last time I showed it here. Its common name comes from the way it resembles broken ceramic tiles, put back together with black grout. I’ve read that it is found on the dry, well-decayed wood of oaks, so this must be an oak log. What a gigantic tree it must have been.

Here was the steepest part of the trail. I didn’t fly up it but I have to say that all the walking I’m doing has improved my lung power greatly over what it was just a short time ago. I didn’t have to take anywhere near as many breaks as I did the last time I climbed here.  

And here was the granite bedrock of the summit itself, where you realize that you’ve been climbing a huge granite dome covered by just a thin skin of soil.

I thought that I might see the red haze caused by millions of red maple flowers from up here but I couldn’t see any at all.

Instead I saw red maple flowers right here on the summit. Some of them can be seen on that tree on the right in this photo I took of clouds.

There weren’t a lot of red maple flowers up here but what were here seemed well balanced between male and female flowers.

The male red maple flowers had that beautiful light, what I call the light of creation, shining out of them. I’ve come to believe that everything created has that light. Sometimes it is dim and other times it shines brightly as it did here, but everything (and everyone) has it.

Staghorn sumac also grew on the summit. They seem to be slow to get going this year, or maybe it is just impatience on my part. They have nice red new leaves coming out of the buds in spring that I’d like to see.

If, when you’re in nature, something catches your eye, just sit with it for a while. While you’re sitting with the thing that interests you, be it a flower or a leaf or a stone or a toadskin lichen, study it. Get to know it. Study it as if you were going to have to write a paper describing it. See every little nuance, its color and shape, feel its texture, hear it whisper or see the movement it makes when the wind blows over it. Just let yourself fall into it. Forget about naming it, forget about missing the game yesterday or going to work tomorrow and just be there with it, without a thought of anything but what is there in front of you.

Take some photos or take some notes, and when you get home look them over. If you do this, before long you’ll know the thing that caught your attention better than you ever thought possible, and doing this regularly will mean the end of your looking but not seeing. Before long you’ll see with new eyes, and you’ll want to see more. Fortunately there is always plenty more to see.

I once met two college age girls coming off a trail. When I asked them if they had seen any wildflowers both said they hadn’t seen a single one. As soon as I had followed the trail for just a few yards I started seeing flowers everywhere. They were small but they were there, and I realized that day that even though some people look, they just don’t see. Don’t be one of them. You’ll miss so much of the beauty in this world.

I took the trail east from the summit for a few yards to see Mount Monadnock. I hope I wasn’t as close to the edge of that cliff as it appears when I took this photo, because it’s a long way down.

That’s better. I cropped the cliff out because heights give me the heebie jeebies and also, we can see the mountain a little better now. Henry David Thoreau said he’d rather see Mount Monadnock from a distance rather than see out from its summit because it was far more beautiful from a distance, and I agree. Once you’re up there it doesn’t look much different than right here does, and this is a much easier climb.

As I started back down the trail three mourning cloak butterflies spun in a whirlwind above my head and then disappeared. Or so I thought; this one landed on a fallen branch just out ahead of me. It sat there with its wings folded, so I waited for them to unfold. They would unfold and then quickly fold back together, and I would miss the shot. I tried and missed several times-anyone who has ever tried to photograph a butterfly knows what I mean-but then finally the beautiful wings opened and stayed open, just long enough to get what you see here.

A little further down the trail there was another one sunning itself on an outcrop. I’ve read that these butterflies mate in spring, which might account for the whirlwind behavior that I saw happening several times. They’re very pretty and I was happy to have seen them. Usually the way it works with me is, once I see something I begin to see it everywhere, so hopefully I’ll see more of these beautiful creatures.

I thought I’d leave you with some good advice I found on the summit. I find these painted stones just about everywhere I go these days.

Butterflies can’t see their wings. They can’t see how truly beautiful they are, but everyone else can. People are like that as well. ~Naya Rivera

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I find the most satisfying times I spend in nature are when I go with no expectations. When I just go and see what I can see without any preconceived notions, I get the most out of it. So with that thought in mind I went to the Ashuelot River in Swanzey on one recent showery day. It was a good choice because I knew if it rained, I could get back to the car without getting too wet. The way the clouds looked I doubted that I would be there long.

The river was tame and had nothing much to say. Surprising, since the last time I came here to get photos of waves, it roared. It was out of its banks here for part of the winter and flooded parts of the area that I’d be visiting, so there was no telling what I’d see on this day.

The first thing I saw was a beautiful mussel shell tangled in the weeds. All the colors of a rainbow were in it and as I see it in the photo, I wish I had brought it home. There are lots of mussels in this section of river and the raccoons come down to the shore at night to enjoy them.

There was another shell, but what I was really taking this photo of were the interesting patterns in the sand. I’d guess that the lighter sand was drier than the darker but why it wasn’t all drying at the same rate was a mystery. What was not a mystery is why the sand was here. The river seems to flood more area each year in this spot and the silt gets deposited higher on its banks.

The water had just receded from this spot and here already were green spring shoots.

The wind had blown all the stuffing out of a bird’s nest. It was some type of fabric and I wondered where the bird had found it all.

The mosses were in many shades of green.

And the oak leaves were in many shades of brown. They were beautiful, as if they had been sculpted. I thought, if I could make a mold by carving an oak leaf into a block of wood, and then get a thin sheet of copper and hammer it into the mold, I would have a copper oak leaf. Then if I curled it and painted it just so, I could have a fair representation of what I see here, and I could see it every day. But then I thought, maybe what makes things like this so special is that we can’t see them every day. We just happen to run into them now and then and that’s why we stop and see, and admire and learn.

This was a bit unnerving. Silt on the trail meant that the river came up over the land here; the first time I’ve seen it happen. This bit of land is a small peninsula that juts out into the river and points like a finger downriver.

There is a huge old maple tree here that first lost one trunk and now it has lost the other. Woodpecker holes and lots of fungi tell the story.

I saw quite a few maple dust lichens growing on a muscle wood tree (Carpinus caroliniana.) Muscle wood is also called American hornbeam, and its wood is very dense and hard. It loves to grow by rivers and streams but it is short lived. I rarely see trees that are much bigger around than my leg, in fact. This one was just about that size but was leaning badly and will probably fall soon. You can see how its “tendons” ripple beneath its “skin” to give it its common name. It is also called blue beech and I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) growing on one.

The rough looking seedpods of witch hazel are everywhere out here. Something I’ve always wanted to see (or hear) is witch hazel seed pods exploding. They explode with force and can throw the seeds as far as 30 feet. I’ve read that you can hear them pop when they open and even though I keep trying to be there at the right time to see and hear it happening, I never have been.

A burl on a tree reminded me of all the beautiful things that can made from them. Anything made from a burl will be beautiful but also quite pricey. I’ve seen huge antique burl bowls that were just amazing but they were also valued in the thousands of dollars. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage. Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and/or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. I don’t know how that could follow with this young maple though. I suppose it might have been stressed but I didn’t see any damage.

Slowly, the river is cutting off the tip of the finger. From here on I’ve seen this entire tip of the peninsula under water a few times but there was a time not so long ago when I could walk right through here all the way to the point. Over across the water where all the silt is now thousands of violets used to bloom, and it was a shaded, beautiful spot where people liked to fish. Now as the river slowly erodes it away, it looks more waste land than the idyllic spot it once was.

Here is a view of the end of the peninsula completely under water after heavy rain in 2019. Each time this happens more of it goes.

The beavers had been busy, as they always are. They keep wounding this tree but have never cut it down. You can see this same tree to the far left in the previous photo. The beavers had chewed on it then, too.

There were either blue flag iris or cattails growing in the mud. Since I didn’t see any of what looked like last year’s cattail stems, I’m going to assume they’re irises.

A branch split away from this tree and revealed that it was completely hollow. It is just a shell with nothing inside so it won’t take much of a wind to blow it down. It’s amazing how many standing trees are completely hollow.

A large fugus lay on the ground by the hollow tree but I couldn’t see anywhere on the tree that it might have come from, so that was another mystery for this day.

The river had carved the sand in strange ways here. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like that.

This walk I thought, was like walking through an art gallery. The muscle shell, the patterns in this stone, and the way the river carved the sand were all beautiful, and I was grateful to have seen them. I can see a day in the not-too-distant future though, when the river will probably swallow all of it.

Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour. ~Walt Whitman

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In spring it doesn’t matter where you walk because everything is fresh and new and beautiful, but there were some things I wanted to see that I couldn’t see anywhere else, so I chose the old rail trail up in Westmoreland where the wild columbines grow. It’s the only spot I’ve ever found them in.

The first thing I saw was a stream running perpendicular to the trail, and when you’re on a railbed that can mean only one thing; a box culvert.

Box culverts carry the water under the railbed and have a roof made of thick slabs of granite, sturdy enough to carry the weight of a train. This is an odd one though, because one of the side walls is less than 90 degrees; not parallel to the other side wall. Also, if you look at the horizontal piece of granite you see there is a piece of track propping it up. These are things I’ve never seen on any other box culvert, and I’ve seen a few.  Another very odd thing about this setup is, the stream never comes out on the other side of the trail. Somehow, it goes underground or into a well. There are two huge pieces of granite slab on the opposite side of the trail covering something big.

But the strange box culvert wasn’t what I came here to see. One of the things I wanted to find out was if the red elderberry buds (Sambucus racemosa) had broken. Not only had they broken, they were already showing small clusters of flower buds. They remind me somewhat of lilac flower buds at this stage.

When red elderberry leaf buds break several (usually) purple leaflets come up out of the bud. Each “finger” of the tiny purple leaflet is rolled into a tube when it comes out of the bud, but will quickly unfurl and turn green in the sunshine.

And here was another stem that had leaves unfurling. It doesn’t look like much until you consider that just a month ago, all of this was packed inside of a bud just slightly larger than a pea. Once the buds break things happen quickly.

There are a few railroad artifacts along this trail, including this old signal base.

The place where the columbines grow isn’t far, about a mile out, and it’s an easy walk. There is a lot to see here, and there are always lots of birds to hear. I like places like this, especially on a beautiful spring day.

But you’ve got to stay awake and aware out here, because this is where I ran into the biggest bear I ever hope to meet up with.

I’ve thought about that encounter, and I think the bear just happened to be in this spot because one of the biggest beech trees I’ve even seen stood here, and I think the bear was probably just gobbling up all the fallen beechnuts from it. With a tree that size there must have been thousands of them. But then a storm blew through and the tree must have been weaker than it looked, because one trunk fell here, across the trail, and the other fell the opposite way. That stump and part of the trunk is all that’s left. Someone came out and cut it all up, but left the parts that were too big and heavy to move behind.

There are also wild grapes growing here. Something else for birds and animals to eat.

Marks from the big steam drills the railroad used are everywhere. Drill a hole, pack it with black powder, light the fuse and run as fast as you can go. I have a cannon that my father gave me that I use black powder in and I found that you had better run and hide behind a tree after you light the fuse because it has no carriage, and once the charge goes off it will fly through the air. It will fire a ball the size of a pinball machine ball, and it will bury that ball so deep in a chunk of maple you can’t dig it out. When they blew these ledges, the sound must have been deafening because that cannon can be heard from a long way off.

There was a lot of stone to take care of on this section and once they had the ledges cut back away from the rails they left them as they were, and now 150 years later they are home to some rarely seen plants.

Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is one of those plants, rare enough in this area so that I’ve never seen it anywhere else. It should bloom around the first of May or the last week of April, depending on the weather.

You’ve got to watch for loose stone above you near these ledges, though. This pile of stone had fallen not too long ago, and I think it landed right where the only blue cohosh plant I’ve ever seen grew.  

I’ve never gone very far beyond the ledges but this was a beautiful day and I had time so I decided to explore a little.

I saw a little brown mushroom growing on a very rotten black birch (Betula lenta) branch.

I think it might have been in the suillus clan. They only grow in soil from what I’ve read, but this branch had rotted down to very near soil. The only thing holding it together was the bark.

I saw an old road leading into the woods.

There were gate posts on either side, far enough apart for even a car to drive through. There was also a stone wall with a built-in break in it at this spot, so this road has been here for quite some time.

The road went into the woods for a short way and then turned sharply to the left, going downhill. The woods, mostly pine and hemlock, were thick and dark. Someday I’ll have to follow that old road, but not on this day. It’s too dark in that forest for sun lovers I think, but there could be a lot of pink lady’s slippers, as well as goldthread and other shade tolerant plants, but it’s too early to find any of them now.

I turned back and once again stopped at the ledges, at the place where a large clump of purple trillium grows. It was too early for trillium too, but it’ll be along in a week or two, probably. It grows fast and usually blooms when the columbines do so I’ll have to come out here again soon. I noticed that a lot of young trees had found enough soil to grow in on the ledges.

One of the trees growing on the ledges was striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum,) and most of the buds I saw on them showed cracks in the bud scales, just like those seen here. That means bud break will happen before too long and that gets me excited.

Striped maple buds are among the most colorful in the forest and quite different looking than other buds I’ve seen. They can be pink, orange, yellow or any combination of those colors and they are always velvety soft. This shot from last year shows them in all their glory.

This tiny moss grew on a section of ledge where water dripped constantly but didn’t look at all wet. It caught my eye because it was so bright, but it was so small I had to use full microscope mode on my camera to get just a poor shot of it. After 3 or 4 days of trying off and on to identify it, I haven’t had any luck so far. If you happen to know what it is I’m sure other readers would be happy to know.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
 ~Robert Frost

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The last time I visited the High Blue trail in Walpole was last October. It was a cool day then and I hadn’t dressed for it, so the only thing that kept me warm was walking. Here was another cool day but this time I had sense enough to dress for it, so I could dilly dally without freezing. It was a beautiful spring day but another 10 degrees would have been welcome.

In the shade there was ice on the puddles, and many fallen beech leaves. When they finally let go and fall spring can’t be far off.

In spring and fall you often see stones that appear to have sunken into the soil, but what really happens is the saturated soil freezes and heaves up around the stone, which doesn’t move. The hole always has the very same shape as the stone.

I saw an old gray birch which was slowly dying. One trunk was covered with fungi and the other full of woodpecker holes. Woodpecker activity means there are insects in the trunk and they, along with the fungi, mean death.

A fallen tree had an excellent example of a branch collar. If you do any tree pruning you would do well to read all you can find about branch collars, because if you prune off a branch while ignoring the branch collar you could be slowing down the healing process and inviting any number of diseases to come and visit your trees. This shot shows what happens naturally; the branch dies and falls off and the branch collar is left intact. A tree should look similar after it has been pruned. Of course it won’t have a hole where the branch was, but the branch collar should be intact.

Where the sunshine reached the road there was no more ice.

Instead there was water. A small stream runs alongside the road year-round, probably from a natural spring. There is a lot of groundwater in this area.

The breeze made ripples in the stream.

The ripples passing over sunken beech leaves in the sunshine were beautiful.

And here was the trail head. I remembered the winter I stood in this spot looking at waist deep snowdrifts that covered the trail. The snow was so deep I gave up and turned back. That memory made me grateful that there was no snow now.

When I was up here in October the corn still stood in what was once a meadow but I saw that the farmer finally cut it. I miss the meadow / hayfield that was here when I first started coming. There was orange hawkweed, buttercups, pale spike lobelia, asters, and many other wildflowers here, and many bees and butterflies to go with them.

The farmer got most of the corn but what he didn’t get birds and animals did. But not all of it. Nobody ever seems to get all of it. For years I watched flocks of Canada geese scouring the cornfields in Keene in spring before the fields were tilled, but even they never got all of it.

There are lots of ledges up here and when there aren’t leaves on the trees, they’re easy to see. They’re mostly covered with rock tripe lichen, as these were. It makes them look ragged.

I thought it was a one in a million chance that two stones could fall and end up like these did.

I know of a huge piece of milky quartz up here; the biggest I’ve seen. It’s hard to tell in the photo but it’s big enough so I doubt four men could lift it. We don’t see much quartz down in the lowlands.

The small pond on the summit was still frozen over. It’s fairly well shaded and there is a cool breeze at this time of year.

Running club moss (Lycopodium clavatum) seems to be spreading up here.This plant gets its name from the way it sends out long, horizontal stems. All along the horizontal stem erect stems form at intervals and roots form where it touches the ground. The bright sunlight showed a different side of it than I have seen in the past and showed why clubmosses are often associated with pines, even though they have no relationship.

I always feel that I have to get a shot of the old sign that marks the lookout spot but I’m not sure why. There have been times when it was a very hard shot to get because of the light and on this day a hemlock branch blowing in the breeze kept trying to shade it out.

But on this day the light was right and the view was good. The bench is a good place to sit and admire it when the wind isn’t blowing too hard. This view looks toward the west, so there is almost always some wind. In January it can be brutal.

The view across the Connecticut River valley was very blue but I expected it would be; I’ve never seen it when it wasn’t. That’s where the name comes from. Some puffy white clouds floating by would have been nice but I was happy with the clear blue sky. The clouds came to mind because ever since I was a boy, I’ve loved to watch the clouds float by and cast purple shadows on the hills. There are those who believe that, if you can see the thoughts in your mind as clouds, and can watch them floating by as you would clouds, you will find the path to inner peace. As a lifelong cloud watcher I believe there is a lot of truth in that, but I also believe there is always more than one path to any destination.

The ski slopes on Stratton Mountain over in Vermont still had snow on them but I’d guess that they would be closing soon. Nights are mostly staying above freezing now so they no longer have the weather they need to make snow. Hopefully those trails didn’t get as icy as the trails I tried to walk this winter.

Always be thankful for the little things… even the smallest mountains can hide the most breathtaking views. ~Nyki Mack

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Last Friday the 18th was a beautiful day, already warm when I got to Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard at about 11:00 am. I could see spots of ice on the trail so I wore a coat and had my micro-spikes in my pocket, just in case. I couldn’t find any recent information on trail conditions so I didn’t know what to expect but I knew it would be nice to be climbing again after the terrible ice had kept me on level ground all winter.

I looked at the hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) along the way and though I saw plenty of leaf buds I didn’t see a single flower bud.

There are lots of dead trees in the forest along this trail. A standing dead tree like this one is called a snag, and snags play an important part of the overall health of the forest. This tree is probably full of insects and I could see where woodpeckers had been at work. Fungal spores will also find their way to it and eventually it will fall and provide nutrients to the surrounding soil for years to come. This one looked almost like it had a bear platform in it.

Beech leaves are quickly going white. Strong March winds usually clean them off the trees and I’m seeing as many on the ground as I am on the trees lately.

I think of this stop at the meadow as the great breathing space. I can catch my breath and think about absolutely nothing here. It’s just earth, myself, and sky. And silence. I often find a nice rock and just sit for a while.

It paid to rest up a bit for this stretch. I was expecting a little ice on the trails here but instead I got thick mud, which on a hill is almost as bad.  

Mud and stones for the rest of the way.

And roots; lots of roots. They were useful to stop yourself if you were slipping backwards in the mud, which I did a couple of times. You really want to wear good, sturdy hiking boots with some ankle support here if you can.

The bright orange-red witches’ brooms on blueberry bushes burned like fire in the woods. They may seem unsightly to some and if you have a blueberry plantation you would surely want to remove them, but I worked around a blueberry bush that had one for many years, and it bore fruit just as well as the other bushes that didn’t. I left it as an experiment, just to see what would happen and it really didn’t seem to bother the bush at all.  

If you turn around in the right spot as you climb the leg of the trail beside the meadow you can see Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey. On this day it showed me that it would not be a good day for views. It was strange because I saw no signs of haze as I drove from Keene.

As I neared the summit, I saw that the old ranger cabin’s broken windows had finally been boarded up. It had been broken into and vandalized last year so better late than never, I suppose. It would be tough getting the tools and materials up here to do the job, I would think.

The only mountain ash (Sorbus americana) I’ve ever found in the wild lives up here and it looked to be doing well.

Big, black and pointed mountain ash buds often look like they have a single cap like bud scale but they actually have several overlapping scales which are quite sticky. They should be swelling any time now if this warm weather keeps up.

As I looked up at the fire tower on the summit I was grateful, because I remembered the winter I had to crawl up those last few rocky yards on my hands and knees because of the ice. I doubt I’ll ever do it again, even though being up here in January can be pretty special.

This really was not a day for views but I was able to get a fuzzy shot of the wind turbines over in Antrim. It really is amazing how big they are.

When I saw these three trees, I thought of the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

There was plenty of water on the summit for the birds to drink, and that meant plenty of mud as well. There was no escaping the mud on this day. It was over 70 degrees F. and everything had melted quickly, including any frost in the ground. By this point I was wishing that I had left my coat in the car.

Deep striations in the granite are a reminder that this entire region was once under ice. It’s hard to imagine ice thick enough to cover these mountains. It is estimated that the ice that covered New England in the last ice age was 2 Km (6,562 Ft.) thick. That means that 2,153-foot-high pitcher mountain was buried under more than 4000 feet of ice.

The near hill looked a bit drab on this day but I’ve known it in all seasons and soon it will be beautifully green with new spring leaves, because it is covered with mostly deciduous trees. In the fall it will be even more beautiful when those leaves begin to turn.

The summit is covered with many different lichens, like the yellowish goldspeck and the black and white tile lichens seen here. There are 136 species of tile lichens so identification is difficult without a microscope. I just like the colors in this scene.

I don’t know if the Pitcher family who settled here planted apple trees but there are apple trees here, and the sapsuckers love them. Their trunks are full of small holes.

I got to see a staghorn sumac bud just beginning to open.

And then there was the trail down. I picked my way carefully avoiding what mud I could, and I made it just fine, and that made a beautiful spring day seem even better.

Since there were no summit views to be had I thought I’d stop and get a shot of the Congregational Church in Stoddard on my way home so those of you who have never been to New England could see what a fairly traditional New England church looks like. The town was named after Colonel Sampson Stoddard of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, the charter being granted to him and others on May 10, 1752. The population has fluctuated over the years, falling to as low as 100 people in 1900 to around 1000 today. According to the town’s website the Congregational Church was organized in 1787, but the building in the photo wasn’t built until 1836.

A mountaintop is not simply an elevation, but an island, a world within a world, a place out of place. ~Paul Gruchow

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