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Posts Tagged ‘Spring’

I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog lately that I’ve been doing a lot of walking, so I thought I’d show you some of the things I see on these walks. If I choose to go this way, I can see a pond full of water plants like burr reed and yellow pond lilies. The big circular plant colonies are all yellow pond lilies, and they appear to be trying to take over the pond.

I’ve seen lots of hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) on an old hemlock stump and the pile of logs beside it. For the first time I’ve had a chance to see these mushrooms grow day by day and I can now understand that they grow quite fast. This one went from looking like a piece of dough to what we see here in less than two weeks. It’s about the size of a salad plate; less diameter than a dinner plate but more than a saucer. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom, and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

Swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) burned brightly in roadside ditches. This is our first yellow loosestrife to bloom each year and I sometimes see them in great numbers. They like wet places and often grow right where the water meets the shore. In fact my knees were getting wet so this isn’t a very good shot.

Soft or common rush (Juncus effusus) also grew in a ditch alongside the road. Ditches are always a good place to find a variety of plants that like wet feet, like rushes and sedges. Soft rush can form large clumps and are easy to grow. They’re interesting if placed here and there around garden ponds.

Sedge stems are triangular and have edges but soft rush stems are smooth and cylindrical, with a light pith inside. They feel soft if you pinch them, not sharp. The flower head, shown in the above photo, looks like it grows from one side of the stem but the stem actually ends at the flowers. Anything appearing above the flowers is a bract, not part of the stem. The flowers are tiny and not showy, but overall the plant is pleasing to the eye.

Gray’s sedge (Carex grayi) always reminds me of the spiky mace weapons that knights used in the Middle Ages. A botanist would say this about that: each spikelet consists of a globoid cluster of perigynia that radiate in all directions. A perigynium is a fleshy cup or tube, which in this case comes to a point or beak. Coming out of each beak are the flowers, which are what look like threads in this photo. They start out white and brown as they age. Gray’s sedge is named after Asa Gray, who wrote Grays Manual of Botany in 1848. I read my copy about 50 years ago and have used it many times since that initial reading. If you have trouble sleeping at night just read Asa’s manual for a half our or so before bedtime. You’ll sleep like a stone.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) had recently flowered and I knew that because the tiny threads at the ends of the perigynia were still white. This common sedge is also called bottlebrush sedge. Waterfowl and other birds love its seeds.

Curly dock (Rumex crispus) has flowered and is now producing its tiny winged seeds, which look a bit like stalks full of flakes.

If you look closely, you will see that each flake, which is more like a wing, has a tiny seed on it. It looks like a seed pearl at this stage but as they ripen and age the seed and its wing will turn brownish. Finally they will fall from the plant and the wind will catch the tiny wings and blow them to new places to grow. They will often persist through winter and fall the following spring. Since March is the windiest month, it is a sensible strategy for a plant that depends on the wind to get around.

Marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris) is another ditch loving plant that likes full sun and wet feet. This one had a fern ball on its tip. Fern balls appear at the tip of a fern frond and look like what the photo shows. Inside the ball is a caterpillar, which has pulled the tip of the fern into a ball shape and tied it up with silk. Once inside the shelter they feed on the fern leaflets and live completely in the fern ball until they are ready to become a moth. Emily Dickinson once wrote “To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else,” and I wonder if she didn’t see a fern ball just before she wrote it.  

Native Americans called blueberries star berries, and now you know why; the blossom end of each berry forms a five-pointed star. They used blueberries, and also the plant’s leaves and roots, medicinally as well as for food. They cultivated the bushes and made a pudding out of corn meal and water and added the blueberries to it. They then baked it, and it saved the life of many a European settler, as did their pemmican.

I see several native catalpa trees (Catalpa speciosa) on my walks and right now they’re in full bloom and very beautiful. It’s like looking at a tree full of orchids.

Catalpa flowers are big; your index finger will fit right in there. The trees they grow on are also very big and a mistake I see people make over and over again is planting them too close to their house. Catalpa, for all its beauty, is also a messy tree. First the spent flowers fall by the thousands in early summer, and then in fall the giant heart shaped leaves turn yellow and fall. In the spring the seedpods come down. These are like two-foot-long string beans and they make quite a mess. It is a tree that creates a lot of work if planted where everything that falls from it has to be raked up but in spite of all of this if someone asked me if they should plant a catalpa I’d say absolutely, just keep it away from the house. Plant it at the edge of the property, or by a pond if you have one.

I saw a bittersweet nightshade plant (Solanum dulcamara) coming up out of the center of a yew, and it was loaded with its pretty blue and yellow flowers. It might be pretty but it’s a real stinker, and if you break the stems, you’ll smell something unusual. It produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic, so that might account for the smell. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. It’s originally from Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes. The fruit is a red berry, which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. I wouldn’t eat one though.

I like the flowers when they’re fully open like this one but you have to be quick to catch them this way because the petals recurve quickly. You can see that most of them have done so in the previous photo. Cranberry flowers do the same thing.

A button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) was budding up and preparing to flower. It will have a perfectly spherical flower head that looks a lot like a pincushion before it is through. I’ve seen lots of button bush flowers but apparently, I’ve never paid any attention to the buds. These reminded me of the game Jacks that we used to play long ago.

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) flowers open in rings as they circle their way up the flower stalk, starting at the bottom and working towards the top. Though an invasive from Europe and Asia English plantain prefers growing in soil that has been disturbed, so it isn’t often seen in natural areas where there is little activity. I see it in lawns more than anywhere else but I see more of it each year.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) has just started blooming. This now common plant wasn’t always common in this area. When I was a boy, I had a transistor radio and at night I used to fall asleep listening to it. One of the songs I could count on hearing every night was Polk Salad Annie by Tony Joe White. It was about a poor southern girl who had only pokeweed to eat because her mother was on a chain gang and her grandmother was eaten by an alligator. Her father and brothers were lazy, so all they had were the poke greens. Of course all of us school kids talked about both the song and the plant, but when we asked our parents what pokeweed was, they didn’t know. They just said it must be a southern plant, but no more; now it’s an everywhere plant, and it is big and noticeable.

Pokeweed flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and have 5 petal-like, rounded sepals. In the center of the flower are green carpels that come together and will form the purple black berry. Native Americans called the plant pocon and used the juice from the berries to decorate their horses. People still use it to dye wool today. If you’d like to hear the song about Polk Salad Annie that I used to hear in 1969, just click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCSsVvlj6YA

Pokeweed is toxic unless you get the early spring shoots and I’ve read that it can make you kind of crazy if you eat too much of it, so that might account for all the grunting and oohing you hear from Tony Joe White.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is having an amazing year and the plants are huge. It starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again. This plant was once so highly valued that it was traded among all the people of the earth, but now we hardly give it a glance. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and it was found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and its value was most likely due to its ability to staunch the flow of blood. The Achillea part of the scientific name comes from the Greek god Achilles, whose soldiers it is said, used the plant to treat their wounds. Because of its being so freely traded it is one of just a few plants that now grow on every continent except Antarctica. I see it everywhere I go.

Poplar seeds fall from the female trees and often find each other in the wind, and then roll into a ball of what looks like cotton. This is the reason the trees are also called cottonwoods. A tree 100 feet high and five feet across can grow from a seed just 5/32 of an inch long. For a certain amount of time in spring the air is filled with them.

Back when I was a boy everyone said that when the wind blew hard enough to show the bottoms of the leaves on trees like silver maple, it meant that it was going to rain. I have since learned that what it really means is that the wind is blowing, and nothing more. The strong wind might be caused by a front passing through, but that doesn’t always mean rain. On this day all the leaves were showing silver but we didn’t see a drop fall.

I like to watch grasses flower and turn purple, and one of the most purple of them all is Timothy, named after farmer Timothy Hanson, who began to cultivate and promote it in 1720. Each tiny flower on Timothy grass has three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas. I spent a lot of time when I was a boy chewing on a piece of this grass hanging while I walked the railroad tracks and as I’ve mentioned before, it is the grass I think of when I hear the opening line of the song Ventura Highway by the band America, which starts Chewing on a piece of grass, walking down the road… I just listened to it and it still sounds as good as it did in 1972. It reminds me of simpler times.

These are the leaves of staghorn sumac, which I see just about everywhere I walk and which in spring remind me of bamboo. Later on they’ll remind me of palm trees. If I’m lucky I’ll see them wearing bright red in the fall.

I hope you enjoyed this walk, just one of several that I do. There is nothing easier than walking; you don’t even have to choose where to go because the paths are just there and going right or left really doesn’t matter. I’ve always been more of a walker than a driver but until now I never really paid attention to the health benefits. I’m losing weight, my legs and knees feel better and I can breathe much easier than I could just a few months ago. I don’t think of distance or destination or anything else. I just walk until I’m ready to stop. If you’re healthy and interested open your door and start walking, and just see what you see. Give yourself the time and freedom to wander. You might be surprised by what you find.

The only way to understand a land is to walk it. The only way to drink in its real meaning is to keep it firmly beneath one’s feet. Only the walker can form the wider view. ~Sinclair McKay

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Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are having a great year and I’m seeing lots of them. They usually grow in the forest in places that gets an hour or two of sunlight, but this year they seem to be everywhere. They sparkle like the first snowflakes of winter on the forest floor. The Trientalis part of the scientific name means “one third of a foot” in Latin and four inches is just about how tall they grow.

 I always like to see how many flowers I can find on a single starflower plant and this year I’m seeing many with three flowers. I’ve seen four flowers twice but one of the flowers had passed each time. It used to be that seeing three flowers was rare and seeing four was almost unheard of, but they seem to have more flowers each year now. More flowers are always a good thing, in my opinion.

Wood anemones (Anemone quinquefolia) grow alongside trout lilies in many places and though the trout lilies didn’t do well this year the anemones did. Anemones are sun lovers and they bloomed well, so it can’t be a lack of sunlight that caused of the lack of trout lily blossoms.

Much like a bloodroot blossom the petals of an anemone have almost imperceptible veins that show only in the right light. I was lucky enough to be there and able to capture it when the lighting was right.

There’s nothing left to see of them where I go, but I met a friend on a trail one day and he said the trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) in his yard were blooming beautifully. What the differences were between his yard and the places I visited, I don’t know.

Crabapples are blooming beautifully this year and some trees are so full of blossoms you almost can’t see the branches. The crabapple is the only apple truly native to North America and there are four species of them. They are Malus fusca, Malus coronaria, Malus angustifolia and Malus ioensis. The tree in my own yard was full of blossoms last year and this year I couldn’t find a single one.

Apples are also doing well. We’re lucky to have wild apple and crabapple trees on forest edges almost everywhere you look. Many people don’t realize that apples aren’t native because they’ve been with us for so long. My grandmother had a few trees which, by the time I came along, were grown more for their flowers than for fruit. They were very fragrant and I have many happy memories of bringing branches full of flowers upstairs to her.

The fragrance of lilacs is all I smell when I go on my daily walks now. Almost every house on any street I walk on has at least one, but though it is the state flower of New Hampshire it is not native to North America. I’m glad we have them though. It just wouldn’t be spring without them.

I know of only two places where rare dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) grows and in one of them, I was happy to find many seedlings this year. This one’s flowers had deeply pleated petals, which is something I can’t remember ever seeing. You have to search for the very small plants because they don’t like disturbed ground and so will only grow in soil that has been untended for many years. I find them by a forested stream in ground that has never been cultivated that I know of.

Plants are very small and most will easily fit inside a teacup. Individual dwarf ginseng flowers are about 1/8″ across and have 5 white petals, a short white calyx, and 5 white stamens. The flowers might last three weeks, and if pollinated are followed by tiny yellow fruits. This is not the ginseng used in herbal medicine and it should never be picked.

There are close to 45 species of pussytoes (Antennaria), which makes identifying them difficult, but they are popping up in lawns everywhere right now. They’re a good sign that the lawn has poor soil, because this plant likes to grow in sandy, rocky, almost gravel like soil. Pussytoes are a favorite of many butterfly species so they’re an important plant. Another common name for the plant is everlasting. Its female flowers seen in this photo.

The flowers of the pussytoes plant are said to look like cat’s paws, and that’s where they get their common name. Someone also thought the stamens on a male pussytoes flower, seen here, looked like butterfly antennae. I don’t know about that but that’s where the Antennaria part of the scientific name came from. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat coughs, fevers, bruises, and inflammations.

I learned a long time ago that trying to identify small yellow flowers can make you crazy so I pass most of them by, but this one follows me wherever I go. It could be a dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis), which is native.

Whatever its name is I think the bright yellow flowers are pretty. I see them blooming everywhere right now.

Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) is an old-fashioned shrub that I’m not sure is even sold any more, but back when I was gardening it was fairly common. This one is very old and large, and it was just coming into bloom when I found it.

It’s hard to mistake a Japanese quince for any other shrub. Its pinkish orange blooms appear on thorny branches long before its leaves do. It’s in the apple family and has edible fruit that is said to make excellent jelly. I worked for a lady who called it Japonica, which is what it was called in the 1800s. I planted a quince hedge once for some people and it worked out well.

If you happen to be a violet lover this is your year. I’ve never seen so many.

I thought these were dog violets but if I go by the longish throat hairs they can’t be, because dog violets have short, stubby throat hairs. I learned that recently by reading the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog. It’s one of my favorites and it can be found over there on the right.

And what about this violet that looks like someone splattered it with paint? I found it in a garden at a local park.

Its name is “Freckles” (Viola Sororia Freckles) and I kind of like it, but knowing how quickly violets multiply as I do, would I dare plant it in a garden? I think I’d have to talk to someone who had planted it in their garden first to see if it was bent on taking over the world. I spent far too many years weeding violets out of gardens to have a nonchalant attitude about planting them, even if it is a cultivar.

I think tulip time is over now but this is my favorite for this post.

I like looking inside tulips, and this is why. You never really know what you’ll see, so it’s part of the fun.

These tulips had gone far beyond their best, but they were going out with a bang. Their petals moved like ocean waves and I thought they were passing on beautifully.

Here’s to the moments when you realize the simple things are wonderful and enough. ~Jill Badonsky

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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.

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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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Last week a storm spun just off the coast and brought us wave after wave of clouds, rain, wind and cold almost every day. In spite of below freezing nighttime lows there were a few plants brave enough to bloom. Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) bloomed just in time for May and that’s perfect. It is called Mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear.

To smell its flowers you have to literally get your chin on the ground because these flowers are ground huggers. It’s worth it though, because they have a scent all their own that it is impossible for me to describe. Kind of spicy, but there’s more to it than that. It’s a very unusual scent and that’s why they were so over collected for use in nosegays in years past. My grandmother always told of this being her favorite flower but we never did find any of them, so I found myself wishing she were there on this day. Until I thought about it, that is. She had awful trouble standing from a kneeling position, so she would have told me to pick some and give them to her and I would have had to refuse. That wouldn’t have gone over well. In her day the thought of a flower becoming extinct from over picking would have seemed ridiculous, and she would have told me so. They just didn’t know any better in her day.

A flower I’ve never heard of being picked is that of wild ginger (Asarum canadense), but the plants are still hard to find. I’ve found them in only in this one spot.

The plant’s fuzzy, heart shaped leaves were just unfolding but the brownish flowers were already blooming. I can’t think of another wildflower with leaves quite like these so the plant is very easy to identify. The long rhizomes of wild ginger were used by Native Americans as a seasoning. It has similar aromatic properties as true ginger but the plant has been found to contain aristolochic acid, which is a carcinogenic compound that can cause kidney damage, so it should not be used.

You could fit a pea inside a wild ginger flower but nothing much bigger. Though flies often crawl into the meat colored flowers it is now thought that they do so simply to get warm. Several scientific studies have shown that these flowers are self-pollinated. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me because I saw many insects including bees already out before these flowers bloomed. Maybe insects just aren’t interested for some reason.

I’m not happy with the way the river water in the background came out in this shot of leatherleaf blossoms (Chamaedaphne calyculata) but I got a difficult shot so maybe I should just keep quiet and be happy with it. The plant normally grows out of the water a few feet but it can stand being flooded and this year because the river was high, I couldn’t get near it. I stood on a slope just at the water’s edge getting as close as I could by leaning, which wasn’t a good idea. It grew a foot or two off shore and I almost leaned myself right into the river.

But I stayed dry and it was worth a slightly raised heart rate to get photos of such pretty little blossoms. I was able to get a hold of a branch on another shrub and pull it toward me for this shot. The plant gets its common name from its tough, leathery leaves, which are lighter and scaly on their undersides. At a glance it might be mistaken for a blueberry, but these flowers are smaller and not quite so round as a blueberry blossom.

If you see these shiny pointed bud scales littering the ground that means the poplars are blooming. When they bloom their catkins are often blown off or taken off by rain, and you can see one of them on the upper right.

If you pick up one of the fallen poplar catkins this is what you’ll see. These are the reddish-brown male anthers, which are extremely small. But they do the job and when the female flowers have been pollinated, they’ll release their cottony seeds into the air and they will settle on everything. It’s not a good time to leave your car windows open.

The feathery white female flowers of the European white elm (Ulmus laevis Pall), which we call Russian elm, were just forming seeds when I saw them. The tree is large and spreading and quite beautiful, but it lacks the height and vase shape of the American elm.

The female flowers of the American elm (Ulmus americana) were a step ahead of those of the Russian elm, and had already become seeds (samaras), each with a white fringe. They will quickly lose this fringe as they ripen.

One of my favorite native tree flowers are the female flowers of the box elder. The male flowers come out early before the leaves, but the female flowers don’t show themselves until the leaves unfurl. I love their color and shape. They have a sticky velvety coating so they can catch as much pollen as possible. They must be very good at it because you find these “weed trees” coming up in waste areas and vacant lots all over town. Box elder was the first tree I ever planted. My grandmother used to pay me to pull up all the trees growing around her foundation and one of those I pulled up was a box elder. I carried it home bare root, dug a hole and stuck it in, gave it some water and pretty much forgot about it, and that tree grew for years and years. For all I know it could still be there, some 55 years later.  

For the first time I saw the flower stems (petioles) of female box elder flowers. I never knew this was such a hairy tree but I’ve always known how pretty it was, weed tree or not.

A rare thing has happened. Rare in this area anyhow; a downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens) has bloomed. This single plant is the only one I’ve ever seen. I thought it might be a round leaved yellow violet but the leaves are definitely heart shaped and not round.

It’s a very pretty thing and I was happy to see it. I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times I’ve seen a yellow violet.

Wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) have just come into bloom. These berries are small but you haven’t really tasted a strawberry until you’ve tasted them.  The full moon in the month of June was known to many Native American tribes as the “Strawberry Moon” because that was when most strawberries began to ripen. The berries were picked, dried and stored for winter use, or added to pemmican, soups, and breads. In the garden strawberries easily reproduce vegetatively by runners (stolons) but the fruit was so plentiful in the wild that colonials in North America didn’t bother cultivating them until the early 1800s. The first documented botanical illustration of a strawberry plant appeared in 1454.

Sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) has just come into bloom and only three or four out of thousands had opened when I went to see them. It was a windy day and you can tell that by the way this flower isn’t hanging vertically. I doubted I’d be able to get a shot but the camera stopped the motion and this is the result. The black flies are out in force now but the wind keeps them away, so I should have been grateful for it instead of grousing about it while there on my knees waiting for it to stop so I could get a photo. You never have to search too hard to find something to be thankful for, but sometimes I miss the opportunity.

I went to see what American hazelnut buds looked like when they broke but instead found this one still flowering. I was surprised because the male catkins have turned brown and dried up. These were the longest female filaments I’ve ever seen and I wondered if maybe they grew longer by stretching for pollen that will never come. I see a lot of hazelnut shrubs with no nuts on them in the fall and now I wonder if it is because many female flowers don’t appear until after all the pollen has been shed. In the end it doesn’t matter. Nature will straighten it out.

After a very slow start henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is having a great year. This plant was loaded with cartoon faced blossoms that resemble those of some of our small flowered orchids.

You might see a resemblance to henbit in the much larger flowers of dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) and well you should, because they are both in the same family.

Bradford pear blossoms (Pyrus calleryana) are pretty enough but they’re about all this tree has going for it. They have weak wood and lose branches regularly and birds love the tiny pears it produces, which means that it is quite invasive. In the wild it forms nearly impenetrable thickets and out competes native trees. And though the flowers are pretty enough their scent has been compared to everything from rotting fish to an open trash bin. I smelled fish when I was walking among them taking photos and I can say that I was very happy that I didn’t have one in my yard.

Pulmonaria (Pulmonaria officinalis) has just started blossoming, but I’ve never seen one like this. It had two colored flowers on the same plant, pink and blue / purple. I’m guessing that they come out pink and then change but I’ve never noticed this before so I wonder if it’s a newer hybrid. Another name for the plant is lungwort. During the Middle Ages in Europe, lungwort was considered dangerous because the grey spots on its leaves were associated with an infected lung. Later, it was used to treat lung disorders. The scientific name Pulmonaria comes from the Latin pulmo, meaning lung.

Tulips of all colors and shapes have appeared.

I was looking for the very early red and yellow tulips I saw last year but I never did find them, so these will have to do. There was less yellow on the ones I saw last year. It just peeked out between the red petals.

It’s time to say goodbye to red maple flowers because they have grown wings, and now they will fly. The trees have blossomed longer this year than I’ve ever seen, most likely due to a cool spring.

I tried to draw my soul but all I could think of was flowers. ~Natalya Lobanova

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone is seeing lots of flowers!

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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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On one of my daily walks I passed a house that had a single white crocus coming up in what was once apparently a flower bed. The wide open flower reminded me of a bloodroot flower (Sanguinaria canadensis) so even though I was sure it was too early, I went to where the bloodroots I know of grow and found a single flower there; the earliest I’ve ever seen one bloom. It grows in a group of maybe 25 plants but there wasn’t a sign of any of the others, just this single blossom. Since that day we’ve had some cold nights with frost, so I’m hoping I’ll get to see the others. This plant gets its common name from the bright red sap in its roots, which Native Americans used to decorate their horses with.

Cheery little bluets (Houstonia caerulea) have suddenly popped up in all the lawns. Another name for this plant is Quaker ladies, but I’ve always thought it should have been quaking ladies because all the flowers move in the slightest breeze. I took this photo on a windy day so I was surprised that it came out. What appear to be four petals is actually a single tubular blossom with four lobes.

All the rain we had last summer must have done the willows some good because they’re blooming like I’ve never seen them bloom this year.

Male (shown here) and female willow flowers grow on separate plants. Though willow trees are wind pollinated these willows rely on insects for pollination so there is plenty for the bees to do this year.

Here are the less showy female willow blossoms. If pollinated each flower will become a small yellow, banana shaped seed pod which when ripe will split open and release fluffy seeds to the wind.

Here is a shot of some willow seed pods that I took in 2012. They’re very easily found in summer, but trying to figure out what species of willow you are looking at is far from easy because they cross pollinate so readily. As Henry David Thoreau said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused.”

The pretty flower buds of white ash (Fraxinus americana) are out of the bud and I hope they didn’t get frost bitten. Sometimes these buds are as black as blackberries and other times they’re colored like these were. The Native American Wabanaki tribe made baskets from ash splints and some tribes believed the wood was poisonous to rattlesnakes and used canes made of ash to chase them away.

Male box elder flowers (Acer negundo) are now well out of the bud and their reddish-brown anthers at the ends of long filaments can now blow in the wind and release their pollen. Quick growing, weak box elders are considered “weed trees” that aren’t good for much, not even for fire wood, and many trees throughout the city have been cut down. I was having trouble this year finding a single female tree but I think I’ve finally found one. Male and female flowers bloom on separate trees and I think the lime green flowers on female trees are the prettiest so I always look for them. They begin to show just as the tree’s leaves unfurl. Native Americans must have thought highly of the box elder because the oldest wooden Native American flute ever found was made from its wood.

I haven’t seen any of the female red maple blossoms (Acer rubrum) becoming seeds yet but it’s bound to happen with all of the millions of flowers blossoming in just this small area.

Male red maples are certainly doing their part. Their anthers loaded with pollen, ready for the wind to do its job.

I wanted to see if the sedges were blooming yet so I went to see the plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea,) which is one of the earliest to bloom. I was happy to see that it was full of flowers. I like its crepe paper like leaves, too. They are large for gathering light, so it does well in the shade under trees. The prominent midrib, two lateral veins, maroon bases, and puckered look of the leaves are all used as identifying features for plantain leaved sedge.

The buttery male sedge flowers are the easiest to see, situated as they are at the top of the four-inch stalk, which is called a culm. You can just see the wispy white flowers there behind it. They always appear lower down than the male flowers.

The female flowers are delicate looking, white sticky threads, just waiting the for wind to bring them pollen. They are sublime in their simplicity and they’re one of my favorite things to see in spring.

The deeply pleated, extremely toxic leaves of false hellebore (Veratrum viride) have appeared. They come along between the spring beauties and trout lilies, so are right on time. I was slightly dismayed the other night when a local television show did a piece about a local forager. As the announcer spoke about the forager collecting ramps, the camera showed false hellebore. That was a serious mistake I thought, because eating false hellebore can be deadly.

This photo that I took years ago shows that true ramps, which are a wild onion or leek, bear no resemblance to false hellebore. If you forage for wild plants you would be wise to know them both. The bulbs and leaves of ramps are very strongly flavored with a pungent odor, so a simple sniff would help tell the difference. In some places they are called “The king of stink.” Their usage has been recorded throughout history starting with the ancient Egyptians. They were an important food for Native Americans and later for white settlers as well.

Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra) isn’t native to this region as far as I know, but there is one at the local college and I just happened to see its buds breaking. Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud,” but there is often far more to it than that. It’s usually a beautiful thing to witness, and is one of my favorite things about spring. Spring flowers are beautiful, but there is so much more to spring than just the flowers.

Purple trilliums (Trillium erectum) are up and each plant has a single bud that should open in the near future, though I’ve waited a week or more for it to happen in past years. They usually bloom in mid to late April and are one of our largest and most beautiful native wildflowers. This cluster of plants was growing on a boulder.

Even on a gloomy day Forsythia was bright and cheery. Although they’ve become kind of a ho-hum shrub spring would be very different without them in this area. They bloom on any street you care to travel. Some are in hedge form, some are neatly trimmed and others are left natural, as this one was. If you have an embankment that you’re sick of mowing or otherwise dealing with, just plant Forsythia on it. One of the most beautiful spring sights I’ve ever seen was a roadside embankment covered with Forsythias. They were allowed to grow as natural as they wanted, and it was like seeing a yellow waterfall.

Hellebores have come out, just after Easter rather than during Lent. This isn’t my favorite hellebore but since I don’t have any of my own beggars can’t be choosers. This one grows in a local park. I do hope to one day grow some here but there is work to be done first.

There are many varieties of daffodil and I don’t know their name, but these two were tiny; each flower couldn’t have been much over an inch across. I’ve seen the small yellow Tête-à-Tête daffodils and these were probably close to their size but bi-colored.

I know they’re called glory of the snow (Chionodoxa) but our snow is usually long gone before these flowers appear, so I’m not sure where their true glory lies. It doesn’t matter though, because they’re beautiful and I enjoy seeing them each year.

Chionodoxa come in many different colors and are in the asparagus family (Asparagaceae,) along with hyacinths, grape hyacinths, scilla and many other plants.

I stood on the shore of a sea of scilla and watched as the wind made waves, and it was beautiful.

Just after I took this shot of lilac buds a front moved in and the temperature dropped severely before the wind blew and hail fell. Normally I would say something like here is a taste of what’s to come, but now I’m not so sure. I hope they and all of the other flowers made it through the cold and I hope to be able to show them to you in the near future.

In every man’s heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty. ~Christopher Morley

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

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

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

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

Ice melts in mysterious ways sometimes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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