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Posts Tagged ‘Stoddard New Hampshire’

I like to see what the fall colors look like from above so each year I climb a hill or mountain to have a look. I’ve been climbing at Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard for a few years now because it’s a relatively easy climb and because it has a 360 degree view from the summit.

Beech trees are changing into their bright yellows down in the lower towns so I thought they’d be well along here. They were indeed, and if I went by the colors along the trail I guessed that I was going to see plenty of color at the summit.

A few months ago when I was here I noticed that someone had placed what they must have considered a special stone on to of a boulder. I was happy to see that people had thought enough of the person who put it there to leave it alone. When I first saw it I picked it up to look at it and almost tossed it into the woods but thankfully I realized it meant something to someone, so I put it back where I found it.

In May I saw a big black bear right here in the meadow, but on this day I saw Scottish highland cattle. These pastures are for them but I don’t see them here very often. I’m guessing that the scent of the bear was long gone, because they seemed to be at peace and didn’t even look my way.  

With views like this who wouldn’t be at peace?

Up we go along the trail that parallels the pasture. I should say that good, sturdy hiking boots would be a good idea here. The trail gets very rocky and there are many tree roots.

An old apple tree along the trail bore a considerable crop of fruit. Pitcher Mountain gets its name from the Pitcher family, who settled this land in the 1700s, but I doubt this was anything they planted. It was an old tree but not that old.  

I noticed that nobody had boarded up the open window on the ranger cabin yet, and that got me wondering how often forestry officials actually come up here.

I took another look at the 1940s interior. I don’t know if a bear got in here or not but something or someone had been foraging, by the looks of things.

In all the years I’ve been coming here I’ve seen someone in the fire tower just once, and that day they were letting people in. There was such a line waiting though, that I passed it up. This is considered a manned fire tower but I wonder when. It is possible that it’s only manned during times of high fire danger, I suppose.

There was plenty of fall color on the summit. The red of blueberry bushes and yellow of ferns made a beautiful scene, I thought.

There was a haze in the distance but you couldn’t beat the color nearby.

This shot shows the meadows where the highland cattle were from above.

There were lots of people up here on this day and most were either simply staring or taking photos. I did quite a lot of both because it was so beautiful.

There were lots of blueberry bushes that had lost their leaves but there were still lots of berries on them.  

I took far too many photos but I think you can probably see why. It was just breathtaking up there.

It appears as just a speck in this photo but there was a dark eyed junco bathing in the water that collects in the natural depressions in this bedrock. That’s why I call them the birdbaths.

A tiger moth must have flown up here at some point because I saw a couple of wooly bear caterpillars on the summit.

The rocks of the summit are covered with many different lichens and I always try to stop and take a look at one or two of them.

On this day I chose common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) for a close up photo. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone, especially slate. I see it on older gravestones quite often and it grows by the thousands on some hill and mountain summits. It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that, at high magnification, the body of the common goldspeck lichen looks like it’s made up of tiny golden specks. The book Lichens of North America describes the body of this lichen as “little cushions of flattened granules.” This lichen is sometimes sterile, with no fruiting bodies present, but these had a few. Crustose lichens form crusts that tightly adhere to the substrate that they grow on and usually can’t be removed without damaging it.

One last look at the colors on the summit.

I’ve often said here that I don’t climb for the view because if I did I’d be disappointed about 9 out of 10 times, but on this day I did climb for the view and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact I could have stayed up there all day but what goes up must come down and so I started back down the trail. Though I’m still 18 in my mind my body keeps interrupting that dream and one of my knees has been acting up lately, but I told myself that if a 5 year old, her grandparents and their dog could do it then so could I. Despite a little discomfort I made it down without a hitch, so I was happy. What a wonderful day it turned out to be.

The events of the past day have proven to me that I am wholly alive, and that no matter what transpires from here on in, I have truly lived. ~Anonymous mountain climber.

Thanks for coming by.

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It’s blueberry picking time here in New Hampshire and one of the best local places I know of to do that is on Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. Wild blueberry season in New Hampshire usually starts around the end of July and people come from all over to pick them. I like to come here at this time not to pick blueberries but to meet the people who do.

The trail, as mountains go, is relatively easy to climb even for me and I often meet elderly people climbing here.

Hay scented ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) line the trail and they were starting to turn white, here and there. Another signal that fall is in the air. This fern likes shade and will tolerate extreme dryness as well. Its common name comes from the way it smells like hay when it is bruised. It does well in gardens but gardeners want to make absolutely sure they want it because once they have it they’ll most likely have it for a long time. It’s very difficult to eradicate.

A young mountain ash tree was covered with wooly aphids, almost from the soil to its tip. These sucking insects can be winged or unwinged. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of trees and in spring nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage. I’m guessing that this young tree will be severely weakened by such large numbers of aphids. The drops of liquid are their waste, which is called “honeydew.” It’s very sticky and often leads to sooty black mold.

Someone left a small stone on top of a larger one. I used to collect rocks and minerals and I could see that it wasn’t anything special. I almost tossed it into the woods but then I thought that it might have been special to the person, possibly a child, who left it there, so I put it back. Speaking of children I saw a few here on this day, and that made my heart glad. There’s no such thing as too many kids in the woods, and one of the greatest gifts we can give them is introducing them to nature.

There were lots of white whorled wood asters (Oclemena acuminata) growing along the trail but many hadn’t bloomed yet. This plant can take quite a lot of shade.

The leaves were all mottled on this wood aster. I’ve never seen this before and I’m not sure what would have caused it. It didn’t look like leaf miners.

Before I knew it I was at the meadow. The white puffy clouds though unexpected, were fun to see.

The clouds were unexpected because the weatherman said wall to wall sunshine for the day. Instead it looked like the clouds might be on their way to becoming wall to wall and some were huge. That dark area out there is a cloud shadow.

Theses hay rolls (?) were placed near where I saw the big black bear in May on my last trip up the mountain. I’ve thrown hay bales up onto wagons before but I was very thankful that I never had to roll these big things around. They must be for the Scottish highland cattle that live up here.

Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) dangled red and ripe from the trees. The Native American Ojibwe tribe called them Asasaweminagaawanzh. They crushed them with stones and then heated them in a pan with lard and sugar. The berries were used in pemmican, in cakes, or cooked in stews after they had been crushed and dried. Pemmican was a meat, lard and fruit mixture which was stored as a high energy emergency winter food that kept people from starving if food became scarce. It saved the life of many a European as well. The Ojibwe still make and sell chokecherry syrup and chokecherry jelly. They say that they are one of the “sweetest tastes of white earth.”

Unfortunately most of the cherries in this area have black knot disease. It is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus can be spread by rain or wind and typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those in the above photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring.

Flocks of these little gray and black birds flew along the trial beside me. I think they were dark eyed juncos. They were very quiet and didn’t seem frightened of me at all. In fact they were as inquisitive as chipmunks and watched me the whole way.

The old ranger cabin told me I was just a few yards from the summit.

The ranger cabin had me wondering just how often the people in charge come up here, because the boards someone ripped off one of the windows were still missing since at least May. There was also an alarm sounding on the generator that powers the fire tower, but nobody around to silence it.

I’m not sure what would happen if the power was cut to the fire tower. There sure are a lot of antennas on it. You find people on most mountaintops in this area and popular ones like Mount Monadnock can at times seem as busy as a Manhattan sidewalk. There were a few up here on this day and I even saw a woman wearing flipflops, which I wouldn’t recommend. I call the fire tower on Pitcher Mountain a monument to irony because the original wooden tower built in 1915 burned in April of 1940, in the most destructive forest fire to ever strike this part of the state. Twenty seven thousand acres burned, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit.

I met a man with a German (?) accent who was very interested in blueberries. I told him that there were plenty of bushes right here on the summit and he should just help himself. The highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is a native plant that you can quite literally find just about anywhere in this part of the state. There are areas where they are more concentrated though, and Pitcher Mountain is one of those areas. This is what the man was after and though they grow in great numbers near the summit he wasn’t having much luck finding any berries. I saw people carrying containers around and I saw ripe berries, so I’m not sure why he wasn’t finding any.

Native black highbush blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum) has smaller fruit than that of the Vaccinium corymbosum highbush blueberry in the previous photo and also grows on the summit. Some say they are sweeter while some say the other highbush blueberries are sweeter. Though I told him that they are both native berries the man with the German accent said he didn’t want these berries because they must be “some kind of strange hybrid.” He wanted native berries he said again, so I finally had to say good hunting and move on. Clearly someone has given him erroneous information about blueberries but it can’t be just him, because most of these berries go untouched by the pickers. When I come up here in January I find them mummified by the thousands, still on the bushes. I’ve eaten many of both kinds and in my experience one isn’t any better or worse than the other, in my opinion. I wish I could have convinced the visitor of that.

It’s been quite dry lately so I was surprised to see water in what I call “the birdbath.” I saw a dark eyed junco taking a bath in it once but they didn’t follow me all the way to the summit to bathe on this day. I did see a black Labrador retriever roll in it though.

There was a certain haziness to the atmosphere so I couldn’t see much detail on  Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey.

Before long the clouds had almost fully come together and they seemed almost low enough to touch. I began to wonder if wall to wall sunshine was going to turn into wall to wall rain.

So off I went back down the trail, wondering about the woman climbing a mountain in flip flops and the poor man who couldn’t find a blueberry even though he was surrounded by thousands of them. I’ve always found it easier to understand plants than people, and sometimes human nature really does baffle me.

Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ~Anatoli Boukreev

Thanks for coming by.

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John Muir once said “The mountains are calling and I must go.” To be honest I never paid much attention to that statement until the mountains started calling me. And as anyone who has climbed them knows, they do call; they kind of get under your skin and won’t stop calling until you answer them, so last Saturday I drove north to Stoddard to climb Pitcher Mountain. Pitcher Mountain gets its name from the Pitcher family, who settled this land in the 1700s. As mountains go it’s a relatively easy climb, even for someone who uses inhalers as I do. The last time I climbed here was in January. On this day the weather was considerably better and the spring greens and singing birds reminded me what a wonderful thing this life is.

Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberry bushes; thousand of them grow here and people come from all over to pick them. On this day the buds hadn’t even opened yet, showing what a difference elevation makes. Down in Keene they’re in full bloom.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) grew beside the trail and how very beautiful they were. Though like blueberries they’re also in full bloom in Keene, up here the fertile center flowers hadn’t shown yet. Only the much larger infertile outer flowers had opened.

One of the reasons I wanted to come here was to become more familiar with my new camera. Anyone who knows their way around a camera should be able to use just about any camera handed to them, but they all have their little quirks that take time to learn and iron out. This one doesn’t have image stabilization but the lenses do and that’s something I’ve never encountered. On this day the sun was bright and the contrast high, and that’s a challenge for any camera but I thought this one performed reasonably well as this shot of a wild sarsaparilla plant (Aralia nudicaulis) and its shadow shows. The light green oval leaves belong to Canada mayflower, which will be blooming soon.

My first stop along the trail is always the meadow, where if you look behind you, you can often find a good view of Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey. It was fairly good on this day, I thought.

The meadow is also where you get your first inkling of how high up you are. The views seem to go on forever.

The meadow is large and sometimes you can find it filled with beautiful Scottish highland cattle. I’ve often thought that they must have the best views of anybody who comes here.

The trail is in a U shape and you take 2 left turns to reach the summit. After the meadow the trail, which is actually a road used by the forest rangers, gets very rocky. There are also lots of exposed roots so if you come here you would do well to wear good hiking boots with plenty of ankle support.

I was stunned to see spring beauties blooming (Claytonia virginica) up here because I’ve climbed this mountain more times than I can remember and I’ve never seen them before. My timing was off, that’s all, and I might have missed them by a day or a week. There was a nice little colony of them in this spot just below the summit. Tucked in snug they were protected from the worst of the wind.

Violets and strawberries grew along the trail and even down the center of it, where many had been stepped on.

The fire tower, manned on occasion, loomed at the summit. This is the second tower on this spot; the first burned in one of the largest forest fires this region has ever seen. That’s why I call it a monument to irony.

The old fire warden’s cabin still stood solidly but there was something different about it.

The difference was a gaping black hole where the last time I was here a board covered the window. It looked like vandals had been here but with so many people climbing this mountain I can’t imagine them getting away with it.

I don’t condone vandalism but realistically bears have been known to break into cabins countless times in this area so it’s anyone’s guess as to how this happened. I wasn’t about to pass up what was probably an only chance to see inside a ranger’s cabin though, so I turned on the flash and took a couple of photos. It looked like it had been furnished in the 1940s, and that was no surprise. I’m assuming there was no running water here because there is a privy in the back, but there was electricity.

If when you reach the tower you turn almost 180 degrees you’ll see another decent view of Mount Monadnock. You can also see the meadow in this view. On this day it was so gusty up here I could hardly stand still. I wanted to crouch on the ground so the wind couldn’t catch me.

But in a way the wind was welcome because it blew away all the black flies that had plagued me all the way up the trail. For those unfamiliar with them black flies are very small biting insects that appear for a few weeks in spring, hatching out of clean running water unlike the mosquito, which hatches out of still, stagnant water. Black flies feed on the blood of mammals for nourishment and they usually come in swarms. Bug spray helps keep them away.

What I call the birdbaths are natural depressions in the stone. With all the rain we’ve had I doubt they’ve been dry a day in the past two months. I once sat and watched a dark eyed junco take a bath here, and I was able to get a few shots of it splashing around. The blue of the sky deepens as it is reflected in these pools and it makes a simple puddle as beautiful as any jewel.

There are lots of lichens growing on the rocks of the summit and one of my favorites is the scattered rock posy (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans.) They can be quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do.

I always tell myself that I’m going to come up here with a compass and a topographical map so I can name all of the surrounding mountains but I never do. I don’t suppose it’s that important anyway. I’d rather just sit and look around, especially when I have the whole mountain to myself as I did on this day. I expected it to be crowded up here but there wasn’t a soul in sight. I wondered if the flies kept people away.

It’s hard to tell from these photos but there is still snow on the ski slopes over there in Vermont.

I stayed on the summit for awhile trying different things with the new camera until my legs felt less rubbery and then I hit the trail again. I don’t know why going down always seems harder than going up, but my legs usually let me know that they aren’t thrilled by it.

The meadow is just to the left of the trail in that previous shot and as I looked out into it I thought a highland cattle calf had somehow gotten loose and was in the meadow eating grass but then wait a minute; that wasn’t a calf. As soon as it looked at me and sniffed the air with its snout I knew it was a black bear. And it was another big one. Though it might look far away in this photo it could have reached me in seconds. Black bears can move incredibly fast; 50 feet per second in fact, so running from one is pointless.

I’ll be the first to say that this is one of the worst photos I’ve ever shown on this blog but you can clearly see the roundish ears and long tan snout of a bear. You don’t have much time to fiddle around with a camera when a bear is staring at you like this and I didn’t have the zoom lens with me anyway, so I just took a couple of quick shots. I just went through this with another bear in Westmoreland and that one didn’t scare any more than this one did. It stood and stared and sniffed, just like this one. And just like that time once again I was the only human around, carrying no bear spray and with only one way out. Luckily this one turned into the forest while I wondered what I was going do if it started toward me, so I hoofed it back down the mountain somewhat faster than I usually do, slipping on loose stones and tripping over roots the whole way. It’s hard to walk downhill when you’re looking back over your shoulder I’ve discovered, and I don’t recommend it.

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

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Santa brought me some Kahtoola Micro Spikes for Christmas this year, so of course I had to try them. On the day after Christmas I decided that climbing Pitcher Mountain over in Stoddard would be as good a trial as any and as luck would have it the trail was covered in snow and ice. I’ve heard a lot of good things about micro spikes and I have to say that I won’t be without them from now on. I purposely walked over ice with them on and didn’t slip or skid at all.

I found this photo online for those who haven’t seen micro spikes. They really grip.

The message was a good one but was a little late, I thought. Or maybe it was me who saw it too late.

There was quite a pile of wood chips at the base of a dead tree, so I looked up.

Sure enough a pileated woodpecker had been looking for lunch. Pileated woodpeckers are our largest woodpecker and you can tell their holes by the more or less rectangular shape. The unusual thing about this was the perfectly round holes made by a smaller woodpecker inside the pileated woodpecker holes. I’ve never seen this before. The smaller bird was smart to let the bigger bird do most of the work. If there are carpenter ants inside they’re usually in the heartwood of the tree.

Before you know it you’re at the meadow where Scottish Highland cattle sometimes graze. I didn’t see any on this day though.

The trail takes a sharp left at the meadow and gets a little steeper. So far legs, lungs and micro spikes were all working well but the snow had melted on this leg of the trail.

The crunchy, frozen soil told me I was walking on ice needles and there were plenty of them to see. A lot has to happen for these to form but I’ve explained it many times, so I’ll spare you this time. It has to be cold for them to form, with the temperature right at 32 degrees at the soil surface. Air temperature was about 22 degrees F. when I started.

Hoar frost grew around the mouths of chipmunk and snake holes in the soil. The earth’s warm breath meeting the cold air of winter.

Stone walls made me think of the Pitcher family, who settled here in the 1700s and most likely built this wall. They gave their name to this mountain.

One of my favorite places marks the second sharp left turn along the trail. After essentially living in a forest all of my life wide open places like this one seem almost other worldly. It’s just you, the earth and the sky. Minimalism at its finest.

Quite often you’ll find a place where the ground looks like it has heaved up and around stones. The stone sits at the bottom of a hole that is usually shaped exactly like it is, so it also looks like the sun has heated the stone enough for it to melt down into the frozen soil. I doubt that is the answer though because the sun would heat the surrounding stones as well, but they haven’t melted into the soil. I think the ground must have heaved up and lifted all the soil and smaller stones that surrounded the bigger one. I saw that this had happened in several places along the trail.

The inner bark of staghorn sumac is sometimes brightly colored like the thin strip at the top of this piece, which my color finding software tells me is coral and salmon pink along with a little orange. I saw that colorful strip and peeled the section of bark it was on. I was surprised to see that the inner bark still attached to the wood was Indian red, dark salmon pink, and a lot of sienna. Why this bark colors like this when the tree dies, I don’t know.

When bark is removed from a tree, as long as the tree isn’t girdled it will live and try to heal itself, but I’ve been watching this young staghorn sumac for a few years and it hasn’t healed at all. I think that’s because deer are using it to rub their antlers on, because the wound on the tree is always fresh. Male white tail deer, called bucks, rub their antlers on trees for different reasons, but it seems fitting that they would choose a staghorn sumac. Staghorn sumacs get that name because of the hairs all along their stems that resemble the velvet on a stag’s antlers. Maybe this deer thought he was fencing with another deer.

You can get a glimpse of the fire tower through the trees in some spots. The sunshine was glaring off the windows on this day.

The old ranger cabin is having a relatively easy winter so far but I’m sure it has seen winters up here when the snow almost buried it. The concrete piers and blocks it rests on have all shifted and I wonder how much longer it will be able to resist the pull of gravity. I wouldn’t be surprised to climb up here one day and find that it had tumbled down the mountainside.

The fire tower must be manned at some point during the year but I’ve only seen people in it once out of all the times I’ve been up here. There were a lot of people up here that day and they all wanted to get into the tower, so I passed on it.

It can be very windy up here so the tower is tied down to the bedrock by steel cables. The tie down shown was used for the original tower, which burned in 1940 in one of the worst forest fires this state has ever seen. 27,000 acres burned, including all the trees on this summit.

The views weren’t too bad but it was windy and that made it feel colder so I didn’t stay long.

I liked this view because you could see how snowy the distant hills were.

There was ice on the summit but I didn’t worry about slipping with the micros spikes on. They even seem to make walking on uneven stones easier.

A close look at the bedrock on the summit shows that it is almost entirely covered by lichens.

One of my favorite lichens that grow here is the common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina.) This pretty lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and it was once used to dye wool yellow in Sweden. How they ever got it off the stones, I don’t know.

Perhaps there’s no better act of simplification than climbing a mountain. For an afternoon, a day, or a week, it’s a way of reducing a complicated life into a simple goal. All you have to do is take one step at a time, place one foot in front of the other, and refuse to turn back until you’ve given everything you have. ~Ken Ilgunas

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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The rapidly dropping leaves told me if I was going to climb to see the foliage colors from above I’d better get a move on, so on the 14th I drove over to Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard where there is a 360 degree view from the summit. I’ve been having some breathing problems lately and I really didn’t know if I could make it to the summit or not, but I threw caution to the wind and with a good puff on the old inhaler, up I went. Sorry about the lens flare but it was a beautiful sunny day.

There were plenty of opportunities to stop and catch my breath and that was a good thing because if I went by the amount of people coming down as I was going up, it must have been standing room only up there. I’d bet I passed at least twenty people. This photo is of an oak that was already changing into its fall colors.

Beeches are also changing and they along with the changing oaks tell me I had better get over to Willard Pond soon. Willard Pond is especially beautiful at this time of year with its hillsides of yellow beeches and orange, red and purple oaks.

The trail up Pitcher Mountain is short but steep in places and when you feel like you are carrying a weight on your chest it seems even steeper. Pitcher Mountain is named for the Pitcher family who settled here in the mid-1700s. There are still remnants of an apple orchard near the summit, with trees that still bear apples. I doubt they’re from the 1700s but they are quite old.

This is always a stopping place, breathing problems or not. I always feel a great sense of release when I see this view and can imagine I hear a great whooshing sound, as if everything has suddenly been stripped away. There is the earth, the sky, and nothing else but emptiness, and when you’ve lived 60+ years surrounded on all sides by thick forest that emptiness can be very welcoming indeed. I sat on a stone and basked in it and forgot myself for a while.

When I got moving again a blueberry bush on the side of the trail had been caught in a sunbeam, and it was beautiful enough to stop me in my tracks.

While I was admiring the blueberry bush I looked up and saw what I think was a rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora) on a tree. It was full of beautiful rosy brown apothecia and was producing spores to beat the band. If I hadn’t stopped to admire the blueberry I wouldn’t have seen it.

At the base of the tree with the rosy saucer lichen was a log with a peach colored turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) growing on it, so of course I had to get a photo of it. I don’t see many of them this color. One thing leads to another in nature; the blueberry showed me the lichen and the lichen showed me the turkey tails. I wander like this from interesting thing to interesting thing quite regularly. It’s as easy as looking around closely before you leave any given bit of nature. Before you move on down the trail there’s a good chance that you’ll see something else that catches your eye.

Almost there. Enough dilly dallying.

I was high enough now to look out over the forest I had just come through. It’s called the Andorra Forest and it seems to stretch into infinity. Views like this one in the fall let you pick out individual trees because of their varying color and show just how staggering the number of trees here really is; 4.8 million acres of them.

I could just glimpse the fire tower through the glowing blueberries and sumacs.

From here on is the shortest but steepest part of the trail so I stop at the old ranger’s cabin to catch my breath and prepare for it. I don’t know the history of this cabin but it’s certainly big enough to have held at least 4 people at one time. I’m assuming that people lived here when the fire tower was manned daily. The cabin looks like it’s leaning even more to the left, into the mountainside. How it takes the heavy snow load each winter is anyone’s guess.

Just a few more steps and I’d be on the summit. I was happy (and a tiny bit surprised) that I’d made it. I call the fire tower a monument to irony, because in 1940 the original 1915 built wooden tower burned to the ground, along with 27,000 acres of forest and all the trees on the summit. It was one of the worst fires in state history but it is because of that fire that today we have a full 360 degree view from the summit.

The bedrock showing on the summit is covered in lichens.

Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) is a crustose lichen, which means it grows like a crust and probably couldn’t be removed without damaging whatever it is growing on. This lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and was once used to dye wool yellow in Sweden. It must have been very hard work scraping it off the stone and yellow wool must have been very expensive.

One of the first things I look for at the summit is what I call the “near hill.” I was a little disappointed that the colors weren’t brighter and didn’t “pop” more. Capturing fall color from above is a lot harder than one would think. I’ve tried many times, from many different hills and mountains, and I really haven’t ever been completely happy with the results.

It was very beautiful up close but harder to see the colors far away.

I could just see the whirligigs over on Bean Mountain in Lempster. I couldn’t tell but they must have been spinning fast. The wind was brisk to say the least, and the camera had a hard time with them through the haze.

Jerry from the Quiet Solo Pursuits blog thought the fall colors would look better with a blue sky behind them so I conjured a bluish one up and here it is. I told Jerry that I found when the sun is behind me a photo will almost always show blue water, and I wondered if the same might be true with the sky. As you can see from these photos in many the sky is milky white and in some it’s blue, and I think it must have a lot to do with where the sun was when I took the photo. I’m going to have to pay closer attention to see if it really does work that way. By the way, if you’re a nature lover, especially a bird lover, you really should be reading Jerry’s blog. You can find him right over there in the “Favorite Links” section under Quiet Solo Pursuits. His latest post shows the glorious fall colors found in Michigan.

I met some people from Stoddard up on the mountain who told me I had missed the peak colors by just a few days. “Last Tuesday was best,” they said. Oh well, as Forrest Gump’s momma always said: Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.

It had rained the day before my climb so I wasn’t surprised to see the depressions in the stone filled with water. I’ve always called them bird baths and a year or two ago a dark eyed junco let me sit and watch it bathe right here.

There was another oak turning orange and prodding me on to Willard Pond so I don’t miss the show there. We’re not done yet; there is more fall color to come. The oaks there blaze with bright orange and the beeches are lemon yellow and together they often put on an unforgettable show.

Going down was easier on the lungs but harder on the legs and I guess that’s the price you pay for climbing. I had a smile on my face though and I had met a few interesting people and had seen many beautiful things, so I’m not sure I could imagine a better day. I hope you’ll have one just as good real soon.

Nature is so powerful, so strong. Capturing its essence is not easy – your work becomes a dance with light and the weather. It takes you to a place within yourself. ~Annie Leibovitz

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Because I have trouble seeing red I doubted I’d ever be able to show cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) on this blog but finally, after years of searching for them, here they are. Judy from the New England Garden and Thread blog wrote and told me she had seen them along a stream up in Stoddard and her excellent directions led me right to them. The color red when it is against the color green becomes invisible to me, but these bright red flowers were against gray stones and blue water and for the first time in my life I saw cardinal flowers. Though I couldn’t get close they were even more beautiful than in photos.

Here’s a closer look. Unfortunately because of all the rain the stream had come up on the stems and the plants swayed back and forth wildly, which made getting a photo almost impossible. Out of probably close to 50 attempts I got exactly one useable photo and this one is cropped out of that single shot we saw previously. But the beauty of it all is now I know what the plants look like, where they grow and when they blossom, so I’ll be able to go back and see them next year. Thank you Judy, it was worth the drive!

I can’t think of a single time that I have found northern water horehound (Lycopus uniflorus) growing away from water. It’s an odd little plant that might get knee high on a good day, and often leans toward the water that it grows near. Its tiny flowers grow in round tufts at each leaf axil and remind me of motherwort, which has the same habit. It is in the mint family and has a square stem as so many of the plants in that family do. It is also closely related to American water horehound (Lycopus americanus) and the two plants are easily confused. Paying close attention to leaf shape helps tell them apart. The foliage is said to be very bitter and possibly toxic, but Native Americans used the tuberous roots for food.

The flowers of northern water horehound are pretty little bell shaped things, but they are small enough to need a hand lens (or macro lens) to really appreciate them. The tiny things are pollinated by bees, wasps and flies and each one will become 4 small nutlets.  I don’t know what birds or animals eat the seeds, but muskrats love the roots. Another name for the plant is northern bugleweed. I think this is the earliest I’ve ever seen it flower.

Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) have just started to bloom. I love their bright color and always look forward to seeing them as soon as August arrives.

Eastern forked blue curls have beautiful flowers that might make a half inch across on a good day and the entire plant barely reaches ankle high, so it’s a challenging plant to photograph. One unusual thing about the flower other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. You can just see the white pollen granules on the ends of the arched stamens in this photo.

The insect is guided by the spotted lower lip of the flower. This plant is an annual that grows new from seed each year. It seems to like sandy soil and I find it growing along river banks and sometimes roadsides, and sometimes in my own yard.

This very beautiful rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) grows just off the side of an old dirt road at the edge of a swamp. At least I think it is rosebay willowherb; there seems to be some confusion among sources about the regions it grows in. According to the USDA it doesn’t grow in New England, but the University of Maine lists it in its database. Another name for the plant is fireweed and Henry David Thoreau mentions seeing great stands of it in 1857, so I’m wondering if the USDA map is incorrect. If you live in New Hampshire and have seen this plant I’d love to hear from you.

Narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana linearis) grow alongside the same road that the rosebay willowherbs were on. Gentians of any kind are extremely rare in these parts and I’m always as excited to see them as I would be to see a field full of orchids.

Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them here very often, because our soil is generally acidic. Another reason is that the flowers never open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so. Third is how its seeds are too small to interest birds and its foliage too bitter to interest herbivores. Put all of that together and it’s a wonder that this plant is seen at all. It’s listed as rare, endangered or vulnerable in many areas. I love its beautiful deep blue color and I hope this small colony will spread. Luckily readers have told me that there are also other hidden colonies of it in Nelson as well.

It isn’t uncommon to see a carpet of knee high, white blooms in the woods at this time of year. White wood aster (Aster divaricatus) is known for its drought tolerance and will grow under a heavy leaf canopy. The stalked, coarsely toothed, heart shaped leaves help with identifying this plant. The small, one inch flowers of white wood asters can have red or yellow centers. This aster is very easy to grow and makes an excellent choice for a dry shaded woodland garden. It is best used in mass plantings and many nurseries sell native asters grown from seed. Where I work they’re used as under plantings for lilacs, but the choice was theirs and they moved under the lilacs completely on their own.

A roadside stream was filled with fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) and I had to stop and see.

It’s hard not to just sit and stare at something so beautiful, lost in the fire that burns at its center.

I first met the beautiful little marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) when I was in a kayak and I remember what a time I had getting a photo of them then. Luckily though, I found them growing in the wet soil at the edge of a pond so getting their photo is easier these days. Sort of, anyway; this plant closes its flowers at night and won’t open them again until they’re in full sunshine the following afternoon, so you’ll never find them blooming on a cloudy day or in the morning.

This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our other St John’s worts are yellow. The plant likes saturated soil and will even grow in standing water at the shoreline. The flowers are small, about 3/4 of an inch across on a good day but usually more like 1/2 an inch. This beautiful little shin high plant grows south to Florida and crosses the Mississippi River only in Texas and Oklahoma.

Like the cardinal flower seen earlier the club spur orchid (Platanthera clavellata) has never been seen on this blog, because I’ve never seen one until very recently. I jumped a roadside ditch, looked down and discovered that I was almost stepping on a group of 5-7 plants. They’re small plants, no taller than 6 inches, and the flowers are also very small. Each plant has a single leaf at the base of the stem and another about half way up.

The flowers of this orchid seem to go every which way, spiraling up the stem as they do, so getting a photo of just one is impossible. I couldn’t even seem to get a shot looking into one. My orchid books say this orchid is “occasional“, meaning it isn’t rare but it isn’t common either. It self-pollinates so it doesn’t have to rely on insects. Orchids are notorious for disappearing from one year to the next but I hope to see these again.

The flowers of mullein (Verbascum thapsus) grow in a great long spike and they bloom from the bottom to the top. Once the blossoms reach the very top of the flower spike the plant is done. Native Americans used tea made from its large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

Mullein is a biennial and flowers and dies in its second year of growth. It is considered a weed but if all of its flowers opened at once along its tall flower stalk I think that it would be a prized garden specimen.

The Shasta daisy was developed by plant breeder Luther Burbank over 100 years ago and was named for the white snow of Mount Shasta. These plants are a hybrid cross of the common roadside ox-eye daisy and an English field daisy called Leucanthemum maximum. They are one of the easiest perennials to grow and, other than an occasional weeding, need virtually no care. Dwarf varieties are less apt to have their stems bent over by heavy rains. I haven’t seen many of them this year, and this one was quite late.

I’m still seeing scenes like this one here and there along roadsides and I always try to stop and get a photo when I do. That leads to a few curious stares from people but I hope they also notice the flowers when they stare. Next time maybe it will be they who will stop and take photos.

Many people have never learned to see the beauty of flowers, especially those that grow unnoticed. ~Erika Just

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Last Sunday I woke with an urge to climb, so I headed 25 miles north to Stoddard where Pitcher Mountain lives. Since we have no snow in Keene I assumed there would be no snow there, but I was wrong. It was another one of those “what was I thinking?” moments.

But all in all the trail wasn’t bad because it was snow instead of ice. I stopped to get a photo of target canker on a red maple (Acer rubrum.) If I understand what I’ve read correctly red maples are the only trees that get this canker. It makes the tree’s bark form bullseye shaped raised plates that look like a target, but it doesn’t really hurt the tree. The circular plates are the tree’s response to a fungus that invades the healthy bark and kills it. During the next season the tree responds with a new layer of bark and cork (callus) to contain the fungus. In the next dormant season the fungus again attacks and kills more bark and on it goes, a seasonal alternation of pathogen invasion and host defense response which creates concentric ridges of callus tissue; a target canker. Finally the fungus gives up or dies off and the tree grows on. Red maples have beautiful deep red flowers and the trees often grow in large colonies, so I was hoping to see huge swaths of red from the summit.

I also stopped to see a striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum) that grew along the trail. The two large terminal bud scales had started pulling apart to reveal the bud within, just like they were doing 25 miles and over 1,600 feet lower in Keene. The pink and orange fuzzy buds are very beautiful and I’m getting anxious to see them. It won’t be long now.

I had to stop at one of my favorite places, which is the pasture about half way up the trail. I always imagine doors being thrown open and a great whooshing sound when I see this view because it’s so expansive compared to the close woods where I spend most of my time. It’s a peaceful, simple place with just the earth, sky, and you and you can step outside yourself for a while here.

The trail takes a turn after the pasture and gets steeper and rockier as it follows it uphill. On this day I had a choice; mud on one side or snow on the other. I chose the snowy side.

There is a fairly good view of Mount Monadnock from this leg of the trail but low haze often spoils it. It wasn’t too bad on this day.

There is a lot of black knot disease on the black cherry trees (Prunus serotina) here and I stopped to look at an example. Black knot is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus are spread by rain or wind and typically will infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those in the above photo. The disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring.

This is what black knot can do to a fully grown black cherry. This is a wound that never heals and on a tree this age and size the disease is impossible to control and the trees should be destroyed so the fungus can’t release anymore spores. If this photo looks a little strange it’s because I had to use the flash because it was so shady here.

You can get a glimpse of the fire tower from a good distance away before the trees leaf out, but the glimpse signals the start of the steepest part of the climb. The trail had a little snow on it but the summit was snow free, bare granite as usual.

The old forest fire warden’s cabin still stands but each year it seems to lean into the mountainside just a little more. Staying up here must have been hard work no matter what time of year it was.

Pitcher Mountain is one of just a handful of places I know of where Mountain ash trees (Sorbus americana) grow naturally. These trees are easy to identify when they don’t have leaves by their big black buds. This example was just starting to turn green. Mountain ash is used ornamentally because of its white flowers in late spring and bright orange berries in the fall, but it is a native tree. Native Americans made a tea from the bark and berries of this tree to treat coughs, and as a pain killer. They also ate the died and ground berries for food, adding them to soups and stews. The berries are said to be very tart and have an unpleasant taste when unripe.

The fire tower was unmanned and so was the summit so I had the whole rock pile to myself, which is a very rare thing. You find people on most mountaintops in this area and popular ones like Mount Monadnock can at times seem as busy as a Manhattan sidewalk. I call the fire tower on Pitcher Mountain a monument to irony because the original wooden tower built in 1915 burned in April of 1940, in the most destructive forest fire to ever strike this part of the state. Twenty seven thousand acres burned, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit.

A couple of weeks ago we had strong winds with 60 mile per hour gusts and a lot of trees fell in certain areas, so it’s probably a good thing that the fire tower is fastened to the granite of the summit with several stout cables. The wind that day must have made it impossible to stand on the summit. I can imagine the cables vibrating like violin strings in weather like that.

The hill that I call the near hill might be the closest but it would still be quite a hike to reach it. I was surprised by the amount of snow still on it.

I love seeing the blue hills off in the distance and though I don’t climb for the view they do make it much more enjoyable. In case you’re wondering about my not climbing to see the view, if I did I’d be disappointed probably 80% of the time because you never know what haze, humidity, or weather in general will do to it. For instance on this day, though it looks like I could see clear to California, I couldn’t see the windmills over on Bean Mountain just a few miles away.

But I could see the shading on the hills and this is something I find very pleasing. I sat and admired them for a while.

I could also see ski areas on several distant mountains, none of which I know the name of. Skiers must be enjoying some fine spring skiing this year.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) grow profusely all over the bedrock up here. This crustose lichen is very granular and is often busy producing spores, but I didn’t see any of its fruiting bodies (apothecia) on this day. These lichens were once used to dye wool in Sweden but I can’t imagine how they got them off the rocks. Crustose lichens usually can’t be removed from the substrate they grow on without damaging it in some way.

I’m not sure what it was but the sun brought out golden highlights in this tiny insect’s wings. It was hanging on desperately trying not to be blown away in the strong wind, so I was able to get a shot of it. I’d guess that it was hardly more than a quarter inch long.

Tile lichens are areolate lichens, which are made up of many little lumps or islands. In the example above the black parts are its apothecia and the white parts are the body (Thallus.) The apothecia are even with or slightly below the surface of the thallus. Tile lichens grow on exposed rock in full sun and will even grow in winter if the temperature is slightly above freezing. I think this one might be Lecidea tessellata but with 136 species of tile lichens I could easily be wrong.

The natural depressions in the bedrock that I call birdbaths always have water in them, even when we had a drought two years ago, and that seems strange to me. What I think doesn’t matter though, because the birds do use them; last year I watched a dark eyed junco bathe in this small pool. I was a little disappointed at not seeing the large swaths of flowering red maples that I hoped to see from up here but even so I saw plenty of other beautiful things, and it was a great day for a climb.

Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ~Anatoli Boukreev

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