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Posts Tagged ‘Stoddard New Hampshire’

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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Anyone who has read this blog for very long knows I like to play on the banks of the Ashuelot River, which meanders through several local towns. Though when I was a boy it was terribly polluted, now people fish for trout along its banks and eagles can sometimes be seen flying over it. That’s why a few years ago I was disturbed when I saw an oily sheen on the water that filled my footprint on the shore. It looked much like the puddle I found on the shore in the photo above and I posted it on this blog, saying how I was hoping I’d never see such a thing on these riverbanks again. Then happily, thanks to several knowledgeable readers, I found out that this sheen might easily have come from natural sources. Iron rich ferrous hydroxide that occurs naturally in soil can cause the oil like sheen on water, as can bacteria which generate hydrocarbons in oxygen depleted soil. I was very happy to hear that because though I don’t want to see this river polluted, I do think that this film on the water is beautiful. Just look at those colors.

While I was at the river, I spotted trees that had grape vines loaded with grapes growing in them. Wild river grapes (Vitis riparia) like a lot of rain, and I know that because we’ve had a lot of rain and I’m seeing more grapes than I’ve ever seen before. The odd thing about it though, is how the birds don’t seem to be eating them. These grapes are a favorite of many birds and they are often gone even before I can get a photo of them, but on this day I didn’t see that a single one had been picked. That’s a little disturbing.

Also disturbing is how none of the Oriental bittersweet berries (Celastrus orbiculatus) have been eaten. They are another favorite of the birds and they disappear as quickly as the grapes, so why aren’t they? This vine is very invasive and can strangle trees to death so I don’t want it to spread, but I do wonder about the birds.

While I was there wandering along the river, I took a shot of the Thompson covered bridge, named after playwright Denmon Thompson, who was a native son, and built in 1832. The bridge design is known as “Town lattice,” patented by Connecticut architect Ithiel Town in the early 1800s. The open lattice work lets a lot of light into the bridge and this is unusual because many covered bridges are dark and cave like. In the 1800s being able to see daylight inside a covered bridge would have been the talk of the town. The Thompson Bridge is considered by many to be the most beautiful covered bridge in New England but the person who ran the wires must not have known that.

This bridge is known as the Cresson Bridge, also in Swanzey and also crossing the Ashuelot River. It was opened to traffic in 1859 and I wanted you to see it so you could get an idea of how dark it was inside these old covered bridges. The tiny square windows didn’t let in much light, and that’s why Town truss bridges like that in the previous photo were such an innovation, and why they were so welcomed by the traveling public. By the way, back in those day traveling was done by sleigh in winter, so snow had to be shoveled onto the plank floors of covered bridges so sleigh runners would have something to slide on. What a job that must have been.

I finally found a blue bead lily plant (Clintonia borealis) with a ripe berry on it and now you know why I call it “electric blue.” That might sound like the title of a Jimmy Hendrix song but it is a very unusual shade of blue, to these eyes at least. It seems to sparkle in the right light and it is a deer magnet. From seed to berry can take 14 years, with two of those years taken up by seed germination. This is not a fast-growing plant.

I went to see Baily Brook Falls up in Stoddard and was surprised to see how little water was actually falling. With all of the rain we’ve had I thought they would be roaring. I have a feeling that beavers are involved and if I walked upstream, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that they’ve dammed up the stream.

Since Bailey Brook Falls werent roaring I went to where I knew I’d hear the roar of water; the outflow dam at Swanzey Lake.

I’m always amazed by what I see when the leaves start falling. Here was a wasp nest as big as a soccer ball up in a maple tree, and I had been walking under it several times each day all summer long without seeing it. I’d bet its residents saw me though, and I’m glad they decided we could coexist. I was pruning a large rhododendron once that had a similar nest in the center of it. By the time I was able to stop running I had been stung on the back several times.

When the leaves fall from the trees the wind has greater force as it whistles through the bare branches and inevitably, small bird nests like these get blown out. I don’t know what bird made this one but you could barely have fit a hen’s egg in it. It was as light as a feather and very well made of grass.

I saw a spider web on a lawn and it reminded me of the synapses in my own brain. One of the questions that has been nagging at that brain for quite a long time is why nature uses the same shapes over and over again.

I looked down into the heart of a yucca plant and thought of the Native Americans who used every single part of this plant. They pounded the leaves and used the strong fibers inside them to weave sandals, cords, belts and baskets. They also ate the flowers and fruit of the plant. The sharp points at the tips of the leaves were used as sewing needles and the roots were peeled and ground and mixed with water to make soap for washing their hair and treating dandruff.  Sap from the leaves was used medicinally to stop bleeding and heal sores. Not a bit of it was wasted.

I found this colony of wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) on an alder limb in a swamp one recent day. Wooly alder aphids grow a white, filamentous waxy covering that looks like it’s made up of tiny white ribbons. A colony of them looks like white fuzz on the alder’s branches and this white fuzz helps protect them from the eyes of predators. They are sap sucking insects which secrete a sweet honeydew on the leaves and branches of plants. This honeydew attracts a fungus called black sooty mold, but since the mold grows only on the honeydew and not the plant, it doesn’t harm plants. The aphids themselves will do far more harm because they can literally suck the life out of a plant.

I’m not sure if the aphids with dots in this photo I took previously always look that way, if they haven’t grown the white waxy covering yet, or if they’ve lost the covering for some reason. They are very small; not even half the size of a house fly. I find them usually on the undersides of alder branches. If you are lucky enough to catch these insects in flight, they look like tiny white fairies. In fact another name for them is “fairy flies.” This is the best time of year to find them.

Here is something quite rare, unfortunately. American chestnuts were one of the most important forest trees, supplying both food and lumber. An Asian bark fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) was introduced into North America on imported Asiatic chestnut trees and the disease all but wiped out over three billion American chestnut trees. New shoots often sprout from chestnut roots when the main trunk dies so they haven’t yet become extinct. Unfortunately the stump sprouts are almost always infected by the Asian fungus by the time they reach 20 feet tall but since some trees do bloom maybe these particular examples are growing from chestnuts. I found these three or four young trees a few years ago and have watched them get bigger over the years. They look very healthy so far. Though the leaves resemble beech leaves they are much bigger with very serrated margins. Many botanists and other scientists are working on finding and breeding disease resistant trees and maybe these trees will one day fit the bill. If you happen to find any you might want to keep an eye on them.

A tree “marriage” happens when two trees of the same species rub together in the wind. When the outer bark is rubbed off, the inner cambium layer of the trees can become naturally grafted together and they will be married from then on. The process is called inosculation and isn’t as rare as we might think. This example is special because it looks like the very tip of a branch on one trunk grew directly into the other trunk. It must have taken many years of strong winds and bark rubbing before they could grow together as they did.

Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night. If you’re in or near the woods at night in winter you can often hear the trees splitting and cracking, and sometimes it’s as loud as a rifle shot. Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter. When this repeated healing and cracking happens over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen in the photo. I’ve seen them on several different species, so I don’t think any one species is more or less susceptible to cracking than others. It’s more a matter of how the sunlight falls on a tree’s trunk. Wrapping an ornamental tree’s trunk loosely in burlap in winter can help prevent the bark splitting.

If you grow stone fruits like peaches, apricots, plums or cherries then you should know the disease called black knot. It is caused by a fungus called Apiosporina morbosa. This fungus grows in the wild and its spores can be spread by rain or wind. The spores will typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like that 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. Black cherry seems particularly susceptible to the disease.

I saw a hollowed-out stump that was slowly filling with fallen leaves beside a trail. From what I’ve read in the book Bark; a Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast, by Michael Wojtech, eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) are the only trees with stumps that will rot away from the inside out. It’s an interesting thing that I don’t see that often.

You would think that with all the rain we’ve had I’d be seeing slime molds everywhere, but actually I’ve seen very few this year. I believe the orangey brown material in this photo was once an active slime mold but by the time I found it, it was dry and hard. There are many different orange slime molds so it’s impossible to tell which one it is but it was still interesting. It shows how a slime mold will spread over its immediate surroundings, looking for food. Slime molds “eat” tiny unseen organisms such as bacteria and yeasts, and they are also said to help decompose leaves and rotting logs.

I’ve seen many thousands of pixie cup lichens (Cladonia pyxidata.) They’re the ones that look like tiny golf tees, but I’ve always wondered what they looked like when they first started forming. Did they always look like golf tees? I didn’t think so but I couldn’t say why. Then one day I thought I had found the answer. As you can see in this photo the little golf tees start life looking like simple pegs. You can see a few with tiny “cups” just starting to form. Pixie cup lichens are squamulose lichens with fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. Squamulose means they have scale like lleafy obes that often overlap like shingles. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are called podetia. Podetia means a stalk like growth which bears the spore bearing fruiting bodies. Finally, frucitose means a lichen with bushy, vertical growth. It is thought that some colonies of pixie cup lichens might be as old as 4,500 years. It’s good I think, to know a little more about these tiny life forms that see everywhere I go.

A boulder on the side of the road was covered by moss and though that might not seem surprising or earthshaking, it caught my attention.

Picture yourself in a small, single engine plane flying low over the treetops in the Amazon jungle, and you’ll understand why I was fascinated by this mossy boulder. I imagined that scene would look a lot like this.

Here’s a little hint of what’s to come. We finally had a frost, more than a month after our average first frost date and the second latest since such things have been recorded. But we haven’t had a freeze, and that means we still have colorful leaves on some of the trees.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

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As I always do at this time of year, I went to visit Pitcher Mountain over in Stoddard. I got there so early in the morning the mist was still in the trees. The mountain was named after the Pitcher family who settled here in the 1700s, and from the treeless summit you have a full 360-degree view. The views are almost always good but when the trees have changed into their fall colors it can be beyond beautiful.

I was surprised to see that the oaks had already turned.

And the beeches as well. This was not what I expected. Obviously fall was moving faster up here than it was down in the lower elevations.

The trail was thick with fallen maple leaves, and all of these signs told me that I was probably too late to see peak color on the summit but no matter; up we go.

It was early morning and the sun was shining, the birds were singing, the forest was beautiful and I had nowhere to be, so what I might find on the summit didn’t concern me.

I had to stop at one point and say hello to a pretty little haircap moss growing beside the trail.

I wanted to see if the moss had produced any spore capsules and it had, as this photo shows. When young the female spore capsule of a haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra which protects it. You can’t see it in this photo because it has fallen off already, but it is very hairy and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually as the capsule ages it moves from vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra falls off. The spore capsule continues to ripen after the calyptra comes off and when the time is right the beaked end cap or lid called the operculum will fall off and release the spores to the wind. As it ages the spore capsule changes from round to four cornered but not quite square, as seen here. I would guess by looking at it that the end cap was nearly ready to fall off. I’ve taken them off before so I could see the tiny, dust like spores. There were so many I wondered why every bit of ground on this planet wasn’t covered in haircap moss.

An Indian cucumber root plant (Medeola virginiana) surprised me by still having berries. They are usually snapped up quickly, by turkeys I believe, since I have accidentally scared the birds away from them when trudging through the woods.

There were lots of clouds in the sky but it was still a beautiful, if cool fall day.

When I turned around and looked back at the way I had come, I could see lots of color.

There was plenty of color along the trail as well. The many bright red blueberry bushes were beautiful.

And so were the blackberry bushes.

And there was the ranger cabin. I wondered who it was that carried all the materials up here to build it years ago. If you unlock the gate down below you can drive to a point but the last few hundred yards would have required hand carrying because of all the rocks and the steepness of the grade. The trail is only one person wide too, so it must have been quite a job. It’s a shame that it isn’t being maintained.

It has always looked to me that there used to be an apple orchard up here and though the trees no longer bear they’re still here. I was surprised to find spring beauties, one of our most beautiful spring wildflowers, growing under this tree one year.

I’ve read that the fire tower is manned when the fire danger is high and I’ve seen people in it but normally it is empty. One day when I was up here they let all the families go up into it, but I kept my feet on the ground. I don’t get along well with heights and I would imagine it must sway a bit in the wind.

Once I reached the summit I saw that I had indeed waited too long to make this pilgrimage, because almost all of the blueberries and other bushes had lost their leaves. They add a lot to the beauty of the place but they aren’t all there is to see. I like cloud shadows, and I had plenty of them to watch. I also had the whole place to myself for a time.

The quality of color depended on which direction you turned. There was quite a lot of close color looking this way. If the blueberries still had their leaves though, it would have been even better.

All the leafless bushes seen here are blueberries and that’s why Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberry picking. Entire families come from all over to pick. I’ve sat here during blueberry picking season and heard voices coming from out there among the bushes without ever seeing a soul. You hear voices saying things like “This bush is loaded!” or “I need another bucket!” and you wonder, where are they?

I wanted to show you what I call the near hill but it was completely under a cloud shadow, so I sat and waited. At one point, and I think that moment is in this photo, every part of the landscape all around the hill was in full sunshine, but the hill remained dark. I like a challenge so I thought I’d just wander around and wait. By that time the summit was crowded with families. I was happy to see lots of children up here.

While I waited, I wandered over to the bird baths. Since it had rained the night before I wasn’t surprised to see them full. In fact I’ve never seen the biggest one dry, even in drought. I have seen birds bathing in it though.

Something I’ve never seen is a puddle on this part of the summit, but here was a big one. Big enough for the wind to ripple it in fact, and how the wind did blow. It actually moaned and howled through the stairs on the fire tower and two or three of the smallest children cried, afraid the wind would blow them off the mountain. Though I didn’t say anything to the parents their fear was justified; I’ve been almost blown over by big gusts a few times while up here. I was glad their parents were there to comfort them and I was also glad that that I had worn a jacket.

I discovered that mountain cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata) turns yellow in the fall. If you’re patient all the answers will come.

I returned to view of the near hill several times but all I got was an occasional glimpse before the clouds closed in again. I played this game for over an hour and each time i took a look the break in the clouds quickly closed in again. I became determined that I would get a photo of the hill in full sunshine, so I waited and did some more wandering.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) looked like someone had spilled egg yolk all over the rocks. They and other lichens grow profusely 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 still wonder 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, so maybe a chisel was used. It must have been quite a job.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) also grow in great numbers here. The pale orange pad shaped parts are its fruiting bodies (Apothecia,) and the grayish, broken looking part is the body (thallus) of this relatively common lichen. A few years ago I thought they were rare until I started finding them on rocks almost everywhere I went.

Finally the clouds parted and I was able to see what I had been waiting for. There was a surprising amount of color still on the near hil but also a lot of bare trees. My guess would be that all the color comes from oaks and beeches rather than maples. In any event I’m happy that I am able to show it to you. Now that I had the shot, I could go back down to a less windy, flatter place.

You don’t have to wait until you get to the top of a mountain to enjoy the view. ~ Eleanor Brownn

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Last Sunday I felt like it was time to climb again, so I chose Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. It was supposed to be a hot, humid day so I made sure I got there earlier than I usually do. In fact I had never been on the mountain that early in the day, so the quality of the light was surprising all the way up.

I saw lots of blackberries, in bloom and forming berries.

I also saw lots of unripe blueberries and I was going to show you some but this fly landed on a blueberry leaf and instead of getting shots of the blueberries I got a mediocre shot of the fly just before it flew off. And I forgot about the blueberries.

As its common name implies Indian cucumber root’s (Medeola virginiana) small root looks and tastes a lot like a mini cucumber, and Native Americans used it for food. The plant is easy to identify because of its tiers of whorled leaves and unusual flowers. It likes to grow under trees in dappled light, probably getting no more than an hour or two of direct sunlight each day.

The flowers of Indian cucumber root dangle under the leaves and usually have 6 yellowish green tepals, 6 reddish stamens topped by greenish anthers, and 3 reddish purple to brown styles. These large styles are bright red- brown but I think they darken as they age. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry. I had to lift one of the leaves to get this shot, so you have to look carefully to see them.

Halfway up the mountain I found the meadow ready to be cut for hay. That’s Mount Monadnock in the background.

It looked like the meadow was full of orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata,) which I’m sure the Scottish Highland cattle that live here appreciate. George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.” As this photo shows, it’s also beautiful when it flowers.

Orange hawkweed bloomed profusely in the meadow and what I believe were great spangled fritillary butterflies enjoyed them. I hoped to get a shot of their pretty silver spotted underwings but I never did. I did see them once or twice though.

This one turned around on the flower head so I could look into its eyes.

And what eyes it had. Amazingly beautiful. I’d love to be able to see through eyes like that, just once.

The fire tower looked unmanned and I wasn’t surprised. The fire danger isn’t very high now, thankfully.

Staghorn sumacs were soaking up the sun and doing their best palm tree impersonation.

Mountain white cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata) is also called three toothed cinquefoil because of the three large teeth at the end of each leaf. The white 5 petaled flowers are small; maybe a half inch across on a good day. They are said to bloom for 2 or 3 months and make an excellent choice for a sunny rock garden that doesn’t get too hot, because they don’t like heat. I would think that they must struggle a bit up here in full sun all summer but they’re spreading all over the summit.

This shot perfectly illustrates why I always say I don’t climb for the views. I like to see the views as much as anyone but if I was disappointed every time the views weren’t good I’d spend a lot of time being disappointed. I see so many interesting and beautiful things while I’m climbing a hill or mountain by the time I reach the summit the view is secondary; just icing on the cake.

Despite the haze I tried to get a few good shots because I know people like to see them. This view of Mount Monadnock wasn’t too bad.

I love the blue shading on the distant hills and I could just sit and look at them the entire time I spent here. Every peak is followed by a valley, like waves on the sea.

Reaching what I call the near hill would still be a long walk.

The bushes seen flowering in some of these shots are smooth arrow wood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum.) the shrub has yellowish white, mounded flower clusters and it can be seen blooming just about everywhere right now. Later on the flowers will become dark blue drupes that birds love. It is said that this plant’s common name comes from Native Americans using the straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used the shrub medicinally and its fruit for food.

It took all the zoom my camera had in it to get this shot of the wind turbines over in Antrim.

Since I’ve said enough about the old ranger’s cabin in previous posts I thought I’d skip it this time and I did, until I was coming down off the summit. It was then that I saw a window open that was boarded up the last time I was here.

The first time this happened I thought it was probably a bear, but bears don’t usually sit in white plastic lawn chairs and there were now several of them on the front porch. I could see one inside as well, so I had a good idea where the ones on the porch came from.

The inside looked trashed, and American flags were on the floor among the litter. Some may feel that a flag is just a piece of cloth but a flag, any flag, always stands for something, and both it and what it stands for deserve respect. It’s hard to see old places like this vandalized but it looks like that’s what has happened. Hopefully someone from the Forest Service or someone else in charge will board the window back up.

Just inside the window there was a table and it had an Audubon magazine on it. It was from 1988 and it cost three dollars. That seems like a lot for back then.

I could have gone back down the mountain fretting about the vandalism I saw but since there is little I could do about it other than making it known by showing it here, I chose instead to marvel at the smallness of a creature that can live between the upper and lower surface of a sarsaparilla leaf. I sometimes feel like I’m just bouncing from one astonishment to another.

Certain things catch your eye, but pursue only those that capture your heart. ~Native American saying.

Thanks for stopping in.

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Last Saturday was supposed to be a gorgeous day according to the weather people so I headed out early for Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. In my opinion no other mountain can compare for foliage viewing, because this one has a 360 degree view. By the time I got there though, the parking area was filled so I had to park on the road. The view above is what I saw on the other side.

I always take a photo of the trail so you can at least get an idea of my surroundings but on this climb I had to fiddle faddle around while the people ahead of me turned the corner. But they didn’t turn the corner right away because they were taking photos-of all things, the bits of nature all around them that caught their eyes. I gave them a silent hooray and shot the side of the trail instead. Even then they still made it into the shot but oh well, now you know there were people there. A lot of people.

Lady ferns were turning white as they always do in fall. Besides sensitive fern it’s one of the earliest to do so.

Clubmosses were clubbing, just as they do every year at this time. Their spores form in spike-like structures called sporophylls, which are the yellowish green “clubs” seen here. A single clubmoss plant can take twenty years to grow from a spore, so I try to never harm them.

I turned to look at Mount Monadnock and saw the haze, present for weeks now, from the western wildfires. If you look at satellite imagery you can sometimes see a trail of smoke from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

I knew that the haze meant that It wouldn’t be a day for far off views but when the near views looked like this I had a hard time caring.

The farmer had baled all the hay, I’m guessing for the Scottish Highland cattle that live here. Do they live this high up in Scotland? I wondered. I’ve often thought they had the best view of anybody.

I moved aside to let people by and fell in a small hole off the side of the trail. I could have twisted my ankle if I hadn’t had good stout hiking boots on, and it reminded me how easy it is to get hurt on rough trails like this. Each year the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game goes on average 190 rescue missions, which costs the state about $308,952 per year. Because of this they have started charging the people who have had to be rescued due to their own negligence. An example of negligence would be climbing this trail without proper footwear and in the winter without proper winter clothing. I’ve been up here in January and it’s no joke.

I’ve seen people climbing this trail in flip flops believe it or not, and that’s their choice but if they get hurt and have to be carried from the mountain, they will be charged for the adventure. The elderly and children who get lost are not charged and neither are those who have a medical emergency, but being foolish in the woods here in New Hampshire could cost you a few hundred dollars.

I won’t tell you how many times I have tried and failed at this photo but today the light was just right and I finally got it. What is it? It shows what black knot disease can do to a cherry tree. Black knot 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.

This photo I took previously shows what black know looks like on a young tree. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots which will eventually become serious wounds like that seen in the previous 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.

The blackberries have taken on their beautiful fall purple and bronze colors. You have to just stand for a moment or two admiring them because they’re so pretty.

There were lots of leaves still on the maples, even though many have fallen in the lowlands. It has most likely been warmer up here because cold air flows like a stream down mountainsides and pools in the valleys below. Since I live in a valley I tend to notice it more.

I saw a dead staghorn sumac and had to have a look at the bark, because the inner bark of the tree is often bright red as this example was. I’ve read that the powdered bark can be made into a good antiseptic salve that can be used to treat burns.

I was out of breath by the time I saw the fire tower from the old ranger cabin, so I decided to sit for a spell.

I was sitting on the porch and heard “Oh cool! What is that?” I stood up and saw 4 or 5 young boys, probably just into their teens. “It’s the ranger station,” I told them. “Does anyone live there? Can we go inside?” I answered no to both questions. “But you can stand on the porch,” I said as I moved along. Of course they raced down the trail and did just that. I remembered when I could race down trails. And up them.

The old mountain ash had not only been stripped of all its fruit by birds, the wind had taken all its leaves as well. Now it’s ready for its winter sleep.

There was that smoky, yellowy haze again and I thought of the poor people in the western part of the country. We had a terrible fire here once; 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 fire tower and all of the trees and vegetation on the summit. Terrible it was, but it was nothing like what is happening on the west coast.

The colors at the summit were beautiful, especially the deep reds of the blueberries.

Speaking of blueberries, Josh Fecteau from the Josh’s Journal blog over there in the favorite links section asked me to take another look at what I identified as the native black highbush blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum.) The berries I looked at this time were in the center of this bush, which by its leaves I know is  the highbush blueberry bush (Vaccinium corymbosum.) The problem is, all of the various species of bushes grow in a tangled thicket so it can be difficult to know what you’ve got. 

Josh thought these might instead be the fruit of the Chokeberry (Aronia sp.) and I have to say that they don’t look quite right for a blueberry, so I think he’s correct. Personally I don’t get too excited about such things but I know Josh is a forager and such things are very important to foragers, so his intentions and motivations are good ones. Though I have been studying nature since I was a boy and have had some formal training in botany I still consider myself very much an amateur, because there is simply too much to know. I’ve met a few in life who thought they knew it all but so far in my experience none has, and that includes me. I do make mistakes and people should always verify any plant identification they find on this blog if they intend to use that plant in any way.

The sun was coming directly at me when I tried for this shot of the meadows below.

I had to wait for a few people to move on before I could get a good view of what I call the near hill. It was beautiful; well worth waiting for. Just an endless, unbroken forest of color stretching off to the horizon.

A 4.8 million square mile forest of color.

If there was a triangle in the center of this marker it would be part of a triangulation point but since there isn’t it’s there for a surveyor to know where the point of his plumb bob should fall to be dead accurate. Right on that cross in the very center I’d guess, or maybe over the tiny hole I’ve never noticed before.

I don’t know this lichen’s name and I don’t really care. It’s beauty and the challenge of getting its photo was enough.

The overhead wire that I accidentally got in this shot is one of the cables that keeps the fire tower from blowing off the top of mountain.

And I’m not kidding. On this day it was extremely windy and there were a couple of gusts that almost blew me over. You’d have thought it was January.

Wind is to be expected up here, sometimes very strong winds, but on this day it didn’t really bother me because I was lost in the colors.

The ferns wanted attention and they had mine.

It had rained a bit during the past week but it was enough to top off what I call the bird bath, apparently. In fact I’ve never seen it go dry, and that’s a little amazing. I sat for a while hoping a bird would stop in to bathe or drink but none came. It didn’t matter; it was a glorious day with filled with sunshine and incredible beauty everywhere I looked, and I knew that I lacked not one single thing. You really can’t ask for more than that.

I saw a wooly bear caterpillar on the trail. Folklore says that the wider the orangey brown band on a wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. If we’re to believe it then this winter will be very mild indeed. Wooly bears don’t care much about winter though, because they produce their own antifreeze and can freeze solid. Once the temperature rises into the 40s F in spring they thaw out and begin feeding on dandelion and other early spring greens. Eventually they spin a cocoon and emerge as a beautiful tiger moth. From that point on it has only two weeks to live but I’d bet that it lives a rich, full and satisfying life.

The last time I was up here in August the backs of my legs were bothering me enough so I was a little apprehensive about the trip down but on this trip they felt fine. I didn’t fly down the trail to catch up with the people you see there ahead of me but I did okay.

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive. ~Eleanora Duse

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Last weekend was relatively dry, warm and sunny but there really was no humidity to speak of, so I decided to climb Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. It’s an easy climb and that’s what I needed because my legs were telling me that the 18 years of age I felt in my mind applied only to my mind, and not to my legs. “Think young and be young” I remembered from somewhere, so up I went.

I saw a single orange mushroom on a log and though it looked like an orange mycena (Mycena leaiana) I’m not so sure that it was. It looked too pale and orange mycenas usually grow in groups, but I have read that the orange can wash out of this mushroom in a heavy rain, and it won’t grow in groups if it’s too dry. Mushrooms are 90-95% water and if it’s too dry they simply won’t grow.

The gills certainly looked right for an orange mycena as far as shape but the color doesn’t wash out of them and I thought they looked a little pale.  I wonder if it wasn’t the fuzzy foot mushroom (Xeromphalina campanella,) which is similar.

In any event I couldn’t wonder about mushrooms all day so I continued up the trail to the meadow, which is a good spot to catch one’s breath. Since I live in a forest and work in a forest seeing a view like this is amazingly refreshing and expansive. I don’t see many like it.

From here on the trail gets very rocky so I always wear good hiking boots when I come here. It really seems to get worse each year but they have been working on parts of it.  

The highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is a native plant that you can quite literally find just about anywhere in this part of the state but especially on Pitcher Mountain, and people come from all over to pick them. I saw a few but most had already been picked.

There are two varieties of blueberry here on the mountain and this one is the native black highbush blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum.) It has smaller fruit than that of the Vaccinium corymbosum highbush blueberry in the previous photo and is darker in color. Some say they are sweeter while some say the other highbush blueberries are sweeter. Though they are both native berries many people don’t want these berries because they seem to think that they aren’t blueberries, so most of them 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.

Before I knew it I was at the old ranger station, which is another place I stop to catch my breath. Quite a while ago someone or something (like a bear) broke the boards off one of the windows so I thought I’d see if it had been repaired.

Someone had screwed a piece of plywood over the open window, so that should keep out whatever or whoever wanted to get in.

I felt lucky to have seen the inside of the place so I’ll post this photo of it once again. Chances are it’ll be a long time before I see it again, if ever. It was 1940s all the way and as we can see someone or something checked all the cupboards. A lot of card or cribbage playing probably went on at that 2 legged table. I grew up with one much like it but ours had 4 legs.

There is an old mountain ash tree (Sorbus americana) near the ranger station and it was loaded with ripening berries. 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.

I always think of 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 took a look at what I call the near hill. It rises like a great burial mound out of the forest. It is completely covered with forest, much like I’ve heard Pitcher Mountain once was. My question has always been: if the fire burned Pitcher Mountain down to the bedrock and killed all the vegetation why didn’t that happen on this hill? It isn’t that far away from this summit.

I could see the new wind farm over in Antrim if I pushed my camera to the limit of its zoomability. There were many more windmills than these three but I couldn’t fit them all in one photo.

I love seeing the shading on the blue hills from up here. If I had to choose between color and detail I’d have to choose color as what I’d rather see. I can imagine the details but I think it would be difficult to imagine the colors. Although now that I think about it since I have a certain amount of color blindness there is always a bit of imagination involved.

I was able to sit for a while and watch the cloud shadows move over the hills below. This is something I always liked to do as a boy and I still do.

What I call the birdbath had plenty of water in it. I didn’t see any birds splashing in it on this day but I have in the past.

The old tower tie downs reminded me of the tornado warnings we’d had just a few days before. These towers can stand some pretty terrible winds, I’d guess.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) grow profusely all over the bedrock up here. This crustose lichen is very granular and was once used to dye wool in Sweden, but I can’t imagine how they ever got them off the rocks. Crustose lichens usually can’t be removed from the substrate they grow on without damaging it in some way.

This is another view of the hazy distant hills.

A flower I’ve only seen here grows in the cracks in the rocks at the summit. Mountain white cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata) is also called three toothed cinquefoil because of the three large teeth at the end of each leaf. The white 5 petaled flowers are small; maybe a half inch across on a good day. At a glance they could be mistaken for wild strawberry flowers but wild strawberries have yellow centers. These plants are said to bloom for 2 or 3 months and make an excellent choice for a sunny rock garden that doesn’t get too hot, because they don’t like heat. They must be struggling this summer because it has been hot. We’ve had a long string of mid-80 to 90 degree days.

The climb didn’t help my creaky legs any but that didn’t bother me because being on a mountaintop is something I’ve missed, and climbing is something I’ve never regretted doing. They call to you and they don’t stop calling until you climb, and then they are still for a while. But just a while.

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 stopping in.

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Over the Memorial Day holiday weekend I decided a climb was in order. We had beautiful weather in the morning but it was supposed to warm into the 80s F. in the afternoon, so as early as I could I left for Pitcher Mountain over in Stoddard. I had never climbed Pitcher Mountain that early in the day, so I was surprised to find that the sun was in my eyes the whole way up the trail. That’s why this shot of the trail is actually looking down, not up.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides,) one of our most beautiful native shrubs, bloomed alongside the trail. Lower down in Keene they’re all done blooming and are making berries but up here it looked like they were just getting started.

I saw lots of violets along the trail too.

The paired leaves of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are already out.

One of my favorite stopping points along the trail is here at this meadow, which often houses Scottish highland cattle. I didn’t see any on this day but it was nice to have such a big, open space. When you live in the second most forested state in the country you don’t see many views like this one. It’s just you, the sky and the earth.

And dandelions. There were lots of them in the meadow.

Here is another view looking down the trail, but up looks much like it.

I saw lots of future strawberries along the trail.

And blueberries too. Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberries and people come from all over to pick them.

The previous shot of the meadow that I showed was taken down the hill over on the right, so this shot is 90 degrees to it looking across the meadow. A little further out and down the hill a bit is the farm where the cattle live.

I’ve always thought that the cows had the best view of anybody. Last year, almost to the day, there was a big black bear right over there at the tree line. It looked me over pretty well but left me alone. I was the only one climbing that day but on this day I saw a few people, including children. I’m always happy to see them outside enjoying nature, and I spoke with most of them.

A chipmunk knew if stayed very quiet and still I wouldn’t see it.

John Burroughs said “To find new things, take the path you took yesterday” and of course he was right. I thought of him last year when I found spring beauties I had been walking by for years and then I thought of him again on this day, when I found sessile leaved bellwort growing right beside the trail I’ve hiked so many times. I’m always amazed by how much I miss, and that’s why I walk the same trails again and again. It’s the only way to truly know a place.

By coincidence I met Samuel Jaffe, director of the Caterpillar Lab in Marlborough New Hampshire, in the woods the other day. Of course he was looking for insects and I was looking for anything and everything, so we were able to talk a bit as we looked. He’s a nice guy who is extremely knowledgeable about insects and he even taught me a couple of things about poplar trees I didn’t know. I described this insect for him and he said it sounded like a sawfly, but of course he couldn’t be sure. I still haven’t been able to find it online so if you know I’d love to hear from you. (Actually, I’d love to hear from you whether you know or not.)

Samuel Jaffe was able to confirm that this tiny butterfly was a spring azure, just as a helpful reader had guessed a few posts ago. This butterfly rarely sits still but this one caught its breath on a beech leaf for all of three seconds so I had time for only one photo and this is it. It’s a poor shot and It really doesn’t do the beautiful blue color justice, but it’s easy to find online if you’re interested. By the way, The Caterpillar Lab is a unique and fascinating place, and you can visit it online here: https://www.thecaterpillarlab.org/ I don’t do Facebook but if you do you’re in for a treat!

I fear that the old ranger’s cabin is slowly being torn apart. Last year I noticed boards had been torn from the windows and on this climb I noticed that someone had torn one of the walls off the front porch. You can just see it over there on the right. At first I thought a bear might have broken in through the window because they do that sort of thing regularly, but I doubt a bear kicked that wall off the porch. What seems odd is how I could see that trail improvements had been done much of the way up here. You’d think the person repairing the road would have looked at the cabin, but apparently not.

I heard people talking in the fire tower but then I wondered if it might have been a two way radio that might have been left on. The tower is still manned when the fire danger is high and it has been high lately, so maybe there were people up there. I couldn’t see them through the windows though and I wasn’t going to knock on the door, so it’ll remain a mystery.

The view was hazy but not bad. It was getting hot fast but there was a nice breeze that kept the biting black flies away, so I couldn’t complain.

No matter how hot or dry it gets it seems like there is always water in the natural depression that I call the bird bath. I’ve watched birds bathing here before but I like to see the beautiful deep blue of the sky in it, so I was glad they had bathed before I came.

Dandelions bloomed at the base of the fire tower.

The white flowers of shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) could be seen all around the summit.

I looked over at what I call the near hill and wished once again that I had brought my topographical map.

The near hill is indeed the nearest but it isn’t that near. There it is to the right of center and this photo shows that it would be quite a hike.

The meadow below was green but the hills were blue and in the distance the hazy silhouette of Mount Monadnock was bluest of all. I sat for awhile with the mountain all to myself except for the voices in the tower, but then more families came so I hit the trail back down. As I left I could hear complaints about the new windmills in the distance, and how they spoiled the view. I haven’t shown them here but as you can see, not all the views were spoiled by windmills.

On the way up a little girl told me that she had found a “watermelon rock” and her grandfather had found a “flower rock.” She wondered why anyone would paint rocks and leave them there, and I told her that they were probably left there just to make her happy. Then I found a rock with a message that made me happy, so I’ll show it here.

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

Thanks for stopping in. Be safe as well as kind.

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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.

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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

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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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