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Posts Tagged ‘Stoddard New Hampshire’

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

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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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Every year when the leaves change I get the urge to see them from above, believing that somehow the colors will be better up there, but so far seeing fall color from above hasn’t really proven worth the climb. Still, I keep trying and last weekend I chose Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard because of its 360 degree views. There is a fire tower on the summit so the trail is actually an access road, which is wide but also steep and rocky near the summit.

Many of the trees along the old road had already lost their leaves and they crackled under foot. I wish you could experience the smell of walking through thousands of dried leaves. It’s an earthy, burnt marshmallow type of smell that is impossible for me to accurately describe but once you’ve smelled it you never forget it. It always takes me back to my boyhood.

Powdery mildew on some of the oak leaves told climbers the story of how warm and humid it has been recently and reminded them how glad they should be that it wasn’t humid on this day. I for one was very happy that it wasn’t.

The old stone walls along the access road reminded me of the Pitcher family who settled here on the mountain in the 1700s and farmed it. At one time much of the mountain had most likely been cleared for sheep pasture, which was very common in those days.

The rock pilers had been here but this time they used rocks small enough so I could have hidden this pile behind my hand. What they get out of doing this, other than cluttering up the landscape and spoiling the views, I’ll never understand. I refuse to call them cairns because cairns are useful things that help travelers along their way, but these piles of stone are of no use at all.

I can’t say how many times I’ve made this climb and failed to see the Scottish highland cattle that I know live here but this time there they were. I watched them for a while but when number 10 noticed me and started acting interested I thought of the old saying “be careful what you wish for” because all that separated us was a flimsy little electrified fence that I wasn’t sure was even turned on. Luckily the hairy beast was more interested in its stomach than me and it went back to munching grass. It wasn’t until I saw the photo that I realized how cute it was. Kind of cuddly, for a cow.

The highland cattle were very close to one of my favorite places and might have wandered over this ridge. I like this spot because after living in a forest for so long it seems vast and infinite, and void of distractions. It’s just the earth the sky and you and, for a while, blissful emptiness.

Once I had pulled myself away from the edge of infinity and started climbing again a monarch butterfly came flying hurriedly down the mountain and almost flew right into my face. It was in such a hurry that I never did get a photo of it, but it was nice to see it just the same.

As you near the summit big old mountain ash trees (Sorbus americana) appear along the trail. This is the only place I’ve ever seen these native trees in their natural habitat. I’ve seen lots of others but they have all been used as ornamentals.

My favorite thing about mountain ash trees are their big purple-black buds.

The Pitcher family or a subsequent land owner must have had an apple orchard up here because as you near the summit there are also quite a few apple trees in the area. They still bear abundant fruit as the one in the above photo shows. The bears, deer and other apple eaters must be very happy.

I was going to take a rest on the porch of the old ranger cabin but hornets swarmed all around it. The unattended building must be full of them. I wouldn’t want to be the one chosen to find out.

I call the old fire tower, built to replace the original 1915 wooden tower that burned in 1940, a monument to irony. The Stoddard-Marlow fire that took it was the biggest fire in this region’s history, destroying 27,000 acres of forest, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit. It left the summit with an unbroken 360 degree view which is very popular with hikers of all ages. When the fire tower is manned climbers can go up for a look and I’ve seen many families do so.

Many ferns become very colorful before they go to sleep for the winter. I liked the orange / brown of these marginal wood ferns (Dryopteris marginalis.) Marginal wood fern gets its name from the way its spore cases (sori) grow on the leaf margins.

The view wasn’t really hazy but the light had a warm feel and the colors were also on the warm side of the wheel. We’re well on our way to the warmest October since records have been kept, so this was no surprise.

The summit was full of people, and that was a surprise. The Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway trail passes over the summit and hikers often stop to rest here, but I’ve never seen so many at one time. I made my way around them and the fire tower to my favorite view of what I call the near hill. As I stood looking out over the landscape I couldn’t help but hear a conversation which was dominated by a woman lamenting the fact that she had never been “in the moment” and had no idea how to be. She went on to list those times she thought she had been close, but hadn’t quite made it. My thoughts about it were kept to myself because I don’t know much about the subject but if I had to guess I’d say that to be “in the moment” you would have to stop talking, especially about what has happened in the past, and just sit and enjoy the incredible beauty before you. Stop talking and worrying about being in the moment and just be right here, right now. It sounds very simple to me.

Color wise the views weren’t quite as spectacular as they were last year but the foreground colors were good. The shrubs are mostly blueberries and dogwoods and the trees are mixed hardwoods and evergreens. Pitcher Mountain is famous for its blueberries and many people come here to pick them. What I’d guess is that many who pick the fruit don’t realize how beautiful the bushes are in the fall.

Another look at the summit colors.

I was able to see the windmills on Bean Mountain over in Lempster. I discovered recently that I’ve been calling this mountain by the wrong name for years, because when I first read about the windmill farm I thought the text said it was on Bear Mountain. I think it looks more like a reclining bear than a bean, but maybe a family named Bean settled there. Or something.

I loved the deep purple of these blackberry leaves. I wouldn’t want to see a whole forest that color but it’s very pretty dotted here and there in the landscape. Virgin’s bower, blueberries, bittersweet nightshade and quite a few other plants turn deep purple in the fall. I’ve read that the first photosynthetic organisms were purple because they relied on photosynthetic chemicals that absorbed different wavelengths of light. A green plant only appears green because it doesn’t absorb the sun’s green light. Instead it reflects it back at us, so I’m guessing that purple must work the same way.

I always thought of these natural water catching basins that appear here and there in the granite bedrock as birdbaths, and then last year I saw a bird using one for just that purpose. I like the way they catch the blue of the sky and darken it a shade or two. There always seems to be water in them, even during the drought we had last year.

I couldn’t make a climb on any hill or mountain without taking a look at the lichens. There are several species up here but the common yellow goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) pictured was the most prevalent. It is on the rocks all over the summit. This crustose lichen is very easy to find and will almost always be found growing on stone. I also see it on headstones in cemeteries quite often. Crustose lichens form crusts that tightly adhere to the substrate that they grow on and usually can’t be removed without damaging it.

With one last look out over the vast forest I started the climb down. It’s almost always harder on the way down than on the way up, and this trip was no different. I don’t know if the trail is getting steeper or if I’m just getting older.

We don’t stop hiking because we grow old-we grow old because we stop hiking. ~Finis Mitchell

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At this time every year when the red maples bloom I get the urge to show you what a forest full of millions of red maple flowers looks like from above, so I pick a mountain and climb up above the treetops. This year I chose Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard because it offers a 360 degree view. The above photo shows the start of the trail. It was a sunny, hot Sunday that was supposed to have temperatures in the mid-80s F. It proved true; it reached 85 at my house and the weather people say it was the warmest Easter in 30 years. I’ve never had to use air conditioning in April, but I thought about it that day.

I’ve climbed this mountain fairly regularly for years now and have apparently walked right by this hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) growing right beside the trail every time. The things I don’t see often amaze me as much as the things I see do.  Hobblebush is one of our most beautiful native viburnums. The name hobblebush comes from the way the low growing branches, unseen under last year’s fallen leaves, can trip up or “hobble” a horse or hiker.

A pileated woodpecker had cut this tree right in half looking for insects. I’ve been cutting and splitting wood at work and the other day I split a log that had a huge colony of big black carpenter ants in it. A pileated woodpecker would have been very happy to have pecked at that tree.

An old pine tree had broken off halfway up its trunk and fallen onto the side of the trail. We’ve had some strong winds lately so I wasn’t surprised.

I turned about halfway up the trail to take a photo of Mount Monadnock and I could see by the haze that the views wouldn’t be good, but I wasn’t here for the views; I was here for the red haze produced by millions of red maples. I noticed that there was still snow at the edge of the meadow.

There was even more snow in this part of the meadow. It was hard to believe after a week of warm temperatures and such a hot day as this one. The haze made this view look almost surreal.

I love to see the shading on the distant hills. I saw something similar done in fabric once and it was a very beautiful piece of artwork. The idea must have come from a scene like this one.

Before you know it you can see the fire tower through the trees. This means you’re very close to the summit, but it also means you’ll climb the steepest part of the trail to reach it.

I hoped that all of those trees with bare branches would look like someone had washed them with red watercolor, but I’m not seeing that. My color finding software sees various shades of red in small amounts, but more gray. There are blueberry bushes and mountain ash trees out there too, and they also have red buds.

I got distracted by the clouds for a time.

The near hill showed what looked to be smudges of red but still not what I expected.

The wind whistled loudly through the steel structure of the fire tower. One day last year was the only time I’ve ever seen this tower manned. The  New Hampshire Forestry Service lets people into the tower and quite a few people were going up on the day I was here. Many were children and I didn’t want them to miss their chance so I didn’t bother trying to get in.  This tower was built to replace the original wooden tower that burned in the 1940 Stoddard-Marlow fire. It was the biggest fire in the region’s history.

The tower is anchored to the bedrock by stout cables and it’s a good thing because the wind was so strong I couldn’t stand still swayed in the breeze. It was just as strong the last time I came here and each time was the strongest wind I’ve seen here.

Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) is a crustose lichen that is very granular. Its round, almost microscopic fruiting bodies (apothecia) are hard to see in the photo but they are there. This lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and was once used in Sweden to dye wool yellow. It must have been difficult scraping it off the rocks that it grew on and I would imagine that yellow wool in Sweden was very expensive then.

An areolate lichen is one in which the body is made up of many little lumps or islands. The tile lichen (Lecidea tessellata) in the above photo fits that description well. Its black fruiting bodies (apothecia) are even with, or slightly sunken into the surrounding body (thallus). There are 136 species of tile lichens and identification is difficult without a microscope, so the species name in this case is a guess on my part. Tile lichens grow on rock in full sun, winter and summer.

Depressions in the stone catch water and I’ve always called them birdbaths. On this day there was actually a bird there, drinking and bathing.

I think it was a dark eyed junco but I don’t know birds well so I hope someone more knowledgeable in the subject might correct me if I’m wrong.  It was gray on top and white underneath, and was just a little smaller than a robin.

Though the birdbath looks quite big in the photo it isn’t more than 5 inches deep and hardly as big in diameter as an adult bicycle tire. There seems to always be water in it no matter how long we go without rain.

In the end I didn’t get the photo of the red maples that I had hoped but it wasn’t because there aren’t any red maples here. The target canker on the bark of this tree tells me it’s a red maple because, if I understand what I’ve read correctly, red maple is the only maple that gets target canker. I think, though there are plenty of red maples here, the buds simply hadn’t opened yet. Though the buds have fully opened in Keene Pitcher Mountain lies far enough north of town to make a difference, so maybe they were still closed.

But I still had plan B, which was to visit these red maples that grow along a very busy stretch of highway in Keene. I couldn’t show them from above but at least they give some idea of what we see here each spring.

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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