Posts Tagged ‘Stone Cutting’

1. Trail

Last Sunday morning I decided to climb Mount Caesar in Swanzey. This hill seems to be a single, huge piece of granite bedrock that was thrust up out of the earth unknown eons ago. As the above photo shows, the trail starts out bare granite with a little moss and some reindeer lichens growing on the sides. Exposed granite like that shown can be seen here and there all the way to top, but there must be pockets of soil in places because settlers once went to a lot of trouble to clear it.

2. Red Maple

A red maple tree (Acer rubrum) has blown over onto a stone wall and its roots have humped up part of the trail.

3. Target Canker

I know the tree is a red maple by the target canker on its trunk. This canker doesn’t harm the tree but causes its bark to grow in circular patterns of narrow plates which helps protect it from the canker. As the tree ages the patterns disappear. If I understand what I’ve read correctly red maple is the only tree that does this.

4. Cut Forest

The blowdown was caused by the cutting of a large area of town owned forest, which was sold off a few years ago. A tree that has grown behind such a large windbreak all its life it doesn’t need very strong roots, but when the windbreak is removed its weak roots will let it fall. That’s why trees in a constant wind have much stronger roots than those that grow in sheltered locations. That’s also why people who have encountered hardship and adversity throughout their lives are much more able to bear the strain than those who have lived lives of sheltered ease.

5. Cut Boulder

The removal of the shade provided by the forest has revealed a lot of things I haven’t noticed before, like this large boulder that was cut by someone in the past. The short 3 inch deep lines around its edge are what’s left of the holes that were drilled so tools called feathers and wedges could be pounded in them to split the stone. The holes were most likely drilled by hand with a sledge hammer and star drill. One person would hold the drill while the other hit it with the hammer, and that says a lot about both skill and trust.

6. Trailing Arbutus

The cutting of the forest has also thrown sunlight on many shade loving plants, including this trailing arbutus. Its leaves should be deep green rather than the yellowish green seen here. There were a few flowers tucked under the leaves but the plants don’t look as healthy as many other examples I’ve seen.

7. Trail

The skidder used to haul the logs out of the forest turned the trail into a logging road and in places it’s so muddy that people have been forced to make a new narrow trail above the now 2 foot deep trench.  It works fine until you meet someone going the opposite way.  I doubt that it will ever be repaired until the trail becomes a stream and washes half the hill into the road that borders it. Parts of the trail are showing signs that this is already happening, and they look more like dry stream bed than trail. In a pouring rain the water must really rush through.

8. Stone Wall-2

When I was building dry stone walls I always thought of them as giant puzzles, because I knew that there was always a perfect stone that would fit in the space that I was trying to fill; all I had to do was find it. These days I just admire the work of others, and I thought that this part of an old wall looked particularly puzzle like. This isn’t a “thrown wall” where someone just tossed stones on top of each other in a long pile. This wall was thought about and a certain amount of care was taken when it was built.

9. Stone

Sometimes you see stones in walls that have a story to tell, like this one that I assume probably had the deep grooves worn into it by a glacier. I imagine the father and son, brother and brother, or master and slave had a lot to talk about as they cleared the fields of the many rocks they found. They were talking about glaciers and ice ages in Sweden in the 1700s, but whether or not any of that knowledge would have reached the residents of Swanzey is a question I can’t answer. I do know that Native Americans burnt the town to the ground in the mid-1700s, so the residents probably had other things on their minds than glaciers and ice ages.

10. Stone

Other stones, instead of being shaped by ice, show traces of the hot magma that formed them.

11. Turkey Tails

These young turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) grew on a piece of bark that had pulled away from the stump it grew on. They reminded me of the old song Blue Velvet by Bobby Vinton, and I had it playing in my head for the rest of the hike.

12. Log

There is a very big old log lying beside the trail just before you reach the top and I usually stop here to catch my breath. When I did that this time I saw that the old log had become a nurse log, with a small cherry or black birch growing out of the hollow where a branch once grew. I should have tasted a twig; the taste of wintergreen would have meant it was a black birch (Betula lenta,) which is also called sweet birch, cherry birch, and mahogany birch. It’s an unusual place for a tree to grow and it’ll be interesting to watch.

13. View

I think, out of all the hills I climb, if I climbed them for the view I’d be disappointed about 80% of the time, but since I don’t really care what the view looks like I’m never disappointed. I climb more for the things I see along the trail than what I see from the top, and I see interesting things along the trail every single time I climb. Today’s view would have been among the 80% I’m afraid, with its harsh sunlight and flat blue sky. A deeper blue in the sky and some puffy white clouds would have made a beautiful view but you can’t have everything, and I need to stop and remind myself that I should be thankful that I can even make it up here. There was a time not that long ago when Mount Caesar might as well have been Mount Everest.

14. Monadnock

Mount Monadnock sat in a sun washed haze over in Jaffrey. The word Monadnock is thought to originate with the Native American Abenaki tribe and is said to mean “mountain that stands alone. “ At 3 165 feet Mount Monadnock is taller than any other feature in the region and is visible from nearly every surrounding town. It rises about 2203 feet higher than where I stood when I took this photo.

15. Turkey Vulture

A large bird soared above me on the thermals. I think it was a turkey vulture and I wondered for a moment if it thought I was a turkey. It seemed very interested and circled a couple of times before flying off.

16. Lean To

Someone built a lean-to near the summit sometime in the past. If they stayed up here at night I hope they had a good flashlight and an excellent sense of direction. The cliffs here are quite high and stumbling around up here in the dark would not be wise.

17. Erratic

There is a large glacial erratic that sits on top of Mount Caesar but for some reason I’ve never shown it in a blog post. It’s smaller than a Volkswagen Beetle but not by much. It sits on the granite bedrock where the glacier left it, simply too big and heavy to do anything with. It could have been drilled and split with feathers and wedges like the boulder we saw earlier in this post but that was a lot of work, and what would have been the point? Then you’d just have had to drag the resulting stone slabs all the way down the trail.

18. Mica

This erratic has a lot of mica and feldspar in it, which are minerals I’ve never seen anywhere else here on Mount Caesar. Maybe the glacier carried it from Gilsum to the north. There is plenty of both there. Of course the definition of a glacial erratic is “a piece of rock that differs from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests” and this example seems to fit that definition perfectly.

19. Toadskin

I had to sit by my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) for a while and study them a bit, because the more I look the more I see. On this day they were very dry to the point of crispness, but were still beautiful. The smaller one on the right was pierced by a pine needle, so if you know the size of a pine needle that will tell you the size of the lichen. They aren’t very big; I think the biggest one I’ve seen was about the same diameter as a ping pong ball. I keep hoping to find them at lower elevations but so far the only place I’ve ever seen them is on hilltops. More sunshine? Cleaner air?  I don’t know what attracts them to only the high places.

20. Bluets

The only wildflowers I saw on this morning were bluets (Houstonia caerulea,) and that was okay. They’re beautiful little things but I’ve never seen such an even division in the white and blue on the petals. Usually they have more of one color or the other, and often the white makes a narrow band around the center and the blue colors most of the rest of the petal. I’d have to call these examples bicolor. They were a surprise, and a real treat to see.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds.

~Edgar A. Guest

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1. Depot Building

I visited a rail trail recently that I hadn’t been on for many years. This is where we start; at the depot in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and other notables passed this way on their way north out of Fitchburg, Massachusetts to the town of Troy, New Hampshire where they then hiked to Mount Monadnock to climb it.

2. Signal Light

This depot still has its colored glass signals on top of a high pole. The meaning of three of the colors is much the same today as it was then; green meant it was safe to proceed, yellow meant an impending stop or speed reduction, and red meant come to a full stop. Blue meant that another track met the track you were on. Purple was used for derails at one time, but became obsolete. Amber was used in foggy conditions and white or clear meant restricted conditions. These colors are also still used by railroads today. Since I’m color blind I’ll let you sort out which is which on this signal.

3. Lady's Slippers

I was surprised-actually shocked is more accurate-to find pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) still blooming out here, and they were everywhere. These plants have bloomed longer this year than I’ve ever seen. It could be because of the cool, damp weather we’ve had but I don’t really know.

4. Granite Waste Piles

Before you’ve walked too far you come to a pond, and as you look around you see that things aren’t quite right.  Nowhere else in this part of the state that I know of will you see piles of granite lining the shore of a pond like they do here. I wonder what Thoreau thought of them.

5. Bog Laurel

Bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia) grows on the banks of the pond. As I walked toward it to get some photos I startled a young mallard. It couldn’t fly but it sure could swim in circles fast and made quite a racket. I felt bad about scaring it so I took a couple of quick shots of this beautiful laurel and left.

6. Excess Granite

If you know the way to get to it, you can find an old abandoned granite quarry out in these woods. I always wondered what happened to the excess granite in a granite quarry, and now I know. When they weren’t dumping it on the shores of the pond they were stacking it up to make walls. This one was at least 10 feet high and 3 times as long.

Fitzwilliam granite is of very fine grain and has an even color and a very low iron content, which means it doesn’t stain and discolor over time. Some of the buildings that were built with Fitzwilliam granite are the State Capitol of Albany, N.Y., the Public Library at Natick, Mass., the Union Depot and Court House in Worcester, Mass., the Union Station, Washington, D.C., Marshall Field’s, Chicago, Ill., and the City Hall and Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ.

7. Iron Rod in Stone

This bent iron rod in a block of granite was about an inch in diameter and my arm would have fit into the opening it made right up to the shoulder, with room to spare.

8. Carved Granite

I was surprised to find beautifully carved granite out in these woods. In the 1800s this was done with hammers and chisels, but the really remarkable thing about the French cove carving shown here is how it was carved into a curved block of stone. It’s hard to see in the photo but as you look down the length of the carving the far end is lower than in the foreground, so the block was cut into a large radius with a molded edge added. It must have been meant for a building. Too bad to do all that work and then just leave it here.

The granite industry was very important to Fitzwilliam for more than 50 years and many of the stonecutters that settled here were from Scotland. At their peak about 400 men worked the quarries. Stonecutters were paid a minimum of $2.00 per day.

9. Beaver Tree

Beavers miscalculated and felled this tree in the wrong direction so it got hung up on others that were still standing.

10. Quarry View

If the beavers had made their cut on the other side of the tree it would have dropped right into this granite quarry, which is now filled with water. A quarry in an area with a shallow water table begins to fill with groundwater almost as soon as it is started and has to be continually pumped out while the stone is being quarried. In the early 1800s windmills or steam engines often powered the pumps but they could only do so much. As the quarry gets deeper more and more groundwater flows in and when it becomes too difficult or too expensive to pump it out it is abandoned and fills with water. You can see large blocks of granite and trees just under the surface a few feet out from shore. These hidden objects make this a very dangerous place to swim, but I and many others used to do so.

11. Feather and Wedge Holes

For some reason the workmen went to all the trouble of splitting this huge block of granite and then left it here. Lucky for us though, because it illustrates perfectly how feathers and wedges were used to split stone. First, 3-4 inch deep holes were drilled (by hand) in a line where the split was to take place. Then feathers and wedges were placed into each hole and tapped down with a hammer until the stone split.

12. Feathers and Wedges

This photo from Wikipedia shows various sizes of feathers and wedges. The curved pieces are the feathers and the wedge is driven in between them. As happens in splitting wood, the force from the wedges being driven ever deeper splits the stone.

13. Splitting Holes

This photo shows the half holes that remain after the stone is split. Most were about as long as, and the same diameter as my pointing finger. There was once a railroad spur that connected this quarry to the rail line that ran near here but its presence has all but disappeared. Quarries boomed by the mid-1800s, producing paving blocks for previously rutted and mucky city streets. Many millions of 4″ X 8″ X 11” cobblestones were produced in quarries all over New England.

14. Quarry Ledges

During its operation a lot of granite was taken from this quarry. Some of the ledges in this photo are 100 or more feet from the water. To give you some sense of scale-that’s a full size white pine tree leaning against that far wall. Since I fell out of a tree and shattered my spine when young I wasn’t able to jump from anything much higher than the soles of my shoes, but I used to swim here nonetheless and I’ve seen many people jump from those ledges. I remember being told that the water was hundreds of feet deep and that there were cranes and steam shovels and even cars that you would get tangled up in if you swam in the wrong places, and I remember the feeling of apprehension that came over me whenever I swam here. If the truth were told I never really did enjoy it much, but being able to overcome your fears is powerful medicine for a teenage boy.

Recently some professional divers dove here to see what they could find and their report was what you’d expect; silt covered granite under water about 40 feet deep, with some pocket change glistening on the stones. There were no steam shovels, cranes or cars down there.

16. Fallen Tree

Today all of the old ghosts have evaporated from this place and it seems much like any other swimming hole, but no shouts bounced off the granite walls and nobody swam.  As I sat on a sun warmed slab of granite I thought back to an old Twilight Zone episode in which the residents of an old folks’ home became children again by playing the games that they’d played in their youth. But even so, I didn’t swim either.

No matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. ~Haruki Murakami

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