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Posts Tagged ‘stone wall’

I looked out the window to see the sun shining and the rhododendron leaves not curled one morning, so I knew it would be a good day for a walk. And how great it was to have nothing to do but choose a place to go walking, I thought. I chose a rail trail in Swanzey that I knew would be ice free over at least parts of its length, because I could see it from the road. My starting point still had a little ice on it but there was also gravel to walk on.

Once I got into the sunshine it was clear sailing. Or so I thought. There were two or three shaded spots further on that still had ice on them. One of the great things about this walk was the singing of the birds. Like someone flipped a switch, it seemed they all had to sing. One of the bird songs that always says spring to me is the “fee-bee” mating call of the black capped chickadee. Since I was a boy, I’ve loved hearing it in spring. Though some hear “hey sweetie,” from what I’ve read most of us hear “fee-bee.” In the end it doesn’t matter what you hear, what’s important is being out there to hear it.

The ice on the drainage channels beside the roadbed looked to be thick in places.

Most of it varied from between one and three inches thick, by the looks.

A beech in the sunshine on a winter day is a beautiful thing. What was strange though, was not having someone stop and ask me what I was looking at. That happens all the time but on this day, I had this trail to myself. I never saw another soul. That must be a weekday thing as blogging friend Eliza said, because the last time I was out here it was on a weekend and there were people everywhere.

Another beech had lost all its leaves so I looked at a few buds and noticed the bud scales were relaxing. They weren’t as tightly closed as they are in January. I could just see the hint of an arc in this one and that’s the thing I’ll watch for. Sunlight causes the cells at the top, or sunlit part of the bud to grow slightly faster than the shaded part and this makes the bud arch up until finally it can arch no more, and that’s when bud break happens. The bud fairly tears itself apart and the new leaves emerge, and fresh spring beech leaves are one of the most beautiful things you can see in a New Hampshire Forest in the spring. How nice it will be I thought, to be able to watch spring slowly unfold.

The big buds of shagbark hickory hadn’t changed much but they also bear watching, because they are also very beautiful when they open. A tree full of newly opened buds is a sight that can take the breath away.

One of the reasons I wanted to come out here was to see how my new camera would do with moss spore capsules, but I didn’t see a single one the whole way. Not any on the apple mosses, not even any left over from last year.

I could see the Ashuelot River through the trees and it was ice free. A good sign.

A pine tree had fallen and had been cut into logs, and they had been oozing plenty of sticky sap. Turpentine is made frome white pine sap, and that’s what it takes to get it off your clothes.

Another reason I wanted to come out here was to see if any work had been done to the drainage ditches. I was happy to see that they had been dug out and pitched correctly so the water would flow away from the rail bed. The only problem I saw was how all the removed soil had been piled along the tops of the ditches. I thought that when it rained the rain might wash the soil back into the ditches.

No sooner had I that thought I saw that the rain had indeed washed the soil back into the ditch, filling it to the top and completely stopping up any water flow. This damming up of the drainage ditch has happened in two or three places and means that water may fill the ditch and run up over the railbed in a heavy rain. This could wash out the railbed, which is exactly what digging out the ditches is supposed to prevent. The decision to pile the dirt where it has been piled doesn’t seem to have been a good one.

American wintergreen, also called teaberry, (Gaultheria procumbens) leaves were shining in the sunlight. They often turn purple in winter and these had done so.

The third reason I wanted to come out here was because I saw some skunk cabbage leaves at the base of this ledge last year and I wondered if I might see a spathe or two, but it looked like the plant went away when the ditch was dug out.

I saw what looked like bark beetle damage on a young red oak that had died and lost its bark. I think this is the first time I’ve seen damage like this on oak.

There was an apple gall on another oak, on what was left of a leaf. In May, a female wasp emerges from underground and injects one or more eggs into the mid-vein of an oak leaf. As it grows the wasp larva causes the leaf to form a round gall. Galls that form on leaves are less harmful to the tree than those that form on twigs, but neither causes any real damage. This gall was empty, and I knew that by its color and by a tiny exit hole near the top on the far side.

Though it looked like a fault had pulled apart this drainage ditch ice I think it was fast running water that caused the big gap.

And there was the trestle. This one is quite high above the Ashuelot River in this spot, much higher than the trestle that was near our house, which I grew up playing on.

The ripples on the river show how hard the wind was blowing up here.

The water was muddy but it had gone down some, according to the line of ice on the riverbank. It usually stays quite high through spring and that’s the time you see most of the kayaks and canoes on it.

The reason you don’t see many canoeists or kayakers once the water level drops in summer is because of all the submerged trees there are in this river. They seem to fall in constantly throughout its length.

I saw a curious almost perfectly round, thawed circle in the ice on the way back, and that was enough to keep me wondering all the way back to the car.

To walk into nature is to witness a thousand miracles. ~Mary Davis

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Stone Wall

If there’s one thing we have plenty of here in New Hampshire it is stones, and you can hardly walk a mile even in the deepest woods without seeing a wall built with them. Though there are many types of stone walls the most common in this area are “tossed walls.” Farmers worked from dawn to dusk in Colonial New England and tossed walls required the least amount of time and effort because smaller stones were literally tossed or thrown on top of one another. In the early years getting rid of the plentiful stones quickly and efficiently was more important than enclosing the fields and boy, did famers get rid of them. In 1872 there were an estimated 270,000 miles of stone walls in New England. Today these masses of stone collect a lot of heat from the sun and snow melts from them quickly, leaving perfect places to explore in the winter.

2. Sulfur Firedot on Stone

I can remember when I was a young boy reading a book (by Beatrix Potter I think) which showed a painting of a stone house. The stones were all colors including blue, orange and yellow, so I knew right off that whoever wrote this dumb old book had never seen anything built of stone. Why, everybody knew that stones were gray! As I grew older and started paying closer attention to the world around me I realized once again that I didn’t know what I was talking about because, as whoever illustrated that book knew, stones could indeed come in many colors. The orange yellow color in this example comes from sulfur firedot lichens (Caloplaca flavovirescens.)

3. Sulfur Dust Lichen aka Chrysothrix chlorina

An even brighter yellow is found on stones colored by sulfur dust lichens (Chrysothrix chlorina). This lichen doesn’t like to be rained on so it is usually found hiding under some type of overhang.

4. Hedwigia ciliata  Moss on Stone

Stones can be green when covered by a carpet of moss. This stone was too big for three men to carry and wore the biggest patch of Hedwigia ciliata moss that I’ve seen.

5. Hedwigia ciliata Moss

The white leaf tips drawn out to long, fine points help confirm the identity of Hedwigia ciliata moss.

6. Orange Granite

Sometimes stones don’t need any help from lichens to show their colors as this orange granite shows. Granite comes in many colors, including red, brown, pink, blue-gray, black, and white. Often though, over the years the wall stones will weather to a uniform gray before the lichens move in and lend their colors to the wall.

 7. Hitching Ring

My grandfather was the town blacksmith for years in Westmoreland, New Hampshire so I always look for old wrought iron hardware in stone walls. This photo shows an old iron hitching ring for a horse, which its reins would have been passed through to keep it from running off. Why the landowner wanted to hitch his horse to this exact spot in the wall is a mystery. Maybe it was shaded at one time.

8. Chain Hook

This chain hook was my favorite find during this walk. A link from a chain would have been hooked over it and then another link hooked over a similar hook a certain distance away. Chains were (and are) often hung across roads or driveways as a way to say “no admittance.”  What I like about this example is the way the blacksmith tapered the hook over its length and finally ended it in what looks like a dragon’s tail. He didn’t have to do any of that because this was something that would have hardly ever been seen and it meant more time and effort, but he had the skill and used it and took pride in his work. I also like the Cumberland rock shield lichens growing all over the stone.

9. Cumberland Rock Shield Apothecia aka Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia

Cumberland rock shield lichens (Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia) have cinnamon to dark brown fruiting bodies, called apothecia, where spores are produced. They produce spores quite regularly so it is always worth stopping to get a closer look. The curled margins of the apothecia cups are helpful with identification.

10. Squirrel Leavings

Squirrels and chipmunks choose the flattest stones to have their lunch on, which in this case consisted of white pine (Pinus strobus) seeds.

 11. Gray Lichen on Stone possibly possibly Thelotrema lepadinum

Plain old gray lichens are plentiful and easy to walk by without a second look, but you might be missing something quite fascinating if you do.

12. Gray Lichen on Stone Apothecia possibly Thelotrema lepadinum

This is a close up look at the gray lichen in the previous photo. I think it’s a barnacle lichen (Thelotrema lepadinum.) The darker bits are its apothecia. It looks like some kind of alien landscape.

13. Marginal Wood Fern

Many plants hug stone walls for the winter warmth given off by the stones and protection from mower blades. Everything from lowly mosses to towering trees can be found along these old walls.

 14. Marginal Wood Fern Sori

Many ferns release their spores in the fall and if you want to see how it all works all you need to do is follow a stone wall, because there are sure to be ferns growing along it. This example shows the many sori (clusters of spore producing sporangia) on the underside of a marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis.) Thicker cells on one side of the sourus create tension as it ages and dries out, and causes its cover (indusium) to burst open and release its spores. These burst indusia can be seen in several places in this photo. Not all ferns have covered sori; some, like the polypody fern’s (Polypodium vulgare,) are naked.

15. White Pine Stump

In this region white pine trees are common and they (or their stumps) are especially common along stone walls. Old, rotting pine stumps are great places to look for mosses and lichens.

16. British Soldier Lichens on Stump

New Hampshire was nearly 150 years old when the Revolutionary War began and though no battles were fought here we still have our British soldiers- in the form of lichens (Cladonia cristatella). These were found on the base of the old white pine stump in the previous photo.

Like a negative to a photograph, stone walls are most visible when life is most invisible. Typically this occurs in January when snow frames the wall from bottom to top and when the strengthening, crystal-clear sun casts strong shadows. ~Robert M. Thorson

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1. Stone Walls

Whitetail deer know if they are to survive in the winter they need to follow the sun and stay on warm, south eastward facing slopes during the day. Not only is it warmer in these places, but the abundant sunshine often means quicker snow melt and plenty of browse. Quite often in winter I follow their lead and on this day I walked along an old stone wall where the overhanging white pines and eastern hemlocks made for light snow cover and the bright sunshine meant it was considerably warmer.

 2. Shingled Rock Shield Lichen aka Xanthoparmelia stenophylla

But sunshine and warmth aren’t the only reasons I come here. Lichens and mosses grow on these stones by the thousands and this old wall has become one of my favorite places to hunt for them in winter. Many of the lichens are in their fruiting stage at this time of year, as the above example of a shingled rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia stenophylla) shows. The dark brown, cup shaped growths are the apothecia, or fruiting bodies. These lichens have been here probably for hundreds of years because they are quite large. I’ve seen some that were the size of grapefruit.

3. Rock Greenshield Lichen aka Flavoparmelia baltimorensis

Rock Greenshield Lichens (Flavoparmelia baltimorensis) are also quite large and are very common along this stretch of stone wall. Most foliose lichens seem to prefer growing in the sunshine and these are no different. Foliose means “leaf like” but these lichens always remind me of melted candle wax. In fact there is a lichen known as the eastern candle wax lichen (Ahtiana aurescens), but it grows on tree limbs instead of stone and leans more towards gray than green.

 4. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen aka Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans

I’m going into my third year of visiting this scattered rock posy lichen and if it has changed in that time the change is imperceptible. When I first found it, it was the only one I knew of but over the years I’ve found others. It likes to grow on granite in full sun and is one of the most beautiful lichens, in my opinion. This photo is the closest I’ve ever been able to get to it. The orange disc shaped growths are its fruiting bodies and the grayish, brain like growth is the thallus, or body. The entire lichen is about the size of a penny.

 5. Orange Crust Fungus aka Stereum complicatum

Lichens weren’t the only finds here on this day. This orange, crust like fungus is a parchment fungus called, not surprisingly, orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum). It was growing a fallen branch. The complicatum part of the scientific name means “folded back on itself.” One of the identifying characteristics of this fungus is the smooth, pore free underside.

 6. Aster Seed Heads

There were plenty of aster seed heads along the wall, waiting for hungry birds.

 7. British Soldier Lichens

British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) grew on an old rotting stump. This lichen was named by someone who thought they resembled the eighteenth century uniform of a  British soldier. It’s very slow growing, and in a good year might grow 2 millimeters. The red parts of this lichen are where its spores are produced and, since they don’t make spores until they reach at least 4 years of age, I know this one has been here awhile. British soldiers and their cousins pixie cups are frutose lichens, which is a lichen that stands upright or hangs down.

8. Rusty Rod in Stone-2

Here and there in this wall there were holes drilled into the stone. In this case a steel rod was held in the hole by an old cut nail. The wire, I think, was probably used to fasten a strand or two of barbed wire to the rod. This gave the stone wall about 2 feet of extra height and probably helped keep the livestock in. Or out, if they had an enclosed vegetable garden.

 9. Hole in Stone

In some cases the rods were gone. The quarter sized holes were most likely done by hand with a star drill and sledge hammer.

10. Hedwigia cillata Moss

Hedwigia cillata moss looked good and healthy. This moss loves to grow on exposed surfaces like stones and cliff faces in sun or shade and is common all over the world. When dry this moss pulls its leaves in tight to the central stem and loses much of its bushy appearance.  Its fruiting bodies (sporophytes) are orange but hide deep among the leaves on short stalks so they aren’t as easy to see as those on other mosses.

11. Moss Covered Boulder

This boulder was covered with carpet mosses and lichens. In her book Gathering Moss author Robin Wall Kimmerer says that lichens pave the way for mosses on stones and other smooth surfaces. Lichens produce acids that slowly etch surfaces just enough to give rootless mosses enough of a purchase to anchor themselves to. The acids in lichens are powerful enough to etch even glass, and they have been known to damage stained glass in some of the great cathedrals of Europe. The yellow square in the above photo shows the area where the following macro photo of moss came from.

12. Brick Carpet Moss aka Bryoerythrophyllum recurvirostrum

This is an extreme close-up of what I believe is brick carpet moss (Bryoerythrophyllum recurvirostrum). There are many different low growing moss species that form carpets and, in my experience, are very hard to identify. These mosses seem to grow in the harshest conditions like on boulders in full sun, but mosses are tough. Robin Wall Kimmerer notes that mosses held dry in herbarium cabinets for 40 years revived in just a few minutes after being given water.

13. Common Goldspeck Lichen aka Candelariella vitellitta

Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellitta) is uncommonly beautiful. This bright yellow lichen grows on calcium free stones and the examples that I’ve found have always been quite small.  This was the first time that I’ve seen this lichen fruiting. The apothecia or fruiting bodies are disc shaped and slightly darker in color than the granular body, and are so small that I can’t think of anything to compare them to. In fact, I didn’t even see them until I looked at the photo. This one was a real test of the macro capabilities of my camera-all that you see in this photo would easily fit on a dime with room to spare.

14. Golden Moonglow Lichen

Golden moonglow lichen is another small but beautiful, greenish yellow squamulose lichen that grows on stone in full sun. The example in the photo grew on granite and was about the size of a penny, but I’ve seen them larger. This example had quite a lot of dark, disc shaped fruiting bodies showing in its center. A squamulose lichen falls somewhere between the leafy foliose lichens and crusty crustose lichens and has “squamules,” which in this case are the curled lobes around its outer edges.

There is no absolute scale of size in nature, and the small may be as important, or more so than the great. ~Oliver Heaviside

Note: I’m sorry that I don’t remember which of you told me about the Gathering Moss book, but I’d like to thank you for doing so. It’s a great book.

Thanks for coming by.

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