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Posts Tagged ‘Stone Walls’

1-trail

I wanted to go for a climb last weekend but we’d had a storm that dropped sleet, snow, rain and freezing rain and now the snow is covered in a coat of ice. I had to wear Yaktrax to walk on the old abandoned road through Yale Forest, even though it’s flat and level. What looks like snow here is actually a thick coating of ice on top of the snow, and it was slippery.

2-stump

This tree stump tells the story.

3-fern

An evergreen fern was trapped in the snow and ice. It will probably stay that way for a while because every day this week is supposed to be below freezing.

4-forest

Yale forest is a forest full of young trees, cut and cut again since the 1700s. Once farm land, it is now owned by the Yale University School of Forestry. A forestry school can’t train foresters in proper forest management without a forest, so this is one of the places where they come to train, and part of that training includes how to maintain healthy woodlands. This parcel is mostly red and white pine that was planted or seeded naturally after the hurricane of 1938 blew down many of the trees that stood here, so none of it is original old growth forest.

5-barbed-wire

Evidence of the original use of the land after settlers moved in can be seen in the rusty barbed wire still attached to this big old tree stump. This is hilly, rocky land so it was most likely used for sheep pasture.

6-stone-wall

The stone walls here are tossed or thrown walls, which is a sign that the farmer wanted to clear the land as quickly as possible. Stones were literally thrown on top of one another without a thought or care about how the wall looked. When you had to grow what you were eating clearing the land quickly was far more important than having a nice looking wall.

7-fallen-tree

Up ahead a tree had fallen across the old road but there was no reason to worry; this road hasn’t seen traffic for quite a while. It was once called Dartmouth College Road because if you followed in north far enough, that’s where you would have ended up. When the State Department of Transportation built what is now route 10 this section of road was abandoned and from what I gather by talking to the county forester and others, was taken over by Yale University. It is now considered a private road but Yale University is very good about letting locals use the forest for hiking and biking.

8-broken-tree

The fallen tree had broken off about 8 feet above the ground and the break was relatively fresh. Its brother on the left had previously broken in almost the same place.

9-fungi-on-maple

Dried fungi on the trunk spoke of why the tree had fallen. Fungi are a sign of rot in a tree and many can cause rot. Rot makes trees unable to withstand strong winds, and we’ve had a few windy days recently.

10-crispy-tuft-moss

I always like to look over the branches in the crowns of fallen trees to see what was growing up so high. This tree had a lot of small, rounded mounds of crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa) on its limbs. It’s tightly curled and contorted leaves meant that it was dry. It almost always grows on tree trunks where there is no standing water. Studies have shown that moss spores stick to the paws of chipmunks and squirrels, and that explains how they get their start so high up in trees. Chances are good that lichen and fungus spores are transported in the same way, I would think.

11-crispy-tuft-moss

This is a closer look at the crispy tuft moss and its curled leaves, spent spore capsules and new growth. I love how the spore capsules look like tiny Tiffany vases. This comes from their being constricted just below the mouth of the capsule.

12-beard-lichen

Fishbone beard lichen is common on trees and even wooden fences, so I wasn’t surprised to see it here. There are many different kinds of beard lichens and the differences can be subtle, but the fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula) stands apart because of its resemblance to the backbone of a fish. This lichen seems to prefer growing on spruce but I’ve seen it on other trees as well. Though it isn’t rare I don’t see it frequently. Lichens in the Usnea genus contain usnic acid and have antiseptic / antibiotic properties. They have been used since ancient times throughout the world to heal wounds.

13-netted-crust-fungus

Netted crust fungi (Byssomerulius corium) are common and grow on the undersides of branches, and this fallen tree had large patches of it on its limbs. The corium part of the scientific name means skin or hide, and refers to the skin-like growth of this fungus. Quite often bracket or shelf like growths will form along its edges. This fungus has tiny net-like ridges in its surface, and that’s how the netted crust comes by its common name.

14-silver-maple-buds

Its buds told me that the fallen tree was probably a silver maple (Acer saccharinum,) which is one of the weaker “soft” maples. These buds were smaller and more oval than the chubby, round buds on red maples, and didn’t grow in the large bud clusters that I see on red maples. Silver maples get their name from the whitish, silvery undersides of their leaves.  The amount of growth that this tree supported along its trunk and limbs was phenomenal.

15-shield-lichen

As I’ve said here many times lichens can be hard to identify because many change color when they dry out. Since it was a dry day I’m not at all positive but I think this one might have been a star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris,) which is pale gray even when wet. In any case it was a beautiful example that wasn’t damaged. I often see lichens like this that look torn or one sided and I think it’s because birds have taken pieces of them to line their nests with. I was reading about a study that showed 5 different species of lichens were found in a single hummingbird’s nest.

16-shield-lichen

There is a similar lichen called the slender rosette lichen (Physcia subtilis) but it has pale rhizines and these examples were very dark. Rhizines are a kind of rootlet that look like small hairs on the underside of some lichens that help them hold on to the surface they grow on, like tree bark. You can just see a blurry few of them poking out from under one of the lobes in the lower left of this photo.

17-pixie-cup-lichen

A little ice won’t bother pixie cup lichens (Cladonia pyxidata.) This lichen likes to grow on moss because mosses retain a lot of water, and these examples grew on the side of a mossy boulder. Though they look like golf tees they are probably a tenth the size. Each stalk like growth (podetia) is less than 1/2 inch tall, and the cups that bear the lichen’s spores are about 1/32 of an inch across.

18-pixie-cup-lichen

The scales on the pixie cup’s stalks are leafy growths called squamules. A squamule is a lobe of the body of the lichen (Thallus) and some lichens are squamulose, meaning they’re made up of small, leafy lobes. Pixie Cups and other Cladonia species like reindeer lichen contain didymic acid, and they were once used by herbalists to treat tuberculosis. They are called pixie cups because they are said to resemble the tiny cups that pixies or wood fairies sip the morning dew from.

19-stream

If you walk long enough on the old abandoned road through Yale forest you’ll come to an open swampy area that was once home to beavers. Beavers will move into a place and cut all the trees and then move on. Their pond will eventually drain and new trees will start to grow, and they will move back again to repeat the cycle. I’ve read that it takes about thirty years to go once around the cycle and this area looks as if it’s in the beaver pond draining stage. This photo is of the small stream that they dammed up originally.

20-beaver-dam

Quite a large section of the beaver dam can still be seen but with no maintenance it has fallen into disrepair and no longer holds back any water. Many animals benefit from beaver ponds and swamps, such as insects, spiders, frogs, salamanders, turtles, fish, ducks, rails, bitterns, flycatchers, owls, mink and otters. Great blue herons, wood ducks, and hooded mergansers live in the dead trees that the rising water killed. Their ponds also filter out pollutants carried by runoff and serve as water storage areas, so they benefit man as well. Native Americans used beavers for food, medicine and clothing.

21-raspberry-leaves

The most surprising thing I saw on this walk was a raspberry with fresh green leaves on it. I hope it knows what it is doing because we’re in for more cold weather. January temperatures ran about 8 degrees above average but in December there were days when we had below zero cold, so I can’t even guess why it would have grown new leaves. Maybe like me it’s hoping for an early spring.

The presence of a path doesn’t necessarily mean the existence of a destination. ~Craig D. Lounsbrough

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1-sign

Here in New Hampshire a class 6 designation means that a road isn’t maintained by either the state or the town and traveling it could be rough going. Class 6 roads are also subject to gates and bars. Though they are public ways they are roads that are more or less forgotten except by hikers and snowmobilers. The one I chose to hike on this day is in Swanzey and dates from the mid-1800s.

2-trail

The road itself is wide and flat but can be rocky in places. A vehicle with good ground clearance could easily navigate it, at least until it came to the streams that cross the road. The one bridge that I saw hasn’t been maintained, so stream crossing would be a bit of a gamble. According to the Swanzey Town History the road was originally laid out in 1848 and went from the village of West Swanzey to the Chesterfield town line. From that point the town of Chesterfield took over and continued it up the valley to the “Keene and Chesterfield highway,” which I think must now be route 9 that runs east to west.

3-california-brook

The many small streams and rivulets that drain down from the hillsides empty into California Brook, which runs alongside the road for miles. California Brook is a strange name for a brook in New Hampshire and I’ve tried to find the name’s origin but haven’t had any luck. It has its start in the town of Chesterfield and runs southeast to the Ashuelot River in Swanzey. There were at least two mills on the brook in the early 1800s, and it was said to be the only waterway in Swanzey where beavers could be found in the 1700s. They’re still here, almost 300 years later.

4-snowy-log

This was a cold hike; in shady spots there were still traces of the snow that fell several days ago.

5-christmas-fern

Evergreen Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) don’t mind a little snow. The tough leathery leaves will stay green under the snow all winter long. In spring they will turn yellow and then brown to make way for new fronds. One story says that the name “Christmas fern” is thought to come from the early settler’s habit of using its fronds as Christmas decorations.

6-foamflower-leaves

Foam flowers (Tiarella cordifolia) grew along the old road. This plant has hairy leaves that look delicate, but they’re fairly tough and stay green under the leaves and snow all winter. The purple veins in each leaf become more pronounced as the nights cool and sometimes the leaves will have purplish bronze splotches. This plant makes an excellent flowering groundcover for a damp, shady spot in the garden. Plant breeders have developed many interesting hybrids but I still like the native best, I think.

7-frozen-pool

Just off the road a small pool had formed and frozen over. It was much like the vernal pools that we see in spring that are so important to wildlife.

8-bridge

I came out here several years ago and was able to drive over this bridge but I doubt I’d try it now. Part of it looks to be fairly rotten. There’s a drop of 3 or 4 feet to the stream bed under it.

9-bridge

A snowmobile or a 4 wheeler could get over the bridge with no problem in spite of the rotted and missing planks, but it looked like it would be tricky for a wider vehicle. I was glad I decided to hike it, especially since a second bridge further up the road had washed away completely. The flooding that happened here a few years ago must have taken it. Someone had tried to fill the stream bed with crushed stone but it would still be a tough crossing. The flooding also destroyed a beaver dam and the large beaver pond that was out here several years ago has drained away.

10-stone-wall

Moss covered stone walls line the road. They were most likely built in the mid-1700s after the original land grants and years before the road was built. According the town history most traveling was done on foot and bridle paths in the early years of settlement. Stone walls like this one which are all but forgotten are sometimes called “wild” walls.

11-woods

One of the things I like about this time of year is how you can see so much farther into the forest once the leaves have fallen. This view shows that there are a lot of stones that would have to be cleared before this piece of land could become a pasture. Frost brings more stones to the surface each year so clearing them out of a pasture can be a constant effort. Though the trees in this view look young I saw some large examples that were obviously very old.

12-wood-chips-from-woodpecker

Fresh woodchips lay all around the base of a beech tree. I’ve learned to look up when I see this.

13-pileated-woodpecker-holes

Because every time I see wood chips at the base of a tree I see pileated woodpecker holes in it. These were high up, just below where the tree had lost its top. The old dead beech must have been full of insects, probably carpenter ants.

14-scars-on-beech-tree

The tree’s trunk had slashing scars on it, made within the last few years.  According to the town history the largest animals that settlers in this area saw regularly were wolf, bear, catamount (mountain lion), lynx, beaver, otter and deer. Of those wolves and bears presented the most “annoyance.” Since we don’t have wolves any longer and mountain lion sightings happen only very rarely, the only other animal I can think of that is powerful enough to leave marks like this is a black bear. I doubt very much that they were made by a human.

15-scars-on-beech-tree

Just as water will take the path of least resistance black bear, deer and other animals use manmade roads and trails and bears will mark the trees and utility poles along them. I saw several trees with marks like these along this section of the trail but they aren’t something that I see regularly in my travels.

16-black-bear

This might not seem like its best side, but if you meet a black bear in the woods this is the side you want to see. Black bears normally weigh from 135 to 350 pounds, but they can reach 600 pounds. They’re amazingly fast and very strong and you can’t outrun, outswim, or out climb them so your best bet is to avoid them. Bear attacks are rare but they do happen, usually when the bear has been surprised or startled. The area I was in on this day is about as close to a wilderness you can get in this part of New Hampshire and is known bear habitat, so I used my monopod as a walking stick and had a bear bell on it so they’d know I was coming. I also had some bear spray with me. I’d hate to ever have to use it but you never know. This photo was taken by a friend’s trail camera just a month ago.

17-markers

A marker and an arrow on a tree pointed me that way.

18-gate

But there was a gate that way, barring a side road that went sharply uphill. It was unlocked and that seemed odd, but I went through it anyway.

19-brook-near-cave

A still, beautiful pool was just inside the gate. I thought it would make a great place to sit for a while but then I saw something that changed my mind.

20-cave

This cave at the side of the pool looked big enough to walk into by bending a bit, but not small enough to have to crawl into. It looked very inviting and called loudly to the hermit in me but it also looked big enough to hold a whole family of bears and snug enough to be attractive to them, so I decided to go back out through the gate and keep moving. Personally I wouldn’t mind spending some time in the solitude of a cave, but I wouldn’t want to have to tangle with a bear to earn the privilege.

21-tree-eating-branch

Though it might look like some tree cannibalism was going on things like this are easy to explain. The tree with the wound grew up through the branches of the tree on the left and the wind made the wounded tree rub against the other’s branch. Over time the tree grew and its wound got deeper until now it has almost healed over the offending branch. I expect that one day it will heal over completely and look very strange with a foreign branch poking out both sides.

22-trail

The old road went on and on. On a map the distance from Swanzey to Chesterfield is about 18 miles using the highway and, though cutting through the forest like this is probably shorter, at a slow pace of three miles an hour hiking to Chesterfield and back could have taken about twelve hours. Since we only have about 9 1/2 hours of daylight available right now that didn’t seem like a wise decision so I turned around. The days will be longer in summer and it will certainly be warmer.

In our noisy cities we tend to forget the things our ancestors knew on a gut level: that the wilderness is alive, that its whispers are there for all to hear – and to respond to. ~Lawrence Anthony

Thanks for stopping in.

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1-trail

I haven’t paid much attention to waterfalls this summer because of the drought and all of the dried up ponds and streams I’ve seen, but we’ve had some rain now and the weather people say the drought is easing, so I thought I’d go and see Porcupine Falls in Gilsum. It’s kind of an odd waterfall that I’ve often thought would actually look better with less water falling from it and I thought that the drought might have helped in that regard, so off I went up the old logging road that starts the trail.

2-stone-wall

Stone walls line parts of the road and speak of the history of the place. When you see stone walls it’s a fair bet that the forest was once cleared, because the stones that make up the walls were cleared from fields, not forests. This example is a tossed or thrown wall, where the stones were simply stacked loosely on top of each other without thought of form or function. Stones broke plow blades and other farm equipment and could harm horses that stumbled over them so the idea was to get rid of them as quickly and easily as possible, and piling them along your property lines made the most sense. Most of the stone walls in New Hampshire are this type.

3-brook

And this view of what is left of white brook shows just how many stones there are in this part of the country. Though there was a trickle of water in the bed of the brook it didn’t give me great confidence in the possibility of seeing a waterfall.

4-trail

The old logging road becomes what looks to be an even older farm road, covered with ankle deep leaves. I’ve seen a lot of deer prints here in the past but on this day the leaves made that impossible. You’d think by the way the light falls in this photo that it was late evening when I was there, but it was actually 11:00 in the morning.

5-brook

There was enough water in this section of the brook to have it chuckling and giggling, as brooks do.

6-brook-foam

A teardrop of brook foam had what reminded me of a yin yang symbol in it. According to Wikipedia the yin yang symbol in Chinese culture describes “how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.” In other words, a balance between two opposites.

7-crust-fungus-on-branch

Split pore polypore (Schizopora paradoxa) is a common white rot crust fungus that grows on dead hardwood limbs, especially oak. They start life small and more or less round and then grow into a mass like that seen in the photo. It is said to be very drought tolerant.

8-underside-of-crust-fungus-on-branch

The underside of the split pore crust fungus can show a wide variation in its spore bearing surfaces according to my mushroom books, and they can be circular, oblong, angular, or maze like. This example was very maze like. The variations don’t make this fungus any easier to identify.

9-bridge

A bridge over the brook at a point where it widens into a pool gets you to the view of the falls. Though it looks arched in this photo for some reason, it’s really as flat as a paved road.

10-stone-seat

Someone found some flat stones and made benches out of them. I sat on one for a while listening to the brook and the birds and thought about what a rare opportunity it was to sit in the middle of a brook and stay dry. When the water level returns to normal nobody will be sitting here without waders on.

11-pool

Here is the view of the pool from the bridge. You can just see the stone benches at the far end. It’s a beautiful place to just sit and soak in the forest.

12-steps

These well-built stone steps were built by the Jolly Rovers trail crew, which is a nonprofit organization from New York that travels throughout the country creating or improving trails. I’ve seen a few of their projects and they were high quality work so if you’re reading this and need trail work done I’d contact them. Many thanks to them for the great work they’ve done in this area.

13-mica-in-feldspar

Mica glittered on the stones throughout the area. The stones are mostly made up of feldspar, and feldspar, mica, garnet, beryllium and other minerals were once mined in Gilsum. Gilsum has a long history of mining and a geologically famous rock swap is held here each summer and attracts people from all over the world. If you want a good photographic challenge or if you just want to make yourself a little crazy, try getting a few photos of mica.

14-black-tourmaline

Finger size black tourmaline crystals were scattered here and there in the stones. I’ve spent many hours breaking stones open with a sledgehammer to find these crystals but there is a certain amount of luck involved, because black tourmaline is very fragile and just the vibration from the hammer hitting the stone can often shatter them into pieces. The examples shown here were all broken.

15-bench

There is a well-placed bench for visitors to sit and watch the waterfall, but on this day I was the only one interested.

16-porcupine-falls

And that was probably because the waterfall was just a shadow of its former self. This photo makes it appear smaller than it actually was but it was still pretty anti-climactic. I think I’ve seen more water coming off my roof in a drizzle, but the pleasing sound of falling water was still there and I enjoyed hearing it.

17-porcupine-falls

I tried to make it look better by slowing down the shutter speed but it came out looking like a mass of broken fiber optic cables.

18-porcupine-falls

This photo from 2 years ago shows what Porcupine Falls normally looked like before the drought. It also shows how for a waterfall it isn’t very photogenic, and I think it’s because the water comes too fast and furious. This shot was taken in December. Maybe July would be a better time but it’s very dark here even with no leaves on the trees, and I’m not sure my camera could see the falls then. One thing that is very unusual about this waterfall is its tilt. It tilts because it follows the natural slant of the stone, which looks to be about 15-20 degrees off vertical. I don’t see many tilted waterfalls.

19-cladonia-lichen

A nature hike wouldn’t be any fun without finding an unknown or two and this is today’s head scratcher. It’s a lichen that I’ve been trying to identify for about three years and every time I think I’ve done it I can’t ever be 100 percent sure. The closest I’ve come is the many forked Cladonia (Cladonia furcata,) but I can’t say for certain. It reminds me of a reindeer lichen because it has “that look,” and reindeer lichens are also Cladonia lichens, but the examples in the book Lichens of North America don’t look the same as this one.

20-cladonia-lichen

The book does say that the many forked Cladonia is very changeable and can look like certain reindeer lichens, and that its appearance can even change from sun to shade. Though it isn’t rare I don’t see it very often. It grows on a thin layer of soil that has formed on stone, and though it was soft and pliable on this day in the past I’ve seen it become quite bristly and prickly when it dries out. This example grows in a spot that might get an hour of direct sunlight each day. If you know what it is I’d love to hear from you.

21-wrinkled-crust-fungus

Young wrinkled crust fungi (Phlebia radiata) grew on a log. They have no stem, gills or pores at this stage but there were larger examples on the same log that had a very wrinkled and fleshy surface that radiated out from a central point. This fungus doesn’t seem to mind cool weather; the two or three I’ve seen have been growing at this time of year. As far as I’m concerned they took this day’s prize for the most beautiful thing I saw. They remind me of shells I might find on a tropical beach. Or maybe the snow flurries in the air today have set me to day dreaming.

If it weren’t for the rocks in its bed, the stream would have no song. ~Carl Perkins

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

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1-trail

We’ve had nights that have been more than cold enough to make snow and most of our ski slopes plan on being open by Thanksgiving day (Nov. 24), so last Sunday I was off to Walpole and the High Blue Trail to see if I could sneak a peek across the Connecticut River valley to see if the slopes were white on Stratton Mountain. Warm days after a freeze mean Indian summer, and it was a glorious Indian summer day for a walk; warm and sunny, but with a chance of showers.

2-black-knot-on-cherry

I stopped to look at some black knot disease on a young black cherry. 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.

3-boulders

This one is for Jerry over at the Quiet Solo Pursuits Blog. (If you’re a bird lover then you’ll love his blog.) Jerry says that they don’t have many boulders in Michigan so I show him some of ours occasionally. In my recent post on Willard Pond I showed a large boulder, but this example is only about half the size of that one. To give you an idea of scale I put my hunting season hat on my monopod and leaned it against the stone. What looks like green rags all over the boulder are actually rock tripe lichen (Umbilicaria mammulata.)

4-rock-tripe

Some of the biggest rock tripe lichens I’ve ever seen grow here, and I looked for the absolute biggest among them to show you. The camera that I use for macro photos shows just how big they are. Rock tripe is very pliable and rubbery when it’s moist, but once it dries out it becomes crisp like a potato chip. It sticks itself to stone by way of a single, navel like attachment point. The rest of the lichen hangs from this central point, much like a rag hanging on a peg.

5-cornfield

The magic corn had been harvested. I think of it as magic corn because I was here in mid-June and there was a meadow here, and then I returned in September and the meadow had become a corn field, complete with ripe, golden ears. And in the middle of a drought.

6-corn

The critters got some of the corn but they didn’t get it all.

7-fungus-on-bear-scat

A bear must have eaten its fill because a large pile of its dung was full of corn. A mold that looked like 4 inch tall wiry horse hairs grew on it. Or more accurately, the mold grew on the sugars in the corn.

8-fungus-on-bear-scat

It’s hard to tell from these photos but tiny spheres full of spores top each hair like filament of this mold. Because of that the fungus is often called pin head mold and is in the Phycomyces family. It is related to bread mold and has been around for hundreds of millions of years, even though its life cycle spans just a few short hours. It’s best to stay away from molds that grow on animal droppings when they’re releasing spores because the spores have been known to make people very sick. I took a couple of quick shots and moved on.

9-goldenrod

I don’t know if it was because the corn towering over them protected them from frost or not, but there were many goldenrod plants blooming in the meadow / cornfield. It was nice to see them.

10-foundation

As I often do I thought of the early settlers who once lived up here as I passed what’s left of the old foundation. It’s hard to know why they left but many farms were abandoned when the woolen mills opened. They were paid next to nothing by the mill owners but it was an income that wasn’t weather dependent and one they could count on. I tried working in a woolen mill once and I knew right off that it wasn’t for me, but it isn’t too hard to imagine at least some of the homesteaders being happy they had a regular job. Farming is hard work in this stony ground.

11-stone-wall

The people who settled here were certainly hard working if not persevering, and the many hundreds of miles of stone walls snaking through these woods is a constant reminder of all of those who once tried to tame this land.

12-pond

I was glad to see that the small pond had a little more water in it than it did two months ago. I’ve seen lots of tracks around it so I know that many animals come here to drink. Most of the duckweed had disappeared as well. Several readers have told me that it sinks to the bottom in the fall. It disappeared last fall, but was there again this past summer.

13-sign

If the view from the overlook doesn’t tell you that you’ve arrived the sign will.

14-view

I’m not sure that I’ve ever shown a proper long shot from High Blue into Vermont, but that’s Stratton Mountain Resort in the center of the photo, way over across the Connecticut River Valley. It would be quite a hike.

15-view

Stratton Mountain had so many clouds around it I couldn’t tell if there was snow on the ski slopes or not. I decided to wait and see if they moved away and cleared the view. To give a sense of the distance and scale shown in this scene; the tiny white specks over in the lower left corner are houses.

16-view

To the left part of the Green Mountain range over in Vermont could be seen. The clouds were getting darker though.

17-view

To the right a neighborhood basked in bright Sunshine.

18-view

Straight ahead a darkness came over the land and the rain fell in torrents, obliterating the view of the mountain. That sounds a bit more biblical than I meant it to but it’s what came to mind as I watched the scene unfold. Since Vermont lies to the west of New Hampshire their weather almost always becomes our weather, so I thought it might be wise to head back down the hill. The clouds moved slightly to the left (south) but mostly floated slowly towards me, so it was hard to tell how long they would take to reach me and my unprotected camera.

19-trail

The sun was still at my back and the day was still beautiful here away from the storm, so I took my time going down.

20-unknown-yellow-crust-on-stone

I spied something very out of the ordinary just as I reached the parking area. I used to collect rocks and minerals so I know enough about them to know that yellow is a rare color for a stone in this part of the world. Radioactive minerals like gummite and autunite are yellow and both are found in the northern part of New Hampshire, but the example above doesn’t look quite like either one and I’m not convinced that it’s a mineral at all. It looks as if the yellow material is on the surface of the stone rather than part of it.

21-unknown-yellow-crust-on-stone

The only thing I’ve seen in nature that was egg yolk yellow and could cover the surface of a stone is a slime mold, but slime molds almost always have some texture and this example looks more like it is simply coating and mimicking the texture of the stone, along with the bits of hemlock needles, acorns and other plant materials on it. I doubt that it’s a radioactive mineral and I don’t think it’s a slime mold. At least, not an active slime mold; it might be one that has dried out, but I can’t say for sure. In the end I have to say that it’s another of nature’s mysteries.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day. ~Albert Einstein

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1. Trail

On Saturday I went to see some old friends and to get there I had to take a short hike down this rail trail in Westmoreland. It was a warm and beautiful spring day and I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many birds singing. The dark dot at the end of the trail is where we’re going. It looks like a tunnel in this photo but it isn’t.

2. Woods

The forest here is made up of nearly all hardwood trees; mostly beech, maple and oak, and there are some old, large examples here. The fallen tree shown in this photo doesn’t look like much because I was so far away from it, but it’s one of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen.

3. Oak

For every fallen tree there is a new one coming along to replace it and the oaks were just unfurling their new leaves when I was here.

4. Ledges

Here we are already. This is the dark spot that looked like a tunnel at the end of the trail in that first photo. For a short time there are ledges on either side of the trail made by the railroad blasting their way through the bedrock 150 years ago, and some remarkable plants grow here.

5. Ledges

Almost every crevice has some type of plant or tree growing out of it.

6. Columbines

And these are the old friends that I came here to see; the wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis.) They like to grow on partially shaded rocky slopes so this area is perfect for them. How they got here is anyone’s guess but their numbers have been steadily increasing since I first found them. Though I’ve spent 50 years walking through these woods this is the only place I’ve ever seen them.

7. Columbine

They are beautiful things; well worth the hike. Each red and yellow blossom is about an inch and a half long and dances in the slightest breeze at the end of a long stalk. The Aquilegia part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Aquila, which means “eagle” and refers to the spurred petals that Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus thought resembled an eagle’s talons. Some think they resemble pigeons around a dish and the name Columbine comes from the Latin Columbinus, which means “pertaining to doves or pigeons.” It is said that Native American men rubbed the crushed seeds on themselves to be more attractive to women. Whether they did it for color or scent, I don’t know.

8. Columbine

Wild columbine flowers have 5 petals and 5 sepals. Each petal is yellow with a rounded tip, and forms a long, funnel shaped nectar spur that shades to red. The oval sepals are also red, and the anthers are bright yellow. When they grow on ledges some of them are up overhead, so you can see the nodding flowers in a way you never could if they were growing at ground level. From this viewpoint you can see the 5 funnel shaped holes that are the start of the nectar spurs. Long tongued insects and hummingbirds probe these holes for nectar. Some say that these holes look like dovecotes, which is another reference to birds. We’re so very lucky to have such beautiful things in these woods.

9. White Ledge

Columbines like sandy, well-drained soil on the poor side that has limestone in it, so seeing them is a good indication of what type of soil is in the area.  Some of the stone faces here are covered by grayish white deposits of something I’m assuming is limestone leaching out of the stone. At first I thought there were lichens covering the stone but the powdery deposits rub off easily with a finger and I’ve never seen a lichen do that.

10. Jack in the Pulpit

You can tell that there are pockets of somewhat deep soil on the ledges because Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) also grows here. They have a root that forms a corm, which is a kind of flattened bulb much like those found on gladiolus plants, and they need a few inches of soil to grow well.

11. Trillium

At the base of the ledges purple trillium (Trillium erectum) and many other plants grow. It is near the end of its brief time with us and this one was just about done blooming. If pollinated a three part seed capsule will form.

12. Poison Ivy

It’s easy when photographing flowers and other ground dwellers to become so absorbed in the subject at hand that you don’t pay attention to your surroundings and just kneel or lie wherever you need to be to get the best photo. That wouldn’t be wise here because poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) also lives here and I’ve ended up with itchy knees by kneeling on leafless vines in the early spring. Luckily I’m not very sensitive to it and the rash usually just stays on my knees without spreading, but I’ve known people who had to be hospitalized because of it, so I try to always watch for it.

13. Stone Wall

When the railroad had to blast through a hillside they used the stone to fill in low spots, but if they had too much they simply piled the excess in the woods. Local people often took the stone to build with and this landowner built a stone wall with it. You can tell exactly where the stone came from because there isn’t a rounded edge on a single one. Our natural stones are almost always rounded.

14. Concrete Pad

There are reminders of the railroad all along this trail. I’m guessing that a signal box once stood on this concrete pad, because an old road once crossed the tracks up ahead.

15. Wires

Whatever the signal was it took 6 stout wires to control it.

16. Tie Plate

I flipped this tie plate over to see if there was any writing on it. I’ve seen them with a maker’s name and date but this one didn’t have a mark on it.

17. Fallen Beech

One of the biggest beech trees I’ve seen fell last year and shattered some oaks as big as watermelons when it did. Last summer I heard a tree fall in the woods close to where I was but not close enough to see. I’ll never forget the sound it made as it crashed its way to the forest floor. This beech fell right across the rail trail and I’m glad I wasn’t nearby when it happened. I see a startling number of fallen trees; usually at least one each year in every location that I visit regularly, and often many more.

18. Trail

I was going to take you on a climb up a new (to me) hill for this post but there were high wind gusts forecast for Sunday so I stayed out of the woods for most of the day and visited meadows instead. I’m very grateful that I got to see such a rare sight and I hope you enjoyed seeing the wild columbines as well. For me this walk has become an annual spring rite and I always look forward to it.

Gratitude turns anything into enough, puts past to rest, brings tranquility to our hopes of tomorrow, and blesses today with harmony and bliss. ~ Joseph Rain

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1. Road

Last Sunday morning there was ice on the puddles and I thought that it must have been cold enough over the last few nights to make snow at the ski areas so off I went to the High Blue trail in Walpole, which is north of Keene and higher in elevation. From there you can see the ski trails on Stratton Mountain in Vermont. The trek starts by following an old logging road to the trail head.

2. Sign

With a sign like this one to guide you, you can’t miss it.

3. Meadow

Soon you come to the meadow, which is cut each summer for hay. As I was taking this photo I saw something small and dark moving out there, and it was heading straight for me. I’ve been here enough times to know that there shouldn’t be anything moving in this meadow, but if there was it would most likely be a deer.

4. Porcupine

It certainly wasn’t a deer; it was a porcupine and it seemed to be eating its way through the meadow. It would walk a few feet and then stop and munch some clover or whatever it was finding. What was odd about this encounter is that porcupines are supposedly mostly nocturnal creatures and spend much of their time in trees.

5. Porcupine

He came right over to me and sat up on his haunches for a better look. I asked him to please hold still for a photo or two and smile if he liked, and he was very obliging. He was also quite cute and looked like he had just had his hair done. If he was a pet I think I’d call him Yoda. Now I know why Leslie asked me if I ever posted porcupine photos a few posts ago. She said they were one of her favorites, so this one is for you Leslie. It’s easy to love such a gentle, friendly animal isn’t it? I’ve heard that they will play with toys like a ball of string for hours, just like a cat would.

For those who don’t know porcupines, they’re a rodent that can weigh up to 35 pounds, and large ones can be almost 4 feet long, including their tail. They are herbivores with large front teeth that they use to eat wood, bark and stems. They also eat fruit, clover, leaves, and fresh young springtime growth.

6. Porcupine

After giving me the once over he seemed to remember that he was on a mission and gazed out over the meadow with his beautiful, sparkling eyes. I realized that I was between him and an old apple tree and I wondered if that was where he was going. If so I didn’t want to stand in his way, even though he looked well fed.

7. Porcupine

As he slowly moved on I got a good look at the quills on and near his tail. Though their hair is soft porcupines carry sharp, barbed quills that can anchor themselves in flesh, so you don’t want to cuddle them. Many a dog has had to have quills removed from their noses in a painful procedure that often involves pliers. When attacked a porcupine curls into a bristly ball to protect its vulnerable stomach and then there is no way in except through the quills. The porcupine’s Latin name Erethizon dorsatum means “quill pig.”

8. Apple

Later when I was leaving I stopped at the old apple tree and saw a single, half eaten apple on it. These branches were too small to support the weight of a porcupine though, so I’m guessing that birds are eating it. Maybe the rest of the fruit had fallen and was easier for the porcupine to get to. Or maybe he wasn’t interested in apples at all; I didn’t see him on the way back.

9. Deer Browse

I keep hoping to see a deer here but I never have. All I see are the game trails they follow and twigs they’ve browsed on.

10. Reflector

Hunters know they’re here too, as this reflector tacked to a tree shows. I first saw these last year but didn’t know what they were until several helpful readers said they were used by hunters when it’s dark enough to have to use a flashlight to find their way. I was glad I was wearing a bright orange hat and hunting vest. This isn’t the time of year to be wearing my deer colored coat.

11. Road

After the meadow there is more old road to walk for a shot while.

12. Trail

Then the road narrows to trail, which was covered with dry, crackly beech and oak leaves. The noisy leaves would make sneaking up on a deer just about impossible I would think. Better to sit and wait for them to happen by.

13. Pond Ice

But it was a little cool to be sitting around waiting for deer, as the ice on the far side of the small hilltop pond shows. I was very surprised to see no duckweed on it; when I was here in September it was almost completely covered with it, so where could it all have gone so fast? It’s usually almost impossible to get rid of once it’s on a pond so its disappearance is a mystery to me. Maybe the wood ducks ate it all.

14. Stone Wall

Being a once upon a time dry stone wall builder myself I always have to stop and admire the old walls that run through these woods. There are many miles of them, crisscrossing in a way that once made perfect sense when this land was pasture, but which now seems quite random.

15. Ledge

Living up here might not have been easy but the outcrops break naturally into large flat slabs an inch or two thick, and that meant that wall building was probably easier than it would have been otherwise. The stones that come from ledge like this are every wall builders dream. I was able to build a wall with it once and it went up faster than any other wall I’ve ever built.

16. Yellow Fuzz Cone Slime Mold

Yellow-fuzz cone slime mold (Hemitrichia clavata) grew on a fallen birch log. In this photo you can see the fruiting bodies that open into tiny cups filled with yellow fuzzy threads that make the mass look and feel a lot like felt. I first saw this slime mold at about this time last year at Porcupine Falls in Gilsum, so it has taken me just about a year to identify it. The cups are small enough to give me trouble seeing them without a lens, so I have to quite literally shoot blind and hope for the best.

17. View

The view from the top was hazy as it often is. Stratton Mountain, off across the Connecticut River valley in Vermont, looked like a blueish blur and its peak was cloud covered.

18. View

Zooming in didn’t help much but I can see a white line or two and that means snow on the ski trails. If they’re making snow up there in the mountains it won’t be long before it falls naturally down here. Maybe I came here subconsciously hoping that seeing snow would prepare me for winter and maybe it has, but nothing could prepare me for all of the other surprising things that I saw. That’s one of the things I love about being out in nature; there’s always a surprise waiting just around the next bend.

To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else. ~ Emily Dickinson

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1. Sign

I was lucky enough to be able to visit Distant Hill Gardens in Walpole, New Hampshire a few times this year. The gardens started out simply enough; in 1979 Michael Nerrie and his wife Kathy bought 21 acres of land in the hills of Walpole that had been farmed since as early as 1773. As landowners always do they started exploring their acreage and what they discovered is, if I had to describe it as simply as possible, mind blowing.

2. Stone Wall

One of the first things seen as you enter the property is the stone wall that marks the edge of the woodland. There are many different types of stone walls and fine examples of nearly all of them can be found on the property. What many people don’t realize about New England stone walls is that their original purpose, more often than not, was simply a way to get rid of the tons of stone that littered the landscape. In the 1600s instead of walls the stones were often just piled, usually in an unused corner of the property. These oldest examples of stone removal are very hard to find but they can be seen here at Distant Hill. I would call the wall in the above photo a “tossed wall,” which was built just as its name suggests. Stones were tossed out of the way to clear the field and over time became a sort of wall that usually marked the property line or was used to keep the cows out of the corn.

3. Stone Wall

Laid walls are another type of stone wall but considerably more effort was used to make them beautiful as well as functional. These walls were usually built in the front yard or other places that were seen by the public. This excellent example was built by Michael. I’ve built many dry stone walls and I can say that he did a fine job, especially since he had little experience in wall building when he built it.

4. Bird's Nest Fungus

Bird’s nest fungi are so small you could easily step on them without seeing them and that would be a shame because they’re beautiful and unusual little things. I think these examples are fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus.) They were growing on a bit of twig right in the lawn.

5. Bird's Nest Fungus

The “bird’s nest” is actually a splash cup called a peridium and when a drop of rain falls into it with enough force the “eggs” are splashed out. These eggs are really disc shaped spore cases called peridioles. Once ejected from the splash cup the peridioles degrade over time to release the spores. These were the first examples of this type of fungus that I’ve seen.

6. Bronze Fern aka Botrychium dissectum obliquum

Something else I’ve never seen is the bronze fern (Botrychium dissectum obliquum.) Its common name comes from the way its sterile evergreen leaf turns from green to bronze in winter. It is also called the cut-leaved moonwort.  No matter what we might call it, it is a grape fern, so called because the fertile frond develops a cluster of tiny spherical spore cases (sporangia) that resembles a bunch of grapes. These ferns usually only have two leaves; one sterile and one fertile.  The fertile frond appears in late summer.

7. Cutleaved Grape Fern aka Botrychium dissectum

Michael is lucky enough to have discovered two grape ferns on his property. This one is the cut-leaved grape fern (Botrychium dissectum dissectum.) Its lacy, evergreen sterile leaf also turns from green to bronze in the winter but they look very different than those of the bronze fern. The sterile leaf withers away in spring when a new one appears. Both of these ferns are very rare in this area so seeing them was quite a thrill.

8. Dwarf Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid

There are also orchids here, and plenty of them. I’m very familiar with the downy rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyeara pubescens) but I had never seen this one, which is in the same family. I’m not sure but I think it might be the dwarf rattlesnake plantain (Goodyeara repens,) also called creeping lady’s-tresses, but it’s hard to be sure because there are several different Goodyeara species here and they could be producing natural hybrids. Something that surprised me about these little orchids was how they lacked the light or dark stripe down the center of each leaf that most plants in this family have.

9. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

This photo I took earlier of a downy rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyeara pubescens) shows the different colored line down the center of the leaf that is so characteristic of these orchids. Sometimes light and sometimes dark, seeing an example without it was surprising.

10. White Hepatica

Longtime readers of this blog most likely know that I’ve been looking for hepatica plants for a long time. I finally found them here and that’s because the soil is rich in limestone. Hepatica and many other plants prefer soil that is on the sweet side rather than the acidic soil found in most parts of our county. Walpole lies on the Connecticut River just across from Vermont and Michael and I were marveling at how, by just crossing the river, a completely different world of plants can be found. That’s because much of Vermont was once part of a sea floor and its sedimentary bedrock is made up of calcium materials extracted from tiny marine organisms that floated in the water. Much of New Hampshire is made up of mostly igneous granite but some areas like Walpole and Westmoreland are really more like Vermont, at least in their underpinnings and flora.

11. Purple Hepatica

I’ve waited a long time to see these little beauties. You really can’t tell much in the way of size from a photo and I was surprised by how small hepaticas were. That’s why visiting a place like this is so important if you want to go out and find plants growing in their natural habitat. There’s really no substitute for seeing where they grow, what time of year they blossom, how much sunlight they get, what other plants and trees they grow near, and whether or not they grow near water. Usually once you’ve seen a plant growing naturally it will become much easier to find more of them.  The fern guide that I use says that the same thing is true for the rare grape ferns we saw previously, and I hope to see many more examples of them as well.

12. Hepatica Stems

I had to laugh at the hairy stems and buds of the hepatica. It seems that something like this would be hard to miss but again, how are you supposed to know what time of year to look for them if you’ve never seen an actual plant? Now I have the exact date stamped on these photos, so next spring I’ll know when to start looking.

13. Perennial Beds

If you’re not one to go crawling through the woods in search of plants that you’ve never seen before there are plenty of other things to see at Distant Hill Gardens. For instance you’ll see some of the most well-tended flower gardens that you’ve ever seen. Michael has surrounded his house with flowering perennials and it is really something to see. I should mention that though the flower beds are full of mostly cultivated plants, the plants found in the wooded areas are natural and have had no human intervention. That’s one of the great things about the place; the native plants remain just as they were found.

14. Vegetable Garden

There are vegetable gardens too, and much of the produce grown here gets donated to local food pantries. This is something all of us with more vegetables than we can eat should consider doing.

15. Sculpture

I don’t know how Michael finds any free time but when he does he welds found objects into sculptures, and they can be seen throughout the property. There really is something for everybody here, especially in the way of plants. I saw more previously unseen plants and fungi in two hours than I have in the last two years, and there is much more to come in part two of this post.

There are many more things I’d like to show you but even with a two part post there is more to see here than space and time will permit, so I hope you’ll take the time to visit Distant Hill Gardens if you are able to. I can guarantee that you won’t be disappointed. I’ve put a permanent link to their website over in the “Favorite Links” section, but you can also find it here: http://www.distanthillgardens.org/

Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals. ~Aldo Leopold

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