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Posts Tagged ‘Stone Walls’

Last Sunday was the first warm, sunny day we’ve had in over a week so I decided to climb the High Blue trail up in Walpole. It’s actually more of a walk than a climb but with my lungs it does have enough of an uphill slant to get me huffing and puffing.

I saw that the rain we had in Keene the day before had fallen as snow here, and it hadn’t melted in shaded areas. There was no ice though.

Years ago there were hundreds of coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) here but then along came a logging skidder and it plowed them all up. On this day I was happy to see that they had made a small comeback. May they be allowed to spread at will.

I could see a little white in this one, which means it was about to go to seed. I also saw lots of insects buzzing around the flowers.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) grow all along the first leg of the trail. In May these flower buds will open to reveal one of our most beautiful native shrub blossoms. The large white, flat flower heads are very noticeable as they bloom on hillsides along our roads. Botanically speaking the flower head is called a corymb, which is a flat topped disc shaped flower cluster. 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. George Washington thought so highly of them he planted two at Mt. Vernon.

A huge oak tree had blown over and had taken a good piece of soil with it. It’s always surprising to see how shallow growing tree roots really are. That could be because there is lots of water here and the tree’s roots didn’t have to go deeper searching for it. The hole the uprooted tree left was full of water.

There is a lot of good farmland in Walpole and as this cornfield and hayfield show, much of it is still in use. I’ve seen signs of bear in this spot in the past but I was hopeful that I wouldn’t see any on this day.

Before you know it you’re at the trail head. You can’t miss it.

The trail narrows from here on up.

You can hunt at daybreak here but getting to your hunting spot in the dark can be a challenge, so hunters put small reflecting buttons on the trees. A flashlight will pick them out easily, I would think.

One year the meadow that was here suddenly became a cornfield and the corn attracted animals of all kinds, including bears. I’ve seen a lot of bear droppings all over this area ever since, so I carry a can of bear spray when I come here.

In Keene red maples (Acer rubrum) are producing seeds but up here their buds haven’t even opened yet.

Striped maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum) were also behind their lowland cousins.

As I neared the overlook I saw a new sign, so I decided to explore.

Yes, there were ledges and I could see that the rock pilers had been here, piling their rocks. I’m guessing that they took them from one of the stone walls, which carries a fairly hefty fine if you get caught at it. I’m always at a loss as to why anyone would do this because these piles of rock don’t mark a trail and are meaningless, for the most part.

Other than a nice quartz outcrop there was really nothing here to see; trees blocked any view there might have been.

I left the ledge and kept on toward the summit and as I usually do when I come here, I had to stop at what’s left of the old foundation. I’m not sure who lived up here but they had plenty of courage and were strong people. All of this land would have been cleared then and sheep would probably have lived in the pastures. It was a tough life in what the Walpole Town History describes as a “vast wilderness.” But it was populated; many Native Americans lived here and they weren’t afraid to show their displeasure at losing their land.

There are an estimated 259,000 miles of stone walls in the northeastern U.S., most of which are in New England, and many are here in New Hampshire. The stones were found when the recently cleared pastures were plowed and they were either tossed into piles or used to build walls, wells, foundations and many other necessities of the day. Sometimes entire houses were built of stone but wood was plentiful and easier to work with, so we don’t have too many stone houses from that time. Most of what we see is used in stone walls like this one, which cross and crisscross the countryside in every direction.

This pond on the summit must be spring fed because it never dries up completely, even in drought years when the streams dry up. I always wonder if it was the water source for the family that once lived here.

I always take a photo of the sign when I come here. What it means is that at 1588 feet above sea level the summit is higher than the surrounding terrain, and the view is always blue.

The view was blue on this day but hazy as well. Still, you could just see the ski trails over on Stratton Mountain in Vermont, which is just across the Connecticut River Valley. I sat for a while, thankful that I made it up without meeting up with any bears. I’ve heard that more and more animals are getting used to seeing fewer people these days and everything from squirrels to deer to bear are being seen in towns, walking down city streets and even sunning themselves on lawns. It makes me think that if people suddenly disappeared it wouldn’t take animals long to get used to the silence.  

When I got back to my car I found a winter dark firefly (Ellychnia corrusca) on my door handle. According to Bugguide.net, these fireflies can be a pest in sap buckets in the spring because they like maple sap, and they will also drink from wounds in maple trees. They like to sun themselves on the sunny side of trees or buildings, but this one seemed happy on a car door handle. Most fireflies live as larvae in rotting wood and forest litter near water and stay in the area they were born in, even as adults. They like it warm and humid, and this recent April day was both. They don’t seem to be afraid of people at all; I’ve gotten quite close to them several times.

Close your eyes and turn your face into the wind.
Feel it sweep along your skin in an invisible ocean of exultation.
Suddenly, you know you are alive.
~Vera Nazarian

Thanks for stopping in. Have a safe and happy weekend!

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Last year I found a blue cohosh plant on the rail trail out in Westmoreland and I’ve gotten to see the flowers and fruit but I’ve never seen the spring shoots. From what I’ve seen in photos they’re very beautiful things, like little dark blue hands coming up out of the soil, so last Sunday off I went with a pocket full of hope.

There was a little ice on the start of the trail but after that it was ice free. It was a beautiful early spring day with the trees full of bird song and a temperature of almost 60 degrees F. It’s amazing how much snow one warm day can melt. If we had a week of days like this it would all be gone.

There are plenty of reminders of the history of this place, like this signal base. The Boston and Maine Railroad ran through here for many years.

There are some nice old stone box culverts out here, still working fine after 150 years. The stream that runs through this one must be off and on because there was no water here on this day.  Leave it to the railroad to build something “just in case.” That’s why these railbeds are still here 150 years later with virtually no maintenance.

Someone found a bent rail spike and put it on a boulder.

The stone walls out here are very unusual in that there isn’t hardly a round corner to be seen anywhere. That’s because these are stones left over from when the railroad blasted their way through the ledges. They’ve never gone through the grinding action of a glacier. Rather than the usual stone walls built by farmers clearing their land, these walls are simple property markers.

There must have been many thousands of tons of stone blasted out of the hillsides and that’s a good thing because this railbed had to be built high above the surrounding terrain and all of the blasted stone had to be used essentially to fill in a valley between hills. When you build a road bed through a hilly area you take everything you’ve cut from the hills and use it to fill in the valleys, and in that way you end up with a flat, level roadway, hopefully without having to bring in a lot of fill. This shot shows that I was almost in the tree tops where I was walking.

When you look down the side of the very high railbed you see large chunks of stone and realize that you’re walking on a huge, long pile of it.

But you’d never know it from this view of a flat, level trail. The railroad engineers were very good at what they did and the sheer amount of stone under this trail boggles the mind.

If you’re on a rail trail and see a stream going under it that almost always means a box culvert, and I always look for them if the hillside isn’t too steep.

This one was bigger than the first I showed and it had water running through it. It was under the snow though, so you can’t see it. There is mortar on this culvert and that tells me that it has probably been repaired because I’ve never see railroad masons use mortar on anything they’ve built.

Before I knew it I was at the ledges where I found the cohosh. The question was, where exactly did I find it and could I find that spot again? There were a lot of leaves to poke around in.

This is the spot where wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) also grow and this is the ledge most of them grow on. Both columbine and cohosh like limestone and that tells me that there must be a lot of lime in these ledges.

There was a columbine leaf from last year, still hanging on. I never knew they were so hairy.

The mosses were as beautifully green as I’ve ever seen them.

I’m not sure what this one is but it’s a very pretty moss. And it was covered by ice.

I tried to dig around in the leaves at the base of the ledges in several spots and found ice under them each time. The only plant I know of that can melt its way through ice is skunk cabbage, so I knew I wouldn’t see blue cohosh shoots on this day.  I’ll have to try again.

In this place it was still a little too cold for emerging plants.

And the snow on the ski slopes of Stratton Mountain over in Vermont proved it. I’m sorry I couldn’t show you those blue cohosh shoots. I’ll see what I can find this weekend; It will be worth the effort to see such a rare plant.  If you’re interested just Google “Blue cohosh shoots” and you’ll see why I want to see them.

That’s what winter is: an exercise in remembering how to still yourself, then how to come pliantly back to life again. ~Ali Smith

Thanks for coming by.

 

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Actually stone walls can talk, but you have to speak their language to be able to decipher what they’re saying. Having built a few myself this one was relatively easy to understand. It told me that its builder didn’t have time for tight joint stone masonry and in any case most likely didn’t know how to build with stone anyway. He needed a field to plant crops in so he and his family could survive and these stones were in the way of the plow, so he tossed them in a long undulating pile, and that became what is now called a tossed or thrown wall, because the stones were literally just thrown on top of one another with no time or eye for intricacies.

The landowners on either side of the wall didn’t have time to patrol the wall and pull tree seedlings so many of them started growing down in the wall where their seeds fell. Some saplings were too close to stones to cut with an axe or saw so they grew to massive size, sometimes pushing the wall stones apart ever so slowly  to make room for the huge trunk. Now, over 250 years later they shade the wall and keep it from being covered in deep snow. Some, like the white pine shown above, still stand even after being struck by lightning. The old split in its bark runs from the top of the tree all the way down its trunk, following a root right down into the ground. I’ve found trees like this one soon after they were struck and the ground around them was covered with narrow strips of bark, blown right off the wood by the lightning bolt.

You can see many interesting things if you look at our stone walls carefully, like this blacksmith made hitching ring where someone would have hitched up a horse. The odd thing about it is its location in the wall. It’s in an empty place where it doesn’t look like there would have much going on but 250 years ago it could have been a community information hub, for all I know. Most likely it was simply a shaded place for the horse to rest while the rider did whatever they had to do here.  I’m guessing it involved a lot of work.

My grandfather was the town Blacksmith in Westmoreland which is to the north west of here, so I’m always fascinated by iron work. The chain hook shown here is one of the best examples of 18th century blacksmithing I know of. I like it because it shows hand hammered marks and shows the fine workmanship and talent of the smith. He didn’t have to make such a utilitarian object as beautiful as a dragon’s tail, but he did.

This stone in this wall is only the second place I’ve found a beard lichen growing on stone. I’ve seen thousands of beard lichens but they were growing on wood 99% of the time. I think this one might be a bushy rock lichen (Ramalina intermedia.) Lichen communities grow in succession with many varieties of crustose lichens as pioneers. Foliose lichens come next as intermediary species and finally fruticose lichens like this one are considered climax species. What I don’t know is, how much time is between pioneer and climax? Climax communities of lichens are considered “old growth” communities.

As this stone shows stone walls absorb a lot of heat from the sun and release it slowly all night long until the sun shines again the following day.

Because it’s so warm near stone walls in the winter many plants like this mullein like to grow along them. In fact there is an amazing variety of plants growing on or near this wall.

There are many ferns growing along this old wall. Some are evergreen and others, like this one, are trying to be.

Many types of trees grow along the old wall including shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) which is named, not surprisingly, for its shaggy looking bark. These trees drop large amounts of hickory nuts each fall so I thought I’d find one and show it to you.

Unfortunately the squirrels had already found all the nuts and I didn’t see a single one.

I did see a lichen on the bark of the hickory that I’ve never seen before though, made up of a grayish body (Thallus) with tiny black fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) I think it might be the tiny button lichen (Amandinea punctata) which grows on wood and has a grayish, barely perceptible thallus and flat, disk shaped, black apothecia. Each black dot seen here is very small; about the size of a period made on paper with a pencil.

At the base of the hickory was a stone with a forest of pixie cup lichens (Cladonia asahinae) on it. The tiny little golf tee shaped parts are the fruiting bodies of this lichen. Spores produced in them will be splashed out of the cup by raindrops.  Pixie cups almost always produce large groups of fruiting bodies like these.

Shield lichens have become kind of a ho-hum lichen for me because I see thousands of them, but the way this one seems to overlap like shingles and the way it grows in concentric circles is different, and I’m not so sure it’s a shield lichen at all. I’m leaning towards the zoned dust lichen (Lepraria neglecta) but I’ll have to go back and have another look to be sure. It also resembles the shingled rock shield (Xanthoparmelia somloensis.) Like any other part of nature, stone walls have their own mysteries.

Another lichen that I don’t see often is what I believe is the rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora) seen here. Its rosy or orange apothecia are large and pad like and I’ve read that though it usually grows on wood it can grow on stone as well. It could also be a scattered rock posy lichen but I don’t think so.

Sometime I can be fooled into thinking I’m seeing lichens when I’m really seeing something else. In this case I’m not sure what the green “something else” was but possibly algae. Why it was here in this spot and nowhere else along the wall, I’m not sure.

Common speedwell was enjoying the warmth from the wall and looked as good as it does in early June but of course it wasn’t flowering. This European native is common here and has been used medicinally for centuries. Its leaves have also been used as a tea substitute.

I think a lot of us believe that winter is a very wet season and it can be when the snow melts, but when it is cold and there isn’t any melting going on it can be very dry, and this white tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata) reminded me of that. When dry it pulls its tiny needle like leaves in close to the stem and if dry enough it looks like strands of string or clumps of worms, and this gives it another common name of medusa moss. It hadn’t reached that point when this photo was taken but it was quite dry, even with snow on it.

Stone walls will give many gifts to those who walk slowly along their length and look closely. One of the greatest gifts they give me is green leaves in winter, even when there is snow on the ground.

Stones are all about time—time to find them, to move them, to place them, and time, occasionally, to chisel and shape them. And above all, time to see them, experience them, and fall under their spell. ~Charles McRaven

Thanks for coming by.

 

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Last Sunday was a beautiful day for a change, with bright sunshine and relatively warm temperatures for November, so I thought I’d hike a rail trail I know of up in Westmoreland. This is the one I travel in May when I want to see the wild columbines in bloom, but I don’t know if I’ve ever come out here in the fall. That’s a shame; I’ve missed a lot of beauty.

I was a little dismayed but not surprised to see water on the trail. We’ve had a deluge of rain over the past few months and there is water everywhere. Usually though, you don’t find it on rail trails because the railroad built drainage ditches along the sides of the rail bed. They never would have put up with seeing this much water here. It’s possible the drainage ditches have failed because of fallen debris in them, but I don’t know for sure.

The forest that the rail trail goes through is mostly hardwoods like beech, oak and maple with few evergreens.

It’s hard to tell from this photo but these ledges are way up on the top of the hillside we saw in that previous shot. With all that stone warmed by the sun it looks like a great place for animals to den up.

Speaking of animals, this is a known bear area. I’m not sure if these marks were done by a bear but they were as big as my hand and they were on several trees.

The glimpses of sunlit beeches were enough to make me just stop and admire them for a while. Beeches are such beautiful trees, from bud break in spring until their leaves finally fall the following spring, they are year round friends.

There is an unusual box culvert out here that had a lot of water running through it due to heavy rain the previous day. I’ve been out here many times but this is the first time I’ve seen this much water here; usually there isn’t any. The box culvert is unusual because its joints are mortared. Almost every other one I’ve seen was laid up dry with no mortar.  The mortar could have been used in a repair years after it was built though, which is what I suspect. You don’t find much mortar in railroad stonework.

I saw some nicely colored turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) decorating a log. There were hundreds of them. I think my favorites are the ones with blue or purple colors in them.

Of course there were stone walls; there are always stone walls in New Hampshire. Property owners almost always built them along railroads to mark the place where their land ended and railroad right of ways began. The walls here are unusual because they were built largely of railroad cast off stone that had been blasted out of the ledges. If the railroad didn’t use it to build with they often simply dumped it in large piles throughout the woods and landowners picked from them. You can tell by the way there is hardly a round corner to be found in a wall.  The stones have square and angular corners and flat faces, though the section in this photo does have more rounded fieldstones than most of the wall did.

If you look closely you can see the hand of man in the stones. These finger size grooves were made by hand with a star drill or possibly a steam drill. You drilled your holes and then tapped small tools called feathers and wedges into them. The pressure exerted by the wedges would break the stone, leaving a flat face with finger shaped grooves. It was a huge amount of work but once the stone was cut the stone masons used it to build culverts, bridges, tunnels, walls and anything else they needed to get the tracks down and moving forward.

And they’re still building walls out here. They recently logged this land and the loggers built a road to where they had to be. The stones are used as a retaining wall to hold the road up and they’re big. They also have that “new” clean look that tells you they haven’t been there long.

We’re almost there. What looks like a dark tunnel up ahead isn’t a tunnel and it isn’t that dark, and that’s where we’re going.

I saw quite a few maple seedlings still hanging on to their colorful leaves.

I think the seedlings were red maples (Acer rubrum) and I think that because larger maples showed target canker which, if I understand what I’ve read correctly, only attacks red maples. It is caused by a fungus which kills the tree’s healthy bark and the patterns of platy bark seen in this photo are the tree’s response to the fungus. It grows new bark each year in the circular patterns seen here to contain the fungus. Usually the fungus will not kill the tree.

More signs of the railroad; a tie plate with a bent spike still in it was beside the trail. You can find a lot of railroad artifacts by walking rail trails.

And here we are at the ledges where the columbines grow, looking back the way we just came. The stone here is very dark but I have a feeling these ledges have limestone in them because of the lime loving plants that live here.

There isn’t much soil on the stones but there is enough to grow columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) and in some cases even trees. I was wishing I could have seen some of the beautiful red and yellow flowers but I’ll have to wait until next May for that.

I did see some asters scattered along the trail, and though I don’t know their name they were a welcome sight. Any flower is welcome in November.

I wasn’t expecting to find columbines blooming out here but I was hoping to find blue cohosh berries (Caulophyllum thalictroides) and there they were. I found this plant when I came out here in May to get photos of the columbines and a chance to see the beautiful blue “berries” is what brought me back on this day. The berries are actually brown seeds with a fleshy blue coating that protects them, and the seeds are what are considered the plant’s true fruit, so the plant is a bit unusual. Now that I’ve seen the foliage, flowers and fruit I need to come here in the spring, in April I’d guess, to see the beautiful dark blue spring shoots. They look like tiny blue hands reaching out of the soil.

Blue cohosh fruit is actually darkly colored like a blueberry and like a blueberry the “bloom” made up of waxy white crystals that cover the berries reflect the light in a way that makes them appear lighter colored. Some describe them as “blueberries dipped in confectioner’s sugar.” This plant is very rare in this area so I’m hoping these fruits will grow new plants, but deer love eating the plant so the odds are against it. I should mention that, though Native Americans used the roots of the plant medicinally and herbalists still use it today, science says that it has “poisonous properties” and the “berries” can make you quite sick.

Here is a photo of a blue cohosh flower that I took on May 12th of this year, so it’s an early bloomer. Each of the yellow green striped sepals of the flower contains a nectar gland to attract insects.  6 yellow stamens form a ring around the center ovary and the true petals are the shiny green parts that ring the center between the sepals and the stamens. The word cohosh is believed to be Native Algonquin name used for several different plants with different color fruit so in this case the blue refers to the fruit color, even though all parts of the plant including the leaves and stems have a bluish cast to them in the spring.

The trail went on, north to Walpole before crossing into Vermont, but I did not. I turned around, happy that I had now seen such a rare plant in three stages of growth. This is only the second time I’ve seen it and the first time all I saw were the blue fruits, so the hike was well worth the effort. I’m really anxious to see the dark blue shoots in spring, and that probably means that winter will pass slowly. But then I suppose that it always does.

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

Thanks for stopping in.

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Last Saturday I did a post about a rail trail that I had hiked in Winchester and in that post I mentioned that I was a bit anxious that the trail looked like it was no longer being maintained. The maintenance of many of these rail trails is handled by local snowmobile clubs. They volunteer their time and effort to keep these trails open for winter use but there is only so much they can do, and I’m afraid they might have had to let that one go. This post will show what happens to a trail when it is no longer maintained, and why the thought that some trails might no longer be maintained gets me a little anxious.

Two weeks ago we had a thunderstorm. It didn’t seem like anything special; we expect thunderstorms in June in this part of the world. It only lasted for maybe 20 minutes and as I say, it didn’t seem like anything special. Until I looked out my window and saw my neighbor’s huge old oak tree on my lawn, that is. Then I knew that this wasn’t just a June thunderstorm. In fact thousands of trees had been blown down all over the state, and close to 100,000 people lost power because of it. This day, on this trail, I saw at least 10 trees that had blown across the trail, but they had all been cleaned up. Do we ever wonder who does all the cleaning up? I wonder. Some trees fell where I work, and it took all day for two of us to clean up a single pine tree like the one pictured above. It was a lot of work, and that was just one tree.

There will be more tree work on this trail; I saw 3 or 4 trees that had fallen and gotten hung up on trees on the other side of the trail. These are called “widow makers” and I hope nobody is under them when they come down.

I’m still not seeing many fungi because of the dryness, but a little rain the day before was apparently enough to coax this yellow mushroom into fruiting. It had a little slug damage on the cap but it was still worthy of a photo or two.

A colony of heal all plants (Prunella lanceolata) grew in a sunny spot, still moist from the previous day’s showers. I love to see these small but beautiful orchid like flowers.

Other flowers I like to see are maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) and they found sunny spots to grow in too. At first I thought they were their cousins the Deptford pinks (Dianthus armeria) but the jagged circle in the center of the flower told the story. Deptford pinks don’t have this feature.  They should be along any time now.

There are lots of box culverts carrying streams under this rail trail but much of the rail bed was built on fill that was packed between two hills, and in some cases it’s a 50 foot climb down to see the culverts. This example was the only one that was just a few feet below the rail bed. That granite lintel stone over the opening is about two feet thick; strong enough to have locomotives roll over it for well over a century.

There are plenty of other reminders of the railroad out here as well, like this old signal box. I once had an asbestos abatement contractor tell me that these were often lined with asbestos, so it’s best to just let them be.

Old stone walls still mark the boundary lines between private and railroad property.

I’ve never seen a horse on this trail but you can tell that they’ve been here.

I was surprised to find many pinesap plants (Monotropa hypopitys) up and ready to bloom. I don’t usually find these until well after their cousins the Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) bloom, but I haven’t seen a single Indian pipe yet this year. The chief differences between the two plants are color and flower count. Indian pipes are stark white and have a single flower, while pinesap plants are honey colored or reddish with multiple flowers. Neither plant photosynthesizes. Instead they receive nutrients from fungi that are associated with the roots of oaks and pines.

I’m guessing this log must act like a sponge and hold water, because it had coral fungus all over it. I think the soil is simply too dry to support much fungi at the moment.

I think these were crown tipped coral fungi (Clavicorona pyxidata) but since I don’t have a microscope to make identification a certainty, please don’t hold me to that.

This is a great trail for groups of people to walk because it is so wide. I think 4 people could walk side by side over most of it. It is level over much of its length and mostly arrow straight as well. When it does curve the curves are so gentle you don’t even realize it.

And that is why this should tell you something; the railroad would have never built anything like this. It’s hard to tell but it goes steeply uphill and the curves are far too sharp for a train to follow. That’s because this is a detour around the actual railbed, which lies abandoned over there on the right.

If you were to ignore the detour and keep walking straight on, this is what you’d find; the original rail bed. After I climb over and under a few downed trees, we’ll have a look.

The original rail bed was another deep cut, with a man-made canyon hacked out of the stone hillside. I’ve explored it before and found that the far end is blocked by many tons of gravel, which was poured into the canyon when a road was built across it. It’s a confusing conundrum, because I’m sure both the road and railbed are very old. If the road was there when the railbed was built there should be a tunnel under the road. If the road was built later over a running railroad there would have been a bridge or trestle over the rails. In any event there is just a huge mound of gravel at the end, and that has caused the drainage ditches on either side of the railbed to fail, so I got very wet feet in here. I should have worn my winter hikers.

These photos show what our rail trails would look like if the maintenance on them were to suddenly stop. When I say that we owe our snowmobile clubs and all of the other volunteers who keep these trails open a huge debt of gratitude, I’m not joking. I think it took me over two hours to pick my way through the entire length the first time I explored it, and this section isn’t even a mile long.

The woods have a luminous quality out here but even so this part isn’t a very pleasant walk. I spent far more time climbing over trees and avoiding walking in standing water than I did actually walking so I decided not to follow the canyon to the end. Standing in ankle deep mud taking photos isn’t much fun, so my only thought was to get out of here.

I grew up in a house that was just a few yards from a Boston and Maine Railroad track that freight trains ran over twice a day, so when I saw them tear up all the rails and take them away it was traumatic enough to keep me off rail trails for a very long time. Seeing a dirt trail where the trains once ran was a hard thing but finally after 30 years or so I convinced myself that it was time to get over it and I’ve been walking these rail trail ever since. In that time I’ve discovered what a great gift they are. For a nature lover who wants to get far into the woods without having to cut a trail, there is simply nothing that can compare. I hope we will all do our best to keep them open, even if it is simply telling a town or state representative how much we enjoy them. To stand aside and watch nature reclaim something so unique and valuable would be a real tragedy, in my opinion.

It’s amazing how quickly nature consumes human places after we turn our backs on them. Life is a hungry thing. ~Scott Westerfeld

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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Quite often I get an irresistible urge to be in the woods and, since I’m lucky enough to be able to find woods in any direction I travel, getting there is no work at all. The thought hit me the other day that I hadn’t been to Goose Pond in Keene since last year, so that’s where I went last Sunday. I also wanted to see how deep the snow was in the woods and since this is a five hundred acre wilderness area I would certainly be able to see plenty of woods. As the above photo of the trail to the pond shows, there was no snow in this area.  Odd since Goose Pond isn’t that far from Beaver Brook, where I saw plenty of snow in the woods just the day before.

The pond was still mostly frozen over. It’s interesting how ponds and lakes start melting at the shore and work toward the middle, and rivers start in the middle and work toward the shore.

Goose Pond was called Crystal Lake and / or Sylvan Lake in the early 1900s. The pond was artificially enlarged to 42 acres in 1865 so the town of Keene would have a water supply to fight fires with. Wooden pipe fed 48 hydrants by 1869 but the town stopped using the pond as a water supply in the 1930s, and in 1984 it was designated a wilderness area. The vast forest tract surrounding the pond has been left virtually untouched since the mid-1800s. The deciduous trees over on the left shoreline are red maples. You can just see some red in the branches from the opening flowers.

Even in the winter the trail darkens quickly due to all of the pines and hemlocks.

There are stone walls here and there along the trail around the pond. They tell the history of the place. It’s hard to believe that much of this land was cleared for sheep pasture by the early 1800s, but it was. These walls have most likely been here for over 200 years.

I’m reading the book The Hidden Life of Trees and in it author Peter Wohlleben speaks of how much strain a tree that is bent like the one in the above photo is under. As he explains it a curved trunk has trouble simply standing upright because “The enormous weight of the crown isn’t evenly divided over the diameter of the trunk but weighs more heavily on the wood on one side.” He also explains that “Evenly formed trees absorb the shock of buffeting forces, using their shape to direct and divide these forces evenly throughout their structure.” If you are interested at all in trees, this is the book for you.

I saw lots of trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) along the trail. This creeping evergreen is also called Mayflower, though it often blooms earlier. It was one of my grandmother’s favorite flowers.

Some of the trailing arbutus plants were well budded. These small white flowers are extremely fragrant and were once collected nearly into oblivion for nosegays. It is one of those plants that has a close relationship with fungal hyphae in the soil and will not grow unless the fungus is present, so digging it up to transplant somewhere else is a waste of time. It’s also illegal in some areas.

There are many streams flowing down off the surrounding hills to the pond and in two spots there are bridges, but in many places you have to cross by hopping from stone to stone or simply walking through the water. I always wear good water proof hiking boots when I come here. On this day I saw some college age people going down the trail wearing bright white sneakers. I can guarantee that they weren’t white when they came out of the woods, and they probably weren’t dry either.

This bridge was chained to a nearby tree, not against theft but flooding. There has been severe flooding here in the past. It would be an awful lot of work hand carrying enough lumber to build a bridge all the way out here so I don’t blame them for not wanting to have it washed away and smashed on the rocks.

I could have sat here all day just listening to the chuckling and giggling of the stream and the joyous, excited birdsong but it wasn’t warm on this day and there was a stiff wind coming off that ice, so I had to move on after too short a time.

I saw the pine tree that was hit by lightning last year. The bolt blew the bark right off the trunk in strips, and pieces of the strips still lay by its roots. It also followed a large root right into the ground, leaving the same trace on it.

A birch polypore (Formitopsis betulina) was coated with ice. Someday I’m going to try drying one of these mushrooms and sharpening a knife with it because another name for it is the razor strop fungus. Even more useful than its ability to sharpen a knife though, is its antiseptic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It contains betulinic acid, which is a compound that has shown to also promote the death of cancer cells. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years.

Soon the island will be surrounded by water again instead of ice. I’d love to be able to explore it to find out what kind of plants grow there. I’m guessing that they aren’t much different than those that grow here on shore, but you never know.

Great long ice crystals grew in the cold night and were melting now. That’s how this entire winter has been; cold enough to snow one day and then warm enough to melt it all over the next few days. Then comes another storm, but that cycle seems to have finally been broken now.

There are many side trails here and some are very easy to get onto without realizing it, but it would still be hard to get lost if you pay attention and stay on the trail that circles the pond. If the pond is on your right when you start it should be on your right all the way along the trail until it ends, because you have just walked in a circle. Maybe it took you a while to do it but it’s still just a big circle. Even so I have met people here that seemed to have no idea where they were or which way to go. It just goes to show that what seems simple to some of us might not be so simple to others. I’ve been lost in the woods before too, and it can be unsettling, to say the least.

I knew right off what the small black lumps all over this beech stump were.

Annulohypoxylon cohaerens fungus forms hard black lumps on beech bark. The fruiting bodies seen here are “cushion like round or flask shaped masses of fungal tissue with nipple or pustule shaped pores.” Each body is very small; less than half the diameter of a pea. They usually grow on fallen beech logs but these were on a standing stump. It originally took me three years to identify them.

The trail had ice on it here and there but this is mostly level ground so it wasn’t bad. Next winter I’ll have micro spikes, hoping all the while that I don’t need them.

I saw the unnatural stone that lives in the middle of the trail, toward the end if you go clockwise around the pond. Of course I can’t prove it isn’t natural but I’ve worked with a lot of stone and I’ve never seen such a perfect 90 degree angle and such smooth faces on a natural stone. I can’t imagine how it got way out here or why.

This is a special place for several reasons. First is because it’s the only place I know of where you can actually get a photo of the woods while you are in them. An old pine fell and opened a hole in the canopy and that lets in enough light for a shot of something I am rarely able to get on film. Taking a photo of a forest while you’re in it is a lot harder than you might think, because of all the trees. Another reason this spot is special is because the only example of a northern club spur orchid I know of grows here. I found it about 4 years ago and hope to see it bloom again in July. The final reason this place is special to me is because it’s so beautiful and peaceful here. If you feel the need to just sit and “soak” in the woods this is the place to do it. I hope you have a place like it.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

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We were having some “triple H” weather here last weekend, which means hazy, hot and humid, so I wanted to get to a shady forest. I chose High Blue trail in Walpole because I was fairly sure that there would be a good breeze on the summit, which faces west. The trail starts out following an old logging road.

I started seeing things of interest almost as soon as I reached the old road. False Solomon’s seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) bloomed all along it. Some grow close to three feet tall but most are less than that; about knee high. False Solomon’s seal has small white, star shaped flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of its stem. Soon the blossoms will give way to small reddish berries that provide food for many birds and other wildlife. It is said that a Native American tribe in California used crushed false Solomon’s seal roots to stun fish. Others used the plant medicinally.

Brittle cinder fungus (Kretzschmaria deusta) in this stage are stunning, in my opinion. I like the powder gray against the bright white margin. As they age they blacken and look like burnt wood and become very brittle and are easily crushed. They grow on dead hardwoods and cause soft rot, which breaks down both cellulose and lignin. In short, this is one of the fungi that help turn wood into compost.

This photo taken previously shows what the brittle cinder fungus will become; a black lump. Younger examples have a hard lumpy crust or skin, a piece of which can be seen in the upper left of the example in the photo. It’s hard to believe that it’s the same fungus that’s in the previous photo.

Grasses are flowering nearly everywhere I go now and I like looking at them closely. I don’t know this one’s name but I’ve learned enough about grasses to know that the yellow bits at the top are the male pollen bearing flowers and the wispy white bits on the lower half are the female flowers.

Fringed sedge (Carex crinite) grew in wet spots along the road. It’s a large sedge that grows in big, 2 foot tall clumps. I like its drooping habit and I’m not the only one, because it has become a popular garden plant. Many animals and waterfowl eat different parts of sedge plants, especially the seeds. Other names for this plant are drooping sedge and long-haired sedge.

The trail does a loop but I always take the left at the High Blue sign and walk in and out.

From here the logging road narrows down into little more than a foot path. The sunlight was dappled and my camera doesn’t do dappled well, so this isn’t the best photo I’ve ever taken.

Hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) does well up here and grows in large colonies all along the trail. I like the repeating patterns that they make. This fern likes shade but will tolerate extreme dryness well. Its common name comes from the way it smells like hay when it is bruised. This fern does well in gardens but gardeners want to make absolutely sure they want it because once they have it they’ll most likely have it for a long time. It’s very difficult to eradicate.

Last year the meadow suddenly became a cornfield and the corn attracted animals of all kinds, including bears. I’ve seen a lot of bear droppings all over this area ever since, so I carried a can of bear spray. Thankfully I didn’t have to use it.

Our brambles are coming into bloom and it looks like we might have a good blackberry harvest. Easy to pick blackberries can be found along virtually any rail trail and many woodland trails. Blackberries have been eaten by man for thousands of years. The discovery of the remains of an Iron Age woman called the Haraldskær Woman showed that she ate blackberries about 2500 years ago. The Haraldskær Woman is the body of a woman found naturally preserved in a peat bog in Jutland, Denmark in 1835. Native Americans made a strong twine from fibers found in blackberry canes, and they used piles of dead canes as barricades around villages. I’m guessing that anyone who had ever been caught on blackberry thorns wouldn’t have tried to make it through such a barricade.

Orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) was dotted here and there in the meadow. I see thousands of examples of yellow hawkweed for every one orange hawkweed plant and I’m not sure why that is. The plant might be from Europe but it’s far from invasive in this area. Maybe their scarcity is due to the color orange being virtually invisible to bees. Orange Flowers do reflect ultraviolet light though, so that means that some insects must find them.

As I usually do when I come here, I had to stop at what’s left of the old foundation. I’m not sure who lived up here but they had plenty of courage and were strong people. All of this land would have been cleared then and sheep would probably have lived in the pastures. It was a tough life in what the Walpole Town History describes as a “vast wilderness.” But it was populated; many Native Americans lived here and they weren’t afraid to show their displeasure at losing their land.

One of the reasons I chose this place was because there is a small pond on the summit and I wanted to see if it was covered with duckweed yet. I wanted to take a close look at the tiny plants but about all I could see was pine pollen floating on the surface.

There was some duckweed but it was too far off shore to be easily reached. This pond must be spring fed because it never dries up completely, even in last year’s drought when streams were disappearing. I always wonder if it was the family’s water source.

There are an estimated 259,000 miles of stone walls in the northeastern U.S., most of which are in New England, and many are here in New Hampshire. The stones were found when the recently cleared pastures were plowed and they were either tossed into piles or used to build walls, wells, foundations and many other necessities of the day. Sometimes entire houses were built of stone but wood was plentiful and easier to work with, so we don’t have too many stone houses from that time. Most of what we see is used in stone walls like this one, which cross and crisscross the countryside in every direction.

I always take a photo of the sign when I come here, but I’m not sure why. What it means is that at 1588 feet above sea level the summit is higher than the surrounding terrain, and the view is always blue.

As I thought it would be the view was very hazy on this day, but there was a nice cool breeze blowing and that alone made the short hike worth it on such a hot humid day.

It was so hazy I couldn’t even see Stratton Mountain over in Vermont, which is just across the Connecticut River Valley seen here.

The stone pile builder has been busy. I’ve wondered why anyone would carry stones all the way up here just to build an eyesore like this, but on this day I realized that it was much more likely that these stones are being taken from the stone wall we saw 4 photos back. I wonder if this person knows that taking stones from stone walls is a crime, punishable by having to pay three times the cost of restoring the wall, plus legal costs. This is because many of these old walls mark boundary lines and are recorded as such in property deeds. I’m not sure why anyone would risk it just to put piles of stones in other people’s way, but to each their own.

We’ve had a lot of rain recently but I was still surprised to see a slime mold growing on the side of a log. The book Mushrooms of Northeast (no, not northeastern) North America-Midwest to New England by George Barron has quite a good section on slime molds and it starts off with one called Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa. I believe that the photo above shows the cylindrical white fruiting bodies of Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, variety fruticulosa. There is a second variety of this slime mold called porioides, and the fruiting bodies look like tiny white geodesic domes. The fruiting bodies shown are so small and so fragile that one swipe of a finger can destroy hundreds of them.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

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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

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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

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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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