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Posts Tagged ‘Stone Walls’

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

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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

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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

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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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