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Posts Tagged ‘Stratton Mountain’

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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1-trail

I’ve been waiting for a break in the cold, snowy weather we’ve had so I could take a climb and last weekend it was relatively calm after a week of January thawing. Unfortunately on this day the thaw had ended and everything that thawed had re-frozen. This winter has been a roller coaster as far as weather is concerned, with warmth and melting coming between bouts of snow and cold and all that melting and re-freezing means ice, especially where the snow has been packed down. The old logging road to the High Blue trail in Walpole was ice covered so I was glad I had my Yaktrax on.

2-orange-jelly

Right off I spotted an orange jelly fungus (Dacrymyces palmatus) on a fallen branch. It was frozen solid, but that doesn’t seem to hurt jelly fungi. They can freeze and thaw many times throughout winter. This one is also sometimes called brain fungus or witch’s butter. I’ve never been able to find out why they usually appear in cold weather.

3-hobblebushes

If you’ve ever wondered how hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) came by that name this photo should answer that question. It is one of our most beautiful native viburnums, covered with large white flower heads in spring, but it grows its long, wiry stems close to the ground and they tangle around each other; sometimes under the snow. When you step into a tangle of them it’s very easy to trip over the branches. I’ve been hobbled by it a few times and have fallen 2 or 3 times because of it. I’ve learned that it’s always best to go around it if I can.

4-sign

Before you know it the sign to the High Blue trail appears on the left.

5-trail

This trail was much less icy, I was happy to see.

6-sunken-stone

I’ve seen rocks sink into the soil before, but not in January. I think the sun heats the stone enough to melt the frozen soil under it, and as it does so it slowly sinks into the soil. That’s just a guess but in any event it hardly ever happens until spring, so it’s a good example of how warm it has been lately.

7-puddle

With the soil frozen all this melt water has nowhere to go. Since it can’t seep into the soil it sits on top of it and freezes in what are usually small pools like this one. It’s bigger than the average mud puddle but it couldn’t be called a pond.

8-sap-tubing

The plastic tubing running from tree to tree along the trail reminded me that spring is right around the corner. This method of gathering sap makes life much easier for the maple syrup producers but I think I’d rather see the old style sap buckets.

9-pasture

If it wasn’t for the snow in this photo it might be easy to believe that spring was already here. After 2 or 3 near 50 degree days much of our snow has now melted. I’m not getting too excited though; I’ve been through February enough times to know that winter isn’t over yet. February can be brutal.

10-cornfield

The snow was mostly gone from the cornfield where I found the bear scat last time I was here. I’m sure all the bears up here are hibernating now but I saw several signs that they had been here when the corn was growing.

11-stone-outcrop

I wondered if there were any bear caves among these stone outcrops. I’ve never seen one on this side of the outcrop but I haven’t ever bothered to go and look at the other side. Some of the biggest rock tripe lichens I’ve ever seen grow here but I didn’t know how thick this ice was and I didn’t want to risk wet feet to see them.

12-deer-prints

There were plenty of fresh deer tracks in the snow. They have a trail through the woods that leads across the cornfield.

13-view

Though I like a good view as much as the next person I’ve learned that it’s best to go into the woods with no expectations of what you’ll see, and this day drove that point home once again because what was a sunny blue sky day when I started out had become gray and overcast by the time I reached the lookout.

14-view

I could just barely see the ski trails on Stratton Mountain, off across the Connecticut River valley in Vermont, but the camera helped me see them better.

15-view

This view is always very blue for some reason, and that’s how this spot got the name High Blue.

16-possible-concentric-boulder-lichen

On the way back down I found a single example of a concentric boulder lichen (Porpidia crustulata) This is only the third one I’ve seen so though they might not be rare they are very hard to find. It’s easy to identify though; the body (thallus) of the lichen is always ashy gray and its black spore bearing bodies (Apothecia) grow in concentric rings around the lichen’s center. They can rarely be scattered as some of these were.

17-possible-concentric-boulder-lichen-2

The apothecia are round and dull black and sometimes undercut where they meet the stone. They are flat or convex, (not concave) and are sometimes covered by a “bloom,” which is a white powdery wax like substance like that found on grapes, blueberries and plums. Such a surface is called pruinose. I was happy to find such a rarely seen lichen.

18-polypody-fern

Evergreen polypody ferns had curled up because of the cold.

19-polypody-fern

I didn’t see any beautiful little spore cases on the backs of the polypody fern fronds but I did see some interesting makings that I’ve never seen before. It’s amazing how cold temperatures can bring out colors and patterns that aren’t there in warmer weather. It can even turn pine sap and certain lichens blue.

20-yellow-on-stone

But the cold temperature didn’t do this. I first saw this yellow stone on my last climb here back in November, and I wondered what it was. Very few yellow minerals are found in New Hampshire and I don’t think it’s a mineral anyway, because it appears to be on the stone’s surface and not part of it.

21-yellow-on-stone

I think the yellow color on the roots and grasses in this shot has solved the mystery. These yellow stones are near a culvert and I think someone has painted them yellow so they’d be easier to see; so if the area was mowed the mower wouldn’t hit the stones. Though I’ve seen bright yellow slime molds in winter and slime molds can cover both stones and grasses, whatever this is has no texture like a slime mold would, so I’m guessing that it’s just plain old yellow paint.

By walking in a snowy forest you can really forget about this world, and every time you forget about this world you leave this world, and every time you leave this world you gain a very special wisdom that does not exist in this world. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

Thanks for coming by.

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1-trail

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

2-black-knot-on-cherry

I stopped to look at some black knot disease on a young black cherry. It is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus can be spread by rain or wind and typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those in the above photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring.

3-boulders

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

4-rock-tripe

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

5-cornfield

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

6-corn

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

7-fungus-on-bear-scat

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

8-fungus-on-bear-scat

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

9-goldenrod

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

10-foundation

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

11-stone-wall

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

12-pond

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

13-sign

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

14-view

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

15-view

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

16-view

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

17-view

To the right a neighborhood basked in bright Sunshine.

18-view

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

19-trail

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

20-unknown-yellow-crust-on-stone

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

21-unknown-yellow-crust-on-stone

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

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

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1-asters-and-goldenrod

Sometimes when you live in a forest there is a feeling of closeness, so I like to occasionally visit more open areas to balance things out. Hill climbing usually widens the viewpoint so on Saturday I decided to climb the High Blue trail in Walpole. From up there, I knew there would be nothing blocking my view of the horizon.

There were plenty of flowers to be seen along the way, especially asters and goldenrods. They must have mesmerized me because I got home and discovered that I had no photos of the trail itself, so I have to ask you to imagine walking on your favorite forest trail as you scroll through this post.

2-asters

Some aster blossoms were about an inch and a half across and that told me they were most likely New England asters. There is no other native aster as big that I know of that will grow in dry places. Some come close in size but they want wet feet and grow on stream banks.

3-aster

They’re always beautiful no matter what their name or size.

4-coltsfoot-foliage

Years ago there was a substantial colony of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) here that bloomed heavily each spring. They were the most coltsfoot plants I had ever seen in one place but a logging skidder plowed them up and I haven’t seen one bloom here since. I saw plenty of foliage on this day though, and that tells me that they’re making a comeback.

5-corn-field

In all the time I’ve been coming here this large plot of land has been a hay meadow, but all of the sudden it’s now it’s a cornfield. I was here last June and the field hadn’t even been plowed, so I was surprised to see so much corn.

6-corn

In spite of the drought the corn looked good, with large ears showing. Animals had found it though, and they were helping themselves. Possibly raccoons, or maybe turkeys or crows, or maybe all three.

7-corn-field

When I was a boy walking along the railroad tracks I saw (and played in) many cornfields, so this field made me feel young again. The corn must have been 8 feet tall.

8-sarsaparilla

Fall had been sprinkled on the sarsaparilla plants (Aralia nudicaulis) along the trail.

9-reflector

A reflector button on a tree reminded me that archery season for white tail deer had started two days before. There are plenty of deer in this area and most likely plenty of hunters as well, but I didn’t see any. Bow hunters often sit up in the trees.

10-foundation

 The old foundation on the summit and the deer hunters made me wonder what the settlers who once lived here must have eaten;  probably plenty of venison, as well as moose, bear and other animals.

If you’re interested in history the following is from the book Walpole as it was and as it is. 1749 to 1879.

“The flesh of the deer and bear afforded the settlers many a delicious repast. Wild turkeys were trapped and shot, and quails and pigeons caught in nets, in great abundance. The brooks were filled with trout and dace, and the river abounded in salmon and shad.“

11-stone-wall

Clearing this place of all the stones in this wall as well as all of the trees that once grew here was hard work when all you had was an axe and a horse, or oxen if you were lucky, so I’m sure eating well would have been all important.

12-pond-surface

The small pond on the summit has shrunken to about half its size due to the drought but at least it still had some water in it. If the hoof and paw prints in the mud are any indication a lot of animals drink here. Though the pond’s surface was mostly covered by duckweed the dappled sunlight on it was beautiful. It was like  looking through a kaleidoscope.

13-sign

This place is called High Blue because it’s higher than the surrounding terrain and the view to the west across the Connecticut River valley is always blue, without fail.

14-view

As expected the view was blue this day and there was little haze. I could see Stratton Mountain over in Vermont clearly, and that was a surprise. I’ve noticed that it can get very hazy here and sometimes you can barely make out the mountain.  I also noticed that some of the trees were getting taller, and I wondered who maintained this overlook. Whoever it is has some work ahead of them.

15-view

It was clear enough to just make out the ski trails on the right hand end of Stratton Mountain. I’m not anxious to see snow on them but I’m sure they’ll be covered by mid-November, either by man-made or natural snow. Thanksgiving always comes with a school vacation and that’s a busy time for the ski slopes.

16-rock-piles

I saw that there are now four piles of stones here, not only marring the landscape but also interfering with the space that people have to stand and look at the view. There isn’t much room to begin with and these piles take up half the available real estate, so I’ve decided that I will dismantle them. I could understand building them if they marked a trail or had some other significance, but up here they are just a nuisance. I almost tripped over one of them when I was trying to find the best spot for taking a photo.

17-fern-gully

The place I’ve come to call fern gully because of all the ferns there was both green with live ferns and brown with dead ones, with a little orange and yellow to mark the halfway point between them.

18-lady-fern

Some of the lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) were at the white stage; which is the last color they turn before becoming brown and dry. Lady ferns are also called ghost ferns because of this habit. Unfortunately they don’t all turn at the same time. If they did fern gully would be a wondrous sight at this time of year.

19-hobblebush

The hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) warned that fall was right around the corner, and in fact tomorrow is already the first day of autumn.

20-full-moon

Later that night I thought I’d take a photo of the harvest moon. I haven’t taken a photo of the moon in so long I can’t remember when the last time was, so I thought it was about time. But after a summer of cloudless skies one cloud floated in and parked itself right in front of the moon. It was the slowest moving cloud I’ve ever seen; I waited nearly two hours for it to float away so I could take this photo.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn.” ~ John Muir

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Trail

Last Sunday, the day after the big mid-Atlantic blizzard had blown out to sea we had a beautiful sunny day, so I decided to climb the High Blue Trail in Walpole. I chose it because I hadn’t climbed since we had ice fall on top of the snow and I wasn’t sure how icy the trails would be. High Blue Trail is a very gentle climb and though the snow was very loud and crunchy it wasn’t at all slippery. Many had gone before me.

2. Meadow

After four cloudy weekends in a row the sky seemed an incredibly beautiful shade of blue.

3. Clouds

The sky wasn’t entirely cloudless though. I saw these 3 trying to sneak past out of the corner of my eye.

4. Sunshine

The sun was very bright and I was glad that I had brought sunglasses. Snow blindness is a very real thing and isn’t pleasant. It happened to me once when I was shoveling snow in bright sunshine and it wasn’t until the next day that my blurry vision finally got back to normal. It is basically sunburn on your eye and some say it is quite painful. I didn’t have any real pain but it certainly is annoying when you keep blinking and your vision doesn’t clear.

5. Mossy Ledges

The blue shadows, green mosses and white blankets of snow softened the stone ledges. Some say winter is hard and sharp and it can be, but it isn’t always that way.

6. Grafted Maples

The wind made these two maples rub together and they rubbed enough to rub away their outer bark and become grafted together. Unless man interferes they will now stay that way for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately some fungus spores found the wound and grew, so there is a good chance that the lives of these trees will be cut short.

7. Small Spruce

I’ve seen this little two foot tall spruce that grows beside the trail completely covered with snow a few times. I was very glad that it wasn’t this time. It’s nice to measure snowfalls in inches rather than feet for a change.

8. Tracks

Some small creature scampered around this sapling and then went back from where it had started.  Either that or a chipmunk had gotten new skis for Christmas and was trying them out on a downhill run.

9. Hollow Tree

There was a lot of coming and going around this hollow tree.

10. Hollow Tree

But in spite of all the footprints nobody was home.  I suppose you couldn’t blame them for being out on such a beautiful day.

11. Club Moss

The clubmosses have released their spores. The orange yellow, club-like strobilus that bears the spores is smooth and closed before they are released, and open and bushy afterwards. These spores have been collected and dried for many years to make flash powder. They are high in fat content and when mixed with air become highly flammable. They’ve been used in fireworks and explosives for years, and also as camera flashes before flash bulbs were invented. These days they are still used in magic acts. If you ever see a big impressive flash of fire on a stage, thank a clubmoss.

12. Stone Foundation

As always I had to stop at the old stone foundation. Winters must have seemed very long and cold for those who once lived here and I always wonder how they managed.

13. Nail

I’ve been up here too many times to count but I’ve never seen the nail in this tree before. I wonder how long it’s been here.

14. Sign

The nail is on the backside of the tree that the sign is on, which makes it even more surprising that I’ve never seen it.

15. Spoilers

The stacked rocks are still here from last summer. I call them spoilers because for me they are needless distractions that spoil the experience.

16. View

As expected the view across the Connecticut River Valley to Vermont was very blue but strangely, the sky wasn’t. At least it wasn’t the deep sapphire blue that it had been in other spots along the trail.

17. View

I would imagine that they must be making snow every night on Stratton Mountain if the ski trails are any indication. The past week saw some cold nights and the temperature had only risen to 17 degrees when I left Keene to come here. A stiff and steady westerly breeze meant that it was fairly cool standing in this spot, so I didn’t stay long. Climbing really isn’t about the views for me anyway; it’s more about what I see along the way. Because there are so many interesting things to see along the way hazy or cloud blocked views never disappoint.

The old school of thought would have you believe that you’d be a fool to take on nature without arming yourself with every conceivable measure of safety and comfort under the sun. But that isn’t what being in nature is all about. Rather, it’s about feeling free, unbounded, shedding the distractions and barriers of our civilization—not bringing them with us. ~Ryel Kestenbaum

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

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1. High Blue Sign

I’ve been doing more kayaking than climbing so far this summer so, since it is already August and I haven’t been there since April, I thought I’d visit the High Blue trail in Walpole, New Hampshire.

2. Icicle Tooth Fungus aka Hericium coralloides

Just as you get on the trail there is a dead birch tree that fell and which someone has cut up into logs. This tree must have been shot through with the mycelium of the icicle tooth fungus (Hericium coralloides), because not only do they grow on what’s left of the tree but they also grow on every log that was cut from it. This example was about the size of a baseball.

3. Hobblebush Leaf

All along the trail hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) warned that fall was coming.

 4. High Blue Meadow 2-2

I was surprised to see that the meadow hadn’t been cut for hay. On this day it was full of butterflies that had eye spots on their wings, but not one of them would hold still long enough for a good photo.

 5. High Blue Trail

After the meadow the trail narrows and the canopy closes in, so I always keep an eye out for things that like to grow in dark places.

6. Slime Mold

Slime molds love dark places because sunshine can quickly dry them out. This one looks orange to me but my color finding software tells me that it’s dark yellow. I’ve never noticed this color before in a slime mold but research tells me that Leocarpus fragilis starts its life bright yellow, then turns orange yellow, and then brown before releasing dark, purple brown spores. And all of it can happen literally overnight.

7. High Blue Pond

You wouldn’t expect to find a pond on a mountain top but there is one up here. It’s not very big but I’m sure it’s big enough for all of the wildlife in the area to drink from.

8. High Blue Sign

The sign lets you know that you have arrived in case you missed the view. The photo of it is just for the record.

9. High Blue View with Phone

The view was as blue as always-or at least it was in this photo that I took with my phone camera.

10. High Blue View with Polarizer

It always seems quite hazy up here so I put a polarizing filter on my camera to see if it would make a difference. The only real difference is the yellowish cast seen in this and a couple of other photos in this post. I don’t like it, but it was hard to tell that it was happening at the time. The direction that the light is coming from makes a big difference when using a polarizing filter so maybe that’s what caused it.

11. High Blue View with Polarizer

The polarizer did nothing to cut through the haze. In fact, you can see less detail on Stratton Mountain in Vermont than you can when the view isn’t filtered.

I sat here for a while enjoying the view and heard a strange bird calling. It was in the woods above and behind me and, though I couldn’t see it I could hear its low and guttural call that sounded like awk or ork made three times in a row, then a pause, and then three times again. I’ve never heard it and though I’ve listened to recordings of every forest bird call I can think of, I couldn’t match it. It sounds closest to the “advertising call” of a green heron. You can hear that call on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website by clicking here. My questions are, if it was a green heron what was he doing in a tree on a mountaintop, and what was he advertising?

This same thing happened to me last year at about this time with a different bird call that I’ve never been able to identify, but that bird was flying in circles, catching thermals. The closest I could come to matching that sound was the black necked crane which lives only in China and Tibet, so I think I’ll just stick with plants.

12. Whorled Wood Aster

Whorled wood asters (Oclemena acuminata) bloomed along the trail. This shade lover is also known as the sharp-leaved aster and mountain aster. These foot tall plants often grow in large colonies and their blooms are a familiar sight along trails in late summer.

13. Whorled Wood Aster Flower

The flowers of the whorled wood aster always look a bit wonky, as if a chubby fingered first grader had tried to glue the petals on and didn’t get their spacing quite right. Another thing I’ve noticed about this plant is how it’s often difficult to tell if a flower is just coming into bloom or if it is finishing its bloom period.

14. Fan Club Moss

All of the fan club mosses (Diphasiastrum digitatum or Lycopodium digitatum) that I saw on this hike had yellow tipped branches. Yellowing in plants can mean any one of several things, from too much water to too little, nutrient deficiency, lack of chlorophyll, insect damage, etc.  Since they’ve been around for about 300 million years and make up much of the coal that we burn today, I’d say that I probably don’t have to worry about them. They know far better than I do what is right for them.

15. Woodland Agrimony

One thing I love about exploring nature is how there is a surprise around every corner. On this hike the surprise came in the form of these woodland agrimony flowers (Agrimonia striata,) which I’ve never seen before. The small, bright yellow flowers grow in long spikes (racemes). Research shows that the plant is threatened in New York and Maryland and I wonder if it is rare here. I’m surprised that I’ve never seen it before.  The Anglo-Saxons thought that agrimony healed wounds, snake bites, and warts.

The ground we walk on, the plants and creatures, the clouds above constantly dissolving into new formations – each gift of nature possessing its own radiant energy, bound together by cosmic harmony. ~Ruth Bernhard

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1. Muddy Logging Road

I took a muddy walk up an old logging road through Warner forest to the High Blue trail head in Walpole, New Hampshire recently. It is a walk I’ve taken a few times.

2. High Blue Sign

Before you know it you’re through the mud and at the trail head. I came here not just to see the view but also in the hopes of seeing some coltsfoot in bloom, but the plants that grew here appear to have been destroyed by logging. It’s too bad because it was a beautiful display-the most coltsfoot plants I’ve seen in one place.

3. Coltsfoot Flowers

This photo is of the coltsfoot colonies from last year. They extended off to the right well out of the photo. I’m hoping some of them survived being plowed up by a logging skidder.

4. Hobblebush Bud

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) line the roadside up to the trailhead, and their flower buds are just starting to unfold. Their common name comes from the way the stems grow so close to the ground. Unseen under the leaves they can tangle the feet of or “hobble” horses. I got firsthand experience in how they work last year when I was trying to examine a bush. My feet became entangled in the stems and I went down fast and hard. Ever since then I’ve been more careful around them. Soon theses bushes will be covered by large white flowers that are among the most beautiful in the forest.

5. Fan Club Moss

I’ve always called this plant fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum) but some call it southern ground cedar or running ground pine, even though it isn’t related to either pine or cedar. The name fan clubmoss comes from its distinctive shape. This plant was once harvested to near extinction for use in making Christmas wreaths and flash powder, and is still rarely seen. This is one of the few places I know of to find it. It can grow undisturbed here because the plants are off the trail in the woods, so anyone who goes looking for them has a good chance of ending up lost. Every now and then I receive emails from people saying they’ll buy all I can find or asking where they can find it. I’m usually pretty good about answering people’s questions, but those emails go unanswered.

6. Meadow

The meadows are still quite brown but it won’t be long before they green up. There are three or four large meadows in the area, still used for hay cutting as they have been since the 1800s. Since there was no water power for mills in the town, Walpole was dependent on agriculture in its early history.

 7. Pileated Woodpecker Chips

I saw a huge pile of wood chips at the base of a dead beech tree and that was my signal to look up.

8. Pileated Woodpecker Hole

This is the biggest pileated woodpecker excavation I’ve ever seen. It must have been 9 or 10 inches long and at least half as wide. It looked more like a nesting hole than a feeding station.

9. High Blue Sign

I always take a photo of the sign that tells you that you are at the overlook, just for the record.

10. High Blue View

The view across the Connecticut River valley was beautiful as usual, and also very blue. It is this “blueness” that gives this place its name.  The winds were light and the air warm, so I sat for a while admiring the view and the puffy clouds.

11. Stratton Mountain from High Blue Lookout

They’re still skiing on Stratton Mountain over in Vermont, but if we have many more days as warm as this one was it won’t last long.

12. Stone Ruins

As I sit and admire the view from this place my mind always wanders to the people who used to live here. They left pieces of themselves behind in things like this old stone ruin. Some say it’s a chimney and others a foundation, but whatever it is it is clearly very old and is a sign that people once lived here. I was reading a town history a while back that described the many dangers of living in places like this in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Chief among them were mountain lions (catamounts), wolves, and bears, and women and children never went into these woods alone.

13. Stone Wall

I’ve built a few stone walls in my time so I know how much work went into these walls. Add to that cutting all the trees with an axe and pulling stumps and plowing the forest floor with a team of horses and it just boggles the mind. I suppose, when your very existence depends on it, you can do just about anything.

14. Elderberry Buds

There are elderberry bushes growing here and I wonder if they were planted, because this hill top is an odd place to find them. Maybe the farmer and his wife sat sipping a little elderberry wine at the end of the day, watching the sunset behind the Vermont hills.

15. Mount Monadnock

As you re-enter the meadow after coming back down the hill, in spring, fall, and winter you are greeted by a view of Mount Monadnock, the largest mountain in the region. It won’t be long before this view is almost completely hidden by tree foliage, and it will stay that way until next fall.

There may be more to learn from climbing the same mountain a hundred times than by climbing a hundred different mountains. ~Richard Nelson

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