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Posts Tagged ‘Stream Ice’

Recently we saw nearly 2 inches of rain fall in one day and the placid stream, which is actually called Bailey Brook, that you see in the above photo flooded to cover all of the land seen in the photo and much more. Now that it had returned to normal I decided to follow it for a time and see what kind of damage the flooding had done.

I saw some delicate ice formations.

And stream ice made up of long crystals.

Large chunks of ice had found a place to rest when the flood receded and there they sat scattered here and there, reminding me of glacial erratics.

In some places I thought I was walking on land until my foot went through the ice and found water. From the ice surface down to the soil surface was about 6-8 inches with nothing but air in between, so the stream rose at least that much in flood.

There is a lot of drainage going on in this area and smaller streams meet the main stream in several places. Generally it’s a happy place and a great place to walk with the stream chuckling and giggling beside you, but it can also be a place of great danger when enough rain falls. I’ve seen it flood and go up and over roads in just a matter of a few hours, so you don’t walk here until you’re sure the stream has calmed down after storms makes it rage. First it happened once in ten years, then a couple of more times over the next five years or so, and now it seems to happen each year.

There are still plenty of beech leaves around and I’m glad of that because they add color to the landscape.

A single beech leaf fell and became frozen in the ice. It was a beautiful thing, and it looked like someone had painted it there. It would have been one of the impressionists like Monet or Renoir who would have painted it, I think. It was more light than leaf.

There was something I wanted to see but I had to climb a small hill to get to it. The hill ends right at the stream so there is no level land to walk on. I got up the hill without too much trouble by hugging trees and pulling myself up, but under those leaves was nothing but slippery, solid ice and the only way back down the hill was sitting down and sliding in what I’d guess was a very undignified manner.

But it was worth it because I got to see the horsetails (Equisetum hyemale) that grow along that section of stream. These are ancient plants that are embedded with silica. Another common name is the scouring rush because they are sometimes used to scour pots when camping, and they are also used for sanding wood in Japan. I like the way they look as if someone had knitted them fancy little socks.

There are lots of river grapes growing here along the stream and they are very easy to identify because of their peeling bark. Exfoliating bark is very common on the older wood of many types of grapevines and happens naturally. Older bark cracks from the growth expansion of the newer bark beneath it and eventually the older, cracked bark peels off in strips.

On warm days in the fall this entire area smells like grape jelly because of all the overripe grapes. Birds and animals get most of them but they missed a few, as this photo of a freeze dried grape shows.

I read an article recently that spoke of how we as a people are losing our connection to nature. As of 2008, according to the United Nations, half of all human beings lived in cities and in the U.K. a typical 8 year old child is better at recognizing video game characters than common wildlife. The article mentioned how, not that long ago, people knew trees as well as they knew themselves because they relied on them for heat, shelter, food, and many other things. The article suggested that getting to know trees would be a simple way for people to reconnect with nature, because there are very few people who don’t see trees every day. I suggest starting with easy ones or ones you already know, like the muscle wood tree in the above photo. It’s easy to see why it’s called muscle wood (Carpinus caroliniana.) See how its “tendons” ripple beneath its “skin”? Muscle wood is also called American hornbeam, and its wood is very dense and hard, but learning to identify trees by their bark isn’t hard, and it’s fun. Books like Bark by Michael Wojtech are a great help. You’d be surprised how quickly you would be able to name all of the trees in your neighborhood after a short time.

Here’s another easy one. Yellow or golden birch (Betula alleghaniensis) has peeling bark like a white birch but its bark is kind of reddish brown, which in the right light looks golden. They like cool, moist soil and are usually found near streams and ponds. They can also stand quite a lot of shade so growing here beside this stream in a cool, shaded forest is just about the perfect place for one.

There are a lot of insects after these trees along the stream, including bark beetles. These beetles excavate channels in the wood and when these channels completely encircle the wood the branch or tree has been girdled. Once girdled moisture and nutrients can no longer move freely through the cambium layer. When moisture and nutrients can’t move from the roots to the crown of the tree and back again the tree will die. I see a lot of fallen white pine (Pinus strobus) limbs with bark beetle damage.

Woodpeckers tell me that this standing dead hemlock tree is also full of insects. In large numbers, apparently.

Bittersweet vines twine around tree trunks; they don’t grow straight like this. There is no exfoliating bark, tendrils, or branching like a grape vine would have, so they can’t be that. Since there are no tendrils it isn’t Virginia creeper either. Those are the “big three” native vines that I would expect to find here but if the examples growing up this pine tree aren’t one of them what are they? Poison ivy, that’s what, and it’s a good idea to leave vines you don’t recognize alone until you’re sure of their identity. Poison ivy isn’t poison and it isn’t an ivy. Way back in the early 1600s Captain John Smith thought it looked like the English ivy he had left behind in England and, since it made him itch, thanks to him it became known as poison ivy. The urushiol the vine contains is considered an allergen and there is nothing poisonous about it, but is sure can make you itch and it will give you a rash that might last for weeks. You can get the rash from any part of the plant, including the naked stems seen here.

We’ve probably all heard the old “Leaves of three, let them be” saying about poison ivy, but the plant has no leaves in winter so “Hairy vine, no friend of mine” has to do when there is snow on the ground.  “Hairy rope, don’t be a dope” might work too. The roots seen in this photo are how the poison ivy vine clings to what it climbs, and there will often be a thick mat of roots all along the stem. But not always; poison ivy can grow as a vine, a shrub, or it can creep along the forest floor. It’s wise, if you plan on spending time in a New England forest, to study the plant and know it well. I usually get a small rash on my knees each spring from kneeling on unseen vines growing under the forest litter when I’m taking photos of early spring wildflowers, and I know it well. I’m lucky enough to be little bothered by it but I’ve known people who were hospitalized because of it.

Everywhere I go I see lichens that look like they’ve been chewed on and I’ve tried to find out why with limited success. Reindeer eat lichens but we don’t have reindeer in these woods, just white tails. I’ve seen squirrels eat mushrooms and since fungi are an important part of a lichen I thought that they might be the culprit, but I’ve never found anything in print about it until researching this post. According to a website called “What Do Squirrels Eat” http://www.whatdosquirrelseat.org squirrels have expanded their palates and will eat just about anything, including what we and our pets eat. It also says that they do indeed eat lichens, so I can finally put the chewed lichen mystery to bed.

But it’s rare day when you hike through a forest and do not come away with a mystery, and this was today’s mystery. From the opposite side this looked like a hard gray lump, smaller than the first joint on my little finger, on a poplar limb. When I looked at the underside I saw what appears in this photo. Though I’ve searched for a few days for an identification so far I have no idea what insect made and hatched from it. I’m guessing that it was some type of gall wasp. It might take a few years but one day I’ll find out more about it. In the end I went home happy, because I saw all kinds of interesting and beautiful things and surprisingly, saw no real flood damage at all.

Study how water flows in a valley stream, smoothly and freely between the rocks. Also learn from holy books and wise people. Everything – even mountains, rivers, plants and trees – should be your teacher. ~Morihei Ueshiba

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1. Dim Sun

The old saying says that you should make lemonade when life gives you lemons, so when life gives me cold I take photos of the ice. The one above shows what a little glimpse of sun on a cold, cloudy winter day looks like. There seems to be little real heat coming from it but I suppose if it wasn’t there we’d know what cold was really all about. We’ve seen the temperature fall to as low as -12 °F (-24 °C) so far, and there’s a lot of January left.

2. Window Frost

In the old house I grew up in the curtains would blow in the breeze even when the windows were closed and frost grew on the windows all winter long, so I grew up admiring all of the different shapes that can be seen in ice. They can be very beautiful and I still admire them.

3. Window Frost

Ferns, flowers, trees; window frost can take on almost any shape and I’ve always wondered what made them grow in the shapes that they do. I finally found the answer at Snow Crystals.com: “Window frost forms when a pane of glass is exposed to below-freezing temperatures on the outside and moist air on the inside.  Water vapor from the air condenses as frost on the inside surface of the window. Scratches, residual soap streaks, etc., can all change the way the crystals nucleate and grow.”

4. Streamside Ice

Fingers of ice suspended above the water of a stream revealed how much the water level had dropped since they formed.

5. Riverside Ice

The same drop in water level can be seen along the river, but the ice here shows it in a different way. In rivers and streams ice always seems to start forming on the banks before working its way toward the middle but on lakes and ponds it is just the opposite; it starts forming in the middle and works its way towards shore. I’m sure that the movement of the water in rivers and streams has a lot to do with it, but there must be more to it than that.

Last winter the river rose higher than I’ve ever seen it in this spot due to down river ice jams blocking the flow, and thick ice covered everything that can be seen in this photo. It was like an ice covered wasteland and you couldn’t tell where the land stopped and the water started. Best to stay off that kind of ice.

6. Ice on Rocks

I thought it was strange that all of the larger stones along the river were coated with ice but the smaller stones weren’t. I would have guessed that it would be the reverse, because it seems like the larger stones would absorb and hold more heat from the sun and keep the water from freezing. Could it be that the larger stones take longer than the smaller ones to absorb that heat?  Just another of nature’s mysteries to add to an ever growing list.

 7. Ice Needles on Stream Bank

Along another small stream I saw more ice needles than I’ve ever seen in one place. There were many millions of them growing out of the gravel, all along its banks. Usually I see ice needles that are coated with the soil that they grow out of but these were surprisingly clean because of the gravel.

8. Ice Needles on Stream Bank

They were also the longest ice needles that I’ve seen. Many were 6-8 inches long. When the air temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit right at the soil surface and the soil and groundwater remain thawed, hydrostatic pressure can force the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. From what I’ve seen the needles almost always freeze together and form ribbons like those seen in the above photo.

9. Ice Needles on Leaf

Ice needles are very fragile, as you can imagine. I wanted to move a leaf so I could get a better shot of some needles but when I moved it the needles went with it. You can see how they’ve attached to the underside of the leaf along with some hoar frost that has grown there. I was surprised to find that ice ribbons weigh next to nothing-little more than the dry leaf they were hanging from, so it must take very little water to make them.

 10. Ice Patterns

The whiter the ice, the more air bubbles were trapped in it when it froze. That explains the color, but what explains the long, needle like crystals and the strange pinging noise it makes when it breaks? There might be answers to those questions out there, but I haven’t been able to find them.

 11. Frosted Fern Leaf

Hoarfrost grows whenever it’s cold and there is a source of water vapor nearby. When it is below freezing the water vapor from unfrozen rivers and streams often condenses on the plants all along their banks and covers them in hoarfrost, as this fern leaf shows.

12. Frost on a Leaf

More examples of hoarfrost.  It looks so very delicate that I often have to remind myself to breathe while I’m taking its photo.  One touch of a warm finger, a ray of sunshine, or a warm breath and they’re gone.

13. Ice Patterns

Ice can be very abstract. This streamside example had a lot of large bubbles frozen in place and it showed a surprising amount of depth as well as abstraction and it reminded me of the old black and white Twilight Zone TV episodes from the 60s. I can see an eye and a set of teeth and a flying bird and a fish skeleton and several other things in it so you see, ice can even give us the imagination of a child again, at least for a little while. I can’t think of many gifts greater than that one.

14. Icy Rocks

Ice can also reveal the hidden groundwater that seems to seep out of the soil year round but is nearly impossible to detect until it freezes. Once winter shows us where it is if we can remember to return to the spot in the summer we might find some interesting plants there. Some orchids, certain liverworts, and other fascinating plants like to grow where water constantly seeps. In this spot the liverwort known as greater whipwort (Bazzania trilobata) grows in abundance.

15. Frozen Waterfall

In this photo the ice seems to be letting us see into the future. I can see a couple of large boulders and even a tree or two being toppled by this stream before too long.  Of course because of the way ice expands it might set things to tumbling before it even has a chance to melt.

Ice burns, and it is hard for the warm-skinned to distinguish one sensation, fire, from the other, frost. ~A.S. Byatt,

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1. Grape Tendril

I thought I saw a beautiful Hindu dancer in this grape tendril.

2. Feather

I see a lot of feathers in the woods. This white one had landed on a hemlock twig.

 3. Stream Ice

Red wing blackbirds have returned and there are buds on the daffodils but after the third coldest March in 140 years, there is still a lot of ice left to melt in the woods.

4. Ashuelot Ice

Where the river sees sunshine the ice is melting at a faster pace.

5. Orange Crust Fungus aka Stereum complicatum

This orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) was so bright on a rainy day that I could see it from quite far away, like a beacon guiding me into the forest.

 6. Slender Rosette Lichen aka Physcia subtilis

Gray rosette lichens are common enough so we often pass them by without a nod but some, like this slender rosette lichen (Physcia subtilis), are worth stopping to admire.

7. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen 3

I don’t know what it is with smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) this year but the wax coatings on their fruiting discs are bluer than I’ve ever seen them. It’s like someone sprinkled candy over the stones.

8. Beard Lichen

Beard lichens (Usnea sp.) always remind me of ancient, sun bleached bones. This one grew on a gray birch limb.

 9. Alder Catkins

Soon these alder (Alnus) catkins will to turn yellow-green and start to release pollen. If you look closely at the catkin on the far right you can see it just beginning to happen.

 10. Stair Step Moss

I’ve been looking for stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) and I think I might have found it. This moss gets its common name from the way the new branches step up from the backs of the old.

11. Stairstep Moss

Stair step moss is feathery and delicate and quite beautiful.

At some point in life, the world’s beauty becomes enough. ~ Toni Morrison

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