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Posts Tagged ‘Toadskin Lichen’

The weather people promised a fine summer day recently, with temperatures in the 70s F. and low humidity, so I knew it was a day to make a climb. I chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey because as I looked through this year’s blog posts I was surprised to find that I hadn’t climbed it at all this year. To get to the trailhead you cross this meadow.

The last time I was here there were two planks across this wet area. Now there were four and with all the rain we’ve had this year, I wasn’t surprised. I gave a silent word of thanks to the kind person who put them here.

Though there were other wet places along the trail most of it was dry and easy going, and it was a beautiful morning to be in the woods.

I saw one of my favorite clubmosses, fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum.) The plant gets its common name from the way its branches fan out in a 180-degree arc at the top of the stem. Another common name is ground cedar because of its resemblance to the cedar tree. At one time this and other clubmosses were used to make Christmas wreaths and were collected almost into oblivion, but they seem to be making a fairly good comeback. A single plant can take 20 years or more to grow from spore to maturity, so they should never be disturbed. Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all. They are vascular plants that don’t flower; they produce spores instead of seeds and are considered “fern allies.” Fossils have been found that show the lowly clubmosses once grew to 100 feet tall.

I was surprised to find a checkered rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera tesselata) here, growing right at the edge of the trail. Though it is a woodland orchid it is not as common as its cousin the downy rattlesnake plantain, which I see regularly. It had flowered earlier but they had gone by. This plant was very small; easily small enough to fit in a teacup with room to spare, so you can probably imagine how small its flowers are. They look like tiny white teapots and are pollinated by bumblebees, halictid bees and syrphid flies.

The sun shining on these black birch leaves stopped me for a bit. There are lots of black birch trees here, I’m happy to say. They were once harvested nearly into oblivion so they could be pulped to make oil of wintergreen. If you ever wonder what kind of tree you’re seeing, cherry or birch, just scratch off a bit of bark and sniff. If you smell wintergreen, you have a black birch (Betula lenta.) It is also called sweet birch or cherry birch. The trees can be tapped like sugar maples in spring and the fermented sap made into birch beer.

Yellow finger coral fungi are round like spaghetti but these were flat so I think they were a club coral, possibly Clavulinopsis helvola. They grow in tight clusters, often fused at the base. They are said to taste very bitter, which might explain why animals never seem to touch them. They were beautiful, backlit by the sun as they were.

The reason club and coral fungi grow the way they do is to get their spores, which grow on their tips, up above the soil surface so the wind can disperse them. They grew all the way up the hill, scattered throughout the woods, looking like little flames licking up out of the soil. I’ve never seen so many in one place.

Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) also grew in good numbers, and many had ripe fruit like this one. Those plants that produce fruit usually have a bright crimson patch on the leaves just under the berries. I’ve often wondered if it was there to attract birds or animals to the fruit. Little is known about what animals eat the berries but it is said that the Native American Iroquois tribe used the crushed dried berries and leaves to treat convulsions in infants. Native Americans also ate the roots of the plant, which taste and smell like a cucumber. I accidentally scared a turkey away from the plants once and I wondered if it was that bird eating the berries. They do disappear.

What a beautiful day it was. My lungs were working well, probably due to the cooler weather, so I didn’t have any trouble climbing. This climb is steadily uphill but it isn’t steep. I think a young person could probably be up and down in a half hour, but then they’d miss so much.

I saw probably fifty or more honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea) growing on a fallen tree and I was glad they weren’t on a living, standing tree. Bootstrap fungus is caused by honey mushrooms, which are parasitic on live wood and send out long root like structures called rhizomorphs between the wood of a tree and its bark. When fresh the rhizomorphs are cream colored but darken to brown or black as they age. The fungus is also called armillaria root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees.

A ray of sunlight caught a pretty little purple cort mushroom (Cortinarius iodeoides,) fruiting far later than usual. It might seem odd to see a mushroom in sunlight but most everything in the forest gets at least some sun, if just for a few moments each day.

Ridged tooth fungi (Hydnellum scrobiculatum) grew here and there nearer the summit. This one is tough; they feel hard and non-yielding to the touch. The common name comes from the ridges on the cap margins. It’s a very unusual woodland mushroom that likes to grow near pines. Because it’s so tough nothing touches it, so they last for quite a while.

The “tooth” part of the name becomes apparent when you turn a ridged tooth fungus over. Instead of gills it has spines packed closely together. They are said to start out kind of purplish-brown but these were more of a tan so I’d guess that the color fades as they age. That’s common among fungi.

Something I’ve wanted to see for a very long time is the black earth tongue fungus so today was a lucky, fungus filled day. This fungus is very rare in my experience though I’ve read that it is widely distributed. This example might have been an inch tall at best and was club shaped. It grew on a well-rotted tree stump and for that reason I think it must be the common earth tongue (Geoglossum cookeanum.) At first I thought it was the viscid black earthtongue (Glutinoglossum glutinosum,) but that species only grows in soil. I’ve read that the only way to be sure is by microscopic examination of its spores. It is one of the sac fungi and feels very tough and leathery.

Another mushroom I’ve never seen is a pretty one called the painted suillus (Suillus spraguei.) It is also called the painted slippery cap and red and yellow suillus. The caps are dark red when young and develop yellowish cracks as they age. They also have mats of reddish hairs on the cap, according to what I’ve read. They are said to have a mycorrhizal relationship with pine trees, particularly the eastern white pine, so it makes perfect sense that it would grow here.

The sunlight brought out the velvety sheen in this tiger eye fungus (Coltricia cinnamomea.) It was beautiful, with its concentric rings of colors. They are also called fairy stools or sometimes cinnamon fairy stools because of the bands of cinnamon orangey brown coloring on their caps. Previously their scientific name was Coltricia perennis but names are changing all the time these days. The Coltricia part of the scientific name means seat or couch and perennis means perennial.

And there was the 40-ton glacial erratic called Tippin’ Rock, which will rock back and forth like a baby cradle when pushed in the right spot. I thought the story was just a fairy tale until I saw it move, and then I thought it was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen. When you start thinking of all the things that had to happen for this stone to be able to do that, it kind of blows your mind.

When I saw the puffy white clouds in the sky I knew this would be a good day for views, and I wasn’t disappointed. They add a lot of interest to what is otherwise a flat blue sky, and I’ve always loved to sit and watch their shadows moving across the hills below. Sometimes they creep and other times they speed by.

Sitting with your back against a stone, watching the cloud shadows gliding silently across the landscape, hearing the soft whisper of the wind in the trees, it’s easy to believe that you have it all. All is perfection, and there isn’t a thing you would change, even if you could.

I keep telling myself that I’ll climb to the top of the ledges so I can say that I was at the very top of 912-foot Hewe’s Hill but by the time I get there doing so has lost its importance. I also realize that I can’t be absolutely sure that this point is the highest, but I’ve never seen anything higher from where I stood. It’s impressive.

Lichens and mosses taught me to watch for vertical streams. Where water runs down the bark of trees after a rain for example, is where you’ll often find the most mosses and lichens growing. They grow on either side of the channel, just as if they grew on the banks of a stream. And here it was again, on a much larger scale. There is a water source somewhere above that drips water continuously down the face of the ledge and, since lichens need to be moist to be at their best, that’s where they grow. These are mostly rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) and toadskin (Lasallia papulosa) lichens, each umbilicate lichens.

There is little in nature that seems happier than a wet lichen, unless it is two squirrels playing tag. This toadskin lichen was in its glory; pea green, as rubbery as your ear lobe, and producing spores like there was no tomorrow.

These lichens, away from the dripping water source, didn’t look so happy. They were ashen and stiff, just hanging on waiting for rain. And umbilicate lichens really do hang on. They attach themselves to the stone at a single point and hang like a rag from a peg. Nothing illustrates that better than that rock tripe lichen in the center. It actually looks like a rag hanging from a peg. You can see the attachment point in these lichens as bright white spots in this photo. That single attachment point reminded whoever sorted these lichens into their little pigeonholes of their bellybutton, hence the name umbilicate.

And on the way back down there was Mister Smiley Face. He was here for years and then he disappeared so I thought someone had thrown him into the woods but no, he had just been moved up the hill a little further. He’s covered with moss now but still smiling. I found myself smiling too, happy to see him after so long but at the same time wondering when this chunk of log became a “him” and gained a name. I can’t remember but it doesn’t matter. It always makes me smile.

To see what others cannot…
You must climb the mountain.

~Ron Akers

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Last Saturday I realized that I hadn’t climbed Mount Caesar in Swanzey this year so I decided it was time, but not that day; it was near 90 degrees with air so thick you could cut it with a knife. By Sunday morning it had cooled off considerably with very low humidity, but as this photo shows there was plenty of mist.

I was hoping I’d get to see the mist from above but the sun had burned it off by the time I got to the river of reindeer lichen. This is one of my favorite places to stop for a bit on this mountain, though you really haven’t even started the climb at this point.

There are lots of reindeer lichens (Cladonia rangiferina) here. Huge drifts of them line both sides of the trail at its start. These lichens are quite fragile, especially when dry, and should never be walked on. Reindeer lichen is very slow growing at about an eighth to three eighths of an inch per year and if overgrazed or dug up, it can take decades to reappear. I’ve always thought that the large colonies found here must be hundreds of years old.

The trail starts with granite bedrock.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) reminded me of my grandmother. When I was young she wanted me to be able to see and smell this plant’s flowers, but we never did find any because almost all of it had been picked. Now, 60 years later. It’s everywhere I go. She’d be very happy about that.

Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) are one of the earliest to turn in the fall but I’ve never seen one half turn like this one had.

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) was wearing its fall spots. This is one of the earliest plants to whisper fall in any of the forests I visit, and it is often spotted with yellow at this time of year.

My phone camera usually takes better trail photos than my regular camera, but on this morning I wasn’t really happy with the results. To be fair though, it was a bright sunlight, high contrast situation and every camera I’ve owned has had trouble with that.

I found these small mushrooms growing out of a living tree, which is never good for the tree. I haven’t been able to identify them. I see green but my color finding software sees pink, so they must be pink. They were kind of cute, I thought. All the sawdust that had fallen on and around them tells me that this tree is probably full of carpenter ants. Fungi and carpenter ants in and on a living tree is never a good thing for the tree.

I saw lots of purple corts (Cortinarius iodeoides) along the trail but the purple mushroom I hoped to find, the beautiful violet coral fungus, was nowhere to be seen. I’ve seen it here before at just about this time of year.

Another “cort” mushroom is the corrogated cap cort (Cortinarius corrugatus.) It is also called the wrinkled cort for obvious reasons. When fresh it is orangey brown but this one had gone beyond fresh. It’s an inedible but interesting mushroom that people like to find.

I can’t pass by a group of butter wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe ceracea) without getting some photos of them. They’re one of the most photogenic mushrooms in the forest, in my opinion. Very cute and shy little things; I never would have see them hiding behind this log if I hadn’t left the trail to look at something else. As is often the case if you let nature lead, one beautiful thing will lead you to another.

The trail here is very rough in places and is a constant uphill grade with no level places, so I think of it as the most challenging climb of any I do. I once saw a high school track and field member run up and down it before I had reached the halfway point but it usually takes me about an hour and 15 minutes or so. It would anyway even with healthy lungs, because I make a lot of stops to see things of interest. With me “things of interest” means just about everything I see.

Piling stones on top of a tree that has been cut about 7 or 8 feet above the ground doesn’t seem like a good idea to me, but maybe that’s just me. I hope they don’t fall on anyone.

Once I saw these polypody ferns (Polypodium virginianum) near the summit I realized that I had never seen them on this moutain before. They’re called “rock polypody” because they like to grow on top of boulders and there really aren’t any stones big enough to be called boulders along this trail. These seemed to be growing on the ground, which is unusual for this fern. Or maybe there was a buried stone I couldn’t see.

I always look on the polypody’s leaf undersides at this time of year to see the tiny spore cases (sorus) which shine like beacons. Henry David Thoreau liked polypody ferns and said that “Fresh and cheerful communities of the polypody form a lustrous mantle over rocky surfaces in the early spring.” Of course they do exactly that and that’s how they come by another common name: rock cap fern.

The tiny sori are made up of clusters of sporangia and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many ferns. Each will turn a reddish-brown color when ripe and ready to release its spores. The spores are as fine as dust and are borne on the wind. Sorus is from the Greek word sōrós, and means stack, pile, or heap, and each sorus is indeed a round pile of sporangia. As they begin to release spores the sori (plural of sorus) are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of flowers.

NOTE: A helpful reader pointed out that I had my wires crossed and had the meanings of the words sori and sorus backwards. I do know the difference but it’s easy to become confused these days. I hope I got it correct this time and hope my mistake didn’t cause you any confusion.

The end of the trail, the last few yards to the summit, shows more solid granite bedrock and when you reach this point you realize that you’ve been climbing a huge, dome shaped granite monolith with a thin skin of soil on it. It makes you feel small, and feeling small is a good thing now and then.

It was a fine morning for views from the summit but I found that a lot of brush has grown up, so you don’t see a 180-degree panorama any longer.

I was surprised to find little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) up here. It caught the light and glowed beautifully pink in the bright sunshine. This is a common grass that grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington, but is so uncommonly beautiful that it is also grown in gardens. After a frost it takes on a reddish-purple hue, making it even more beautiful.

I was surprised to find St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) growing on the summit. I also saw lots of goldenrod, sumac, honeysuckle, and even forked blue curls. It’s amazing how all those seeds find their way up here. I suppose if you knew which birds ate which seeds you could get a good idea of what birds regularly visit this mountain.

This view shows what I mean about the brush blocking some of the view. I’m sure someone must cut it but I don’t know how often.

Of course I had to visit with the toadskin lichens while I was up here. They surprised me by being quite dry, even though we’d had rain just the morning before. These lichens feel just like potato chips when they’re dry and they crack just as easily so I try not to disturb them. I learned on this climb that they dry out quite quickly and I’d guess that they must be dry for most of their lives.

The black dots you saw on the lichens in that previous shot are this lichen’s apothecia, where its spores are produced. In toadskin lichens they are tiny blackish discs with a sunken center that makes them look like a bowl with a thick black rim. I’ve been imagining that I’m having problems with the camera I use for macros, but the toadskin lichens showed me that there was really nothing to worry about. The head of a pin is .06 inches (1.5 mm) in diameter and one these tiny discs could easily hide behind one.

The view of Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey was as good as any I’ve seen from up here on this day, and I as I sat for a while enjoying it I thought it was a good bonus for all my huffing and puffing. And while I sat there catching my breath and admiring the view, I thought about what an easy thing it is to appreciate the simple things; those everyday things that cost nothing but touch you somehow. I’ve learned from experience that appreciation leads to gratitude, and gratitude leads to joy. I do hope your days are joy filled.

The climb speaks to our character, but the view, I think, to our souls. ~Lori Lansens

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New year’s day dawned sunny but cool, with a promise of warmer temperature later in the day. Since rain had washed all the snow away I though it might be a good opportunity for a winter climb, so I chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. At about 11:00 am the trail across the field was still white with frost and hard to miss.

In the shade the previous night’s frost still clung to the plants.

And there was ice. I had my micro spikes with me but I hadn’t yet put them on because I had a feeling things might be different in the forest.

Some kind soul had built a boardwalk of halved logs over a wet spot. This wet area wasn’t here when I first came here but it seems to have grown over the years. I wonder if foot traffic had something to do with that.

Pretty brocade moss (Hypnum imponens) decorated many logs near the wet area. I often have trouble finding this moss when I do a moss post but apparently that’s only because I’ve been looking in the wrong places.

As I suspected the forest was clear of ice and snow. The snow on the trail had been washed away by rain before people could walk on it and pack it into ice, so we were back to bare ground.

I’ve always thought that the weight of snow was what flattened evergreen Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) down to the ground but according to an interesting article in Northern Woodlands Magazine science has found that  some cells in their lower stems die, forming a ‘hinge’ which allows the fern fronds to sprawl on the ground. What they gain by doing so is the warmer ground surface, which may keep them up to 18 degrees warmer than if they remained standing upright.

If you look at the leaflets on a Christmas fern you’ll see that each one looks like a Christmas stocking, each with a “toe.” This and their leathery look and feel make them very easy to identify. The name “Christmas fern” is thought to come from the early settler’s habit of using its fronds as Christmas decorations. Native Americans used them to treat chest ailments like pneumonia and to relieve flu symptoms.

Concentric boulder lichen (Porpidia crustulata) gets its name from the way its black apothecia grow in concentric (or nearly so) rings around their center. The gray body of the lichen forms a crust on stone and that makes it a crustose lichen. They grow in sun or shade and don’t ever seem to change color. This lichen is relatively rare here and I only see them once in a blue moon but here they were; four or five of them grew on a boulder I’ve walked by a hundred times.  As I’ve said before; I’m as amazed by what I miss as what I see.

There are lots of bent trees in this forest and I’d guess they got that way by having other trees fall on them when they were young.

The soil was crunching when I walked on it in places and I knew what that meant…

…Ice needles. Ice needles form when hydrostatic pressure forces 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. I’ve read that each hair thin needle is hexagonal in shape, and that needles have been found that were 16 inches long. The needles in these photos, frozen together into ribbons, were about 3-4 inches long I’d guess. 

There were lots of ice needles along the trail but many had been stepped on, probably by people who heard the crunching but never saw them.

A young tree root grew over a stone and lashed it down.

I stopped to admire the grain patterns on a hollow log. Wood like this is very beautiful in my opinion and I’m seeing more of it everywhere I go.

I saw several stilted trees on this day. Stilted trees grow from seeds that fall on a rotted log or stump and grow their roots around the stump or log. Once whatever it grew on rots away what is left is a tree that looks like it’s standing on stilts. Or about to run away.

And before I knew it there was Tippin Rock, the 40 ton glacial erratic that rocks like a baby cradle if you push in the right spot. Every time I think about all the things that had to happen for this boulder to be here on the summit my mind gets boggled. How thick can a glacier be, I always wonder.

Tippin Rock has a crack but I don’t think it goes all the way through. If it is rocked much more it might though. I’ve seen photos from the early 1900s of people standing by it so I’m guessing it has been rocked for quite a long time.

This was not a day for views, and that was okay. I had forgotten that the sun points right at you up here at this time of day. What looks like brush in the foreground in this shot is actually the uppermost branches of a mature oak tree.

Instead of looking out into the sun I looked down. As always I was fascinated at being so high above the tree tops, and I wasn’t surprised to find that my fear of heights was still healthy and strong.

Of course I had to say hello to my friends the toadskin lichens. Water dripped down the stones and fell on some of them and that meant they were their “normal” pea green color. They will not die without moisture but what you see here is what I think of as their happy state.

Many of them were dry and ash gray. Lichens are very patient beings and they will stay in this state waiting for rain for as long as it takes.

This one was drying out and was partly gray, and if you compare it to the one we saw two photos ago you can see how the shine has gone out of it. The tiny black dots are this lichen’s spore producing apothecia. Toadskin lichens attach to the rock at a single point that looks sort of like a belly button, and this makes them umbilicate lichens. It was once thought that they were a combination of fungus and algae, but science has learned that they are actually composite beings made up of several different organisms.

I hiked over to the ledges and marveled at the silence of the day. Not a bird call, not a breeze, not a chipmunk, no falling ice or water, nothing. But then while I was taking this photo I heard behind me and down below in the forest the loud crash of a tree falling. This was only the second time I’ve heard a tree fall without seeing it, but it’s a sound you can’t mistake for anything else. It always reminds me of the question “if a tree falls in the forest and there’s nobody there to hear it, will it still make a sound?”

I looked down again thinking I might see that fallen tree, and wished I hadn’t. That’s quite a drop.

After the butterflies had flown from my stomach I headed back down the hill and found a lady and her dog who were lost. She walked a lot faster than I do and had passed me a couple times at different spots, and was now coming back up the main trail looking for the side trail that would lead her out of the woods. I pointed her in the right direction and told her which tree and stumps to watch for. I didn’t see her again so I assume she made it home safely. I’ve been lost in the woods just once and I can say  that I’d rather have just about anything else happen, so I think I know how she felt.

If you wish your children to think deep thoughts, to know the holiest emotions, take them to the woods and hills, and give them the freedom of the meadows; the hills purify those who walk upon them.  ~Richard Jefferies

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I was going to climb a hill last Saturday but it felt quite warm at 55 degrees, so I went to the lake instead. This is Swanzey Lake, one of many lakes in the area. Since it is relatively close to Keene you can usually expect the swimming area on the east side of the lake to be packed with children on a sunny summer day. I spent many wonderful hours swimming and playing here as a boy. There were even bathrooms and a snack bar.

If it rained you could go into the hall but there wasn’t really much of anything to do other than sit and wait for the rain to stop.

On this day the water was low because of the drought so the beach was twice as wide as it usually is. I swam here regularly as a boy but I had a blockage in my mind that told me I couldn’t swim in deep water, even though I swam fine in shallow water. My cousin, who was a lifeguard, told me “Don’t say you can’t swim. I’ve seen you do it; you swim like a fish.” He said that just before he dropped me into the deep end of a swimming pool, and it was a good thing he was a lifeguard because I swam like a stone and had to be rescued before I drowned. Only after I surrendered to the fact that I would never swim for real did the paralyzing fear melt away so I could finally swim in deep water. I didn’t have many opportunities to show it off here though; the water goes out 30 feet before it is over an adult’s head and a swimming area was always roped off for younger children. There was a lifeguard that made sure you stayed inside the ropes as well.

I discovered that watching ripples through a camera lens is completely mesmerizing.

A large bird with big feet walked all over the sand of the beach. I thought it might be a heron but I don’t know for certain.

You get down to the beach by following a paved downhill driveway, and rainwater washes down the driveway with such force that it creates deep gullies in the beach. I would have thought that it would have been fixed by now but no. It has been going on since I was a boy and I found myself wondering how much sand had washed into the lake in all that time.

If it weren’t for the fact that the swimming area has been developed the forest would grow right down to the water’s edge. There is a small area that is still forested and some quite large white pines grow there. They are lichen covered, with the ones that want the most humidity like these shield lichens growing on the side toward the lake.

There are a few trees just at the beach start and their roots have become quite exposed, both by years of small foot traffic and the washing of the water.

I was very surprised to find trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) growing among the tree roots. Trailing arbutus is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear.  Its oval evergreen leaves are tough and leathery and hug the ground but though it looks like a groundcover botanically speaking it has a persistent woody stem, so it is classified as a shrub. This was one of my grandmother’s favorite flowers and she would walk in the woods to find and smell it rather than dig it up to plant in her yard.  It’s too bad everybody didn’t do the same because this plant was once collected into near oblivion. These days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. It seemed to be doing well here in full sun, even though I usually find it in shady areas.

Horsehair lichens (Bryoria trichodes) and others grow on the sides of the trees opposite the water, which tells me they must need a little less humidity. Since it has rained little lately these lichens were very dry. Beard and hair lichens are extremely sensitive to air pollution and will only grow where the air quality is high. Deer, moose and squirrels eat this lichen and there are stories of deer rushing out of the forest and eating it out of the tops of felled spruce trees while loggers with chainsaws were still cutting the trees up.

An old tree stump was covered with American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) plants. They are also called teaberry or checkerberry and their small white flowers resemble those of the blueberry. It is probably the easiest of all wintergreens to identify because of the strong minty scent that comes from its crushed leaves. If you have ever tasted teaberry gum then you know exactly what it smells and tastes like. The plant contains compounds that are very similar to those found in aspirin and Native Americans used it much like we use aspirin. They also chewed the leaves for refreshment on long hikes.

Cushion mosses grew under an alder. White cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) can appear silvery, white, bluish green or grayish green but it always forms a thick cushion and stands out from the mosses that might surround it. It likes plenty of water and shade. It is probably the easiest of all the mosses to identify.

What could be better than green grass on November 21st in New Hampshire? Not that long ago you could ice skate in November.

This toadskin lichen (Lasallia papulosa) is very special to me because it is the only one I’ve ever seen that wasn’t on a mountaintop. Toadskin lichens show dramatic color changes when they dry out like many other lichens. When wet it is pliable and pea green and when dry it becomes crisp and ash gray like the above example. Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them umbilicate lichens.

I left the beach and went down the road just a bit to the boat launch. I used to fish here with my daughter and son when they were younger and I still see many people doing the same in the summer. We always hoped for lake trout but got sunfish instead.

The black line on that boulder shows the normal water level. I’d say it was down about a foot and a half which, when spread over the surface of the entire lake, is an awful lot of water lost.

I was surprised to see water still flowing over the dam but it was really just a trickle when compared to a normal water height.

Someone built a fine new bridge over the spillway. I stood on it to take that previous photo.

Mallards didn’t mind the low water level. In fact it probably made it easier for them to find food. There was quite a large group of them and I was surprised that they didn’t fly away when they saw me. Mallards are often very skittish in these parts, I think because nobody feeds them.

There is a large grassy area where people can sit and picnic. I sat here for awhile and enjoyed the sound of the waterfall while I watched the ducks. To sit by the water on a green lawn in the warm sunshine without a coat on in November while listening to the birds sing is a great gift.

What I think was a winter oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) grew on a tree. Its upturned gills made them easy to admire. This example was dying but I often find that mushrooms are often as beautiful in death as they are in life. The color and movement that this one showed were beautiful.

On another stump there was quite a crop of them. You have to watch what you’re doing at all times when foraging for mushrooms but especially the “winter mushrooms”, because the cold can change their color. We’ve had nights in the teens and I’m sure these examples had probably been frozen and had darkened because of it. They might have also been the late oyster mushroom (Panellus serotinus).

This one looked very fresh. I think it was a late oyster because of the yellow orange gill color. Late oysters aren’t considered as choice as winter oysters here but the Japanese consider them a great delicacy.

And this little mushroom had found a place to get out of the cold winds. I’m not sure what it was but I admired its pluck.

The strangest thing I saw this day was this willow shedding its bud scales and showing its “pussies.” The only guess I have is that it was fooled by the warm weather after the cold we had. Plants can be fooled by such things and they usually pay for it by not being able to produce seeds the following year.

If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. ~Tecumseh, Shawnee

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

A few of the many things I have to be thankful for this year are:
The neighbor’s rooster. I love hearing him crow each morning when I leave for work.
The wonderful smell of woodsmoke I smell each day on the way home as I drive by a barbecue restaurant.
The time change; the sunrises have been beautiful on my way to work.
And I’m most thankful for the fact that nobody I know has gotten sick. I do hope all of you can say the same.

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1-trail

Last Saturday an old friend who moved to California years ago came east for a visit, so I thought I’d take him up Hewe’s hill to see Tippin’ Rock. He’s a regular reader of this blog and has seen the behemoth in photos, but never in person. Luckily he’s always up for an uphill climb.

2-turkey-feather

Since we’re about the same age I don’t think he minded my stopping to take photos, like this one of a turkey feather. We don’t run up and down hills quite like we used to.

3-tippin-rock

But we were able to huff and puff our way to the top where the 40 ton glacial erratic sat waiting. We marveled at the size of the thing and thought about all the things that had to have happened millions of years ago for it to have ended up here. It doesn’t just sit on dirt; it’s on the only perfectly flat section of the granite bedrock that the hill is made from. And it isn’t just any old rock; its underside is like the hull of a ship, with a keel-like shape to it. It also comes with a very old legend that says if you “get your shoulder under” the right part of the stone and heave, it will move. That’s where the name “Tippin” Rock” comes from.

4-tipping-tippin-rock

Well, I’ve gotten my shoulder under every part of the thing and heaved until I was blue in the face, so I thought I’d let my friend Dave have a turn. Here he is going at it from the side, using his arms instead of his shoulder. The rock just sat there, so then he tried a different spot and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Wonder of wonders; 40 tons of granite rocked back and forth like a baby cradle.  “Well I’ll be,” I said and then I took a turn. Once again it moved back and forth like a pendulum. But it’s a slow, subtle movement and we discovered that if you’re looking directly at the stone you can’t really tell that it’s moving. You have to look at an edge to really see the slow rocking motion, and that’s what makes me think that every time I’ve heaved at the stone it was moving and I just couldn’t see it. We also noticed that we could hear it rocking by its crushing the dry forest debris that the wind has blown under it.

5-tipping-tippin-rock

We tried several different spots and the big stone rocked slowly back and forth nearly every time, so the legend of Tippin Rock has proven true, and I’m glad to be able to check another of nature’s mysteries off my long list. I told Dave I’d make him world famous; known from here to Timbuktu as the man who can move 40 tons of solid granite with nothing but his bare hands.

6-trail

We spent more than a few minutes marveling at our sudden onrush of super human strength but there were other things up here to see, so we headed off down the trail to where the views are found.

7-in-the-tree-tops

As I feared the sky was flat, dull, white, and uninteresting. It might seem ungrateful to complain about an entire summer of cloudless blue skies but I can say with surety that even the best things in life can become tiresome when you have too much of them. We did have a dark cloudy day with a little drizzle yesterday and it seemed like all of nature was rejoicing.

8-view-south

To the south there were miles of unbroken forest. I didn’t see much in the way of fall colors but some of the trees seem to be hinting at lighter shades.

9-view-west

To the west there was more unbroken forest and even a touch of blue in the sky. There is also a stronger hint of fall in this photo, I just noticed.

10-ledges

In places the bedrock forms ledges and in the ledges there are sometimes shallow caves, some big enough to sit in when it rains.  You have to choose your cave carefully though, because in many of them the stone on the ceiling is falling to the floor.

11-ledges

In places the bedrock forms sheer faces and rock climbers come here to hone their craft. Just to the left, out of sight in this photo, is a drop of (we guessed) about 60-80 feet. Vertigo comes easily here, at least for those who don’t do heights well, and it wouldn’t be a good idea to be wandering around at night.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I introduced Dave to my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) and he was impressed by their tenacity. Even after a summer of little rain but here they sit, dry and brittle, patiently waiting for the fall rains that we are all hoping for. We just had a hurricane move up the coast that looked promising for a few tropical downpours but unfortunately it has missed us except for a tiny bit of drizzle.

13-lady-fern

Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) reminded us that fall was right around the corner. According to the “Fern Bulletin,” which is a quarterly publication devoted to ferns, fern reproductive systems weren’t understood until the middle of the 16th century, when fern spores were finally studied. Before that time people thought that there were male and female ferns, and that’s how the lady fern came by her common name. There are other stories about the origin of the name but this one seems the most plausible. It is also called ghost fern for the way it turns white in the fall.

14-butterfly

You have to cross a meadow filled with red clover to get back to your parking spot and on this day every clover blossom seemed to have a yellow butterfly on it. I think they were all common sulfurs.

15-butterflies

It was nice of this one to fly into the frame as I snapped the shutter and show us the upper surface of its wings. The markings match the common Sulphur butterfly. There must have been a large hatching of them, or maybe they’re migrating through the area. Seeing so many at once was a beautiful sight.

16-smiley-face

Mister smiley face didn’t have to remind me that there was plenty to smile about, but it was good to see him just the same.

The best part of the journey is the surprise and wonder along the way. ~Ken Poirot

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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1. Trail Start

Last Saturday was the hottest day of the year so far, with plenty of tropical humidity as well. Puffy white clouds floated slowly through the sky and if you hadn’t known it was May you’d have sworn it was August. When I was a boy I used to love such days, when you could see the shadows of the clouds moving across the distant hills, so I decided to climb one of those hills to see those shadows again. Since it was so hot I decided on an easy climb and chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. You start by crossing the meadow in the above photo. I saw that someone had been there before me; maybe another cloud lover.

2. Grass Flowering

Grasses were flowering. It’s too bad that so many miss them, because they can be very beautiful when they blossom.

3. Blue Eyed Grass

Blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) wasn’t a surprise; meadows like this one is where it loves to grow. Despite its name this little beauty isn’t a grass at all; it’s in the iris family. Wild turkeys love its seeds.

4. Trail

I knew if I didn’t stop dawdling among the meadow flowers I’d never get to the top of the hill, so I set off up the trail.

5. Lady's Slipper

But there were more flowers there to dawdle over. Pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule,) one of our most beautiful native orchids, bloomed alongside the trail. Native Americans called it moccasin flower, for obvious reasons. They used the plant medicinally as a nerve tonic and a pain reliever.

6. Wooly Oak Gall

Further up the trail I found a woolly oak gall, created by the wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator.) It was a small example about the size of an acorn, but I’ve seen them as big as ping pong balls. The gall is caused by secretions from the grubs of the gall wasp, which will only build it on white oak and only in spring. There are small seed like structures inside the gall which contain the wasp larva, and that’s why these galls are also called oak seed galls.

7. Oak Apple Gall

Oak apple galls fall from the trees regularly at this time of year. Theses galls are caused by a gall wasp known as Biorhiza pallida laying an egg inside a leaf bud. Tissue swells around the egg and a gall is formed.

8. Oak Apple Gall Inside

The gall wasp larva lives in the very center of the gall. Once they develop into an adult wasp they make a hole through the side of the gall and fly (or crawl) off to begin the cycle again. A web of spokes keeps the hollow sphere from deflating by connecting the inner hub to the outer shell.

9. Tippin Rock

When you see the 40 ton glacial erratic called Tippin rock you know the climb is just about done. This rock gets its name from the way it can be rocked or tipped when pushed in the right spot, but I’ve never found the spot. Anyhow, this wasn’t what I had come to see so I took a quick photo and moved on. The climbing might be over but the hiking to the scenic overlook isn’t.

10. View

I came hoping to see puffy white clouds casting shadows on the hills, and though I saw plenty of puffy white clouds I didn’t see any shadows. That’s because the clouds were off to the left and the sun was on the right. I find that usually when I go into the woods expecting to see a certain thing I don’t usually see it. Focusing on just one thing can make you miss a lot of what nature has to offer, so that’s why when I go into the woods I try to strip myself of all expectations and just enjoy whatever happens to be in my path. I saw many other interesting things so a lack of cloud shadows wasn’t disappointing. There will be other days with puffy white clouds.

11. View

Some of the puffy white clouds were becoming puffy dark gray clouds, and I wondered if we might see a thunderstorm. I hoped not since I was carrying three cameras (2 in pockets) with no way to protect them.

12. View

This view probably comes closest to what I was trying for, but it’s still not it.

13. Clouds

This shot, taken earlier on the same day at a different location, is what started it all, and shows what I was hoping to see on the hilltop. I might have done better just staying in the low lands.

14. Toadskin Lichen

But if I hadn’t climbed I wouldn’t have gotten to see my old friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa,) because they only grow on hilltops. Their warty projections are called pustules and if you look at the back of this lichen there will be a corresponding pit for every pustule. When wet the greenish color of the algae that is present comes through but when dry they can be very ashy gray. They are also very brittle when dry, like a potato chip.

16. Rock Tripe Lichens

Growing right alongside the toadskin lichens is rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) which is kind of like a toadskin without the warts. It attaches to the rock in the same way and also gets brittle when dry. Though I imagine they must taste like old rubber, these lichens were a source of emergency food for Native Americans and saved the lives of many an early settler. Even George Washington’s troops are said to have eaten rock tripe to survive the brutal winter at Valley Forge in 1777.

17. Toadskin and Rock Tripe Lichens

In this photo the green rock tripe lichens are smaller than the gray toadskin lichens and that’s unusual, but it’s because the rock tripe lichens in this photo are babies. I’ve seen rock tripe lichens as big as my hand but have only seen toad skins about 2 inches across, which is what I’d say the biggest examples in this photo were.

18. Toadskin Lichen

Each lichen, both rock tripe and toad skin, is attached to the rock at a single point that looks much like a belly button, and that makes them umbilicate lichens. I hope everyone reading this will make lichens one of the things they look for when outdoors. They’re fascinating, beautiful things that grow virtually everywhere; even in cities if the air is clean. Cemeteries are a good place to look for those that grow on stone.

19. Smiley Face

Mr. Smiley face was happy as always because that’s what happens when you spend all of your free time outside. You become filled with more joy than you ever thought possible.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. ~John Lubbock

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1. Trail

Last Sunday morning I decided to climb Mount Caesar in Swanzey. This hill seems to be a single, huge piece of granite bedrock that was thrust up out of the earth unknown eons ago. As the above photo shows, the trail starts out bare granite with a little moss and some reindeer lichens growing on the sides. Exposed granite like that shown can be seen here and there all the way to top, but there must be pockets of soil in places because settlers once went to a lot of trouble to clear it.

2. Red Maple

A red maple tree (Acer rubrum) has blown over onto a stone wall and its roots have humped up part of the trail.

3. Target Canker

I know the tree is a red maple by the target canker on its trunk. This canker doesn’t harm the tree but causes its bark to grow in circular patterns of narrow plates which helps protect it from the canker. As the tree ages the patterns disappear. If I understand what I’ve read correctly red maple is the only tree that does this.

4. Cut Forest

The blowdown was caused by the cutting of a large area of town owned forest, which was sold off a few years ago. A tree that has grown behind such a large windbreak all its life it doesn’t need very strong roots, but when the windbreak is removed its weak roots will let it fall. That’s why trees in a constant wind have much stronger roots than those that grow in sheltered locations. That’s also why people who have encountered hardship and adversity throughout their lives are much more able to bear the strain than those who have lived lives of sheltered ease.

5. Cut Boulder

The removal of the shade provided by the forest has revealed a lot of things I haven’t noticed before, like this large boulder that was cut by someone in the past. The short 3 inch deep lines around its edge are what’s left of the holes that were drilled so tools called feathers and wedges could be pounded in them to split the stone. The holes were most likely drilled by hand with a sledge hammer and star drill. One person would hold the drill while the other hit it with the hammer, and that says a lot about both skill and trust.

6. Trailing Arbutus

The cutting of the forest has also thrown sunlight on many shade loving plants, including this trailing arbutus. Its leaves should be deep green rather than the yellowish green seen here. There were a few flowers tucked under the leaves but the plants don’t look as healthy as many other examples I’ve seen.

7. Trail

The skidder used to haul the logs out of the forest turned the trail into a logging road and in places it’s so muddy that people have been forced to make a new narrow trail above the now 2 foot deep trench.  It works fine until you meet someone going the opposite way.  I doubt that it will ever be repaired until the trail becomes a stream and washes half the hill into the road that borders it. Parts of the trail are showing signs that this is already happening, and they look more like dry stream bed than trail. In a pouring rain the water must really rush through.

8. Stone Wall-2

When I was building dry stone walls I always thought of them as giant puzzles, because I knew that there was always a perfect stone that would fit in the space that I was trying to fill; all I had to do was find it. These days I just admire the work of others, and I thought that this part of an old wall looked particularly puzzle like. This isn’t a “thrown wall” where someone just tossed stones on top of each other in a long pile. This wall was thought about and a certain amount of care was taken when it was built.

9. Stone

Sometimes you see stones in walls that have a story to tell, like this one that I assume probably had the deep grooves worn into it by a glacier. I imagine the father and son, brother and brother, or master and slave had a lot to talk about as they cleared the fields of the many rocks they found. They were talking about glaciers and ice ages in Sweden in the 1700s, but whether or not any of that knowledge would have reached the residents of Swanzey is a question I can’t answer. I do know that Native Americans burnt the town to the ground in the mid-1700s, so the residents probably had other things on their minds than glaciers and ice ages.

10. Stone

Other stones, instead of being shaped by ice, show traces of the hot magma that formed them.

11. Turkey Tails

These young turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) grew on a piece of bark that had pulled away from the stump it grew on. They reminded me of the old song Blue Velvet by Bobby Vinton, and I had it playing in my head for the rest of the hike.

12. Log

There is a very big old log lying beside the trail just before you reach the top and I usually stop here to catch my breath. When I did that this time I saw that the old log had become a nurse log, with a small cherry or black birch growing out of the hollow where a branch once grew. I should have tasted a twig; the taste of wintergreen would have meant it was a black birch (Betula lenta,) which is also called sweet birch, cherry birch, and mahogany birch. It’s an unusual place for a tree to grow and it’ll be interesting to watch.

13. View

I think, out of all the hills I climb, if I climbed them for the view I’d be disappointed about 80% of the time, but since I don’t really care what the view looks like I’m never disappointed. I climb more for the things I see along the trail than what I see from the top, and I see interesting things along the trail every single time I climb. Today’s view would have been among the 80% I’m afraid, with its harsh sunlight and flat blue sky. A deeper blue in the sky and some puffy white clouds would have made a beautiful view but you can’t have everything, and I need to stop and remind myself that I should be thankful that I can even make it up here. There was a time not that long ago when Mount Caesar might as well have been Mount Everest.

14. Monadnock

Mount Monadnock sat in a sun washed haze over in Jaffrey. The word Monadnock is thought to originate with the Native American Abenaki tribe and is said to mean “mountain that stands alone. “ At 3 165 feet Mount Monadnock is taller than any other feature in the region and is visible from nearly every surrounding town. It rises about 2203 feet higher than where I stood when I took this photo.

15. Turkey Vulture

A large bird soared above me on the thermals. I think it was a turkey vulture and I wondered for a moment if it thought I was a turkey. It seemed very interested and circled a couple of times before flying off.

16. Lean To

Someone built a lean-to near the summit sometime in the past. If they stayed up here at night I hope they had a good flashlight and an excellent sense of direction. The cliffs here are quite high and stumbling around up here in the dark would not be wise.

17. Erratic

There is a large glacial erratic that sits on top of Mount Caesar but for some reason I’ve never shown it in a blog post. It’s smaller than a Volkswagen Beetle but not by much. It sits on the granite bedrock where the glacier left it, simply too big and heavy to do anything with. It could have been drilled and split with feathers and wedges like the boulder we saw earlier in this post but that was a lot of work, and what would have been the point? Then you’d just have had to drag the resulting stone slabs all the way down the trail.

18. Mica

This erratic has a lot of mica and feldspar in it, which are minerals I’ve never seen anywhere else here on Mount Caesar. Maybe the glacier carried it from Gilsum to the north. There is plenty of both there. Of course the definition of a glacial erratic is “a piece of rock that differs from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests” and this example seems to fit that definition perfectly.

19. Toadskin

I had to sit by my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) for a while and study them a bit, because the more I look the more I see. On this day they were very dry to the point of crispness, but were still beautiful. The smaller one on the right was pierced by a pine needle, so if you know the size of a pine needle that will tell you the size of the lichen. They aren’t very big; I think the biggest one I’ve seen was about the same diameter as a ping pong ball. I keep hoping to find them at lower elevations but so far the only place I’ve ever seen them is on hilltops. More sunshine? Cleaner air?  I don’t know what attracts them to only the high places.

20. Bluets

The only wildflowers I saw on this morning were bluets (Houstonia caerulea,) and that was okay. They’re beautiful little things but I’ve never seen such an even division in the white and blue on the petals. Usually they have more of one color or the other, and often the white makes a narrow band around the center and the blue colors most of the rest of the petal. I’d have to call these examples bicolor. They were a surprise, and a real treat to see.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds.

~Edgar A. Guest

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1. Freezing Fog Morning

Last Saturday was a beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the 50s F. Sunday, the weather people said, would be even better with wall to wall sunshine and temperatures in the 60s. In New Hampshire such predictions for a December day are enough to get people really excited, but unfortunately a fog rolled in overnight and at 10:30 am on Sunday our landscape still looked like the photo above.

2. Frosty Leaf

Not only had fog rolled in but cold as well, so this wasn’t just ordinary fog. No, this was freezing fog.

3. Frosted Twigs

Everything was coated in rime including the roads if you could believe the road watchers. I didn’t happen to see any icy roads but maybe I was just lucky.

4. Foggy View

I had planned the night before to show you a June day in December with sunshine, blue skies, and green grass, so I had to come up with a plan B. If there’s one thing you learn as a nature blogger it’s that you have to be flexible and take what nature gives. Make all the plans you want, but nature will do as nature pleases and you’ll either go along or be left out of the game. Anyhow, in a pinch I thought I’d climb one of our many hills to see if I could get above the fog. When I reached the bottom of Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey I was presented with the view in the photo above.

5. Frosted White Pine

This white pine (Pinus strobus) at the trail head really was white, but with frost.

6. Trail

The trail was wet but easily climbed. This is a quick, easy climb and that’s why I chose it. I was afraid the sun would come out and burn off all the mist before I could get up above it, which is exactly what happened when I tried this last year on Mount Caesar in Swanzey. It’s a bit of a letdown to climb as fast as you can only to finally reach the summit and huff and puff as you watch the last wisps of mist disappear before you can even turn your camera on.

7. Spider Web

I didn’t expect to see any spider webs because I thought any sensible spider would be doing whatever spiders do in the winter like maybe sleeping, but there were spider webs to be seen. They looked more like someone’s kite string had tangled in the bushes than the beautiful crotchet like spider webs you’d see in the corners of the Addams Family mansion but there they were; strings of ice.

8. Tree Skirt Moss

The trees wore long stockings made of tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates.)

9. Turkey Tail

Blue turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) decorated the logs and fallen branches.

10. Sun Patch

A slice of bright sunlight made me think that I had spent too much time dilly dallying along the trail and had once again lost my chance to get above the fog.

11. Sunshine

In fact my chances weren’t looking at all promising. The mist I saw from the top of Mount Caesar last year burned off quicker than I ever would have believed it could.

12. First Glimpse

But finally there it was, and this was the first glimpse. I had made it, but only just in time.

13. Mist

Is this what a forest fire looks like from above, I wondered?

14. Mist

The cloud was beautiful as it washed through the valley like a stream but silently, without even so much as a sigh.

15. The Edge

Careful, we don’t want to take the fast way down. It would most certainly be our last step.

16. Toadskin Lichen

I visited with my friends the toad skin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) while watching the mist roll on. They’re very shy and only grow on hilltops, but since I always lean on their rock when I come here I’ve gotten to know them well. They were being woken by the first rays of the sun and that made me wonder how much light a lichen needs. I know that they produce their own food through photosynthesis but beyond that I know very little about their light requirements.  I think this one is one of the most unusual and beautiful of our lichens.

17. Mist Breaking

All too soon the mist started to yield to the power of the sun and evaporate.

18. Mist Gone

And then it was gone, just like that, with nothing left but a soft haze, and I sat beside the toad skin lichens wondering about all of the people who had missed it. I wondered if they knew how peaceful it was up here, and I wondered how many knew that most of their troubles and fears would vanish like the mist had if they just spent more of their time in places like this one.

19. Smiley

I knew how the person who blazed the trees must have felt when he or she painted this smiley face because I had smiled myself all the way down the trail. And who wouldn’t, after such an interesting and beautiful morning?

20. After the Climb

This is the same view that appears in the 4th photo in this post just two hours later, so I am able to show you a June day in December with sunshine, blue skies, and green grass after all.

Glance into the world just as though time were gone: and everything crooked will become straight to you. ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

 

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1. Field

Early last Sunday morning I set out to climb Hewes Hill is Swanzey, which takes you to Tippin Rock. I don’t know what I was thinking but I wore sneakers instead of my hiking boots and by the time I had  crossed the field to get to the trail head my feet were soaked from the heavy dew. One unusual thing about this photo is that there is a cloud in it. That’s been a rare sight around here this summer.

2. Frosted Clover

Dew wasn’t the only thing in the field. The red clovers saw their first frost of the season.

3. Frosted Clover Leaves

Each leaf was covered in ice crystals, but it wasn’t enough to harm them. By the time I had come back down the lone cloud had disappeared and the sun was full on the field, but there wasn’t a sign that anything had been damaged by frost.

4. Trail

The trail was shaded and much cooler than I expected. The steady climbing kept me plenty warm enough though.

5. Mossy Stump

Mossy stumps tell the logging history of this place but it’s still very hard to picture these hills barren of trees as most of them were a hundred years ago.  One very unusual thing about this particular piece of land is its lack of stone walls. I was looking for them but didn’t see a single one. I didn’t think it was possible.

6. Greater Whipwort

You have to look closely at those mossy stumps because not all that is green is moss. I saw several stumps covered with greater whipwort liverworts (Bazzania trilobata.) The trilobata part of the scientific name refers to the three tiny lobes at the bottom of each leaf. Though its common name includes the word greater this is a very small liverwort, but the fact that it grows in large colonies makes it easier to see.

7. Blaze

This trail is well blazed but many aren’t. I’m not sure that those who maintain trails understand how important blazing is, especially at this time of year. Though well-worn trails might seem obvious to those of us who follow them regularly, when the leaves fall they cover them-often to the point where they can’t be seen. Without blazes on the trees it’s very easy to lose your way in the fall and I’ve had several people tell me that they won’t go to one place or another because the trails are so poorly marked. I think that people who are unfamiliar with a trail should help blaze it, or at least have a say in where the blazes appear.

8. Face

Sometimes trail blazers get a little carried away, but not often.

9. Bent Tree

This tree started down a crooked path but finally decided to straighten up. Much like a few humans I know, I thought as I continued on up the trail.

10. Tippin Rock Sign

In the past when I’ve done a post about this place I’ve mentioned how “Captain Obvious” must have put this sign up, but I can’t get a good shot of both the sign and the rock it points to to prove it.

11. Tippin Rock

The sign is mere feet from this 40 ton glacial erratic boulder, which would be real hard to miss even in the dark. The boulder gets its name from the way it rocks (tips) back and forth if you push it in the right place. I’ve never been able to move it but I’ve talked with someone who saw a group of kids all stand on one end to make it move. If you look closely at the underside you can see that it comes down to a point like the keel of a boat. Someday I’ll meet a group of younger people up there who’ll be frantic to make it tip.

Meanwhile though, I think I’ve finally solved a mystery about this rock that has bugged me for quite a while. A photo from circa 1900 show this face of the boulder covered with lichens, but as you can clearly see in the above photo there is hardly a lichen on it.

12. Old Photo of Tippin Rock

Here is the photo that I’m speaking of. This is the same face of the boulder as that seen in the previous photo and it’s covered with rock tripe lichens (Lasallia pustulata.) The mystery was, how did they all disappear in 100 years? Lichens don’t do that; there should be more of them, not fewer.

I’m not sure who the lady in the photo is but she illustrates very well how big this stone really is. I’d guess that it’s about 8-9 feet high, 18-20 feet long and 8-9 feet wide.

13. Wire Brush

Anyone who has worked in a park or a cemetery knows that the easiest way to remove lichens from stone without harming the stone is with a wire brush, and here is one tied to this tree just a few feet away from the boulder. Really, I wondered, someone has that much free time? I appreciate their efforts and I know their heart is in the right place but a naked rock looks a little out of place and unnatural when all the other rocks in the neighborhood are wearing lichens.

14. Rock Tripe

Rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) is a large green lichen that fades slightly and turns crisp like a potato chip when it dries out. It sticks itself to stone by way of a single, navel like attachment point. The rest of this lichen hangs from this central point and when wet enough feels like a cooked egg noodle. I can imagine that scrubbing them off stone with a wire brush would be challenging.

15. View

I came here early in the morning because last year I climbed in the afternoon to take photos of the fall foliage and I was disappointed that the bright sunlight didn’t let the colors come through very well. If you stand where I was standing when I took this photo the sun shines directly at you in the afternoon and the camera doesn’t seem to be able to cope with such blinding light, even if I underexpose. This morning light from the left is gentler on the eyes and colorful foliage should be much easier to see.

16. View

For now we’ll have to imagine the brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows. And if we’re real lucky a purple might appear here and there.

17. Rock Outcrop

There are some amazing outcrops of stone up here, with cliff faces so high and sheer that rock climbers come here to climb. The one pictured was small compared to the one the rock climbers use, and it was as big as a 2 story building.  That’s a full sized white pine tree standing there; I’d guess 50-75 years old.

18. Scattered Rock Posy

The rocks have lichens like this scattered rock posy (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) all over them. I was surprised to see the orange fruiting bodies (Apothecia) considering how dry it has been here. This is a small lichen that looks completely white or grayish unless you look closely.

19. Toadskin Lichen

I couldn’t come up here without stopping to say hello to my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) They’re beautiful, interesting little lichens and I like to visit them when I can but they don’t make it easy; the only place I’ve ever seen one is on top of a hill. They are a cousin of the rocktripe lichens and the two often grow side by side. I think of them as rock tripe lichens with warts. They fasten themselves to the stone in the same way, and you can see the navel at the top center of this example. The tiny black dots are their spore producing structures (Apothecia) which they seem to have year round.

I don’t want to be the one who says life is beautiful. I want to be the one who feels it. ~Marty Rubin

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1. Trail

We haven’t had very many warm sunny days here this spring so when we do I try to make the best of them.  On one recent beautiful spring day I decided to climb Hewes Hill in Swanzey. A 40 ton glacial erratic sits on top of the hill along with some toadskin lichen friends that I like to visit occasionally.

2. Snowy Woods

The woods and the trail were snow covered by about 6 inches of snow but in the shade the crust was strong enough to walk on, so it was almost like walking on pavement.

3. Snow Melt

The snow had melted away from every tree trunk. I showed this in a post I did recently and several of us agreed that this must be caused by the sun heating up the tree bark which, if you really think about it, is pretty amazing.

4. Oak Leaf

This eastern hemlock caught an oak leaf and didn’t want to let go.

Hemlock Wound

According to the book Bark by Michael Wojtech, eastern hemlock is the only tree in the northeastern U.S. that produces wound tissue (cork) in annual rings that can be counted like rings of wood. I counted about 21 years that it took this wound to heal. But my question has always been, how do trees out in the middle of nowhere, away from human activity, get these wounds in the first place?

6. Deer Print

Deer are smart animals. They let humans do the work of breaking trails through the snow and then packing it down, and then they just follow along.

7. Sign

Before too long you see the sign that “captain obvious” must have put up.

8. Tippin Rock

I say that because there aren’t many rocks this big in the immediate vicinity. In fact there aren’t any. For those new to the blog, this glacial erratic gets its name from the way it rocks (tips) back and forth if you push it in the right place. I’ve never been able to move it but I’ve talked with someone who saw a group of kids all stand on one end to make it move. If you look closely at the underside you can see that it comes down to a point like the keel of a boat.

When you think of all that had to happen for a glacier to set a 40 ton boulder down on the single flat piece of rock on a hilltop in New Hampshire so it would be perfectly balanced it becomes close to impossible to believe, but there it is.

9. Crack in Rock

Something I never noticed before was this large crack that runs from top to bottom of the rock on one side. It doesn’t go all the way through though, so I don’t think tippin rock is in any danger of cleaving itself in two.

10. Ledge Ice

There are some good views up here but you can’t see them from tippin rock. To get to the ledges where the views are you have to walk another 10 minutes or so through the woods past a lot of stone outcrops that still have a lot of ice on them. The trail itself was very icy on this section as well.

11. Rest Spot

There were some dry spots to sit and catch your breath or to just listen to the forest. The birds were singing happily this day.

12. View

Since the views look off to the south southwest, afternoon is not the time to come up here and take photos, but I always try anyway. There is something about this place; it’s peaceful energy maybe, which is different than all the other hills I climb. It makes me feel like just being here is what’s really important, and that the photos don’t really matter. Though I’ve never really gotten a good photo from up here, neither have I ever come away feeling disappointed.

13. View

It was so sunny and warm up here that it felt like summer and not spring was right around the corner. I could have sat here for days.

14. Toad Skin Lichen

Though the views are beautiful  they are really secondary to my real quest, which are the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) I’ve found them only on hilltops so being able to see them always comes with a price. This one was reddish orange, which is a color I’ve never seen among them. I thought that it could have come from an algae coating, which is common among some lichens, but the book Lichens of North America says that it is a pruinose coating similar to that on plums and grapes, but red instead of white.  I never knew a pruinose coating could be anything but white.

Toadskin lichens are umbilicate lichens, meaning they attach to the substrate at a single point, and that point can be clearly seen in the upper third of this example. This lichen was about as big as a penny, or about 3/4 of an inch.

15. Toad Skin Lichen

These toadskin lichens are pea green when they’re wet, and when they dry out turn ashy gray to almost white. This one was very dry and crisp but I chose this photo because the lichen’s fruiting bodies (apothecia) are so easily seen. They look like tiny black dots scattered over the surface. The bumps that look like the warts on a toad are called pustules, and they look like indentations from the underside.

16. Toad Skin Lichen

This close up shows a better view of the toadskin lichen’s apothecia, which are tiny black discs with a sunken center that makes them look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) 0f the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. If I could magnify them enough we’d see clear to brown muriform spores in each apothecia. Muriform means they are “wall like” with internal cross walls that make them look as if they were made of brick and mortar. What strange and fascinating things nature will show us if we just look a little closer.

I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything. ~Alan watts

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