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Posts Tagged ‘Walpole New Hampshire’

I don’t know why but every now and then I’ll feel a pull from a certain place, almost like I imagine a salmon must feel when it has to return to the stream it was born in. On this day the pull came from the High Blue trail in Walpole. I know better than to try to ignore the pull because it’ll just get stronger as time goes by, so off I went to Walpole. The strongly contrasted, sun dappled woods were just what my camera can’t seem to cope with so some of these photo are poor, like the one above of the trail.

I forgot to take more photos of the trail because I gained some helpers along the way and they kept me preoccupied with a hundred different things; everything from chasing chipmunks to stopping and pricking up our ears to listen to whatever was going on in the woods. One helper was a black Labrador retriever and the other…

…was a chocolate lab, apparently the black lab’s sister or maybe his girlfriend, I don’t know. They were very friendly these two, but only the chocolate lab would let me pet her. The black lab would stand close enough to touch but wouldn’t let it happen, so I let him be and just talked to him.

Every time I stopped to take a photo they came running back down the trail and whirled around me like a dust devil before racing back up the trail. They were trying to hurry me along, even though I told them several times that I was here to take photos and see the countryside. It was a cool morning and I don’t know if there was heavy dew on this grass or leftovers from the previous day’s rain, but I’m surprised that this photo came out at all since I had a cold wet nose in my ear when I snapped the shutter.

There are a lot of hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) along the trail and they were showing their fall colors. Hobblebush is one of our most beautiful native flowering shrubs in the spring, and they aren’t bad in the fall either.

Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) were wearing their fall pale greens and whites.

I took a left at the sign and my new friends ran ahead as if they knew the place better than I did.

But they didn’t know everything. They both stopped suddenly at this spot and froze, pricked up their ears and stared into the woods before bounding off toward whatever it was they heard. The black lab went in first and the chocolate followed and I stood with all my senses on high alert. There are bears up here and though I had a can of bear spray with me I was still a bit apprehensive.

Last year I found that a lot of corn had been eaten from this cornfield and there were a lot of bear droppings in the area, so I pay real close attention to my surroundings when I’m up here. I was glad to have the dogs with me. I doubt a bear would have tangled with two dogs unless it was protecting cubs.

The corn was ripe and ready, but since it’s used for silage it can be cut and processed at any time. Animals will take a lot of it if this year is anything like last. Bears, deer, raccoons and many other animals and birds love corn.

Something big and heavy had flattened a few cornstalks.

The dogs finally came back and seemed fine but I noticed that some of the frolic appeared to have gone out of them. Maybe they were just getting tired; they had been doing a lot of running. While they were out carousing I had been taking photos. I think this one shows a calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum,) which is one I’m trying to learn this year. I figure if I learn one new one each year by the time I’m 80 I might know them all. Of course by then I probably won’t be in the woods and won’t care anyway. This aster is difficult because it resembles a couple of others, but of course that’s true with many asters.

Before you know it you’re at the 1,588 foot high overlook that looks out over the Connecticut River Valley into Vermont. I could see Stratton Mountain clearly so there was no haze. The last time I was here in June it was so hazy I could barely see beyond the valley. I was hoping for a white puffy cloud kind of day so I could take photos of cloudscapes as well as landscapes, but instead it was a ragged purple cloud day. Two of them stayed in place as if someone had pasted them on the sky.

The light seemed a little flat to the camera, apparently. I could see the shading between the hills that I like so much but the camera couldn’t catch it. Luckily the dogs had found a chipmunk hole under a boulder out in the woods and were digging away, furiously. Silly dogs; I’ve never seen or heard of a dog actually catching a chipmunk. They’re very smart little animals and the bite on the nose that the unlucky dog would get wouldn’t be worth it.

I could see the ski trails on the right side of the mountain but thankfully they weren’t white. I suppose before too long it will be cold enough for them to start making snow. I’m hoping the natural kind will wait a few more months or stay on that side of the river. Odd that you can’t see a single colored leaf in this shot, though there must have been thousands out there.

I had to visit the small pond that lives up here before I went back down the mountain. As I expected it was covered completely in duckweed. Covered until the dogs decided to go for a swim, that is. But that was fine because they broke up the mat of green and let some blue in.

Clubmosses have grown their clubs and that means they are busy producing spores. There are lots of clubmoss plants up here and I think at last count I had seen 4 different species. I think this one is ground pine (Lycopodium dendroideum,) but despite the name the plant has nothing to do with pines or any other tree. Each leaf looks more like a scale than a leaf and is called a microphyll. A microphyll is a leaf with a single, unbranched vein. Clubmosses won’t grow where the temperature is too warm so when you see them in the forest you know you’ve found a relatively cool spot. They have been on earth for about 200 million years, and once grew to tree size. The spores and a tea made from the leaves were used medicinally by Native Americans to treat headaches, nosebleeds, skin ailments, and to aid digestion.

Clubmosses are vascular plants that produce spores instead of flowers in yellowish club shaped structures called strobili. The spores can take up to 20 years to germinate, but the plants also reproduce by long horizontal underground stems. When the spores are ready to be released each triangular scale will open along the length of the strobilus, and the wind will do the rest.

I saw a lot of beech drops (Epifagus americana) here. These plants are parasitic on the roots of American beech (Fagus grandifolia) and take all of their nutrients from the tree. Because of that they don’t need leaves, chlorophyll, or sunlight so what you see is a naked stalk with tiny blossoms on it.

Tiny pinkish purple beech drop flowers have a darker purple or reddish stripe. This one had a yellow pistil poking out of it but most don’t. I think this is only the second time I’ve seen this. Beech drops are annuals that grow new from seed each year but scientists don’t know much about how the flowers are pollinated.

I think the strangest thing I saw on this hike was this lichen I found on a tree. Something had scratched or chewed through the white outer layer to the reddish brown layer beneath. There are animals that eat lichen like reindeer, moose, and even white tailed deer, but none of them did this. This lichen was small at maybe a half inch across, so whatever made these marks was also quite small, like a mouse or a bat, or a chipmunk.

Once I saw the marks in the lichen in the previous photo I started looking a little closer and here was another one with the same kind of marks. I’ve never seen this before and I can’t even guess how the marks were made.

The dogs have an owner and she was waiting for us when we reached the trailhead; not looking very happy. I explained that her dogs had been keeping me company but it was an old story for her. They live close by and apparently every time the dogs hear a car they run off to see who it is. I didn’t say anything but it is legal in this state to shoot dogs that are loose in the woods, because they can form into packs and chase down and kill white tail deer. Letting dogs run loose is illegal and if caught dog owners can be fined big money. I’m sure the owner of these dogs knows all this but I’m not sure how the dogs keep getting loose. I think I’d tie them up or walk with them. I’d hate to see such friendly and beautiful dogs come to harm.

Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring—it was peace. ~Milan Kundera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1-trail

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

2-orange-jelly

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

3-hobblebushes

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

4-sign

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

5-trail

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

6-sunken-stone

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

7-puddle

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

8-sap-tubing

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

9-pasture

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

10-cornfield

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

11-stone-outcrop

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

12-deer-prints

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

13-view

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

14-view

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

15-view

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

16-possible-concentric-boulder-lichen

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

17-possible-concentric-boulder-lichen-2

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

18-polypody-fern

Evergreen polypody ferns had curled up because of the cold.

19-polypody-fern

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

20-yellow-on-stone

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

21-yellow-on-stone

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

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

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1-trail

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

2-black-knot-on-cherry

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

3-boulders

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

4-rock-tripe

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

5-cornfield

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

6-corn

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

7-fungus-on-bear-scat

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

8-fungus-on-bear-scat

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

9-goldenrod

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

10-foundation

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

11-stone-wall

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

12-pond

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

13-sign

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

14-view

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

15-view

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

16-view

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

17-view

To the right a neighborhood basked in bright Sunshine.

18-view

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

19-trail

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

20-unknown-yellow-crust-on-stone

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

21-unknown-yellow-crust-on-stone

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

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

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1-asters-and-goldenrod

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

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

2-asters

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

3-aster

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

4-coltsfoot-foliage

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

5-corn-field

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

6-corn

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

7-corn-field

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

8-sarsaparilla

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

9-reflector

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

10-foundation

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

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

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

11-stone-wall

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

12-pond-surface

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

13-sign

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

14-view

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

15-view

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

16-rock-piles

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

17-fern-gully

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

18-lady-fern

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

19-hobblebush

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

20-full-moon

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

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

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1. Trail

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

2. Meadow

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

3. Clouds

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

4. Sunshine

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

5. Mossy Ledges

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

6. Grafted Maples

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

7. Small Spruce

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

8. Tracks

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

9. Hollow Tree

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

10. Hollow Tree

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

11. Club Moss

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

12. Stone Foundation

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

13. Nail

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

14. Sign

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

15. Spoilers

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

16. View

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

17. View

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

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

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1. Road

Last Sunday morning there was ice on the puddles and I thought that it must have been cold enough over the last few nights to make snow at the ski areas so off I went to the High Blue trail in Walpole, which is north of Keene and higher in elevation. From there you can see the ski trails on Stratton Mountain in Vermont. The trek starts by following an old logging road to the trail head.

2. Sign

With a sign like this one to guide you, you can’t miss it.

3. Meadow

Soon you come to the meadow, which is cut each summer for hay. As I was taking this photo I saw something small and dark moving out there, and it was heading straight for me. I’ve been here enough times to know that there shouldn’t be anything moving in this meadow, but if there was it would most likely be a deer.

4. Porcupine

It certainly wasn’t a deer; it was a porcupine and it seemed to be eating its way through the meadow. It would walk a few feet and then stop and munch some clover or whatever it was finding. What was odd about this encounter is that porcupines are supposedly mostly nocturnal creatures and spend much of their time in trees.

5. Porcupine

He came right over to me and sat up on his haunches for a better look. I asked him to please hold still for a photo or two and smile if he liked, and he was very obliging. He was also quite cute and looked like he had just had his hair done. If he was a pet I think I’d call him Yoda. Now I know why Leslie asked me if I ever posted porcupine photos a few posts ago. She said they were one of her favorites, so this one is for you Leslie. It’s easy to love such a gentle, friendly animal isn’t it? I’ve heard that they will play with toys like a ball of string for hours, just like a cat would.

For those who don’t know porcupines, they’re a rodent that can weigh up to 35 pounds, and large ones can be almost 4 feet long, including their tail. They are herbivores with large front teeth that they use to eat wood, bark and stems. They also eat fruit, clover, leaves, and fresh young springtime growth.

6. Porcupine

After giving me the once over he seemed to remember that he was on a mission and gazed out over the meadow with his beautiful, sparkling eyes. I realized that I was between him and an old apple tree and I wondered if that was where he was going. If so I didn’t want to stand in his way, even though he looked well fed.

7. Porcupine

As he slowly moved on I got a good look at the quills on and near his tail. Though their hair is soft porcupines carry sharp, barbed quills that can anchor themselves in flesh, so you don’t want to cuddle them. Many a dog has had to have quills removed from their noses in a painful procedure that often involves pliers. When attacked a porcupine curls into a bristly ball to protect its vulnerable stomach and then there is no way in except through the quills. The porcupine’s Latin name Erethizon dorsatum means “quill pig.”

8. Apple

Later when I was leaving I stopped at the old apple tree and saw a single, half eaten apple on it. These branches were too small to support the weight of a porcupine though, so I’m guessing that birds are eating it. Maybe the rest of the fruit had fallen and was easier for the porcupine to get to. Or maybe he wasn’t interested in apples at all; I didn’t see him on the way back.

9. Deer Browse

I keep hoping to see a deer here but I never have. All I see are the game trails they follow and twigs they’ve browsed on.

10. Reflector

Hunters know they’re here too, as this reflector tacked to a tree shows. I first saw these last year but didn’t know what they were until several helpful readers said they were used by hunters when it’s dark enough to have to use a flashlight to find their way. I was glad I was wearing a bright orange hat and hunting vest. This isn’t the time of year to be wearing my deer colored coat.

11. Road

After the meadow there is more old road to walk for a shot while.

12. Trail

Then the road narrows to trail, which was covered with dry, crackly beech and oak leaves. The noisy leaves would make sneaking up on a deer just about impossible I would think. Better to sit and wait for them to happen by.

13. Pond Ice

But it was a little cool to be sitting around waiting for deer, as the ice on the far side of the small hilltop pond shows. I was very surprised to see no duckweed on it; when I was here in September it was almost completely covered with it, so where could it all have gone so fast? It’s usually almost impossible to get rid of once it’s on a pond so its disappearance is a mystery to me. Maybe the wood ducks ate it all.

14. Stone Wall

Being a once upon a time dry stone wall builder myself I always have to stop and admire the old walls that run through these woods. There are many miles of them, crisscrossing in a way that once made perfect sense when this land was pasture, but which now seems quite random.

15. Ledge

Living up here might not have been easy but the outcrops break naturally into large flat slabs an inch or two thick, and that meant that wall building was probably easier than it would have been otherwise. The stones that come from ledge like this are every wall builders dream. I was able to build a wall with it once and it went up faster than any other wall I’ve ever built.

16. Yellow Fuzz Cone Slime Mold

Yellow-fuzz cone slime mold (Hemitrichia clavata) grew on a fallen birch log. In this photo you can see the fruiting bodies that open into tiny cups filled with yellow fuzzy threads that make the mass look and feel a lot like felt. I first saw this slime mold at about this time last year at Porcupine Falls in Gilsum, so it has taken me just about a year to identify it. The cups are small enough to give me trouble seeing them without a lens, so I have to quite literally shoot blind and hope for the best.

17. View

The view from the top was hazy as it often is. Stratton Mountain, off across the Connecticut River valley in Vermont, looked like a blueish blur and its peak was cloud covered.

18. View

Zooming in didn’t help much but I can see a white line or two and that means snow on the ski trails. If they’re making snow up there in the mountains it won’t be long before it falls naturally down here. Maybe I came here subconsciously hoping that seeing snow would prepare me for winter and maybe it has, but nothing could prepare me for all of the other surprising things that I saw. That’s one of the things I love about being out in nature; there’s always a surprise waiting just around the next bend.

To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else. ~ Emily Dickinson

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