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Posts Tagged ‘West Hill’

The city of Keene, New Hampshire sits on an ancient lake bed surrounded by hills. One of these is west hill, which I climbed recently. In the late 1800s the Colony family of Keene owned several large parcels of land on west hill. Today the land, called the Horatio Colony Preserve, is open to the public.

The road seen here was laid out in 1763, long before the Colony family owned the land. In the 1800s when they owned the land the road was still used by horse drawn carriages but now it slowly dwindles down to a narrow, very steep foot path. I read a posting on line that said the path “meandered” to the top, and I guess it does-if you call an almost vertical climb a meander.

This cabin was built in 1937 by Horatio’s grandson, also named Horatio, as a place to write. Horatio the younger wrote several books, including books of poetry and essays. 

This sign mentions the tip top house at the top of the hill, which was my goal on this day. 

I hadn’t traveled far past the cabin when I saw that this large white pine had blown down. This root ball was huge-probably 12 feet across-but was also very shallow. It didn’t leave much of a depression when it fell like you would expect.  That’s most likely due to the very moist soil found on this hill. When soil is constantly moist a plant doesn’t have to send its roots too deep to search for moisture. White Pine trees (Pinus strobus) often have a tap root like a dandelion that can extend as much as 12 feet into the soil, but this one didn’t. 

It doesn’t take long for mushrooms to start growing on fallen trees.  I think these were oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus.) 

This toothed mushroom (Hericium americanum) was quite high up on this standing tree. 

These wolf fart puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme ) were the last fungi I saw for a while because the forest changed from relatively open canopy hardwood to more dense hemlock. For a while it was so dark that very little grew there. Though we think of mushrooms as lovers of darkness even they seem to need some light to grow. The name ‘wolf fart’ is from the Greek “lyco” which means “wolf” and “perdon” which means “to break wind.” The person who named them had a strange sense of humor, apparently. 

Higher up the hill the gloom began to subside and I saw some dog lichen (Peltigera canina) growing on mossy tree trunks. Dog lichen is a foliose or leaf-like lichen. It is called dog lichen because its fruiting bodies look like dog’s teeth. It was used to treat rabies in the middle ages for the same reason.  This looks a lot like some liverworts, but doesn’t have a vein (nerve) in the center of each “leaf.”

Just to the right and quite out of focus is a beech drop plant (Epifagus americana .) I saw many of these on this hill but didn’t get a decent picture of any of them.  Beech drops are parasitic on the roots of beech trees. 

I came to a huge granite outcropping that was covered with rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata,) which is another large foliose lichen. I’ve never seen so much rock tripe in one spot. Usually it grows on boulders near lakes and ponds but in this case the constant drip of water down the rock face makes this spot a good home for it and mosses. 

A closer look at some rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata.) 

This view is one reason to climb to the top of the hill. This looks to the north with Surry Mountain in the distance. Surry Mountain is known for its quartz crystals and once had a gold mine on its summit. West hill had a lead mine. 

Goldenrod grows in what’s left of Horatio the elder’s Tip Top House. The stone foundation and some cast iron pieces are about all that is left. 

Heather is the last thing I expected to see at the top of this hill, but it was in full bloom and was beautiful. I don’t know what variety this is but I know it is heather because heather blooms in the fall. Heaths bloom in the late winter or early spring. Heather is not native so someone must have carried this plant here.

Two kinds of reindeer lichen grow over the boulders in quite large colonies. I think this might be gray reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina.

I think this one is called woodland reindeer lichen (Cladonia arbuscula.) Its growth habit isn’t as tight and rounded as the previous lichen and it is much lighter in color. 

In my experience in the New Hampshire woods, this fern is rarely seen, though it is supposed to be abundant. I think this is Polypodium virginianum, called rock polypody. The polypody fern family includes about 1000 species but only two of them are native to the northeast-rock polypody and Appalachian polypody (Polypodium appalachianum.) This fern is evergreen and looks and feels much like the evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides,)  but the odd way that the leaflets are aligned on either side of the stem quickly shows that it isn’t that fern.  There were very large colonies of this fern scattered here and there, mostly growing on boulders. Thoreau liked them and said that “Fresh and cheerful communities of the polypody form a lustrous mantle over rocky surfaces in the early spring.” 

Of course there were turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) because I see them wherever I go. Now that the underbrush is thinning again these are becoming much easier to see. Last year they were more blue / purple and this year they are mostly shades of brown. I want to watch them closely this fall and see if cold affects their color.

That’s it for this half day trip up one side of West Hill and down the other. I can’t wait to return next spring-I have a feeling that many hard to find wildflowers might grow here. Thanks for stopping in.

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 off like autumn leaves ~John Muir

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