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Posts Tagged ‘Wild Crab Apples’

As this photo shows, winter has made a comeback. Not only did we get a few inches of snow about a week ago but it turned cold again and has stayed cold, so that means the ice on the wooded trails is still there. They say tomorrow it might reach 55 degrees, so maybe I’ll have some flowers to show you next time. Meanwhile, I chose to walk the Industrial Heritage Trail in Keene. Not only is it paved and regularly plowed, there are some interesting things to see along the way.

This was once a rail bed used by the Cheshire Railroad and then the Boston and Maine Railroad and there are informative signs along the way that tell you the history of the place and what went on here. I’ll leave it up to you whether to read them or not.

This bench made from bicycles was probably the strangest thing I saw on this day. It doesn’t look very comfortable.

The city maintains this segment of trail and the have planted shrubs, including lilacs. Slowly, the buds are growing bigger.

They’ve also planted hydrangeas here and there. Panicled hydrangeas I believe, but there are so many different varieties these days I can’t keep up with them. I grew up with my grandmother’s “snowball” hydrangeas and that was good enough, even though I’ve never felt a need to have them in my own yard.

What I enjoy about hydrangeas is how, when their petals hang on through winter, they sometimes look like stained glass before they fall. These weren’t quite there yet.

This trail is one of those that the railroad had to build up quite high above the surrounding landscape so they could have a nice level grade throughout the run, and down below I spotted two concrete structures that I can only imagine must have been tank supports for a huge round tank. What was in the tank I’ll never know but it seemed too far away to be of use to the railroad. With so much industry in the area it could have held just about anything.

But the land owners didn’t want anyone exploring and I can’t blame them. You have to always remember when you are on a rail trail that you’re walking through the back yards of the people who live along it. I lived very close to a working rail line so I know what it is like to have some random person just wandering around through the yard after coming down from the tracks. It’s a bit disconcerting, so all of us who walk rail trails should stay on the trail and respect the privacy of those who live along them.

I found a poplar branch covered with black jelly fungi (Exidia glandulosa). They were a bit dry and had lost some of their volume but they hadn’t shriveled down too much. When they dry out they lose about 90% of their volume and shrink down to small black flakes, and it looks like someone has smeared paint or tar on the limb that they grow on. You can see that over in the upper right, how paper thin one of them has become. When it rains, they will all swell up like black pillows. Their reaction shows that jelly fungi are mostly water.

There were lots of self-seeded wild crabapples out here and the birds had been slow about it but they were eating them. A flock of robins can strip a crabapple of every bit of fruit in no time at all, so I doubt it was robins eating them.

There are lots of old repurposed factory buildings in this section of town is what this sign is saying.

And there is one of the old factory buildings that has not been repurposed. It’s easy to tell Kingsbury Corporation by its huge smoke stack.

It has lightning rods and steel bands, and many, many cracks. It even looks like it bulges a bit.

Some of the steel bands have and are falling off, which is just a bit alarming.

Kingsbury started out over a hundred years ago making toys, but evolved into a world leader in the design and manufacture of machine tools. Now the company has gone out of business and the building is all but abandoned. I worked there as an engineer for years until the bottom fell out of the engineering market pretty much all-over New England. When all the car companies went into a slump so did many other businesses.

The windows in the engineering department have been bricked up. Mechanical engineering was a job that I truly loved and I have many fond memories of my time spent here.

I used to have to cross a bridge different from the one this sign speaks of to get into the building. Beaver Brook actually flowed under the Kingsbury building I worked in and one year when it flooded all the wood blocks in a big wood block floor floated into a pile. It was a bit of a nightmare because it meant that area couldn’t be used to assemble machines.

This bridge over the brook is much different than the original railroad trestle but it serves today’s purpose. I was out here mid-day on a week day and I met a few people out using the trail. It was just after my retirement and I found myself feeling like I had skipped out of work and was slacking off. It has been a long time since I’ve been out walking on a week day so I’m sure it will take some getting used to.

Beaver Brook was staying where it belonged and looked good and clean. This brook, along with the Ashuelot River, is responsible for the town having grown up where it did. Between them they powered a lot of industry. The first sawmill and grist mill in Keene were powered by Beaver Brook. It winds its way through the heart of the city and it’s a fine thing unless and until it floods.

Another shrub the city has planted along the trail is the highbush cranberry, which isn’t a cranberry at all. It is a native viburnum named Viburnum trilobum with fruit (drupes) that resemble cranberries in color and shape. They are also said to taste like cranberries but I’ve never tried them. They’ll grow to 15 feet tall under the right conditions and these examples were quite tall. Birds are said to love the fruit and I was happy to see that most of them had been eaten.

White poplar (Populus alba) catkins were just starting to come out of the bud. They’re gray and fuzzy much like willow catkins and when they flower, they’ll grow to 3 or 4 inches long and fall from the trees in great numbers. This tree was imported from Europe in 1748 and liked it here enough to now grow in almost every state. It won’t be too long before their fluffy seeds will be floating on the wind.

There is a beech tree out here that shows what can happen when Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) twines itself around a tree. Luckily someone cut the vines away from the beech but it will now be deformed for life.

The tree looked healthy but it’s hard to say if it will live a full life with such a twisted shape.

This shot that I took previously shows what Oriental bittersweet was doing to a young elm. Elm is one of the toughest of our native trees but no tree can withstand the steel cable like strength of bittersweet. Once it wraps around a tree trunk the tree’s only hope of survival is to grow out around it and absorb it.

The trail goes on into downtown Keene and from there south into Swanzey, Winchester, and Hinsdale if you feel like a good long walk, but since I grew up walking these railbeds I’ve walked it all at one time or another, so I turned around here. Though it isn’t as nature filled as my usual walks I do like this part of the trail, especially in winter when everything is so icy.

It’s hard to leave the only place you’ve known.
~Lois Lowry

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Two days before I went on a walk down a rail trail in Keene temps were in the 50s F and the sun was shining. Then we had a storm and though some parts of the state saw eight inches of snow we saw about an inch and a half of glop. Glop, for those who don’t have to deal with it, is snow, rain and sleet all falling in the same storm. It freezes into white concrete and about all you can do with it is wait for some sunshine to come and melt it away.

As soon as I stepped onto the trail I was getting mixed messages. While someone wore Yak Tracks….

…. someone else rode a bike. I supposed I’d have to find out for myself if it was icy or not. It was certainly cold enough for ice at 30 degrees, and with the strong breeze coming over the hills to the west, it felt more like 20. You have to give weather like this a chance if you are going to be a nature nut, and you give it a chance by being smart about it and dressing for it. I was dressed for it and I knew that, once I started seeing things that grabbed my interest, I wouldn’t feel cold at all.

Sure enough though it was a gray, bleak looking day there were plenty of warm colors to be seen and all thoughts of cold left me when I saw a tree full of bright orange-red crap apples. Not a single one had been touched by birds and that may have been because they were quite large for a crabapple. I doubted any bird I know could swallow one. Also, though it grew here “wild” it might not have been a native crabapple. Many crab apples are ornamental cultivars that birds just don’t like. Some other cultivars have fruit that birds will eat only after it has frozen and thawed several times. For whatever reason they didn’t like these, even though there are usually birds everywhere out here.

These hazelnut catkins were encased in ice and that told me that it must have rained and then gotten cold fast. I can’t explain the hair. Maybe it’s not a hair at all. It could be a bit of silk left by a spider. Whatever it is I see things just like it everywhere I go, on all types of plants.

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) grows long feathery filaments called styles on its seeds (fruits) so the wind can carry them long distances. Botanically speaking these “seeds” are achenes, which are fruits with one seed. But how can the wind carry them away when they’re always wet, as they have been this year? Now they aren’t just wet, they’re frozen together. Maybe they’ll just wait for spring. Meteorological spring, which starts on March first, is only 69 days away. Astronomical spring will take a bit longer and that’s why I prefer meteorological spring. Meteorological spring is based on temperature cycles for a three-month period when temperatures are similar, as in March, April and May. Summer is June, July and August and fall is September, October and November. Winter of course, is what is left.

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) grows all along this trail and though its berries add a bright spot of color in winter it is terribly invasive.

Almost all of this mass of vines seen here is Oriental bittersweet. They twine around trees with the strength of steel cables to get to the tree’s crown where there is more sunlight. Once there they compete with the tree for light while strangling it from below. Eventually the tree dies and falls over, and I’ll never understand how that benefits the bittersweet, which wants all the sunshine it can get.

This hole was probably six to eight inches across, and I thought it looked like a woodchuck’s hole. I didn’t see any tracks around it though so it might just be an escape tunnel, but someone falling into it could break an ankle.

A birch polypore lived up to the name of “shelf fungus.” There was a group of them at the base of this tree which had all had bites taken out of them. I’d guess by squirrels, but specific information about which animals eat this fungus is very hard to come by.

A tree had fallen and I was surprised to see that its upper branches had fomed a witch’s broom. The only other tree this big that I’ve seen with a witches’ broom was an old white pine that has since fallen. Witches’ broom is a deformity described as a “dense mass of shoots growing from a single point, with the resulting structure resembling a broom or a bird’s nest.” Witches’ broom can cause desirable dwarfism and increased branching in some plants. In fact, many well known dwarf evergreen shrubs are the result of witches’ broom.  For example, Montgomery Dwarf Blue Spruce is one of the best dwarf blue spruces, and it is from a witches’ broom. Though this tree had lost almost all its bark I think it was a black birch (Betula lenta).

Mount Monadnock off to the east had its head in the clouds. I had my head in the clouds too whaen I was a teenager and one of my major dreams as was to pick up where Henry David Thoreau left off and finish cataloging the wildflowers that grew on the mountain. Then one day I helped the ladies of the Keene Garden Club plant wildflowers on the mountain’s flanks to reestablish some species which were thought to have once grown there and that’s when I saw that, even if you lived three lifetimes you wouldn’t have time to find and catalog every flower that grew there. That’s a big mountain.

The wide ditch that runs alongside the railbed has been full of water all year long. We’ve had more rain than I can ever remember.

Often in the fall deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) will turn many colors, with maroon, purple and orange or yellow sometimes on the same leaf. It’s quite pretty and I’ve searched high and low to find some so I could show it to you but every plant I’ve seen has been uniformly tan, just as these were. It seems kind of odd after seeing them so colorful all of my life.

There are lots of staghorn sumac berries (Rhus typhina) out here that the birds haven’t eaten but they’ll probably be gone by spring. I’ve read that they’re low in fat so they aren’t a bird’s first choice.

Sumac means red in many of the old languages and that makes perfect sense because everything about it is red. Even these long dead staghorn sumac leaves still held their red color. The plant is said to be rich in tannins and dyes in colors like salmon and plum can be made from it.

Sumacs fall over regularly and whenever I see one, I look at the inner bark to see the rich red color but the color only lasts for a short time and I found none of it on this tree. I did some reading about sumac wood when I got home and found that wooden flutes can be made of it.

I can’t remember ever seeing invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) out here when I was younger but there are a few here now. Usually the bracts that cover the berries are black but on this plant they were bright red. I’ve never seen this on a wild (escaped) plant.

These Virginia creeper berries (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) made me shiver but I wondered why they hadn’t been eaten. They and the Oriental bittersweet and burning bush berries we’ve seen are usually among the first to go. I’ve seen hawks flying around in this area and I wonder if they’ve scared all the birds away.

Common greenshield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata) is very common and can be found on many of the trees here. It’s a large lichen and colonies of them often grow big enough to cover entire trees. They often wrinkle like the example seen here. Like many lichens they change color, and go from grayish when dry to yellow green when wet. They often have patches of granular soredia on them as this one did. A soredium is a tiny granular ball of fungal hyphae and algal cells. They can grow on the body of the lichen or on its margins and might eventually fall off to make new lichens. No matter what living thing you find in nature it’s always about the continuation of the species, and the will to survive is strong in all of the things I see.

Leaves shivered and rattled in the strong breeze. Though they were maple they spoke beech. A man came walking down the trail as I was taking this photo and said good morning. I retuned his greeting and remarked on the cold. “Yes” he said, “it’s cold, but it’s white.” Must be a winter lover, I thought. I’m not a winter hater but at that point I’d had enough to last for a while, so I turned for home.

The splendor of Silence—of snow-jeweled hills and of ice. ~Ingram crockett

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From Winchester to the south of Keene to Westmoreland to the north the Cheshire Rail Trail covers about 40 miles, so I’m not surprised that I haven’t hiked the entire thing. One leg I’ve wondered about for quite a while is the piece that goes from Pearl Street in Keene to Whitcomb’s Mill Road. On this day I decided to stop wondering and hike it, and this is what I saw at the outset; a wide, packed gravel trail with street lights and park benches. It was the busiest rail trail I’ve ever been on and this is the only photo I was able to get without people in it. There were hikers, runners, bike riders, dog walkers, elderly couples and small children in strollers, and I wondered what I had done. I’m used to being kind of “right here, right now” when I’m in nature, and there usually is nothing else. When you find yourself continually having to say “hello” or “good morning”, or to explain why you’re taking a photo of an old dead tree, it’s harder to be there.

The trail crosses another one of Keene’s busiest highways and this bridge was built here after a homeless man was killed trying to cross. This bridge reminds me of the other one like it near Keene State College but this one isn’t as sturdy. A jogger ran over it while I was crossing it and the entire thing was bouncing up and down. For someone who doesn’t get on well with heights it was a little disconcerting. Speaking of heights, this is very near the place where I fell out of a tree a fractured my spine some 50 years ago. That thought just happened to pop into my mind when the bridge started bouncing.  

It had rained the day before so everything, including this greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), was still damp. On this day we were promised full sunshine and strong winds. The wind prediction kept me out of the forest but we had no wind at all, and no sunshine either.

There were plenty of reminders that this was once a railbed, including this pile of old railroad ties and the drainage channel behind. The railroad took up all the rails and ties and left them in piles all along the rail corridor. My question has always been, if they weren’t going to re-use them why did they remove them?

I wondered what kinds of mosses could grow on creosote soaked rail ties so I looked closer. One of them was one of my favorites, white tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata). It is also called medusa moss because of  the way this moss looks like a bunch of tangled worms when it dries out. This moss is fairly common and I find it mostly growing on stones in sunny spots. It always seems to be very happy and healthy. This example had spore capsules, which I’ve rarely seen on this moss.

A tangle of black raspberry canes made me think of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue”. I was happy to let it play in my mind as I walked on.

Honey mushrooms (Armillarea mellea) once grew on this elm tree and I know that because their long black root like structures called rhizomorphs still clung to the dead tree. Honey mushrooms are parasitic on live wood and grow long cream colored rhizomorphs between the wood and its bark. They darken to brown or black as they age, but by the time we see them the tree has died and its bark is falling off. The fungus is also called armillarea 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. Fallen logs and standing dead trees will often still have the black rhizomorphs attached to them.

I’ve never paid attention to the inner bark of an elm tree but I will from now on because it is beautifully colored. This piece brought the thought of Jupiter’s great red spot, the anticyclonic storm that has been raging for hundreds of years on that planet.

Off in the distance there was still some color.

And above me hung crab apples. Though we think the apples we’re eating are native, crab apples are really the only apples native to North America. The apples we know originated in Central Asia, where its wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, is still found today. Apples are thought to be the first cultivated tree and have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe. North American apple cultivation began 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. Settlers had come prepared with seeds, cuttings, and small plants from the best European stock and the trees grew well here; by the end of the 19th century 14,000 apple varieties were being grown. Many were inferior varieties and for one reason or another fell out of favor and have been lost to the ages. Today 2,500 varieties of apples are grown in the U.S. and 7,500 varieties of apples are grown worldwide.

Thank you to Tim Hensley and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for the article A Curious Tale: The Apple in North America, for some of the information used here.

Bracken fern made me think of the spines and rib cages of ancient fossilized creatures.

I came to a large field. Since it wasn’t fenced I’m guessing it was a hay field. A strange thing to find out here I thought, even though I was only a stone’s throw from suburbia.

And the Keene Country Club’s golf course proved how close I was to suburbia. I was happy to get out of here without getting whacked by a golf ball. How strange that green looked.

Instead of worrying about stray golf balls I kept my mind on the beauty that surrounded me here on the trail. There was plenty of it.

I saw what I first thought was a dead tree and then I looked up and saw a cross brace and realized it was an old railroad pole that once held the glass insulators that telegraph lines were fixed to. It showed great age and I loved its weathered surface and many knots. I’m guessing it must have been locust because no other wood I know of can stand in the ground for two hundred plus years without rotting. It’s a great choice for fence posts.

Here was a newer concrete marker post. I’ve tried to look up what 93-24 means but I haven’t had any luck.

There was a small homemade bridge crossing the drainage channel and I’d bet if I had crossed it I would have come to a secret hideout. Every child has one.

The other day on my way to work a red fox ran across the road in front of me and this grass reminded me to tell you about it.

The intense red of the inner bark of a staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) caught my eye. Native Americans used the pulp of the stems and the inner bark to make dye, and after seeing the color I’m not surprised. You have to be quick to find the red color though because it’s only there for a short time right after the tree dies. I’ve read descriptions that say the inner (live) bark is “light green and sweet to chew on,” but no reference to its changing color when it dries, so it is a mystery to me. The plant is said to be rich in tannins and I do know that dyes in colors like salmon and plum can be made from it.

When I was a boy we always carved our names into trees with a pocket knife but as Brittnie shows us, these days it’s done with a marker. Better for the tree I suppose.

From a distance I thought a hawk had gotten a bird but no, the scattered “feathers” were just wet milkweed seeds.

I could sit down and write out a very long list of all the plants and trees one could expect to find along our rail trails but yew wouldn’t be one of them. Canada yew (Taxus canadensis) is native from Newfoundland west to Manitoba, south to Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, and Iowa, but in this region I rarely see it. Though all parts of the yew plant are poisonous several Native American tribes made tea from the needles to ease everything from numbness to scurvy. A man in England died not too long ago from eating yew, so I wouldn’t advise trying to make tea from it. Natives knew how to treat poisonous plants in ways that made them beneficial to humans, but much of that knowledge has been lost.

Well, this was an interesting hike on a very well maintained trail but it was a bit too busy for my liking, so I doubt it will be a regular in my book of hiking spots. In fact at times it seemed as if I might have been hiking in downtown Keene. I enjoy less traveled trails where solitude is one of the most precious things to be found because, as Marty Rubin once said: “Solitude is where one discovers one is not alone.”

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

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