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Posts Tagged ‘Wild Mushrooms’

We burn a lot of wood here in New Hampshire because with 4.8 million acres of forest it is plentiful and usually costs less than oil heat. One of the things I like about burning wood is the handling of it. Cutting, splitting and stacking means you have to handle each piece a few times, and when you do you notice things that you might have never seen while the tree was standing. The following photos are of the various things I found in this woodpile.

Black jelly drop fungi (Bulgaria inquinans) grew on an oak log. They are also called poor man’s licorice but they aren’t edible. They look and feel like black gumdrops, and for some unknown reason are almost always found on oak trees that have been felled and cut up for firewood.

Though they look like jelly fungi black jelly drops are sac fungi. Their fertile, spore bearing surface is shiny and the outside of the cups look like brown velvet. They are sometimes used for dying fabric in blacks, browns, purples and grays.

This is an example of a true jelly fungus, which is little more than a bag of water that inflates to about 60 times its dry size when it rains. If it was dry this amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) would be just a dark flake on the tree’s bark.  After absorbing plenty of rainwater this example was about as big as an average adult fingernail. Jelly fungi feel cool to the touch and kind of rubbery, like your ear lobe. Their spores are produced on their shiny surfaces. If you look closely at them you can see that one side is shiny and the other has more of a matte finish. I find these on oak more than other species, but sometimes on poplar and alder as well.

This brown jelly cup fungus (Peziza repanda) looked a little tattered and dirty but it’s a good example of the variety of fungi you can find on cut logs. Though it is called a jelly cup it is a sac fungus and different Peziza species can grow on wood, soil, or dung. This example is a cool weather mushroom that grows on hardwood logs or wood chips, and it is usually seen in spring and fall.  Mushroom expert Michael Kuo says brown cup fungi can be very difficult to identify.

Hairy Stereum (Stereum hirsutsm) is also called the hairy curtain crust fungus. The common name comes from the way these fungi are covered with fine velvety hairs on their upper surface when they’re young. They like to grow on fallen hardwoods and can be found just about any time of year. The color can vary but the wavy edge helps identify them. These examples were very young.

Witch’s butter on a log in a woodpile might alert you to the fact that you’ve got some soft wood mixed in with your hardwood, because this fungus usually grows on hemlock logs. You can burn soft woods like hemlock but they burn faster and don’t heat quite like hardwoods. They can also cause a lot of creosote buildup in a chimney.

Many of the logs shown in the first shot in this post were dragged. It’s a common practice to have to drag cut trees out of a forest to a landing so they can be cut into manageable pieces and loaded onto logging trucks, and when this one was dragged a woodpecker hole became filled with soil. This is a good time to mention that nearly every log shown in this post came from a tree that had something wrong with it. Woodpeckers dig holes in tree trunks to get at insects living in the tree; often carpenter ants. The ants eat the cellulose and weaken the tree, and it isn’t that unusual to find that the tree you’ve cut is completely hollow.

This example was hollowed out either by insects or heart rot cause by a fungus. Mushrooms and other fungi growing on trees is never a good sign. All of this weakens the tree and when a good wind comes along, down they go. Friends of mine just lost their barn to a hundred + year old pine tree that fell and cut the barn right in half. The tree people estimated its weight at 20 tons. That’s 40,000 pounds of wood, and we’re all very thankful that we weren’t anywhere near it when it fell. It was hollow, just like the one in the photo. It was also full of big, black carpenter ants.

This tree had a double whammy. The channels were caused by insects, probably carpenter ants, and then fungal spores got in and revealed themselves when they fruited into these little white mushrooms. It’s possible that the insects in the tree were farming this mushroom and brought parts of it into their channels to feed on. In any event this tree’s life was shortened by quite a few years. It could have stood hollow and lived on for a long time but heaven help anyone who was near it when it finally came down.

A woodpecker made two holes in this oak tree, one above the other, and as the tree tried to heal itself the holes became spoon shaped. It’s another example of what was a standing hollow tree.

Everyone knows that moss grows on trees but what everyone might not know is that many trees like this oak have channels in their bark which direct rainwater down to the tree’s roots. They can be clearly seen in this example, and so can the moss growing right beside and between them. Mosses like a lot of water and when they grow on a tree trunk they get it by growing next to these vertical streams. Do they grow on the north side of trees? Yes, and on the east, west, and south sides too; whichever is more moist.

Lichens are a common sight in woodpiles and beard lichens are very common. Often you can see them growing all up and down the trunks of trees and much like mosses, lichens grow near the channels in the bark so they can get ample moisture. I think this example is a fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula,) so called because of its resemblance to the backbone of a fish. Many people seem to think that lichens will kill a tree but they are simply opportunists looking for all the rain and sunlight they can get and they just perch on trees like birds do. They take nothing from the tree, so if I pulled this one off this log and put it on a living tree it would just grow on as if nothing ever happened as long as it received the right amount of moisture and light. Lichens are virtually indestructible and that’s why some scientists say they are immortal, or as close to immortal as any living thing can be.

I think this is the start of a beautiful crust fungus called the wrinkled crust (Phlebia radiata.) These mushrooms lie flat on the wood they grow on and have no stem, gills or pores. They radiate out from a central point and can be very beautiful. The darker area on this example is where it was wet and the lighter ones where it was dry. They don’t mind cool weather; I usually find them at this time of year and I’m hoping I’ll find a few more.

I’m not a logger or an arborist so I don’t know why this log has such a dark ring just under its bark. I zoomed in on the photo and counted the rings and found that the dark ring started about 12-14 years ago. Something must have happened back then to cause the change, but I can’t guess what it was.

I do know what caused the purple staining in this log; iron, meaning it has foreign objects like screws or nails in it. Sawmills look for this kind of thing when logging trucks bring in a load of logs and they’ll reject the whole load if they see it.

Here’s an example of a foreign object embedded in a tree. In a few more years the tree would have grown over it and it never would have been seen. The only thing that would have given it away was the purple staining when the tree was cat. Nothing will destroy a saw blade or chain quicker than something like this.

If all the stars and planets are aligned perfectly and you pay close attention to your wood pile you could find something as rare and beautiful as this cobalt crust fungus (Terana caerulea) in it. This photo was taken about three years ago and I’ve been looking for this beautiful fungus ever since, but have never seen another one. This is just the time of year for it to appear, so I’ll be watching for it.

The old saying, as I’ve always heard it, says that firewood warms you three times; once when you cut it, once when you stack it, and once when you burn it, and I’d have to say that was just about right. If you dress in layers against the cold you’ll find yourself peeling them off in a hurry once you get to the wood pile. I’ve always looked at cutting and splitting wood as an enjoyable job though, and I hope this post might make the job of getting your woodshed filled just a little more enjoyable too.

The knots in the wood can’t be untied. ~Marty Rubin

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Last weekend I remembered that I hadn’t climbed any hills in a while so I chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. The trail starts in a meadow / hayfield and I was surprised to see a path starting to wear into the grass. I suppose it must be becoming a popular climb even though I rarely meet anyone here.

There was a nice display of big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) and gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) along the edge of the field. The big, hand sized, heart shaped leaves helped me identify the asters.

The trail starts out narrow and level but before long it widens and angles uphill.

A ray of sunshine had found a colony of shining clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum) and made it shine even more. This clubmoss is unusual and easy to identify because it is unbranched and grows fairly erect.

Cockscomb or crested coral (Clavulina cristata) grew on the side of the trail. Crested corals have branches that end in sharp tips and these tips will often turn brown, but these examples were still nice and white. It had rained all day the day before so it might have been very fresh. I’m not sure what the tiny yellow fungus in the background was.

The names pinwheel and horsehair mushroom are interchangeable and go by the scientific name of Marasmius rotula. They grow on decaying leaves and decaying wood and can appear overnight after a good rain. They are very small and rarely grow larger in diameter than a pea. This one grew on last year’s leaves and was easily the largest I’ve ever seen with a diameter equal to that of an aspirin.

Another record mushroom in my book was this hemlock varnish shelf fungus (Ganoderma tsugae.) It was larger than a dinner plate and I’d guess quite old. Its common name comes from its shiny cap which usually looks like it has been varnished, but this example was very dirty. This mushroom is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

The trail goes gently uphill until we near the summit where the grade is steep. It’s very dark through this section of forest because of the overspreading evergreen branches of pines and hemlocks.

If you look closely at the tree to the left of the trail in the previous photo you can see that it is full of woodpecker holes. This photo shows how the wind carried mushroom spores into one of those holes and they grew there, fruiting on this day or the day before. This is how fungi infect and almost always kill the trees they grow on. All it takes is a small wound, and that’s why wounds on expensive ornamental or fruit trees should be quickly treated.

When trees die they eventually fall and I saw several down across the trail. This hemlock was the largest. Note all the tree roots on the trail where the soil has washed and worn away. They can be very slippery after a rain and I slipped on them a few times on my way down the hill.

Hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata) and crowded parchment fungi (Stereum complicatum) battled for space on a fallen limb. There was plenty of room for both to the right and left but crowded parchment fungi often covers entire logs, so it wants all the space.

Yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia) gets its common name from the yellow bits of the universal veil on its orange cap. The universal veil is made of tissue and completely covers the young mushroom. As the mushroom grows it eventually breaks through the membranous veil and pieces of it are left behind on the cap. Rain can wash them off so I was surprised that they have stayed in place on this example. This mushroom is in the amanita family and is considered toxic. The amanita family contains some mushrooms that can kill if eaten, so I never eat any mushroom that I’m not 110% sure is safe. In truth I’m not crazy about mushrooms anyhow so their toxicity is a non-issue for me.

Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) was showing its fall colors. This plant has small black berries but this example didn’t have any. 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 and I wondered if it was that bird eating all the berries. I also saw plenty of blueberry bushes but not a single one had a berry.

This fungus grew right on the ground and looked like it was pretending to be a pizza. I haven’t been able to identify it.

I didn’t expect the views to be very good due to the previous day’s heavy rain, so I wasn’t disappointed when they weren’t. It was very hazy but you can still see the trees; countless thousands of them. I didn’t see much leaf color yet though some seemed to be lightening up to a yellow green.

Out of several shots of the views I took this is probably the best as far as lack of haze.

As I stood scanning the trees for signs of fall color a large shadow crossed over me and when I looked up I saw a flock of what I think were turkey vultures circling silently above me. They looked to be huge, and there had to have been 7 or 8 of them. Big birds flying across the skies; throwing shadows on our eyes. These words from Neil Young’s song Helpless played in my mind as I watched them soar.

These aren’t very good photos but my getting-photos-of-birds-in-flight skills are just about nonexistent. What struck me most about these birds other than their large size was how absolutely silent they were. They never made a sound the whole time I watched them; there wasn’t even the sound of wind in their feathers even though they flew so close once or twice it seemed like I could have reached out and touched them.

Because of the previous day’s rain many of the little toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) that live up here were their natural green color and plump with plenty of moisture. When wet the greenish color of the algae that is present in the lichen comes through on the surface. The tiny black specks in its lower left corner are its disc shaped fruiting bodies, called apothecia, where its spores are busily being produced so a new generation of toadskins can get their start.

When wet toadskin lichens are rubbery and pliable and feel much like your ear lobe but when they dry out they are much like a potato chip, and will crack just as easily.  Like many lichens they also change color when they dry out, like the dry example in the above photo shows. The warts on its surface are called pustules and on the back of the lichen there is a corresponding pit for every pustule. Each lichen is attached to the rock at a single point that looks much like a belly button, so this is an umbilicate lichen. This example’s belly button is the bright spot that looks like a sun in a solar system.

I’ve written several posts about Tippin Rock, which is the 40 ton glacial erratic that lives up here, so I was going to just pass it by without taking a photo, but then I saw something I hadn’t seen before. At first I thought I had come upon one of those benevolent forest sprites whose job is guiding creatures who pass through the woods and protecting the forest, but instead it was Gus. “Are you tipping that rock?” I asked, and Gus giggled and said no, it was his father making it tip. Gus is a happy little guy who was overcome by bursts of great joy each time his father made Tippin Rock tip. It’s truly amazing to see 40 tons of granite rock gently back and forth like a baby cradle and Gus was having a ball riding the huge stone but truth be told, his dad was looking a little winded. From what I gathered Gus and his dad and their dog Annie had come up here specifically to tip the rock, and tip it did, again and again and again. Once I thought it might actually tip off its natural keel and never move again but Gus rode it out and everything was fine.

I don’t get many chances to show a person’s size in relation to the big boulder so I was grateful when Gus’s father graciously said that I could take a few photos. Gus is a very bright, joy filled five year old who is as cute as a button. He told me that he likes school and loves his teacher very much, and I told him that I’d bet that his teacher loved him right back. Gus also told me that he and his family were having a dinner party the following evening and said that I should come so he could show me around, but I left the family to their fun and headed off down the hill.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how I harp about people getting into the woods so it was a real pleasure meeting Gus and his dad and their dog Annie up there; easily the high point of my entire weekend. I hope Gus grows up to be a great lover of nature; he’s certainly off to a great start.

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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With all the rain we’ve had mushrooms are sprouting up everywhere now and, though we usually have an orange  / yellow phase followed by a purple phase, this year they all seem to be coming at the same time. I’m not sure if the orange / yellows are late or if the purples are early. Anyhow, butter wax caps (Hygrocybe ceracea) are one of the most photogenic of all mushrooms, in my opinion. They are a pretty, yellow, medium sized mushroom that almost always grows in groups.

In time the cap on butter wax cap mushrooms loses its conical shape and flattens out as if to show off its pretty yellow gills.

Hemlock varnish shelf mushrooms (Ganoderma tsugae) not surprisingly, grow on hemlock trees. This mushroom’s common name comes from its shiny red cap, which looks like it has been varnished. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

I love the colors in this bolete mushroom, which I think is the two colored bolete (Boletus bicolor.) As you can see by the photo, slugs (and maybe a squirrel or two) like it too. From what I’ve read there are several reddish colored boletes but most are small with flesh that stains blue after it has been cut or damaged. There is only one with flesh that stays yellow when damaged and that is the two colored bolete. This example was large, with the diameter of a cantaloupe.

Another pretty mushroom is the purple cort (Cortinarius iodeoides.) The caps always look wet but they aren’t-they are slimy, and that’s why they often have leaves, pine needles, and other forest debris stuck to them. This one was surprisingly clean.

Purple corts often lose their sliminess and develop white or yellow streaks as they age and this is a good way to identify them. They always look psychedelic to me at this stage and remind me of the 60s, but I’d never eat one. The taste is said to be very bitter.

Common earth ball (Scleroderma citrinum) is a type of puffball that I can’t say is real common here. I see maybe one or two each year. Another name for it is the pigskin poison puffball because it is toxic. It likes to grow on compacted soil like that found on forest trails. They often have a yellow color on their surface and are also called citrine earth balls because of it. I found one last year that was a beautiful lemon yellow.

Black jelly drops (Bulgaria inquinans) grew on an oak log. Though these fungi are also called poor man’s licorice they aren’t edible and depending on what you read, might be poisonous. I’ve read that in parts of China they are considered a delicacy but it sounds to me like they’re best left alone.

Though they look and feel like gumdrops in a velvet cup black jelly drops are not jelly fungi; they are sac fungi. Their fertile surface is shiny, and the dark brown outsides of the cup look like felt. This mushroom is sometimes used for dying fabric in mostly blacks and browns, purples and grays. It is thought that the Bulgaria part of the scientific name might refer to a leathery skin, like a wine skin.

This is what black jelly fungi look like when they’re young. They’re very small and hard to see because they blend into the color of the surrounding bark so well. They are usually found on oak trees that have been felled and cut up for firewood, and that is exactly where I found these examples. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this fungus.

Dead man’s fingers (Xylaria polymorphaare) are a type of fungi that often look like a human finger. As they age dead man’s finger fungi begin to darken. The lighter areas on them are covered with spores that are produced in early stages of their development. These fungi cause soft rot in the wood they grow on. In the final stages of their life dead man’s finger fungi darken until they turn black, and then they simply fall over and decompose. These examples grew out of the soil but there was probably an unseen log or tree roots that they were actually growing on.

I’m not positive but I think this crust fungus is a young example of the netted crust fungus. Netted crust fungi (Byssomerulius corium) are common and grow on the undersides of branches. The corium part of the scientific name means skin or hide, and refers to the skin-like growth of this fungus. Quite often bracket or shelf like growths will form along its edges. This fungus has tiny net-like ridges in its surface, and that’s how the netted crust comes by its common name.

It’s hard to do a post on fungi without including mycelium. Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae. When mushroom spores grow they produce mycelium, which eventually produces fruit, which is the above ground part that we see. The mycelium in the above photo grew just under last year’s leaves. Mycelium growths can be among the largest living things on earth. A huge honey mushroom (Armillarea ostoyae) mycelium in Oregon’s Blue Mountains covers 2,384 acres and holds the record as the world’s largest known organism. It is thought to be between 2,400 and 8,650 years old.

Berkeley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi) grew at the base of a tree. These are some of the biggest mushrooms that I’ve seen and I put a quarter on this one so you could see just how big it was. A quarter is about an inch across.  This large bracket fungus often reaches two feet across. It grows on the roots of hardwood trees and causes butt rot in the tree’s heartwood. The wood turns white before rotting away and leaving a standing hollow tree.

Pine dye polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) is also called the velvet topped fungus because of its velvety feel. These large bracket fungi are parasitic on the roots and heartwood of living white pines in the eastern U.S. and cause root and heart rot. I usually find them on logs or roots but I found these examples on the trunk of a live tree, and that means its death sentence. This fungus changes color as it ages and can be any one of several different colors. A lot of those I see are a deep, beautiful red/ maroon color. If found when young they can be used to dye wool a soft yellow or orange color, and older examples will dye wool brown. This mushroom has the odd habit of sprouting “baby mushrooms” from its cap.

Shaggy parasol mushroom (Chlorophyllum rhacodes) has shaggy brown scales on a white background on its cap, but this example is shaggier than any photo I’ve seen of one so this identification has to be taken with a grain of salt. I found this example growing in deep shade by an old stump.

And that reminds me of something that I should say in every mushroom post: It is never a good idea to eat any mushroom you aren’t 100 percent sure of because there are mushrooms that can kill, and people still do die and / or get very sick from eating them each year despite all the warnings. In June of last year 14 people in San Francisco were poisoned by eating death cap mushrooms (amanita phalloides,) one of the deadliest mushrooms known. Three of them needed liver transplants, including an 18-month-old girl. It seems unbelievable to me that there are still people out there who don’t know the dangers of mushroom poisoning but every year I read stories just like this one.

Coral mushrooms come in many colors, sizes, and shapes. This one was as big as a baseball. I think it might be a golden coral (Ramaria aurea) but as my mushroom books say, there are so many similar coral mushrooms that it’s hard to tell them apart without a microscope. I just enjoy seeing them.

Since this coral fungus has sprouted on a stump and not from the ground I think it might be crown coral (Clavicorona pyxidata.) Crown coral branches end in a tiny little crown, just like what is seen here.

Yellow finger coral fungi (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) look like tiny yellow flames licking up out of the forest floor. Each finger might reach an inch high and grow in tight clusters, while look alikes do not. They are also called spindle corals and like to grow in the hard packed earth along forest trails. It is for that reason that I often find them stepped on and broken, but these examples were in good condition. They are said to have flesh that is very bitter.

Jelly babies (Leotia lubrica) look like a mushroom with a stem and a cap but if you look under the cap you won’t see any gills or pores. Despite their name jelly babies are sac fungi rather than jelly fungi and their spores are produced on the upper surface of the cap rather than on gill or pore surfaces. The caps might feel smooth, clammy or slimy and can be green, tan, orange or yellow. Stems also vary in color.

Jelly Babies grow on the soil or on well-rotted wood in both hardwood and conifer forests and are very small. This entire group would easily fit on a quarter, which is about an inch in diameter. On a good day a jelly baby might reach 2.5 inches tall, but they’re usually about an inch tall in my experience, with a cap that might grow as large as a pea. Jelly babies are both friend and teacher to me because they showed me an entire Lilliputian world that I never knew existed. One day I sat on a stone and looked down and there they were, the cutest little bunch of fungi I had ever seen, and they made me wonder what other tiny things I’d been missing. Since that day I’ve been paying attention and looking closer, and I’ve seen things that I couldn’t have ever imagined.

I usually come away from mushroom hunting with a few unknowns, and this one fits perfectly into that slot for this post. It’s a pretty little thing that must have won first prize; it looks like the forest elves have given it a blue ribbon.

The sudden appearance of mushrooms after a summer rain is one of the more impressive spectacles of the plant world. ~John Tyler Bonner

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We had a day with blue skies, puffy white clouds, and low heat and humidity so I thought I’d take advantage of such a fine day by climbing Mount Caesar in Swanzey. The mountain it is said, is named after a freed slave named Caesar Freeman and he is supposed to be buried somewhere on it, but nobody really seems to be able to verify any of the tale. One thing about the mountain is certain; Native Americans used it for a lookout and in the mid-1700s they burned Swanzey to the ground, house by house and mill by mill. The climb to the top starts on a path of solid granite bedrock, as is seen in the photo.

One of my favorite things to see on Mount Caesar is this river of reindeer lichen. Since there are no reindeer or other animals to eat the lichens they thrive here. But they are fragile 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 for drifts like the one pictured to reappear. The Native American Ojibwa tribe was known to bathe newborns in water in which reindeer lichens had been boiled.

Just before you enter the forest there is a meadow teeming with wildflowers. On this day most of what was blooming were pale spike lobelias (Lobelia spicata,) which get their common name from the small, pale blue to almost white flowers. Every now and then you can find a plant with deeper blue flowers, but most are pale.

Sometimes if you look carefully you can find dark blue pale spike lobelias, as this one was. These flowers are small; hardly bigger than a standard aspirin. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for lobelia and one of them was as a treatment for asthma, but it has to be used with great care because too much of it can kill.

Stone walls will follow you almost all the way to the summit of Mount Caesar and remind hikers that this land was once completely cleared of trees. I’d guess that sheep once grazed on the mountain’s flanks, as was true of most of the hills in the area. The walls most likely date from the late 1700s and early 1800s. Not old enough to be covered by moss yet but there certainly are plenty of lichens on them. The yellow ones seen in the photo are sulfur dust lichens (Chrysothrix chlorina). This lichen doesn’t like to be rained on so it is usually found hiding under some type of overhang.

I saw many mushrooms on this climb, among them yellow chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius.) I’m not a real mushroom aficionado but I know this edible mushroom is considered choice. I don’t see many but when I do it’s usually about this time of year or a little earlier, and I always see them growing right alongside trails. It is believed by some that the compacted earth of the trail or road may cause the chanterelle mycelium to react by fruiting.

Another mushroom I saw in great abundance was yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia,) and it is not a choice edible fungus, in fact it is poisonous and should never be eaten. This mushroom is identified by the chrome yellow “warts” on the cap, which are easily brushed off. It prefers growing in hemlock forests, so it is right at home here. It is said to be one of the most common and widespread species of Amanita in eastern North America. It faintly resembles yellow fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) but that mushroom has white warts on its cap.

I’ve seen people go up to the summit and then back down again in the time it took me to reach the half way point but this isn’t a race and I dawdle and wander, looking at this and that all the way up and down the mountain. A 45 minute climb with me can easily take half a day, and that’s why I almost always hike alone. To see the kinds of things that I see you absolutely must walk slowly and from what I’ve seen most people simply aren’t able to do it. Unfortunately most people I’ve seen and spoken with in places like this seem to feel that the end of the trail is far more important than what can be seen along it and race through it. If only they knew that they were missing all of the best that nature has to offer.

Eastern teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens,) bloomed all along the trail. This native wintergreen is in the same family as the blueberry and its flowers show that. Teaberry is also known as checkerberry or American wintergreen and by fall its flowers will have turned into small red berries that taste minty, like Teaberry chewing gum. Many animals, from foxes to chipmunks, and birds including grouse and pheasant rely on the berries to help them get through the winter. Wintergreen oil has been used medicinally for centuries, and the leaves make an excellent, soothing tea. The plant’s fragrance is unmistakable and its oil is used in toothpaste, mouthwash, pain relievers, and many other products.

Before too long the approach to the summit appears as granite bedrock, and that’s when you realize that this mountain is just a huge piece of solid granite with a few inches of soil covering it. I’ve seen several trees that have blown over and their roots were very shallow. They have to be because they can’t penetrate the granite.

I like a few clouds in the sky to give it some interest. A year or two ago we had an entire summer of blue skies with not a cloud to be seen, and it was quite boring if you wanted landscape photos. I like the way the shadows of the clouds pass over the land. It’s something I’ve watched and enjoyed since I was a boy.

The view was hazy in some directions but I usually spend time marveling at how vast this forest really is, so I don’t mind a little haze.

Mount Monadnock could be seen through the haze off to the east but it wasn’t a day for mountain portraits.

You need to watch where you step when you’re taking photos of the mountain because you have to get close to the edge of the cliff if you want the best shot. This is one time when it isn’t wise to step outside of yourself and become totally absorbed by what you see before you. It’s a long way down and for someone who doesn’t like heights it’s a stomach knotter, and I tread very mindfully up here.

I was surprised to see so many old friends up here, like this bristly sarsaparilla. It made me wonder if it has just moved in or if I have been negligent and ignored it on previous climbs. It obviously likes it up here; it was blooming well. It normally grows in dry, sandy soil at road edges and waste areas. Its stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. Technically, though it looks like a perennial plant, it is considered a shrub because the lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter.

Each tiny bristly sarsaparilla flower will become a round black berry if the pollinators do their job and it looked like they were hard at it. I’m not sure what this insect’s name is but it was very small. The entire flower head of the plant in the previous photo is barely bigger than a ping pong ball.

Blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) also grew on the summit. It seems like I’m seeing this little beauty everywhere I go this summer and it makes me wonder if it doesn’t like a lot of rain like we’ve had this year, even though it grows in sandy waste areas.

Zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) was a real surprise because it usually grows in wooded areas instead of out in the open.  It has wide leaves and smallish flowers that grow from the leaf axils and at the terminal end of its zigzagging stem.  Zigzag goldenrod grows in the shade and prefers moist soil, so this seems like an odd place to have found it. It grew beside a large stone so maybe the stone keeps it shaded for part of the day.

We had torrential rains the day before I made this climb so I thought my little friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) would be happy, but most of them weren’t. I don’t know if they just dried out that quickly or if overhanging tree branches kept the rain off them. They grow in just about full sun so I suppose they could have simply dried out. The example in the above photo was close to what I expected but it still wasn’t that deep, pea green color and I could tell that it was drying out. When at their best these lichens are very pliable and feel like an ear lobe, but when dry they feel crisp like a potato chip. This one was somewhere in between.

This one was ashy gray and very dry. You can see the broken edges top and bottom where it has snapped like a brittle chip. I have to say that, though I doubt the lichens enjoy being in such a state, I think they’re at their most beautiful when they look like this. I wish I could see them every day so I could witness all of their changes but I’ve seen them only on the summits, so if you want to visit with them you have to work for the privilege.

To those who have struggled with them, the mountains reveal beauties that they will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward the mountains give to effort. And it is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with them that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again. The mountains reserve their choice gifts for those who stand upon their summits. Sir Francis Younghusband

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Last Sunday dawned sunny and relatively warm (in the 40s,) so I decided to visit a rail trail that I’d never been on. Of course as soon as I reached it the clouds returned and that was the end of the sunshine for the day. As the photo shows this trail is paved; one of just a handful that are. It was a pleasure to not have to slip on ice or trudge through snow for a change, but I really prefer unpaved trails.

I don’t expect you to read these signs but they do contain interesting historical information so I’ve put them here for those who may be interested.

Poplar trees (Populus) are in the willow family and their hairy catkins remind me of spring pussy willows. North American poplars are divided into three main groups: the cottonwoods, the aspens, and the balsam poplars. If the buds aren’t sticky then the tree belongs in the aspen group. Those shown here weren’t. Aspen buds begin to swell during the first warm period in spring, when minimum temperatures are still below freezing. Air temperature rather than day length determines when their buds will break, so it can vary from year to year. I think this year they misjudged and opened early. These examples were very wet from the rain and snow that fell the day before.

Crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa) grew on a tree trunk. This moss is very common on tree trunks in these parts and I see it all the time. When dry its leaves tighten and curl tightly, and that’s where the “crispy” part of its common name comes from. This clump was about an inch across. Most of them I see are quite small. This one seemed to have a bright inner light and it called me off the trail to enjoy its great beauty. Mosses are overlooked by many and that’s too bad because they can be remarkably beautiful. They are also everywhere, and very easy to find.

This beech tree was as big around as my leg and its twisted shape showed that it had been strangled by oriental bittersweet  (Celastrus orbiculatus.) Luckily for the tree someone had cut the wire like vine away, but it will always be twisted.

Male hazel catkins (Corylus americana) are just starting to release their pollen. It pays to watch them develop because once they’ve started releasing pollen the tiny and rarely noticed female flowers will soon begin to blossom. During early to middle spring, the drooping catkins begin to swell and become longer and larger in diameter. Each male flower has two tiny bracts and 4 stamens. You can just see the yellowish stamens beginning to show on these examples.

The female hazel flowers open at the same time as the male flowers, or sometimes even a little sooner. As this poor photo shows, several of the hair like female flower stigmas can grow and bloom out of each small swollen bud. They are very small and always a photographic challenge. When pollinated by the wind each female blossom with become a small, sweet nut. The nuts were used by Native Americans to flavor soups, and other parts of the shrub were used medicinally.

I keep hoping that I’ll be able to show you what female speckled alder blossoms (Alnus incana) look like but this year the lingering cold is making them wary, as if they are afraid to bloom. You can just see hints of the tiny female stigmas as they poke out from under the bracts of the catkin, but at this point there should be enough to make them look quite shaggy. These flowers are even smaller than the female hazel blossoms in the previous photo; in fact I think they’re the smallest flower that I’ve ever taken a photo of.

This pedestrian bridge crosses over Beaver Brook and replaced the original railroad bridge that stood here. I used to see a side view of it every day, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it from this angle.

Another sign tells of railroad and industry history in the area.

The reason I used to see the previous bridge from the side every day was because I used to stand on this one, which is slightly down stream. This is a private bridge which was once owned by the Kingsbury Corporation, a machine tool developer and builder. I worked here for a decade or so as a mechanical engineer and often stood on that bridge at break times. It’s hard to tell from the photo but Beaver Brook actually passes underneath the building, and when it floods so does the building.

Up there where the red brick stripes contrast with the concrete block was the engineering department. It had 50 seats and they were all full, night and day. The bottom fell out of the engineering and machine tool trades in this part of New England though, and now the land and buildings are up for sale.

Though I enjoyed my time at Kingsbury Corporation I sometimes wondered if the barbed wire was meant to keep people out or keep us in. It seemed to go both ways.

This tree looked to be trying very hard to escape…

…while this one just stood and watched.

Kingsbury started life as a small toy company in the 1800s and Kingsbury toys are prized by collectors today. As it evolved it grew to employ over 1,100 people in the U.S. and Canada. This chimney on the property is a familiar landmark in this part of town but it looks like it’s having a few problems.

One of the steel bands that help hold the chimney together has come loose, and I wonder if anyone knows. It’s on private property and nobody should be near it but there are plenty of ways in and I wouldn’t be surprised if teenagers and others walked right under this. Even if it isn’t repaired it should at least be taken down safely.

There were some nice birch groves along the trail. I don’t know if they were natural or planted by the city but they were very pretty. Most were paper birch (Betula papyrifera) but there were a few gray birch (Betula populifolia) mixed in. Not only did Native Americans use paper birch bark for canoes and wigwams but they also made hunting and fishing implements, along with buckets and other containers used for carrying, storage, and even for cooking food in. They were an essential part of native life and many tribes considered birch trees a sacred gift.

I’ve been looking for colorful turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) all year and here they were the whole time. Turkey tails grow in nearly every state in the country and throughout Europe, Asia. and Russia. Their colors are described as buff, brown, cinnamon, and reddish brown, but “versicolor” means “having many colors” and I’ve seen purple, blue, orange and even pink. Turkey tail fungi have been used medicinally by the Chinese, Japanese, and Native Americans for thousands of years. Fueled by grants from the National Institute of Health, here in the U.S. scientists are researching its usefulness in breast and bone cancer therapy.

There was another grove of birches over across Water Street but I didn’t follow that section of the trail because from here it’s just a short walk to downtown Keene. As I turned around I found myself wishing that I had walked this rail trail years ago when I worked for Kingsbury. I saw many things that I didn’t know were here and the things I knew were here I saw from a different perspective. It was an enjoyable walk.

One who returns to a place sees it with new eyes. Although the place may not have changed, the viewer inevitably has. For the first time things invisible before become suddenly visible. ~Louis L’Amour

Thanks for stopping in. Happy April!

 

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It was 22 degrees when I left the house last Sunday to explore a section of rail trail that I’d never been on, but had wondered about for years. It was cold but not as cold as Saturday, so I was able to dawdle and look for those special things that are hidden in plain sight.

One of those special things is this group of plum trees that grows beside the trail. 3 or 4 years ago logging contractors hired by the electric utility came through here and cut every living thing on their right of way except these plum trees, and that’s very strange. Here you had a strip of totally bare ground that stretched for miles but these plum trees were left standing. Why? How did the electric utility know that they were special trees? Do they have a botanist who goes ahead of the loggers / brush cutters? Native plum trees are worth saving. These are the only ones I’ve ever seen.

Something else that I think is special is this old bridge; the only one I know of that is still held up by wooden timbers. Trains once passed under it and I’ve driven over it many times but it is closed to all but foot traffic now. I think I heard that it will be replaced, which I’m sure will make the people of this neighborhood very happy.

The bridge uprights in the previous photo might look a little spindly but they’re actually stout 12 X 12 inch timbers that probably look as good as they did when the bridge was built. The railroad built things to last and many of the bridges and trestles along these rail trails have been here for nearly 150 years.

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) was trying to take the bridge down. The railroad would’ve never let this happen. If the bridge wasn’t going to be replaced I’d report this to the town because it wouldn’t be long before the bridge was covered with it.

This vine was loaded with berries and that’s a good thing, because when berries remain on the vine it means fewer are being scattered by the birds.

 I’ve walked just a short way down this rail trail before but I’ve turned around at the bridge because beyond there was a huge ankle deep mud hole that never seemed to dry up. Going through it looked like it would have meant a boot full of mud so I turned around, but then the snowmobile club came along and cleaned up the original drainage ditches and replaced gravel on the trail, and now it is mud free. This photo shows how cold it was; the drainage ditches were frozen.

The snowmobile club has also put crushed stone on the embankments on either side of the trail near the bridge, trying to stabilize them and probably minimize runoff at the same time. I hope everyone will do what they can to help their local snowmobile clubs. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have many of these trails to enjoy.

I’m sure you must have noticed the high tension electric wires in several of these photos. The electric utility ran their lines very close to the railroad tracks and walking this rail trail so near to them bothered me, because it was one of these wires that fell and electrocuted a maintenance worker in Keene a few years ago. It was on the ground and he accidentally got too close to it. I made sure that it looked like all of these were hanging the way they were supposed to.

This Pigeon didn’t seem to be bothered by me or the electricity. It seemed odd to see a single bird. They usually stay in large flocks here.

I’ve probably driven past this old brick building a hundred times but I’ve always seen the other side, which is by the road. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this side. It looks like bittersweet was trying to take it over like the bridge.  When walking on rail trails I sometimes forget that I can be walking through people’s back yards. I try to respect their privacy and don’t go poking around, so I have no idea what this building is or why it is here. I’d like to find out its history one day. It certainly was well built, and that tells me it must have been connected to the railroad somehow. It was just feet from the railbed.

Someone rode through on one of those bikes with wide, under inflated tires. It was about as wide as an adult foot, apparently. They seem to do fine on snow but I wonder how they are on ice. There is lots of it to be found right now, and it can be anywhere.

There are bars across most rail trails to keep people from driving on them but in winter they’re unlocked to let snowmobiles use them. They would have been just about ready to be locked up again but we had a nor’easter dump about a foot of snow on us Tuesday, so they’ll stay open for a while yet.

I thought someone had made a brush pile out of white pine (Pinus strobus) branches but it was an odd shape and relatively small size, and it was crowded between some trees. It didn’t look right for a brush pile.

As I walked around it I saw that it had a small doorway in it. I could have crawled through it on my hands and knees. Instead I bent down and stuck the camera through the doorway and snapped the shutter a few times.

It was big, open, one room hut, complete with another doorway and folding chairs. You can just see the folded chair legs on the right. There was nobody inside but I’m guessing if there were they would have boys about 10-12 years old; because that’s about the age I was when I built things like this. We called them hideouts and many magical things happened in them. I just couldn’t leave without getting on my knees and peeking inside. It was like being in a time machine; I felt like a boy again.

I think one of the best finds of the day was a pile of black cherry logs (Prunus serotina) covered with cinnabar polypores (Pycnoporus Cinnabarinus.) These bright red orange bracket fungi grow on beech, birch, oak, and black cherry.

The tough cinnabar polypore is red orange on its underside as well as its upper surface. It is considered rare and is found in North America and Europe. This is only the second time I’ve seen it and both times were in winter, but it is said to grow year ‘round. It is also said to be somewhat hairy but I didn’t notice this. They turn white as they age and older examples look nothing like this one.

A cinnabar polypore just coming into being looks like just a red lump but they are a beautiful color; quite startling against the white snow and dark tree trunk.

Something else that had me feeling like a boy again was this Baltimore oriole nest hanging from a tree branch. I couldn’t have been more than 13 or 14 last time I saw one. Many nests like this one  used to hang throughout the huge 200 year old elm trees that lined my street but Dutch elm disease took the trees and the orioles disappeared. The birds are said to be found in open woodlands, forest edges, orchards, and stands of trees along rivers, in parks, and in backyards. They forage for insects and fruits in brush and shrubbery. I would think all of the wild fruits we have around in this area would attract them but I never see them. Maybe they like the plum trees.

Explore often. Only then will you know how small you are and how big the world is. ~ Pradeepa Pandiyan

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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Last Sunday dawned cold at only 4 degrees F so I waited until it had warmed up as much as it was going to before climbing Hewes Hill in Swanzey. The trail winds through mostly hemlock forest and is quite dark in places and I expected ice, so I strapped on my Yaktrax and set off across the hayfield in the above photo.

It wasn’t long before I was glad to be wearing the Yaktrax because there was ice here and there on the trail.

I’d bet that I’ve walked by this stone a hundred times without ever seeing anything interesting, but on this day I noticed that it was covered with concentric boulder lichens (Porpidia crustulata.) This lichen gets its common name from the way its fruiting bodies (Apothecia) grow in concentric rings around the center. I’ve only seen it two or three times and that led me to think that it was uncommon here, but now I wonder if I’ve just been walking right by them all these years.

We had one day with wind gusts near 60 mph last week so I wasn’t surprised to see this eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) lying across the trail. I saw several more fallen trees as well.

The hemlock most likely fell because it had been weakened by the tinder fungi (Fomes fomentarius) that were growing on it. The spores from this fungus enter the tree through damaged bark and cause rot inside. It usually grows on hardwoods but can occasionally grow on conifers as well. This bracket fungus produces spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that as many as 800 million can be produced in a single hour. The fungus is also known for its ability to stop bleeding and was recommended for that purpose by none other than the father of medicine himself, Hippocrates (460 – 370 BCE).

The fungal rot was white and clearly visible all over the inside of the tree. White rots break down lignin and cellulose and cause the rotted wood to feel moist, soft, spongy, or stringy. They can be white or yellow.

I heard crunching underfoot so knew I was walking on ice needles. For ice needles to form the air temperature has to fall below 32 degrees F right at the soil surface while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape, and that needles have been found that were 16 inches long. The needles in this photo were no more than 4 inches long. They were very dirty.

Other ice growing on ledges was bigger; much bigger.

As is true on many of these hills and mountains the trail is steepest just before the summit.

The 40 ton glacial erratic known as Tippin’ Rock sits atop Hewes Hill on a slab of very flat granite bedrock. Legend says that it is called Tippin’ Rock because if you push in the right place it will tip. I didn’t know whether to believe it or not until I first saw it happen and then tipped it myself.

To give you an idea of the size of Tippin’ Rock and because I promised my friend Dave that I’d make him world famous, here he is actually tipping Tippin’ Rock last summer. We were shocked to see such a huge boulder rocking gently and almost soundlessly back and forth like a baby cradle. When you think about all of the forces that had to come into play for this stone to simply be here at all, but then to also be so perfectly balanced, it becomes kind of mind blowing.

Sometimes if a stump or log has decayed enough tree seeds can fall and grow on them. In this photo am eastern hemlock grew stilted roots over what was probably a stump that has since rotted away. From what I’ve seen any type of tree will do this.

The views weren’t spectacular but I sat for a while and wondered, as I often do, how the first settlers felt when they looked out over something like this. It isn’t hard when you’re up here to imagine nothing out there but trees and maybe a game trail to follow if you were lucky. And if you were very lucky you might have a gun, an axe head, and food enough for a day or two. I also often wonder if I would have had the courage to face such an immense unknown.

You really are in the treetops up here. Mostly oak treetops.

This is another unsuccessful attempt to show you how high you are when you’re up here. You’ll have to take my word that it’s quite a drop.

The views didn’t really matter because that’s not what I climbed up here to see. I haven’t seen my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) since last fall, so I thought it was past time to pay them a visit. They prefer growing on undisturbed natural boulders rather than on man-made stone walls and in this area I’ve only seen them on hilltops, so I don’t see them often; only when I’m willing to work for it. We haven’t had any rain or snow lately so they were very dry, and when dry they usually turn from their normal pea green color to the ashy gray seen here. They also become very brittle.

Common toadskin lichens are umbilicate lichens, which means they attach to a substrate (usually stone) at a single point, like a belly button. That point is the lighter area in this example. These lichens also look warty, and that’s how they come by their common name. These examples were small at less than an inch across but I’ve seen them as big as 2 inches. They can be very beautiful.

The head of a pin is .06 inches (1.5 mm) in diameter and one of the toadskin lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecia) could easily hide behind one. The apothecia are where the lichen’s spores are produced. In this case they 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) of the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. This isn’t a great photo but it’s the closest I’ve ever been able to get to this lichen and it’s a fair bet that you’re seeing something you’ve never seen.

This photo shows how the apothecia are distributed over the surface of the toadskin lichen. Despite being quite dry this one was producing a lot of spores.

Mr. (or Mrs.) smiley face was there to greet me as I reached the bottom of the hill. I wonder if whoever painted it could have imagined that it would stay here so long and cheer so many people on. There have been times when my weariness has disappeared as the little smile put a smile on my face.

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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