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Posts Tagged ‘Wildlife Sanctuary at Willard Pond’

The highpoint of my fall foliage viewing comes at Willard Pond in Hancock. I usually visit the pond just before Halloween but this year the trees in lower elevations told me I might want to visit a little earlier. Beeches and oaks predominate here and they seemed to be changing earlier in the low places. If I was to go by the road to the pond I had made a good decision, and it was likely to be a very beautiful afternoon.

Willard Pond is a wildlife sanctuary under the protection of the New Hampshire Audubon Society and it is unusual because of the loons that nest here. There are also bears, moose and deer living here, as well as many bird species, including bald eagles. I’ve never seen a loon here but on this day I heard their haunting cries from clear across the pond. There are no motorboats allowed here so it’s always very quiet. All you hear is the wind and if you’re very lucky, a loon or two.

That’s where we’re going; along the shoreline at the base of that hill.

Here’s a closer look at the hill. The oaks and beeches looked to be in peak color.

I had a little friend join me on the trail. Chipmunks often follow along with people, hopping along from rock to log, chipping the whole way. If I was a hunter I wouldn’t like that because they alert all the other forest creatures that you’re coming. We have billions of acorns falling this year so these little guys won’t have to work quite as hard. Maybe that’s why he had time to follow along with me.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) in red and striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) in yellow made for a pretty scene along the trail.

Speaking of the trail; in most places along its length it is one person wide because the hillside comes right down to the water. It can be wet at times and is always very rough and rocky, so good hiking boots are a must. You can’t see it very well in this photo, but it’s there.

In places huge boulders seem ready to tumble down the hillside, but they have probably rested in the same spot since the last ice age. This one is easily as big as a one car garage. These huge stones are one reason the trail has to be so narrow; no machine I know of could ever move one. Sometimes you have to weave your way through them to move down the trail.

Last year I was a little late and many of the leaves had fallen but this year even the maples still had leaves and the forest couldn’t have been more beautiful. It’s the kind of place you wish you could spend a week in.

Boardwalks are well placed so your feet stay dry but this year it has been so dry not a trickle came down from the hillside.

The trail I follow is on one side of a U shaped bay so you can look across and see another hillside, just as beautiful as the one you’re on. I don’t know if there is a trail on that side but I’d like to find out one day.

There were kayakers on the pond but they were quiet for the most part. A place like this makes you want to speak in whispers, so I wasn’t surprised.

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) still bloomed along the pond edges, warmed by the water I would imagine.

Sometimes the trail leads you to just a few feet from the water’s edge.

Leaves were falling by the hundreds but the trees didn’t seem at all bare.

They certainly weren’t bare on the hill across the bay.

I took far too many photos while I was here but it’s hard to stop. Around every bend in the trail there is more of this.

This burnt looking area on a yellow birch was a chaga fungus (Inonotus obliquus) that has been here for years. This fungus has been used medicinally in Russia, China, Korea and Japan for centuries, and it is said to be packed with vitamins and minerals. Recently it has shown promise in cancer research, reducing the size of tumors. In Siberia it is said to be the secret to long life.

I saw some brightly colored turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) on a log. They were a little dry but pretty nonetheless.

A last look at the amazing colors found in this beautiful place.

The old wooden bench has seen better days but I sat here for quite  a while, listening to the breeze and the loons and the gentle lapping of the water. You can step outside of yourself here without even realizing it because you become totally immersed in the beauty of the place. I find that time often seems to stand still here, and what I think was an hour was often really two or three. That was the case on this day and I got back much later than I thought I would, but that was fine.  

Being in the forest can change everything and it can heal a lot of ills. I hope all of you will have a chance to experience the great joy and serenity found in places like this. 

Time doesn’t seem to pass here: it just is. ~J.R.R. Tolkien

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I was finally able to visit Willard Pond in Hancock last week. The weekend forecast was for rain so Friday afternoon off I went to one of the most beautiful places I know. It is here at Willard Pond where in the fall, nature pulls out all the stops.

That’s where we’re going; to that hillside behind the boulder. It is an unusual forest that is made up of mostly beeches and oaks which at this time of year are at their most colorful. I’ve come here on the last weekend in October for a few years now and I haven’t ever been disappointed.

The trail is one person wide and follows the shoreline of the pond close to the water because the hillside comes right down to the pond. It is rocky and full of tree roots, and it is muddy in spots, so you need good stout hiking boots here. This isn’t the place for sneakers or flip flops.

Beeches turn from green to yellow and then as the yellow fades reds, oranges and finally browns appear.

There is color everywhere here, including on the forest floor. This photo shows yellow beech and maple, red-brown oak, and purple maple leaf viburnums.

From a photography point of view this place is difficult because you can’t ever back up for a wide shot. The pond is right there behind you, so you have to do what you can. You’re literally immersed in the forest that you’re trying to take photos of.

This view looks back on the trail we just followed. It comes through the break between the two boulders over there on the left. There is no real climbing unless you chose to climb Bald Mountain, but you do have to climb over stones and possibly an occasional fallen tree to follow the shoreline trail.

Thankfully you don’t have to climb over anything like this. There are a few garage size boulders here and this is one of them. They tumbled down the hillside to the water’s edge at some point in the past or they could have been left right where they are by a melting glacier.

You might be fooled into thinking these were turkey tail fungi but turkey tails are usually several different colors. In spite of its name the multicolor gill polypore (Lenzites betulina) shown here is varying shades of tan and really not that colorful.

Another way to tell the difference between a turkey tail and this fungus is the appearance of gills on the underside. Turkey tails have pores, never gills. There are a few other gilled polypores but this is the only one with white flesh. It also has true gills, which in this case were very dry and wrinkled, in spite of all the rain we’ve had.

No matter what other interesting and beautiful things you might see here at this time of year the real story is the forest itself, and it’s hard to keep your eyes on anything else. I stumbled a few times because I had my head in the trees instead of watching where I was going.

But I didn’t fall into any of the streams that run from the hillside to the pond. There are a few bridges, some just planks and others like this one more elaborate.

I sat here for a while, enjoying the happy sounds the little stream made. I didn’t think anyone would mind; though there were a few cars in the parking lot I only saw one couple the whole time I was here.

Lots of colorful fallen leaves were on the pond bottom. Most looked like maple leaves which had fallen probably a week or more before my visit.

A very determined birch tree was bent completely in half but still kept growing new branches.

Another fallen birch had chaga fungi (Inonotus obliquus) growing all along it. Chaga has been used medicinally in Russia, China, Korea and Japan for many centuries and it is said to be packed with vitamins and minerals. In Siberia it is said to be the secret to long life and it has recently shown promise in cancer research, reducing the size of tumors. The fungi look like burnt, brittle pieces of charcoal.

There was a much larger one on a nearby birch stump. It really does look burnt. Chaga fungi are parasitic and grow on birch and other species. It is black because it contains large amounts of melanin, which is a naturally occurring dark brown to black pigment that colors hair, skin and the irises of the eyes of humans and animals. It is also responsible for the tanning of skin that is exposed to sunlight. I can’t guess what it tastes like.

I’ve never tried very hard to identify these mushrooms but I don’t really need to know their name to enjoy them. They always remind me of puffy soufflés, just out of the oven.

The shadow of a dead bracken fern fell on a stone and reminded me of the humped back skeleton of a triceratops.

The beauty of this place is off the charts and you can’t help being taken up in it; swallowed by it. The towering trees, huge boulders and views of infinity make you feel so small. But feeling small isn’t always such a bad thing. It’s the same feeling that I imagine would come over me if I were in a great cathedral.

Someone had used fallen branches to make a peace sign in the hollow of a tree. I thought it was appropriate, since there is plenty of peace to be found here.

Many times these posts write themselves in my mind as I follow along a trail but this one did not, so I sat here on this wooden bench for a while thinking about what I could write about this place. I quickly realized how hard it would be to explain what a place as beautiful as this can do to a person. I went from amazement to wonder to astonishment, and there was nothing else. It was as if everything else had been stripped away; all the petty worries and cares were gone, and when it comes down to it I suppose that’s why we nature lovers do what we do. These days they call it “being in the moment,” but I never knew “the moment” could be hours long. In any event it was gloriously beautiful and I hope you’ll be able to find a place just like this one.

An autumn forest is such a place that once entered you never look for the exit. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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Each of the past two years, on the last weekend in October I’ve made the trip to see the fall foliage at Willard Pond in Antrim so, not wanting to break tradition, I visited the pond last Saturday. As this shot of the road to the pond shows, a lot of the leaves had already fallen, but the bare trees are maple trees and I was here to see the beeches and oaks.

I wasn’t disappointed. These beautiful beech trees greeted me as I pulled into the parking area.

Willard pond is a wildlife refuge so it wasn’t surprising to see a sign like this. I wish I could see the actual loons instead though.

I always walk by the actual trail head and go down to the boat landing because you get a good view of the hillsides from here. The trail I’ll follow will hug the shoreline in the distance over a large part of its length. I was hoping the pond would have a mirrored surface but it was breezy and you can’t have everything.

From here the trees didn’t have quite the same eye popping color that they’ve had in previous years and I wondered if the warm October weather had held them back a little.

The colors seemed a little more intense when the sun shined directly on the trees. They looked to be mostly beech, oak, and many bare maples. I’ve decided I’ll come here earlier next year to see the maples and then again later on to see the beeches and oaks. I’d love to see all the colors of those maples.

My favorite view of a forest is from the inside, so down the trail I went.

The beeches and oaks were absolutely beautiful. This is why I come here at this time of year, every year. I can’t think of another forest that is dominated by beech, oak, and maple like this one is. As is always the case when I come here I couldn’t stop taking photos of the trees.

There are hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) all along the trail and many had beautiful red leaves, which is something I’ve never seen on this native viburnum. Usually the leaves are splotchy maroon and green or yellow but never red that I’ve seen, not even here at the pond. This shrub has a good name because it grows long stems close to the ground that crisscross each other and get covered by fallen leaves, and if your feet get tangled in them they will hobble you and you could find yourself face down on the ground rather quickly. It has happened to me a couple of times so I don’t walk through them now. I always walk around them.

Another native shrub with a lot of red in it is the highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum.) Even the witch’s broom that grows on them is red when young. Witch’s broom is a deformity that is described as a “dense mass of shoots growing from a single point.” When witch’s broom grows on blueberries it is caused by a fungus called Pucciniastrum goeppertianum. This fungus spends part of its life cycle on balsam fir (Abies balsamea.) When it releases its spores and they land on the stems and leaves of the blueberry it becomes infected. It overwinters on blueberries and again releases its spores in the spring, and these will infect more balsam ferns and the cycle will begin again. I’ve worked with infected blueberry bushes and in my experience the witch’s broom doesn’t harm the plant.

But I wasn’t thinking about witch’s broom or fungal spores on the trail. I was admiring the beauty of the blueberry foliage, which in this case was orangey red. It can be anything from yellow to deep purple and is one of our most beautiful native shrubs for fall color.

There are many small streams flowing down the mountainside to the pond and they cross the trail, and that reminds me to tell you that you should wear good stout hiking boots when you come here. There are many stones, roots and other obstacles in the trail so this is not the place for sneakers or flip flops. I have waterproof boots, and they’re even better here.

When the streams are too wide to step across bridges help make the hike easier, but other than a bridge or two, blazed trees, and the marks of a saw on a tree that might have fallen across the trail, there are few signs of man here. It is for the most part natural and rugged. And very beautiful.

Several species of sphagnum moss grow along the trail, as if to remind you how very moist the soil is. These plants, approximately 380 species according to Wikipedia, can absorb 16-26 times their own dry weight in water. They are called peat mosses and are found in peat bogs, forests and tundra in both the north and south hemispheres. I see them everywhere but don’t usually say much about them because they can be very difficult to identify accurately. Because of its great absorbency peat moss was used as diaper material by Native Americans. It has also been used for centuries as a wound dressing, due to its natural ability to inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi. Peat bogs were also once used to preserve food, and 2,000 year old containers of things like butter and lard have been found in them.

Motor boats aren’t allowed on Willard Pond but these two kayakers made me wish I had brought my own kayak. How beautiful it must be to see these flaming hillsides from the water.

There are some huge boulders here and by huge I mean house size. They’re bigger than any I’ve seen anywhere else and it makes me wonder why. They’ve tumbled almost right down to the water and there are places where you have to squeeze through a two boulder pinch point. They’re fascinating things to look at because they have all kinds of things growing on them.

One thing you can find growing on the boulders is polypody ferns (Polypodium virginianum.) Polypody fern is also called the rock cap fern, for good reason. I’ve never seen them growing anywhere but on stones. They are evergreen and very tough, and can be found all winter long.

The spores of polypody ferns grow on the undersides of the leaves in tiny mounds called sori, which are made up of clusters of sporangia, which are the receptacles in which the spores are formed. The sori are naked and lack the protective cap (insidium) found on many ferns. The sori are often a beautiful orange color and look like tiny baskets of flowers but it looked as if these examples had already released their spores and were going by.

If this boulder isn’t called table rock it should be. It was big, and flat enough to build an average size garden shed on.

Fern roots reminded me of a porcupine’s tail. I think it might have been a sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) but I don’t see many of these so I’m not 100% sure.

There is a new thing, or maybe it’s a very old thing with a new name, called forest bathing. To practice it you go into a forest and walk slowly. You breathe in the forest air and open all of your senses and just be part of the forest. Once again I find that I’ve been doing something for my whole life without knowing it had a name, but practitioners say that forest bathing reduces blood pressure, improves mood, increases your ability to focus, and accelerates recovery from surgery. All of these benefits have been studied quite extensively, and there is even evidence that trees give off compounds that boost our immune system to help with things like fighting cancer. They also say that being in a forest gives you a deeper and clearer intuition, an increased energy level, and an overall increase in your sense of happiness. I’d have to agree. I’ve always believed that nature has very strong healing powers, and to reap its benefits you need do nothing more than just go and walk or sit in the woods.

This is the view from the little bench in the previous photo. It’s a beautiful place to sit and soak in the beauty. In general it is very quiet and serene at Willard Pond; much more so than the other ponds I visit. All you hear is birdsong and the lapping of the waves.

If you sit on the bench and turn around 180 degrees, this is what you see.  It’s hard to say which view is more beautiful. I like them both and I could sit and stare at either one for hours.

This place takes me out of myself more than any other that I visit regularly, and every time I’ve come here I’ve been shocked by how much time had passed. On this day I was here for a good part of the day, and it seemed like only an hour or two.  If you let yourself go and let yourself become immersed in your surroundings, that’s often what happens. It’s very refreshing, as if you’ve recharged your batteries.

I hope that everyone has their own special forest that they can easily get to. If you can, try to make regular visits to it. Don’t turn it into a job; just walk through and relax and enjoy the beauty of nature. After just a surprisingly short time I think you’ll notice that you’re becoming a different kind of person. Happier, more at ease, more energetic, and less stressed. You might notice that you are beginning to see with different eyes, and that your mind has quieted. One of the benefits I most enjoy from being in the forest is the seemingly endless supply of simple joy. I do hope you’ll find the same in your own forest.

It was in the forest that I found “the peace that passeth all understanding.”  ~Jane Goodall

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1-road-in

Last Sunday I was up before dawn with a mission in mind. It had rained most of the day Saturday and was due to rain again this day, but the weather people assured me that there would be a dry time until at least noon. With staying dry in mind I left as early as I could for Willard Pond in Antrim. The oaks and beeches are our last trees to turn and I didn’t want to miss them. If the road to the pond was any indication they were going to be beautiful this year.

2-pazrking-lot-color

This is the view that greeted me as I parked in the parking lot. The beech trees looked to be at their peak of color.

3-loon-sign

Willard Pond is a wildlife sanctuary under the protection of the New Hampshire Audubon Society and it is unusual because of the loons that nest here. There are also bears, moose and deer living here, as well as many bird species, including bald eagles.

4-view-from-boat-ramp

Last year when I was here there were blue skies and white puffy clouds, and the sun made the forested hills burn with reds, yellows, and oranges. This time the sky was gray and the clouds darker, and the colors were muted but no less beautiful. After the drought we’ve had I certainly can’t complain about a few rain clouds in my photos.

5-view-from-boat-ramp

Every now and then the sun would peak through a hole in the cloud cover and light the trees up beautifully. The thick dark line at the base of each stone in this shot shows how much water the pond has lost to drought.

6-clouds

At 108 acres in size Willard pond is not small. I doubted I’d get all the way around it and I didn’t even know if there was a trail all the way around, but I set off  to see what I could see.

7-leaf-covered-trail

The trail was leaf covered as I expected but the trees were well blazed, so there was no chance of absent mindedly wandering into the woods. Even without a trail and blazed trees it’s close to impossible to become lost on the shores of a pond or lake. At least physically. Mentally it’s very easy to lose yourself in the beauty of a place like this.

8-foliage

The oaks were doing their best but from where I stood the beech trees were stealing the show, and they were glorious.

9-oak

Here’s a little oak sapling. As I said, they were trying, too.

10-bridge

Two or three bridges crossed long dried up streams but at least one still had water in it.

11-stream

It seemed odd that other streams had dried up while this one still had so much water in it but that seems to be what is happening this year. I’ve seen good size streams with nothing but gravel in their beds.

12-blueberry

Blueberry bushes lined the trail and wore various shades of red and purple. Blueberries have beautiful fall colors and are a good choice instead of invasive shrubs like burning bushes.

13-maple

Surprisingly a few of the maples were still showing color. Most haven’t had leaves for a week or more.

14-pazrking-lot-color

The sky was quickly getting darker but the oaks and beeches still burned with their own light, and I was the only one here to see them. Though I am a lover of solitude it seemed too bad that so many were missing this.

15-crowded-parchment-fundus

Have you noticed how much yellow and orange there are in this post? Even the fungi were orange, but crowded parchment fungi (Stereum complicatum) are always orange.  They also live up to their common name by almost completely covering any log they grow on.

16-granite-bench

I don’t remember seeing this granite bench when I was here last year. I marveled at the ingenuity of the stone workers, getting such a heavy thing out here. The trail is one person wide and weaves through boulders and trees, so there was no way they could have used machinery to get it here unless it was a helicopter. They must have been very strong.

17-beech-limb

A large beech limb had fallen and lost its bark. It fell right along the trail and made it seem as if a carpenter had built a smooth, polished bannister to help people negotiate the rocky and root strewn trail. While I’m thinking of it, if you come here wear good sturdy hiking boots. This isn’t the place for sneakers or flip flops.

18-huge-boulder

In places huge boulders seemed ready to tumble down the hillside, but they have probably rested in the same spot since the last ice age. This one was easily as big as a one car garage. The tree on the right has displayed remarkable resilience by shaping itself to conform to the shape of the stone.

19-fallen-tree

This is truly a wild place, untouched for the most part except for the trail I was on and occasional evidence of saw cuts. Trees seem to fall across the narrow trail quite regularly and, except for cutting out the piece blocking the trail, they are left to lie where they have fallen. This makes for some interesting tree borne fungi.

20-coral-fungus-fingers

Like tiny fingers of flame, orange spindle coral fungi (Ramariopsis laeticolor) leapt from a crack in a log.

21-beaver-damage-on-beech

I saw a lot of signs that beavers were once here in the form of blackened stumps that they had cut years ago, but I didn’t know they were still here until I saw this very recently gnawed beech tree. Since the tree was about two feet across I wondered if maybe they had bitten off more than they could chew. It’s going to make a big noise when it falls and I hope I’m nowhere near it.

22-witch-hazel

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) grows in great abundance here, all along the trail. As flowers go they might not seem very showy but when they are the only thing blooming on a cold day in November they’re a very cheery sight and their fragrance is always welcome. Tea made from witch hazel tightens muscles and stops bleeding, and it was used by Native Americans for that purpose after childbirth.

23-polypody-ferns

Henry David Thoreau said about polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) “Fresh and cheerful communities of the polypody form a lustrous mantle over rocky surfaces in the early spring.” I would add that, since they are tough evergreen ferns they are there in the winter too, and that’s what cheers me most about them. They are also called rock cap fern or rock polypody because they love to grow on top of rocks, as the above photo shows.

24-polypody-fern-spore-cases

Polypody fern spores grow on the undersides of the leaves in tiny mounds called sori, which are made up of clusters of sporangia (receptacles in which spores are formed) and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many ferns. Once they ripen they are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of flowers; in this case yellow and orange flowers. More orange. Why is there so much orange at this time of year when there is very little during the rest of the year I wonder, and why has it taken me so long to notice that fact?

25-forest-view

You don’t need a sign to tell you how special this place is because you feel it as soon as you walk into the forest. It’s the kind of place where you can be completely immersed in nature; where time loses importance and serenity washes over you like a gentle summer rain. It’s a beautiful place that is hard to leave; one where I can’t seem to resist taking many more photos then I should, and I apologize once again for going overboard with them. The only thing that stopped me from taking even more was the sky. It got so dark that it seemed to be early evening even though it wasn’t yet noon, so after about three hours I left without having made it even half way around the pond. There was just too much to see.

The serenity produced by the contemplation and philosophy of nature is the only remedy for prejudice, superstition, and inordinate self-importance, teaching us that we are all a part of Nature herself, strengthening the bond of sympathy which should exist between ourselves and our brother man.
~
Luther Burbank

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