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Posts Tagged ‘Wilson Pond’

We’ve had some hot weather lately and that always makes me want to be near water, and of course when I’m near water I can’t help noticing the plants that grow there. Cattails (Typha latifolia) are the easiest to see, sometimes towering to 6 or 8 feet tall. They can grow faster than fertilized corn and can create monocultures by shading out other plants with their dense foliage and debris from old growth. They are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them. Scientists have recorded cattail marshes travel up to 17 feet in a year with prime conditions just by sending out new shoots. Of course, that doesn’t account for all the new plants that grow from seed.

Cattail flowers start life with the female green flowers appearing near the top of a tall stalk and the fluffy yellowish green male pollen bearing  flowers above them. Once fertilized the female parts turn from green to dark brown and the male flowers will fall off, leaving a stiff pointed spike above the familiar cigar shaped seed head. Cattail flowers are very prolific; one stalk can produce an estimated 220,000 seeds. Cattails were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They had uses for every part of this plant; even the pollen was harvested and used in bread.

Though Native Americans used blue flag irises medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic and people who dig cattail roots to eat have to be very careful that there are no irises growing among them, because the two plants often grow side by side. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of the dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic, but unless one is absolutely sure of what they’re doing it’s best to just admire this one. This photo is of the last one I saw blooming this year.

Bur reed grows just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down.

The male staminate flowers of bur reed look fuzzy from a distance and kind of haphazard up close.

The female bur reed flowers are always lower down on the stem and look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush. This plant can colonize a pond very quickly. I know of one small pond that started with 2 or 3 plants a few years ago and now nearly half the pond is being choked out by them.

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes. There were tiny flies crawling over most of the blossoms I saw on this day.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shorelines of lakes and ponds. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose.

Mad-Dog Skullcap has the smallest flowers among the various skullcaps and they always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

Some of the aquatic plants that I like to see up close grow far enough out in the water to have to be photographed from a boat or by swimming out to them with a waterproof camera. If you really want to challenge your photographic skills, try photographing aspirin sized flowers from a kayak that you can’t keep still.

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) are about as big as an Oreo cookie and grew where I kayaked in great numbers. This rose, like many other plants, grows on hummocks  and small islands but it can grow in drier locations as well. I saw a lot of swamp milkweed too, but I couldn’t get close enough for a photo.

One day I saw a couple of Canada goose families eating cherries from cherry trees that had bent low over the water. I didn’t know that they did this.

The adults seemed to be trying to teach the goslings how to get at the cherries but the little birds didn’t have the neck stretch it took to reach the fruit.

What I believe is creeping spike rush (Eleocharis macrostachya) isn’t a rush at all; it’s a sedge, so I’m not sure why it’s called a rush. As sedges go this one is very small; just a spiked stem with a brushy little flower head on top and a couple of basal leaves. It likes to grow in standing water at pond and lake edges, just off shore but I’ve read that it will also grow in ditches, vernal pools, and wet meadows.

The flower head of this sedge is called a spikelet and it is about a half inch long. The cream colored oval parts are the male flowers and the wispy white feathery bits are the female flowers. There are several sedges in this family that look nearly identical so I could be wrong about its name. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, the only way to tell them apart is by their tiny fruits, and I doubt that I could even see them.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that gets about ankle high and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference, apart from their small size, is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. Since the plants often grow right at the water’s edge, you usually have to get wet knees to get a good photo of them.

One of the bonuses of looking for aquatics is that you see a lot of dragonflies, like this male common whitetail dragonfly. This dragonfly rests on twigs and grasses near the water, and sometimes on the ground. I haven’t seen one on the ground but I have seen them on stones. This isn’t a very good shot but he only perched long enough for one click of the shutter.

If only narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata) would grow at the water’s edge. Instead it grows in standing water in a very wet but sunny meadow and by the time I was finished taking its photo my feet were soaked. How odd it seems that a meadow could be in full sun all day every day and still be so wet, but we have had a lot of rain. The plant is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense.

Here’s a closer look at the flower of the narrow leaved speedwell. Small blue flowers with darker blue stripes are typical of speedwells, but these can also be white or purple. They are very small and only have room for two stamens and a needle-like pistil. The plants obviously love water because there were many plants growing in this very wet area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice. Though most speedwells we see here are non-native, this one belongs here. Like lobelias, Native Americans used plants in the veronica family to treat asthma.

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are one of our yellow loosestrifes that bloom at about the same time as the yellow whorled loosestrife that I spoke of in my last post. But whorled loosestrife likes dry ground and swamp candles like to have their feet wet most of the time. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water.

Swamp candles stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. With darker vegetation behind them swamp candles really live up to their name.

Though they are very hard to see in this example because of the bright light each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are often streaked with red and the flowers are about half the size as those of whorled loosestrife.

Queen of all the aquatics in my opinion is the very beautiful fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata.) A bright yellow fire burns in the center of its snow white petals, and its fragrance is much like that of honeydew melon. There are some flowers that are so beautiful I want to just sit and gaze at them all day, and this is one of them. To see a pond full of them is breathtaking.

It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things. ~Nicholas Sparks

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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1-window-frost

Anyone who has read this blog for a time knows that I’m not a big fan of winter, but that’s because of all the extra work like shoveling the roof that comes along with it. Winter itself is a season filled with beauty, as this window frost shows so well. It looks like crystal ferns and when I was a boy most of the windows I saw in winter were decorated in this way. The newer double pane windows have pretty much put a stop to that, but car windows still become decorated on cold nights.

2-icy-woods

 

Once the ground freezes surface water has nowhere to go so if it rains or if the snow melts, small ponds form and freeze. This kind of ice makes it hard for animals like deer to get around because they slip on it.

3-monadnock

I paid another visit to Mount Monadnock the other day and found Perkin’s Pond frozen over but little snow on the summit. That has changed since; we had about 6 inches of snow on Monday but I haven’t had a chance to get photos yet.

4-monadnock-summit

On this day there was very little snow up there. It was cold enough so the bright sunshine wasn’t melting what there was though.

5-pond-ice

I’ve wondered for a long time what caused these spidery holes in lake and pond ice. I recently read that when it’s warm enough drain holes can form in the ice. When snow falls on ice the added weight forces the ice sheet to sink somewhat and water can wick up through the drain holes and wet the snow, forming channels that look like rivers. These dark spidery creations are called “ice octopi,” “ice spiders,” or “ice stars” and can sometimes grow to many feet across. This example at Perkin’s Pond was no bigger than a softball, or around 4 inches, with arms that stretched for a foot or more.

6-ashuelot-wave

The Ashuelot River hasn’t frozen and enough rain has fallen to create some waves again. I enjoy seeing if I can catch a wave at just the right curl. I don’t use burst mode on the camera so it isn’t easy, but I’ve found that if you are patient you can tune into the river’s rhythm and catch the waves in full curl. I love the colors of the river water in bright sunshine.

7-ice-bauble

Ice baubles formed on the river’s shore and the stones were completely coated with ice, so I had to watch where I stepped. This ice had formed into a round disc shape around a blade of grass.

8-river-ice

The sunlight on such clear ice is always enough to stop me in my tracks. The colors are so beautiful and the shapes in the formations always mind boggling. Like a thousand prisms bending light.

9-ashuelot-falls

I went to the Ashuelot Falls in Keene to see if they had frozen up but other than some ice from the spray they were flowing normally. I’ve seen them turn into huge blocks of ice but I’m hoping I don’t see that again right away. When the sun is just right they look like golden tinsel.

10-ice-pancakes

The waterfall creates foam on the river and when it’s cold the foam can freeze. The current keeps the frozen foam from forming a flat sheet by spinning the irregular pieces into circles. When the circles of foam bump into each other they form rims and start to look like pancakes. These ranged in size from car tires to cantaloupes, and sometimes smaller.

11-ice-pancakes

In fact they are called pancake ice and from what I’ve read are rare outside of the Arctic, even though I see them at least once every winter. In the Arctic, the pancakes can stick together and form ridges that pile on top of each other and can reach up to 60 feet thick but here on the Ashuelot they just float downstream. Whether or not they make it to the Connecticut River and then to the Atlantic Ocean I don’t know.

12-ice-pancake

This pancake formed around a reed and was stuck. It would probably never join the rest of the pack unless it thawed.

13-island

Wilson Pond in Swanzey has frozen over but not completely. If this ice was thicker it would have been perfect for skating on, but it won’t be thick enough for that for a while yet. The latest storm covered it with snow so unless someone plows or shovels it nobody will be skating here.

14-rime-ice

One of the things I saw when I explored the icy shore of Wilson Pond was rime ice. Rime ice forms when super cooled water droplets in ground fog make contact with something that is at a below freezing temperature. The thicker the fog, the larger the crystals. Rime ice can form on virtually anything, even snow. These examples grew on leaves and pine needles.

15-rime-on-leaf

I tried to pick up a twig with ice crystals on it and they were so fragile they just fell apart. This leaf was resting on the pond ice and I left it where it was.

16-rime-on-pine-needlws

I didn’t touch these ice covered pine needles either. The crystals look sharp but just a touch of a finger or a whisper of breath is enough to destroy them.

17-reflection

This was what sunrise looked like reflected in Half Moon Pond before it froze over. We’re not likely to see this again until March or April. It is beauty that will be missed, but it’s by far not the only beauty to be found.

18-half-moon-pond

This is Half Moon Pond now, with the latest super moon setting behind it. Yes, it was as cold as it looks.

19-rust

From a distance I thought these colorful bits were lichens on a piece of driftwood but it turned out to be rust on a piece of steel. But it’s still a beautiful color.

20-ice-patterns

Nature is so very beautiful at any time of year and these simple pleasures are there for anyone to see, so I really do hope you’re able to get outside and enjoy them.

What is life? It is a flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. ~Crowfoot

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1. Island

On Sunday some friends and I decided to take our kayaks out for the first time this season. The water in Wilson Pond in Swanzey was warm enough for a dip, in case a mishap should happen and one of us got wet. We started our journey by paddling past the island in the pond.

2. Chop

It was a beautiful day and the sun felt hot as we paddled, but luckily there was a stiff breeze that cooled us. Though welcome, it also made the water quite choppy and would blow your kayak across the water as if it were a sailboat if you stopped paddling.

3. Channel

Secluded coves and channels meant we could find some shade and get away from the wind for a while. The water in some of these channels is very shallow; I’m not sure you’d even get your knees wet if you walked them. Last year there were a lot of ducks here but on this day we didn’t see a single one.

4. Beaver Birch

Beavers had cut down many of the white birch trees along the shore but they left them behind and didn’t even eat the new twigs on their crowns, which seems odd behavior for a beaver. Some trees were hard to paddle around.

5. Cove

I’ve never seen any white water lilies in this pond but yellow pond lilies (Nuphar lutea) like to grow in coves where the water is relatively shallow and calm.

6. Bullhead lily Seed Pod

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes.

7. Pickeral Weed

Native pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) blossomed in small colonies just off shore. If you see pickerel weed you can expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid. These examples were only about two feet high but I recently saw others that were as tall as a great blue heron.  I didn’t know that they grew so tall.

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Pickerelweed’s common name comes from the pickerel fish because they were once thought to breed only under its leaves. Each of the small, tubular flowers on the spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Once the flowers are pollinated and seeds have formed the flower stalk will bend over and drop the seeds into the water, where they will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. Though humans can eat the seeds and new spring shoots of this plant there is no record that I can find of Native Americans using it for food.

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Maleberrry (Lyonia ligustrina) shrubs look much like a blueberry, even down to their flowers, but these flowers are much smaller than those of blueberry. I’d guess barely half the size of a blueberry blossom. The two shrubs often grow side by side and look so much alike that sometimes the only way to tell them apart is by the maleberry’s woody brown, 5 part seed capsule. These seed capsules stay on the shrub in some form or another year round and are helpful for identification, especially in spring when the two shrubs look nearly identical.

10. Maleberry Seed Capsules

I’ve included this photo of the maleberry’s seed capsules that I took earlier so you could see what they look like. They are very hard and woody and appear near the branch ends.

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Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shoreline. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose.

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Mad-Dog Skullcap has the smallest flowers among the various skullcaps and they always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

13. Swamp Roses

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) bloomed in great numbers on the hummocks along the shoreline but I had trouble getting close to them. The 2 inch flowers are very fragrant and though the plant prefers wet to moist soil it will also grow in dry ground. It would be an excellent choice for a home pond or near a stream.

14. Bur Reed 2

Bur reed is another plant found growing just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down.

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The female flowers of bur reed are less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush.

16. Pipewort

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) isn’t common in this area and doesn’t grow in this pond, but I’ve included it because it’s an unusual aquatic that isn’t often seen. In fact, I know of only two ponds that it grows in. The plants grow just offshore in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of minuscule white, cottony flowers.

17. Pipewort

Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticus, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you are left with is a wool-topped stem growing in water, and that’s exactly what pipewort is. I’ve found that its flowers are close to impossible to get a good photo of.

18. Lobelia

When I found a new spot for pipewort plants this year I also found a new plant that I’d never seen; water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna.)  I can’t speak for its rarity, but I’ve never seen it in any pond I’ve visited. It’s said to be a more northern species, so that could be why. I’ve read that the plant has the unusual ability of removing carbon dioxide from the rooting zone rather than from the atmosphere. It is said to be an indicator of infertile and relatively pristine shoreline wetlands.

19. Lobelia Blossom

The small, pale blue or sometimes white flowers are less than a half inch long and not very showy. They have 5 sepals and the base of the 5 petals is fused into a tube. The 2 shorter upper petals fold up. I’ve read that the flowers can bloom and set seed even under water. The seed pods are said to contain numerous seeds which are most likely eaten by waterfowl.

20. Cattails

Cattails (Typha latifolia) formed an impenetrable wall and soared overhead in some places along the shoreline. They must have been 8 feet tall or more.

21. Going Back

As the old saying goes all good things must come to an end and before we knew it, it was time to turn for home. I’ve found that an hour or so in a kayak is about all my back can take, but what a fun filled hour it can be. It’s an excellent way to get close to aquatic plants.

We are but a speck in the universe
Oh, but what a lucky speck to be.
~Kehinde Sonola

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1. Ashuelot

Last Saturday we were blessed with wall to wall sunshine and a warm breeze out of the southwest that nudged the thermometer up towards 50 degrees. Even though it isn’t spring it was the perfect spring day, so I went off to see if nature was stirring. A week ago we had below zero cold and this stretch of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey had frozen nearly from bank to bank. As I stood looking out at the river on this day with a warm breeze in my face I wondered if I had dreamed the ice and dangerous cold of just seven days ago, so amazing was the difference.

2. Ice

There were still some slabs of ice on the river but they were melting quickly in the warn sunshine.

3. Frozen Stream

Even in the shade of the forest ice was melting, and how the birds did sing!

4. Maple with Sunglasses

Even the trees seemed to be in a spring time frame of mind.

5. Daffodils

I stopped by a local park and saw daffodils out of the ground everywhere I looked.

6. Orange Witch Hazel

I also saw some orange vernal witch hazel that was in full bloom. I’m not sure of its name but it was very fragrant and you could smell its fresh clean scent on the breeze. Someone once described witch hazel as smelling like clean laundry that has just been taken down from the clothesline, and I’d say that’s a fair description. After a long winter such a scent can seem like a small piece of heaven, right here on earth.

7. Yellow Witch Hazel

I hoped to see some yellow witch hazel flowers and I did see some color, but like a swimmer dipping his toe into a cold pond it hesitated, and just couldn’t seem to make up its mind.

8. Island

Speaking of cold ponds; there was still ice on Wilson Pond in Swanzey but it too was melting fast. This is the first winter I can remember when ice fisherman’s huts didn’t dot our lakes and ponds, but this year the ice just never grew thick enough to be safe. If we still lived in the days before refrigeration when ice was harvested from ponds for ice houses and ice boxes, we’d be seeing a meager harvest indeed. Food preservation would be on everyone’s mind right about now, I would think.

9. Skunk Cabbage Swamp

I also visited one of my favorite places to explore in the spring, and that’s the swamp where the skunk cabbages grow.

10. Skunk Cabbage

It seems like I always have to re-train my eyes in spring so it took me a while to find any skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus.) I finally saw this small blue-gray finger poking up out of the snow, which told me that the plants were up. I also stepped on a couple of plants that I didn’t see and they released their scent so I’d know what I had done. It isn’t as overpowering as actual skunk spray but it runs a close second.

11. Skunk Cabbage

The soil of the swamp felt frozen to walk on but even so before long I started seeing skunk cabbages everywhere. They don’t mind frozen soil because they produce their own heat through a process called thermogenesis, and can melt their way even through solid ice. Skunk cabbage is in the arum family and like most arums, inside the spathe is the spadix, which in the case of skunk cabbage is a one inch round, often pink or yellow stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. You can just get a glimpse of them in this photo in the darkest area of the spathe. This is the spathe’s slit-like opening and is the way flies get to the flower’s pollen. The pointed green shoot on the left will become the plant’s foliage.

12. Barberry Berries

I didn’t have any trouble finding the invasive Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) because it was snagging my pants and poking its sharp spines into my legs every now and then. In 1875 seeds of Japanese barberry were sent from Russia to the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1896 plants were planted at the New York Botanic Garden and the plant was promoted as a good substitute for European barberry (Berberis vulgaris,) which was a host for the black stem rust of wheat. These days it’s everywhere, including in our forests, where it tolerates shade and crowds out our much more valuable native plants.

13. Birch Polypore

I saw an interesting television program recently about Ötzi the 5000 year old iceman whose well preserved body was found in the Ötztal Alps in 1991. Among the many things he carried were birch polypores (Piptoporus betulinus,) a fungus that is so common even I rarely write about it. But I’d heard years ago that he carried them when he was found and I assumed that he used them to sharpen tools (They are also called razor strops and their ability to hone a steel edge is well known.) but apparently Ötzi carried them for other purposes; scientists have recently found that Ötzi had several heath issues, among them whipworm, which is an intestinal parasite (Trichuris trichura,) and birch polypores are poisonous to them. The fungus also has antiseptic properties and can be used to heal small wounds, which I’m sure were common 5000 years ago.

14. Birch Polypore Underside

Well, now I’ve done it. While looking into the connection between the 5000 year old iceman and birch polypores I read that as they age both the fungi and the wood they grow on begin to take on an odor similar to green apples, so if you happen to see someone out there with his nose to a birch tree, it’ll be me. The photo above shows the many pores found on the underside of the birch polypore. This is where its spores are produced.

15. LBMs

Ötzi the iceman probably knew the name and medicinal value of every mushroom he saw but I don’t, especially when it comes to the little brown ones, because there are many that look alike. I was surprised to find these examples growing on a log in February. I thought they were probably frozen solid but they were perfectly pliable and felt as tough as shoe leather. I wondered if they had been there all winter or if they had grown recently. Whatever the answer they must have great cold tolerance.

16. Turkey Tails

The snow had melted away from the trunk of this tree revealing turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) that have waited patiently for spring. These fungi are wood degrading and cause white rot, so this rather small tree won’t see old age. Turkey tails have been found on over 70 species of hardwood trees and a few conifers as well. They grow in every state in the U.S. and in most other countries.

17. Turkey Tails

These small turkey tails on a stump looked to be just starting to grow, but what a strange time of year to be doing so.

18. Fern

A fern frond had what looked like flower petals on it, but whatever they were didn’t fall off when the wind blew. I’m guessing that they must have been some kind of insect cocoons but they were very flat and thin.  I can’t remember ever seeing anything like them.

19. Oak Buds

These oak buds appeared to be quite swollen, but that might have been wishful thinking on my part. Still, maple sap is running so the same must be happening to other trees.

20. Pussy Willows

The single bud scales of what I think is the American pussy willow (Salix discolor) have suddenly opened to reveal the fuzzy gray male catkins, but I shouldn’t be surprised because they almost always appear in late winter before the leaves. As these flowers age yellow stamens will appear and will begin releasing pollen. The bees will be buzzing at about that time and they will further cross pollinate the many willow varieties. Henry David Thoreau once said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused,” but I don’t need to study them.  I just enjoy seeing their early flowers because they tell me that nature is stirring and spring is very near.

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. ~ John Galsworthy

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1. Monadnock

I don’t think I’ve ever shown much of what our landscape looks like in November. Some people think there’s nothing worth seeing at this time of year; that everything is either brown or white, but that simply isn’t true and I hope the following photos will prove it. I don’t usually do too much landscape photography because I find it much harder than any other kind and because I’m not that good at it, but I probably can’t lose by starting off with Mount Monadnock. A three year old couldn’t mess up a photo of this mountain from this spot.

2. Monadnock Summit

3,165 ft. high Mount Monadnock has bald granite on its summit because a fire set in 1800 to clear the lower slopes for pasture got away from the settlers and burned every tree on its summit. Between 1810 and 1820 local farmers thought that wolves were living in the blowdowns left from the first fire, so they set fire to the mountain again. This fire raged for weeks, burning so long and so hot that it even burned the soil, which the wind and rain eventually removed, leaving the bare granite that we see today.

3. Climber on Monadnock

Monadnock is the most climbed mountain in the United States and the second most climbed in the world after Mount Fiji in Japan. It’s not unusual to find standing room only on the summit on a fall weekend, but on this morning it looked like one climber had the whole thing to himself. I’d bet that it was pretty cold up there and that probably kept people away. It won’t be long before it’s covered by many feet of snow.

4. Meadow

Something that really says New Hampshire to me is a field surrounded by stone walls. The stones were found when the field was being cleared and to get rid of them the farmers put them along the edges of the field. Stone walls built in this way are among the earliest and most common, and are called thrown or tossed walls since that’s how the stones were put there. Since forests were being cleared rapidly wood for fencing was in short supply and stone walls eventually replaced the earlier wooden fencing. If the field was used as pasture wooden rails were often added to the tops of stone walls to keep animals from jumping over them.

5. Stone Wall

Laid walls took more care and time to build and were often used for show along the front of a house or other places that were seen by the public. They are more orderly than dumped or thrown walls and show the skill of the builder.

6. Granite Gate Post

This wall had a gate with granite gate posts. You don’t see these very often.

7. Woods

I’ve been walking in these forests almost since I learned how, so I can’t think of this state without thinking of them. New Hampshire has 4.8 million acres of forest so the woods become a big part of life here. Big open spaces are rare and often have cows in them.

8. Old Road

I should have said that I’ve been following trails and old logging roads through these forests since I learned to walk. Though I’ve done it in the past just walking into these woods with no trail to follow is a very foolish thing to do. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department handles between 150 to 200 search and rescues each year, and many are lost and / or injured. Besides, I love walking the old forgotten roads because there is often a lot of history to be found along them. Stone walls and cellar holes tell an interesting story.

9. Porcupine Falls

If there’s one thing New Hampshire has plenty of it is water, and even in a drought most of the streams run. The water is clean and clear and many people still fill bottles with it at local springs. I like to just sit and listen to streams chuckle and giggle as they play and splash among the moss covered stones. At times nature is like a little child and this to me, is that child’s laughter.

10. Ashuelot

The Ashuelot River is also fairly clean now but it wasn’t always that way. I can remember when it ran all colors of the rainbow, depending on what color dyes the woolen mills happened to be using on any given day. To now see people catching trout in this river and bald eagles nesting along its course seems truly miraculous to me.

11. Ashuelot

I like going to see parts of the Ashuelot River that aren’t that familiar to me like this section up in Gilsum, which is north of Keene. I particularly like this stretch because of its wildness. Major floods tore through here a few years ago and scrubbed the river banks clean of soil right down to the bedrock in places. A steel suspension bridge that crossed near this spot was torn loose and wrapped around trees and boulders like it was made of aluminum foil and pieces of it can still be found bent around various immoveable objects to this day.

12. Pond at Sunset

But enough about flooding; I prefer the placid waters of our many lakes and ponds. I was thinking as I started putting this post together that I can’t think of a single town in this region that doesn’t have a lake or pond, and most have both. The pond pictured is Wilson Pond in Swanzey last Saturday at sunset.

13. Hills at Sunset

Other things we seem to have a great abundance of, at least in this part of New Hampshire, are hills. In fact Keene sits in a kind of bowl and no matter which direction you choose to leave it by, you have to climb a hill. So of course I wanted to show you hills, but I found that photos of hills in November aren’t very exciting. On this day though the setting sun in the previous photo turned the sky a peachy color and the hills a deep indigo blue, improving their appearance considerably I thought.

14. Hills at Sunset

As the sun continued to set the color of the sky became richer and deeper. I was driving home at the time and had to keep stopping to take another photo because we don’t see skies like this every day. It was so beautiful that I spent more time just sitting and staring than I did taking photos. This kind of beauty isn’t just seen; it’s felt as well, as if you are bathing in it, and I don’t see how anyone could have room for anything but peace in their hearts after witnessing such a display.

15. Stream at Sunset

Just to see if I could do it all of the photos in this post were taken in one day, and what a day it was. But as every day must this one had to end, and I just happened to be near a stream when the light began to fade. I expected the pink and orange reflected sky but I didn’t expect the beautiful blues. A perfect end to a perfect day.

If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. ~Tecumseh, Shawnee

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, or just a plain old good day if you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.

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1. Pondside

As any parent of a male child will tell you, boys have an innate attraction to the muddy shores of rivers and ponds and though you might use every trick in your parental bag of tricks, you’ll never keep them from exploring it. There really isn’t anything to worry about though because most boys grow out of their mud exploration phase. Since I never did I recently decided to visit the shore of Wilson Pond in Swanzey. They draw down the water level there each fall so people can maintain their shorefront docks, rafts, etc. and this exposes yards and yards of the wonderful muddy pond bottom.

2. Deer Print

Did you see the deer tracks in that first photo? Since it rained the day before I came here I knew that these tracks were very fresh. A deer was most likely getting a drink earlier that morning.

3. Raccoon Prints

A raccoon had also paid the pond a visit, most likely looking for snails and mussels.

4. Snail Shell

Empty walnut size snail shells were everywhere. I never knew there were so many in this pond. I’ve read that there are invasive Chinese snails (Bellamya chinensis) in our lakes and ponds but they’re the size of a hen’s egg, so I doubt this was one of those. Another invasive snail found here is the Japanese trapdoor snail (Viviparus malleattus) which gets its name from the trapdoor it can close when danger appears. The snail pictured is smaller than that one too, I think, so I’m not sure what their name is.

5. Frozen Footprint

Ice had formed in a footprint. Once the sun’s rays fell on it, it didn’t last long.

6. Alder

Alder (Alnus incana) tongue gall is caused by a fungus (Taphrina alni) rather than an insect like many galls. The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the female cone-like catkins (strobiles) and causes long, tongue shaped galls known as languets to grow from them. These galls seem to like high humidity so are usually found on alders that grow near swamps, ponds and streams.  These galls have a bright red phase in spring but I never remember to look for them at that time of year. They blacken over time so the ones pictured are older.

7. Birch Catkins

Birches have their catkins all ready for spring. Surely it must be right around the corner.

8. Goose Feather

This pond is a popular spot for Canada geese and their feathers hung from the branches of the bushes.

9. Mussel Shell on Nickel

I put a tiny mussel shell on a nickel to see how small it really was. Since the diameter of a nickel is 3/4 of an inch, the mussel was the smallest I’ve seen. It looked like a tiny shiny butterfly.

10. Turkey Tails

Colorful turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) brightened up a stump at the water’s edge. I’m seeing more blue / purple ones this year than I ever have, and I have no idea why after nearly two years of seeing just a very few brown ones.

11. Spot on Driftwood

There was more color on this piece of driftwood; a nickel size orange spot. You can find colors like this at any time of year if you’re willing to slow down and look just a little closer. I don’t know if this one was algae, rust, or something else. It had virtually no thickness.

12. Stone on Beach

The pond has been drained so low that the water’s edge where it is now would normally be at chest level or higher on an adult, so the rock in this photo wouldn’t be so easily seen. But this is a beach where people swim, and the rock is in a perfect position for swimmers to stub their toes on it. I wonder why someone doesn’t move it now that it’s so easy to get to. No doubt boys vie for a chance to stand on top of it when they swim.

13. Ganesh Statue

I was dumbfounded when I saw this statue of the Hindu deity Ganesh lying on the shore because this is the second statue of him I’ve found this year. The first was in September on the banks of the Ashuelot River and this statue looks exactly like that one except that it has a lot more wear. The Ashuelot River doesn’t flow into Wilson Pond so unless someone brought the statue that I saw on the river bank here, this is a different statue. Why would two different people throw statues into a river and a pond? I wonder what significance water has in the worship of Ganesh? He is said to be the lord of success and the remover of obstacles on one’s spiritual path. He is also thought to bring education, knowledge, wisdom and prosperity. And he seems to be trying to tell me something. I wish I knew what it was.

14. Pond Mud

Maybe Ganesh is trying to tell me that I’m already prosperous. After all I have the riches of this New Hampshire landscape laid out before me like a never ending feast for the eyes and soul, and occasionally I’m transported back in time to enjoy being a boy of 10 again. I don’t see how anyone could possibly be wealthier.

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. ~Miguel Angel Ruiz

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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There is a pond to the south of Keene that comes with a lot of historical baggage. It’s called Wilson Pond and it’s one of my favorite places to swim and kayak, so I thought that it was time I told you about it. Though I’ve done a bit of research I haven’t been able to find out who the Wilson was that the pond is named after, but I do know that Wilsons are mentioned as living in the area as far back as the mid-1700s. I’m not going that far back though; I’ll start at about 1900.

1. Keene Electric Railway Trolley

Once upon a time, back at the turn of the century, Keene had an electric railway. One of the places the railway went was south to what is now North Swanzey, but was then called Factory Village because of all of the mills that used to be there.

2. Recreation Grounds

The Keene Electric Railway company seems to have had financial problems from the beginning, mostly due to the lack of passengers, so in 1911 the company bought a large piece of land on the shore of Wilson Pond in Swanzey near the end of the trolley line. To entice customers to ride the trolley the company built a large recreational park on the property. It was about 15 minutes from Keene by trolley and was called the “rec” by locals. A six cent trolley ride would take you to a place where you could go bowling, shooting, roller skating, swimming, boating, attend a band concert, dance in a dance hall, and even watch a movie at an outdoor theater. On the fourth of July the town’s fireworks celebration were held there and by all accounts it was a very popular spot.

3. Outdoor Theater

Though it was a popular playground for the people of Keene most of them visited the rec center only on weekends, so the Railway Company still lost money and continued doing so until in 1926 when the rail lines were finally abandoned. Busses took the place of the trolleys and people still went to the rec center until it fell out of favor and finally closed down. On December 21st, 1965 it burned until there was little left. The above photo is of the large outdoor theater. One local said that it would have been a great idea except for one thing: mosquitoes.

4. Amphitheater

The remains of the outdoor theater can still be seen today if you know where to look, but it looks considerably different now. Nature is slowly reclaiming the land.

5. Projection Booth

I’m guessing that the old building that once housed the movie projectors lost its roof in the fire. Nature is having its way with what is left.

6. Swamp Roses

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) now grow where the rowboats and canoes were once moored.

7. Pond View

Back in the days of the recreation center this land must have been treeless but now it is almost jungle like and many species of birds sing from the trees.  I love kayaking through here because there are many canals and small islets to explore. There’s no telling what you might find in the way of plants and I’m often surprised by what I see.

8. Marsh St. Johnswort

On this trip I was surprised by the marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum,) the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink instead of yellow flowers.  It was a beautiful little thing but I had quite a lot of trouble getting a photo of it because of the bright sunshine. When I went back a second time when the sun wasn’t shining on it all of its flowers were closed, so I’m guessing that they only open on sunny days.  As its common name implies it prefers wet areas and is considered a wetland indicator, so if you see it you’ll know that you’re in a wetland. This is the only time I’ve ever seen it and the only way I can get to see it again is by kayak.

9. Skullcap

Skullcap (Scutellaria) is another marsh plant that does well here. The cheery little blue and white flowers can be seen by the hundreds growing on the grassy hummocks.

10. Arrowhead

There are many aquatic plants here too including one of my favorites, arrowheads (Sagittaria latifolia.) This plant is also called duck potato because ducks love to eat the potato like tuberous roots. On this day I saw many ducks in the area, and I wondered if they were waiting for me to leave so they could get at them. Native Americans also held thee roots in high regard as a food source.

11. Wilson Pond Showing Sprague Mills

This old hand colored postcard shows the pond’s island and the factories that once stood at its southern end. The factories produced mostly woodenware like boxes, pails, barrel staves, and chairs but there was also a grist mill and sawmill there. At one time the entire 72 acre pond was owned by the Keene Gas Company and a dam and hydro power turbine produced electricity.

12. IslandThis is a view of the island from near the same spot today, and I’m happy to say that there isn’t a factory to be seen. There used to also be a floating island in the pond but it was deemed a hazard to navigation and was towed to shore by a 33 horsepower motorboat, and then a steam shovel picked it out of the water piece by piece and it was hauled away by truck.

13. Blueberries

The island is known today for its bountiful blueberry bushes. In fact you can walk the shores of just about any lake or pond in New Hampshire and find blueberry bushes lining their shores. Though they are also fund on dry ground the shrubs seem to love growing near water. With a kayak and some patience you can pick them by the pail full.

14. Dance Ticket

Nowadays there is a different kind of recreation going on at Wilson Pond than there once was; now nature seems to be what draws he crowds. And the crowds still come; on any given summer day you can find them swimming by the boat landing near where the factories once stood, fishing from the pond’s shores, or floating along in kayaks like I do. All in all it’s a peaceful, serene place, and maybe that is what the real attraction has been all along.

Time takes it all, whether you want it to or not. ~Stephen King,

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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