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Posts Tagged ‘Winter Ice Formations’

In New Hampshire a class six designation means a road isn’t maintained by either the state or the town, so it could be rough going. I don’t know if this road actually has that designation but I do know that it can be impassable in winter, so whether or not you will make it over its entire length is anyone’s guess.

Since we have had very little snow this winter I doubted there would be much snow on it and I was right. There was a dusting but nothing that needed plowing.

If anything would give a driver trouble on this day it was ice; the road was like a skating rink so I walked on the edges, which is where I would have walked anyway. It’s hard to see anything interesting from the middle of a road.

The road was also heavily rutted. I’ve driven over it in spring and between the ruts and the washboards, sometimes you feel like the teeth will rattle right out of your head.

It’s common in this area to see huge boulders right on the very edge of the road. That’s because in the 1700s when many of these roads were laid out stones this big were impossible to move and it was too much work to drill and blast them, so the road was simply built around them. And there they still sit to this day. This one was easily as big as a delivery truck.

I loved the beautifully bright green brocade moss (Hypnum imponens) that grew on a log. This pretty moss gets its common name from the way it looks like it has been embroidered on whatever it grows on. I’ve searched high and low for it so I could include it in my moss posts, but I never could find any.  Now all I need to do is remember where it is.

There was a lot of logging going on out here last summer. It looks like they left a lot of the deciduous trees and took mostly evergreens, probably hemlock and pine.

The logging was being done on a tree farm, which in New Hampshire means a privately owned forest managed to produce timber with, according to the New Hampshire Tree Farm Program, “the added benefits of improved wildlife habitat, water quality, recreation, and scenic values.”

A small stream had formed a pool and it was covered over by what I call puddle ice. It’s that brittle white ice full of oxygen bubbles that makes tinkling sounds when you break it. Seeing it always takes me back to my boyhood when I would ride my bike through puddles covered by it in spring. I’ve thought of it as a sign of spring ever since, even though I see it in fall and winter too.

The little stream also had some beautiful ice formations in it as well.

If you know where to look you can find a winding trail through the woods that leads to a beaver pond.

It’s a large pond, several acres in size.

This shows what happens when a forest is flooded by beavers; what trees they don’t cut down drown and die. Areas like this often become rookeries for great blue herons because they’re full of frogs and small fish. I’ve seen herons here before but I haven’t seen a nest yet.

There are several beaver lodges here and the open water near this one suggests beaver activity. They work hard to keep channels open in winter. This lodge doesn’t look like most I’ve seen. It looks as if it has had a lot of mud added to the outside, which is something I haven’t seen.

This is more what I think of when I imagine a beaver lodge. They usually look like a pile of sticks, but the one in the previous photo looks more like a pile of dirt.

I think this one might have been abandoned. It had a light coating of snow on it and from what I’ve seen beaver lodges aren’t snow covered for very long unless we’ve had heavy snows. Heavy snow helps insulate the lodge and sunshine helps warm it. The temperature at water level in a beaver lodge is usually about 32 degrees F. but it might fluctuate a bit due to outside temperature and body heat generated by the beavers themselves. They have to leave the lodge to eat but they lose body heat quickly in the cold water, so they aren’t very active in winter if it is very cold. So far this winter they’ve had it easy but that’s about to change, with wind chills of -14 degrees F. expected on Monday.

I thought these were rabbit tracks but I think the smaller front feet should be directly in front of the larger rear feet, not off to the side like what is seen here. Maybe it was a turning rabbit.

I can’t even guess what made these swishy tracks. I’ve looked at examples of both animal and bird tracks and nothing comes close to matching. And it’s too cold for reptiles, so I’ve struck out.

Someone lost their hat and a kind soul picked it up and put it on a mossy rock. You meet very few unkind people in the woods, I’ve found.

The reminders of the terrible winds we had last summer are all around me each time I go into the woods, in the form of tangled blowdowns like these. In fact I saw several just like it in these woods. I think thousands of trees must have fallen in this area but I also think that the trees that were already weekend by disease were the ones that fell. You can see bracket fungi all over the largest of these and that’s a good sign of a sick tree.

I’ve spoken about how water resistant oak leaves are on this blog for years, but now I can show it. Oak leaves can take a year or more to decompose because they are leathery and contain a lot of woody substances like lignin and cellulose, and I’ve always believed that it is also because they don’t absorb water as readily as leaves from other trees. This photo shows how water will puddle on an oak leaf.

There are roads known by everyone and there are roads known by no one. Choose the second, the mysterious one where many glories are hidden. ~Mehmet Murat Ildan

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Last Saturday’s sunshine and 50 + degree temperatures made it easy to fall into spring daydreams. I decided to walk along the Ashuelot river in Swanzey where there are witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) growing to see if they might be blooming. They often blossom on warm winter days and I’ve even seen them blooming in January.

The river had tamed itself and the water level had dropped considerably since the last time I was here. There weren’t even any waves to photograph.

There were ice baubles still hanging onto the twigs in shaded areas but their gray opaqueness told me they were rotting in the sun.

Here was one with a hole right through it, which I can’t explain. I’m guessing it was made by a twig, but where is the twig?

There was green grass along the river and that made it even easier to dream of spring. It was a beautiful day; a well-deserved bonus day after the terrible weather of the last month or two.

I’m not sure what caused this bright yellow color on this and a couple of other stones. It wasn’t lichen. These stones spend time submerged when the river rises so I wonder if it might be some type of algae. I doubt the color is natural to the stone itself, it looked more like it was on it rather than part of it.

The spot where the witch hazels grow is on a small peninsula that juts out into the river. There was a trail out to its end but it has come close to disappearing over the years. I thought it was an old fisherman’s trail but I’ve seen enough deer tracks out here to wonder if it isn’t a game trail. It’s still being used;  you can just see the disturbed leaves that mark the trail just to the right of center in this photo.

Off to the right of the trail, closer to the river, the high water mark lies just above silt which has been deposited by the river over the years. I’ve seen this high water mark grow closer and closer to the trail, which means flooding on the river is getting worse. This is a very scary place when the river is high.

The ice on this tree branch shows how high the water was just recently. I’d guess about two feet higher than it was on this day, and I’d have had very wet feet and probably wet knees as well.

The silt the river leaves behind is as fine as sugar and anything that falls or steps on it will leave a mark. Even raindrops pock mark it. I wondered if these tracks were made by a beaver but there were none of the usual claw marks. They were big enough to be made by a bobcat  and cats have retractable claws, so that’s a definite maybe. Whatever made them comes here a lot because there was a trail of these prints through the silt, going in both directions.

There are beavers here. This was a freshly cut tree, and a beaver would make a good meal for a bobcat.

The witch hazels were indeed blooming and even though these aren’t spring blooming vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) the sight of flowers just made my dream of spring all the more real. The thought hit me while I was here that it is this intense longing for spring that makes winters seem so long for me. Desire causes pain. Remove the desire and remove the pain. It sounds so simple.

One of my favorite mosses grew on a log.  I love the way it reaches out to colonize new lands. I think it might be beaked comb moss( Rhynchostegium serrulatum) but I can’t be sure because I’ve never seen it with spore capsules. It might also be Isopterygium tenerum, which is another creeping moss.

A woodpecker had pecked very small holes in a limb that was no bigger than 2 inches across. I was thinking that it must have been a very small woodpecker when I heard a tapping behind me.

It was a woodpecker pecking at a tree and it wasn’t tiny. Judging by where its red spots are I’m guessing it is a hairy woodpecker, but since I don’t do birds I could be wrong. It didn’t sit still long, whatever its name.  There were lots of other birds here too including chickadees and juncos and this small piece of forest was full of birdsong, which of course made it seem even more like spring.

I think the reason so many birds populate this area is because there is plenty here for them to eat, but unfortunately much of that food comes from plants that are invasive, like the oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) seen here.

This maple tree shows what bittersweet can do when it wraps itself around a tree trunk. The vine is as strong as wire and doesn’t expand as the tree grows, so the tree has no choice but to grow out around it, and this deforms the tree.  The tree will eventually be strangled to death unless something is done.

I saw what looked like a blush of blue on a lichen that grew on a tree so I took a few photos of it, but it wasn’t until I got home and looked at the photos that I saw something very unusual.

Very unusual in my experience, anyhow; each of the lichen’s apothecia, which in this case are little round spots where its spores are produced, had liquid in them. It hadn’t rained for a while so I’m not sure what this is all about. I have seen lichens with wet apothecia right after a rain but nothing like this. This lichen looked more like moisture was being squeezed from it rather than it picking up any moisture from its surroundings. If you know what it happening here I’d love to hear from you. I’ve searched and searched but haven’t had any luck.

The sun had gone by the time I was ready to leave but that didn’t bother me because it had been a great spring like walk with plenty of interesting things to see. Any day that reaches 50 degrees in December is a good day in my opinion. That night I actually dreamed lilacs were blooming and the strangest thing about that is, I rarely remember my dreams.

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. ~Edgar Allan Poe

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Since I wasn’t able to get down the steep hill to see the falls at Beaver Brook Natural Area that I wrote about in my last post I decided to visit another waterfall that’s easier to get to. Slightly easier anyway; the first problem was how to get across this smallish stream so I could get to the falls on Merriam Brook. It can be done. You don’t have to jump it but it’s wise to be sure the stones you will walk on aren’t covered with ice.

One of the first things you see here are a lot of boulders that don’t look natural, and that’s because they were dumped here a long time ago when the road was built.

The reason I know that is because of the holes through some of the boulders. These not quite round holes were most likely drilled by hand with a star drill and sledge hammer, then packed with a fuse and black powder to shatter the ledges that were being removed.  They are about an inch and a half across.

I made it to the spot where you first see the falls and found ice water. Ice and water were no surprise since it was only 19 degrees. There is a heavy canopy of evergreen hemlock branches overhead so there isn’t much sunlight reaching the forest floor, and that helps keep it cool here. It also means that it is dark here and that makes photography a challenge. I had to have the ISO of my camera up to 1600 for many of these shots, which is something I rarely have to do.

With ice covering the calmer sections of the brook its roar was muted somewhat. I was glad that I didn’t have to carry on a conversation on its banks though, because it still had plenty to say. There are 3 falls here, the lower, middle and upper.

Everywhere you look there are fallen trees that have been tossed around like matchsticks. There have been some terrible floods here in recent years that have washed away parts of roads and damaged houses. This spot is where the brook takes a sharp left turn. It’s unusual to see a stream or brook take a 90 degree turn like it does.

The middle falls weren’t frozen solid but there was a lot of ice. It was a very cold spot even though I was dressed for it, so I hung around only long enough for a couple of photos.

Icy fingers hung from every branch and twig near the water.

Ice crystal lace covered the still pools.

After the middle falls comes the worse part of the climb. It isn’t that far to climb but it is steep and all the oak leaves make it slippery. I’ve taken a couple of good spills here.

Worse yet is the ice that might be under the leaves. I’ve learned to pick my way carefully.

I’ve read that there was once a snowmobile bridge across the brook, made of steel cable and planks, so I’m assuming that the cable this tree has grown around was part of it. The bridge and all trace s of it except for this cable are gone, washed away in a raging flood in 2003.

This view looks back the way we just came. The brook doesn’t look very wide in this photo but it is.

The upper falls are in a large canyon that you have to pick your way into because of all the debris.

But it isn’t as hard as it looks if you walk slowly and look carefully. There are plenty of opportunities to get hurt up here though, so you have to keep your wits about you and be on your toes. This isn’t the place for day dreaming unless you want to just sit still while you do. It was a little cool for that on this day so I kept moving.

In places all the soil has been scoured off the stream bed from by flooding.

Whole trees have been torn out by the roots all along the embankments.

I could tell by the line of ice on this boulder that the water level in the brook had dropped.

This is where you get your first glimpse of the upper falls. I doubt that it falls anywhere near 40 feet but I can’t think of anything else that would give this place that name. So you have some idea of scale, that boulder in the middle of the photo is almost as big as a Volkswagen Beetle.

Polypody ferns grew on a ledge close enough to the falls to grow a coat of white ice. They are one of our toughest evergreen ferns and not only will they survive a coat of ice, they’ll thrive.

The upper falls seem almost anti-climactic and I’m always surprised that so much water comes from what seems like barely more than a dribble. I do know better though, because I’ve seen what this dribble has wrought and everything about the place says that no matter what, the water will have its way. It really is amazing to think that water could do all of this.

Water is the driving force in nature. ~Leonardo da Vinci

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It was cloudy but warm last Saturday when I visited the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene. This is a nice walk on an old abandoned road that is only 5 minutes from the center of town by car, so quite a few people come here. I was pleased to see that there was little snow here on this day because it usually quickly turns to ice from all the foot traffic. As I said in my last post, it is very strange to drive from here where there is virtually no snow to my job a half hour away in Hancock, where there is plenty.

Beaver Brook was behaving itself despite all the rain and snow we’ve had. The last time I came here I would have been in water up to my neck if I’d been standing in this spot.

I have a lot of old friends here, like this plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) This is the only place I’ve ever seen it so when I want to see how it changes as it grows I have to come here. There are also many other one-of-a-kinds I can visit while I’m here.

I like the crepe paper like leaves of this sedge.

The sun finally came out just a few hours later than the weather people said it would, and the golden light falling on the brook was beautiful. I dilly dallied for a while beside this pool, thinking how some might consider coming to such a place a waste of time or an attempt to escape reality, but this is not an escape from reality; it is an immersion in reality, because this is just about as real as it gets. And getting a good dose of reality is never a waste of time.

This is the only place I know of to find the beautiful rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum.) Each rosette of leaves is about the size of an aspirin and looks like a little flower, and that’s where its common name comes from. Rose moss likes limestone and it’s a good indicator of limestone in the soil or stone that it grows on, so it’s a good idea to look around for other lime loving plants if you find it. Many native orchids for instance, also like lime in the soil.

Another moss that I’ve only seen here is the stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens,) which is also called glittering wood moss  possibly due to its satiny sheen when dry. Though it looks quite fragile I’ve seen it with icicles hanging from it many times, and it grows north even into the Arctic tundra. The stair step part of the name comes from the way new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s growth. You can’t see it in this photo but it’s a fun thing to look for if you find this moss.

Unlike the rarer mosses we’ve just seen juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) grows just about everywhere, but that doesn’t mean it is any less interesting than the others.

When young the female spore capsule (Sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra which protects it. You can’t see it in this photo but it is very hairy and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually as the capsule ages it moves from vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra falls off. The spore capsule continues to ripen after the calyptra comes off and when the time is right the beaked end cap or lid called the operculum will fall off and release the spores to the wind. As it ages the spore capsule changes from round to four cornered but not quite square, as seen here.

This is a look at the business end of the spore capsule, which is still covered by a thin lid of tissue. What looks like notches around its perimeter are slots that fit over specialized teeth called peristome teeth at the mouth of the capsule. These teeth move with changes in humidity and spread in dry conditions to release the spores, which are taken by the wind. The spore capsule’s diameter at this stage is less than the diameter of a piece of uncooked spaghetti. I’d bet that I’ve probably tried a thousand times over the years to get this shot and this is the only time I’ve succeeded.  I wish I had a microscope so I could get even closer.

Here was another moss that grew all mixed in with a liverwort. It was hard to tell exactly what it was but its sporangium were covered by white calyptra that looked like a swarm of tiny insects with white wings.

Here is a shot of one of the spore capsules from the moss in the previous photo. The spore capsules have a white (when dry) 2 part calyptra that doesn’t appear to be hairy, and I haven’t been able to identify it. I have a feeling it is another moss in the Polytrichum family but I don’t know that for sure. Sporangium means “spore vessel” in Latin, and of course that’s exactly what it is. Note the long beaked lid at the end of the capsule, which is its operculum.

The liverwort that was mixed in with the moss in the previous photos was the greater whipwort liverwort (Bazzania trilobata.) It lives happily on stones right along with mosses so you have to look closely to be sure what it is you’re looking at. This pretty liverwort looks almost like it has been braided and always reminds me of a nest full of centipedes.

Each greater whipwort leaf is about an eighth of an inch wide and has three triangular notches at its base. This is where the trilobata part of its scientific name comes from. It means “having three lobes.” You might notice though, that some have more than three.

There was a good bit of ice on the roadside ledges but it was rotten and falling so I didn’t get too close.

Drill marks in the stone of the ledges tells the history of this place. This road was one of the first laid out in the town of Keene, built to reach the first sawmill. If you didn’t have a sawmill in town in those days you had a dirt floor. Or one made of logs, which was probably worse than dirt.

It turned out to be a beautiful and relatively warm day. The lack of snow on the old abandoned road made walking a pleasure. I’ve seen this natural canyon with so much snow in it I had to turn back.

The yellow lines are still here on the old road, but since nobody has driven here since about 1970 they really aren’t needed.

One of the best examples of a healed frost crack that I know of can be seen here in this golden birch. Sun warming the bark in winter can cause a tree’s wood to expand. If nighttime temperatures fall into the bitterly cold range the bark can cool and contract rapidly, but when the wood beneath the bark doesn’t cool as quickly as the bark the stress on the bark can cause it to crack. On cold winter nights you can often hear what sounds like rifle shots in the woods, but the sounds are really coming from cracking trees. They can be quite loud and will often echo through a forest.

The spot where this yellow jelly fungus (Tremella mesenterica) grew was heavily shaded so I had to use my camera’s onboard LED light to get a shot of it. I was surprised when I saw the photo because you could clearly see the shiny and dull, matte finish surfaces on the fungus. I’ve read that the fungus produces spores only on its shiny side, but in previous photos I’ve taken the entire thing always looked shiny. This is the first time I’ve ever seen the two surfaces in a photo so I’m quite happy to have solved another riddle, even though there are always hundreds more just around the next bend when you’re involved in nature study.

If you come upon a white spot on a tree that looks like it has been inscribed with ancient runes you are probably seeing a script lichen. This common script lichen (Graphis scripta) was bold and easy to see. The dark lines are its apothecia, where its spores are produced, and the gray color is its body, or thallus. If you happen to be a lichen there is nothing more important than continuation of the species through spore production, and script lichens produce plenty in winter.

There is a great waterfall here but unfortunately you have to just about break your neck to get to it, so since I wasn’t interested in doing so here’s a shot of it from a few years back. Height estimates vary but I’m guessing about 30-40 feet, and it was roaring on this day. Just think; history lessons, plants, ferns, lichens, mosses, fungi, liverworts, a waterfall and a brook that sings to you all along the way. Where else can a nature lover find all of these things in one walk? Nowhere else that I know of, and that’s why I come here again and again. I do hope you aren’t getting bored from seeing it so much.

To taste life, so true and real. Sweet serenity. ~Jonathan Lamas

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For the first time in almost eight years the weather has brought this blog to a screeching halt. Since Christmas we’ve had dangerously cold temperatures, with the lowest reading at my house -20°F below zero (-29 C.)  Add to that howling winds and the temperature can easily be in the -30s below zero range. Flesh can freeze in about 15 minutes in those conditions so I haven’t been outside to take photos in nearly 2 weeks now. In my lifetime I’ve never seen such extreme cold last for so long without letup. It is for these reasons that I offer up a post I did on the “blizzard” of 2015 on January 31st of that year. They say we’ll see a real January thaw this week with temperatures above freezing almost all week, so things should return to normal soon.  I hope.

I’m sure by now everyone has heard about the blizzard of 2015. While it’s true that a small piece of New Hampshire coastline did see blizzard conditions, in my yard I had trouble finding snow that was 6 inches deep. That might not be entirely accurate though because the real story was the gale force wind that blew the powdery snow every which way and made you feel as if you were in a snow globe.

So how do you tell the story of wind on a blog? Showing wind sculpted snow is one way.

The wind can do some fantastic things with snow, including sculpting snow waves.

Here is the snow wave in the previous photo, shot from a different angle. It seemed odd that a 4 foot deep snow drift would form in the middle of an open field, but that’s what happened here.

Another part of the story is the cold. For the last two winters January has seemed a very cold month indeed, but at least this year the Ashuelot River hasn’t frozen over at my favorite viewing spot in Swanzey. The only remarkable thing about this photo is what it doesn’t show; there have always been Canada geese in this spot but last year when the river froze from bank to bank they left and haven’t come back.

The rocks in the river show a layer cake like history of winter’s ice and snow storms.

Ice shelves are forming along the river banks. I saw that people had been walking on them in a couple of places, which is a very dangerous thing to do. I know there are many young people who read this blog so I’ll speak directly to them for a moment: Please stay off the ice on rivers and streams! I was walking down the middle of the frozen Ashuelot River one winter when I was about ten years old and all of the sudden the ice started cracking all around me. I’ll never forget the rifle shot sounds of the cracking ice echoing in my ears as I ran for my life to the river bank. As I clung to a tree I saw the dark cold water come bubbling up through the cracks where I had been walking just a moment before. I was more scared then than I’ve ever been and it took a while before I could stop shaking long enough to peel myself off that tree trunk and scramble up the river bank. You never know how thick the ice that has formed over moving water will be so it’s best to be safe and just stay off it.

Up in the mountains snow cornices can be dangerous but here they don’t seem to do any real harm. A snow cornice is “an overhanging edge of snow on a ridge or the crest of a mountain and along the sides of gullies. They form by wind blowing snow over sharp terrain breaks.”  People walk out on them, not realizing that there is just a thin layer of snow beneath them, and when the cornice suddenly crumbles away they find themselves trapped in an avalanche. A rabbit or squirrel might have trouble with the one in the photo but otherwise I think it’s pretty safe.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation says that it cost 2 million dollars to clear the snow from this one storm, and that doesn’t include what the individual towns spent. The snowbanks along Pudding Hill Road in Winchester were about waist high. I’d say that was average for this time of year.

So what do you do when the night temperatures fall to ten below zero (F) and only rise to twenty above zero during the day with a gale force wind thrown in for good measure? You stay inside and take photos of the frost feathers growing on your windows, of course. They’re beautiful things to behold.

All in all the blizzard of 2015 was a non-event here. Yes it was windy and cold but it could have been much worse and I’m thankful that it wasn’t an ice storm. Speaking of ice, the woods are full of it. A couple of weeks ago 2 inches of rain fell and puddled up in the low spots. It froze almost immediately and will be there until the ground thaws. Seeing these puddles slowly seep into the soil will be a good sign that spring is happening.

Though there have been photos of blue skies and sunny days in this post most days throughout December and January have looked more like the above photo. Despite the cold, cloudy, snowy weather spring really is right around the corner. Maple sap usually starts flowing in February and the skunk cabbages will be poking up through the snow soon. Male black capped chickadees are already singing their sad fee bee mating calls, the sun is rising higher in the sky, and daylight lasts a little longer each day. Before we know it the Boston Red Sox will start spring training, tree buds will begin to swell, alder catkins will be heavy with golden pollen and winter will be fading into memory. Any time now that itch called spring fever is sure to come upon us.

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant. ~ Anne Bradstreet

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One of the things I’ve seen (or felt) this time around is cold, and lots of it. The record cold of the second week of November came as quite a shock after the record warmth of the first week of the month. I was surprised when I found these frost crystals on my windshield one morning.

Ice needles by the thousands thrust up out of the saturated soil near a stream. An awful lot of things have to come together perfectly for ice needles to form. First, there has to be groundwater present and the temperature right at the soil surface has to be below 32 degrees F. The groundwater remains thawed until hydrostatic pressure forces it out of the soil, where it then becomes super cooled and freezes instantly into a needle shape. As more water is forced out of the soil it freezes at the base of the needle and it becomes longer and longer. As this photo shows there are often so many needles that they freeze together and form ribbons. Each needle is hexagonal in shape and the longest one ever found was over 16 inches long. These examples were probably 3-4 inches long.

This is what soil with ice needles growing in it often looks like from above, but more important is the crunching sound the needles make when you walk on them. More often than not I find them by sound rather than by sight. They are very fragile and break easily, and if just the merest hint of sunlight falls on them they melt, so look for them in the shade.

Ground water seeping out of stone ledges formed icicles and that reminded me that it’s almost time to visit the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland, where the icicles grow into ice columns as big as tree trunks.

Ice isn’t the only thing we’ve seen here lately. The first real snowfall measured an inch or two in some places. This is what my ride to work looked like early one morning. When snow falls on thawed ground it melts rather quickly. The soil doesn’t usually freeze here until December, but it can vary. In a cold winter with little snow it can freeze down to nearly four feet deep.

The snow was on the wet side rather than dry and powdery so it stuck to every single twig and stalk in the forest. One of my favorite quotes by Scottish author William Sharp says “There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow. It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.” I agree, and that’s what this day was like. You don’t just see beauty like this. You feel it—you give yourself to it, and it becomes part of you.

At the Ashuelot River ice baubles formed on overhanging shrub branches. They are very colorful in the sun and it looks like someone has hung prisms from the branches the way they flash different colors.

As the river water splashes up onto a twig, drop by drop a teardrop shape (usually) forms. The ice they’re made of is as clear as polished crystal, and very reflective.

There was pancake ice in the river below the falls. It forms from the foam that the falls create. The foam becomes slushy and breaks into small pieces and freezes, and the current spins the irregularly shaped pieces into more circular shapes.

The constantly moving circles of river foam bump into each other and form rims, and they start to look like pancakes. Most are about the size of a honeydew melon but they can be bigger or smaller. From what I’ve read pancake ice is rare outside of the arctic but I see it here (and only here) every winter. In the arctic these frozen “pancakes” can pile on top of one another and in some areas 60 foot thick ridges of them have formed. Here though, they simply float off down the river.

White ice, so I’ve read, has a lot of oxygen in it. It is paper thin and tinkles when it breaks and I usually find it on mud puddles, but only at the start and end of winter. I love it because it always reminds me of spring, and that’s when I used to ride my bike through puddles of it when I was a boy.  You can see some amazing things in this ice. I’ve seen everything from eagle silhouettes to solar systems in it.

This is something I’ve never seen. The foam in a stream froze into formations at the base of a tree and they looked remarkably like turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) My thoughts on what kind of currents it took to make them would be a guess but maybe the stream water splashed against the roots and created ripples of foam, and then the foam froze as the ripples left the shore.

Speaking of turkey tail fungi, I’ve seen some beautifully colored examples this year. Turkey tails are among the most colorful fungi and also one of the easiest to find, and they grow in nearly every state in this country and throughout Europe, Asia, and Russia.

Their colors are described as buff, brown, cinnamon, and reddish brown in mushroom books but they come in many more colors than just those. Blue and purple are two of my favorite colors, but turkey tales wearing those colors are rare in my experience. I probably see one blue one for every five hundred brown ones.

Their concentric bands of color are what make turkey tails so beautiful but beauty isn’t all they have going for them. They’ve been used medicinally in China for thousands of years and in this country the food and drug administration has approved them for cancer treatment trials.

I saw some strangely colored but beautiful trumpet shaped mushrooms on a dead elm tree. I think they were frozen solid. Maybe that’s what made them so beautifully colored.

We’ve had a year with more cones on the evergreen trees than anyone has ever seen before. Great bunches of them weighted down the uppermost branches of the white pines (Pinus strobus) until they finally opened, dropped their seeds, and fell to the ground by the thousands. I decided to check into why there were so many and it turns out that the drought of 2016 has a lot to do with it, because that’s when the cones actually formed. Often, when a plant is stressed out enough to “think” that it’s dying it will produce larger than normal amounts of seed to ensure the continuation of the species, and it looks like that is just what our evergreen trees have done. Every single person I’ve talked to says that they have never seen so many cones.

Unfortunately something else that has been very noticeable to everyone is the sticky sap, called pitch, which has been falling from the white pines. It has gotten all over everything and is very tough to clean off. You can’t sit at a picnic table without sticking to the benches and you can’t drive your car down the road without finding large gobs of sticky pitch all over it. I’ve had to clean it off my car twice now and I can say that it doesn’t come off easily. The above photo is of a log with gobs of pitch all over it. As it dries the pitch turns white and as the weather cools and the pitch ages it often turns a bluish purple color. Turpentine is made from the resin of pine trees, and turpentine is just about what it takes to get it off.

The inner bark of this fallen Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) was so intricate and beautiful all I could do was stand and stare. And when I came back to my senses I remembered to take a photo.

As I hope this post has shown, even after the flowers have gone and the leaves have fallen there are still plenty of beautiful things to see out there. All of the beauty we don’t see in the warm months seems to be amplified or magnified in the cold months. The crisp blue of the sky, the golden light of the rising and setting sun, the greens of the mosses; all seem more vibrant. Even stones can be beautiful, as this one was. I don’t know what was in the geologic soup that it came from but it’s very different than most other stones in this area and very beautiful, and I found myself wishing it could come home with me.

Last year I must have driven to my favorite mountain viewing spot to see if there was snow on Mount Monadnock at least four times before I finally saw it snowcapped but this year there it was, and I took this photo on my way to work one morning with no extra effort at all. As a bonus a bald eagle flew by but it was far too fast for a photo. Though it looks like Dublin Lake in the foreground was frozen over it wasn’t. The sun hadn’t come up yet and I think it was just the low light that made it look that way.

By the time I had driven to Hancock the morning sun was just kissing Monadnock and turning the scattered patches of snow to gold. Mist gathered in the valley below and the scene was so beautiful I almost forgot I was on my way to work. When the sun rises or sets change happens quickly and it’s hard to pull yourself away.

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone here in the U.S. has a safe and happy Thanksgiving Day tomorrow and don’t forget; a walk in the woods is a great way to burn off all those extra calories.

 

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1-canyon

It was about 13° F. when I left home to visit the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland that ice climbers call the icebox last weekend. Since this place seems to make its own weather and always has a good breeze blowing through it, I dressed for a frigid hike. It is a naturally dark place and I knew that the strong sunlight would make photography a challenge; there is actually a group of ice climbers in this photo but they are way down there in the dark section, so we can’t see them.

2-ice-climbers

Here they are. Even though I was much closer they’re still hard to see. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club holds regular ice climbing clinics here and seeing climbers on the ice is fairly common on weekends. Though I don’t know if this group was part of a clinic, they said they didn’t mind if I took a few photos to give readers a sense of scale. The cliffs soar to about 50 feet overhead and the constantly seeping groundwater can grow into huge icicles that can be as big as 200 year old oak tree trunks. It was plenty cold in the man-made canyon on this day but the ice hadn’t grown to the sizes that I expected.

3-ice-climbers

Two of the climbers picked on an icicle that was on the skimpy side, I thought. The noises from the ice as they climbed it; a crackling and tinkling sound, was a bit unnerving but I had to believe that they knew what they were doing. When I’m this close to them while they’re climbing I sometimes have to remind myself to breathe. It was nice of them to let me show you their methods and the intense concentration that they all seem to possess.

4-ice-climbers

This climber either lost his grip on the icicle or he was practicing falling, I’m not sure which. I was too busy taking photos to pay very close attention to what was being said. Knowing what to do in a fall is a very good idea, I would think.

5-climbing-ice

There had been a lot of activity around this huge blueish ice formation, which told me that many climbers had climbed here. I’ve heard that blue colored ice is the strongest and densest. It certainly looked more substantial than the ice that was being climbed in the previous shots.

6-icicles

There was plenty of ice to see but there weren’t many places where the giant tree trunk size formations grew. They often stand shoulder to shoulder all along the stone cliff faces but on this day they were only seen here and there.

7-ice-colors

This was one spot where the ice grew large. Even in full sunshine there was no melting going on but I could still hear the constant sound of running water made by groundwater running down the stone behind the ice.

8-evergreen-fern

An evergreen fern found a sunny spot on a ledge to grow on. Many others were encased in ice.

9-mineral-staining

There is always mineral staining on the stones but the cold seems to make the staining deeper and more colorful. I suspect that minerals in the groundwater are what gives the ice its many different colors.

10-ice-colors

Tan seems to be the most visible ice color this year. In the past I’ve seen everything from green to orange to black.

11-drainage-ditch

With all this ice and dripping water you might think I’d be standing in water up to my knees but the railroad wisely built drainage ditches along the edges of the rail bed and they’ve kept this section of trail dry for over 150 years. It seemed strange that they weren’t frozen over in most places.

12-trail-washout

Last fall a large stone fell from one of the cliff faces and it landed in the drainage ditch in just the right way to act as a dam, and since all the dammed up water had to go somewhere it ran into the rail bed and washed a section of it out. Luckily these trails are maintained by snowmobile clubs and I’m assuming it was they who moved the stone and solved the problem. I’m sure they’ll come back in warmer weather and fix the washout.

13-fallen-stone

This stone didn’t move easily. I’d guess that it must have taken two strong men with pry bars just to slide it out of the way, because it was big. Thankfully it didn’t hit anyone when it fell.

14-banded-rock

I looked up to see a band of reddish rock running through the cliff face. I’ve never noticed it before but it was the same color as the big stone that fell.

15-fallen-ice

Stones aren’t the only thing that fall here; we’ve had a few warm days and a huge slab of ice had fallen into the trail. This was easily big enough to have crushed someone, and this is why I stay in the middle of the trail away from the walls as much as possible.

16-moss-on-ice

When the ice fell it took quite a large bit of moss with it.

17-pale-liverworts

You can’t be a regular visitor to this place and be unaware of the falling ice and stone, but it isn’t something I obsess over. One of the reasons I keep coming here is because of all the unusual plants that grow here, and you’ve got to get close to the cliff walls to see them up close. For instance the above photo shows some of the many liverworts that grow on the walls. They are the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum,) but they don’t look right and I wondered if they might have frozen solid. They should be a deep, pea green color rather than the pale gray green seen here.

18-liverworts

This is how a healthy great scented liverwort should look. Note the pea green color. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the paler ones in the previous photo. I hope they’ll recover when it warms up.

19-frost-on-stone

Since I was in the deep cut last weekend we’ve had a January thaw and temperatures approached 50°, so almost all of our snow has melted. I can’t imagine what it looks like in the canyon but I’d bet that more ice has fallen. On this day though it was so cold that there was frost growing on the stones, so I didn’t stay for too long.

20-linemans-shack

With a quick nod to the old lineman’s shack, which is miraculously still standing, I headed for home to get out of the stiff breeze and to find some warmth. I’d guess that the wind chill must have been near zero and though every part of me was covered but my eyes, it was still pretty cool.

The splendor of silence, -of snow-jeweled hills and of ice. ~Ingram crockett

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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