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Posts Tagged ‘Winter Plants’

I looked out the window to see the sun shining and the rhododendron leaves not curled one morning, so I knew it would be a good day for a walk. And how great it was to have nothing to do but choose a place to go walking, I thought. I chose a rail trail in Swanzey that I knew would be ice free over at least parts of its length, because I could see it from the road. My starting point still had a little ice on it but there was also gravel to walk on.

Once I got into the sunshine it was clear sailing. Or so I thought. There were two or three shaded spots further on that still had ice on them. One of the great things about this walk was the singing of the birds. Like someone flipped a switch, it seemed they all had to sing. One of the bird songs that always says spring to me is the “fee-bee” mating call of the black capped chickadee. Since I was a boy, I’ve loved hearing it in spring. Though some hear “hey sweetie,” from what I’ve read most of us hear “fee-bee.” In the end it doesn’t matter what you hear, what’s important is being out there to hear it.

The ice on the drainage channels beside the roadbed looked to be thick in places.

Most of it varied from between one and three inches thick, by the looks.

A beech in the sunshine on a winter day is a beautiful thing. What was strange though, was not having someone stop and ask me what I was looking at. That happens all the time but on this day, I had this trail to myself. I never saw another soul. That must be a weekday thing as blogging friend Eliza said, because the last time I was out here it was on a weekend and there were people everywhere.

Another beech had lost all its leaves so I looked at a few buds and noticed the bud scales were relaxing. They weren’t as tightly closed as they are in January. I could just see the hint of an arc in this one and that’s the thing I’ll watch for. Sunlight causes the cells at the top, or sunlit part of the bud to grow slightly faster than the shaded part and this makes the bud arch up until finally it can arch no more, and that’s when bud break happens. The bud fairly tears itself apart and the new leaves emerge, and fresh spring beech leaves are one of the most beautiful things you can see in a New Hampshire Forest in the spring. How nice it will be I thought, to be able to watch spring slowly unfold.

The big buds of shagbark hickory hadn’t changed much but they also bear watching, because they are also very beautiful when they open. A tree full of newly opened buds is a sight that can take the breath away.

One of the reasons I wanted to come out here was to see how my new camera would do with moss spore capsules, but I didn’t see a single one the whole way. Not any on the apple mosses, not even any left over from last year.

I could see the Ashuelot River through the trees and it was ice free. A good sign.

A pine tree had fallen and had been cut into logs, and they had been oozing plenty of sticky sap. Turpentine is made frome white pine sap, and that’s what it takes to get it off your clothes.

Another reason I wanted to come out here was to see if any work had been done to the drainage ditches. I was happy to see that they had been dug out and pitched correctly so the water would flow away from the rail bed. The only problem I saw was how all the removed soil had been piled along the tops of the ditches. I thought that when it rained the rain might wash the soil back into the ditches.

No sooner had I that thought I saw that the rain had indeed washed the soil back into the ditch, filling it to the top and completely stopping up any water flow. This damming up of the drainage ditch has happened in two or three places and means that water may fill the ditch and run up over the railbed in a heavy rain. This could wash out the railbed, which is exactly what digging out the ditches is supposed to prevent. The decision to pile the dirt where it has been piled doesn’t seem to have been a good one.

American wintergreen, also called teaberry, (Gaultheria procumbens) leaves were shining in the sunlight. They often turn purple in winter and these had done so.

The third reason I wanted to come out here was because I saw some skunk cabbage leaves at the base of this ledge last year and I wondered if I might see a spathe or two, but it looked like the plant went away when the ditch was dug out.

I saw what looked like bark beetle damage on a young red oak that had died and lost its bark. I think this is the first time I’ve seen damage like this on oak.

There was an apple gall on another oak, on what was left of a leaf. In May, a female wasp emerges from underground and injects one or more eggs into the mid-vein of an oak leaf. As it grows the wasp larva causes the leaf to form a round gall. Galls that form on leaves are less harmful to the tree than those that form on twigs, but neither causes any real damage. This gall was empty, and I knew that by its color and by a tiny exit hole near the top on the far side.

Though it looked like a fault had pulled apart this drainage ditch ice I think it was fast running water that caused the big gap.

And there was the trestle. This one is quite high above the Ashuelot River in this spot, much higher than the trestle that was near our house, which I grew up playing on.

The ripples on the river show how hard the wind was blowing up here.

The water was muddy but it had gone down some, according to the line of ice on the riverbank. It usually stays quite high through spring and that’s the time you see most of the kayaks and canoes on it.

The reason you don’t see many canoeists or kayakers once the water level drops in summer is because of all the submerged trees there are in this river. They seem to fall in constantly throughout its length.

I saw a curious almost perfectly round, thawed circle in the ice on the way back, and that was enough to keep me wondering all the way back to the car.

To walk into nature is to witness a thousand miracles. ~Mary Davis

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Wednesday the weather people said we’d probably see a dusting of snow that might “stick to grassy surfaces.” They were right; we got a dusting plus 6 inches that stuck to grassy surfaces and every other surface as well. One of the benefits of being newly retired is, I was able to go out and play in it.

But I was the only one playing it it at 8:00 am Thursday, apparently. The only other tracks I saw were of the four footed kind.

The sun was trying but hadn’t accomplished much yet. It was supposed to be sunny and 50 degrees F. on this day and if that turned out to be true all of this snow would quickly melt.

It was a light fluffy snow full of air spaces, but with just enough moisture to make it stick to things.

And it stuck to everything. I admired these coated tree branches and the strange wintery light behind them. I love the changeable light of winter. It’s very different than summer light.

Every tree, every shrub, and every twig was outlined in snow and it was beautiful. It was also absolutely silent; the kind of silence that calls to you. It speaks to the silence that is within us, and I believe that is why we are drawn to nature.

There are few times in nature when it is as silent as it is during and right after a snowfall. Science has found that as little as two inches of snow can absorb nearly 60 percent of sound when it is freshly fallen and fluffy, with plenty of air spaces. As I stood listening to the silence, snow fell from the trees. I call it “snow smoke” and though it isn’t rare, it is rare that I’m there with a camera when it happens.

Sometimes you can hear the snow fall from the trees and other times it is silent. It depends on the consistency of the snow, I suppose. On this day there was a barely perceptible Shhhh, as if it were telling me to be even more quiet than I was.

As is often the case the evergreens bore most of the weight. Their branches are supple and made for this, so they can usually take it.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the big white pines off across the swamp lost some limbs though. The bigger the limb the more weight can pile up on them and white pine limbs get very big.  

Birch seeds had already fallen all over the new snow by the thousands, in less than 24 hours.

I heard a knocking and looked up and saw a woodpecker, and I wondered if it was knocking some of the seeds loose. The small red patch at the back of its head and its small size tells me it might be a downy woodpecker. I was really too far away for a good shot but I didn’t let that stop me.

I walked by some catalpa trees and couldn’t resist taking a photo. When they’re at this stage with their long seedpods hanging from the branches they take me back to second grade, when we called them “string bean trees.” Though nobody ever told us anything about the trees, we knew instinctively that we shouldn’t eat the “beans.” It was a good thing too, because they’re poisonous.

Someone has tried to fence off the forest, which means they get to keep mowing as long as they own the land. Large open spaces around houses may keep a brush fire from reaching the house, and back in the 1600s it might have let you see a bear or wolf’s approach, or the approach of Natives who were angry that you took their land, but it really is time to get over these huge lawns that take almost all of our free time to care for each week.

The fence rails showed the snow’s depth. I’d guess maybe four inches in this spot. Snow depth can vary quite a lot from place to place, even on different side of the same street.

At the river there was just a hint of blue in an otherwise black and white scene.

I looked up into a maple and saw sunshine, and it is that warm March sunshine that is waking it and all of its cousins up, and making their sap flow.

There was sunshine above and below these hemlocks, too.

Beeches added some beautiful color but soon these leaves will be pale enough to appear almost colorless, and thin enough to almost see through.

When the sun comes out right after a snow it can be very beautiful, but the sun has a lot of warmth at this time of year so by the time I got back home it had already started melting. There is an old saying that calls this kind of snow this late in winter “poor man’s fertilizer.” Science has shown that nitrates from the atmosphere attach to snowflakes and fall to earth, and then are released into the thawing soil as the snow melts. The nitrates help feed plants, so the old saying is true.

I wanted to do a post about this storm because I thought it might be the last snow for many months but now they say we’ll see more today, so the roller coaster continues on its way. We’ll have bare ground for a day or two and then snow covers it up again, but the further we get into March the shorter its stay. By Friday most of the snow you saw in this post had melted.

Great truth that transcends nature does not pass from one being to another by way of human speech. Truth chooses silence to convey her meaning to loving souls. ~Kahil Gibran

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Last weekend I went looking for signs of spring again and this thin ice sign was one of those I found. Thin ice at this time of year is a good sign if you happen to be a spring lover. The town puts them up in fall as the ice starts to form, then takes them down for the winter and puts them up again in spring when it starts to thaw. It’s good to pay attention to them; there have been photos in the local newspaper of plow trucks sitting in water up to their windows after going through this ice.

The ice was pulling back from shore so you wouldn’t catch me skating on it.

The willows are really coming along now. The soft gray catkins could be seen everywhere on this day.

I’m not seeing any yellow in them yet though, so it will be maybe a week or two before they flower.

I did see lots of pinecone galls on the willows. This gall appears at the branch tips and is caused by a midge (Rhabdophaga strobiloides) laying eggs on them. Once the eggs hatch the larva burrow into the branch tip and the plant reacts by forming a gall around them. They aren’t very big but are very noticeable at this time of year. Galls and the insects that cause them, and the reactions of the various plants they appear on is a fascinating subject but they always lead me to two questions: how and why?

Hazelnut catkins are continuing their spring color change over to gold from green. I usually see the tiny scarlet female flowers in April but I have a feeling they might come a little earlier this year.  

This might look like an old pile of leaves but it is actually a hellebore plant. Hellebores bloom quite early so I usually start watching them at about this time of year. Another name for them is Lenten rose, because they will often bloom during Lent.

Crocuses have appeared alongside what I think are reticulated iris, and they are growing fast. A week ago there was no sign of them. The warm weather and rain this week should give them and everything else a good boost.

Daffodils are on hold, just waiting for the silent signal. The bed they’re in needs some serious weeding.

Since these are not my gardens, I can’t be positive but I do know that hyacinths grow near the front of this bed. Unfortunately an animal had dug down and eaten many of them. I’ve seen chipmunks and squirrels but no skunks, racoons or possums yet, so I’m not sure what could have done it.

There was quite a mound of good-looking soil that had been dug up. There’s nothing like the smell of newly thawed soil in spring.

This bulb had been rejected so it might be a daffodil. Daffodils are poisonous and somehow, animals know it.

I was surprised to see tulips up. No buds yet though, just leaves.

I keep checking the trails, hoping the ice will have melted. It is melting but not very quickly. Hopefully after the warmth and rain this week they will finally be clear of ice. I’ll never forget this winter. It has been one of the iciest I can remember. Even trail reports on the radio are saying that you should bring spikes.

I went to see a Cornelian cherry to see if it had woken up yet and I was very happy to see some yellow inside the bud scales of that pea size bud on the left. It won’t be long before its small but pretty yellow flowers unfold. I’ve seen them as early as late March. Last Sunday it was 65 degrees, so we might see them in March again this year.

Magnolia buds are covered by a single hairy bud scale called a cap and when the bud inside the cap starts to swell in spring the bud scale will often split and fall off, but as can be seen here by the bare space under the bud scale, the bud seems to be pushing the cap up and off. I’ve never noticed this before, but maybe it happens regularly, I don’t know. In any event it signals that magnolia buds are beginning to stir.

I took a look at the big horse chestnut buds. They’re easy to see but not so easy to get a photo of because they’re up over my head. Beautiful flowers will appear out of these buds in mid to late May.

Since most people have probably never seen a red horse chestnut blossom (Aesculus × carnea,) here is a not very technically good photo of what they look like. The tree is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) I’ve read that bees and hummingbirds love the beautiful red and yellow blossoms.

After visiting the horse chestnut, I thought I’d wander over to the big old red maple. There still wasn’t a lot going on in its buds but they bloom in March so it won’t be long. Maybe it will be a sudden awakening. Speaking of sudden awakenings, I heard the first red wing blackbird today. If that isn’t a sign of spring then I don’t know what is. Soon the spring peepers will add their trills to the chorus.

Johnny jump ups were still blooming, even though they had been covered by snow for a week. I might apply for a part time job at the local college. That’s where some of the beds you see in these photos are located and they’re so full of weeds I’m almost embarrassed to show them. Maybe they would welcome a part time weeder. This bed is full of spring bulbs so it should be weeded before they come up.

I went to see the skunk cabbages, hoping that the spathes had opened so I could get a shot of the spadix with its strange little flowers, but they weren’t quite ready. You can just see a crack opening on the lower rights side of the bulbous part of this spathe but it’s nowhere near open enough to get my lens in. Maybe next week. I’d better bring something to kneel on though because the swampy ground had thawed and water filled every footstep.

The spring blooming witch hazels were in full bloom and I wanted you to see this one because of the translucence of the petals. Having to get so close to them to get a photo meant that I was awash in their wonderful fragrance. I find it impossible to describe but other have likened it to fresh laundry just taken down from the clothes line.

This witch hazel couldn’t have bloomed any more than it was. It had nice color too.

I chose this photo so you could see the different stages of a witch hazel bloom. On the upper right the petals are just emerging, and below that they are about half way unfurled. Finally in the center the flowers have fully opened. I’ve discovered this year that this can happen very fast. There are 4 or 5 different varieties in this group and as I wandered among them taking photos by the time I got back to where I had started many more flowers had opened on that first shrub I looked at. This was in the space of maybe 15-25 minutes.

In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against Nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth.  ~John Milton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here on my first day of retirement I don’t think the reality that I have nothing I have to do and nowhere I have to go has fully sunken in yet. Maybe I’ll need time to decompress after 50+ years of working. It was an odd career that went from gardener to mechanical engineer and then buildings and grounds maintenance. Though I started out fine with maintenance nearly 7 years ago I didn’t end fine. The job, always a dirty and dusty one, became increasingly difficult due to weakening lungs and I could feel myself slowing down, so it was time to go. One of the more pleasant memories of those last 7 years that comes to mind is of the many beautiful things I saw on those 25-mile drives to and from work; like clouds of mist rising up out of the forest in Marlborough, or the morning sunlight turning the snow-covered peak of Mount Monadnock to pink and orange. These sights were always unexpected and, though the drive wasn’t always welcome, they always were.

When I finally got to work each day, there on the shores of Half Moon Pond in Hancock, it wasn’t that uncommon to find something like this waiting. Each morning I would cross the road and stand on the shore in the quiet and watch as the sun rose behind me. It was a wonderful way to start the day and it wasn’t long before I felt that I had stumbled into paradise. I might not miss the work but I will miss the place.

You could feel an energy on the shores of the pond; an infectious childlike spirit, and that’s because children have come here for over 100 years to learn about and enjoy nature. The land, all 700+ acres, is known as The Sargent Center for Outdoor Education, owned by Boston University and currently in use by Nature’s Classroom, which is an outdoor environmental education program. Children, musicians, artists and other groups come from all over the world and the happy shouts and laughter of children can be heard all day every day, almost all year round. It was like music to me and I loved hearing them and seeing them having so much fun, but then covid came along and everything had to stop for a time. I can’t see that the place will ever stop attracting children though; after a fallow year in 2020 they returned for 10 weeks last summer and this summer looks like it will be even better.

The children come to what we call the camp to learn about nature and though that wasn’t my reason for coming, I learned right along with them. This was the first place I had ever seen dragonfly nymphs clutching the pond weeds, waiting to shed their exoskeletons. Once free they are apparently disoriented for a time. (I know how they feel) I had them land on me several times over the years and their empty shells, called exuvia, can be found here and there all along the shoreline.

This was the only place I knew of where I could get close enough to the big mother snapping turtles to see them laying their eggs. It was a slow, seemingly exhaustive process.

Before I went to work there, I had to drive for half an hour to see a rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) in bloom but that first year I found them along the shoreline. I was able to get to know them like I never could before. They’re one of our most beautiful early spring flowers and it was great to know that I could now find them with ease.

The same is true for sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia). I used to have to drive for miles to find it and even then I had a hard time, but there it was right on the shore of the pond. This is another relatively rare and beautiful native shrub which blooms later than the rhodora. Our native laurels have 10 anthers that fit into tiny pockets and spring out when an insect lands on the blossom, dusting it with pollen. The thought of it always fascinates me.

Before I started working at the camp the only way I could see a beautiful marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) was from a kayak, and if you’ve ever tried taking photos while sitting in a kayak you know how that went. Here, I could walk right up to them and see them in all their beautiful glory. It’s a relatively rare plant so I was happy to find them growing right along the shoreline. This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our others St John’s worts are yellow.

A little further up on shore I found my favorite milkweed, swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). As I watched over the years one plant became two, and the first plant grew more and more flowers. The pretty flower clusters always remind me of millefiori glass paperweights.

Humble little Narrow leaf cow wheat plants (Melampyrum lineare) grew and bloomed by the hundreds there. I know of only one other place to find them and they don’t grow well there. This little, shoe top high plant may look innocent but it has a secret; it is a hemiparasite, which is a plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants. It seems to want more than its share. 

One year I cut a large area of brush right along the pond edge to open up a view and the following year I was surprised to find it full of wildflowers, including the beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) above. This is one of the last of our spring ephemeral flowers to bloom and it’s a signal that it’s time to start looking for flowers out in the sunny meadows rather than in the woods. Other plants that grew in this spot were pink lady’s slippers, painted trillium, blue bead lily, and partridge berry.

In certain places in the camp woods you can sometimes find large colonies of painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum). Throughout my experience I have found only one or two plants here and there, so finding large numbers of them here in this place was surprising. And beautiful; painted trilliums are our most beautiful trillium, in my opinion. They will bloom in May, just about the same time as the rhodora we saw earlier.

I was also surprised to find so many broad leaved helleborine orchids (Epipactis helleborine) growing at the camp because I normally see so few of them. They were introduced from Europe in the 1800s and almost immediately escaped gardens and are now considered an invasive orchid; the only one I’ve ever heard of. Scientists have discovered that its nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature, and wasps have been seen moving away from it in a kind of staggering flight. Strangely, the plants have chosen to grow in the shade around building foundations.

Since I’m colorblind, before I started working at the camp I had seen only one cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and that was only because a kind reader had sent me directions to it. But it was across a stream, so I could never get close to it. When a red cardinal lands in a green tree it disappears to these eyes, so I almost stepped on the plant in this photo before I saw the red flower. It grew in a peaceful place beside a stream at the camp. It was a real treat to finally see them up close after so many years of looking for them but now I know that I should stop looking, because the only way I’ll ever find them is by luck. If I should happen to stumble across them again well, that will be a lucky day.

Another plant that I had never seen before working at the camp was the ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi). Like the cardinal flower it is a plant I searched for for many years. I stumbled across it growing in a lawn, which is the last place I’d have thought to look for it. Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S. this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England.

As I think back on my time at the camp, I can see that it was really just one discovery after another, and I could probably fill two posts with all the “firsts” I saw, like the eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) above. Its “eyes” are really just eye spots, there to mesmerize and confound predators. It has a spine that it can click and use to propel itself away from predators, and it used it to jump and hit me in the back, otherwise I’d have never seen it. One day a bobcat walked past a group of us from just feet away, and one morning I saw a young moose come up out of the pond. Several people told me that a black bear walked just 10 feet from me when I was blowing leaves one day, but I never heard or saw it. This was also the first and only place I ever heard the song of a whippoorwill. It really is a magical place that is filled with natural wonders, and I’m very grateful to have had the chance to spend time there.

Another wonder was the cluster of Dryocosmus deciduous galls I found on a red-oak leaf one day. These galls are created when a tiny wasp in the Dryocosmus genus lays eggs on the midrib of a red oak leaf. Each tiny gall has a single larva inside. As the scientific name reveals, these galls are deciduous, and fall from the leaf before the leaf falls from the tree. I remember how amazed I was when I read that about them.

One of the jobs I had at the camp was mowing a 13-acre meadow. The first time I mowed it I noticed that there were one or two chicory plants (Cichorium intybus) in it, so I started mowing around them. Year by year their numbers increased until last year there must have been 15 plants, all blooming together. Several people asked me about them over the years and I think everyone enjoyed the blue flowers, even though they looked a little odd out in such a big expanse of grass.

The meadow that I mowed was full of tiny black insects which I think must have been weevils. There were so many thousands of them I could feel them peppering any uncovered spot on my body as I mowed, so I had to always wear glasses and keep my mouth closed tight. But mowing was when I first noticed something strange; a group of dragonflies would fly alongside the tractor, a few on either side, and every now and then one or two would peel off for a moment or two before coming back to rejoin the group. I realized then that the dragonflies were eating all the insects that were being scared up by the mower. I also realized that they were intelligent creatures. They must also have some type of a memory, because they flew along beside me every time I mowed the meadow in summer. The one in this photo was so used to me mowing I rode right up to it and took this shot with my macro camera as it perched on a chicory plant. If a fish can learn to come when it is called at feeding time, why can’t a dragonfly?

Because I spent most of my time outside, I could keep a close eye on the local monarch butterfly population, which seemed to rise and fall quite a lot from year to year. Last summer seemed to be a good one for them and I hope the future will be kind to them.

I realize as I work on this post how much there was to see and discover in an area smaller than the center of an average small New England town. It’s just amazing, but it isn’t just the beauty of it all; it’s also the rarity of the things found here, like the dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) flowers above. I’ve seen them in exactly one other place in over 50 years of wandering through nature.  

And then there is the purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) I found growing beside a trail through a swamp one day. People had been walking by it without seeing it perhaps for years and if I hadn’t caught just a glimpse of color out of the corner of my eye, I would have done the same. If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never forget how I felt that day. I think it has to be the most beautiful flowering plant I’ve ever seen in these New Hampshire woods.

All of the animals, plants, insects, and amphibians that have made this place their home is what makes it so special. Just think of all the children, more than a hundred years’ worth of them, who came to this place and might have seen one, two or all of the things in this post. Think of how much they might have learned. This place, full of beauty, wonder and enchantment, should always be here for them.

Last year a group of artists came to stay for a week and my co-workers cajoled one of them into doing an oil painting of the bog orchid, which they gave me on my last day. It was a great gift and it now hangs here where I’ll see it every day. Though I doubt I could ever forget the camp, this painting will make sure I don’t. I hope many people who pass through the camp will get to see and admire the flower that inspired it, especially the artist. He did the painting from a photo that I had taken.  

There was a time when I could sit in the quiet of dawn on a summer morning and listen to the birds sing through the open windows, and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing again more than anything else. In the evening I can walk to the stream down the road and watch the sunset turn it to liquid gold, and then when it gets dark I can sit outside and watch the stars while listening to the the spring peepers. These are some of the things that are most important to me, and I’ll have time now to do them and anything else that comes to mind. The possibilities are infinite.

One sweet dream, came true today. ~The Beatles

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The roller coaster changes between winter and spring go on in this area. Yesterday I was taking photos of Johnny jump ups and today as I write this it is 30 degrees F.

But the cold won’t hurt the early spring plants any, especially those in the pansy family like viola tricolor. They’re hardy, and built for cold finicky weather, and that’s why you’ll often see them blooming away beautifully in window boxes in March. I have to say I was quite surprised to see them blooming in February though. I think that is a first, but after two or three days in the 50s they responded. This is why, when I talk about spring on this blog, I’m not talking about calendar spring. I’m talking about the spring that the plants and trees and birds tell me is here now.

Except for an ice shelf over there on the left the ice has melted off the stream that runs through the skunk cabbage swamp. It was blue and beautiful on a sunny day.

And the skunk cabbages are growing quickly. Soon the spathes like the one seen here will open to reveal the spadix, which will be covered in tiny, pollen bearing flowers.

It rained hard the night before this was taken and instant ponds popped up everywhere. That’s a good sign that the soil under them is still frozen. Since the water can’t soak into the ground and has nowhere to go it ponds up in the low spots. This one was huge and I was surprised there were no ducks in it.

After it started to cool off again, I went to a waterfall to see if any ice had formed. I wasn’t disappointed.

Everything on the shoreline was covered with ice.

This grass plant had grown ice on its leaves that was thicker than my thumb, all from splashing drops of water. When I see ice like this I think of a candle. A candle starts with a wick, which is dipped again and again into melted wax. In this case each blade of grass is like a wick, splashed over and over by water.

This stone was covered in round spheres of ice. I can’t explain the mechanics of how this ice forms but I do know that splashing water creates it.

There was also plenty of white puddle ice to be seen. I’ve read that it is oxygen that makes the ice white like this. Microscopic bubbles, I suppose. It held the memory of what looked like a current.

This was a surprise and it was flowing right out of the ground just where I stood. I thought it was bright red but my color finding software sees rosy brown, chocolate and dark salmon pink. Though it looks strange it’s really just groundwater that has leeched out various minerals in the soil. Most of those minerals I’d guess, are iron oxide based. There are probably bacteria present as well and I’d guess that the heavy rain we had flushed everything out of a groundwater reservoir of some kind. Scientists say it’s all non toxic and harmless, but I admit it doesn’t look it.

I can remember as a boy seeing the Ashuelot River run almost the color of that seep in the last photo, when the woolen mills in Keene released their dyes into it. It ran all the colors of the rainbow, but when I need to think of a good success story I think of the river, because over the years it was cleaned up. Now trout swim in it once again and bald eagles fish here. We humans can accomplish quite a lot when we put our minds to it.

The river looked fairly placid in that previous shot but this is what was going on downstream. The camera made the water look dark but it was really chocolate brown from all the soil that is washing into it from flooding. This section looked to be about twice its normal width and it roared mightily.

Instead of a roar the ice on Halfmoon Pond in Hancock pings, creaks and twangs, especially when the wind blows. It was covered in melt water recently and looked like a mirror. It will freeze and thaw until one day, it won’t freeze any longer. I still think that ice out will happen in March this year.

When warm air flows over the cold ice sometimes the pond creates its own fog. Just another hint of spring that I enjoy seeing.

The witch hazels didn’t dare to unfurl their petals on this cold day. It’s kind of amazing how they can pull their long strap shaped petals back into such tiny buds but they’re fairly accurate. I’ve seen them get frost killed in the past but that doesn’t happen often. Each fuzzy bud that the petals come out of is less than the diameter of a BB that you would put in an air rifle. That’s 0.177 inches so I’d guess the buds are about an eighth of an inch, or .125.

The reticulated iris (I think) had grown some in the week since I had seen them last, and so had the daffodils. The seed pods you see are from redbud trees. These spring flowering bulbs grow under them.

Tree buds were calling to me as they always do in spring but I couldn’t see any signs of swelling in the pretty blue buds of the box elders. This tree in the maple family has beautiful flowers in spring so it’s always one of those I check regularly. They’ll bloom just after the red maples do.

These are the beautiful sticky, lime green female box elder flowers, for those who haven’t seen them. I’ll be waiting impatiently for both them and the red maple flowers. Box elders usually flower in April and red maples sometimes by mid-March. It all depends on the weather.

Speaking of red maples, here are some of their flower buds. I can see a little movement in them. The bud scales are starting to ease and open but I hope they won’t because it’s too early. I’ve seen trees with every flower killed by frost but nature has that all figued out, and not all trees bloom at the same time. The bloom times are staggered over several weeks, so if a killing frost happens not all tree flowers will be damaged by it.

I walked past the European beech I know of in Keene and saw its seed pods all over the ground, falling I suppose, to make room for new ones.

They were all empty, even the ones still on the tree. No wonder there are so many happy squirrels in that area.

Many, many years ago someone went around Keene with a stencil of a foot and spray-painted small feet here and there throughout town. I was surprised to find one still in good condition one day. It told me to stay on the trail. Keep walking and keep seeing the wonders.

It doesn’t take much to make my heart soar in spring; seeing sap buckets hanging on the sugar maples will do it every time. Though this post might seem to be all over the place, with flowers and ice and snow, that’s what spring is in New Hampshire. We are in the push-pull transition time between winter and spring and right now, winter is making a comeback. We are expecting a foot of snow as I finish this post, but it won’t last long and spring will win out as it always does. The trees producing sap means the ground has thawed and soon everyone will be wearing a smile. If you ask most of them why they’re smiling chances are they won’t be able to tell you but it’s just that spring tonic. It just makes you happy, for no particular reason.

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month. ~Henry Van Dyke

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We had a good string of 50-degree weather last week but of course on the weekend it dropped back down into the 20s F. and even snowed, just enough to slick up the roads and be a nuisance. That’s why we call them nuisance storms. Anyhow I’d had glimpses here and there of what looked like the Ashuelot River flooding and I wanted to see if what I thought I saw was actually happening, so I chose a section of rail trail in Keene that more or less follows the river. This was not a day for photography; all 3 cameras I carried had a hard time but I can’t tell you why. It was as if there was a mist in the air that only the cameras could see, so we’ll just have to pretend we’re walking into an impressionist painting.

The first thing I noticed was a flock of robins in the trees but I couldn’t tell what they were eating until I saw this photo, which tells me their food was the berries of the invasive Oriental Bittersweet. Unfortunately it doesn’t show the entire bird but it shows enough. It looked like he’d eaten enough berries to last for a week, but I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of his friends, so I didn’t say anything. Maybe he had just puffed himself up.

Further down the trail I saw a nest from last year that would have been the right size for a robin, so I think a lot of them live out here. There’s plenty for them to eat. When I was a boy, this area was filled with Baltimore orioles but I haven’t seen one here in years, and I think it’s because the type of fruit they ate no longer grows out here. I don’t see many wild grapes, for instance.

There were a lot of invasive burning bush berries but thankfully the birds were leaving them alone.

They had eaten all the native staghorn sumac berries so that was a good thing. Since I couldn’t get a shot of any sumac fruit I settled for a bud instead. It looked as much animal as vegetable but these buds are naked with no bud scales, so they use hairs to keep from freezing.

You have to really know hazelnut catkins to tell, but they are losing their green color and starting to turn just a little golden colored. They’re also lengthening and becoming pliable rather than stiff, as they’ve been all winter. These are all signs that the shrubs are switching from winter to spring mode and are getting ready to produce pollen. It won’t be that long before I have to start watching for the tiny scarlet threads of the female blossoms.

The catkins hold the male flowers, which are all arranged in a spiral around a central stalk. Each tiny group of hairs seen here is on the edge of a bud scale, and soon these scales will lift to reveal the golden pollen bearing male flowers underneath. It’s an event I’m looking forward to, very much.

Here was a sign that made me happy but I wish the deep cut trail in Westmoreland had been included. The drainage ditches have completely failed up there.

Before I decided to walk this trail, I got out of the car and walked a short way to make sure there wasn’t any ice. All I found was gravel but right after the sign in the previous shot there it was, and someone had slipped on it. There’s nothing worse than light snow on ice. It’s very slippery and now I was going to have to walk over half the trail on it. I knew I should have worn spikes. I hope the person who slipped didn’t fall and get hurt. I see quite a lot of older folks out here.

Some were even riding bikes out here. I’m not sure I’d do that on ice but maybe the tires had spikes.

I saw a very unusual oak gall, at least in my experience. It looked like this on one side….

….and it looked like this on the other side. Usually they are smooth and very hard. These galls form when an insect called a rough bullet gall wasp lays its eggs on part of the tree, be it leaves or twigs. They are of course called bullet galls and are maybe twice the diameter of a pea. They will often grow in large clusters of many galls but though this tree had many on it they all grew singly.

Here was something I had been wondering about for years and I thought maybe the new camera could show me what I couldn’t see. I’m talking about all those dark “pits” on the underside of beech leaves.

The new camera did a fine job of showing me that they weren’t pits at all. They looked like some type of gall. I looked them up and found that they are called “Erineum patches.” They are created by eriophyid mites and they don’t really hurt the tree unless there are very large numbers of them. Each patch is made up of tiny hairs that grow from the tissue of the leaf but you would need at least 40X magnification to see them or the mites that create them. The new camera is good but not quite that good, so we’ll just have to imagine creatures so small they can’t be seen.

This is what you see on the upper surface of the leaf; what look like pock marks. I see these all the time so I’m glad to finally know what they’re all about. Thanks goes to Ohio State University Extension Service for help in solving this riddle.

I had to say “wow” when I saw that the whole forest had flooded, even though the river was running very fast. Apparently, there is nowhere for all the water to go down to the south of town, so it’s backing up.

I went down the embankment as far as I dared to see if I could get shots that weren’t looking through brush. The noises from the ice cracking, hissing and groaning, were amazing. It might be as flat as a dance floor but it’s very alive and it lets you know it. Life is always flowing, even when it appears still.

Almost all of the trees here are red or silver maples and they can stand this kind of treatment but still, it was amzing to see. I used to play here as a boy and I used to see the river flood, but I can’t remember ever seeing it quite like this. The reflections must be beautiful under a blue sky.

Here was the trestle. I hoped to get a good view of the ice from there.

And there was what was supposed to be Ash Brook. It had grown many times over its normal width.

I can’t even guess what made that pattern in the ice. It looked like foam had frozen into it but where the foam came from, I don’t know.

The dark area shows where the channel of Ash Brook would normally be. I was flabbergasted by the extent of the flooding, and I left hoping no homes along the river had flooded. We lived just feet away from the river when I was a boy and each spring the river would rise just to the top of its banks but not spill over on our side. I hope that’s still true. The street I lived on isn’t far from here.

The blue sap on this white pine told me how cold it was but I didn’t really need its help because after being surrounded by all this ice I was chilled just about to the bone. I made it back to the car without slipping on the ice and the thermometer read only 27 degrees, so there would be no melting on this day. The next day, Monday was supposed to reach 50, so we’re on the spring roller coaster as far as temperatures go.

If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water. ~Loren Eiseley

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We’ve had two or three warm days in the mid 50s F. and the ice that has covered everything is finally starting to melt. The ice is everywhere you go and it has kept me from climbing, and even off the trails. Even with spikes on it is difficult to negotiate so I went to a small pond where I thought most of the ice would be on the pond where it belongs.  

I was wrong. There was ice covering the land as well so I had to think about each step and plan my route. If you’re traveling very far it can be exhausting but fortunately I move at a toddler’s pace so I can see the wonders.

Despite the ice I was able to get to the pond and I saw that the ice on it was melting. It was like a booster shot of joy into my arm.

Another shot came when I looked up at all the buds on a big red maple.

And the willows that showed their soft catkins.

There were lots of sensitive fern spore bearing fronds here and they, along with the willows and the big red maple told me that I was in a damp, or even wet place. All three plants like lots of water.

I love to see the color of last year’s grasses against the white snow but even there, there was ice.

This shot is for those who have never seen how a white or gray birch changes from brown to white. It’s always kind of a ragged looking process. White and gray birches can split easily in what are often extreme temperature changes in winter, where the outer bark warms or cools faster than the inner wood. A tree can tear itself apart with the stresses, so the relatively weak white colored birches use the color to reflect, rather than absorb sunlight. By doing so they’re less prone to frost cracks.

I ran into a blackberry, which is always a memorable experience. At least until your torn flesh heals.

What, I’m wondering, is going on with the mallards? A few days before this encounter mallards just stood and ignored me as if they didn’t see me, even though I was just feet away, and on this day these two swam toward me as fast as their webbed feet would take them and then just sat, as if expecting me to do something. This is very odd behavior for New Hampshire mallards, which are usually so skittish they have flown or paddled away long before you can get near them. They must be from the city where people feed them bread. That’s the only answer I can come up with.

The male just swam in circles as if waiting impatiently.

And his lovely mate just sat in a state of bliss while I took her portrait. I hope they learned from the experience that not all humans mean to harm them. I hope they also learned that not all humans walk around with a pocket full of bread.

The mallards were in the sheltered outflow of the pond, which had already thawed. Out here near the frozen pond itself the wind tore through the place with enough force to blow even the tough cattails back and forth. I’m surprised this shot came out at all because that wooly head was all over the place when I snapped the shutter. I think the wind was actually blowing the fluffy seeds right off the plant, which is part of The Plan.

Another plant that relies on the wind is the vine called virgin’s bower, which is a wild clematis also called traveler’s joy or woodbine. Its tadpole like seeds have long, feathery tails (styles) which the wind catches and blows to a new growing spot. I know that it’s a successful strategy because I see this plant wherever I go.

The long feathery style attaches the female stigma to the ovary. Once pollen finds the stigma a pollen tube grows down through the style to fertilize the eggs in the ovary, which is where the seeds form. I’ve looked at these seed heads a thousand times since I was a boy and I’ve never seen the finger like growths that show here. Are they what is left of the pollen tubes? It will take someone more knowledgeable in botany than I am to answer that question, but it any event they were small enough to be almost microscopic, and I’d guess that’s why I’ve never seen them.

I stopped to admire some tongue galls on these alder cones (strobiles.) These long, tongue like galls are caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus chemically deforms part of the ovarian tissue of the developing strobile and causes long, strap shaped galls called languets to grow from them. These galls, like most galls, don’t seem to bring any harm to their host. I do wish I knew how they benefited from growing in such unusual forms. Maybe to present more surface area to the wind?

Under the alder were all of last year’s leaves. Once they begin to decompose, they will become compost that feeds the plant they came from.

There were lots of galls on the goldenrods out here. This type of gall, called an apple gall, is caused when a tiny fly lays its eggs on the plant. When they hatch the gall fly larvae (Eurosta solidaginis) eat holes into the plant’s stem, and this makes the goldenrod grow a ball shaped gall around them. The larva will start to produce an antifreeze in its blood in the fall and will grow inside the gall all winter. These galls have thick walls to discourage wasps and birds from reaching the larva, but I have seen birds, including chickadees, pecking their way into the center.

Here was a double gall, which I don’t see that often.

This pretty lichen grew on a fallen tree. I believe it is one of the sunburst lichens (Xanthomendoza.) One of the best places to go to study nature is near water because water is so important to all life. Many lichens for instance, like high the humidity found near water. You will find a good cross section of all the various forms of life that live in an area near water, even by a small pond like this one, and that is why most of the posts found on this blog have water in some form in them. It is of course also a great place for children to start exploring nature.

When you gaze out on a quiet, peaceful meadow, next to a still pond, under a motionless blue sky, you wonder how the noisy, busy cacophony of life could have arisen from such silent, motionless beginning.
~ Anonymous

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I don’t know about anyone else but I am really itching for spring to come this year. I knew I shouldn’t have snapped that sugar maple twig a while back because I knew if it dripped sap it would begin. “It” being spring fever, which I seem to catch every year at about this time. I find that one of the best ways to alleviate it is to go and find spring, so that’s what I do. I always learn by doing this; one of the first things I saw was a henbit plant, which had come through winter beautifully green and as healthy as it was in September, so I’ve learned how cold hardy they are. I’ve never seen the light shining out of one before though, like it is over there on the left. Henbit blooms quite early, so it shouldn’t be long.

Hollyhocks also come through winter with a few green leaves. At this time of year any green thing is worth more to me than a sack full of gold. Actually that’s true at any time of year.

I told you a while back that the daffodils I saw in the snow had made a mistake and would surely die, but it was I who made the mistake because here they are again, looking heathier than ever. It’s easy to forget that plants that come up in spring when it’s cold have built in defenses against the cold. Unless it is extreme below zero cold. In that case the snow can actually protect them from the cold and I think that must be what happened here.  

The ice pulled back and almost immediately the shoots of what I believe are reticulated iris came up. That’s the story this scene told to me and it’s most likely accurate because I’ve seen reticulated iris blooming in the snow. They are one of our earliest spring bulbs, often blossoming before crocuses.

Ice melts in mysterious ways sometimes.

While some mallards were swimming away other braver birds were hanging out on the ice at the edge of a small stream. I suspect they must have been citified birds because they weren’t anywhere near as skittish as their country cousins are. All I had with me for a camera was my phone and my small point and shoot so this isn’t a very good shot. It says spring to me though, and that’s why it’s here.

I went into the hummocky swamp where the skunk cabbages grow. I was fairly sure I’d come out of here with wet feet because I had forgotten my big boots but surprisingly, I stayed dry. I didn’t even have to dance from hummock to hummock like I will have to later on when all that snow and ice melt.

There is nothing worse than trying to keep your balance while squatting on a hummock like a garden gnome, so I was very happy that I didn’t have to do that to get this shot of a skunk cabbage melting its way through the ice. Through a process called thermogenesis skunk cabbages can raise their internal temperature to as much as 70 degrees F. in the flower bud to melt their way through Ice and snow. That’s the splotchy maroon and yellow flower over on the left. The outer splotchy part is the spathe and inside is the spadix, which holds the flowers. They should be blooming soon.

I got lost in the curled tip of a cinnamon fern for a bit, trying to get a shot of what I saw.

Skunk cabbages aren’t always easy to find. I took this photo of a melted spot in the swamp to show you that it was warming up and I thought that it was too bad there wasn’t a skunk cabbage in the shot. When I got home and looked at the photo, I got my wish. The finger like growth on the left is the skunk cabbage I didn’t see, even though I was looking right at it.

This might not look like much but this is how winter often ends here, with the south facing slopes melting off first. It’s always nice to see it happening. Of course we could get another two feet of snow tomorrow, but that can’t change the fact that it is warming up and the ground is thawing.

Tree melt rings are another good sign of spring’s approach. I’ve read that they happen when trees reflect the heat from the sun enough to melt the snow around them.

I was hoping that I could get this shot full of dark eyed juncos, which line the bare sides of the roads in winter and spring, picking seeds from between the stones, but I’ve seen just a few birds this year and most of those were here in my own yard. I don’t like the thought of our birds disappearing and I hope that it’s just my imagination, but it seems like it was just two or three years ago when they were everywhere for most of the winter.

Mud is another sure sign that spring is near hereabouts. Though it makes an awful mess on cars, shoes, and anything else that gets near it, I think most of us are happy to see it. Mud season doesn’t last all that long, usually.

I happened to walk past a Cornelian cherry shrub and thought I’d check to see how it was coming along. I didn’t see any signs of its early yellow flowers yet but it’s an early bloomer.

I walked past the Cornelian cherry to get to the vernal (spring blooming) witch hazels and I saw flowers there. Here were some petals just about to unfurl from the bud.

And here were some almost completely unfurled. What a beautiful thing to see after this cold and icy winter we’ve had. Spring, even the thought of spring, warms my insides first.

And the flowers were even spilling pollen onto their petals already, hoping to entice an early bee or two. I haven’t seen one yet but it shouldn’t be long. These flowers are normally very fragrant but I couldn’t smell them om this day. I think more sunshine and warm days will bring out the fragrance.

I saw the moon in the afternoon sky and though I didn’t have a tripod with me I thought I’d try to get a shot of it. Surprisingly, this is the result. It’s grainy but at least you can tell it’s the moon. The first full moon in spring is called the worm moon here because the ground is thawed enough for earthworms to be active again.

I think for me spring, more than anything else, means softness. In winter in New England everything freezes and contracts and gets very hard. The ground is like concrete for months but in spring things begin to loosen and soften. It’s a soft, sweet time and I’m very much looking forward to it. I hope spring is wonderful wherever you are.

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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You might have read in the last post that I have bought a new camera. I had a couple of quick photos I took with it that I added to that post but I always like to put a camera through its paces and see what it can do before I start using it for day-to-day blogging, and that’s what this post is about. I was happy to see what it can do with window frost in microscope mode. This is one of the best shots of frost I’ve ever taken. I love seeing things like this that are right there in plain sight but are rarely seen. How something so flat can look so 3 dimensional I don’t know, but it was beautiful.

These frost crystals were on the mirror of a truck. I’ve never seen them grow curved like this. The detail was so fine It was as if they had been etched into the glass.

To think that something so beautiful could live on the mirror of a truck. It’s a good example of why I always try to be aware of my surroundings and look closely at whatever is near. You never know what you might see. Life life has put beauty in our path at every turn but if we don’t see it, we have only ourselves to blame. Because this was a mirror you can see the reflection of the camera lens behind the crystals in some of these shots. It’s a bit distracting but there wasn’t any way to hide or camouflage it.

Here was another curvy frost crystal on a mirror. They’re very beautiful but also delicate; one warm breath or a ray of sunlight and you’ve lost your subject.

This shot is of sunlight coming through a frozen jelly fungus, which is always a hard shot. I should have tried for better depth of field. If you ask it to, this camera will use photo stacking to improve depth of field, and I’ve heard that it is amazing. I’m going to have to try it.

This small icicle was full of bubbles and it was also smaller in diameter than a pencil. This camera really excels at macro photography and since that’s what I bought it for, that was what I was most interested in.

This is the midrib of a feather.

Here was the seedhead of a purple coneflower. Birds, I’d guess finches, had been eating the seeds and revealed the beautiful spirals hidden inside.

I saw a cocoon of some sort on an old door where I work. It was cottony and full of holes, and as big around as my finger and maybe an inch and a half long. I saw what looked like tiny flies on it. If you know what insect made it, I’d like to know.

Whatever they were they were too small to get a good shot of, even in microscope mode. I don’t know if they came from this cocoon or were just stuck in its wooliness. In any event they were no longer alive.

I’ve been trying to get this shot looking down a beech leaf off and on since last fall and the new camera pulled it off with ease, though the depth of field could have been better.

The last Olympus camera I had, the Stylus TG-870, wasn’t worth much when it came to landscapes, at least in my opinion, so I wanted to test its zoom capabilities. This oak leaf frozen in the ice was shot at full zoom in auto mode. I thought the camera did a fair job of it.

This shot of dry rot on a standing dead tree was shot in microscope mode from about 4 inches away. I was surprised because I thought you had to be closer to the subject to use microscope mode. This camera hs two macro modes and three microscope modes and you can get as close as 1 cm. The missing piece of wood was about as big as an average postage stamp and for microscope mode that’s huge, so I probably didn’t need to use it.

I found a tree full of lichens. This is where I would need microscope mode again.

My first choice was a beautiful star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris.) It was maybe three quarters of an inch across. It was cold at about 20 degrees F. and this lichen was in the shade. Now that I see the photo it looks like there was frost on the apothecia.

I think this was the Eastern speckled shield lichen (Punctelia bolliana.) According to what I’ve read it grows on the bark of deciduous trees, has a bluish gray body with large brown apothecia, and has brown to black dots (pycnidia) on the surface of the body. I think this one checks all of those boxes.

I would call this color bright red but the Eastern speckled shield lichen’s description says the apothecia should be brown, and my color finding software sees rosy brown, so I can’t argue. What you see here averages about .08 to .12 inches across. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to get this close to a lichen and I don’t know of a DSLR lens that could.

This shot of a smoky eye boulder lichen is another example of what microscope mode will do. I never knew this lichen’s apothecia sat on top of the body (thallus) in that way. I’m going to have a lot of fun using this camera but I should take a little more time and use a tripod. I also want to try stacking in microscope mode. It will stack as many as 7 shots together for amazing depth of field.

These are the bracts that the flower petals come out of on a witch hazel. They are tiny little cups that I could barely see, but the camera found them. I hope to see petals on the spring blooming witch hazels soon.

This camera’s lens is an F 2.0, which is considered a “fast” lens. That means it has good light gathering capabilities due to a larger aperture, so I tested it one recent early morning at this stream. I’ve had to lighten the photo just a bit but at full zoom in what was barely dawn, it did fairly well for a point and shoot camera that is smaller than a 3 X 5 card. All in all so far, I’m really happy with it and I think I’m going to have a lot of fun with it. The fact that it will do landscapes is a pleasant surprise. In case you missed it in the last post, the camera is an Olympus TG-6. It is a field camera that many scientists use in the field because it is so tough. It is water, dust and shock resistant, heat and cold resistant, and it takes incredible photos, either on land or under water. If you’re interested in macro photography this is a relatively inexpensive camera that will take you anywhere you’d care to go.

The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera. ~Dorothea Lange

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