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Posts Tagged ‘Winter Woods’

According to statistics November is on average the cloudiest month in this part of the country, but as you can see by the above photo not every day is totally cloudy. This was one of those blue sky, white puffy cloud days and I took this photo because of the clouds. That lower one was growing quickly and I thought it might become a thunderhead, but it never did. It just got bigger.

Many of the photos in this post were taken before the snowstorm I showed in the last post. Snow or not I won’t be seeing anymore fleabane flowers for a few months now. It’s just too cold now for flowers.

November can be a very cold month, when we start to really realize that winter is right around the corner. Frost on the windows helps remind us of that, and I caught this frost crystal growing on my car winshield. They’re beautiful things that most of us pay no attention to.

Ponds are starting to freeze up as well. Bright sunshine has little real warmth in November unless it is coupled with a southerly breeze.

I went to the river to see if any ice baubles had formed along the shore but I got sidetracked for a bit by the beautiful light.

I’ve never seen this stretch of water look gold and blue like it did on this morning.

It was like seeing molten light. None of these colors have been enhanced by me. Nature did all the enhancing.

And on another, colder day, there were ice baubles growing along the shore. If you’ve ever made a candle, you know that you dip the wick in hot wax over and over again, letting the wax harden between dips. If you think of the twigs as wicks, you can see how every wave crest “dips” the twigs in water and the cold air hardens that water into ice. Over time, ice baubles like those seen here form.

Twigs aren’t the only thing that the ice forms on. Anything that the water splashes on over and over will ice up.

The ice baubles are usually as clear as blown glass but on this day a lot of them had air bubbles trapped inside. Many of these examples were nearly round as well but they’re often more pear shaped. Along a river or stream is the only place I’ve ever seen them form in this way, though I suppose they could form anywhere where there is splashing water in winter.

On shore, the sun lit up an oak leaf beautifully.

Some of the biggest oak leaves I’ve ever seen belong to the swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor.) This is a rare species in the woods here but in 2010 the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services removed a 250-year-old timber crib dam in this section of river, and when they replanted the river banks, they chose swamp white oak as one of the tree species. Though the trees are barely 10 feet tall this leaf must have been 8 inches long. Brown is the fall color for the leaves of this oak. The New Hampshire state record for the largest swamp white oak is held by a tree in Swanzey. It is 67 feet tall and has a circumference of 192 inches. That’s 16 feet, so I’m not sure if even 4 people could link hands around a tree that size.

One characteristic of swamp white oak is peeling bark on its branches, giving it a ragged look. On young trees like these even the bark of the trunk will peel, as it was on this example. Planting this species of tree here makes sense because it is tolerant of a variety of soil conditions and can stand drought or flood. The only thing they can’t bear is beavers, and these critters have cut down and hauled off many of them.

When I was taking photos of this tree’s branches I looked down and sure enough, beavers had been at its bark. This tree is a goner, I’m afraid. It has been girdled.

At this time of year, when the soil starts to freeze but before any snow falls, you can often hear the soil crunch when you walk on it. That’s the signal that you should get down on your hands and knees and peer down into those tiny frozen canyons. If you do you’re liable to find ice needles there, because the crunching you heard was probably them breaking. Several things have to happen before needle ice can form. First there has to be groundwater. Next, the air temperature has to fall below 32 degrees F right at the soil surface while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape, and that needles have been found that were 16 inches long. The needles in these photos were 1-3 inches long I’d guess, and they were frozen into ribbons. They’re another of those gems of nature that many never see.

Puddle ice has been a friend of mine for a very long time. When I was a boy, after the snow melted in spring, I’d get my bike out and ride it to school. It was still cold enough for ice to form on the puddles and I used to think it was great fun to ride through them so I could hear the strange tinkling / crinkling sounds that the breaking ice made. I have since found out that the whiter the ice, the more oxygen was present in the water when it formed. These days instead of breaking the ice I look for things in it. This time I thought I saw a penguin in that curvy shape to the right of center.

I saw a pair of mallards but this is the only shot that came out useable. I thought this was unusual because usually one will tip up while the other stands guard and watches.

An oriental bittersweet vine had reached the top of a small tree and many of its berries had fallen into a bird’s nest, built where the branches met underneath the bittersweet. Birds love these berries but I think the bird that built this nest must be long gone for warmer climes. These vines are terribly invasive so the fewer berries eaten by birds, the better.

The birds have been eating the river grapes, finally.

They have plenty to eat. It has been an exceptional year for grapes and many other plants.

I love that shade of blue on juniper berries. A waxy coating called bloom reflects the light in a way that makes them that color. I always wonder how many gin drinkers know that the unique flavor in their drink comes from this plant’s fruits. Though they’re called berries, botanically speaking juniper fruits are actually fleshy seed cones. Unripe green berries are used to flavor gin and the ripe, deep purple-black berries are the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice, often used on game like venison, moose and bear meat. Birds also love them so they won’t last long.

The winterberries (Ilex verticillata) are covered with berries this year. This native holly holds its berries through the winter and they look great against the white snow. They have a very low-fat content and birds won’t eat them until other fruits with higher fat contents have been eaten. Other plants that fruit in the fall like maple leaf viburnum, high bush cranberry, and staghorn sumac also produce fruit that is low in fat content. That’s why you often see these plants with the previous season’s berries still on them in the spring. Due to the light of the day all three cameras I carried had a hard time with these berries but I wasn’t surprised because red is one of the hardest colors for a camera to capture.

I found a very old hemlock log. The branches had been cut off long ago but the stubs that were left were amazing in their texture. It was if someone had carved them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before.

Orange fan shaped jelly fungi (Dacryopinax spathularia) grew on the dark end of a log and looked like tiny lights. Actually they were more nose shaped than spatula shaped but I’ve found that fungi don’t always live up to what they were named. In the winter they’re a pretty spot of color in a white world.

But for color in winter turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) have to take the prize. These examples were beautiful, and they wore my favorite turkey tail color combinations.

I saw this foreboding sky at dawn one morning. I thought it was beautiful and I hope you’ll think so too.

In a few blinks you can almost see the winter fairies moving in
But first, you hear the crackle of their wings. ~Vera Nazarian

Thanks for stopping in.

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Last Saturday I had a plan, but so did nature. It had been raining the night before when I turned out the lights but then it got cold enough to change the rain to snow, and in the morning my world had gone white. If you read this post you might want to turn up the heat and get something warm to drink.

My plan was to climb Mount Caesar in Swanzey, seen above, and since the snow barely measured two inches that wasn’t going to stop me. Instead the cold kept me back. It was about 22 degrees F. with a strong wind that made it feel much colder, so I decided to let it be. It takes a while to get used to that kind of cold and I haven’t seen enough of it to be used to it yet. By February 22 degrees will feel balmy.

So instead of following my plan I drove around looking for snowy scenes like this one to show you. I know many of you don’t get the kind of snow we get here and some of you never have snow at all, and I know many of you like to see it.

I chose to drive along an old class 6 road in Swanzey. Class 6 roads have no winter maintenance, so it won’t be long before this road is impassable to all but four-wheel drive trucks. You would have a rough walk ahead of you if you got stuck out here in winter, so I stay away.

On this day the road was easily passable and I was glad I chose it, because the forest views were pretty. When it rains before it snows the snowflakes stick to everything, so everything becomes covered in white.

Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) are evergreen but heavy wet snow can flatten their fronds. These weren’t flat but by spring they will be. Once they get completely buried under snow they usually stay that way until spring. Only when the new fronds, or fiddleheads, appear in spring do the previous season’s fronds turn yellow and then finally brown. The dead fronds then form a mat around the living fern that helps prevent soil erosion.

Some of the smaller ponds had frozen and beech and oak leaves were trapped in the ice.

Other leaves were just beautiful. You can always count on seeing at least some color, even on a snowy day.

Beech trees provide a lot of color in winter.

Sometimes the blue of the sky seems to be the only color I can see.

Bright sunshine broke through the forest but it held little real warmth.

In full sunshine the snow-covered forest was beautiful. As William Sharp once noted “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 happened upon a small stream that was also clad in radiance. It isn’t cold enough to freeze streams and rivers yet, but it probably won’t be long if temperatures like these keep up.

I thought I might see some ice starting to grow along the stream edges but there wasn’t any.

There was quite a lot of aquatic grass growing in the stream and I loved the way it moved with the current. I don’t know if it was eelgrass or something else. It was a little cool to go wading to find out.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) is another plant that adds a little color in the winter.

Mallards swam happily in water that was probably a lot warmer than the air was.

The rain falls equally on all things, and so does the snow.

There is grass under there and I took this photo to show you just how little snow we had gotten. It was loud, icy snow that crunched when you walked on it. Luckily there wasn’t enough of it to have to shovel. Maybe 2 inches in some places but I’d say it averaged maybe an inch or so over all.

Every twig on this tree was covered, but it’s hard to see that in this shot.

This shot of a hillside across Swanzey Lake shows that not a single tree escaped the snow. As wintery as it might look the sun did its work and most of it had melted by the end of the day.

Snow or not the witch hazels still bloomed. These flowers are pollinated by owlet moths, which purposely shiver to keep warm. They can raise their temperature as much as 50 degrees, and this allows them to fly and search for food when it’s cold.

I hope you enjoyed this unexpected post and I hope it didn’t make you feel too cold. There’s nothing quite as beautiful as the first snowfall and I’m glad that it happened on a weekend so I could show it to you immediately after it happened, when the snow was fresh.

The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found? ~ J. B. Priestley

Thanks for coming by.

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Every year at this time I like to go and see 40 foot falls up in Surry. It’s a very dark place because of the tree canopy, but once the leaves fall it opens up enough to take photos. It’s the only place I know of with a waterfall that you can get close to. We’d had quite a bit of rain the day before so on this day it was roaring.

This trip comes with a price and that is the climb. It can be a little dicey, especially on wet oak leaves, but if you’re careful it isn’t too bad. I found a nice straight and stout tree branch to use as a walking stick.

Years ago I read somewhere that you should slow down water in a photo to show movement. Now, I’m fairly certain that anyone who reads this blog knows that falling water has motion but just in case someone comes by who doesn’t, here it is in full slow motion. I’ve always thought that it was really done so a photographer could show off their camera skills, but that’s just my opinion and I should probably keep it to myself.

I prefer the real myself, and this is as real as it gets. By the way, that boulder over there wouldn’t fit in a pickup truck. Not only does this water have motion, it has great force as well. You’ll most likely note all the downed trees in these shots. They aren’t saplings; they’re mature trees. Or they were, anyway. When this brook floods people tremble. Severe flooding in August of 2003 washed away large parts of the road that the brook parallels, and flooded houses. I’ve read enough about it to know that I don’t want to be anywhere near here if it happens again.

What I believe were late fall oyster mushrooms (Panellus serotinus) grew on on a log. Oyster mushrooms exude “extracellular toxins” that stun fungi eating nematodes, and once the nematode has been stunned mycelium invades its body through its orifices. The mushrooms also consume bacteria in order to get nitrogen and protein, and all of this means that oyster mushrooms are a truly carnivorous mushroom.

Here is a look at the underside of one of those oyster mushrooms. I’ve read that the late fall variety are chewy and nearly tasteless, but I’ve never tried them.

A large number of smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) grew on a boulder. Their fruiting bodies (apothecia) were beautifully blue and the bodies (Thallus) were golden just like they are at Beaver Brook. I think this is the first time I’ve seen them looking like this outside of the Beaver Brook Natural Area. This is a very beautiful lichen and is one of my favorites so I was happy to find them. It’s like finding jewels sprinkled on the rock.

There are three waterfalls along this section of the brook. We’ve seen the lower falls and this is the middle falls. I think this one is the most photogenic.

There used to be a snowmobile trail up here with a bridge that crossed the brook but flooding tore it apart. This steel cable is all that’s left and it’s slowly being engulfed by trees.

Other miscellaneous pieces like this steel strap can be found here and there.

An old culvert once ran under the trail but the soil of the trail has been washed away.

A tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius) grew on a dead tree. The Fomes part of the scientific name means “tinder” and the fomentarius part means “used for tinder.” They are called tinder fungi because of their age-old use as tinder to start fires. The Cree tribe of Native Americans used these fungi to carry coals from one place to another. Tinder polypores produce huge amounts of spores; measurements in the field have shown that they release as many as 800 million spores per hour in the spring and summer. They grow on dead deciduous trees and logs. This one was quite pretty, I thought.

This is the first place I ever saw beech scale (Cryptococcus fagisuga) and unfortunately it is still here. Excessive feeding by this scale insect causes two different fungi, Neonectria faginata and Neonectria ditissima, to produce annual cankers or blisters on the bark of the tree. The continuous formation of lesions around the tree eventually girdles it, resulting in canopy death. It has killed many trees.

Heartleaf foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) grew in a small colony that I’ve never noticed here before. They’re one of our prettiest late spring flowers and are easy to spot because of their hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks. Native plants have leaves that are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with maroon or brown. Many hybrids have been created and foam flowers are now popular in garden centers and are grown in gardens as much for their striking foliage as the flowers. They are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

Now we’re up above the middle falls, and we’re done climbing.

Because you don’t climb that. I can’t guess how deep this canyon is but I do know that I wouldn’t want to be up there on the rim.

The stream bed is course gravel, made up of stones that have presumably fallen or have been washed from the canyon walls.

The boulder against that tree wasn’t there the last time I was here. You can see how all of the bark has been scoured from the base of the trees, most likely from stones hitting them. Losing their bark kills them and then the brook then just tears them out by the roots and washes them downstream.

After all the roar and white water the upper falls are a bit anti climactic. I don’t know where the name “40 foot falls” comes from because the upper falls don’t look 40 feet high and the brook is far more than 40 feet long in this section of falls. I’ve tried many times to find the origin of the name but have had no luck. As I was writing this post, I found a website that claimed the falls and brook are on private land and are posted no trespassing, but that isn’t true. I’ve never seen a no trespassing sign in this area and since I don’t ignore them, this post would never have appeared if I had. I have no idea who actually owns the land but I would thank them for allowing people on it if I did.

Now comes the trip down. Parts of it are so steep and slippery with leaves I have to sit and slowly slide down, so if you come here you might want to wear sturdy pants as well as sturdy, waterproof shoes.

I saw that some mushrooms had hidden themselves inside a hollow tree stump. More late fall oysters, I’d guess.

Coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) grew in a sunny spot. I always tell myself that I’ll come back in the spring to see the flowers but by then I’ve usually forgotten that I’ve seen them.

Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) were dotted here and there on the forest floor. They are one of 5 or 6 evergreen ferns found in these woods, and their common name is thought to come from the early settler’s habit of using its fronds as Christmas decorations. Native Americans used the Christmas fern to treat chest ailments like pneumonia and to relieve flu symptoms.

If you look closely you can see that each Christmas fern leaf has a tiny “toe,” which makes it look like a Christmas stocking. Another unusual thing about Christmas fern is the shape of its fronds, which start off narrow at the base, widen in the middle, and then get narrow again at the tip. Most ferns have fronds that taper gradually; widest at the base and narrower towards the tip.

It is clear that nature rules here and maybe that’s why I come. There are few places left in this area where you can find the kind of untamed wildness found here. It makes you feel small, and everybody should feel small now and then. It keeps us humble and helps us keep life in perspective. In fact studies have shown that people who often feel a sense of awe and amazement at the vastness of nature and creation were more likely to be compassionate toward others, and more ethical when making decisions. So there is another reason to get into the woods.

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

Thanks for stopping in.

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I was happy to wake up one morning and see a thick mist rolling across the landscape. This isn’t rare here but it is rare to have it happen on a day off when I have time to run out and play in it. That’s why you see so few misty blog posts here. I quickly got myself together and off I went, into the mist.

At first being in such heavy mist seemed a bit like trying to breathe under water and I wondered if my weakened lungs would stand for it, but as usual seeing the beauty of the forest took me away to that magical place where there are no cares, and I quickly forgot about breathing issues. If, when you come out of the forest, you immediately give attention to your time spent there, you find that there were no problems to solve while you were there, no yesterdays or tomorrows to worry about, only the joy of what was happening right then and there. Nothing else existed for you. This is why, I believe, people seek out wild places, and this is why people like Jane Goodall say things like “It was in the forest that I found the peace that passeth all understanding.”

And the beeches might have seemed more beautiful than you had ever imagined they could be. How could you have missed such beauty, such serenity, and such sheer joy for so long, you might wonder. Don’t wonder; just be thankful that you have found what you have, because now, as John Muir said: “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

The sun kept trying to break through the mist and I kept trying to get a shot of it happening, but neither of us had much success.

What I believe was a crust fungus called Phlebia radiata, or wrinkled crust fungus, had formed a cup and it was holding water. In fact the mist was so thick on this day that everything was wet and dripping.

I admired the perfectly round holes an insect had made in a pine tree, which was now a log. I once knew what made these pencil size holes but I have forgotten, and it really doesn’t matter anyhow. At least to me it doesn’t matter. It might matter quite a lot to the forestry students at Yale University who come out here to practice their craft.

Wood ear fungi (Auricularia auricula-judae) listened to the silence. This “winter mushroom” is usually found on fallen branches in winter and early spring. It’s one of the jelly fungi and it feels just like your earlobe. They can have some color but these examples were fairly pale. My color finding software sees “peach puff.”

I saw that the mist seemed far off now. It wasn’t as close or as thick as when I had started.

And over there bright sunshine was falling on the beaver swamp. It was luminous, and it reminded me of the luminists; those American painters who tried to capture the quality of light.

Here is a fine example of a luminist painting. It was painted in 1875 by by Frederic Edwin Church, who called it “Autumn.” Luminism shared an interest in the quality of light with impressionism but that was about all they shared. There were a lot of technical differences like the quality of brush strokes between them, but I won’t go into all of that. Luminism lasted from about 1850 to 1870, and was concerned not only with light, but mood as well. Luminist paintings are calm and tranquil, with soft hazy skies and reflections in the water, just like what I found here in Yale Forest.

But here in Yale Forest all thoughts of Luminism quickly evaporated because the sun had won out and the misty atmosphere had left the place. I supposed I’d have to turn to the impressionists for the rest of my walk. It really is amazing how fast mist can disappear. I’ve raced up hillsides hoping to get shots of mist in the valley below, only to find no mist and the sun shining brightly when I reached the summit.

I found quite a few partridge berries (Mitchella repens) that the turkeys had missed at the the base of a tree. They are interesting so they’re worth a closer look.

What is amazing about these small berries is how a single berry originates from two flowers. The ovaries of the two flowers join and form one berry that contains 8 seeds, and the two dimples found on the berries tell the story of where the flowers once were. Partridgeberry is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high.

I saw a fungal garden growing on the end of a log.

And I saw some more pixie cup lichens forming. Isn’t it funny how you can go all of your life without seeing something but then when you finally do see it, you start seeing it everywhere?

There are still lots of fallen trees out here. The wind has really ravaged the place over the last couple of years, it seems.

But there was little wind on this day. It was still early in the morning and it was a beautiful day to be outside. I wasn’t too far from the beaver pond when I took this photo.

You have to cross what was a small stream to get to the beaver pond. It has gotten wider over the years so what I was once able to step over I now have to jump over. I’m always a little wary of jumping when I’m off in the woods alone but I came back unscathed. I’d rather jump than try to walk across on slippery rocks. I have a friend who tried that and ended up nursing cracked ribs for a few months.

I saw that someone had pulled the beaver dam apart again. This might seem cruel to some but it is neccessary when beavers build dams too near human structures. There is a busy road near here that has nearly flooded due to beaver dams, so the highway department keeps a close eye on them.

I’ve taken beaver dams apart and taking apart even a small one like this is hard work. They use stones, mud and branches to weave a very strong dam. It would easily take two men all afternoon just to do what we see here.

The stone wall going down into the beaver pond says two things; that this was once farmland and that the beavers came along after the wall was built.

The beaver pond drains off into the woods and the woods are turning into a swamp. Along this stream is where I come in spring to find the beautiful woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum.)

I also come out here to see hundreds of goldthread plants (Coptis groenlandicum) in bloom in spring. Their shiny evergreen leaves make them easy to find at any time of year.

A cinnamon fern hung on to one last leaf.

But I’m sure it must be part of this pile by now.

As I was leaving I saw an old man, asleep in a pine branch, with a jelly fungus for moustache. I took a couple of quick shots and let him sleep. I hoped his dreams were pleasant ones.

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

Thanks for coming by. I hope this post helped make your day a little brighter, and I hope everyone will have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

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There is an old stone wall in Swanzey that I like to follow in winter because it has a southern exposure, and that coupled with evergreen branches overhead usually means that very little snow is on the ground. This year though, I got there to find that all the pine trees along the wall had been cut so there was snow right up to the wall. It’s still a great place to explore, so the bit of snow I got in my hiking boots didn’t really bother me. The reason the stones look like they do in this photo is because they are almost completely covered by rock greenshield lichens (Flavoparmelia baltimorensis).

Rock greenshield lichens are very common in this area and are another of those bits of nature that you see so often they no longer register, but when you take the time to look closer you find that they are quite pretty. They must like it here because they cover entire lengths of this wall. It had rained all day the day before so all the lichens I saw were at peak beauty.

The bushy rock lichen (Ramalina intermedia) I first found here a couple of years ago has grown quite a lot and there are even smaller ones growing under it now. Lichen communities grow in succession with many varieties of crustose lichens as pioneers. Foliose lichens come next as intermediary species and finally fruticose lichens like this one are considered climax species. What I don’t know is, how much time is between pioneer and climax? Climax communities of lichens are considered “old growth” communities.

The sun tried to come out but the clouds won the battle.

I believe there must have been animals kept here in the past because holes were drilled into stones and steel rods inserted into them to increase the wall height by about a foot and a half. Each rod has a flattened tip with a hole in it and the hole most likely had wire passed through it. It was fairly common practice in New England.  Stone walls were usually too low to be effective and cows and other farm animals often jumped right over them, so their height was increased by adding wire or other materials. You had to pay a fine if your animals escaped and were caught roaming free. They were brought to the town pound and the owner had to pay to get them back plus the cost of feeding them.

As the steel ground against the granite over the years the holes were made bigger so cut nails were driven in beside the rods to keep them straight. The cut nails seen here date the steel rods to sometime between 1800 and 1900, but the wall itself has been here I think since the mid-1700s.

Because it’s so warm near stone walls in the winter plants like to grow along them. Common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) thrives here. This European native is common here and has been used medicinally for centuries. Its leaves have also been used as a tea substitute and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the early settlers brought it with them.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) also does well here along the wall. In fact there is an amazing variety of plants growing on or near this wall. Native Americans used tea made from mullein’s large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

This is a shot of one of the roots of a very old pine stump. They looked to be slowly rotting away but the wave pattern in this one caught my eye. You don’t see things like this every day.

Pixie cup lichens (Cladonia asahinae) grow all along the wall. The tiny little golf tee shaped parts are the fruiting bodies of this lichen. Spores produced in them will be splashed out of the cup by raindrops.  Pixie cups almost always produce large groups of fruiting bodies like these.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) grow all along the wall in sunnier spots. They are quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun.

All of the sudden I’m seeing lots of chipmunks, and here was a chipmunk burrow. These little rodents, bigger than a mouse but smaller than a squirrel, store food for winter in underground chambers and stay underground until spring. In spring they’re usually very hungry, hence all the activity. They love to run along stone walls as well and often follow me through the woods that way, chirping and chucking the whole way.

Some of the stones here are like quilts with such a patchwork of lichens on them.

The most common stone walls in this area are “tossed walls.” Farmers worked from dawn to dusk in Colonial New England and tossed walls required the least amount of time and effort because smaller stones were literally tossed or thrown on top of one another. In the early years getting rid of the plentiful stones quickly and efficiently was more important than enclosing the fields, but this farmer took the time to build a seat into this wall. It’s at the perfect height to sit on (I tried it) and wide enough for two people.

Near the stone seat is an iron ring in the wall where a horse could be hitched. Both the stone seat and hitching ring are in the shadiest part of this property so it makes perfect sense that this would be the place to sit and have lunch.

The farmer could even have had black raspberries for lunch, in season. They grow in several places along the wall.

As time passed barbed wire was often added to stone walls to keep animals in or out. This wire grew out of the very center of a pine tree, so it was tacked onto the tree quite a while ago. Running their saw into steel wire is one of a wood cutter’s worst nightmares come true but many things have been found inside trees, from axe heads to gravestones to even bicycles.

This chain hook is one of my favorite bits of antique iron work that I find here. A link from a chain would have been hooked over it and then another link hooked over a similar hook a certain distance away. Chains were (and are) often hung across roads or driveways as a way to say “no admittance.”  What I like about this example is the way the blacksmith tapered the hook over its length and finally ended it in what looks like a dragon’s tail. You can still see the marks of the hammer all along its length. It’s a beautiful thing and if I owned it, especially since my grandfather was a blacksmith, it would be considered a work of art.

Even in silhouette pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) can be readily identified by the long stalks that held its berries. What surprised me by these plants is how they were still standing. Pokeweed stems weaken quickly at ground level and it doesn’t usually take much snow to bring them down. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

A small oak tree hung on to its fall color and was beautiful on this cloudy, wet day. I loved seeing its bright cheery colors.

The truth is not in the touch of a stone, but in what the stone tells you. ~Rene Denfeld

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For this post I’m going to try to take you through February, starting with the photo of puddle ice above. February was a cold and icy month but beautiful too. The average February temperature usually runs between 16.5°F (-8.6°C) and 31.5°F (-0.3°C) so ice doesn’t come as a surprise.

February was also a snowy month with storm after storm coming through. According to state records in Concord, the state capital, on average snow falls for 10.2 days in February and typically adds up to about 7.36 inches. We’ve had all of that, as the waist high snowbanks on the side of the road I travel to work on show.

The snow and ice might have built up but the finger of open water in Half Moon Pond reached further out into the pond each day. In February days have the least amount sunshine with an average of only about 4 hours per day, so things like this take time. The clouds seen in this shot are typical on an average February day.

But the sun does shine and slowly, the days get longer.

I’ve read that the reflection of sunlight from snow can nearly double the intensity of the Sun’s UV radiation. This photo of a fertile sensitive fern frond was taken in natural light that was reflecting off the snow and it looks like I used a flash.  

Here is another sensitive fern fertile frond which has released its spores. This was another attempt at catching sunlight on snow. It isn’t easy to do because it’s so very bright. If you stare at it too long you can experience snow blindness, which thankfully is usually only temporary. Still, bright sunlight on snow isn’t good for the eyes especially if you have glaucoma, so I try to always wear sunglasses.

Animals like turkeys, deer and squirrels have been digging up the snow looking for acorns.

And then one day the sunshine was different; it felt like a warm breath, and the melting began in earnest. That’s how spring always begins, but it is something that can never be proven to those who don’t believe. It doesn’t matter if it is February, March or April, spring always begins with that sense; the knowing that something has changed. You feel it and you know it but you can’t explain it, even though you know that from this point on there will be other, more visible signs.

Anything dark colored like this white cedar branch absorbed warmth from the sun and melted down into the snow.

Here a basswood tree limb was doing the same.

At this time of year each tree in the forest may have a melt ring around it as the basswood in the above shot does. A study done by Emeritus Professor of Botany Lawrence J. Winship of Hampshire College, where he used an infrared thermometer to measure heat radiated by tree trunks, found that the sunny side of a red oak was 54 degrees F. while the shaded side was just 29 degrees F. And the ground temperature was also 29 degrees, which means it was frozen. This shows that trees really absorb a lot of heat from the sun and it must be that when the heat is radiated back into the surroundings it melts the snow. The professor found that the same was true on fence posts and stumps so the subject being alive had nothing to do with it, even though a living tree should have much more heat absorbing water in it.

As the snow melts things that fell on it months ago reappear, like these basswood berries (actually nutlets). That bract is a modified leaf, called a tongue by some, which helps the berries fly on the winds. These didn’t make it very far from the tree however. Native Americans used many parts of the basswood tree, including the berries, as food and also boiled its sweet sap. The fibers found in the tree’s bark were used to make twine and cordage used for everything from sewing to snowshoes. In fact the word “bass” is a mispronunciation of the Native word “bast”, which is their word for one of the types of fiber made from the tree.

No longer moistened by snow melt, this moss growing on a stone was looking quite dry. From here on out it will have to depend on rain.

As the sun warms stones many times you’ll see the frost coming out of them. That’s what the white was in this shot. It doesn’t usually last long so it’s one of those being in the right place at the right time things.

Maple syrup makers hung their sap buckets about the third week of February as usual. Nobody knows when or where sap gathering started but most agree that it was learned from Native Americans. They used to cut a V notch into the bark of a tree and then put a wedge at the bottom of the cut. The sap would drip from the wedge into buckets made of bark or woven reeds, or sometimes into wooden bowls. They would then boil it down until it thickened and became syrup. Since it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup sap gathering was and still is a lot of work.

Winter dark fireflies (Ellychnia corrusca) have appeared on trees. According to Bugguide.net, these fireflies can be a pest in sap buckets in the spring because they like maple sap, and they will also drink from wounds in maple trees. They like to sun themselves on the sunny side of trees or buildings, and this one was happy to do so on an old oak. Most fireflies live as larvae in rotting wood and forest litter near water and stay in the area they were born in, even as adults. They like it warm and humid but they weren’t getting much of either on this February day. They don’t seem to be afraid of people at all; I’ve gotten quite close to them several times.

Buoyed by sap flow and insect activity I thought I’d visit the swamp where the skunk cabbages grow and see if they were up yet.

They were up and that tells me the hazelnuts will most likely be flowering before long. Inside the skunk cabbage’s mottled spathe is the spadix, which is a one inch round, often pink or yellow, stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. I’d say it’ll be another week or so before I see them. The spathes seem extremely red this year. They’re usually a deep maroon color. Alder catkins, which are also a maroon / purple color, are also red this year, from here to Scotland. I can’t even guess why.

Of course I had to check the bulb beds, and there were indeed shoots up out of the soil. I’m not positive but I think these were crocus. Since I don’t own the bulb bed I can never be 100 percent sure.

Reticulated irises are usually the first bulb to bloom and they were up and looking good, but no buds yet.

In one bed daffodils seemed to be rushing up out of the ground.

These daffodils were about four inches tall, I’d guess. They looked a little blanched from coming up under the snow but they’ll be fine. They won’t bloom for a while though.

The willows are showing their silvery catkins so it won’t be long before the bushes are full of beautiful yellow flowers.

I hoped I’d be able to show you flowers at the end of this post and the spring blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) came through. I was beside myself with joy when I turned a corner and saw them blooming. We might see cold and we might see more snow but there is no turning back now. Spring, my favorite season, has begun in this part of the world. I might have to tie myself to a rock to keep from floating away.

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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The weather people were saying that it was going to warm up so I thought I’d better to get into the man-made canyon on the rail trail up in Westmoreland before the ice started melting. Once the stone starts warming up the ice releases its grip and starts to fall, and I sure don’t want to be here when that starts happening.

Ice here grows as big as tree trunks and when it lets go it often falls all the way across the trail. I’ve never seen the big ones fall but I’ve come here right after they have, and I’ve seen enough to know that I’d rather not be here when it happens.

This isn’t a great year for colored ice but I did see some here and there. This formation was huge.

A few ice climbers were here but most of them had gone by the time I got here. They like to be here quite early in the morning I think, but since it was only 17 ˚ F. when I got up I thought I’d wait a while.

That icicle was longer than I am tall.

Evergreen ferns are still hanging on, even under the ice.

I saw a few snowmobilers. A lot of people complain about them but the arguments for them using the rail trails far outweighs the arguments against them in my opinion because they put a lot of time, money and effort into maintaining the trails. In fact without them many of our trails would no longer exist and thanks to them walking this trail in winter is like walking down a sidewalk. The ice climbers have posted rules to follow and one of them says that snowmobiles always have the right of way. I simply stand to the side and return their waves.

The southern canyon usually has the most colored ice. Blue is the most dense ice and I thought I saw blue in this group. It doesn’t look like the camera saw blue but it still saw plenty of beauty.

My color finding software tells me that the color of this ice is “lemon chiffon.” Pale yellow, I’d guess. You can look these names up and relate them to a specific color but I haven’t bothered.

It also sees orange and tan. I might see tan but I’m not sure about orange.

I thought this ice was green but the software sees pale orange and “wheat”.

I thought we’d agree that this was blue but no, the software sees slate gray.

I couldn’t even guess what color this ice was but the software says “papaya whip,” whatever that is. By the way, if you or someone you know is colorblind just search for “What Color?” color finding software and you’ll find it. It’s free and has no ads.

This shows that the color in the ice doesn’t color it completely sometimes. I still believe that it has to be minerals in the groundwater that color it. I don’t know what else could.

I hoped I might see some red ice stained by iron but there was none. Just lots of staining on the stone.

This ice looked just plain dirty. I’m sure a lot of soil must be washed out of the cracks in the stones by all the groundwater that seeps through them.

I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t much ice on the drainage channels. That’s where you often see the laciest ice.

I needn’t have been disappointed though because just a little further down the trail ice had formed on the channels.

All the variations in ice forms are an endless source of amazement and wonder for me. It’s quite beautiful.

This one that had formed on a stone just above the water surface looked like a fish, I thought.

A young skier was headed for the old lineman’s shack and I thought I’d follow him because that’s where all the sunshine was. He stopped to talk for a bit and said he was trying to do ten miles for the first time. He also said he hoped he’d make it. I hoped so too and wished him well.  

The old lineman’s shack still stands so it looks like it will somehow make it through another winter. When I see it I think of the way things once were and how things were built to last. It continues to surprise me.

I saw what was left of another small bird’s nest near the old shack. It might have been just big enough to hold a hen’s egg with no room to spare. I’d guess that it started life in the V of those two branches.

As I left I looked up and hoped it was warmer out there.

It had just reached freezing (32 ˚F) when I came in here so allowing for the usual 10 degree difference meant that with the breeze it was probably about 20 degrees inside the canyon. After two hours I was ready to leave and I had taken about three times the photos that I could use anyway. There is an awful lot to see in this place, all of it beautiful, but I think the next time I come here the ice will have fallen and it will be more green than white. Thousands of violets bloom here in spring and I want to be here to see them.

The splendor of Silence—of snow-jeweled hills and of ice. ~Ingram Crockett

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You’ve seen a lot of buds on this blog but you haven’t seen many buds from a sweet gum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua). Massachusetts is the northern limit of their natural range but luckily I know a spot at the local college where two or three trees can grow thanks to the radiant heating they get from a massive wall of brick that they grow beside. As buds go these are big; this one was maybe the size of a blueberry, and may be green, red or orange, from what I’ve read. Buds with many scales that overlap like shingles are called imbricate buds. A gummy resin often fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof on northern trees, but I’m not sure how the sweetgum buds waterproof themselves. I can see tiny hairs at the edge of the scales, so maybe that has something to do with it.

The identification of the sweetgum trees came easily because of their strange seed pods. I’ve read that Native Americans used the hardened resin from these trees for chewing gum. The resin was also used in a tea to calm the nerves and, when powdered and mixed with shavings from the tree, was used as incense by the Maya. The resin is said to look like liquid amber, and that’s where the first part of the scientific name, Liquidambar, comes from. I’d love to see it but I doubt the local college would let me tap their trees.

Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some have just one scale called a cap, and some buds are naked, with none at all. The lilac bud (Syringa vulgaris) in the above photo is another good example of an imbricate bud. I was surprised by the lack of gummy resin on these buds. I hope the flower or leaf buds inside aren’t harmed because of it.

The hairy, two part valvate bud scales of the Cornellian cherry are always open just enough to allow a peek inside. The gap between the bud scales will become more yellow as the season progresses and finally clusters of tiny star like yellow flowers will burst from the bud. These buds are small, no bigger than a pea. Cornelian cherry is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (usually March).

Magnolia flower buds in botanical terms are “densely pubescent, single-scaled, terminal flower buds.” The hairy single scale is called a cap and it will fall off only when the bud inside has swollen to the point of blossoming. Just as the plant flowers the ground under it will be littered with these hairy caps for a short time.

Many plants protect their buds with hairs, like the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) shown above. Plants that protect their buds in this way have naked buds, and the hairs take the place of bud scales.  

Red oak (Quercus rubra) buds usually appear in a cluster and are conical and reddish brown. I like the chevron like pattern that the bud scales make. Red oak is one of our most common trees in New England but in the past many thousands were lost to gypsy moth infestations. It is an important source of lumber, flooring and fire wood. The USDA says that red oaks can live to be 500 years old.

Do you think of buds when you see a catkin? A catkin is really just a long string of tiny flowers arranged in a spiral, surrounding a central stalk. Though the bud scales on many of the male alder catkins (Alnus incana) are usually a deep winter purple, this year they seem to be more red. That doesn’t matter because soon they will start to lengthen and become more pliable before turning shades of pink, orange, red and brown. Once that happens they will start to open.

There is no mistaking what you’re seeing when male alder catkins start to open. The bud scales are on short stalks, and when they open they reveal the tiny green yellow flowers they have protected all winter long. Bushes full of them are easily one of the most beautiful spring sights.

Each bud scale has three male flowers beneath, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers covered in yellow pollen. The flower parts are clearly visible in this photo but even though it is heavily cropped they are still tiny. The entire catkin is only about 2 1/2 inches long.

The male flowers of gray birch (Betula populifolia) also appear in catkin form but instead of hanging down they often point straight up, as this one was doing.

The female flowers of gray birch turn into big, drooping clusters of seeds, which are also called catkins. You can see the size, habit and shape difference between the male and female catkins if you compare the large female catkins to the much smaller male one seen in the upper right corner of this photo.

Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) buds, like lilac and others, are imbricate buds with overlapping bud scales. It’s interesting that almost everything about the blueberry is red except for its berry. The new twigs are red, the bud scales are red, and the fall foliage is very red. Though small the buds are beautiful, and one of my favorites.

The chubby little green and purple buds of red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) are also one of my favorites, but I don’t see them very often. Since they have more than two bud scales they are imbricate buds.

Some of the smallest buds I know belong to hawthorns (Crataegus) and the cherry red hawthorn bud in the above photo could easily hide behind a pea. There are over 220 species of hawthorn in North America, with at least one native to every state and Canadian province. In New Hampshire we have 17 species, so the chances of my identifying this example are slim to none. I know the tree in the photo well so I know that its blossoms will be white. Hawthorn berries are called haws and are said to have medicinal value. Native Americans mixed the dried haws and other fruits with dried venison and fat to make pemmican.  The dried flowers, leaves, and haws can be used to make a tea to soothe sore throats, and hawthorn also shows promise for treating heart disease.

Big, black and pointed mountain ash buds (Sorbus americana) often look like they have a single cap like bud scale but they actually have several overlapping scales which are quite sticky. You have to look closely at buds to see what is really going on, so it helps to have a loupe or a macro lens.

Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is supposed to be a very invasive species but they’ve been used for years as landscape trees so the genie has been let out of the bottle and now there is no stopping them. The Norway maple’s terminal bud and stem are larger than the sugar maple’s, and its bud scales are fewer and colored a pleasing maroon. Sugar maples have twice as many bud scales and they are brown. Norway maple terminal buds are also rounded while those of sugar maple are sharply pointed. Norway maple is native to eastern and central Europe and western Asia, from France east to Russia, north to southern Scandinavia and southeast to northern Iran.

Box elder (Acer negundo) is another member of the maple family and its buds and young twigs are often a beautiful blue or purple color due to their being pruinose. Pruinose means a surface is covered in white, powdery, waxy granules that reflect light in ways that often make the surface they are on appear blue. Certain grapes, plums, and blueberries are pruinose fruits. Certain lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen have fruiting bodies (Apothecia) that are pruinose.

Terminal buds appear on the end or terminus of a branch and nothing illustrates that better than the sugar maple (Acer saccharum). The larger, pointed, very scaly bud is flanked by smaller lateral buds on either side. The lateral buds are usually smaller than the terminal bud. Sugar maple twigs and buds are brown rather than red like silver or red maples. I know that the sap is running so these buds will be swelling up and getting bigger before too long. In 2019 New Hampshire produced a below average 148,000 gallons of maple syrup but the season was 5 days shorter shorter due to cold weather. The average price per gallon in 2019 was $31.00. The record price per gallon was $40.70 in 2008.

Red maple flower buds (Acer rubrum) are small and round or oval with short stalks and 4 pairs of bud scales. The bud scales are often purple and / or tomato red and they have a fine fringe of pale hairs on their margins. They are one of the first to open in spring so I watch them closely beginning in March.

I realize that these bud posts probably don’t excite everyone like they do me but I hope people will look beyond all the imbricate, valvate and other fancy scientific labels and simply see the beauty. If the beauty that you see leads you to wonder and mystery, then you can start trying to find out more about what you’ve seen. Some think that beauty comes in the form of snow capped peaks or far off landscapes and indeed it does, but beauty also comes in the form of tiny tree buds. In fact beauty is all around you and the more you look for it the more of it you’ll see. Here’s hoping you’ll see plenty.

If you are open to being taught by nature, go listen to the trees. ~Kenneth Meadows

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Last Saturday was cold but clear with wall to wall sunshine. I decided to take a walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene to see if it had frozen over and was surprised to find that it had frozen over the whole length of the distance I walked.

It looked more like a pasture than a river.

I saw some strange animal tracks on the ice but I couldn’t get close enough to find out what animal they were from. They might have been from a rabbit or squirrel.

Wool grass (Scirpus cyperinus) likes wet places and grows here and there on the riverbank. Though its common name points to a grass this plant is actually in the sedge family. It is also called bulrush. Its seeds are eaten by waterfowl and muskrats will eat its roots. Native Americans used this plant to weave mats, bags and other utilitarian objects. I like its drooping habit.

Something that sets my blood racing at this time of year is bare ground, and I’m seeing more of it wherever I go. The sun gets stronger each day and no matter how many storms we have or how cold it is the snow will melt, starting on southern exposures. You can also see in this shot how the snow on the trail had been packed down by many feet. The going was easy as long as I stayed on the trail.

There were strange looking ice formations on the surface of the river.

There was some snow built up on the bent tree that lives out here. This tree never seems to get any larger.

I thought the beavers might have finished the job they started last fall on this huge oak tree but they’ve abandoned it. Girdling means that the bark has been removed around the entire tree and since the inner bark (cambium) is what carries nutrients and moisture to the crown, a tree cannot survive without it. Anything above the girdling will die.

It really is amazing what beavers can do with their sharp teeth. From what I’ve seen no wood is too hard for them.

I saw a girdled smaller tree and I can say for certain that this was not done by a beaver. I don’t know why anyone would do this unless it was the Keene Parks and Recreation Department wanting to remove trees along the trail. Girdling has been used to remove trees for thousands of years and the Native Americans who once lived and fished in this area surely used it to clear land. Once the trees died and fell on a piece of land the brush and trunks would be burned and the resulting wood ash and whatever rotting wood was left helped to fertilize the land for farming. Girdling is still used by foresters, horticulturalists and land owners today.

I saw many trees that had fallen naturally out here. In fact I see them wherever I go and most of them are white pines and red maples.

I was stopped by the bright, orange-brown color of a blueberry branch in the sunlight. I should have gotten a shot of its small red buds as well.

The sunlight was also caught in the trees and it was so beautifully golden against the deep blue of the sky.

I saw lots of oriental bittersweet berries (Celastrus orbiculatus) still on plants, and that’s a good thing. It means the birds aren’t spreading its seeds around.

Oriental bittersweet vines are as strong as wire and don’t expand as whatever they wrap themselves around grows larger. The alder with bittersweet wrapped around it in this photo will eventually be strangled to death unless something is done.

When it gets cold dark, almost black spots appear on the bark of trees. They are really there all the time but are kind of a lighter reddish color and not quite so noticeable at other times of year when there are so many other things to see. Those who think they’ve never seen a liverwort might want to stop and take a closer look at these dark, lacy blotches because they are Frullania liverworts, one of the few liverworts that can thrive in dry places.

There are about 800 species of Frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. Its leaves are very small and hard to get a good photo of.

Something not quite so pretty as the frullania liverwort is the beech scale (Cryptococcus fagisuga) seen here. Excessive feeding by this scale insect causes two different fungi, Neonectria faginata and Neonectria ditissima, to produce annual cankers or blisters on the bark of the tree. The continuous formation of lesions around the tree eventually girdles it, resulting in canopy death.

You know it’s cold when pine sap turns blue, and we’ve had a cold February. It was about 25° F. (-4° C) on this day.

Yes it was cold but it was also a beautiful sunny day so I stood on the bridge for a while listening to the silence, which was broken only by birdsong and the occasional cracking of river ice. It would have been easy to lose myself and stand here for longer than I did but you have to watch that in winter because frostbite can be a possibility and once you stop moving you cool off fast.

On the way back I thought a contrail looked much like what smoke from a campfire might have looked like long ago. It wasn’t hard to imagine Native lodgings out there somewhere; archeological digs have shown Native Americans were here at least 12,000 years ago.

I decided to check on Ashuelot falls before leaving. They were all splash and foam and remained thawed for the most part.

There were some huge ice formations here and there though. This one looked like the arm and paw of a gigantic polar bear.

Above the falls I saw these strange tracks on the ice. They were big, easily as big as my hand, and I wondered if they might be moose tracks. Moose are occasionally seen in this area. They have even walked through Keene neighborhoods and down city streets. They also occasionally fall through the ice and it’s quite a job getting them back on dry land. An adult male moose can weigh over a thousand pounds.

The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first; be not discouraged – keep on – there are divine things, well envelop’d; I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell. ~Walt Whitman

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Last week I had some back pain that was uncomfortable enough to keep me home from work one day. But if there is one thing I’ve learned over 50 years of back pain it is that sitting around is the worst thing you can do, so as soon as it was warm enough I decided to try walking off the pain. Walking, I’ve discovered, is the best thing for my kind of back pain. The above photo is of the woods in part of my neighborhood that I walked past. Black bear, deer, rabbits, turkeys, hawks and blue herons are some of the larger birds and animals I’ve seen in the area.

I didn’t walk through the woods though; I stuck to the road. Back pain calls for easy walking, not breaking trails. This shot of beech leaves in the sunshine and every other photo in this post is from the road.

There are some old black cherry trees out here and most have some type of noticeable changes caused by black knot disease. This one looked like a burl but no, it is a swelling caused by a fungus called Apiosporina morbosa. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots which will eventually become serious wounds, and eventually the tree will die.

Witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) grew right at the edge of the road so I was able to get a shot of the little cup shaped bracts that the petals come out of. This is a fall blooming witch hazel but the spring blooming Hamamelis vernalis witch hazels will be blooming soon.

I’m seeing what seems like an awful lot of fallen trees everywhere I go.  

I saw plenty of signs that it had been snowing. I haven’t kept close track but we’ve gotten at least some snow almost every day for the past two weeks.

There is quite a large wet area along the road where red maples grow. Some people call them swamp maples but if you look up “swamp maple” you find Acer rubrum, the red maple. They are also called water or soft maple. They don’t mind occasional wet feet.

Overhead I could see red maple buds that seemed to be swelling up, preparing to blossom in March. It’ll still be a while before the flowers unfurl, but they’re on the way and they’re beautiful to see in spring. Seeing the hillsides awash in a red haze from hundreds of thousands of red maple flowers is a treat that I always look forward to.

I looked at a sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and saw that it had a broken branch. And where the broken branch met another there was a single drop of pure maple sap, so the sap is flowing and that means buds are indeed swelling.

Cattails (Typha latifolia) decorated the edge of a small pond. I have a feeling that muskrats or other critters are eating the roots of this particular patch of cattails because it has actually been getting smaller over the years. That’s unusual for cattails because they can grow faster than fertilized corn. Scientists have recorded cattail marshes travel up to 17 feet in a year in prime conditions just by sending out new shoots. They are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even help the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them.

The fluffy cattail seed heads are all ready for the return of red winged blackbirds, which will use them in their nests. I’ve also watched female red winged blackbirds pick grubs out of the previous year’s stems. Cattails were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They had uses for every part of this plant; even the pollen was harvested and used in bread.

I got lost for a bit in the beautiful bark of an old white pine. We have some very old, very big white pines in this area but many of the tallest, straightest trees were taken by England in colonial days to be used as ship masts. In 1722, a pine tree law decreed settlers couldn’t cut any white pines bigger than a foot in diameter and then later on the colonists had to pay for a royal license to cut white pine trees on their own land. In 1736, one of the king’s surveyors seized white pine logs in Exeter, New Hampshire. This act so enraged residents they disguised themselves as Indians, beat up the surveying party, sank their boat and chased them into the woods, where they hid all night. All of this led eventually to what is known as the Pine Tree Riot. In an open act of rebellion New Hampshire colonists cut down and hauled off many marked mast pines in what was just a taste of what would come later in the American Revolution.

An oak that stood next to the pine in the previous photo had Trentepohlia algae growing on it. Trees have vertical grooves in their bark that help channel water away in a rain and many mosses, lichens and even algae grow on the “banks” of these vertical streams. You can see that happening in this photo. Apparently these are the places that stay wettest longest after a rain.

Even in silhouette I knew I was under a northern catalpa tree (Catalpa speciosa) because of the string bean like seed pods that can be two feet long. In fact when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Catalpa wood is very rot resistant and railroads once grew great plantations of them to be used as railroad ties. They are still used for utility poles today. Midwestern Native American tribes hollowed out the trunks of catalpa trees and used them as canoes, and the name Catalpa comes from the Cherokee tribe’s word for the tree. Natives made tea from the bark and used it as an antiseptic and sedative. Parts of the tree are said to be mildly narcotic.

I’m guessing that this hole in a maple is an animal’s home. There are scratch and / or bite marks all around it. It was big enough for a squirrel and they will live in hollow trees given the chance.

It’s hard to go anywhere in New Hampshire without seeing a stone wall so I wasn’t surprised by this one. You can tell by the smaller stones supporting larger stones that some thought and care went into this wall, and that means it is a laid wall. Most of our walls are “tossed” or “dumped” walls, built only to get rid of the stones in the pasture with no thought taken for looks. Laid walls took longer and were usually built along road frontage where they could be seen by passers by, just as this one was.  New Hampshire has an estimated 50,000 miles of stone walls but I doubt anyone will ever know for sure. The woods are full of them.

More expensive walls were built of cut stone like the piece of granite seen here. illustrates perfectly how feathers and wedges were used to split stone. The finger size half holes seen at the top are about 3-4 inches deep holes and were drilled (by hand) in a line where the split was to take place. Then curved pieces called feathers were put into each hole and wedges were driven in between them. As happens in splitting wood, the force from the wedges being driven ever deeper splits the stone. I have a feeling this piece of granite was found and placed here because most of this wall was simple field stone. Building stone walls is one of the most satisfying things I’ve done but unfortunately it’s very hard on the body.

After walking for a while I came to the Thompson covered bridge, named after playwright Denmon Thompson who was a native son, and built in 1832. This bridge is a truss style bridge with two spans that meet on a center support. One span covers 64 feet and the other 63.5 feet, making the total length 136 feet 10 inches long. It once had two covered walkways, but now has only one on the upriver side. It can be seen on the left in the photo. Town records indicate that there has been a bridge in this spot since at least 1789.

This view shows the stone center support for the two spans. The bridge design is known as “Town lattice,” patented by Connecticut architect Ithiel Town in the early 1800s. The open lattice work lets a lot of light into the bridge and this is unusual because many covered bridges were and are dark and cave like. In the 1800s being able to see daylight inside a covered bridge would have been the talk of the town. The Thompson Bridge is considered by many to be the most beautiful covered bridge in New England.

The Ashuelot River, which the Thompson Bridge crosses, was partially frozen over in this spot. I thought I might see some Canada geese but they don’t seem to winter over here anymore. This photo does show what a beautiful day it was, geese or not.

I hope this post shows that you can find a lot of interesting and beautiful things right in your own neighborhood without even leaving the road. My favorite photo from this walk is of an ice covered stone in the river. It was like alabaster on silk and I thought the colors and textures of the water were beautiful.

Though my back hadn’t returned to 100 percent the two hour walk did it a world of good and I returned to work the following day. Not only does walking exercise muscles; what you see in nature takes your mind off the pain and lets tense muscles relax.

My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature. ~Claude Monet

Thanks for coming by.

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