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Posts Tagged ‘Winter Woods’

This post is a kind of hodge podge of things I saw last summer when I was taking a break from blogging and things I’ve seen recently. If there is any continuity at all, any thread that runs through it, it is I hope how the beauty of this world can be found everywhere you look. The photo you see above happened just last week as I was going into a store to do some grocery shopping. I wasn’t surprised to see many people just walking right by without seeing it. We live in a paradise that is absolutely filled with beauty all the time, night and day, and we should give ourselves time to at least notice it. How long does it take to appreciate the beauty of the frost crystals on your car windows before starting the car in the morning, or to simply look up at the sky now and then?

This shadow of a staghorn sumac reminded me of the palm trees I saw when I lived in Florida. The first time I crossed over from Georgia into Jacksonville, Florida it was about two in the morning, and the palm trees that lined the center of the divided road, lit up as they were by streetlights, seemed like the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I felt as if I were driving into a postcard. I felt electric, and more alive than I had ever been.

Here is another kind of shadow. The town put in a new sidewalk last summer and last fall of course the falling leaves landed on it. This leaf, from a maple, leached out its tannins and left its silhouette on the newly poured concrete. Maple leaves are one of the species used for botanical or “eco-printing,” which is where leaf and bark shapes and colors are transferred or bled onto fabric or paper.

When the town put in the new sidewalk they tore up lawns all up and down the street, so to finish the job they brought soil in from somewhere, and what you see above is what sprouted from that soil on the corner of the street; a forest of what are commonly known as weeds, like lamb’s quarters.

One of the plants that sprouted from the soil that was brought in was jimson weed. When I first saw it its big, beautiful white and purple flowers were just about to open. Jimson weed is considered poisonous to both humans and livestock so I was surprised to see it growing here, on the lawn of a children’s daycare center. This hallucinogenic plant in the nightshade family is also called loco weed and was used by Native Americans on spiritual quests. The original common name was “Jamestown weed” which was given to it after English soldiers in the Jamestown colony began to behave oddly after eating leaves of the plant. It is said that they “behaved like animals for several days.” This plant is considered exceedingly dangerous due to poisonings and deaths by people trying to get high. I was going to say something about it but the daycare wasn’t due to open until school started, so there was nobody to say anything to.

Another plant that grew from the foreign soil was wild mustard, which I never used to see much but now see fairly regularly. Because of the plants that grew from it I have a feeling that this soil must have come from old pasture land. There is old pasture south of here and I’ve seen these same plants growing there. In any event, I went back a few days later to see the beautiful Datura flowers and everything had been mowed down to something resembling lawn. I was a bit disappointed because Datura blossoms are very beautiful.

I went to a pond that I had been to a hundred times last summer and found this small, foot tall fern that I had never seen growing in the water right at the shoreline. The rounded over edges of the sub-leaflets didn’t look familiar but they, along with the way the leaflets twisted along the stem helped identify it.

I turned one of the fronds over and saw something I had never seen. The curled over edges of the sub-leaflets formed cups filled with what looked like blackberry jelly, but of course these were the fern’s spore cases (sori) and there must have been many hundreds of them. With all the hints it gave me it was easy to identify it as the marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris pubescens.) It has fertile and sterile leaves but the fertile ones tend to be smaller, according to what I’ve read. It likes wet feet and full sun. This isn’t a very good shot of the spore cases so I hope to return this coming summer and try again.

According to the book Identifying Ferns the Easy Way, A Pocket Guide to Common Ferns of the Northeast, by Lynn Levine, the caterpillars of the marsh fern moth feed on the leaves of this fern and it is the only known host plant of what is an uncommon moth.

And speaking of uncommon moths, here is a large maple spanworm moth (Prochoerodes linolea.) I found it relaxing on the siding of the local post office and was amazed by its resemblance to tree bark. I’d guess that I’ve probably walked right by them thousands of times in the woods but here on this bright white wall it was easy to see. Life is such a beautiful and amazing thing. Emily Dickinson said it best: To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.  

I’ve known tansy for a very long time but for years if I wanted to see it, I had to visit a garden. Only over the last few years have I found it in the wild, so as an invasive plant it has failed miserably in this area, even though it has excelled elsewhere. In colonial times tansy was used as both a flavoring in tea, cakes and puddings and an insect repellant, used especially for bedbugs. It was also used to make green dyes and was thought valuable enough to be brought over on a three-month voyage. It is also toxic, so though I don’t have a problem with using it to repel insects I doubt I’ll ever flavor anything with it.

I didn’t see large numbers of monarch butterflies this year but I saw a few, and I found a patch of Joe Pye weed that they and spangled fritillary butterflies seem to prefer over all the other flowers in the area. I would revisit this spot every few days and each time these flowers had several butterflies and bumblebees visiting.  You have to look closely to see them but there are many bumblebees in this shot.

What was it, I’ve wondered, about these particular plants that made them so attractive to so many insects?

I also saw a monarch butterfly caterpillar on a milkweed plant last summer. I don’t see very many of them so it was a surprise.

The unusual berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) called doll’s eyes, have over the past two or three years turned black and shriveled up for reasons I can’t fathom, but last summer they were nearly pristine when I found them. The remains of the flower’s black stigma against the porcelain white fruit is striking, and I can’t think of another plant with fruit quite like these. The hot pink pedicels are pretty as well. These plants are toxic but luckily the berries are so bitter one bite would be enough to make anyone spit them out. Finding baneberry in the woods tells the story of rich, well drained loamy soil and a reliable source of moisture, because those are the things that it needs to grow. I almost always find them at the base of hillsides.

I saw very few mushrooms last summer because it was so dry, but I did see a few Indian pipes, which is odd since they’re parasitic on certain fungi.

Here is a rarely seen (by many) look into the inside of an Indian pipe flower. At the tips of the 10 stamens surrounding the center stigma are the anthers, colored yellow, which contain pollen. The anthers are open and shedding pollen at this stage. In the center of the flower is the pollen-collecting stigma, which looks like a funnel between the yellowish stamens. Each flower will stand straight up when it is ready to be pollinated, and once pollinated will eventually become a hard brown seed capsule. You can find them sticking up out of the snow, usually in groups, at this time of year and they are always fun to look at.

If you walk in certain places at certain times, you might see things that you will only see once in a great while, if at all. People often ask me how I do this; how I see what I see. The answer is to simply be there. I spend as much free time outdoors as possible. I also walk very slowly and pay close attention. Many times, I just stumble onto the greater part of what you see here on this blog. If I had been just a few minutes earlier or later I might have missed the sunlight highlighting the hairs on this staghorn sumac. That would have been too bad because it shows how the plant got its name, with its velvety softness just like that of a deer’s antler.

With other things found in nature, you can often do some planning ahead. For instance, if you know that the “bloom” on black raspberry canes is made of a kind of natural wax, and if you know that it “melts away” in warm summer weather, you know that your best chance of seeing it is in the cooler months. You will also find this same beautiful blue, which is a result of the way sunlight is reflected by the wax crystals, on blueberries, plums, lichens, and many other things.

This photo of American hazelnut catkins might not seem like much but it is special to me because it was taken with a cell phone. Since I’ve struggled with getting a shot of these little things even with a macro camera in the past, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the phone camera got it. The depth of field could have been better but all in all I was happy with it. You can see how the triangular bud scales spiral up the catkin. When the catkin swells and the bud scales begin to open in spring the tiny, beautiful golden flowers will do the same. They are among the earliest spring flowers and I look forward to seeing them each year. It won’t be long now.

Many will most likely think big deal, it’s just an old leaf, but if you had lived through 60+ New Hampshire winters like I have you would know that any splotch of color is beautiful in the often stark black and white world of January. Any color anywhere will stop you in your tracks and you’ll be thankful that it was there for you to find.

How does a child see the world? What is childlike wonder? Everything a young child sees is fresh and new; they’ve never seen it before so they have no history; no file cabinet full of memories to search through and compare what they see now to what they saw then. A child sees a branch or a rock and becomes enraptured by it because it is fresh and new. They see what is right now, as it is. We adults on the other hand, compare what we see to what we’ve seen before and instantly decide that it’s better or worse than the one we saw previously. Once we do that all the freshness, the newness, and the wonder is gone, and what we see becomes old. Children see as much with their hearts as with their eyes and if you follow their lead great beauty will appear, seemingly out of nowhere. The more beauty you see the more you will see, and before long you will have to say, as I did, “My gosh, everything is so very beautiful. Just look at it!”

If we have relegated vision solely to a function of the eyes, we are blind indeed.
~Craig D. Lounsbrough

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Hello Everyone,

This special post is intended for any would be seed collectors out there. I was recently contacted by a seed company that is looking for someone to collect maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina) seeds. Their regular collector is no longer available and they are running low on seed. If you would be interested in doing this, please contact me through the “Contact Me” tab at the top of this page and I’ll send you the contact information for the seed company. This is a unique opportunity for the right person(s) and I hope this post will generate some interest.

This photo shows what can be large terminal clusters (elongate inflorescences) of maleberry flowers. It also shows the shrub’s leaves, which look very similar to blueberry leaves. In fact, maleberry and blueberry often grow side by side along pond, river, and wetland shores and are essentially the same size. If it wasn’t for the fact that blueberries bloom about two months earlier, if the two shrubs were in bloom side by side, at a glance you’d think they were both blueberries. One noticeable difference between the two is how blueberries will grow on mountains and hilltops and maleberries won’t. At least, in my experience they don’t. They seem to like moist roots because I always find them right along shorelines. I often find them growing near or under red maples along shorelines as well.

If you know what a blueberry blossom looks like you quickly see that, though maleberry blossoms might appear the same at first glance, they are really very different. Whereas blueberry blossoms are relatively long and narrow, maleberry blossoms are short and squat, and only about half the diameter.

Just about the time blueberries are ripe enough for picking, the seed capsules of maleberries begin to form. Each maleberry seed capsule is 1/8 to 5/16 inch in diameter and hard and woody. They ripen from green to brown and when ripe start to split open into 5 segments, as this photo taken in January 2020 shows. They form in July or August here in New Hampshire and mature through summer and fall and finally start to open in January or February of the following year. Seed capsules can be collected through April of the following year but waiting much after that will increase the chances that they will have already released their seeds. I have seen many hundreds of capsules on a single shrub. Even after the seeds are released the dry capsules turn to a grayish color and will stay on the shrub in some form or another year-round, and are helpful for identification. Plants live for about 20 years.

There are certain considerations that a seed collector must think about. Number one is, never take all the seeds. A good rule of thumb is, take one out of every twenty. If you come upon a colony of black eyed Susans for example, you would take one seed head out of every twenty. The same is true for maleberries, you would take one group of 5 or 6 seed heads for every twenty groups. You do not cut all the seed heads from a single plant, ever.

Maleberry flowers grow on the previous year’s stems, which means they should be pruned in late winter or very early spring, which is exactly when the seedpod harvest would take place. You need to know how and when to prune any flowering shrub, and I would guess that this information would be easily found online.

Since I haven’t spoken to the seed company in depth about this all I know is they want the seeds so they can sell them. I don’t know or care who they will sell them to; I’m just doing this post as a favor to both them and the maleberries. Maleberries are at risk in certain places. In Nova Scotia for instance there are only 33 known mature plants, and they are being threatened by off road vehicles and invasive plants. Throughout Canada maleberry is now considered an extremely rare species. In the United States plants grow up and down the east coast from Maine to Florida, and west to eastern Texas and Oklahoma. If you live in any of these places collecting seed would be possible. Does the seed company need more than one collector? This I can’t answer but I can’t see that it would be a problem.

Please save questions like “How much will I be paid?” for the seed company, because I don’t know. I would guess that you would be paid by the volume of seed collected and sent in, as in dollars per ounces or grams.

Since right now is the time to collect maleberry seed, time is of the essence.

If you’d like to peek into the life of a seed collector, you can read an interview done with seed harvest and restoration technician Keith Bennett by the Nature Conservancy here: https://www.nature.org/en-us/magazine/magazine-articles/seed-collector-missouri/

One seed births a thousand forests. ~Matshona Dhliwayo

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Toward the end of November I decided to take a walk up the old abandoned road that leads through the Beaver Brook natural area in Keene. I hadn’t been there in a while and since I had just tangled with Covid I thought the slight gradient of the old road would let me gently test my lungs and make sure they were still working as they should. Surprisingly I didn’t get winded at all; good news I thought, considering all I had heard about Covid.

I saw many beautiful things there that day but I would have been happy just seeing the mosses. They always seem so much greener and more vibrant in colder weather.

The brook was rushing along, not quite as high as I had imagined it would be but still with a bit of a roar to it. It has many voices, this little brook. In summer it becomes tame and moves slowly, giggling and chuckling shyly as it spills over the rocks in its bed. In winter it often becomes nearly mute, its voice muffled by a covering of thick ice. It can still be heard, but as if from a distance. In spring and fall, due to snow melt or excessive rain it swells up and shouts, sometimes with a deafening roar. Only one thing about it never changes, and that is its beauty.

There are a few pretty views along the brook and this is one of my favorites. I hadn’t gone there that day with a blog post in mind but I had a cell phone camera and the small Olympus I use for macro photos and in the end, I was glad I had brought them.

Of course, I had to stop and see my old friend the smoky eye boulder lichen that lives here because it is a beautiful thing. Both the way the light falls on it and the color of the thallus or body of the lichen make it stand out from other examples I’ve seen. Why it has this golden, orangey brown color I don’t know, and I also don’t know why the fruiting bodies always seem so blue or lavender when they are usually gray. It has to be the special way the light falls on it in this particular spot. Seeing it again is always like finding a jewel.

The squiggly black apothecia have appeared on the script lichens, as they always seem to do in the cold weather. If you look at them extremely closely, they look like the body of the lichen has been torn or cut open, and they erupt from it rather than sitting on it. But whatever happens when they appear, they leave no trace when they disappear. If you come here in warmer months all you will find are the white / gray body of these lichens, like spots on the tree’s bark.

I stopped at what I call the boulder fall. I’ve found mosses here that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

And one of those mosses is the pretty little rose moss. This moss likes limestone and since this area isn’t rich in limestone it always leaves me guessing. Somehow two or three of the boulders must have at least some limestone in them. I first found this moss on just one stone years ago and now it is on at least three of them, so it must be happy here.

Another rare moss that grows here is the glittering wood moss, also called stair step moss because of the way new growth comes up out of the midrib of the previous year’s growth. It looks delicate but I’ve seen it encased in ice in winter and still looking fine in spring. Not surprising since it can withstand conditions in the Arctic tundra. It sparkles in the light so “glittering” is a good description.

For years I’ve thought that snow load was what made our evergreen ferns splay out on the ground but this year we have no snow and they are still hugging the ground, so that theory has to be let go of. I recently read this on Westborough Massachusetts Community Land Trust page: “When the green fronds are on the ground, warmth from the earth keeps them warmer than they would be if they stood up in the wind and cold air. The fern’s stems weaken near the ground in autumn, helping the fronds to fall over.” That does make sense but I wonder where that information originally came from. I believe the fern in the photo is a marginal wood fern, but I didn’t check for spore cases.

A big old red maple tree had fallen and someone had come along and cut off all its branches. This tree had target canker but that doesn’t kill trees, as far as I know.

Target canker won’t kill a tree but it can certainly keep one busy by causing its bark to grow in circular patterns of new, thin bark plates, which helps protect it from the canker. According to Cornell university: “A fungus invades healthy bark, killing it. During the following growing season, the tree responds with a new layer of bark and undifferentiated wood (callus) to contain the pathogen. However, in the next dormant season the pathogen breaches that barrier and kills additional bark. Over the years, this seasonal alternation of pathogen invasion and host defense response leads to development of a ‘canker’ with concentric ridges of callus tissue—a ‘target canker.’” You can see the pattern of new, thin bark plates the tree grew each year in this photo. I count at least ten, so that means this tree fought off the invader for at least ten years. There are some things which once seen can never be forgotten, and target canker is one of those.

I saw what I think was a white cheese polypore on a fallen branch. It grows on hardwood logs and causes white rot, and gets its common name from its scientific one (Tyromyces chioneus). Tyromyces means “with a cheesy consistency,” and chioneus means “snow white.” These mushrooms are big enough to be seen from a distance and when they are fresh, they have a pleasing fragrance that some think is like cheesecake. Mushroom Expert. com says it is “just about the most boring mushroom going,” but it is a winter mushroom and I’m always happy to see mushrooms in winter. There is also a blue cheese polypore and a green cheese polypore.

From boring to beautiful; this must be the most colorful display of turkey tail fungi that I’ve seen. It was beautiful, with its many different colors all in the same growth. No matter how many times I come here I always see something I’ve never seen before, and that is why it pays to revisit the same places again and again.

I was surprised to find a little ice on the ledges. It has been cold some nights but all in all this has been a very mild winter so far. I doubt there is any ice to speak of in the deep cut rail trail where ice climbers usually practice.

This is one of my favorite reasons to visit Beaver Brook; to see what I call the “disappearing waterfall,” because it only appears when we’ve had enough rain to get it going. It’s a beautiful thing and in the spring, I’ve seen people standing in line waiting to get to the spot where you can get the best photo of it.

I saw two splotches of color on the end of a log and I thought I recognized them.

As I thought, they were wrinkled crust fungi (Phlebia radiata) but they weren’t quite as colorful as others I had seen. I suspected they were young examples which might change as they aged, so I decided to return in a week to see if they had. These winter fungi are rare in my experience and well worth a second look.

This photo of a wrinkled crust fungus I took years ago shows what I was hoping to find upon my return but no, the fungi in the previous photos hadn’t changed at all. A quick online search showed that they can be very beautiful like this example or rather plain like the previous example. Like many things in nature, finding them is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and paying attention. Unlike some fungi it’s hard to predict where or when they’ll choose to grow, though they do seem to like cold weather.

And speaking of being in the right place at the right time; as I was leaving Beaver Brook after my second look at the wrinkled crust fungi the afternoon sun decided to shine right up the brook. It was something I had never seen happen before and it seemed like a final, beautiful exclamation point to mark the end of my journey through a place filled with beauty.

Look at places no one looks at, so you can see the things no one sees.
~
Mehmet Murat ildan

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There is the orderliness of the city
So sharp and well defined
With a brash intensity that leaves you feeling raw
Only half a self
And there is the randomness of nature
So soft and seemingly chaotic
With a silent stillness that leaves you at peace
Whole and complete

Where are you meant to be?
Listen to the rain.

Inspired by Rain and the Rhinoceros by Thomas Merton
With a thank you to Deb Black for the introduction.

Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, this rain. As long as it talks, I am going to listen. ~ Thomas Merton.

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We’re having another one of those strange, almost snowless winters so far this season but even though it hasn’t been snowy it has been cold enough for ice to form, so in early December I decided to visit a stream near my neighborhood. Last year I found beautiful lacy ice all along it but this time as you can see, there was no ice.

There was frost on the lawns, so I thought for sure there would be ice on the stream.

A little neighborhood pond had a thin film of ice on it.

But there was little to no ice to be found here at the stream. No matter; there are always interesting things to see, like this pronounced meander in the stream. When I first started coming here it was nothing like this but over the years flooding has dumped a lot of sand and gravel in a pile over there on the left, forcing the stream to move more and more to the right. As it moves it washes soil away from tree roots and many trees have fallen.

I stopped to admire some beech leaves. The beech is a tree that gives beauty to the forest all year long.

I also saw some colorful turkey tail fungi on a stump. Part of their scientific name is versicolor, and it’s a good one. I’ve seen these come in pink, orange, blue, purple, and everything in between. They’re one of the most colorful fungi I know of and winter is a good time to find them. As far as I know no one has ever discovered what causes their many variations in color.

I looked back to where I had come from and saw how the stream meander is slowly cutting into the hillside and washing it away; a mountain slowly turning to sand. I thought the low sun falling on the green plants was a beautiful scene. It showed how, around every corner, there is the very real possibility of finding staggering beauty of the kind we’ve never seen. We need to learn to stop and let the beauty of life seep into us until it fills every part of our being; until the word Hallelujah comes to us naturally, without a thought.

One of the things I come here to see are the tree mosses. When I first started coming here there was a group of maybe ten plants right at the water line but now, they have grown away from the stream and there are hundreds of them. They must like wet ground because this place floods regularly and they often spend part of their life underwater. They’re beautiful little things and I’d like to see them in more places but so far this is the only place I’ve ever found them.

This unknown creature grew on a tree and though I was sure I had seen it before I couldn’t remember its name. It looks almost like a crustose lichen with an area of something else growing through it but I can’t imagine what that something else would be. In the end I decided it didn’t matter. Memories are like dogs that come when you call them but otherwise lie silent and still. Sometimes they don’t come at all, and seem so far off I can’t tell if they are even there anymore. The effort it takes to recall them doesn’t seem worth whatever limited value they may have. They are like things stored in the attic; not worth climbing the stairs to see, but seemingly still too precious to throw away. They sit gathering dust but one day they will have to go, so why bother adding to the pile by gathering up more of them? Let each day start fresh and shining brightly, unobscured by the film of dust that is yesterday.

This is a two-part post; what you’ve seen so far happened one day and what you will see from here on happened on another. Luckily the sun was shining brightly on both days. I would have loved to have been able to see it the way this NASA photo shows it.

On the second day I went to the stream, about three weeks later, there was ice. Strangely though, at nearly 40 degrees F. this day was warmer than the first.

Last winter when I came here, I found beautiful, lacy ice covering the surface of the stream but this year I saw mostly splash ice. Splash ice forms when running water splashes droplets up on cold surfaces, where they freeze almost immediately. It can be beautiful; all of what we see here is splash ice.

Ice curtains along the banks showed how the water level had dropped, with ribbons of ice forming at each different level.

This view is looking down on ice similar to that in the previous photos.

This ice sculpture grew on a twig that hung out over the stream.

This very thin, clear pane of ice had water droplets hanging from its underside.

This ice reminded me of the bullseye glass windowpanes you can still see in very old houses. Before modern glass making came along glass windowpanes were blown from a gob of molten glass that was spun at the end of the blowpipe until it formed a large disc. Rectangular windowpanes were cut from the disc with the outer, thinner, clearer panes sold to the wealthy and the inner, thick, wavy panes with the pontil mark bullseye in the center sold to the poor. You couldn’t see anything out of them but they did let in light and that was what was important. I can’t even guess how this ice would have formed to look just like them.

Neither can I explain why this bit of dead grass had a ray of sunlight falling on it.

I’ve heard that very white ice is white because it has a lot of oxygen in it, so maybe all the bubbles in this piece go along with that theory. It must have gotten very cold very quickly to freeze bubbles in place.

The only thing you can expect from ice is the unexpected, because no two pieces will ever be alike. Ice helps teach us that we should go into nature with no expectations and just enjoy what we see.

On the way home this scene looked more like March than December. Now into January without plowable snow in my yard, it looks to be another unusual winter. I hope you enjoyed coming along through the snowless woods. In a normal winter we wouldn’t have been able to go without snowshoes.

The wise man knows that it is better to sit on the banks of a remote mountain stream than to be emperor of the whole world. ~ Zhuangzi (c. 369 BC – c. 286 BC)

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Last Sunday afternoon, on the 12th, light snow started to fall in the afternoon. It snowed for most of the night but as these photos show, it didn’t amout to much. Depending on where you were an inch to three inches accumulated; what we call a nuisance snow. The above photo shows the Ashuelot River in Swanzey Monday morning. The water was higher than it has been all summer.

As usual the snow stayed on the evergreens. White pine trees have very flexible branches so they can hold a lot of snow but every now and then you’ll hear a loud cracking in the woods when older branches break off. It’s a good idea to not be under snow laden, older pine trees for long. Branches usually fall with their broken end down and I’ve seen them punch holes through roofs.

There’s a lot of splashing going on at the river and fingers of ice had formed on every twig on this shrub. If it was a shrub. There are many here, such as alder, buttonbush and dogwood so it probably was, but I was paying more attention to the ice than what it grew on.

Ice baubles form by water splashing over and over in the same spot. Eash splash of water adds thickness to the ice, just like a candle being dipped again and again in wax. Thanks to gravity they grow vertically, so seeing these at an angle told me that they grew too heavy and the twig they were on could no longer support them. It bent, and this threw the baubles off vertical. I’d like to see how they grow from this point on. They’ll look very different than a standard ice bauble, I would think.

I haven’t yet figured out what makes some flattened while others are more round but it really doesn’t matter. They’re all beautiful, especially when sunlight shines through them. It’s like seeing a thousand prisms all along the shoreline.

Sometimes the surroundings reflect in the ice baubles. I think the reflection of the river must have been what caused the blue in the one on the left.

The waves on the river weren’t huge on this day but they were curling nicely and they were beautiful, as always. If you come here at the right time of day, in the morning at around 11:00, the sun shines from the left of this spot and if it strikes a wave just right it can illuminate its interior, as can be seen here. There is a lot going on inside a wave, which is something I never thought much about until I came here and started trying to catch all their different poses.

They grow and fall and crash again and again and the resulting roar emphasizes the awesome power and beauty of the river. There are also deep rumbles and booms that you can feel more than hear, as if large boulders were rolling down the riverbed. This is not the place to try to hold a conversation. It is a place to just stand and be amazed by all that is happening.

I stumbled onto an interesting article recently that showed that chimpanzees can also be in awe of water. Primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall noticed how, when solitary chimps come to a waterfall, they will often walk into the water and sway back and forth rhythmically, from one foot to the other. There is even a photo of a chimp sitting on a stone in the river, staring up at a waterfall as if in a trance. This might not seem very remarkable until you realize that chimpanzees can’t swim and are naturally afraid of water. Something about the waterfall makes them forget themselves, and some believe it is the roar. I think there is more to it than just sound.

It’s much quieter here in the woods on the road to Swanzey Lake than at the river. This is a class 6 road, meaning it gets no maintenance during winter, so this might be the last time I can get out here until spring.

I thought if I came out here I would see the snow falling from the trees but it was dead still, without even a hint of a breeze, so most of the snow stayed on the trees. You can just see, at the end of the road in this shot, a bit of what I call snow smoke, which happens when the wind blows. Being in a place like this with the snow blowing from the trees can sometimes be like being in a blizzard.

Snow smoke was happening here but the sun was so bright the camera couldn’t really catch it well. It did catch the beauty of the beech leaves though.

I love to see dark water in winter. It looks like a polished black mirror against the white snow and it always makes me want to just sit and admire it.

In this view, just behind where the tree has fallen across the stream, you can see a beaver dam. Beyond it the beaver pond had frozen over. This was the first body of water I had seen with ice on it this season, but since it’s on or surrounded by private property I couldn’t get close to it. There will be plenty of other ice to see though, I’m sure. And more snow as well; it’s snowing lightly right now.

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

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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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