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Posts Tagged ‘Witch Hazel’

Last Sunday I decided, for no particular reason, to visit Goose Pond in Keene. This was my favorite view from that outing.

Goose pond is part of a five hundred acre wilderness area that isn’t that far from downtown Keene. It  was called Crystal Lake and / or Sylvan Lake in the early 1900s. The pond was artificially enlarged to 42 acres in 1865 so the town of Keene would have a water supply to fight fires with. Wooden pipe fed 48 hydrants by 1869 but the town stopped using the pond as a water supply in the 1930s, and in 1984 it was designated a wilderness area. The vast forest tract surrounding the pond has been left virtually untouched since the mid-1800s, and it is indeed wilderness.

This is one of many approaches to the pond. It’s the one I usually take, which is steadily uphill but not too exhausting.

I was surprised to see shining sumac (Rhus copallinum) here. I’ve only seen this plant in two or three other places so it seems to be on the rare side in this area. It is also called flame leaf sumac, dwarf sumac, or winged sumac. This example had been cut and was only knee high but I’ve read that they can reach about 8-10 feet. The foliage turns a beautiful, brilliant orange-red in fall.

I thought this witch hazel was rushing the season just a bit.

I saw one of the biggest pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) I’ve ever seen on this day. The plant was probably twice the size of my hand with its big leaves when usually they are barely as big as your hand. There was no flower of course but there was a seed pod.

And here is the seed pod, with what is left of what appears to be a very large flower dangling from its end. These seed pods contain between 10,000 and 20,00 tiny, dust like seeds. According to the U.S. Forest Service “The seeds require threads of a fungus  in the Rhizoctonia genus to break them open and attach them to it. The fungus will pass on food and nutrients to the pink lady’s slipper seed. When the lady’s slipper plant is older and producing most of its own nutrients, the fungus will extract nutrients from the orchid roots. This mutually beneficial relationship between the orchid and the fungus is known as “symbiosis” and is typical of almost all orchid species.” This is why it is waste of time to collect orchids or orchid seed from the wild and expect them to grow in your yard.

The various views of the water from along the trail were very pleasing on this day. This is a not very good shot of the island that I took with my phone. I wanted to keep it because I camped on islands in a few different area lakes when I was younger, but never this one. There was a chance of thunderstorms on this day and the island reminded me that there’s nothing quite like riding out a thunderstorm on an island in the middle of a lake. There’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide but when it’s over you feel more alive than you’ve ever felt.

This old tree stump showed that the water level had dropped about an inch, despite recent rains. The photo made it look almost as if the scene were floating in the sky.

For the first time ever I saw new spring, purple colored seed cones on an eastern hemlock. I was stunned, since my house is virtually surrounded by the trees. I think I’m always more amazed by what I don’t see than what I do. I can’t explain how I’ve missed them all these years, but they are the smallest cones of any conifer in this region.

Goose pond is unusual because it has a wide trail that goes all the way around it. This part of the trail is really much darker than my cell phone made it look.

There are two or three bridges here to help one across inflowing streams but there are also other crossings that have wet stones instead of bridges, so sturdy waterproof hiking boots are a good idea here. Walking poles too if your balance isn’t what it once was.

Most of the streams aren’t that deep but if you step in the right spot you might find water pouring into your boot.  

Brittle cinder fungus (Kretzschmaria deusta) starts life as a beautiful gray and white crust-like fungus in the spring, but before long it grows into something quite different.

As this photo taken a few years ago shows, a brittle cinder fungus like that shown in the previous photo becomes what looks like a shiny lump of coal. Though I’ve only seen this fungus on standing dead trees and logs it will attack live trees and is said to be aggressive. Once it gets into a wound on the tree’s roots or trunk it begins to break down the cellulose and lignin and causes soft rot. The tree is then doomed, though it may live on for a few to even several more years.

Blue flags (Iris versicolor) bloomed here and there at the edge of the water.

They were just about at the end of their run and looked a bit ragged, but still beautifully colored.

This is a time of year when we see heavy pollen production, especially from white pine trees. A lot of that pollen falls onto the water of ponds and lakes and will collect in the shallows. This frog didn’t look too happy about it.

Northern bush honeysuckles (Diervilla lonicera) were showing their tubular, pale yellow flowers. This low growing shrub is interesting because of its orange inner bark. It isn’t a true honeysuckle, but gets its common name from its opposite leaves that resemble honeysuckles. It’s a pretty little thing that is native to eastern North America.

What I think was a red spotted purple butterfly ( Limenitis arthemis astyanax) landed on a log a few feet away but it didn’t turn to give me a chance for a good shot. It wanted to look rather than to be looked at, so I didn’t bother it and let it look. I hope one of its cousins will be more willing to have its photo shown here in the future.

There are quite a few stands of hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) here and, though most had been heavily browsed by deer or moose, this one had produced berries. They’ll go from green to red to finally a deep purple. In this photo you can see the dark wire-like stems of hobblebush, which gets its name from the way it can “hobble” or trip up a horse. (Or a man.) Viburnums have been used by man in many ways since before recorded history. The 5,000 year old “Iceman” found frozen in the Alps was carrying arrow shafts made from a European Viburnum wood.

I though this clubmoss was beautiful with its ring of lighter new spring growth.

This is just another of far too many photos of the pond that I took. It’s hard not to admire such a beautiful, pristine place.

I usually go clockwise around the pond and when I do that, this odd stone is one of the last things I see before arriving back where I started. The soil has finally washed away from the far end enough so I could see that it’s only about a foot and a half long. It has been cut, and is faced of all four sides with sharp, 90 degree corners. It’s far too short to be a fence post but in the 1800s people didn’t spend hours of their time working on something like this for no reason, so it was used for something. How it ended up out here partially buried in the middle of the trail will always be a mystery.

Goose pond is a great place to have a hike, especially in the morning. It can get quite warm even in a forest and this day was like that even though I was there by 9:30 am. It takes me about two hours to hike all the way around the pond but I can see a teenager doing it in maybe 30 minutes. It depends on how many things you stop to admire. There are people fishing and swimming and dog walking and even bike riding but all in all it’s a quiet, enjoyable place for a walk or for even simply sitting and enjoying nature. Beside the stream in this photo would be a great place for that.

Go slow, my life, go slow. Let me enjoy the beauty of silence, serenity, and solitude. ~Debasish Mridha

Thanks for stopping in.

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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

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When I thought about the title of this post I wondered if anyone would really want to look back at the last year, but then I thought that these “looking back” posts are as much about looking forward as they are looking back, because in nature it’s a pretty fair bet that what happened last year will happen this year. To a point anyway; I hope the drought will ease this year so I can see mushrooms and slime molds again. The above shot is from last January, when I was stunned by the beauty of fresh snow.

I was also stunned by pussy willows. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in January before.

In February the first skunk cabbages appeared from under the snow. A welcome sign of spring in February, which can sometimes be the coldest and snowiest month of all.

It was in February that I also saw the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) blossoming. Very small but beautiful, and with a fragrance that you can smell from two blocks away.

In March I saw the first of the American hazelnut blossoms; truly the first wildflowers of the year.

Things start happening in gardens in March as well. That’s usually when reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) appear. They are one of the earliest bulbs to show growth. They’re very cheery after a long winter without flowers.

April is when our spring ephemerals start to appear, and one of the largest and showiest is the purple trillium (Trillium erectum).These flowers are often an inch and a half or more across and very visible because of their color. Trilliums are all about the number three, with three red petals and three green sepals. In fact the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, which means three. The three leaves are actually bracts which the flowers nod under for a short time before finally facing outward. Inside the flowers are six stamens and three stigmas, and if pollinated they will become a red, three chambered berry. 

With so many flowers appearing in spring it’s very hard to choose the ones to put into these posts but one I felt I had to choose for April is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and I chose it because most people never see it. They aren’t with us long but luckily colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. They will for the most part bloom only when the sun shines on them but you can occasionally find them on a cloudy day. Their common name comes from the bright red or orange sap in their roots.

One of my personal favorites among the spring ephemerals is the spring beauty (Claytonia carolinana.) Though they sometimes appear in April, May seems to be the month I can really count on seeing them. I know where a colony of many thousands of plants grow and I have happily knelt in last year’s leaf litter taking photos of them for years now. I love their aspirin size, pink striped blossoms.  

Around the end of May is when I start seeing the beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia). Their color and the fact that they sometimes grow beside violets make them easy to miss so you have to pay attention. The small 3 inch tall by inch and a half wide plants usually bloom in quite large colonies but not always. They are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. Once you’ve found some you can go back to see them year after year. They seem quite long lived.

June is when our most well known orchid, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) blooms. Once collected into near oblivion by people who thought they could just dig them up and plant them in their gardens, they have made a strong comeback and I see quite a few now. They’re beautiful and unusual, and should be left alone so we can all admire them. If transplanted they will not live long.

June was also when I found some larch flowers (Larix laricina). These tiny but beautiful things are so small all I can see is their color. I have to point the camera at the color and “shoot blind” until I get a shot. They can appear in mid May but I usually expect them in late May to early June. If you know a larch tree you might want to have a look. These tiny things will become the cones that hold the tree’s seeds, so if you look for the cones first that will give you an idea of which branches the flowers are most likely to appear on.  

Around the end of June and the first week of July I start looking for one of the most beautiful wildflowers I’ve seen; the purple fringed orchid (Platanthera grandiflora). The big, two foot tall plant looks like a bush full of purple butterflies. They are quite rare in this area and that’s most likely because they grow in swamps. I can usually expect to have wet ankles after taking photos of this one.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) blossoms right at the same time every year; just in time for the 4th of July, and its flowerheads just happen to look like fireworks. Flowers on both male and female plants lack petals and have only anthers (male) or pistils (female). These are male flowers in this photo.

One of our prettiest and smallest wildflowers bloom in early August. Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun. One unusual thing about the flower, other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. You can see the tiny white pollen grains at the end of the anthers on this example.

In my last post I described how colorblindness prevented my ever seeing a cardinal. It works the same way for cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) unfortunately, so I was elated last August when a coworker and I stumbled upon a group of them. I knew what they looked like, and once I was right on top of them I could see their color, which was beautiful. Note how this much larger flower with its arching stamens uses the same strategy as the tiny forked blue curl we saw previously. The chief difference is, these stamens dust hummingbirds with pollen instead of bees.

It wouldn’t be September without New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and this one just happens to be my favorite color aster. Unfortunately it’s also the hardest color to find so each year I have to go hunting for them. I can’t complain though; hunting for flowers is a pleasure, not a chore.

I could have shown a fragrant white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) in any month following May but this is the only photo from last year that showed the center of the flower, where a golden flame burns. I remember standing on the shore of a pond full of hundreds of these beautiful flowers last summer and being able to smell their glorious scent on the breeze. It was one the most amazing things, and I suspect that it wall last in my memory until I no longer have one.

I did see things other than flowers last year; things like this beautiful cedar waxwing I saw eating the berries of silky dogwoods at the river one September evening.

In October I went to see if the old stone staircase was still standing; all that’s left of Madame Sherri’s “castle” in Chesterfield. The castle was actually more of a chalet but it had quite a lot of elaborate stonework. It also had trees growing through the roof. How they kept the rain out is a mystery. Though I didn’t mention it in the original post I walked to the spot I had chosen and promptly tripped over a tree root and fell flat on my face in front of about 15 people who were all jostling to get a shot of the stairway. The camera was unscathed and I got my shot. The fall foliage was beautiful that day and the weather was perfect but the stairway was in need of some immediate help from a mason.

I also went to Willard Pond in October and walked through one of the most beautiful hardwood forests I’ve ever seen.

In November witch hazels bloomed. Also in December, but I doubt I’ll see any in January.

Also in November I was looking at lichens, including the smoky eye boulder lichen seen here. It’s one of the most beautiful in my opinion and I’ve put it here as an answer to the question “What is there to see in winter?” There is as much beauty to be seen in winter as there is at any other time of year. You just have to look a little closer, that’s all.

What could be more beautiful that this mossy hillside? It was like a green carpet covering the earth. What I like most about the colder months is how you can see the bones of the forest. There is no foliage to block your view in December.

One thing I’ll remember about the past year is how it was too dry for fungi. I saw very few until December, when I saw these mock oyster mushrooms (Phyllotopsis nidulans). They were big and beautiful, and looked as if they had been covered in orange velvet. They were well worth the wait but I hope to see more in 2021.

I hope this look back at 2020 wasn’t as bad as what you might have imagined. I’d rather have this blog be an island of calm in a sea of chaos than a running commentary on current events. Current events come and go like the tides and have no permanence, so about all you’re ever going to find here is nature, which is timeless. I do hope that’s why you come.

You live life looking forward, you understand life looking backward. ~Soren Kierkegaard

Thanks for stopping in. I hope you’ll all have a happy, heathy new year.

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Back when I started this blog I found a little peninsula of land jutting out into the Ashuelot River. It can’t be more than a few yards wide but the variety of nature found there is really astonishing. There are deer, woodpeckers and other birds, a wide variety of plants, and even beavers. It’s amazing what can live on such a small piece of land. I’ve had what I thought was a fair understanding of nature since I was a boy but this is where nature really took me by the hand and said “Come with me, I’ve got something to show you.” So, going there last Sunday was like going home again, even though the place had been rearranged by nature somewhat.

One of the first thing I noticed was this delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) changing into its bright green fall color. Many mosses will grow on wood, stone or soil and delicate fern moss is one of them. It’s is a beautiful little thing that isn’t as delicate as its name implies, but it certainly is fern like. The leaves of this moss are often dull rather than shiny. It is fairly common and easy to find because it often forms very large mats. Orchid growers use this moss in orchid cultivation.

I saw a couple of frost rimmed little brown mushrooms on a log. It was cold this morning.

This one growing nearby showed what the previous mushrooms looked like when they were younger. Though the shape isn’t quite right I thought they might be deadly galerina mushrooms (Galerina autumnalis) which are, according to mushroom expert Tom Volk, so poisonous that eating even a little bit can be deadly. They are common on rotting logs in almost all months of the year and can fruit in the same spot several times. If you collect and eat wild mushrooms deadly galerina is one that you should get to know very well.

An old red maple tree had fallen, and I knew it was a red maple by the target canker still showing on the small piece of bark still left on it. Target canker doesn’t harm the tree but causes its bark to grow in circular patterns of narrow 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.’” Apparently the fungal attacker gives up after a while, because as the tree ages the patterns disappear and the tree seems fine. I doubt it had anything to do with this tree’s death.

By the way, speaking of red maples, I hope everyone knows that buds are set in the fall and don’t magically appear in spring. All the plants you see out there have already made their plans for spring, as these beautiful red maple buds show. All they need now is a little rest first.

This little spit of land is where I found witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) blooming in January one year. This day was cold enough to feel like January but it didn’t stop them.

I love the deep browns of witch hazel leaves. So warm on a cold day.

The underside of a witch haze leaf tells a different story. There is something that eats all of the tissue between the leaf veins and before long it will be a skeleton.

There was a good size burl on this witch hazel. Burl is an abnormal growth that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage.  Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and /or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers make some very beautiful things from burl and prize burls highly. Bowls and other objects made from it can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars.

The dark spots of frullania liverworts could be seen on many trees  It’s a leafy liverwort but each leaf is smaller than a house fly. There are about 800 species of frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on; instead they simply perch there like birds. Mosses and lichens are also epiphytes. A frullania liverwort’s tiny leaves are strung together like beads, and change from green to deep purple in cold weather. Frullania liverworts can cause a rash called woodcutter’s eczema in some people. It’s an annoying, itchy rash but doesn’t cause any real harm, and it disappears in a week or two if you stop handling logs with liverworts on them.

Sometimes when the river floods parts of this little bit of land can be almost completely underwater, and it’s slowly washing the soil from the roots of this big maple. You can see the whitish, very fine silt it has deposited at the tree’s base. It’s a bit scary out here when the water is that high.

Here is a gravel bar complete with grasses that wasn’t here the last time I came out here. This river has changed a lot over just the last 10 years.

In 2010 a 250 year old timber crib dam was removed just upstream from here and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services “landscaped” this section of river bank by planting native trees and shrubs. One of them, an arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) showed off its fall color. It is said that this plant’s common name comes from Native Americans using the straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used the shrub medicinally and its fruit for food.

I walked down to the river’s edge and saw a stone with so much iron in it, it seemed to be rusting. Iron rich stones are common here but I think they were brought in from elsewhere by the state.

And then I saw this; almost every oak and ash tree that the state planted 10 years ago had been cut down and dragged off by beavers. There had to have been 12-15 trees gone, and at anywhere from $150-$500 per tree depending on size when planted and species, these beavers had an expensive meal.

Most of what they took were oaks. They had reached probably 4-6 inches in diameter since they were planted. To be honest when I first saw these trees had been planted here I wondered what the state was thinking. They are an open invitation to beavers, which swim right by here all the time. It took them a while but they’ve answered the invitation and they’ll most likely be back night after night now until every tree is gone. You can trap and re-locate them yes, but that’s like closing the barn door after you’ve see the horse running down the road. And they’ll just come back anyway.

You could see the drag marks in the sand where they had dragged branches.

They left an oak top at the water’s edge, but they’ll be back for it.

They didn’t just cut trees and drag them off though; they sat here and had a fine meal. You can tell by how every last bit of bark has been stripped from these branches.

And weren’t the oak leaves beautiful?

A beaver is a rodent that has to continually gnaw to keep its teeth from growing too long, and this is what their gnawing sometimes looks like. Their teeth are extremely sharp.

Now that they’ve taken most of the oaks and ash tees they’re going for the maples, which are native trees that weren’t planted. Beavers will often chew through a tree half way like this and leave it. It’s very dangerous to be walking among trees that look like this in a high wind, so I wish they’d simply drop the tree. I have a feeling that something scared them off when they do this.  

Well, this post wasn’t supposed to be about beavers; there was no part two planned for the original “Leave it to Beavers” post that I did a week ago but as you can see, the beavers made me do it. When I left off with that post I told about all the marvelous things beavers do for the ecosystem (true) and only hinted at the damage they can do. Now you’ve seen it, but don’t blame the beavers. You can’t expect a beaver to leave your trees alone. They’re just doing what comes naturally; what they’ve been doing for millennia, and they don’t know or care if it’s a “weed tree” or a rare specimen tree that costs thousands of dollars. They get hungry and they’ll eat, and in this spot it was like someone had set the table for them. Planting a tree near fresh water in New Hampshire is like having dinner invitations printed up.

It wouldn’t be right to end a two part beaver post without a photo of a beaver, so here is one I got a few years ago of a beaver swimming down the river with a mouthful of what look to be sensitive ferns. Sensitive ferns are toxic to humans but it might be that beavers can eat them, or maybe this beaver cut the ferns to use as bedding in its lodge. Beaver lodges can be quite big, with the floor a couple of inches above the water level. On the floor they scatter a 2 or 3 inch deep bed of dry leaves, grass, shredded wood and other materials to keep the floor dry, so using ferns would make sense.

Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from. ~Terry Tempest Williams

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I was driving along an old road looking for fall color when I saw a barred owl in a tree. I stopped the car and got out and much to my surprise the owl stayed put.

A few years ago I came upon a barred owl sitting right in the middle of a trail and like this one it let me take as many photos as I wanted. This one was much bigger than that one but like that owl, this one sat perfectly still and watched me almost the entire time. In this shot you can see that it did look away, and I’d like to think that was because it sensed that I meant it no harm. After taking A few shots I got back in the car and got ready to leave, watching as the owl flew deeper into the woods. Being able to look a wild creature directly in the eyes for a while is a rare thing, and something you never really forget. I’ve stared into the eyes of everything from black bears to porcupines to chipmunks and each time it feels as if they’re giving you something of themselves, willingly. And you want to do the same.

Wilde Brook in Chesterfield was a little wild on the day I was there and it was good to see.

Many streams like this one have dried up completely and though we’ve had some rain this part of the state is still in moderate drought. Other parts of the state are seeing extreme drought so we’re fortunate.

I find tree roots like this one on well-traveled trails. How beautiful it is; like a work of art worn smooth by who knows how many years of foot traffic? It looks as if it had been made; sanded, polished and crafted with love. But how easily missed it would be for someone who was more anxious to see the end of the trail than what could be seen along it. I’m guessing that many thousands of people have rushed by it without a glance, and this is why when you ask them what they saw they will often say “nothing much.”

A piece of driftwood on a pond shore reminded me of the bleached bones of an ancient creature. It is, or was a tree stump and I liked the flow of its roots and its weathered silvery finish. It grabbed me and held my attention for a while.

Witch hazels are having a glorious year. I’ve never seen them bloom as they are now. Apparently drought doesn’t really bother them.

New England asters didn’t have a very good time of it this year but what I did see were beautiful. This is probably the last one I’ll see until next year.

Golden pholiota mushrooms (Pholiota limonella) usually grow in large clusters on dead or dying logs and trees, but this tiny thing grew alone. It’s cap was no bigger in a diameter than a penny. These mushrooms are toxic and are said to smell like lemon, garlic, radish, onion or skunk. They are said to taste like radishes by those unfortunate few who have tasted them. Note how it seems to be growing out of a tiny hole in the log.

Though jelly fungi grow at all times of year I think of them as winter fungi because that’s usually when I find them. I often see them on fallen branches, often oak or alder, and I always wonder how they got way up in the tree tops. Yellow jellies (Tremella mesenterica) like this one are called witch’s butter and are fairly common. We also have black, white, red, orange and amber jelly fungi and I’d have to say that white and red are the rarest. I think I’ve seen each color only two or three times. Jelly fungi can be parasitic on other fungi.

Puffballs grew on a log. The biggest, about as big as a grape, had been partially eaten and I would guess that a chipmunk had been at it. I never knew chipmunks ate mushrooms until I saw one doing so this past summer. I often see gray squirrels eating them as well.

A tree “marriage” happens when two trees of the same species rub together in the wind. When the outer bark is rubbed off the inner cambium layer of the trees can become naturally grafted together and they will be married from then on. The process is called inosculation and isn’t as rare as we might think. This maple tree shows that even limbs on the same tree can do it, but this is the first time I’ve seen it happen this way.

Native little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) catches the light and glows in luminous ribbons along the roadsides. This is a common grass that grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington, but is so uncommonly beautiful that it is grown in gardens. After a frost it takes on a reddish purple hue, making it even more beautiful.

It is the way its silvery seed heads reflect the light that makes little bluestem grass glow like it does.

I had quite a time trying to find out what was wrong with this blueberry leaf with big black, tar like spots and I’m still not sure I have but it might be blueberry rust (Thekopsora minima,) which is a fungal disease which infects the leaves and fruit of blueberries and other plants in the Ericaceae plant family. The disease can eventually kill the plant if left alone so it’s important to treat it if you have a lot of bushes. I don’t see many problems on wild blueberry bushes so I was surprised to see this. I wish I had thought to look at the underside of the leaf. That’s where the spores are released and wind and rain can carry them quickly to other plants.

This mullein plant was as big as a car tire and will most likely have an impressive stalk of flowers next year. Mullein is a biennial that flowers and dies in its second year. Native Americans used tea made from its large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. They also used the roots to treat coughs, and it is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid. The Cherokee tribe are said to have rubbed mullein leaves in their armpits to treat prickly rash and the Navaho tribe made an infusion of the leaves and rubbed it on the bodies of their hunters to give them strength. Clearly this plant has been used for many thousands of years. It is considered one of the “oldest herbs’ and recent research has shown that mullein does indeed have strong anti-inflammatory properties.

The spiny, 2 inch long fruits of the wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) have a watermelon shape and boys have been throwing them at each other for as long as I’ve been around. The fruit is not edible and the menacing looking spines are soft and pliable at this stage.

Inside a wild cucumber seed pod you find two chambers which hold a single seed each. These seeds look like giant cucumber seeds. A kind of netting is also found inside wild cucumber seed pods and once they dry the netting is even more interesting. A man wrote to me once and told me that he decorated pens that he makes with that same netting. For me these plants are like a time machine that always takes me back to my boyhood.

A friend’s tomatillos have ripened and are ready for salsa Verde. Tomatillo usage dates back to at least 800 B.C. when they were first cultivated by the Aztecs. Today they are also called husk tomatoes and they can be eaten raw or cooked. Scientists have found fossil tomatillos in Argentina dating back 52 million years, so they’ve been around a long time.

Here was another hemlock root, polished by thousands of feet. Do you see its beauty? Part of the beauty I see comes from knowing how much work would go into trying to create something like this in a wood shop, and part of it comes from the artistic bent I was born with. Much of what I choose to show you here I choose so you might see the beauty that shines out of those every day bits of life that we ignore so readily. Instead of stepping on a root without a thought maybe you could just stop and be still for a moment and really see what is there in front of you. It doesn’t have to be a root; it could be a blade of grass or a mountain or an insect. But just see the beauty in it. The more you let yourself see beauty, the more beauty you will see. Finally you will see beauty everywhere, in every thing, and you will become filled with a deep gratitude for being allowed to see the true wonder and beauty of this earth. This is not hard; all it takes is your attention, your contemplation, and a bit of time.

These are some of the things I have learned simply by spending time in nature. I make no secret of the fact that this blog’s sole purpose is to see you spending time in nature as well. It’s kind of like dangling a carrot before a horse, but why do I care what you do? Would you like an occasional glimpse of bliss? Would you like peace to wash over you like a gentle rain and comfort to cover you like a warm blanket? If you experienced these things would you want to harm this earth? Of course you wouldn’t, and that’s what this is all about.

Can we go from fall to winter just like that, with a snap of the fingers? Yes we can because this is New England and the weather can change that quickly here. Snow on Halloween is unusual but it isn’t unheard of; in 2011 we had a nor’easter come through that dropped close to two feet in my yard and cancelled trick or treating for that year. On the other side of the coin sometimes we don’t see any snow until well after Christmas. Nature seeks balance and we’ve had a several months long drought, so we might get a few surprises this winter.

This was a wet, heavy snow that stuck to everything and reminded me of the quote by William Sharp, who said: There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow. It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.

This blueberry bush with its red fall leaves did look radiant with its frosting of white snow.

The oaks were beautiful as well, but too much heavy snow when the leaves are still on the trees can cause major damage and power outages which can last for weeks. Luckily this storm was minor, with only 3-4 inches falling.

Still, leaves fell and autumn leaves in the snow are always beautiful. How beautiful this scene was with its simplicity and that amazing color. I couldn’t just walk away without a photo of it, and then I couldn’t stop taking them.

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
~Albert Einstein

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To be sure that the beech and oak trees are at their peak colors I usually wait until Halloween to visit Willard Pond in Hancock but this year I was afraid that Halloween might be too late, because I saw lots of oak trees already changing. The weather people told me that last Sunday was going to be a perfect fall day, so off I went to the pond.

Before I start following the trail I go to the boat landing to see what the colors are like. That’s where we’re going; right along that shoreline at the foot of the hill. The oaks didn’t look at their peak but the colors weren’t bad.

What I call the far hillside was showing good color as well. Halloween is usually too late for that hillside’s peak because I think it is mostly maples and by then their leaves had fallen.

And then there was a surprise. I heard they built a windfarm over in Antrim and that you could see it from Willard Pond but I didn’t know the wind turbines would be so big. They were huge, and spinning rapidly.

Here is the trail we’re taking. Can you see it? If not don’t worry, it’s there. It’s a very narrow, often one person wide trail.

The trail is very rocky and has a lot of roots to stumble over, but it’s worth all of that and more to be walking through such a beautiful hardwood forest.

Blueberry bushes are virtually everywhere here and they were all wearing their fall best. Such beautiful things they are.

Striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) is common here as well, and the big hand size leaves still had some green in them. They will go to yellow and then to white before falling.

Striped maple comes by its common name honestly. Another name for striped maple is whistle wood because its pulp is easily removed and whistles can then be made from the wood of its branches.

You have the pond just to your right and the hillside just to your left on the way in, and what there is left can be very narrow at times.

There were leaves falling the whole time. These are mostly maple.

Someone had done some trail work at some point in the past and had cut some small oaks, but they were growing back and were beautifully red against the yellow of the beeches.

Wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) grew on a log. These tiny brown spheres are common at this time of year. The biggest I’ve seen were about the size of a pea. They start out as tiny pink globules but as they age and become more like what we see in the above photo, the globules look more like small puffballs growing on a log.

Wolf’s milk slime mold is also called toothpaste slime because of the consistency of its inner plasmodial material. It’s usually pink and goes from liquid to a toothpaste consistency like that seen here, before becoming dusty gray spores.

The hard black balls of the chaga fungus (Inonotus obliquus) grew on a fallen birch. Chaga is the only fungus I can think of that looks like burnt charcoal and grows on birch.  This fungus has been used medicinally in Russia, China, Korea and Japan for centuries, and it is said to be packed with vitamins and minerals. Recently it has shown promise in cancer research, reducing the size of tumors. In Siberia it is said to be the secret to long life.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) were beautiful in their fall reds. Hobblebush is a good name for them because their stems grow close enough to the ground to be covered by leaf litter and if you aren’t careful you could be tripped up and hobbled by them. They’ve brought me down on my face more than once.

The hobblebushes have their spring flower buds all ready to go. These are naked buds with no bud scales. Their only protection from the cold is their wooly-ness.

As is often the case when I come here I took far too many of this incredibly beautiful forest, so I’ll keep sneaking them in when you aren’t watching.

Huge boulders have broken away from the hillside and tumbled down, almost to the water in some places. Some were easily as big as delivery vans. You might find yourself hoping there isn’t an earthquake while you’re here.

In one spot you have to weave your way through the boulders, sometimes with barely enough room for your feet to be planted side by side.

No matter how big the stone if it has a crack that water can seep into and then freeze, the pressure from the ice will eventually split the stone. This boulder was easily as big as a garden shed, but just look what water has done.

Polypody ferns (Polypodium virginanum) grow in great profusion here on many of the boulders. Another name for this fern is the rock cap fern, and it makes perfect sense because that’s what they do. They were one of Henry David Thoreau’s favorites.

They are producing spores at this time of year and each of the spore producing sporangia looks like a tiny basket full of flowers. This is the time of year to be looking at the undersides of ferns fronds. How and where the sporangia grow are important parts of an accurate identification for some.

Another fern that you see a lot of here is the royal fern. Royal ferns (Osmunda spectabilis) turn yellow in the fall before becoming this kind of burnt orange. Many people don’t realize that they’re ferns but they are thought to be one of the oldest; indeed one of the oldest living things, with fossil records dating back dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are believed to be able to live for over a century and they live on every continent on earth except Australia. They’re very pretty things.

I wonder how many people have ever been deep in a forest like this one. I hope everyone has but I doubt it. If I could take people who had been born and had lived their lives in a city and lead them into this forest what would they think about it, I wonder. Would they love it, or would it frighten them? I hope they would love it because there is nothing here to be frightened of. It is a gentle, sweet, loving place where the illusion that you and nature are separate from each other can begin to evaporate. It is a place to cherish, not to fear.

Our native maple leaf viburnum shrubs (Viburnum acerifolium) can change to any of many different colors including the beautiful deep maroon seen here. The foliage will continue to lighten over time until it wears just a hint of pale pastel pink just before the leaves fall. There are lots of them along this trail.

Witch hazels blossomed all along the trail. I love seeing their ribbon like petals so late in the year and smelling their fresh, clean scent.

The old bent oak tells me I have reached the end of my part of the trail. Though it goes on I usually stop here because I like to sit for a while and just enjoy the beauty of the place.

There is a handy wooden bench to sit on and so I put away the camera and just sit for a time. On this day I heard a loon off in the distance. Moments of serenity, stillness and lightness; that’s what I find here. It seems an appropriate place to witness the end of the growing season and watch as nature drifts off to sleep in a beautiful blaze of color.

Here is one reason I like to sit on the bench; this is what you see.

And this is what you see on the way back. If you come to Willard Pond you’ll find that you’re in a truly wild place; before the axe and the plow this is how it was. But you’ll also find that the only thing really difficult about being here is leaving.

In wilderness people can find the silence and the solitude and the noncivilized surroundings that can connect them once again to their evolutionary heritage, and through an experience of the eternal mystery, can give them a sense of the sacredness of all creation. ~ Sigurd Olson

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Last Saturday I planned to climb Pitcher mountain in Stoddard but the weather people said we’d have showers in the afternoon so instead I went up to the Beaver Brook Natural area in Keene to walk the old abandoned road. Since it is one of my favorite places to explore it had been calling to me, especially since I hadn’t been there since April.

Fall is in full swing and though the old double yellow no passing lines are still on the road you couldn’t see them because of all the leaves.

Beaver Brook had as much stone as water in its bed. Since we’re still in a drought that was no surprise. Our streams and rivers tend to be very rocky.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) bloomed along the brook. Witch hazel is our latest blooming shrub, even blooming as late as January in a warm winter, but I was surprised to see these blossoms this early. Some Native American tribes steamed witch hazel twigs over hot stones in their sweat lodges to soothe aching muscles and others made tea from it to treat coughs. As is often the case Natives had a use for virtually every part of the plant and witch hazel is still in use today. It can be found as a lotion in almost any drugstore. Witch hazel blossoms are pollinated by owlet moths, which are active in winter and are called winter moths, but this year the moths may have help from several other insects I’ve seen still flying. The “hama” part of witch hazel’s scientific name means “at the same time” and is used because you can see leaves, flowers, and the prior year’s fruit all at once on the same plant.

Striped maples lit up the dark spots with their hand size, green turning to white leaves. This is the only maple tree in New England that has bark that is striped with green and white vertical stripes. Other names for the tree are snake bark maple, moosewood maple, goosefoot maple, Pennsylvania maple, and whistle wood, because the soft pith makes the wood easy to hollow out and make whistles from. Native Americans used the bark of the tree to treat many ailments including coughs and colds.

It was a beautiful fall day and it was easy to get lost in the kaleidoscope of colors.

Many of our roads are lined yellow because that’s the color native sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) turns in the fall. The roots of the plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla strangely contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

There are some fairly large ledges out here and lots of stone falls from them so I only go near the ones that I’m fairly sure are stable.

The reason I go near the ledges at all is to see things like the dog lichens (Peltigera) that grow here. They are as big as a dinner plate, so I think they’ve grown here for a long time. Dog lichens are good examples of lichens that will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was. Dog lichens are associated with mossy areas because the mosses help provide the moisture that they need. It is very thin and pliable. It is also a foliose lichen because it is lobed, or leaf like. The upper part of the body (Thallus) is undulating or veined on this example.

I also find smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) on the ledges here. The blue color is caused by the way light reflects off a waxy coating on the fruiting bodies, which is very similar to the “bloom” found on plums, blueberries, and grapes. In addition to blue it can also appear black or gray depending on which direction the light happens to be coming from.  The greenish-gold background color is the color of the body (thallus) of this crustose lichen. It’s a very beautiful thing.

This was the only New England aster I saw here.

Blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) bloomed all along the old road. I never knew until now that so much of it was here.

A bald faced hornet worked the goldenrod blossoms and was quite docile as I got close with my camera. That was unusual behavior because these wasps can be aggressive. I opened a shed door at work this past summer and was immediately stung on the face by one of them. They really pack a punch and their sting hurts more than a bee or other wasps I’ve had run-ins with.

False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) had lost all its berries to critters but it had some fall color.

I was surprised to see “true” Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) growing beside the false. It’s berries were also gone. This plant has blue berries that dangle under its leaves and false Solomon’s seal has red berries at the end of its stem. Native Americans sprinkled dried powdered roots of this plant on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to alleviate headaches. All parts of the plant except the roots and young shoots are poisonous, but that’s assuming you know how to prepare the roots and young shoots correctly. Sometimes the preparation method is what makes a plant useable.

This was the first time I had seen Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) growing out here. I noticed that it had the bright crimson splotch on its upper tier of leaves that I first noticed just a few weeks ago. I’ve read that scientists believe that the red color attracts certain birds like turkeys to the plant’s berries.

Though there are no houses out here the electric company still uses the cleared space of the old road to run its electric lines to houses further up the line.  

And there is a tree on the lines almost every time I come here. You’d think they’d get tired of removing them.

Oyster mushrooms are pure white and seem to always grow in overlapping clusters but in this case there were only two or three. They have off center stems that usually grow out of the side of the log and are hidden by the cap. Mushrooms are often eaten by tiny worms called nematodes that live on plant and fungal tissue, but not  oyster mushrooms. Scientists discovered in 1986 that oyster mushrooms “exude extracellular toxins that stun {nematode] worms, whereupon the mycelium invades its body through its orifices.” What this means is that oyster mushrooms are actually carnivorous. They also consume bacteria (Pseudomonas and Agrobacterium) in order to get nitrogen and protein.

White wood asters (Aster divaricatus) still bloomed here under the trees but in most places they’re all done.

I stopped to chatter with a little friend who had been following me and telling all the other forest creatures I was coming.

But I couldn’t visit with the chipmunk long because dark clouds were moving in fast. They changed my mind about sliding down the embankment to get a shot of Beaver Brook falls.

The weather people had been correct this time and I was glad not to be mountain climbing in the rain. Though this view looks perfectly calm and sun filled the dark clouds were right behind me all the way back and by the time I reached my car it had just started to rain.

The days may not be so bright and balmy—yet the quiet and melancholy that linger around them is fraught with glory. Over everything connected with autumn there lingers some golden spell—some unseen influence that penetrates the soul with its mysterious power. ~Northern Advocate

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On Friday the 10th of January it started warming up, and it didn’t stop until the temperature reached 62 degrees F. and all the snow was gone and all the records were broken. January thaws usually last for about a week and temperatures rise an average of 10° F higher than those of the previous week but this was a thaw to remember, with temperatures rising 30 degrees or more. I think of a January thaw as a taste of spring in the dead of winter, and it is always welcome.

Snow was coming off roofs in lacy sheets because of the ice underneath.

I followed an ice covered road by a pond and by the time I walked back, in the space of a half hour most of the ice you see here had melted.

The ice on the pond was melting quickly and was covered with water. When it freezes again it will be a great surface for skating.

On a day like this it was easy to think of red wing blackbirds building nests in the cattails at the pond edges, but they won’t really be back for a couple of months.

North of Keene you could see it was still January on the banks of the Ashuelot River but that snow was thin and I’d guess that it is all gone now.

You can see how thin the snow was in the woods. I’d guess no more than two inches, and two inches melts fast in 60 degree weather.

The high water mark along the river showed that there was plenty of room for all the melting snow.

The Ashuelot River south of Keene looked completely different than the photo I took of it in the north of Keene and they were taken just a few hours apart. This view looks more like March.

The melting ice and snow has uncovered a bounty for animals. It was a good year for acorns.

Spring has always been my favorite season so for me a thaw is also a tease that lights the pilot light of spring fever. Seeing pussy willows in January fuels the flames.

Willows often have pine cone galls on them, caused by a gall midge (Rhabdophaga strobiloides). The midge lays an egg in the terminal leaf bud of a willow in early spring and the larva releases a chemical that tricks the willow into creating this gall instead of leaves. The midge spends winter inside the gall and emerges in the following spring, so the entire cycle takes a full year. 

I went to see a witch hazel that I had seen bloom quite late before and there it was, blooming again. This is unusual because it’s a fall blooming witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana.) At this time of year I’d more expect to see a spring blooming witch hazel in bloom.

But no, the spring blooming witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) buds were still closed up tight. They’ll bloom in March, and I can’t wait to see them again.

I was shocked to see what I think are reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) shoots out of the ground. These irises are early, sometimes even earlier than crocuses, but I have a feeling they’ll pay dearly for believing it was spring in January.

The big flower heads of Hydrangeas can usually be seen blowing across the ground like tumbleweeds in spring, but these stayed put.  

Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) loses its berries over winter and in the spring you can find the ground under them littered with small blue spheres. These examples were still hanging on tight, so they hadn’t been fooled by the warmth. Boston ivy lends its name to the “ivy league” schools. The odd thing about Boston ivy is its name, because it isn’t from Boston and it isn’t an ivy; it’s a member of the grape family and comes from China and Japan. This vine attaches to just about any vertical surface with tiny circular pads that form at the ends of its tendrils.  It secretes calcium carbonate and uses it to “glue” the pads to the surface it wants to climb. The glue can to hold up to 260 times its own weight, which is pretty remarkable.

The magnolia flower buds still wore their fuzzy caps and I was glad to see it. I’ve seen lots of beautiful magnolia blossoms browned over the years by opening early and getting frost bitten.

There wasn’t any ice to be seen at Ashuelot falls. The falls are shaded for a large part of the day so any ice that forms here often stays for the winter, but not this time.

The warm spell was a nice respite from the cabin fever that always starts to set in around mid-January. Forty degrees above our average high lets us catch our breath and prepare for more winter weather. We all know there is plenty of winter left to come but for now a taste of spring was just what we needed. Everywhere I went there were people outside, loving it.

The sun came out,
And the snowman cried.
His tears ran down
On every side.
His tears ran down
Till the spot was cleared.
He cried so hard
That he disappeared.

~ Margaret Hillert

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Actually it was Christmas eve day when a trail I haven’t walked in a while called to me. It was a bright, sunny and warm day with temps nearing the mid-40s F. Days like this don’t come often in a New Hampshire December so I hated to waste it. I hadn’t been the only one to think so; the thin snow on the trail showed many footprints.

There were icy spots on the trail but I had my micro spikes on so I stayed upright. It’s a good idea to have them if you hike popular trails because the compacted snow quickly turns to ice.

There is pond here that’s a popular ice skating spot for local children. In fact I skated here as a boy. The town usually plows the snow off it but over the past few winters it has taken the ice longer to thicken up. I don’t think it was plowed at all last winter because it was too warm for good ice. Plow trucks have ended up at the bottom of the pond in the past so they make sure it’s good and firm before plowing it these days. But kids will be kids and you can see where they have shoveled to make a small skating area.

They pay no attention to the signs. Someday they might wish they had, but I hope not. This sign is on a dam and I’ve seen the pond when it had to be drained to work on the dam a few years ago, and I was shocked at how shallow it was. If a pickup truck went in at the deepest point the water would probably reach to the bottom of the windows.

Spidery cracks in the ice showed that it was still quite thin in places.

When a thin layer of ice on a pond gets snowed on quite often the snow is heavy enough to make the ice sink a bit, and this forces water up through holes in the ice. The water turns the snow to slush, which then freezes into the spidery patterns seen here. For years I wondered if someone had thrown a rock and broken a hole in the ice but this comes from below, not above.

Another thing I wondered about for years was what tree produced such zig zaggy twigs. When I finally realized it was witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) I felt pretty foolish, because all I would have had to do was look the plant over more carefully and I would have seen its seed pods and cup like bracts, which would have been an immediate give away. The seed pods especially are unmistakable in the winter. Inside each pod are two shiny black seeds that were much loved by certain Native American tribes. They are said to taste like pistachio nuts but I’ve never tried them. Natives also steamed witch hazel branches over hot stones in their sweat lodges to sooth aching muscles and used its Y shaped branches for dowsing. In fact the Mohegan tribe is said to have shown early settlers how to find water using witch hazel branches, and also how to use the plant medicinally. A tea made from witch hazel tightens muscles and stops bleeding and the plant is one of only a handful of medicinal plants still approved as an ingredient in non-prescription drugs by the Food and Drug Administration. It’s amazing that it is still being used medicinally after what is quite probably thousands of years. 

Two things we have lots of here in New Hampshire are trees and stones and you can find plenty of both along this trail. Some look like they were just left here by glaciers.

A vein of quartz in a stone points the way. Quartz can fill an already present crack in a cooling stone as a hot, liquid brine and some of the resulting veins can be very large. In Frankfurt, Germany there is a hydrothermal vein system that is nearly 4 miles long and almost over 200 feet wide. 

This little fern growing in a crack in a boulder never gets any bigger than what is seen here but it comes back every year to try again. It’s very persistent.

When water finds its way into a crack in a stone and freezes, the pressure from the ice can split the stone, and that’s what happened here. What is unusual about this scene is how a tree seed found its way onto the ground at the bottom of the crack and grew there. I’m guessing that the ever growing tree trunk is pushing the crack in the stone open even more each year. I’ve seen boulders as big as trucks split in the same way, cleaved perfectly by ice.

Stones aren’t the only things in the forest that crack; trees also crack. Straight, vertical cracks in tree bark like that shown above are called frost cracks because they happen in frigid weather when bark repeatedly freezes and thaws. Sunlight warms the bark during the day and then at night when the temperature drops quickly the bark cools and shrinks much quicker than the inner wood, and this causes stress and pressure build up. The unequal shrinkage and contraction between wood and bark can cause the bark to split, sometimes violently and as loudly as a rifle shot. It’s a relatively common sound in the woods at night, but it’s always startling. This frost crack is rare because it is in the bark of a white pine, which has thick bark.

Most frost cracks usually appear on thin barked trees and heal relatively quickly. This photo shows a healed frost crack in an oak.

Here is a scar in the bark of an eastern hemlock that I can’t explain. I’ve shown it off and on in blog posts over the years and many readers have had a shot at guessing the cause but none of us has truly been satisfied with their guess. By far the most popular guess is that lightning made the scar, but the lightning strikes that I’ve seen in tree bark have run as straight as a frost crack. They have also run the length of the tree, while this one comes up out of the ground and runs maybe 4 or 5 feet up the tree.

The zig zag crack is quite deep so I think it has been there for a few years. I’ve seen only one other photo of a similar scar and that also came with no explanation.

Sunlight on a hemlock branch warmed my spirits as much as it did the branch.

When a tree dies it often will shed its bark before it falls if it falls naturally, and the serpentine opening that shows in this tree’s bark is the beginning of the process. I see trees all the time that have all their bark lying in a heap at their base.

Sometimes I see trees that have broken off and fallen and their trunks are completely hollow. I often wonder how many of the trees that surround me in the woods are standing with hollow trunks. That isn’t a real comforting thought especially on a windy day, but I think the wound “window” in this tree shows how it happens. The weathered gray heart of the tree died first and the outer bark lived long enough to start healing the wound. If the tree had lived it would have most likely just been another standing hollow tree, but it finally died and I think the channels showing bark beetle damage all around the wound tell the story of how. Bark beetles don’t usually attack healthy trees but if the tree is alive when they move in it is doomed.

Here was a tree scar that wouldn’t ever heal; someone had cut down a hemlock that was about 5 inches through and I wondered who would do such a thing and why. And then I remembered doing the same thing when I was a boy, and I thought about how I didn’t know then and still don’t know why I did it. This seemed like a good time to ponder such things but I wasn’t able to fill in any blanks. It is healthy I think, to occasionally question our actions. I hope whoever did this will one day ask themselves why, just as I did on this day.

The bark had fallen off an old black birch (Betula lenta) and the inner bark was like confetti. Black birch bark looks a lot like cherry bark when young but once they reach about 50 years old the bark begins to split and form scaly plates. These irregular plates start to fall off when the tree is about 80 years old,  so I would say this tree must be at least that old. The beautiful inner bark shown here will eventually become the outer bark and it will begin to fall off when the tree is about 150 years old. Black birches were once heavily harvested for their natural oil of wintergreen so it’s unusual to find such an old example. I gave it a pat on the bark and wished it well.  

I know this very popular trail has been here since the late 1800s but this tree hasn’t been here that long. Still, it took a lot of foot traffic to wear the bark off its roots like this. I always stop to look at roots like this. Some are so smooth they look as if they had been sanded and polished by a cabinetmaker. Many show wood of different colors and are beautiful.

You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters. ~St. Bernard

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Last Saturday it rained and Sunday the forecast was for 40 mile per hour wind gusts, so I decided to stay out of the woods and play instead along the banks of the Ashuelot river. I’ve seen a lot of blown down trees this year and it doesn’t take much to bring them down when the ground is saturated. And saturated it must be because all the snow has melted and the river is approaching bank-full.

Downstream from the bridge I stood on it was choppy.

I stopped trying to get a good wave photo in the dim light and admired an aster seed head instead.

The remnants of a bird’s nest hung from the branches of a small oak. I was surprised at the length of the fibers it was woven with. They must have been nearly a foot long. I saw an eastern phoebe nesting here in the past but I can’t say it that was a phoebe that built this nest.

Instead of being caused by an insect like many galls, alder (Alnus incana) tongue gall is caused by a fungus (Taphrina alni). The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the female cone-like catkins (strobiles) and causes long, tongue shaped galls known as languets to grow from them. These galls seem to like high humidity so are usually found on alders that grow near swamps, ponds, rivers and streams.  

Birds are gobbling the berries of the invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) which isn’t a good thing, because this shrub doesn’t need any help in its mission to take over the understory. Since its introduction from Asia as an ornamental in 1860, Winged euonymus has spread as far south as the gulf coast, north into Canada, and as far west as Illinois. It creates such a dense shade nothing else can get a start, so our native plants won’t grow near it. Because of that burning bushes can create monocultures of hundreds or even thousands of plants, and that is what has happened along this stretch of river.

One of the curious things I saw on this walk was what I think was a hemispherical insect egg case attached to a tree.  It had a single hole in it where either the insect had escaped or a bird had pecked the larva out of it. It was hollow and had opened somehow and fallen away from the tree, and I could see that the inside was pure white.

I carefully closed the egg case (?) against the tree and this is what it looked like. The white spot is the hole in it showing the white inside. It was only about a half inch across and I don’t know what made it.

It was a mostly cloudy day but the sun was kind enough to come out long enough to illuminate a beautiful patch of snowy moss that was in front of me.

There is a trail here that follows a narrow spit of land that juts out into the river. I suppose you’d call it a peninsula. It’s wooded and though I told myself I had to stay out of the woods I couldn’t resist.

A little spruce tree reminded me that Christmas is near. It’s unusual to find a spruce growing here.

Barberry berries looked like tiny Christmas ornaments but barberry is extremely invasive so I’d rather not see it here. Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is native to Japan. In 1875 seeds imported from Russia were planted at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. Birds helped it escape and now it has become a very invasive shrub that forms dense thickets and chokes out native plants. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, recently “barberry has been implicated in the spread of Lyme disease. Researchers have noted higher densities of adult deer ticks and white-footed deer mice under barberry than under native shrubs. Deer mice, the larval host, have higher levels of larval tick infestation and more of the adult ticks are infected with Lyme disease. When barberry is controlled, fewer mice and ticks are present and infection rates drop.”

Japanese barberry has inner bark that is bright yellow. It also has thorns that are a son of a gun to kneel on.

This is the first gall I’ve ever seen on a silky dogwood shrub. I haven’t been able to identify the insect that made it but it doesn’t matter because galls don’t usually harm the plants they grow on.

There are many witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) on the peninsula and I like to come out here in winter to see their beautiful brown leaves.

Beavers like witch hazels too, and treat them as we would a garden vegetable. Over the years, due to the cropping by the beavers, I’ve seen the witch hazels here grow into many stemmed shrubs. The beavers come and harvest a few; never all of them, and then leave them alone for a few years to grow back. Then they repeat the process, all up and down the river. It’s so good to have beavers here, because when I was a boy this river was so polluted few animals frequented it. Muskrats, I think were the largest animal using the river then. I can’t remember ever seeing a single sign of beavers.

Witch hazel seed pods explode with force and can throw the seeds as far as 30 feet. I’ve read that you can hear them pop when they open and even though I keep trying to be there at the right time to see and hear it happening, I never have been.

Bark beetles usually attack weak or dying trees but they can also kill healthy trees by girdling them.  Adults bore small holes in the bark and lay eggs in a cavity. Once the larvae emerge from the eggs they make tunnels in the inner bark. Once they stop feeding they will pupate at the end of these tunnels. The pupae then become young adults and fly off to find another tree. These beetles carry spores of various fungi which can grow on the outer sapwood and stop the upward flow of water to the crown. Bark Beetles include over 100 species. It is said that their work is like a fingerprint for the species. They can create such beautiful patterns in wood that it looks as if a calligrapher has taken up a chisel instead of a pen. When I think of things like this, created under the bark of a limb and never meant for me to see, that’s when I feel an almost overwhelming sense of gratitude, just for being alive and able to see beauty like this every day.

Bark beetles excavate egg galleries in fresh phloem, the inner bark which carries food from leaves to the roots of a tree. For a living tree this is a death sentence.  

The peninsula I was on gets narrower and narrower until it becomes just a point jutting out into the river, but on this day the water was so high I knew I’d never reach the end.

In fact the end of the peninsula was under water and this was a scary scene that I’ve never seen before. I’m guessing the peninsula is going to be a hundred or so yards shorter from now on.

On my way back up the trail I tripped over a pine branch and fell to my knees right on some Japanese barberry thorns. Once I stopped cursing my bad luck I saw that in fact I’d had good luck, because I saw a little pink, brain like jelly fungus that I’ve never seen before growing on the branch I had tripped over. Now I just have to see if I can identify it. So far I haven’t had much luck doing so. It’s very unusual, and cute too. It was a little over a quarter inch long.

There is no music like a little river’s . . . It takes the mind out-of-doors . . . and . . . it quiets a man down like saying his prayers. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

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