I took to The Mountain today, as we fondly refer to Pleasant Mountain ’round these parts, in search of what it might teach me.
It was chilly as I started up the Bald Peak Trail. Beside the stream, I thought about its life-giving capacity.
It wasn’t only the stream that was wet. The leaves were covered in droplets that acted as a hand lens–offering a closer look at the structure.
Sue’s Way is about .7 up Bald Peak. For all my treks up The Mountain, I’ve never tried her way. I don’t know Sue and had no idea what to expect.
It begins in a beech grove. As I continued, the beech and oak leaves were so thick that I couldn’t identify the trail, and sometimes had to pause and search for the next orange blaze. It slowed me down and made me pay attention.
Especially to things like this old beech. I knelt beside it, praying the wind wouldn’t decide this was the moment to shout timber, and realized the tree was hollow in the center. Somehow, with a minimum bit of sapwood under what’s left of the outer bark, this fella made enough food to leaf out. To keep on giving even when times are tough.
Its leaves looked a bit worse for wear, but they exist. This beech is. So am I.
The community soon changed and I followed a stream bed where water flowed below the rocks.
An enchanted valley–I was in the land of the evergreen ferns. Evergreen Wood Fern (Dryopteris intermedia)–first downward pointing pinnule on the lowest pinna is shorter than the pinnule next to it. Huh? In fern terms: a fern frond consists of the blade and stipe or stalk; a blade is the leafy part of one frond; each blade is divided into separate leaflets or pinna; and the pinna may be divided into smaller leaflets called pinnules.
I didn’t mention the rachis–that’s the stalk within the blade. So take a look at the rachis and the first set of pinnae. The one on the right is a big ragged, but on the left, you should see that the first downward-pointing pinnule is shorter than the second.
Marginal Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis) also flourishes here. Its margins are smooth, where as the Evergreen’s are toothed and have bristle tips.
I found some that were fertile, with their round sori located near the margin–thus the common name.
In some spots, they grow so close to each other, that they seem to be the same plant. Not so–Evergreen Wood on the left and Marginal Wood on the right. Teachable moment.
Polypody also grows abundantly, giving the rocks a green head of tussled hair.
At last I reached the next intersection and took a quick trip out to the Shawnee Peak ski slopes.
It won’t be long. I thought about my guy who raced yesterday in the Moose Pond Half Marathon, a fundraiser that benefits the Shawnee Peak Adaptive Ski Program. I’m so proud of him for finishing the race in 1:56:44, four minutes faster than his time last year, and for placing first in his age group (last year he was second). Not only that, but he raised $550 for the cause.
Back on the trail, heading along the North Ridge, I realized that the leaves made a louder crackling sound–ice. Winter will come again.
The North Ridge, with its white and red pines towering above and blueberries and sheep laurel below, has always been one of my favorite spots.
What I didn’t realize is that speckled alders and gray birches also manage to live in this neighborhood.
I was no longer following Sue’s Way, but trust she looped around the North Ridge often. My journey took me in the opposite direction than is my norm at this point, so it was fun to view the mountain ridge and see the fire tower halfway across–my destination.
Look what I found when I moved onto the Bald Peak Trail to follow the ridge line: SNOW!
And a parachute that flew in on the breeze. Perhaps this will grow into a healthy milkweed and the monarchs will find it. Hope is eternal.
At the summit, I couldn’t have asked for a crisper view of Mount Washington.
Like our mountain, Mount Washington always gives us a sense of location. But it provides more than that. Beauty and splendor. Awe and wonder.
Hiking down the Ledges Trail, I noticed the hieroglyphic work of bark beetles on one tree, and human beetles on another. I prefer the former, but this goes to show that natural and human forces constantly change what is before us.
And then I came to black knot fungus on a cherry tree. In a previous post, I identified a growth on a cherry tree as black knot and a friend corrected me. I wasn’t sure he was right, but turns out he was. What I saw previously was the casing of tent caterpillars–not black knot. Thanks to Alan S. for pointing that out. I still have a lot to learn. Thank goodness.
A glistening Beaver Pond in Denmark offered a brilliant reflection of this cool, crisp day.
As I continued to descend, I was ever mindful of the leaves beneath my feet. They weren’t so wet on this trail, but still slippery. I was wallowing in my good luck as I neared the road, when the earth reached up to grab me. A rock actually. Maybe two rocks. I landed with a thud. A young couple didn’t see me go down, but they heard me. I stood up and shook it off, though I can tell you right now exactly where my body made contact. Humbling for sure. It’s not my first fall. And I hope it won’t be my last. Not that I want to fall again, but I don’t want a fall to prevent me from hiking.
Five point two miles later I was back on Mountain Road and still had a mile and a half to walk before reaching my truck, which I’d left at the other trailhead.
No matter how often I climb The Mountain, I come away a better person for time spent enjoying moments in its presence.