Same old, same old. Sometimes it feels that way as we travel familiar trails and recognize members of the community. And so it seemed today.
And so we decided to climb to the summit of Amos Mountain.
Along the way, I realized we weren’t the only ones exploring this property–several times we saw where a mink had bounded across, even enjoying a short downward slide in the midst of its journey.
From the summit, Kezar Lake stretched before us as we ate our PB&J sandwiches and Girl Scout cookies–Lemonades™.
And another view, Whiting Hill in the center foreground and a peek at our beloved Pleasant Mountain, visible just to left of the center pines.
On the way down we decided to explore the stonewalls for a bit, at times terraced and following the contour of the mountain.
And that’s when the same old started to change. Yes, we found another bear tree.
And on what side of the tree should we find the claw scars? Why the north of course, adding to our unscientific theory that bears climb trees on this side. Typically, the northern side is the uphill side. Our mission is to continue to pay attention to this–tough job that we choose to accept.
Sometimes the walls appeared to enclose pens.
And other times they opened–perhaps to pastures?
As we wandered and wondered about the walls the farmer had created and why, we noticed other things we’ve somehow missed upon previous visits, including this northern white cedar tree.
In what today appears to be the middle of nowhere, a small foundation. House? Shed? Sugar shack?
We climbed a hill to see what was on the other side and found this red-belted polypore (Fomitopsis pinicola) growing on an Eastern white pine. In Lawrence Millman’s Fascinating Fungi of New England, he says this is “apparently not a picky fungus. F. pinicola has been recorded on more than 100 different species of tree hosts.”
The snow had softened since we first started so we did some slipping and sliding as we followed another stonewall back to the trail.
And then my brain kicked into birch tree mode. These woods are filled with paper, gray and yellow birch. And next week, the GLLT will host a “Which Birch Is It?” walk about the birches and their relatives.
The ribbony curls and whorls of yellow birch bark are signatures of this tree that can change in color from silver to yellow to reddish brown and circle back to silver again in old age. Did you know that a yellow birch can live to 200 hundred years, unlike its cousins, the gray birch and paper birch? Gray birch live about fifty years and paper reach a ripe old age of somewhere between 50 and 150 years.
Another cool fact about yellow birches: the interior of dead branches begin to decay quickly, even while still on the tree; eventually reduced to mush, the trees rid themselves of these non-productive limbs quite easily with the help of wind. Look for tubes of outer bark filled with rotting wood on the ground.
Also becoming visible as the snow melts, paper birch bark from downed trees. It seems curious that the lenticels resemble stitches, especially considering that Native American’s built sturdy, lightweight canoes from birch bark; the bark was stretched over a framework of white cedar, stitched together and sealed with pine or balsam resin. All the components exist in these woods.
Back on the trail, a few other things revealed themselves, including smooth rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata). No matter how many times I see this, it’s never the same old.
In great contrast to the smooth upper surface is the coarse pitch black of the underside reminding me of fresh tar–kind of like what town crews are using to fill pot holes right now.
The greenness of the upper side was witness to the melting snow.
Similarly, lungwort displayed its dryer gray presentation because it lacked moisture.
As we continued down the Gallie Trail, bypassing the Homestead, it seemed that we were back in the land of the sameness.
But . . . speckled alder, a member of the birch family, is about to come into its own. While the burgundy brown male catkins hang from the ends of twigs, smaller female catkins await the release of pollen.
Speckled alders are pioneer species–that first step in natural transition of farm land or logged land back to forest. In this instance, it’s both of the former.
And that’s not its only claim to fame. Speckled alders are nitrogen fixers. Atmospheric nitrogen absorbed by bacteria live in nodules on the alder roots and change into a form of nitrogen plants can utilize as fertilizer, thus fertilizing fields that may have been depleted of nitrogen by years of farming. Its leaves are also rich in nitrogen, so when they fall they help to fertilize soil. For some reason, this one chose to hang on, but its moment will come. In the meantime, it offers grace in form and design.
Equally graceful, the hairy bracts and seed head of Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) found near the parking lot.
It’s all always been here. It’s all the same, day in and day out and yet it’s all new. Change is the only constant–offering moments of wonder.