Saturday, April 28, 2012

Long Mountain and Rattlesnake Knob

I grew up looking across fields to the top of Long Mountain from our home on Bay Road in Amherst, Massachusetts. In winter we'd pull our sleds a long way up the mountain and then sled down. I remember using flashlights one time to see our way down when sledding in the dark. Or maybe that story is just a legend, I'll have to ask my brother as I think he was the ring-leader on that particular expedition.

While still in grade school I learned to identify mountain laurel and rattlesnake plantain and Christmas fern as we hiked up the mountain on summer days with my parents and siblings. Bay Road was quiet back then - we walked to a neighbor's driveway to catch the bus and hung around with our friends in the road. Today the road is a major thoroughfare, traffic is fast and loud at times and busy. But the view across the fields to Long Mountain remains.
We return often to visit my parents at Winterberry Farm, their home now for more than 55 years, and this weekend we celebrate Dad's 90th birthday. It is a lovely spring weekend, if a bit breezy. There is always lots to do outside at the old homestead. In between we find time for walks to the back forty and up into the hills. In recent years we've been hiking to Rattlesnake Knob just west of Long Mountain. The Knob provides a great view east to Long Mountain.
I've written before about the trail to Rattlesnake Knob as it passes through a beautiful oak-beech forest. The final ascent to the top of the knob is steep, but it is easy to pause along the way as the basalt-laden slope hosts many interesting plants. Today was no exception.

Hepatica had already flowered, although its leaves are beautiful too.
Two small clumps of cancer-root or bear corn (Conopholis americana) were emerging. This non-photosynthezing, parasitic plant was growing not far from the base of an oak tree, one of its favorite hosts. I've seen this plant only once before, from this same trail.
Large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandifolia) was flowering farther along the trail, near the top of the Knob. It's single pale yellow flower dangled from the plant's perfoliate leaves -- leaves that clasp the entire stem.
My young nieces enjoy these outings more and more, gathering their own nature experiences based on what they see and feel and smell. Together we tore and sniffed the leaves of wintergreen and paused to see the hepatica leaves and bear corn stalks. They stopped and played with small stones and floated twigs and leaves down a small brook. It is always fun to spend time in the woods with them, watching them explore the very same places that I explored when I was their age.
These woods are full of interesting things to see, especially in spring when hardwoods are just leafing out and understory plants take advantage of the filtered light streaming through the canopy. We find something new every time we hike this trail.


  1. Hi Ellen . . . two comments as follows:

    1) That cancer-root/bear corn is truly an unusual-looking plant!

    2) More importantly . . . how fortunate your nieces are to have an aunt such as you who can provide such expert education about the creations of Mother Nature!


  2. Thanks John. I have such fun with my nieces outdoors. They are so curious and creative. Sometimes they whine about hiking but they can be easily distracted by interesting plants or dead animals! or making up their own fun. On this particular hike they found small rocks and turned them into mice, carrying them all the way home.

    Isn't that bear corn so interesting. Apparently it is a bit rare, perhaps because it grows only in certain locations.