Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Baldfaces

On Sunday we hiked the Baldfaces: Baldface Knob, South Baldface, and North Baldface. The colors were glorious, the trails not too crowded, and the air was warm, actually a little too warm. We were parched by the end of our 10.5 mile hike, drinking nearly every drop of water that we carried.

We ascended via the Slippery Brook Trail, which branches off from the Baldface Circle Trail about one mile from the parking area in North Chatham. Slippery Brook is a longer and gentler climb than the more popular Baldface Circle Trail. We opted for the gentle, quiet route.

Along the upper part of the Slippery Brook Trail, 
lined with colorful hardwoods and hobblebush

For the first 4 miles we had the trails to ourselves. From Baldface Knob to North Baldface we encountered only a handful of people. A bit surprising since the views and colors were at their peak.

From Baldface Knob looking south to Eastman Mountain

Atop Baldface Knob, looking southwest to Sable Mountain

From Baldface Knob looking up at 3,570' South Baldface

The Baldfaces are all less than 4,000 feet, so not part of the White Mountain 48 4,000-footers. Yet they offer, in our opinion, some of the best hiking in the Whites, because they are bald, exposed, and wide open.

On the way to South Baldface

The views from the ridge between South and North Baldface are just stunning, especially looking northwest into the vast Wild River Wilderness to the Carter-Moriah Range and Mt. Washington beyond. The air was a little hazy (temperatures in the mid-80s), but not enough to mar the awe-inspiring views.

On the Baldface Circle Trail between South and North Baldface,
looking northwest all the way to Mt. Washington

A view east from the Baldface Circle Trail

The view from our lunch spot atop North Baldface

Trail junction: Baldface Circle Trail and Bicknell Ridge Trail

We hiked down via the Bicknell Ridge Trail, a long, hot, dry, but beautiful descent. When we finally reached a stream with running water, Kodi flopped down in a pool to cool his hot, black belly, then rested his head in the stream.

A large crowd of high school or college students were hanging around Emerald Pool, a popular swimming destination less than a mile from the parking lot. Otherwise, we encountered only a dozen people on the full hike, a pleasant surprise for one of the best fall weekends in New England.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Stick or An Insect?

When is the last time you saw a stick insect, or as I called it growing up (and still do)--a walking stick? It's been years, maybe decades for me. Last Friday while working with a group of volunteers on conservation land in Durham, NH, someone spotted a moving stick. We paused from pulling up bittersweet vines and honeysuckle shrubs to exclaim over the walking stick. Seven-year old volunteer Grace was happy pose with the 3-4-inch insect. After a bit we placed it gently back at the edge of the woods under some vegetation. It will likely be many more years before I see another, as camouflaged as they are and going about their quiet, nocturnal lives eating leaves.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Hornet's Nest

I've seen a lot of wasps this year: paper wasps, baldfaced hornets, yellow jackets. My approach to wasps, as well as bees, is to respect their nest sites, give them a wide berth, and leave them alone as much as possible.

Just the name of baldfaced hornets sounds ominous. They are actually not a true hornet, but rather a black and white yellow jacket, so named for their white or "baldface" head.

I marvel at the the large egg-shaped paper nest of baldfaced hornets. These are most noticeable after leaf-off, but I've seen several just in the last few weeks. Here is one on the branch of a large while oak tree overhanging a meadow of goldenrod, milkweed, and asters.
My parents have a lovely baldfaced hornet nest, I think, on the side of their house. Other family members are not so keen.

As long as you don't stir up the hornet's nest, all will be fine. After the first hard freeze, all the hornets except the newly mated females (future queens), will die. The future queens abandon their birth nest and bury into the ground or a log for the winter, waiting until spring to start a new paper nest of their own somewhere else.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Virgin's Bower

September is a lovely month in New England. As I wandered about the backyard late this afternoon, among the goldenrod and raspberries and Joe pye weed, a little spring peeper was resting. I love seeing these small frogs in my yard. So much so that this wee one got promoted to the Spicebush Log headliner.

Between taking Kodi and Henna for a couple walks and monitoring a conservation easement for a nearby town, I was outside a lot today. Yes, I am fortunate. As we set out on our walk this morning, just at sunrise, a barred owl called in the distance. We've heard them calling during the night of late. We had a good rain two days back, enough to urge red efts to be on the move, so I had to help one across the road this morning.

A few hours later on a second walk with Kodi and Henna (yes, they are fortunate too), morning dew clung to spider webs woven during the night. Such beautiful designs, it made me wonder why, as a species, we humans are often afraid of spiders.
In an attempt to enjoy even more of this wonderful September day, I took my laptop outside to write up the easement monitoring report. While sitting on my Leopold bench, laptop opened, I was joined by a meadowhawk. With such inspiration, I was able to wrap-up my report in no time.
But what I really wanted to write about in this post was Virgin's bower. Also called devil's darning needles, woodbine, old man's beard. It is a native vine, Clematis virginiana. It's leaves are toothed and right about now the flowers morph into showy, feathery seedheads, which is what caught my attention this morning on the walk with Kodi and Henna before I took note of the spiderwebs.
This vine is fairly common around wet meadows and other moist places. What is interesting to me is that I don't remember seeing this plant while I was growing up in western Massachusetts. But now it is there too, common and growing along field and stream edges, at my childhood home where my parents still live. I'm curious if others see this plant more often now than say 30 years ago. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Good Garden Season

Early September. The first few days of the month are starting out hot and steamy, after a relatively cooler August. This seems like a good time to take stock of the 2014 summer garden season.

Our root crops did well. The potato harvest was good. I planted 5 pounds of red Norlands from Fedco in Maine. Early on I hand-culled a healthy population of adult and larval cucumber beetles. But potato beetles never arrived. By early August the plants had faded so I dug up the hills on August 2nd, unearthing 36 pounds of spuds.
I planted yellow and red onions from seedlings. Although I did not keep track of quantities planted or harvested, here are the results.
My first attempt at growing shallots was okay. I started with one pound of shallot sets from Fedco and ended up with maybe double that quantity. Some grew large, some stayed small. They seem easy to grow, although the Fedco catalog says "tend to them with diligence." Not sure what that means.
Our garlic harvest, which we grow at my parent's place, was stellar once again: 500 bulbs harvested on July 28th.
Every year my tomato plants succumb to early blight. The lower leaves start to yellow early. I trim off some, but eventually too many turn yellow that I would end up with a naked plant if I clipped them all off. And I am still searching for the best paste tomato to grow. I tried San marzanos and monica this year; the latter were dry and short-lived. The best of the bunch were the super sweet 100 cherry tomatoes. They were sweet and productive and still going strong, along with good, but not as productive, sun golds.
Bell peppers are doing well, except for the slugs that chew holes in some, and the red ones are not turning red. Eggplants are slow, but maybe too shaded. No other problems to speak of, except the usual crop of Japanese beetles throughout the summer and deer early on.

Surprisingly, despite the cool, wet spring, the young peach was super productive. We forced ourselves to thin the fruits heavily in mid-summer so that each peach was not touching its neighbor. This allows the remaining peaches to grow bigger and to limit the spread of the brown rot fungus. We must have thinned more than 500 peaches and still we harvested hundreds. We made a delicious (I think) peach-blueberry crisp and just this weekend, with the last of the peaches, a peach galette (from a Melissa Clark/NYT recipe). It was yummy. Recipes available on request.
The garden is still humming along, although beans are over, sadly. Too many zucchini still and cukes have faded. This fall I must not forget to plant spinach that will overwinter and be ready for spring harvest. Meanwhile, the old peach is starting to ripen, so more peach galette on the menu.