Monday, August 29, 2016

Back to the Mountains

It was nearly a year since we last hiked in the White Mountains, so it was good to return this past weekend for several hikes. From our base in Jackson, we took in two very different hikes. On Saturday we drove over Hurricane Mountain Road and up Route 113 through Evans Notch to the Caribou Mountain parking area. Lots and lots of other people had the same idea to hike this weekend, but we still found quiet spots and solitude, at least on the hike to Caribou Mountain and later along the East Branch of the Saco River.
On the Caribou Trail, on the way to the summit, I spotted a cow moose feeding among the underbrush of a storm-damaged yellow birch stand. It was a perfect late summer day: blue sky overhead, mid-70s, a light breeze, no mosquitoes or black flies.

Yesterday we hiked a portion of the Franconia Ridge to Little Haystack, and Mts Lincoln, and Lafayette. It was overcast with thunderstorms forecasted for the afternoon. The summits were in and out of the clouds, but no rain fell. Hundreds of others were making the same trek so we encountered a steady stream of hikers going and down. Still, it was wonderful to be on the ridge amidst the clouds and the temps and wind were refreshing. And most surprisingly the brooks were flowing with water, despite the long, dry summer.

The Falling Waters Trail to Little Haystack Mountain crosses Dry Brook several times,
showcasing a series of falls that were definitely not dry.
We reached the summit of Little Haystack (4,760') by 11:30. Clouds constantly shifted across the ridge; sometimes Mt Lincoln was visible, then moments later it was shrouded in clouds, then emerged again.
Franconia Ridge Trail on the way to 5,089-foot Mt. Lincoln;
a mat of cranberry borders the trail.
Mt. Lafayette (5,260') was in the clouds when we reached just past midday.
It didn't matter to me that we had no view from the summit of Lafayette. Being on top of one of these high peaks, reached on my own two feet, is exhilarating enough. The rocks and plants at my feet are just as beautiful as a long, sweeping view.

At lower elevations hobblebush is the common shrub along most any trail in the White Mountains. I suspect that most people don't notice it since it is so common, but I notice it all the time, stopping to admire the buds and fruits, and changing leaf color, and even a large toad that hopped beneath a leaf.
This morning, before leaving Jackson, we explored the East Branch of the Saco River. We weren't there for tubing (not enough water for that anyway). It was at this spot that we found our solitude. We listened to the water flowing over rocks and watched a solitary sandpiper feed at the water's edge. We sat on and wandered among the river's rocks, noting individual plants that have taken hold, logs washed downstream then caught by large boulders, and the myriad sizes and colors and patterns of stones.
It is bone dry back home in southern New Hampshire. I'm comforted knowing that the high peaks are often shrouded in clouds and rain and that the brooks and rivers meandering down from up high are still flowing and nourishing life along the way.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Taking Stock

It is about this time of the summer that I take stock of my vegetable garden. Every year is different: what and where I plant, the weather (no rain!) and temperature (hot!), insects and animals, weeds, time spent in the garden. Often by now the weeds have gotten the best of me and the tomatoes wilted from blight, but this year I feel particularly pleased with the garden, and oddly enough I think it is due to the lack of rain.

Rain is good of course, easier and more deep soaking than watering by hand. However, rain carries disease and causes back splash on the plants. Usually wet summers bring more insect pests and plant diseases. Not this year. The tomatoes are the best ever.

I'm seeing fewer bugs and and caterpillars--those that are pesky. The zucchini and summer squash plants are lush and overflowing (does anyone need zucchini?). Kale and Swiss chard and okra are exceptional.
This week I did find my first tobacco hornworm of the season -- a huge 3-incher munching away on the cherry tomatoes. But on nearby plants smaller hornworms were embedded with the larvae of parasitic braconid wasps. This is nature's way of controlling the hornworms - thank you wasps.
Some things haven't worked well this year. The sugar snap peas lasted all of one week due to the heat in June. And my eggplant is looking sad. I do have a drip irrigation system, which is very effective especially during dry years, but maybe the eggplant still weren't getting enough moisture. One issue is chipmunks. They aren't so much eating things in the garden, but their tunneling creates holes around the plant roots, which dries them out before I notice. And something ate the broccoli stems. Lettuce bolted too soon. But I can plant more.

I saw our first monarch butterfly on the gorgeous purple zinnias yesterday.
In the perennial garden the tall anise hyssop and bee balm are loaded with bees and clearwings and other pollinators. Hummingbirds and dragonflies zoom about the yard, and sometimes land nearby.
Oh, and for the first time since my sister and I started growing garlic (400+ bulbs per year) at our parent's place, the crop was a bust. Garlic need water and we were not there to take care of them. It would have required too much water anyway. We did harvest some nice garlic, but much less and much smaller than usual.
So, I am buying new seed garlic from Fedco in Maine and will be planting my crop here this fall, since my parents are now gone and we are visiting the homestead (now rented) less. The garlic is a symbol of this transition as our parents helped us every year with the garlic planting and harvest.

I am already planning my garden for next year, especially since I now need to make room for 200 garlic bulbs. I'm going to skip the broccoli and plant fewer zukes and summer squash -- way too many this year. I need to move the rhubarb to a shadier spot (too hot in current location), which will make room for the cucumbers. And the catnip is in the wrong place. I need to get cow manure. So much to do in the garden and I love it. Now to find one more zucchini recipe.