Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Black Cherry

Kodi and I walk around the block morning and evening. On each walk in the last few weeks we pause beneath the black cherry trees that grow along our route. Kodi sniffs the fallen dark purple cherries scattered along the road edge.  It is a good crop this year. He tastes one and spits out the bitter fruit. Perhaps he is a slow learner, but he often tries again on the next walk hoping it turns out to be something sweeter. Lately he's been trotting on by without a sniff.

Wild black cherries (Prunus serotina)

Interestingly, the raccoon scat left in the middle of the road during the night also does not interest him. Thankfully. Perhaps it is because the purple scat is full of cherry seeds. Raccoons seem to relish the cherries, as do coyotes, foxes, bears, and birds.

Another creature likes the cherry tree and is hanging around our neighborhood -- the fall webworm. Often mistaken for tent caterpillars, webworm caterpillars hatch and begin feeding on tree leaves. They spin a protective silken web around themselves while they feed. They construct these feeding nests at the end of a branch. In contrast, tent caterpillars build a nest in the crotch of a tree and leave the nest to feed on leaves.

The webworms are generally not harmful to the tree, although they are unsightly. One of our trees is now nearly nude from webworm chewing.

Fall webworms in our black cherry

The fall webworm thrives on sun and moisture. This has been a good summer for them. The hot, dry days of July have returned this week. Lots of sun. A bit too much heat. In between we had some good rains. I can't reach the webworms living in the top of the cherry. Some others spun their web-like homes in the crabapples. These I can reach by hand and remove. As for the taller cherries, I look to the birds that love the fruits to also hone in on the webworm caterpillars.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

An August Salad

Last night we dined on the deck with two good friends. The meal came mostly from fresh vegetables grown in our yard or at New Roots Farm, along with garlic from Winterberry Farm. The main course of fresh pasta sauce over linguine, was made from San Marzano tomatoes, red and green bell peppers, and garlic all plucked from these gardens.

The salad was especially pretty with arugula, shredded carrots and red cabbage, cucumber, a medley of sliced small tomatoes and one green zebra, a sprinkle of kosher salt and black pepper, and topped with nasturtium blossoms from our garden.

We talked about gardens and hiking and cars and bikes, and watched two mosquito-snatching bats fly just over our heads. Once the sun set the evening air cooled off, but the hardy late summer mosquitoes lingered. We were wishing for more bats. We watched a large, bright satellite, far, far up, travel across the late evening sky.

Mostly we just enjoyed a delicious late summer meal, home-made and home-grown.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Views of Long Mountain

Growing up in South Amherst we crossed the road and hiked and sledded on Long Mountain many times. We always called it "the mountain." It was our mountain, close and welcoming. At 920 feet it is diminutive, but distinctive.

The mountaintop is not visible from our house, so I was happy to catch a view of Long Mountain from a different vantage point. Yesterday Kodi and I walked along a section of the Norwottuck Rail Trail in Amherst, Massachusetts. This popular biking/walking trail runs 10 miles from Amherst to Northampton. On the stretch that we walked I could look across Lawrence Swamp (a large, ecologically rich wetland that serves as a drinking water supply for the town) and see our mountain.

 Long Mountain viewed from the Norwottuck Rail Trail

One lament that I have about living in New Hampshire now is that the state puts no general fund money into state parks and trails. Such amenities are funded only through user fees. By contrast, the Norwottuck Rail Trail is open to anyone, young and old, rich and poor. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and local towns have also funded land protection along these trails to protect water quality and farmland, so the trails run through scenic parts of town.

Norwottuck Rail Trail

Kodi and I liked the rail trail so much that we returned this morning with my mother for a short walk. I wanted to show her the view of Long Mountain. Later in the morning, Kodi and I took to the mountains, hiking up one of the many trails that leads to the Holyoke Range, of which Long Mountain is a part. We hiked a favorite stretch of trail that leads to the top of Rattlesnake Knob. From here we had another good view of Long Mountain, from yet a different vantage point.

 Long Mountain viewed from Rattlesnake Knob

The network of trails that thread across the Holyoke Range, including the 110-mile Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, lead through beautiful hardwood forests of oaks and beech, maples and white pine.

We did not see any rattlesnakes (those have probably long since been extirpated from these parts), but we did cross paths with a four-inch millipede. It was in the middle of the trail; Kodi skipped right over it.

 Millipede on trail to top of Rattlesnake Knob

The smooth, gray bark of American beech

The woodland trail to Rattlesnake Knob passes through one of the most beautiful beech stands. Many beech trees in New England and beyond are warty and scaly from beech bark disease. These beeches were smooth and beautiful in their light shade of gray. The leaves of small beech saplings in the understory, cast shadows on the bark of their elders.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Friday night we found a nice campsite at Sugarloaf II off Zealand Road, one of the many Forest Service campgrounds in the White Mountains. Though, we had forgotten how hard the ground can be when tent camping. We also forgot to gather some firewood before arriving so we bought a very expensive bundle from a local store. The wood was green. The campfire sputtered long into the evening. Mood wood it was not. By bedtime the fire was finally spreading some heat, and the next morning we lit another one that warmed us in the dawn chill. At first, Kodi bounced around the tent walls, but quickly settled in and slept curled up next to Srini's head.

Morning campfire

After breaking camp, we drove farther down Zealand Road to start our hike - a 9 mile loop up and over Mt. Hale (4,054'). The first leg of the loop was 2.3 miles on the Hale Brook Trail. On Friday, when we hiked to the Hancocks, the first few miles were relatively flat. On this day, the ascent began immediately and did not stop until we reached the peak.

The AMC guide says this trail is relatively easy. I thought not. Perhaps it was because my legs were fatigued from our 10 mile hike the day before. My pace was slow. It was also warmer and more humid, despite a cool start to the day. The forest here was much different -- more birches, maples, and birches and less spruce and fir until we reached the top. It was noticeably less enchanting.

Ten years ago the views, apparently, were excellent from Mt. Hale, but now the fir have grown, obscuring all views. A large pile of rocks and the remnants of a fire tower amidst a small clearing marked the peak. Other hikers were there too and a playful 4-month mastiff-rottweiler mix. While Kodi and Willow chased each other, we exchanged hiking stories with the small cast of characters that wound up in this small clearing together for a brief time.

We set off on Lend-a-Hand Trail, which immediately descended into another enchanted fir and spruce forest. It felt good to be among the land of the gnomes again.

Lend-a-Hand Trail

Lend-a-Hand Trail passes through the conifer forest then emerges into a shrubby, ledgy area with some nice views. By now clouds had moved in, a dramatic change from the blue skies the previous day.

Land-a-Hand Trail

The trail then dropped down into a boggy area with a network of small streams before arriving at the Zealand Hut. Lend-a-Hand is named after a journal edited by Edward Everett Hale (for which the mountain is named), but could easily relate to the hard work of trail volunteers who have laid down many bog bridges that help hikers through muddy sections.

Bog bridges on Lend-a-Hand Trail

We rested for awhile at Zealand Hut -- a busy place. Hikers coming and going constantly; many with dogs. Kodi watched it all from the hut steps.

Kodi on steps of Zealand Hut

We pushed off on the final leg of the hike along the Zealand Trail. An 84-year old man who said he was in good enough shape again after some heart surgery, was just reaching the hut when we departed. Later we passed many other hikers coming in -- including very young kids. A trail for all ages.

View from Zealand Hut

Zealand Trail is relatively flat, following along and across the Zealand River. Beaver are active along this river, creating a series of scenic ponds with their dams lined with freshly cut stems. A fine ending to two days of hiking with our dog Kodi.

Nannyberry at edge of beaver pond along Zealand Trail

Zealand Trail

Sunday, August 22, 2010

An Enchanted Fir Forest

Kodi's strong, young legs and great spirit has refreshed our interest in hiking, especially in the White Mountains. The weather forecast for Friday and Saturday called for clear skies and pleasant temperatures in the mountains, so we gathered up our hiking and camping gear and headed north to the Kancamagus Highway.

We parked at a scenic overlook on the Kanc, which offered a beautiful view of Mt. Osceola. The morning was crisp and clear, perfect for hiking up to the Hancocks.

View of Mt. Osceola from Overlook on Kancamagus Highway

The Hancock Notch Trail follows an old railroad bed and logging road. We set off at a brisk pace as the morning air was cool and the flat, wide trail made for easy walking. The Kancamagus Highway has the highest elevation of any paved road in the northeast, as such we were already at 2,100 feet when we started our hike. The surrounding forest was mostly spruce and fir, with some paper birch and red maple.

At 1.8 miles we turned left onto the Cedar Brook Trail. This trail follows alongside the North Fork of the Hancock Branch of the Pemigewasset River, one of the great rivers in New Hampshire. The Cedar Brook Trail crosses the North Fork five times. The water ran clear and cold and was low enough that we could rock hop across without getting wet feet. Kodi stopped at each crossing for a deep drink and to cool his little black body.

North Fork of the Hancock Branch of the Pemigewasset River

At 0.7 miles we turned right onto the Hancock Loop Trail, which as its name suggests loops up and around South Hancock (at 4,319 feet) and Mt. Hancock (at 4,420 feet). We hiked counter-clockwise, climbing first to South Hancock - the trail is steep but with easy rock steps and a relatively short hike of 0.5 miles to the top (The AMC trail guide indicated a much more arduous climb than it was). Although both mountaintops have limited views, when we could peek through we saw great vistas.

View of Mt. Hancock from Hancock Loop Trail

Along the ridge from South Hancock to Mt. Hancock we walked through an enchanting fir forest. Ravens soared overhead. Two broad-winged hawks soaring the thermals stopped briefly in the fir trees just over our heads. We saw fir seedlings and saplings, old fir and dead fir. Colorful mushrooms, mosses and lichens, ferns, and small wildflowers covered the forest floor. If my young nieces were along, surely the woodland gnomes would have come out to greet them.

Along the Hancock Loop Trail from South Hancock to Mt. Hancock

The descent down from Mt. Hancock was slow, with much loose rock. Our trekking poles helped greatly, providing support and checking our downward momentum. Meanwhile, Kodi on four legs easily covered the flats and steep sections of trails. His tongue dragged only along stretches without running water.

View from atop Mt. Hancock

We saw only a handful of people on this hike. Although the trails were well-trodden, this route offers less grand views than many other more popular peaks. We enjoyed the solitude and the woodland creatures among the enchanting fir forest. On top of South Hancock, as we paused for a snack, we were thinking what good fortune we had to be in such a beautiful spot on a gorgeous day. Upon our return, the overlook was more crowded and cars were roaring by on the Kanc. A cyclist who'd been on the road for three weeks was taking a break; a sticker on his bike said "live free or drive."

We sure felt free today while out on the trails. We finished the nearly 10 mile round trip in 6 hours, enjoying a modest pace throughout the day. Tomorrow I'll write about day two of our camping and hiking adventure. Surprisingly this was Srini's first camping trip in New Hampshire and of course Kodi's first camp-out of his life.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Leaves Turning

Black birch leaves are turning yellow and falling in the woods. Our tomato plants are yellowing from early blight and perhaps sheer exhaustion from the bumper crops offered up this summer. It is only mid-August, but a hint of fall is in the air. Fall crops should be planted now.

We are eating everything tomato: grilled cheese with huge slices of fresh tomatoes, salads with a medley of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and arugula or yogurt, pasta sauces, Indian relish, chili, eggplant parmesan. Mostly we pop small Sun Golds, red cherry and grape tomatoes, and yellow pears straight into our mouth while walking around the yard.

Enough rain fell during the first two weeks of August, after a dreadfully hot, dry July, to boost the garden into high gear. Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, green beans, and eggplant keep on coming. Deer zipped the top of one row of beans, but it barely affected the crop. One or two tomato hornworms emerge every few days; though at this stage of the summer they barely make a dent as they chew the tomato plants before I find them. Their soft, plump, green caterpillar bodies are actually quite beautiful, but go they must.

We live-trapped two chipmunks from the row of San Marzano tomatoes. They were picking off more than one nearly ripe tomato a day. I placed the half eaten tomato in the trap and they could not resist. They are now living far from any gardens, probably relying on acorns and birch seeds, and dreaming of luscious, juicy tomatoes.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Sunday Harvest

We cooked up a delicious Indian meal for dinner tonight. If I must say, it was so good we wished we'd invited some friends for dinner. The meal was greatly enriched by harvesting and using many of our own garden fresh ingredients picked minutes before preparing the food.

From the garden:
mint, arugula, small tomatoes of various sorts, cilantro, cucumbers, green beans
Along with dal, rice, and meat patties, we made a dish with sweetcorn and potatoes. We just discovered this recipe in Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking. It includes potatoes, sweetcorn, garlic, tomatoes, fresh coriander and mint, as well as a smattering of Indian spices. The mint and cilantro came straight from the garden. The corn came from Tecces, a small farm stand in Durham, which has the best sweetcorn around. Even my brother who was just visiting from the Chicago-land area said so, and he knows his corn.

The other veggies -- green beans, cukes, and arugula -- will find their way into other meals this week. The garden is overflowing with tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.  My days are busy with the usual routine of work and play, plus some time devoted to freezing, canning, or otherwise storing this bounty of food. So much comes in such a short time. Frost will come knocking sooner than we know or want.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Rock Cairns

On Wednesday we drove along the southern Maine coast. It was a gorgeous summer day -- blue sky, shimmering waters, warm but not hot. The beaches were packed with sunbathers and surfers. Everyone seems to be on vacation this week. We walked the Marginal Way trail in Ogunquit, a perfect winter spot to view Harlequin ducks up close. In summer the trail is nearly toe to toe people. Despite the throng of people, we soaked up the salt air and bright sunshine.

Marginal Way is sandwiched between homes with spectacular views and the rocky shore and great expanse of ocean beyond. The trail is paved and meandering, with benches along the way to rest and pause for a view.

Near the northeast end of the trail, visitors had created an informal sculpture garden of rock cairns. Typically used to mark the location of trails, particularly above treeline, these cairns were pure art. Waves crashed nearby. Surely a N'easter would wash away this temporary art. Today though, the salt spray and gentle sea breeze barely nudged the stones.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

In Memoriam: Aria


September 30, 1997 - August 7, 2010

On New Year's Day 1998 we arrived home with a 12-week old bundle of fur that we named Aria. Her father was a large, gorgeous German Shepherd, her mother equally beautiful, but of a more nervous disposition. Aria inherited her good looks from both parents and the nervousness from her mother. On her first trip home with us she threw up in the car and there were many more similar incidents to follow.

Aria was nervous riding in the car most of her life and she was afraid of loud noises -- thunder, fireworks, yelling, my dad grinding his flax seed in the morning. I recall one drive home to western Massachusetts. I was alone with Fargo and Aria; both were confined to the far back of the Subaru by a metal barrier. By the time we reached I-495 Aria was fed up with the cramped space and the road noise. She pushed through the barrier, climbed over the back seat and into the front seat, then plunked herself down half in my lap and covering the stick shift. By this time she weighed more than 70 pounds. Meanwhile Fargo was still stuck in the back beneath the fallen barrier and I was speeding along at 65 mph barely able to downshift. We all survived.

Although Aria was nervous about noise, she was not skittish or afraid of anything else. She was the sweetest dog and certainly one of the nicest German Shepherds. All of our vets marveled at her beauty and appreciated her gentleness. We felt completely comfortable with Aria around small children, even babies. Aria did not know how to harm; that tendency was not in her.

Her best pal was Fargo, our yellow lab that died several years ago. Aria reveled in stealing his toys and sticks. The two would lie on the floor barking and yelping at each other. She loved to chase after tennis balls or swim after sticks, but she never, never returned them. It was all part of the game. Aria chased squirrels and chipmunks, never forgetting the location of a chipmunk hole.

In the house she played hide and seek with her squeaky toys. As a Shepherd her vocabulary was rich. She knew the names of all her toys, of people, and places. Her favorite pastime was swimming. She could smell water and would start running ahead to a favorite swimming hole. Her swimming style resembled that of a moose -- her big ears sticking out and occasionally twitching to swat deer flies. In her younger days she bounded up trails and climbed atop big boulders to look down on us.

A diagnosis three years ago of degenerative myelopathy was probably something else, most likely a ruptured disk. Regardless, it slowed her down some, but she carried on stoically until the last month or so. Then muscle weakness, arthritis, and more serious internal maladies gained on her, sapping her strength and her spirit.

Aria had a beautiful sable coat with a long, lush tail that just barely swept the ground. We miss sinking our faces into her thick ruff. For some reason her head always smelled like chicken, except the final morning when she walked behind the tomato plants to lie in the shade and emerged smelling like Sun Golds.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hiking in Crawford Notch

Our last hike in Crawford Notch was more than 3 years ago. Yesterday we returned to the Notch for a hike in memory of Aria, our wonderful Shepherd who loved to hike and play and climb on top of boulders before her health began to decline. With 15 month old Kodi along for the hike we were reminded of Aria bounding up the rocky trails, nimble as a mountain goat.

We picked a relatively short seven mile hike that took us to a trio of peaks: Mt Tom (4,051'), Mt Field (4,340'), and Mt. Avalon (3,442'). We reached the three peaks walking a counterclockwise loop via the Avalon Trail to the A-Z Trail to the Willey Range Trail, then back along the Avalon Trail. Most everyone else seemed to be going the other way. We like to be contrary.

Kodi relished each stream and seep, flopping into the deeper pools of clear, cold mountain water. July was hot and dry even in the mountains. Only heavy rains earlier last week likely replenished these streams. The trails were slightly damp or even muddy in places. As we climbed higher we breathed deeply, sniffing fir and spruce needles - the perfume of the North Woods.

The air temperature was pleasant for hiking in shorts and a t-shirt. No bugs or hot sun, although hazy skies clouded our view of the high Presidentials. Mt Washington was clear but hazy as we looked northeast from atop Mt. Field. We rested here, dazzled by six or more large green darner dragonflies snatching bugs and flies in midair as they zoomed around a small, sunny clearing.

Kodi enjoying the view from Mt. Avalon, although also wondering if we are digging out from the pack another smoked turkey and provolone cheese sandwich. He spat out his dog biscuits when he realized what we were having for lunch.

Kodi the hiker, after bagging his first two 4,000-footers.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wild Blackberries

Since late Spring I've been monitoring a patch of wild blackberries. Watching the berries change from light pink to barn red to deep purple.

Yesterday I revisited this patch and came away with nearly three quarts of fresh berries, which are actually small clumps of drupelets. These are blackberries not raspberries, although they are collectively known as brambles and belong to the Rose family. Like all "roses," blackberries have thorns that are particularly sharp. Along with the berries I left with many scratches. Blackberry canes or stems are also very stout. One must be prepared to venture into a blackberry patch.

A catbird called from the other side of the blackberry patch. A chipmunk squeaked from somewhere deep in the berry bushes. Cedar waxwings lingered nearby. There were plenty of berries for us all. Like a good fishing hole though, I am not sharing the location of this patch. This is a secret between me and the animals.

I am letting the cat out of the bag in one sense. My sister is arriving for a short visit, along with my two young nieces and brother-in-law. This is going to be a surprise: blackberries for breakfast with homemade granola and a blackberry pie for dessert. Maybe they won't see this blog post.

If only my parents were here too. Blackberry pie may be one of my father's favorite foods. I do believe this is the first time that I have made a blackberry pie. The test is in the tasting. The berries continue to ripen in my secret wild patch, beckoning me back for more fruits and more scratches.

Winterberry Bird Scat

A week ago--on a coldish January day--a small flock of robins ate all the berries from one winterberry shrub in our yard. They flew off as q...