Thursday, June 30, 2011

6-30-11 While Out Painting Mt. Chocorua

This is a well-known view of Mt. Chocorua from Rt. 16 in Tamworth, NH, looking through the white birches and across the two lakes in the foreground. I use to hear boasts that it's the most photographed mountain view in the world but that's probably no longer true. This is a painting done in the late 1950s by a well known artist from North Conway, NH, Dick Packer, who painted this view so many times he used to boast that he could paint it upside down blindfolded. (see Mountains and Art blog post 4-27-10)

Anyway, I got an email today from a Ron Martin in Pennsylvania who came across this photo of Dick taken sometime in the 1950s while he was working on the oil painting above of Chocorua (one of my favorite Packer paintings). Ron wrote, "Attached is a very interesting photo by Everett Clark probably from the 50s. I have a dozen or so pics. Any ideas on who the artist might be?" I do know who he is. I'm proud to say I knew him very well and I used to mow the grass around his house and studio every summer Saturday in exchange for painting lessons and a big bowl of (fluffy) tapioca pudding his wife, Barbara, made for me each week. (I was about 11 years old.) Thanks for sharing the photo, Ron. It's quite a coincidence. I'll send a copy to his daughter, Gale.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

6-27-11 Isoetes echinospora var. Braunii (in progress)

Hikers passing the outlet end of Lakes of the Clouds
looking from the middle of the lake, August 2010.

Last summer (2010) I explored the aquatic plants in several of the small, high lakes in the White Mountains. This included, east to west, Carter Lake (the larger of the two small lakes in Carter Notch), Lakes of the Clouds on Mt. Washington (the larger lake), Zealand Pond (near Zealand Notch and Zealand Falls Hut), Echo Lake on Mt. Lafayette, and Lonesome Lake on Cannon Mountain (near Lonesome Lake Hut).

During the summer of 1965 I assisted my colleague and friend, Larry Collins, in collecting data on the aquatic plants in five lakes including Partridge Lake in Littleton, NH, Profile Lake and Echo Lake in Franconia Notch, Eagle Lake on Mt. Lafayette and Lakes of the Clouds. Larry published the data under the title: "The Effect of Altitude on the Distribution of Aquatic Plants" as his master thesis at Dartmouth College. My cursory explorations in 2010 were designed to see if there have been significant changes in the distribution of these plants over the intervening 45 years. This summer I'll go back to Lakes of the Clouds and Eagle Lake and try to gather more definitive data about the plants in those two lakes than I had time to do last year.

Larry Collins and I identified this Quillwort in Lake of the Clouds as Isoetes echinospora Var. Braunii just as Slim Harris had in his series Plants of the Presidential Range published in Appalachia during the 1940s. This illustration and definition were taken from a reprint of Part V of the series; Ferns, Fern Allies and Conifers in the June 1944 issue of Appalachia:

In his Mountain Flowers of New England, published by the AMC in 1966, Slim changed his identification of the Lakes quillwort to Isoetes muricata with this small reference:

It's an interesting difference in the identification that I missed in 1965 and 1966, I guess I wasn't paying attention. The algae growing around the plants interests me as much as the species indentification. In all the lakes I explored last summer I observed a number of different kinds of plants that seemed to have a symbiotic relationship with algae. I'm not sure if this is the case with the Isoetes, or not.

Slim was a brilliant botanist so I'm curious if he keyed out a specimen or if it was an intelligent "guess". The incredibly extensive range of the muricata may make it a safer bet because it seems to everywhere. The range of the quillworts is another curios addendum to the boreal forest discussion: how did they get so dispersed? When did they disperse? They're a very old genus dating back to the evolution of the conifers so it's interesting to think about.

This summer I'll attempt to clear up the identification of this quillwort that's so plentiful on the bottom of Lake of the Clouds as well as compare Larry's 1965 data with current profiles for the plant communities in the other lakes. One reference point is the number of species found in 1965. At that time 20 species were found in Partridge Lake (the lowest of the lakes studied), 13 in Profile Lake, 9 in Echo Lake, 3 in Eagle Lake, and only 1, the quillwort, in Lake of the Clouds.

Monday, June 20, 2011

6-18-11 Zealand Valley (completed 6-30-11)

The following is more a photo tour of Zealand Valley in the last gasps of sprig and the arrival of summer. The photos were taken Saturday morning 6-18-11. I started out in a downpour which slackened to a drizzle but with promises of a clearing of sorts later in the morning. For those of you who have ventured here you'll recognize the bottom of the Zealand Trail in this photo with the old logging railroad bed heading straight and the spruce and fir trees, eager for sunlight, crowding the trail on both sides.

I proceeded up the trail to the junction with the winter ski trail and then took a sharp right and began a long bushwhack staying close to the Zealand River as far as I could which was to the series of beaver ponds. I thought of heading east of the ponds and going as far as the A To Z trail to cut back over to the Zealand Trail. The above photo is of an old "cutbank" where the river carved out a steep bank now 100 feet from the present river bed. There were fresh moose tracks in the soft soil here going up and down the bank.

Carrying over the discussion about the boreal forest from the recent blog entry about South Twin (5-28-11), and reiterating the enormous importance of the diversity of plants and animal species comprising this forest in particular and being mindful of the necessity of keeping the forest intact, the "whole system", that's so critical in support and sustaining current levels of diversity and, over time if left untouched, will promote a continuum in which evolution (diversification) will continue without human intervention. It's terrifying, for me at least, to think of what will become of us if we allow the forests to continue to shrink at their current rate, or to think about the prospect of only small "islands" of forest surrounded by metropolis. What would those forests be like?

I walked up the river threading back and forth from one side to the other looking at the trees. There was an almost continuous stand of balsam firs with an average DBH of 14 inches. This part of the White Mountain National Forest was heavily impacted by logging and fires that resulted from the logging as much, or more, as any other area in the WMNF. An interesting side note is that during the heyday of logging in (New) Zealand Valley in the 1890s a tree with a 14 inch DBH was the smallest diameter tree (usually spruce) that would be selected for cutting. That means the largest trees present here now were the smallest in 1890. But that was on the first pass. Over time loggers would come back time and again and take out the smaller diameter trees until every tree was cut.

In his Logging Railroads of the White Mountains (AMC: 1980) Fran Belcher wrote: "Railroads opened the White Mountains to the devouring demands of the lumberman. Up until 105 years ago, a visitor to the White Mountains was greeted on all sides by the sight of rich stand of virgin timber, mostly deep green spruce and fir. But then the iron horse invaded the mountains and for more than 50 years the region experienced large-scale logging operations which we hope will always remain unparalleled in North-Country history for their intensity."(p. 2)

The railroads went everywhere and allowed the logging companies to reach every corner, high and low, of what would later become the White Mountain National Forest, but only after it was left for dead. First the lumbermen stripped the mountain sides of the huge, old trees and left the ground covered with "slash", tree branches and unwanted trees, that often caught fire and burned with incredible intensity. Two huge fires in the Zealand Valley burned out of control in the summer of 1886 and, again, in the spring of 1903. The photo below is an aerial photo taken by Brad Washburn of North and South Hancock Mountains during the logging there. The entire mountain, all the way to the two summits and the ridge between have been stripped clear of trees. This was the case with nearly every peak including Carrigain, Hitchcock, the Bonds, Owls Head, Nancy, Bemis, Paugus, Passaconway, Tripyramid. etc. It's both astonishing and shocking to see the intensity, as Fran called it, of their industry and the logger's determination to not leave a tree uncut.

For the Zealand Valley this meant that more than 10,000 acres of forest as measured from present day Rt. 302, where there was a switch and a rail yard for the Zealand Valley logging railroad, all the way through Zealand Notch south, almost to Sawyer Pond on the south side of Mt. Carrigain, was cut including the Hancocks in this photo. The railroad tracks visible in the right side of this photo are lines emanating in Lincoln, NH, and not part of the Zealand Railroad.

Earlier in the blog I included descriptions of the Zealand Valley and Zealand Notch from newspaper accounts of trips taken into this "wilderness" in the late 1800s by local guides and sportsmen. I'll cite one about a trip taken by two men in August 1879 south from Twin Mountain through Zealand Notch all the way to Ethan Pond and Crawford Notch that describes scenery which is hard to believe. At the time Zealand Notch was referred to as the New Zealand Notch. The article is printed in Fran's book on page 81. As Fran pointed out, there is no mention in these early articles, up until the 1880s-1890s of any logging going on in the Zealand Valley or Pemigewasset drainage..

Red spruce in an even and open stand on the east side of the
Zealand River that may be reminiscent of the forest that was
here 140 years ago. These trees are actually at the size of the
smallest trees initially harvested by the loggers in the 1890s.
The trees cut in the mills then for lumber were much larger.

Instead, these narratives describe "unbroken wilderness" and a route that was "pathless, following old deer trails (and climbing) over fallen stumps" of the "giant trees green with moss that has formed upon them for years." In another instance the author of the newspaper account observes that the forest is made up "mostly of spruce but varied with white and yellow birch."

Cornus canadensis, or bunchberry, forms dense colonies, like
a carpet, throughout these open stands of spruce and balsam

J. E. Henry's famous railroad was built through the Notch a few years after that newspaper account was published. Fran points out on pg. 85 of his book that the first registry of land acquisitions by Henry was on April 20, 1880. His firm bought several thousands of acres for $33,000 acres (about $3 an acre). Soon after that purhcase Henry bought out his two partners and commenced logging unfettered by any sense of responsibility to others. He grabbed everything he could get his hands on. It was even said that he would log over a piece of land before he bought it and then pay the price for devalued property afterwards. His Zealand Rail Road extended from Twin Mountain and the small town of Zealand (near the present campground) all the way to 1.) Shoal Pond (which was originally Howe's Pond); 2.) Ethan Pond; and 3.) a side spur that went along the bottom of the notch next to Whitewall Brook. You can see the main line in the notch now where it cut along a "natural bed" that existed a third of the way up Whitewall Mountain (originally Mt. Hastings).

Fires, already noted, burned extensive areas in the Zealand area in the summer of 1886 and the spring of 1903. It's difficult to determine exactly what areas burned with any accuracy. One account states that the fire in the lower valley started on the afternoon of July 8th and that it was started by one of Henry's locomotives. Henry lost his Zealand railroad, a great amount of cut logs in the fire, and the loss of human lives was also mentioned. A rainstorm on July 15th helped extinguish what was left of the fire. This fire burned up the sides of Mt. Hale to the summit and through the valley on both sides of the Zealand River to the location of this flume in the above photos.

A pink Lady Slipper (Cypridedium acaule) in dry woods on a high bank above the river. My daughter, Liz, and I explored this area last year at this time and found occasional flowering Lady Slippers at several stations.

Last Saturday it appeared there was a population explosion. There were nearly four times the number of flowers at each station along the brook and along the trail. The greater number were this lovely pink-rose color.

A smaller number were this "pearly" white that I like. The white ones have a luster like opal.

Others were half-way in between.

They were literally everywhere and lovely. The increase in their numbers this year might be due to a dry spring as lady slippers prefer dry habitats.

I rejoined the Zealand Trail at the first beaver pond and passed a number of hikers who were heading out to the road from Zealand Falls Hut where they had spent the night. They all exclaimed how good the breakfast was.

The rain stopped by the time I got to the bridge here at the first beaver dam and it looked as though it wanted to clear off. I sat here for quite a while and watched a family of cedar waxwings.

Witherod or Viburnum cassinoides

Familiar places.

This spot, when the sun accentuates the opening, reminds me of a trip here with Fran Belcher in the early 1960s when this whole areas was an open field of several acres that he explained had been one of the "camps" along the Zealand railroad. He told me about digging in the camp area and finding interesting artifacts that he left at Zealand Hut.

The Zealand Trail follows the old railroad bed as far as the turnoff on the Twinway. From there the railroad bed continued south. In 1903, 15 years after the first fire, this area burned all the way through Zealand Notch at which time a Boston journalist referred to it as "Death Valley." Even Fran questioned the length of time it would take the valley to recover from the impact of the fires saying it might take hundreds of years. Whitewall Mountain is one reminder of the intensity of the fire but little else either of the fire, or the railroad and the camps remain today a hundred and ten years after the last fire..

Speckled alder growing in a wet area near the large beaver pond.

White birch (B. cordifolia), red spruce (Picea rubra) and moosewood (Acer pensylvanicum) near Zealand Falls.

Appalachian Trail thru hikers heading north.

Geum pecki, or Mountain avens, on the ledges near Zealand Falls Hut. There were very few flower head showing on the Geum pecki along the ledges. I was wondering if they were a little late this year.

I found one blossom high up along the river.

Osmunda cinnamoea, or Cinnamon fern.

Sorbus americana, or Mountain ash

This is the white pine (P. strobus) growing just off the ledges on White Wall Brook, and a few hundred feet above Zealand Falls hut. I've mentioned this specimen in conjunction with the small community of white pines on the Gale River slide track that I'm studying. This one first caught my attention 50 years ago. It's growing at roughly 3,000' asl which is close, or similar, to the altitude of the Gale River specimens are, as well.

This is the trunk of the White Wall Brook white pine. It's trunk is decaying and vulnerable to insect infestations. It's apparently dying. I've considered all of the white pines mentioned as anomalies as they are at the extreme upper limit for this species.

The two little riffs in the foreground are bath tub-sized potholes that you can sit in comfortably on a hot day and cool off quickly. When the water is a little higher than it is now they're comparable to a jacuzzi.

But if you prefer more space these falls are elegant and well designed for relaxing and cooling off, or a place to read and spend a long mid-summer afternoon.

On my way out of Zealand I ran into Saundra and Mike Cohen who I've known for many years but haven't set eyes on for atleast a decade. Saundra is famous in the AMC hut system for being the woman who pushed through a lot of red tape, a lot of duplicity and lip service, legal stalling, political stonewalling, and brusque dismissals when she applied for a hut position in 1970 when most institutions were already going coed (Harvard in 1969). Women have always been in the huts but never as official employees of the AMC. It took three long years before Sandra was finally allowed to work in a hut, Zealand Hut as it turned out. Her perseverance made it possible for women to work in the huts which they've been doing since 1973. Some summers the number of women is greater than the number of men. I wrote a three part history of women in the hut system going back into the 1930s and 1940s that was published (in three installments) beginning in the October 1984 (Vol.50) of AMC's monthly magazine also called Appalachia. The article was supposed to be a "spring board" for a much more comprehensive piece (a book?) that I felt would best be written by a woman writer, but no one's come forward.

Anyway, it was great to see you guys.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

6-1-11 Driving in Tornadoes

Last Wednesday afternoon (6-1-11), a little after 4 pm, a series of tornadoes struck Springfield, MA. A funnel cloud first touched down in W. Springfield with enough intensity to pick up an 18 wheeler (tandem trailer truck) and fling it on its side. It completely destroyed several houses and killed two people in West Springfield before crossing the Connecticut River where it churned up the water into a giant, terrifying froth. It crossed Interstate 91 and went on a path of utter destruction across Springfield for a mile or two. It missed the low, one story building housing my agency by a few yards. The building looks incongruous now as most of the homes and buildings in the immediate area were destroyed or sustained major damage. And all the trees are gone. Springfield, for all its wants as one of the poorest and most violent cities in the country, had beautiful trees: huge red oaks, copper beech and towering white pine trees. In its recklessness the tornado, in a few minutes leveled hundreds of acres of trees. It twisted them out of the ground so that they shattered into piece or it merely toppled them on to cars and houses, into the streets and backyards, across several large neighborhoods.

This is a fairly typical street in the neighborhoods across Springfield just outside actual hub of the city's center....

and this is a somewhat larger than average oak you'd see growing in Springfield, but also typical.

I'd had no warning a tornado was crossing the city until clients called me in panic. I found an open area and sat in my car watching the clouds and the wind and listening to descriptions of the storm on my cell phone and then started driving in what appeared to be the safest direction. Hail 3/4 of an inch in diameter was beating on my car roof and windshield. Lightening was striking everywhere with simultaneous thunder ripping the air. The wind felt like it does in the mountains at times. I had gone a mile heading west and a little south when it suddenly became pitch black. There were a few other cars on the road and I wondered what their drivers were thinking, or planning. I looked out the windshield at the sky directly above me and became more frightened each second. I tried not to panic. I thought of places close by where I could shelter and called a client who had a basement. His house was a mile away. As I drove I watched as a funnel cloud formed to my left and touched down. It got much darker and the ground began to shake. The tornado was going east. I stayed on course watching it. I could see the debris circling around in the funnel but was not close enough to feel the horror that people in its path must have been feeling. I got to my client's house and ran to the door just as the sun came out and the rain stopped.

The tornado kept moving in an easterly direction causing immeasurable damage in towns and cities east of Springfield, damage that's impossible to process or come to terms with because it is so far beyond normal experience. Like the horror of war, you can only look in horror; the destruction is beyond belief.

The plight of the trees in these storms, the loss of tens of thousands of trees (300 million trees in Hurricane Katrina), is not what most people think of. In Springfield and other cities decimated by tornadoes in 2011 the billions of dollars in loss of homes, schools, commercial buildings, roadways, vehicles, the loss of businesses, and the loss of human lives takes precedence, surely...

Shattered trees and other debris stacked in a parking lot of
a shattered Springfield College dormitory off Rifle Street in
Springfield. The pile would become a mountain in a few days

......but on Friday (6-3-11) as I drove around the city, through a seemingly hopeless tangle of tree limbs, smashed cars, downed power lines, shattered homes, and impassable streets I couldn't help but cry for all the beautiful trees that were in the process of being cut up by the legions of tree removal workers that have come from all over the country. The sounds of all the chain saws and heavy equipment was deafening and when it is quiet again the trees will be gone. I'll miss them. I think everyone will.


Tornadoes of The Mind: (written at 8 pm on 6-9-11) It's a week after the storm. This afternoon between 4:30 and 6:30 pm, a massive, fast moving front, a copy cat of last Wednesday's storm, tore through the city and toppled more trees. Tornado warnings were broadcast this morning. To have two major storms come through a week apart is against the odds but today people in Springfield had their eyes on the sky. Everyone was jittery. It did not become a tornado, but was so similar to last week's storm it was still traumatizing. I was at a client's home when it hit and the family was in panic. One of the children cried, "I don't want to die" as the fury of the storm lashed the roof and walls of his home.

We've all learned that weather can be lethal. In the mountains it's an elementary fact that weather at its extreme can kill people not suitably prepared. It comes with high predictability. The oaks in Springfield, as old as they are, have experienced a lot of weather. Some of them have been around 300-400 years ( or more) and most were around for the 1938 hurricane and the hurricanes of 1954 and 1958. Hurricanes aren't exactly tornadoes but have a huge impact on people as well as trees. In these events animals seem to have a genetic precedent, as in earthquakes and tsunamis, they seem to know in advance when a potentially destructive, or lethal force storm is approaching. Some humans may have that ability, in fact a lot of us might have that prescience and not realize it, but the culture as a whole does not. Red oaks have adaptations that allow them to warn other red oaks about insect predation and that help them survive wild fires. Our adaptions are somewhat different. There's an example in last week's tornado where a mother used her body to cover her young daughter during the storm and was killed. The daughter survived.

Trees in their foliage are not designed well for wind loading. They must "know" there are tradeoffs. In the eastern US (particularly in the northeast) hurricane season begins at about the same time that the foliage of deciduous trees appears; the period when they are most vulnerable. Loss of some trees is preferable to the loss of most trees, but trees rebound quickly, even after Katrina. Trees may benefit from these calamities.

In Springfield the higher ground sustained the most damage. Trees on elevated areas were the most susceptible. The oaks had a higher mortality rate (informal survey) than the beech which may have something to do with root systems or just a fickle outcome. Tornadoes are extremely fickle; in fact they're bizarre. Driving through Springfield I have seen the most outlandish anomalies as seeing items, like an automobile, completely destroyed sitting next to untouched items: one huge tree left standing while the one beside it wrenched from the ground and tossed on the roof of a house. Tornadoes are relatively rare. They've occurred on the North American continent for millions of years and probably without any regularity. There's no way to know if any ever came through the Springfield area before the one last week. As human culture(s) emerged on this continent tornadoes must have had a high impact on people long before histories were written. Laura Ingalls Wilder offers a breathtaking narrative in one of her Little House on The Prairie books of a tornado in South Dakota in which, among other things, two mules are carried aloft. One dies and the other is delivered safely to the ground. These stories foster fear and awe to such an extent that tornadoes, as a source of terror, are introjected into our imaginations. Our only adaptation so far is the "weather channel" but in Springfield at least, in the storm last week, the warnings came to late