A Walk in a New Hampshire Woods…

Lately temperatures have been unseasonably warm and snow has been slowly turning to mush.  This weekend, it seemed mild enough for family and dogs to have a little stretch of the legs. Instead of a powdery snow covered trail, we found a mess of slippery slush with muddy puddles along the path. I watched ahead as the dogs romped and slid through the wet snow and humans trod carefully watching where they planted their boots.

human and canine prints

I was curious to see what was growing in this zone 5b pine forest. Would I see many alien species?  Well, no, not really. At first I stepped over a familiar fern looking very much like it was out of the moist woods of Virginia. This could be one of the wood ferns although I’m not sure. I need a field guide for ferns!

Then, here, there and everywhere, covering rocks and fallen trees I saw the soft Cypress-Leaved Plait Moss (Hypnum cupressiforme), abundant to the woodlands of Virginia.

Cypress-Leaved Plait Moss

Where the snow had melted away, we spotted the tiny woodland creeper, Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens L.), the acid loving groundcover we find in Virginia.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens L.)

Even the waterway at the end of the trail had a familiar look. The Oyster River could double for one of the rivers in Gloucester County, Virginia.

The Oyster River

The landscape that was so like Virginia had things we would never see in Tidewater… like moss and lichen-covered boulders rising out of the earth looking much like giant alien eggs!

And the beautiful bark of the white birch tree (Betula papyrifera), the state tree of New Hampshire shone like lights under the pine canopy.

And, of course, there were the white pines, one of my favorite trees in Virginia. But in New Hampshire they don’t look at all like the white pines I loved in Virginia. Here, the Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), thrives in this cool and humid climate of the Northeast. Growing straight and unbelievably tall, these trees were perfect as masts for sailing ship in colonial days. They were so perfect that in 1772, King George III passed a law that any white pines over 12″ in diameter were to be used as masts for the British naval ships… eventually leading to the Pine Tree Riot, the colonist retaliation against the king’s chosen representatives. It was a little like the Boston Tea Party being the outcome of the tea tax.

Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus)

I’ve got much to learn about gardening in zone 5 but I’ve got the rest of the winter to decide how to design my New England garden!

Strange Bedfellows…

Ranger Rick, say it ain’t so!  I, like many others, have been following the news of the recent alliance between National Wildlife Federation, the nonprofit conservation organization, and Scotts Miracle-Gro, the so-called bad guys in the toxic lawn and garden business. NWF has always been a fine organization. My children grew up with Ranger Rick magazines. My parents had a NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat and proudly framed the coveted certificate.

Apparently business is down for Scotts. I’d like to think that may be due to more exposure about the evils of RoundUp (read here about what Monsanto is up to these days) and the phosphorus laden fertilizers.

It seems evident to me that the almighty dollar has dictated this union between an organization that functions to protect all things wild and a company that seeks to produce things that pollute and kill. Will public opinion force a reversal? I think yes.

Naysayer Bloggers speak out:

You Grow Girl

The Deep Middle


Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens

A way to Garden

Finally, listen to this chat between Kevin Coyle, VP for education and training at NWF and CEO and president, Larry Schweiger, about the partnership:

National Wildlife Federation


Joint Statement from ScottsMiracle-Gro and National Wildlife Federation

January 29, 2012

The National Wildlife Federation has worked together with ScottsMiracle-Gro over the past two years on programs to educate gardeners about global warming, connect children to the outdoors and help restore habitat following the Gulf oil disaster. Both parties recently announced plans for an even broader partnership that was based on our common interests.

Since that time, Scotts announced a pending legal settlement related to events in 2008 that predate our partnership, which has made it clear that the partnership is not viable. Therefore, NWF and Scotts will work together to end the partnership in a friendly and mutually beneficial way.

With a Grain of Salt…

It is amazing to see how fast the New Hampshire roads are cleared after a snow storm. Like a scene from a WWII movie, the army is mobilized and brigades of snow plows march across the land in combat against the advance of the enemy.  Their weapons drawn, the plows storm the terrain throwing snow off to ditches. The second weapon follows behind the plows. That is heaps of Na+Cl, good old sodium chloride or better know as rock salt. A little known fact is the state of New Hampshire was the first state to use salt on winter roadways, according to the National Research Council, and they’re darn good at it.

Of course, we had salt trucks in Virginia but, living in a rural area, I rarely saw them. Secondary roads suffered the slow melt and only the hearty residents managed to escape by road. It’s different on the roads of New Hampshire where snow disappears from most roads.

Well, where do our troops obtain this weapon for road warfare? Amazingly, it’s in Portsmouth. It’s hard to miss what is nicknamed the ‘White Mountains of Portsmouth.’ What I first thought was sand is salt,  massive piles of salt at the edge of the Piscataqua River. Once up to 70′ high, piles are mandated to be closer to 34′ after a huge collapse in 2008 that damaged a nearby saltwater pond. The salt pile area has since been stabilized and the pond restored.

Last week I watched a foreign freighter, pushed and nudged by two black and red tugboats up the river that separates New Hampshire from Maine. While I dined nearby, we were entertained by the tugs jostling the freighter into position alongside the piles where people threw out heavy lines to secure the ship.

We learned from the proprietor of the restaurant that the salt is transported to Portsmouth and other Atlantic ports from salt flats in South America. Seems it’s cheaper to transport by ship from Chile and other parts of the world than transport by rail from the American West. Local folks seem proud of the salt piles as amazing landmarks of Portsmouth.

Salar de Atacama is the largest salt flat in Chile.

It’s hard not to be awed by the mountains of salt…. but my thoughts drift toward the environment. How the heck does the company prevent the Piscataqua River or even storm drains from becoming the ultimate destination of saline runoff.  And where the heck does the salt dust go in a wind storm? If a percentage does not end up in the river, it is an remarkable engineering achievement. I do want to know more….

Top Ten Ways to Survive…

… a New England winter, especially if you’re a Southern transplant. I hear from friends in Virginia who say they’re still raking leaves in their yards. Our leaves in New Hampshire are hidden under 6″ of snow and ice. It seems the weatherman predicts Wintry Weather every other day around here. That means a little snow, rain, and sleet all at once combined with cold and blustery wind gusts. With these meteorological conditions, it’s easy to catch the dreaded Cabin Fever.  Some of our new acquaintances have kindly suggested a few of their favorite pastimes to get us out of the house.

10. Learn to ice skate on the pond out back. Not a chance.

9. Take up downhill skiing. Our bones are too brittle.

8. Snowmobiling. Well, maybe….

7. Snowshoeing. This looks favorable. We see folks our age out there.

6. Jogging. Not on your life. Black ice is rampant.

5. Skijoring. Have you ever heard of it? Skijoring is Norwegian for ski driving and it’s really gaining in popularity. Think of it as a cross between dog mushing and cross-country skiing. But not for us. We don’t have a death wish.

New York Times Skijoring

4. Hockey games. OK, we did that and loved it. Take a look at this adorable mini-hockey entertainment during halftime:

3. Exploring the area. Yes! Especially in a warm automobile with a GPS. Suggestions are sounding better.

2. Shopping. Portsmouth’s Market Street, voted one of New England’s Best Shopping Streets by Travel and Leisure Magazine. Now we’re talking!

1. Eating Out. Eureka! Our #1 favorite winter pastime so far is checking out area restaurants. And I’m happy to say we’re getting quite skilled at it. Restaurants are plentiful and varied. We’re having a great time wading through menus in different hamlets. The added bonus is a bit of personal insulation around the waistline to keep us warmer when the Wintry Weather hits.

Let it snow!

White pines in snow

There is nothing more magical than waking to a blanket of snow from an overnight storm. I cracked open the door and listened. There was a sweet quietness as the snow covered every horizontal surface and muted all sound.

Snow is still falling this afternoon. Although we’re living in the north where no one seems intimidated by the white stuff, schools were delayed. I imagine kids must still in their pj’s sipping hot chocolate in front of a glowing, warm fire… or either next to the glow of a warm tv.  But this ‘kid’ and her dog ventured out into the storm of white.

Mattie loves a snowy day

Mattie loves a snowy day. She jumps. She runs. She eats snow. And she catches snowflakes on her tongue.

So do I…..  We love a snowy day!

Primary Day

Newspapers, radios, TVs, tweets, blogs, Facebook, debates, speeches, campaign signs, the press, the candidates with their support teams and a sundry of followers… You name it. We’ve seen a lot the last few days in New Hampshire.  The village of Dixville Notch opened the Primary at midnight with 9 votes and a tie between Romney and Huntsman.  mister gardener and I are trying to keep up with it all while dodging the hoopla when we can.

One tiny breakfast restaurant in Portsmouth, Colby’s Breakfast and Lunch, where my daughter and son-in-law regularly dine on weekends, simply felt the customers had enough from campaigners. In the window went a sign, “No Politicians, No Exceptions.”

Colby's Breakfast and Lunch

You certainly cannot tell these ‘Live Free or Die’ New Hampshire citizens what to do or how to think. They have a mind of their own and they do seem quite leery of  politicians and the government.  It’s our first time for the New Hampshire Primary and it’s been educational and fun. Wow!

Where’s the snow?

While the rest of the country seems to be setting high temperature records, New England is experiencing its fair share of warmer weather, too. Temperatures topped out in the upper 30’s today but not before a few snow flurries dusted the area overnight. mister gardener and I sat by the window with morning coffee watching the flakes dance and swirl against the pines. Then it ended and I was sad. I don’t want a blizzard, mind you, but bring on the snow. I love snow. I can’t wait until the skies cloud over and buckets of the white stuff fall from the heavens. I long to build a snowman. I have a yen to pelt mister gardener with  snowballs. I want to slide down our mini-hill out back. I want to catch snowflakes on my mittens.

By mid-day, our dusting had melted. The temperatures are hovering near 30˚ tonight with a warming trend in the forecast for next week. By Tuesday’s New Hampshire Primary, we should be experiencing temperatures in the 40’s.  Sweater weather. With these temperatures, I might as well be working in the garden. So my concrete garden friends from Virginia were unboxed and found their special homes in the landscape today.

Tomorrow? I think I’ll plant some tulip and daffodil bulbs.

I’d read about them….

… but I’d never seen one. As I whizzed past New York City on the New Jersey Turnpike last week, I spied an unusual pine tree that towered over surrounding trees. I snatched my phone and snapped a couple of photographs so I could later identify this oddity When I was passing it, I noticed some peculiar objects tucked in the boughs. That’s when I realized I was seeing a cell tower disguised as a pine tree.


Most concealed cell towers are on flagpoles, church steeples, grain silos, but increasingly there are cell towers disguised as monopines, monopalms, monocacti, or monocypress. To satiate our need for coverage for cell phones, texts or emails, wireless companies are fast increasing the numbers of these controversial towers. Making them blend naturally into the rural landscape must be their goal. Well, they missed the mark here.


Some look natural but the one I saw must attract a great deal of attention. It was downright ugly. Like everyone, I’m happier with good phone service but these monotrees just seem so wrong… sort of like sticking plastic flowers in your garden.  If we want to end on a positive note, these trees will never need maintenance. They’ll never succumb to disease or drought and they’ll never need pruning or any fertilizing. And, lastly, they will keep folks happy by preventing more dropped cell phone calls.

To see some interesting concealed cell towers, check out Robert Voit’s photographic documentation of artificial cell tower trees in several countries.

Nature calls…

For the past several New Year’s Days in Virginia, I have been up before dawn, swaddling myself in layers of warmth and waterproofing, and heading out to meet fellow birders for the Christmas Bird Count. Our small legion of citizen scientists joined thousands of like-minded volunteers across America and Canada that count every bird they see or they hear in one day. This century old survey has helped scientists study the long term health of bird populations.

I had to break with this beloved tradition this year. We now live in New Hampshire where I am not yet associated with the local groups. I heard from birder friends in Ware Neck VA that the weather was balmy at 65˚ today for the count. I hope the day was enjoyable and the counts were high.

Chilly could describe the 45˚ temperatures in New Hampshire today. No birding this year but it was a good day for the great out of doors and getting in touch with nature. The milder weather attracted a large number of kayakers and spectators to the annual New Year’s Day Merrimack Valley Paddlers River Run, paddling the icy rapids of the Winnipesaukee River. Among those running the rapids was my son-in-law. Filmed by my daughter navigating Zippy’s Final Plunge, this might be called the wet, wild and wonderful way to bond with the natural world. I’m learning a lot about these New Englanders.