Friday, February 24, 2012

One Random Rock On The Mountain

With all the rocks on this talus slope, wouldn't it be fun to pick one rock and closely examine what is growing on it?
   I almost picked the giant boulder on the right in this photo, but since it has enough variety to keep me posting way to long about one spot, I decided I should focus on a smaller rock.
 How about...... this one? 

  This spot (circled in black) is just to the right of the big boulder (in the first picture).  This rock has a variety of interesting lichens and a few other things I'll post about... hopefully just enough to have fun, but not be overwhelming.
   Once in awhile it's fun to make a big deal about an insignificant rock.... whether it is fossils in the rock, or the interesting things growing on the rock.
   So for the next few posts, I'll be looking closer at what is living on this random rock on the mountainside. Oh, what fun!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Rose Seed Wasps - Sis Eppis Levich En Dy Shunk

   Rose-seed Megastigmus are chalcid wasps that infest rose seeds.  The wasp's larvae overwinter within some rose hips.  Sometimes the attractive rose hips are gathered (for decorative or medicinal purposes) from multiflora rose bushes and the overwintering larvae are unsuspectingly brought  into the house where warm temperatures cause the tiny wasps to emerge earlier than normal.
   My daughter incorporated some rose hips into some Christmas wreaths she made.  One of the wreaths decorates her dresser.  Another wreath was a gift which her Grandma received.
 The dried rose hips add some cheery, red color to the decorations, don't they?
 About this time of year they often cause some colorful conversations because little bugs start hatching from the rose seeds.  Here is a photo of an exit hole in a rose hip.

After the wasps emerge they are often found by the windows or hanging around on the rose hips. There is something about bugs crawling around in the house during the winter that just doesn't seem right.
One of the "bugs" hatched from rose hips
 As Grandpa said to Grandma recently, "Sis eppis levich en dy shunk!" translation -"There is something buggy(living) in your cupboard."  She replied, "Sis nix levich en mi shunk!"  After a search they found the source of the infestation of minuscule bugs....the pretty Christmas gift.
Rose seed Megastigmus
   Now these wasps are rather cute and harmless.  My pictures of the wasps exaggerate their size.... the wasps are smaller than a mosquito.  I almost pity the poor creatures since this time of year there are no falling rose petals, which means no developing rose seeds where they can lay their eggs.
Megastigmus - Rose-seed wasp
   When the wasps hatch in the outdoors they are very good at destroying the seeds of multiflora rose.  In areas where the wasps are present, they may infest almost 50% of the seeds (see this link). In other words, the wasps act as biological control agents.
   Another remarkable thing about their life cycle is their dispersal method.  Some studies show the wasp's larvae are digestive-resistant and survive the gut passage of vertebrates.  Interesting way to get delivered to different locations, eh?
Here are a couple more photos of the tiny wasps found on the rose hip decorations my daughter made.

If you have rose hips decorations at your house, you may have some unintended visitors when the overwintering rose seed wasp larvae begin to hatch.
Tiny wasp on a rose hip
Oh, and have you ever munched on some rose hips while hiking? Or made rose hip tea? 
I have.
Just now my daughter looked over my shoulder and said, "Ewww, that's gross!"     'cause she has also eaten some rose hips.
If it is any consolation, maybe the wasp's larvae are high in Vitamin C... though that's almost as bad as the thought of something "buggy" in your cupboards.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Winter Picnic

Recently, we went on a winter picnic. 
The pines, hemlocks,  rhododendrons, and even the birches were beautiful in their snowy garb.
   My children, along with some of their friends, decided they would like to go on a hike and picnic in the snowy woods.  I went along for the fun, to add some seasoned reasoning to the outing, and to enjoy the outdoors while it was freshly blanketed in snow.  We had a bundle of fun.
 You can see by their faces they had a lot of fun.
We hiked a while, then built a campfire to roast hot dogs and marshmallows.  The picnic was a good time.
Winter picnic
   The mild temperatures and falling snow added to the good times, and of course, the memories made by the excursion.
   This recent outing reminded me of "memorable" times I've had on a few other winter outings (some purposeful, some not) that weren't "picnics".  For instance, on the day I took this picture of a thermometer reading  -44 F...
...two of us ended up stranded along a snow covered dirt road 100 miles from town when our vehicle quit.
Forty-four degrees below zero is nasty cold and you can't just sit in your vehicle until help comes....not that far in the bush.  We built a snow shelter.  We cut firewood.  We made a campfire.  We melted snow and made Labrador Tea. We sat around the campfire drinking that tea.  But we didn't have to use the snow shelter because someone actually came along and helped us with our vehicle.  I don't have a picture of the snow shelter we built, but here is a picture of the "road"....with nothing but frozen lakes and trees for miles and miles.

   I've gone winter camping a few other times.... those were long nights spent mostly beside the fire.  Once however, when it was well below zero some of us went winter camping.  The snow was deep, and we piled up snow piles which we hollowed out  into snow shelters, or "igloos" to sleep in.
Snow shelter
 That winter night (-13 F.) I actually slept.
   Here's a photo (from that camping trip in northwestern Ontario) of the snowshoe trail  as we are heading out across the frozen, wind-swept lake.  It's easy to see in this photo, that it was cold and the temperatures were well below zero.
Snowshoe trail
Here is a picture of our winter camp deep in the Canadian "bush".  We are standing around the fire eating and at the same time preparing for the night by drying our mitts, scarves, and boot liners.
 That was a memorable and adventurous outing...although not exactly pleasant. 

   This is one of my favorite pictures of that winter camping trip in the Northwoods.  Maybe because that's me on the left.  Maybe because of the sense of adventure brought to mind by those snowshoes, mittened hands, parkas, frozen lakes, and thick, snow covered bush country.
I still have those snowshoes. I get to use them occasionally.

Now I can sit by the campfire and say, "When I was young, the snow was deep..."
Yes, our evening winter picnic was tame, but it was very pleasant, and memorable, none-the-less.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Pitch Pine Trees

Pitch Pine trees grow on some of our mountain tops here in Pa. 

They like to grow here on the sandy table lands of the Allegheny plateau.
Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) is a rugged looking tree - fitting for the area. 
Pitch Pine - Pinus rigida
   When I see the large, old Pitch Pines in this particular area, I like to think they sprouted after the forest fire that burned here in 1902.  The tree is fire-adapted. Seedlings are quick to colonize a burned over area.  The tree can survive a fire rather well because of its fire-resistant bark.  If the crown is damaged in a forest fire, it can sprout new growth from its trunk.
Here is a photo looking up the trunk into the crown of a Pitch Pine.  
Here is a picture of Pitch Pine bark. 
Pitch Pine bark
 Pitch Pine is a three-needled pine. The needles are about the same length as White Pine's needles.
Pitch Pine cones can remain on the tree for several years.  Some of them may be serotinous cones - remaining closed on the tree and opening after a forest fire.
Pitch Pine tree
   Pitch Pine wood is somewhat rot resistant because of its resinous properties.  As I posted about last time, even some Pitch Pine stumps are still with us from the logging are of the late 1800's.
   The Pitch Pine's wood makes nice yellow pine lumber, although much of it is knottier than Southern Heart Pine.  Pitch Pine is one of the hard pines, or yellow pines, so the wood is fairly heavy and strong.  Many of the trees were cut for prop timber.  Some trees were used for ship-building.  Many old buildings contain Pitch pine lumber, even old Pennsylvania bank barns...see the reclaimed yellow pine paneling pictures below. 
Reclaimed yellow pine lumber
This reclaimed yellow pine paneling which I used on our living room walls was resawn from timbers
salvaged from old Pennsylvania bank barns.  The wood makes beautiful flooring as well.
Good wood.
This antique lumber has character, just like a Cadillac with tail fins. 
Pitch Pine trees have character also.
When I think of Pitch Pine...
I see these craggy old trees scattered on the mountain tops...
I hear the sound the wind makes in their branches...
I smell pine pitch...
If Pitch Pine were as plentiful as Rock Oak, perhaps I wouldn't notice them.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Just An Old Pitch Pine Stump?

Yes, here is a picture of an old stump out in the woods on the mountaintop.  But, it is not just an ordinary stump... it is an antique Pitch Pine stump.  In fact, from what I can tell, this small Pitch Pine was felled in 1901, and its stump has weathered a century rather well.
Pennsylvania logging era relic
   Other than its very weathered, ancient, decay-resistant look, the most notable feature of the stump is it's height - just right for an axe-wielding lumberjack.  With the advent of the chainsaw, most stumps are cut close to the ground to maximize the lumber yield.
A very old Pitch Pine stump
   Another striking thing about the stump is the straight, level back cut - indicating cut (probably by a crosscut saw) rather than the tree breaking from natural causes.  Predictably, along with the back cut, there is also evidence of a face cut, or undercut... both evidence the tree was purposely cut down.
   Along with that certain weathered look the stump has, there is evidence (charred areas) the stump survived a forest fire.  I know the forest fire hasn't happened in the last twenty years. In fact I have a newspaper article that describes the area burning in 1902.  "A forest fire that is said to have started along Burges run is sweeping over the 'Scootac region." - Lock Haven Express  April 23, 1902
   I really think this stump has stood there for one hundred years and is another one of those stumps that hearkens back to the historic lumbering days in Pennsylvania when the lumberjack's axes rang in the timber.  By the diameter of the stump, I suspect it was a smaller Pitch Pine tree that was cut for prop timber - timbers to prop the ceilings of mines.
    A local lumber company, the Glen Union Lumber Co, laid rails in the 'Scootac valley in 1900 (Lock Haven Express May 8, 1900).  They cut prop timber and saw logs in the area until 1909.  They even shipped quality Yellow Pine timbers for ship building. (The yellow pine we have around here is called Pitch Pine). 
   I've been calling this stump a Pitch Pine, so I should explain how I determined its species. I found a loose section of the stump and cross-sectioned it to identify the wood.  In the photo below, notice the large resin canals distributed evenly throughout the latewood... these are the distinguishing characteristics of yellow pines wood.  Note: here the resin canals look like white spots, rather than holes, because they are filled with crystallized resin.
Cross-section of Pitch Pine wood
    As I said, the yellow pine species that grows around here is the Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida).  The yellow pines are known for their resinous quality.  Some yellow pine stumps become saturated with resin after they are cut.  That pine resin has decay resistant properties and is one reason our stump has lasted so long.      Pine resin, or pine pitch is also very flammable.  When the pine pitch is concentrated in sections of yellow pine wood it is commonly used as fire starter and kindling.  Many a stump has been made into turpentine, pine tar, or fat wood. This resinous wood is called, fat lighter, fatwood, fat wood, lighter wood, or pitchwood.
We like to use fat wood as a easy, natural fire starter.
The pine resin might keep the wood from rotting but it  sure doesn't keep the wood from being used for starting a wood fire.
Easy to see why its called lighter wood or fat lighter
That's not just a thin sliver of wood -  it's about 3/4 of an inch thick by about an inch tall - not exactly wood that normally lights very easily with a match.
Fat wood fire starter
Yeah for fat wood!
Now, I'd hate for this ancient relic of the Pennsylvania lumbering era to end up as fat wood kindling, wouldn't you?   
   Some of these lumberjack era relics display interesting evidence of their age and if us bushboys, highlanders, mountaineers, etc, respect them as remnants of another era and leave them alone, the stumps will continue tell their story as they have for the last century. Plenty of Pitch Pine stumps are still out there on the mountain, slowly rotting away. Many of them are not preserved well enough to tell the the story of the loggers, and hopefully are the ones that occasionally get kicked apart and split for lighter wood...they are just old Pitch Pine stumps.
Question...why didn't the stump burn like a torch in the forest fire of 1902?
I bet it would now.