Beating the heat

In the 90s today, with a heat index of over 100 degrees F. Walking along the Whitney Spur Rail Trail, I noticed a Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) relaxing on a tree branch about 15 feet above the ground. It looked so relaxed, I wonder if the squirrel was enjoying the cooling breeze blowing down the trail. It looked totally relaxed, something that’s unusual for Red Squirrels.

Red Squirrel stretched out on a tree branch, with its paws hanging down.

Sarracenia purpurea

Recently I went to a bog here in southeastern Massachusetts, and discovered the pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea) were in full bloom. This is the first time I’ve managed to be in a bog when they were in full bloom — I usually mange to show up just after all the blossoms have dropped their petals.

Below is my photo of one of the flowers. Since this is an endangered plant, I’ve carefully stripped out any identifying information (location, date, and other EXIF data).

Large flower hanging from a stalk.
Flower of a pitcher plant

It came from a plant press

Back in early March, I wrote about how to make a cheap pocket plant press, showing a Common Snowdrop (Galanthus Nivalis) in the press. I finally got around to mounting the prseed plant, and here’s what the finished product looks like:

A pressed and dried flower mounted on cardstock.

I used polyvinyl acetate (PVA) glue (Elmer’s Glue) to mount the pressed-and-dried plant onto a piece of cardstock. PVA glue dries fairly clear, is reasonably non-acidic and flexible, will fill small gaps, and is cheap, making it a good choice for gluing dried plants to a base.

If you’re mounting a plant for an herbarium, you’d include the whole plant, roots and all. But I’m doing this for fun, so I didn’t include the roots. I mounted the plant with a bit of the stem extending off the cardstock. Then when the glue dried, I used a sharp knife to trim the stems at the edge of the card. Notice how I glued the petals down so that the inner parts of the flower are visible.

The end result is attractive, and even though it’s scientifically useless, I’m happy to have it for my own reference. I’m thinking of making a somewhat larger cheap pocket plant press — maybe 4 x 6 inches (10 x 15cm) — for slightly larger flowers.

As always, don’t collect plants unless you have permission to do so. These days, written permission is typically required for collecting on most federal lands (including national parks, Forest Service land, and often even BLM land), on many state lands, on nearly all wildlife sanctuaries, etc. — don’t collect unless you’re sure you’re allowed to do so. If it’s in your back yard or you know the landowner personally, you should be fine. PLUS, never collect rare or endangered plants, and never collect more than about 5% of a given species in a given location. The only exception would be invasive plants — e.g., here in Massachusetts, go ahead and collect all the Purple Loosestrife, Yellow Iris, Rosa Multiflora, etc., that you want.

Eclipse

In order to watch the solar eclipse this afternoon, I set up binoculars on a tripod next to the Parish House at First Parish of Cohasset. This is the same set-up I used to project the transit of Venus back in 2012. Here’s what it looked like:

Binoculars taped to a tripod with gaffer's tape, with a large shade collar attached.The binoculars are projecting an image of the sun on a white sheet on the ground.

I used an old pair of inexpensive binoculars, so the image quality wasn’t perfect. But the image was good enough that we could see at least one sunspot. The size of the projected image was about 4 inches across.

The eclipse reached about 92% of maximum here in Cohasset. Some high thin clouds passed over, but they weren’t thick enough to block the sun. As the eclipse progressed, it didn’t get dark, but the light was dim enough to make it feel like dusk. Some robins started singing their evening song. The air grew noticeably cooler.

I took photos showing most of the progress of the eclipse, and assembled them into an animated GIF. Two notes about this GIF: First, the amount of time each image of the GIF is displayed is proportional to the amount of time elapsed between photos. Second, the GIF shows the image as projected; but the projection was inverted from what we saw through the protective glasses. Also, notice the chromatic aberration when the eclipse is at the maximum, presumably from refraction.

Animation showing the progression of the eclipse using projected images.

Half a dozen people from First Parish came over to the Parish house to watch the eclipse. Everyone else had a pair of those protective glasses. It was fun to be able to view the eclipse both through the glasses and with the projection. Hosetly, we probably did more talking than looking at the eclipse. We kept inviting random passers-by to join us. A parent with a couple of preschool-aged kids came over, and it was interesting to see that they were too young to understand what a projection was, or really even to understand what they were seeing through the protective glasses.

See also my post on the 2017 solar eclipse.

Botany in winter

I spent most of this past week at a retreat center in western Massachusetts where there was no internet service, and my cell phone service was spotty. I was staying in an isolated cabin. And there was hardly anyone else at the center the whole time I was there. Just me and the wood stove and the outhouse, and a hundred acres of woodlands.

I went there to do some reading, but I also found time to do some winter botany. Turns out you can identify trees in winter by looking at their bundle scars, stipules, and bud scales. Then I had to learn what bundle scars, stipules, and bud scales were.

Close up photo of a bud on a twig

There was only an inch or two of snow on the ground, so I could also look at moss. I found Dicranum sp., Thuidium sp., Callicladium haldanianum, and several others.

So even though it’s winter, you can still do botany.

Tiny moss plants
Moss growing on the bark of an Eastern Hemlock

You don’t gotta

We walked through the Nelson Homestead at Woolman Hill Conference Center. This is where Wally and Juanita Nelson lived the last couple of decades of their lives — off the grid, growing their own food, refusing to pay taxes that funded the war machine of the United States. Carol remembers Wally and Jaunita Nelson coming to the annual conferences of the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of Massachusetts, back when she served on the NOFA Mass board, but she had no idea that they had both been civil rights activists and peacemakers.

Both of us liked the sign that Wally Nelson used to carry at demonstrations and rallies. The message is simple, but it makes you think: “You Don’t Gotta.”

Handmade sign reading "You Don't Gotta."

Changes in a New England Meetinghouse

First Parish in Cohasset, where I work, has a meetinghouse built in 1747. When you come at it from the north and see it across Cohasset Common, it looks like the classic white New England church with a simple steeple:

White clapboard New England church set amid lawn and autumnal trees
Cohasset Meeting House from the north

But the tower and the steeple weren’t added until 1799, over half a century after the meetinghouse was first erected. Let’s go back to 1773, the year of the Boston Tea Party. There were three young men from Cohasset who participated in the Boston Tea Party (after being encouraged by their Patriot minister), and they might have seen something like this when they came at the meetinghouse from the north:

Line drawing of Cohasset meetinghouse before the tower and steeple were added
My visualization of the appearance of the Cohasset Meetinghouse c. 1775

Instead of the tower and steeple, there would have been small belfry on the north end of the building. (When you go up into the attic today, you can see timbers in the north end that now serve no special purpose, and it’s possible they served to support the belfry.) I haven’t found any record of what Cohasset’s belfry looked like, but there are drawings of other eighteenth century meetinghouses with belfries. The sketch above shows the north facade with a representative eighteenth century belfry.

This still isn’t the original appearance of the Cohasset Meetinghouse. Originally, there was no porch on the west side. That porch was built in 1761. In order to create more floor spaces for pews, the original stairs to the gallery in the northwest and southwest corners inside the main building were removed. The porch was added to house a new set of stairs to the gallery. Prior to the addition of the porch, the Cohasset Meetinghouse looked something like this:

Line drawing of meetinghouse
My visualization of the appearance of the Cohasset Meetinghouse c. 1760

As you can see, prior to the addition of the porch the meetinghouse was just a simple rectangular building with a small belfry on the north end. Mind you, we don’t really know the exact appearance of the building. In my visualizations, I’ve added triangular pediments above the doors, but who knows if there was even that level of ornamentation.

The earliest drawings we have of the Cohasset Meetinghouse date from the mid-nineteenth century. They are fairly consistent in showing the tower with crossed balusters at the bell level, and a steeple with a rounded section before the actual spire — quite different from the present steeple. The meetinghouse was not painted white; it was pea green. In fact, most New England meetinghouses were not painted white prior to the Colonial Revival in the late nineteenth century; documented colors include various shades of yellow, red, and green; there were even a few meetinghouses painted orange. Here’s my digitally edited version of an 1850s woodcut showing the Cohasset Meetinghouse:

Reproduction of a woddcut

There have been several other changes over the years. The clock was added in 1764. Shutters (or more accurately, exterior louvered blinds) were added around 1765. The steeple was completely rebuilt after 1869; it got shattered by a lightning strike in that year. The shutters were removed again around 1986.

In short, like most historic buildings the Cohasset Meetinghouse has changed considerably over the years.

Dusk

I went for a walk to Wheelwright Park this afternoon. I still forget that the time change means the sun sets pretty early. By 4:30, it was already getting dark. As much as I enjoyed listening to the Great Horned Owls calling, there have been reports of Coyotes in the woods at dusk. So far, the Coyotes have done little more than harass small dogs, but just in case I now carry a whistle and a bright flashlight.

Woods path at dusk.
Wheelwright Park Trail, 4:31 p.m.

The woods were lovely, dark, and peaceful. Since I had several miles to go, I began walking faster.But I had to stop twice, so I could take photos of the yellow and orangey-brown leaves of American Beech saplings looking surprisingly bright against the dark pines and oaks.

Woods path at dusk.
Wheelwright Park Trail, 4:34 p.m.

And I couldn’t help thinking how much better I’d like it if we stayed on Daylight Savings Time all year long. The woods would still be lovely, dark, and deep, but I’d have an hour longer to enjoy them.