Snow Falling from Trees Awakens

560 words, 18-sec. video, 2 photos

After half a foot of sticky, soggy snowfall overnight, today the temperature at Balsamea rose well above freezing.  Along our trails, rapidly thawing snow showered from the trees everywhere in these dense woods, especially from the pines and firs, those bearers of great snow-loads.

Click pix for full size images

It fell in droplets, spoonfuls, cupfuls, bucketfuls and barrowfuls. The still, windless air said nothing while each of these sizes played their particular sounds, all around me patting, drumming, shushing and thumping their way through tree limbs, branches, twigs and evergreen boughs, then concluding each phrase with a strike on the snow on the ground.  They formed an unusual percussive symphony unique to this particular circumstance, in a special variation playing upon atypical conditions in the fresh snow cover.

When or where can you hear nature using trees and snow as instruments to drench the still air in sound this way, with a variety of visual effects, too?  When do you get to sit in the middle of the orchestra as it plays?  It filled the air within a great dome surrounding me, simultaneously at every volume possible to my ears.  Some notes played a few feet from me, ranging out to ones played barely within hearing.  Some struck funny notes on my ball cap and shoulders.
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Oak Tree Trilogy Part 2 – Defiant Oak

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Defiant Oak’s happy autumn leaves, October 2013.

Oaks against the sky,
Ramparts of leaves high-hurled,
Staunch to stand and defy
All the winds of the world;
Stalwart and proud and free,
Firing the man in me
To try and again to try –
Oaks against the sky.

– Excerpt from Trees Against The Sky,
Poem by Robert William Service

It’s not a good idea to fall in love with a guy whose favorite book is the dictionary.  This thought occurred to me today when I perused my 1995 10th Edition of Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, which I would prefer over using the Internet to look up words, but my eyes can’t take it.

I felt something like comedic irony when I saw her inscription to me in this dictionary, my Good Book, a gift on the third anniversary of our first date.

That relationship brought me to the brink of swearing off women forever.  After dalliances since then, I’m now so selective, it’s as good as having sworn off them.  I won’t deny the possibility of someone coming along to inspire a romance that makes people dismissive of Tristan and Isolde, or that inspires me to write an eternally classic novel about civil war, bells tolling, and earth-moving sex.  (Hemingway, you delightful madman.)  Still, she won’t lure me away from Balsamea, or get me to abandon my little Defiant Oak tree.

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Oak Tree Trilogy Part 1 – Sentinel Oak

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Sentinel Oak with The Balsamean’s head in the lower branches to be removed soon. Remove the branches, not the head.

In 2005, the birth year of Balsamea, my father asked if there were any oak trees on the property.  I had not seen them.  Over time, I learned that there were many red oaks.  They are one of our minority trees, but the mature ones number about one per acre, and there are dozens of seedlings and saplings.  We would have many more oaks, were it not for the deer munching on their buds every winter.  I have seen them kill a 3-foot healthy oak in two seasons.

On that day in May 2005 when I closed on the property purchase, I immediately installed a cable gate across the entrance.  Dumpers had abused the property, a practice that ended that day, and became a considerable process of remediation for me.  Still I find things resurfacing from below ground.

While opening space for access to the right trees to attach the cable, I noticed two little red oaks about two feet tall each.  One was in excellent condition.  The other was crushed under a fallen gray birch.  I left the latter alone to grow in its own way, and it has done well.  The former, I nursed and lightly pruned over the years, to encourage a nice geometric shape.

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The Junk Tree (Fagus grandifolia)

Six years ago a first-time visitor to Balsamea — call him Schmoe — looked at a young beech tree in the yard (then just a campsite) and asked, “What’s that doing there?”

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This is the tree Schmoe asked about. At the time it was about half this size.

His tone seemed to imply that there was something wrong with it being there — or something wrong with me for having it there.

I told him it was a beech tree that I saved when I cleared all the other original trees from that little part of the forest. (This was during my Thoreauvian Experiment, living off-grid in a 100 square foot camper for two years, with a dog, before Balsamea grew a house in 2010. I had cleared only a small space in the woods, less than a tenth of an acre.)

Other examples of American Beech:

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I kept that tree because it had a nice shape, as opposed to so many other trees growing scraggly in our dense, competitive woods. When allowed to grow in the open, beeches have a beautiful shape and make terrific shade trees and climbing trees, and they produce spectacular autumn colors that last long after all the maples go bare.

When clearing space, I kept a lot of trees that were in bad shape, too. I nursed them along and they are wonderful now. In truth they were always wonderful. I just imposed my aesthetic notions on them, with the help of lopping shears.

Before I got to tell Schmoe why I kept that beech tree, or why I liked it, he added, “It’s a junk tree. They get that bark rust.”

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The “bark rust” starts with an insect infestation which causes a fungal infection. Other than this bark condition, everything about this big old beach (one of our tallest) seems normal, and has been this way for at least 9 years that I know of.

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Early May Late Day in the Woods

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What is it about a situation like this that seems to
put something like vacuum pressure on the soul?

The situation, the experience, the moment, not the picture.  The picture is a good reminder of what it was like, but as pictures go, it’s just an interesting snapshot of an arboreal skyscraper (I’ll keep the copyright just the same, thanks).  The picture is also a reminder to keep looking up for scenery too often missed.

Backed by a twilight sky and the moon, the beech tree showed up at roadside at the end of a late afternoon’s short hike in a massive new parcel of state land enveloping Ellenburg Mountain in Ellenburg, NY.

Below are a few other things entertaining me that day in the woods, where boredom is impossible, mood problems go into remission, and from which bio-psycho-social health benefits continue into the future.  Yes, there are social health benefits even if you’re out there alone.  Think about it.

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How to mix deer, campfire, tin foil stew, dog, photography and grace

oscar-deer-20140906e-notxtDeep in the woods there is a great way to ensure that you get fantastic wildlife photography opportunities.  Leave your camera home.

I’ve said before that our deer population is too high, and this year more than ever.  Among the family here, there is one deer that has learned that Buddy and I are harmless.  Harmless enough that in the woods he lets us come close enough and stay long enough to discuss life.  The deer doesn’t say much, but he seems to be interested in what I say.  Stupid things humans say to wild animals.

Keep in mind that Balsamea is densely forested, surrounded by forest on all sides, and many miles of it, with a smattering of houses.  Our deer have not acclimated to people by their suburban gardens.  Deer at Balsamea are wild.  As they should be.  Just one of them is getting too familiar with us since mid-summer.

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American Beech in Autumn; Balsamea Style

Cameras capture only a small fraction of the beauty in nature (especially my cheap Fuji).  The autumn mix of banana yellow, toasted golden russet and pale lime green colors of American beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) often truly dazzle me.

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Looking east across the north half of our front yard, October 11, 2013. Click for much larger image.

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Coming Home on a Forest Ghost Road

Coming-Home-coverpageIf you love the land, especially if you have family roots in a special place, read this heartwarming little article, Coming Home to Jadwin Forest by Gary Brown in the October 2013 issue of the New York State Conservationist, a magazine I enjoy and highly recommend.     Continue reading

Rivers

Like addicts, in our weakness for the allure of rivers we risk everything to live on their banks.

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Photo 1: At the first official campsite created in the Saranac River Public Use Area of the Sable Highlands Conservation Easement, Goldsmith, NY

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To Build a Fire

When in doubt, have a campfire.  It has straightened my bent condition many times.

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Yours truly tending a winter campfire at Balsamea in 2005

My favorite passage from the 1908 short story, To Build a Fire by Jack London (1876-1916):

“Working carefully from a small beginning, he soon had a roaring fire, over which he thawed the ice from his face and in the protection of which he ate his biscuits. For the moment the cold of space was outwitted. The dog took satisfaction in the fire, stretching out close enough for warmth and far enough away to escape being singed. When the man was finished, he filled his pipe and took his comfortable time over a smoke. Then he pulled on his mittens, settled the ear flaps of his cap firmly about his ears, and took the creek trail up the left fork.”     Continue reading