Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fallen Giant

Swamp Maple or Soft Maple are not names that inspire grand images of stately trees.  Red Maple may create a more favorable first impression.  Red is the color of their early spring flowers and we seek them out every year.  We discovered that one of our largest and oldest fell victim in part to the recent severe weather.

Our aged giant was structured much like the younger tree in the foreground.  Its main trunk splint into five not far above the ground.  Two of the trunks had previously fallen to the ground.  Once a large  branch broke off but became lodged in a nearby tree.  High above the forest floor this horizontal snag was a favorite perch for the great horned owls that sometimes nested here.  We know this to be true because of the large number of owl pellets scattered about under the snag.

Two trunks remain but the base of the tree looks well worn.  We shall watch and wait for the next trunk to fall.  This storm hit the tree from an unusual direction with pretty stiff winds.  The top of the fallen trunk neatly dropped between two trees at the forest edge.  Only one small branch was clipped off at the end of the fall.

John Burroughs wrote of making white sugar from the sap of Red Maples.  Maple sugar from Sugar Maples is brown much like the color of the syrup.   Late winter tree tapping has always been on our wish list but so far no action has been taken.  I boiled maple sap as a child and again early in our marriage.  Outside working in late February is more than pleasant.  The smell of wood smoke and sap steam add to the experience.  Somehow slogging through deep snow and spending the entire day tending a fire while stuck in the woods has sounded like more than I want to attempt. 

The two earlier fallen trunks are slowly being reclaimed by the forest floor.  Located in a wet valley, there was no practical way to remove the wood.  The twisted trunks would have been a nightmare to split so we left them where they fell.

Very close to the fallen tree trunk I found both Partridge Berry and Wintergreen growing.  Any attempt to remove the fallen wood would place boots on top of both of these groups of plants.  Our choice to leave the fallen tree to return naturally to woodland soil was strongly reinforced by the discovery of these two prized ground covers.

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