Monday, February 22, 2016
This area is among my favorite places to walk on this glacially twisted land that is ours for the moment. The massive white pine tree has grown up through the stone wall that was built when the field, visible through the trees at the left of the picture, was first cleared nearly two centuries ago. That river bottom land becomes covered with a cone shaped pile of mixed outwash that poured over the edge of the receding glacier. Filled with an assortment of stones of various sizes, mud, clay and sand, that ground was quickly deemed not suitable for farming. It is a pleasant place to walk if one stays on the lower edges of the steep slope.
A deep natural soil developed at the base of the old tree. Several generations of fallen pine needles have rotted into an acidic mix that should support the growth of arbutus plants. Two of our transplants were moved here last summer. A small old cage protected the plants from hungry rabbits this past winter but more permanent arrangements need to be made. A 6 X 6 foot square of wire fence was bent to a 5 X 5 square with 6 inch high edges. After the ground thaws, a low field stone well will be built around the outside edge of the cage. That will prevent hungry woodchucks from pushing the cage aside or rabbits from wiggling under it to feast on evergreen arbutus leaves.
The growing white pine tree simply pushed the old stone wall aside. That piece of wall is still largely intact but now sports a curved outer edge. Restoring the near edge of the wall to a straight surface is an option. If that happens, the curved outer edge will be left as it is. The new straight wall will only approach the tree. Room for some additional tree growth without moving the new wall will be left.
My desire to help the native treasure arbutus find a natural home here is filled with contradictions. Without the cover of the ugly wire cage, numerous hungry animals will eat the plant flush to the ground. Looking ahead, arbutus will likely prosper here and soon reach the limits of the cage. New growth will then appear beyond the cage and be at risk of becoming rabbit. In time the cage will rot and the entire patch of arbutus will then be at risk. We cannot change the fact that former farm land supports animal growth in numbers that far exceed what was present before man came and made this his home. Our efforts may allow wild arbutus to grow here again if only for a short period of time. We find that limited success well worth the effort. Time spent working outside at this time of year is an additional bonus.