On my relationships with trees and forests

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.
The next best time is now.
~ Chinese Proverb

The Balsamean; Scribblements from Balsamea contains 34 posts about relationships with trees or forests, out of 128 total posts in the ten years from September 2012 to May 2022.  This is the 128 posts remaining after many were withdrawn from publication.  (There were also many drafted and never published.)  Still, of the published ones NOT removed, 34 of 128 are about trees, forests, and human integration with trees, or immersion in them.  That’s 27% of the total posts.  It is not enough.

Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.
–John Muir

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Concordia’s Arbor Lane

Arbor Lane is the west boundary of Concordia.  This is the approach to the Y, where Balsamea Way goes right and Arbor Lane goes left:

June 10, 2009. Meet Foley, young beech in center.

Notice the little beech tree near bottom right center.  In June 2009 the trunk was about the size of a broom handle.  It is at the south entrance to Arbor Lane.  For easy reference, I’ve just now (really, right now!) named this tree Foley (from Fagus grandifolia, American beech).

June 10, 2009. Foley with Grandmother Pometa standing over Arbor Lane.

Another view, looking north into Arbor Lane.  The big beech at center is hereby now named Pometa, the Slovenian word for sweep or sweeping (tapping a bit of my maternal heritage).

I’ve never been big on naming individual trees because there are so many I’d like to name.  So I generalize.  I look up at any spruce and say, “Hey there, Cousin Sprucie.  How are ya?”  Playing on Bruce “Cousin Brucie” Morrow.  He’s done lots of things, but I remember him as the legendary radio disk jockey on WABC (AM 770) competing with “Murray the K” on WINS (AM 1010) in NY City during one of my former lifetimes.

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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?”

Beech 33 Schmoe's Junk Tree 515x464

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:

Beech 03 change begins 2     Beech 05 leaves green 1

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.”

Beech 27 Bark Rust 477x230

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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Going beech nuts

We have many beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) at Balsamea, and many red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) very happy about it.

Red Squirrel photo by Simon Pierre Barrette

Red Squirrel
Photo by Simon Pierre Barrette
under GNU Free Documentation License

One day I noticed one of our red squirrels tossing things out of one of our largest beech trees.  They were beech nut pods, inside which the tiny beech nut resides, inside which the tinier edible seed resides.  That seed is about the size of a pine nut.  There are two nuts in each pod, one seed in each nut.

I spent several hours spread out over a couple of weeks trying to figure out how to get into that hard inner shell. Nothing I found on the web helped. It made me wonder if the people writing about eating beech nuts ever opened one. Or maybe I’m just a lunkhead.

I tried crushing and soaking and boiling and roasting at various temperatures and durations. I tried chewing them in the shell. Think of chewing on a piece of 2×4. Maybe soaking them for a month would do it.

beech nut pod dry and opened on its own

Beech nut pod, dry and opened on its own, and seedless, the way the squirrels leave many of them.

Finally it came down to technique in how to split-peel it open on one of the three sides, for those that were eligible for opening. Eventually I learned to spot the ones that would open most readily. Then, about only a third of them had seeds in them.

If we say that twenty seeds is a mouthful (thinking about using these things as a source of nutrition), I suppose that with practice I could produce a mouthful per hour, if I first harvested a couple hundred pods, carefully selecting them for the right maturity.

I did try harvesting a dozen green pods that had not yet opened.  I forget now how long it took, but they did dry out and peel themselves open.  So, as food, you could harvest a barrel of them and spread them out to dry, under guard from wildlife.

Beech nuts

When the pods dry, they divide into four wedges that curl back, toward the stem base, away from the nuts.  It looks a bit like a flower.  From that point, the nuts either fall out or are easily picked out.

Given the labor involved, from harvesting to shelling, it is no wonder you never see them in the store. They’d cost a hundred bucks an ounce.

They have a nice flavor that seems to me something like walnut and almond combined.

Beech trees may grow for decades before producing pods, and a given tree may not produce them every year.

If somebody gives you a mouthful of beech seeds that they freshly harvested and shelled for you, know in your heart that they love you. Or they are just nutty above the neck.

Related article:
On The Beech (ja2da.com – blog “postaldeliveries; Cumbrian Life)