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. Continue reading →
Trees get so much attention in this drifting journal, The Balsamean, because they are easier to write about than people are, and trees often make better friends than most people do, and the tree fairies would sprout leaves green with envy in the middle of winter if I gave as much time to humanity as to them.
This is another long post, about 3,000 words, but it has lots of pictures, one of my favorite poems (a famous classic), and a piece of original art by The Balsamean.
It took a year to write this. It’s not that I took a year to start it. I worked on it dozens of times beginning last September. The earlier versions were close to 6,000 words, and told too many stories that deserve articles of their own.
If not for too many long sentences, this would be an easy read. But my readers are sharp. And it’s especially readable if you just take a seat, slow down and act like the world moves at the speed it should, not the one it does.
Here are 50 of my favorite autumn color photos taken at Balsamea, at 500 pixels wide (or tall). If you’ve followed this blog a long time, you’ve seen these before. However, most of them managed to disappear from the blog, so, for the record, here they are again.
Click on a picture to open its own page where you can post comments on it.
OR, click any of the pictures in the series (after this first one) to switch to gallery/carousel mode where you can step through them like a slide show and comment right there on any picture. They look nicer there because they are not bunched up so tightly as seen here.
Or just say stuff in the comments box at the bottom of this post, if you ever get there. Or email me for all those delish things you always love saying to me privately.
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.
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.
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?”
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:
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.”
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.
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.
Deep 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.
During a slow sylvan saunter, if I stand still more than move, in bodily senses and in palpable transcendent essences I find reminders that nature made me to thrive among immortal woodland spirits, in refuge from the illusory blessings of merely mortal society. I cannot exceed the company of trees, nor regret deep solitude among them.
Each phase of nature, while not invisible, is yet not too distinct and obtrusive. It is there to be found when we look for it, but not demanding our attention. It is like a silent but sympathizing companion in whose company we retain most of the advantages of solitude … — Henry David Thoreau, Journal, November 8, 1858
I went to a wedding where a little boy carried the rings up the aisle on a fancy pillow. As he walked along, he growled loudly like an animal. When asked why he growled, he said, “I’m the ring bear!”
I am thankful for Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, the National Public Radio news quiz show, where I heard this ring bear joke, and where, unless your sense of humor is badly broken, I guarantee you plenty of smiles, snickers, chuckles and laughs during each one-hour show.
It’s Thanksgiving weekend, so I felt obligated to say at least something about being thankful. Blogger duty called.
A bit more seriously: I asked myself earlier this week what I was most thankful for. Instantly, without thinking even one second about it, my mind, such as it is, went immediately straight to …