We’ve plenty of snow still on the ground and another storm predicted for the weekend. I keep saying, “Spring in Maine,” because that’s exactly what it is. In fact, no season here has ever looked at the calendar and we never know what will happen during those transitional days–except that they’ll do just that–transition.
I, too, am transitioning and rather than my usual uniform that includes snowpants and a vest or jacket, I simply wore jeans and a sweater, plus boots minus the snowshoes. Only occasionally did I dig a posthole, but when it happened my foot went deep–at least to my knees. And in this case, there was a juniper below, so probably more snow under that.
Deer, raccoons and a bobcat had traveled through our woodlot and along the cowpath. At the vernal pool, I spent some time checking out trees and looking for signs of change. Deer and turkeys have been the most recent visitors. And both have also traveled along the double-wide stonewall beside it. I, too, climbed up there and moseyed along. That’s when I discovered a black crustose lichen that turned out not to be a lichen after all.
I suddenly realized I was looking at the rock face and have sent photos off to two geologist friends. My question, “Is this basalt?”
Ann Thayer replied, “Could be, it also looks like it could be a rock that has been metamorphosed and has secondary mineral growth. At certain pressures and temperatures there are indicator minerals that grow that represent the metamorphic conditions. For instance, Garnet, sillimanite, and andalusite, are examples of indicator minerals . . . Take a look at it with the hand lens. Tell me what you see. There are a couple of minerals that look like they have a six-sided form and cross-section.”
Ah, a reason to look some more–as if I need one. And to invite Ann here for a walk.
Beside the vernal pool is one of my favorite sections of these woods, a small birch grove. Yes, white pine and red maple saplings also grow there, but right now the birches dominate this acre-size plot.
It’s a classroom filled with examples that have helped me gain a better understanding of differences between family members. The gray birch, Betula populifolia, are those I associate with Robert Frost’s poem, “Swinger on Birches,” because it’s an early successional tree that bends naturally and even more so in an arc when snow or ice weigh it down. But it’s the chevron or triangular shape below branches that shouts its name to me.
Its bark, though white like paper birch, looks dirty–especially toward the base. And, unlike paper birch, it barely peels.
In this same plot, I did find a few specimens of paper birch or Betula papyrifera, which is a stronger tree and grows taller and longer that brother gray.
And rather than a chevron below the branches, it’s known for the long, dark mustache that swoops up and over its branches.
I moved in to take a closer look at the paper birch bark, admiring how the lenticels withstand the peeling, breathing while sloughing off old cells.
Looking skyward, the differences between the two were yet again defined. The gray birches on the left featured a bushier silhouette than the paper birch on the right. Catkins and buds also shouted their names, but I’ll save that for another day.
Not fussy about which birch it grows upon is one of my favorite fungi–because I can identify it with ease! But also because it really is attractive. Piptoporus betulinus or birch polypore grow on some snags as well as a few live trees. The smooth rim rolls around the pore surface and sometimes reminds me of a bell hanging from the tree.
These bracket fungi only live for one season, yet persist on trees for a longer period of time . . .
until they may become mere skeletons.
After a sunny afternoon among the birches, it was time to head home. Oh and by the way, some call paper birch white birch and some call gray birch white birch. I prefer to call them paper and gray.
In the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale, the queen sat by the window sewing as “the flakes of snow were falling like feathers from the sky.” Soon the queen gave birth to a daughter as white as snow with hair as black as ebony. You know the rest of the tale. But did you know that Snow White lives in these woods–forever embodied in the birches?