I’m working on a challenging article and can’t quite figure out how to introduce the topic. After a bunch of attempts, I suddenly had an inspired idea . . . drop the pen, walk away from the legal pad and head out the door.
And so I did despite the freezing rain that was falling atop this morning’s snow. Heading down a trail I haven’t had a chance to step upon in months, I realized that I was among old friends who had passed by prior to the storm.
In fact, every where I went for the next two plus hours, they had been there before me.
Their tree of choice also gave away their presence and I fear that there won’t be too many red maple leaves in bloom come spring. Imagine this: a moose needs to consume fifty to sixty pounds of vegetation daily–that’s a lot of buds, twigs, and bark.
With their lower incisors and hard toothless upper palate, they grabbed the twigs and yanked to pull the buds off for consumption. Left behind were their calling cards–long dangling tags. Some were at least three feet above my head.
Also think about that moose face–homely and ungainly as it may be with a large upper lip that can wrap around the twig in order to dine, and the bell or dewlap dangling below its mouth.
With utter glee I found some hair stuck to one twig and it wasn’t the hollow shafts of its dense coat, so I wondered if in the process of browsing, hair had come off its face or dewlap.
As I said, the moose had traveled throughout the woods and I began to follow their tracks exclusively, for they always lead to coppiced red maples that are trying to make a comeback in these woods that were logged within the last five to ten years.
It was on one of the trees that I did find the hollow hair shafts, and I’ve used black arrows to try to point them out to you. There were three which seemed to intersect at the point where the twig had been swiped. Notice how straight they are, especially in contrast to the slender, curly hair.
The more I looked, the more soft, curly hairs I found. Hmmm, I have a feeling any of my hunter friends can enlighten me, for now I’m considering belly hair? Is it softer? Or am I correct in thinking about the chin hairs?
It doesn’t matter. Well, it does because I’d like to know.
And maybe the chickadees were trying to tell me as they flew in and landed on maples while singing their “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee” song. But what mattered most was that I got outside and cleared my brain and came up with an introduction to the challenging article: It was a dark and dreary day . . . oh drats, I can’t use that–especially since despite the snow and rain, I hardly found it dark or dreary.
I think instead, I’ll begin in the middle and see where the article takes me from there. In the meantime, though I didn’t see them, I’m tickled to know that there are still several moose in the woods behind our house.
When Alanna Doughty, education director of Lakes Environmental Association asked me to join her in co-leading and co-sponsoring a tree identification walk during Great Maine Outdoor Week(end) at LEA’s Highland Research Forest in Bridgton, I jumped at the opportunity. Alanna, you see, is a great joy to be in the presence of and I knew she’d make it a fun and unique experience.
I wasn’t disappointed; nor were the thirteen others who joined us this morning for a two-hour hike that turned into two and a half and even a little bit more.
Alanna had gone out ahead of us and placed hearts with tree-related information along the trail we’d travel. Our crew was a delightful mix that included young and old, with members of LEA and the Greater Lovell Land Trust, which I was representing, as well as a woman from North Conway and man from Portland. Yes, Linda and Henri–that would be the two of you.
The first heart provided information about hemlock trees and after she read it, we encouraged everyone to channel their inner hemlock and so they leaned as this particular evergreen does. Check out those smiles. Don’t you want to be a hemlock too?
Of course, because we were among the trees on this property that the David and Carol Hancock Charitable Trust donated to LEA several years ago, and the snow was super soft from yesterday’s storm, the mammal tracks were outstanding.
One of the favorites of the day–that of the snowshoe hare. It’s not often that one can see the hare’s toes so clearly, but today was the day. And as David Brown’s Trackards indicated, the footprint size depends upon the conditions.
When it came to demonstrating and identifying the action of the mammal there were two rock stars among our group. Alanna was one for she got down on all fours and demonstrated how a hare moves (before she sorta fell). And Pam Marshall was the other for she correctly identified and shared information about how to recognize all of the track and print patterns that we saw. Pam only began tracking this year with the GLLT’s Tuesday Trackers, but she’s a quick study.
Onward we trekked, pausing whenever we saw a heart of red. And each time, Alanna’s voice came through in the message. Love at first bite! Indeed.
At a beech tree, we paused for a bit longer as we noted not only the twigs and buds that are beginning to swell, but also talked about how bear claw marks are most visible on them and how the beech scale insect has altered the once smooth look of the bark. The word marcescent, meaning withering but remaining attached to the stem, also entered the conversation.
After a bit of time, we emerged onto a wetland where only last week Alanna and a couple of people including one in our midst, Anne, had spotted a hole and lots of tracks and scat left behind by an otter. Today, no sign of that member of the weasel family, but still . . . we enjoyed the warmth of the sun.
And I took advantage of the time to dress Alanna as a twig. She was the perfect Miss Twiggy model and Henri took time to pose with her.
Back in the woods, we were stopped in our tracks by the tracks of another weasel–a mink.
And then as we retraced out steps and paused by a speckled alder to admire its male and female catkins and last year’s cones, someone honed in on something that wasn’t a remnant of yesterday’s snowstorm.
The cottony white masses of wooly alder aphids decorated a couple of branches. As Alanna explained, in a symbiotic relationship, during the warmer months, ants stroke the aphid with their antennae, while the aphid releases a drop of honeydew, much like a cow being milked. It’s actually rather creepy. Today, there were no ant farmers about, but a few like Justin, did step forward to take a closer look.
After that, we were confronted with a math problem. And you thought we were just out for a walk in the woods.
Finally, well sorta, we made our way back to an opening and stood around enjoying hot cocoa and tea, plus some goodies, and each others company.
Sherpa Anne had been kind enough to haul the supplies to the opening for us as our trek began. I know she was thankful she didn’t have to pull the sled all the way out to the wetland. And we were thankful for the good tidings it bore.
You see, Alanna is a woman of many, many talents, and baking is one of them.
Did she get carried away with the cookie cutters?
We didn’t think so for we all love Maine.
And we also love trees, including red oaks with their bristly-tipped leaves and acorns.
That wasn’t all Alanna had created.
Her tree model was to be envied (at least by me). And she explained the different functions, from roots to leaves and outer bark to inner workings.
And just in case you are interested, I’ve come up with a new mnemonic, because we love memory aids.
Xylem is the vascular tissue in plants that conducts water and dissolved nutrients upward from the root and also helps to form the woody element in the stem.
Phloem is the vascular tissue in plants that conducts sugars and other metabolic products downward from the leaves.
My mnemonic: Xy high (think upward); Phlo low (think downward).
Of course, that didn’t occur to me until several hours later.
Before we finished off our delightful morning, there was one last heart with tree information to read. Hmmm. Porcupines, bark, needles, scat, look up? “You might spot one dining!”
And so up we looked.
And down as well. We found some tracks and even took a closer look at some comma-shaped scat.
Because . . . the resident male was high up in the tree! Look at that handsome fella! We did. Over and over again. Henri was sure we had planted him and that he wasn’t real.
But he was. And if you look closely, you might see his orange teeth which one (like me) could almost mistake for a Valentine heart. Check out those toe nails. And can you see the rough soles of his feet, the better to grip the tree with?
Male porcupines are known to hang out on a tree during the day. I know we’re particularly thrilled about this one because he hasn’t let us down yet.
Think about this–while the male was hanging out in the sun, porcupines (like the one that lives under our barn) typically stay in their dens until dusk and then head off to munch on bark and needles in the darkest and coldest hours of a day. That’s to be admired.
So is the work of our two organizations, Lakes Environmental Association and the Greater Lovell Land Trust. Both of us are with the Trees and we loved sharing the trail together this day.
We’re doing the same again on Sunday at 12:30 in Lovell, where we’ll go on a Porcupine Prowl–will we actually see the rodent as we did today? Who knows, but we’ll have fun as we join together again to celebrate Great Maine Outdoor Week(end).
It all began with a photo sent to me by a friend two days ago. “Any ideas? 8 inches wide. 20 yards from a bog,” he wrote.
I asked him about tracks in the area, but other than deer, he saw none. He did, however, see two track makers–a fisher and a weasel.
And so, I contacted a few other friends and invited them to join me on a quest to figure out what the hole was all about.
We met at the designated location, determined it would probably be in our best interest to wear snowshoes rather than Micro-spikes, and set off to search for the hole and clues.
But first, something else stumped us. Oh, wait. I wasn’t stumped. I knew it was sumac and a bird must have been munching on the seeds. But . . . I didn’t remember sumac having such long hairs and there certainly were strands associated with the droppings.
The color, however, made it incredibly obvious. Sumac indeed.
Until . . .
it wasn’t! Corn on the cob? On ice? And then we remembered that there was a cornfield located directly across the road. So . . . that made sense. But, how did it get to the other side? We’d noticed plenty of turkey tracks. Would turkeys carry cobs of corn? Not the ones that visit my backyard on a daily (sometimes twice daily) mission to eat as much bird seed I’ve tossed on the ground as possible. They scratch about and eat whatever is available on the spot rather than carrying it–as far as the four of us knew anyway.
Did the deer bring it across? Again, we’ve always seen them dine on site. And . . . we noticed that the cobs, and even occasional husks, were left within their prints, so the corn arrived after the deer.
As we continued to look around, we began to see kernels in small piles everywhere.
And with that, we suddenly spied something else that looked oddly familiar.
The hole! Notice its spiral shape. Discernible tracks? No. Dirt? Yes. Hoar frost? Yes. Hmmmm . . .
We looked around for signs. “So and So lives here” would have made it too obvious. But, we found hoar frost on an adjacent hole, which raised a few questions: 1. Were the holes connected? 2. Was a critter breathing within? 3. Or, because we were near the bog, was there warmer water below that was creating the frost?
Then we found something none of us had ever seen before. A smattering of sawdust on the snow located about five feet from the hole. Scat? Upset stomach? Two of us got down with a loupe to take a closer look and came to no conclusions.
As we continued to look around, we noticed that though there wasn’t a discernible track, it did seem that activity led to two hemlock trees.
And there were snipped off twigs cut at an angle below the trees, plus some comma-shaped scat.
With that in mind, we returned to the hole in question.
Bingo! There was a sign that clearly read “So and So lives here.” A quill! When I first looked at the photo the other day I’d suggested porcupine or fox. Porcupine it was.
Within the hole which we could tell was deeper to the left, we spotted more quills.
Mystery solved–almost, for we didn’t know about that smattering of sawdust. Porcupine scat consists of sawdust because their winter diet includes tree bark and needles. Did the animal have a bellyache?
Our excitement at finding the hole wasn’t diminished by the unsolved portion of the story. And still, we continued to find corn cobs as we moved closer to the water in hopes of finding tracks.
Indeed, there were some and we tried to figure out the pattern to determine what mammal had crossed the ice.
But before taking a closer look, there was ice on the bog’s edge to admire and we each found artistic displays to our individual liking.
Back to the tracks on the ice.
At first, with porcupine on my mind, I thought I recognized the pigeon-toed behavior.
But my companions couldn’t see it. And then I realized that I was seeing a different pattern instead. Opposite diagonals became important in the overall look of two feet together.
Studying that one pattern of a waddling animal, we soon realized another had crossed over it–in a leap and a bound. Do you see the intersection of the two in the middle of the photograph?
And, there were a couple of corn cobs on the ice.
It was all too enticing, and so we got up the gumption, threw risk to the wind, and stepped out. One of us, stepped onto all fours as she slid across, the better to distribute her weight. It also gave her a better view of the tracks.
Another came forth with caution, though she admitted she’d hoped we’d go for it.
Her husband was the smart one and he stood on shore–looking at tracks in the snow created by one of the critters we were examining on the ice. And ever ready to call for help should we need it.
Back to the pattern–do you see three sets of two feet? In the lower set the diagonal is higher on the left and lower on the right. It switches with the middle set of prints. And goes back to the same with the upper set.
Where debris had frozen into the impressions you can almost see the toes. The smaller, almost rounder right hand print is a front foot and the longer left hand print is the opposite back foot. That’s how it goes with a waddler such as this.
We’d actually seen clear prints near where we’d parked and so we knew this mammal had been in the area–those baby hand-like prints belonged to a raccoon. Raccoon tracks and corn on the cob. Hmmmm. We were beginning to make some connections.
With that figured out, we moved on to the next set of tracks and determined they belonged to a snowshoe hare–the larger front prints actually representing its back feet as they had landed after the front feet bounded forward.
As we studied the hare track, we noticed lots of movement had previously been made by another critter and I’m going to go out on a limb to say based on its size and behavior that it was related to the next mystery we encountered.
First, there was a hole around a couple of tree stumps and it was the layers of ice that drew our admiration.
Right near it, however, was another frozen over hole and we could see some tracks that were difficult to read.
But the ice was glorious and there was another small tree stump in the center.
We weren’t sure who had made the holes until we spied another and some prints in the snow.
The five tear-drop shaped toes provided a huge hint.
And a bigger hint–a hole nearby.
As usual, it commanded a closer look.
And what did we find? Fish scales. With that signature, and the prints and even the pattern of the older tracks near the snowshoe hare activity, we knew a river otter had recently eaten.
Eventually, we made our way back to the road, crossed over and checked the cornfield for we still weren’t sure who had brought the cobs to the bog. It made sense that the raccoon may have, but all of them?
We found plenty of deer tracks, many of which were again filled with either kernels or nearly complete cobs.
But it was the one stuck up in a broken red maple limb and the chitting nearby, plus scat below, and the actual sighting of a particular mammal that we think gave us the answer as to why so many piles of kernels–red squirrels.
With that, it was time for us to take our leave. First, we gave great thanks, however, to Parker for sending me the photo of the hole. When I’d shown it to another friend, he asked why the spiral. I think that was the lowest point and the porcupine climbed out and then made its typical swath around until it reached the higher ground each time it exited and entered.
The question none of us could answer–what about that sawdust smattering?
Ah well, we saved that for another day and left thankful for the opportunity to solve most of the holey mysteries.
Some people collect salt and pepper shakers, others small figurines or coins or stamps or antique cars or beer caps or . . . TWIGS! Yep, I would fall into the latter category and because I used them last week to teach a class, I thought I’d also share them with you.
If you stop reading right now, I understand. If you choose to continue, please know that some of what you read I’ve learned from the Maine Master Naturalist course, which first opened my eyes to twigs and buds; some from a variety of books on the subject; and lots from personal observation. You may not always agree with me, but I strongly encourage you to step outdoors and take a look. Keep track of your observations and begin to note idiosyncrasies. But do remember this: nature hasn’t read the books and doesn’t always follow the rules we’ve insisted upon as we try to make sense of the world around us.
Next year’s flower and leaf buds formed this past summer and overwinter inside bud scales, which are actually modified leaves. Most scales, such as this one, provide protection with a waxy coating. (Species: Norway Maple, Acer platanoides)
Terminal buds are located at the tips of most twigs. When that bud forms, the tree ceases to grow for the year. At the base of the terminal bud is a leaf scar where a former leaf stem was attached to the twig. And within the leaf scar are little corky dots called bundle scars that were actually the vascular tissue that had connected the leaf to the twig. Think veins. The shape of the leaf scar and number of bundle scars can be used as an identifying mark since they are often consistent across a species. (Species: White Ash, Fraximus americana)
Leaf scars come in a variety of shapes, including monkey faces topped with hairy caps. (Species: Butternut, Juglans cinera)
Others may be shield shaped, though you could also see a bit of a funny face in this one. (Species: Shagbark Hickory, Carya ovata)
And there are those that nearly encircle the bud. (Species: Staghorn Sumac, Rhus hirta)
Some twigs feature a false terminal bud. In reality, it was a lateral or side bud that took the position of the terminal bud. On twigs that don’t have actual terminal buds, such as American Elm and Basswood, the wood kept growing until the tree could no longer supply it with nutrients or something else impeded its growth. The twig then died back to the last terminal bud and dropped off. (Species: American Elm, Ulmus americana)
On those twigs with a false terminal bud, a branch scar was left behind when the woody structure broke off. The branch scar is located . . .
opposite the leaf scar, which contains bundle scars. (The branch scar does not have bundle scars.) (Species: American Basswood, Tilia americana)
Below the terminal or false terminal buds are lateral buds, those which grow on the side of the twig. Their orientation may be opposite, such as this example. (Species: Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum)
Others are alternate. The cool thing about this example is that the alternate buds are also appressed, meaning they grow flat to the twig; and they are one scaled (well, actually two scales fused together as one). (Species: Willow, Salix spp.)
Alternate appressed buds may grow far apart or quite close to each other such as with this particular tree and its globous buds. (Species: Quaking Aspen, Populus tremuloides)
Others are divergent and stick out away from their twig. (Species: American Beech, Fagus grandifolia)
Then there’s the pith. I just like saying that word–pith, pith, pith. Pith is the soft central core or interior of the twig. It comes in a variety of patterns including round, triangular and star-shaped such as is illustrated here. (Species: Quaking Aspen, Populus tremuloides)
In some species, its shape is best viewed in cross-section by halving the twig lengthwise with a sharp knife. Diaphragmed pith, solid with partitions, can be seen in Black Gum, which I didn’t find. But this example is chambered pith, which is hollow with partitions. (Species: Butternut, Juglans cinerea)
Another fun characteristic that aids in identification is the occurrence of catkins on members of the birch family. (Note: Betulaceae, the birch family, includes six genera of deciduous nut-bearing trees and shrubs: the birches, alders, hazels, hornbeams, hazel-hornbeam, and hop-hornbeams.) (Species: Speckled Alder, Alnus incana ssp.rugosa) Speckled Alder is really a shrub, but don’t tell it that.
Another fun thing to point out are the growth rings on twigs. We often think of aging a tree by counting the rings from the heartwood out to the bark, but . . . twigs have rings of their own. They’re a bit raised and wrinkled in presentation, but each cluster of rings indicates where that year’s leaf and flower buds had formed, developed, and released their seeds. After that, the twig continued to grow. The same will develop once the current buds complete their cycle. (Species: Striped Maple, Acer pensylvanicum)
If you’ve stuck with me, know that the end is in sight. I’d like to conclude this post with examples of some of my favorite trees found in the western Maine woods. I’ll begin with those deciduous trees with alternate buds. This particular twig is in a family that features catkins. It has several cousins so it’s worth getting to know a few of them. Notice the hairy twig, but not so hairy and rather pointed buds. Buds on older branches grow on stacked scars, which I’ll share an example of in a minute. If you were to squeeze these buds, they’d be sticky. Those are all great clues, and here’s one more. The tree’s bark is white and it curls away from the tree in rather big sheets.
Did you guess correctly?
Here’s a cousin and that example of stacked scars with the bud at the end that I promised. Notice the lack of hair? The clues for this species: scrape the bark on the twig and sniff it. Does it smell like wintergreen? And the bark on the trunk–does it peel away like ribbons? (Species: Yellow Birch, Betula alleghaniensis)
And another member of the Betula family. This one is an early succession tree, meaning it grows quickly in fields and along roads that have been disturbed. But it is also the shortest lived of the family and doesn’t reach an old age in tree years (Yellow Birch can grow to be about 250 years and Paper Birch about 150). This species is lucky if it reaches its 90th birthday. Though you can’t see it here, the twig isn’t hairy, but it is quite bumpy or warty. And it doesn’t have a wintergreen odor if scratched. Also, the bud isn’t sticky. Though only one catkin is shown here, it could have two, while Paper Birch has three and Yellow three or four. Who is this?
I’m sure you guessed it.
Another of alternate twig and bud orientation, this particular bud is often described as a cigar. I’m not sure that works for me–maybe as it expands a bit in the spring, but the multiple overlapping scales and pointed tip make it seem obvious as its different from all other presentations. Plus, its leaves are marcescent, meaning they wither or remain on many younger trees throughout the winter. Actually, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking a mammal is moving nearby for in a slight breeze the marcescent leaves rattle. I’ll admit I’ve jumped a few times. Back to the buds–the other thing to note is that like a New York Fern, it tapers at both ends (maybe they, too, keep their lights on at both ends of the day). Who is this?
Bingo! You are on a roll! I should define lenticel at this point. Those raised white dots on the twig are the lenticels, which are the pores that provide openings for air-gas exchange.
We haven’t talked about the fact that some twigs have buds crowded at the tip. In this particular case, I think of them as a crown.
This cousin also wears a crown. So, what are their differences? The first is more conical and shinier than the second. And look at their colors. Number 1 comes in shades of chestnut brown, while number 2 is much darker and almost reddish brown in tone. You’d have to look carefully to see the silky hairs at the pointed tip of number 1, but trust me that they are there. Number 2 is hairless and blunt.
This is number 1. Did you guess that correctly? And number 2 is . . . White Oak, Quercus alba.
Now it’s on to trees with opposite orientation. And if you think you’re seeing double, you are! I used this photograph at the start. But now, let’s compare this twig to that of a cousin.
Can you see the fuzz on this one? And no fuzz on the one above? Also, notice in the first one the notched leaf scar. The second is not deeply notched. Who are they?
Two of the three ashes that grow locally. Identifying White and Green Ash, as they are respectively, is never easy, but the hairs or lack of, and the shape of the leaf scars are the key elements.
And finally, two members of probably everyone’s favorite fall trees. Notice the lateral buds are arranged on opposite sides. The buds and branch are purplish brown. On the twig, the buff colored lenticels practically jump out. The bud is a tad bit hairy and sharp pointed. Do you see the leaf scar bundles? How many? I hope you counted three. And who might this be?
You are almost done. Only one last twig to examine.
This one is probably Maine’s signature tree when it comes to fall foliage. And of all the members of the Maple family, this is the most abundant species. So, remember the crowded buds on the Oaks? Well, this twig also sometimes wears a crown. But, the terminal bud is wedged between two opposite lateral buds. And the color–red, because there’s always something red on this tree. Hint. Hint. If that didn’t give it away, this will . . .
I love Red Maple. If you haven’t done so, follow the progression of its buds and I hope you’ll be wowed when it flowers next spring. Until I looked, I never noticed its dainty flowers. Now, I can’t not look.
If you’ve stayed with me thus far, congratulations. You deserve an award. Or at least a hearty THANK YOU!
There’s more, but I’ll let the bigwigs handle that. I just learned of a new book about trees that I plan to purchase soon entitled Woody Plants of the Northern Forest: A Photographic Guide by Jerry Jenkins. Thanks to fellow naturalist Anita Smith for the recommendation. I can’t wait to add it to my bookshelf.
Who knew there could be so many idiosyncrasies? After all, aren’t they all just twigs and buds? Ah, the wonder.
I hope you’ll refer to this primer periodically as you gain a better understanding of twig morphology. And share it with your friends 😉
It had been just over a year since I last visited and I wanted to show her the shagbark hickory buds. And maybe even the bear trap.
We crossed the field behind the house and started off on the path to the quarry and bear trap, but snow and water in the woods resulted in another U-turn. We’d been talking so much, we’d hardly noticed our surroundings, but the view stopped us in our tracks.
And in front of us, the Temperance Barn and Peabody-Fitch homestead, built in 1797. We had the place to ourselves and reveled in the quiet of the day–when we weren’t talking, that is.
Heading to the road for our tree bud search, we passed by the blacksmith shop where horseshoes were probably made in the day.
And at the Temperance Barn, so named “because it was raised without the traditional barrel of rum,” I can never resist admiring the structure even though it’s in great need of repair.
And then we were stumped by a flowering tree. It sure looked like an ash as Jinnie Mae suggested, but what were those lacy tips? What came to my mind first were the tags on red oaks that I didn’t understand a few years ago until a friend helped me realize that they were leaf stems left behind when the wind finally claimed the dried leaves. Was this the same?
Climbing onto the double-wide wall, I took a closer look.
Turns out Jinnie Mae was right. But my question still remains. Were these the stems of the ash samaras or compound leaves?* For some reason I’ve never before seen them left behind. Ah, there are so many things to discover in this world.
We continued down the road, noting budding pussy willows and flowering red maples. And then I spied the bulbous buds I wanted to show her. Only, it turns out that we hadn’t reached the hickory trees yet.
The monkey face leaf scar should have been a clue. But my brain was stuck in hickory mode and I completely forgot that black walnut leaves leave such a formation. At home, I pulled out Forest Trees of Maine and then seesawed between black walnut and butternut (aka white walnut). Both feature leaf scars shaped like a monkey’s face. But the top of the leaf scar serves as the give away–this one did not have thick fuzzy eyebrows like a butternut, so I’m going out on a limb and declaring this a black walnut.
A bit further down the road we spotted more bulbous buds. These were definitely the ones I was looking for–shagbark hickory. In the moment and because the two trees weren’t close together, we thought they were all one in the same. But hindsight being 20/20 as it is, the photographs tell the story.
The subtle colors and fuzziness wowed us and we both took numerous photos.
Then there were the leaf scars–definitely more heart-shaped than the previous trees. And lacking that smiling face. We smiled for them.
It wasn’t enough to find the small saplings beside the road and so we crossed another field in search of the mother tree.
Along the way, Jinnie Mae spotted a wee grasshopper–the first of the season for us.
And then her newly trained shagbark hickory eyes keyed in on the momma.
If you go, it’s located behind the barn.
And shouts its name in presentation.
Looking upward, we could see the bulbous buds on the twig tips contrasted against the bright blue sky.
Happiness is a blue bird kind of day–sweetened by time spent exploring with Jinnie Mae, making discoveries and watching bluebirds move between the field and the trees. Indeed it was a Good Friday.
Now we need to return and find the mother black walnut.
*Thanks for Maine Master Naturalist Pam Davis for IDing the ash strand as the rachis of the compound leaf. She reminded me that I have seen these on the ground in the fall. But–to be still dangling from the tree was new to my eyes and mind.
In preparation for a senior college class I’ll be teaching this week entitled “All Things Spring,” I headed out the door in search of twigs.
Of course, it doesn’t look like spring quite yet. But then again, it does. And on this crystal clear day, the silhouette of the buildings atop Mount Washington were visible.
Before I could settle down to the work at hand, I visited the vernal pool, where all was quiet. But, I know the time is nearing. I could smell spring in the air and feel it in the warm sunshine that enveloped me and my surroundings.
And then I slipped into the gray birch grove to begin my hunt,
while a black-capped chickadee wondered what I was up to–no good, as usual.
At last, I filled my satchel, but only enough–never wanting to take more than necessary. In fact, since I don’t know how many students will be present, they may have to share.
My plan is to begin with a slide show of flowers and ferns, mammals and birds, and of course, life evolving at the vernal pool (all photos were taken a year ago). I’ll bring some fun things to share, including scat–I sure hope they (whoever they are) think it’s fun.
And then we’ll look at twigs through a hand lens so together we can examine the idiosyncrasies of our common deciduous trees,
such as these sugar maples and . . .
a few striped maples.
We’ll look at beech,
quaking aspens and several others.
My materials are almost ready, though I still need to pull something together about fern crosiers. Oh my!
I’m nervous, but excited. My hope is to instill a sense of wonder, but maybe no one will show. That would be okay–I’d just quietly slip back into the woods.
Until then, I’m trying not to feel all twigged out.
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